First, a note on method. As Jung (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1991), Brooker (The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, 2004), Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949) and others have pointed out, the literary world is structured around several basic plots or narrative structures. The stories states tell likewise tend to rely on a fixed narrative structure. As divisive as geopolitical narratives may be, they share a common template. Although philosophers have interpreted this template in various ways, the point here is to use it, and to formulate ways to use it better than European leaders do now.

With this goal in mind, this essay reasons forward from a basic structure, which can be summarised by saying that any successful narrative strategy incorporates and harmonises five elements. Listed below, each element is briefly illustrated by phrases from a speech by President Xi Jinping, namely the one he gave when visiting the exhibition entitled The Road to Rejuvenation at the National Museum in Beijing (Xi, Achieving Rejuvination Is the Dream of the Chinese People, 2014). This speech illustrates the methodological backbone on which any successful narrative is based. The rest of this essay will adopt the same structure, taking each element in turn. According to the method of the geopolitical monomyth, the five key elements of powerful narratives are:

Grievances and aspirations

Powerful narratives start from the recognition of people’s hopes and sorrows

“In the old days, the Chinese people went through hardships as gruelling as storming an iron-wall pass. Its sufferings and sacrifices were rarely seen in the history of the world.”
Values and common interests

Powerful narratives connect these grievances and aspirations to captivating core values or common interests to cut across the main dividing lines of a society and engage a sense of community

“Achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been the greatest dream of the Chinese people since the advent of modern times.”
Struggle and sacrifice

Powerful narratives tell a story of a historic journey and struggle, identify forces that put core values and common interests under pressure, define the challenge ahead, call out the sacrifices needed, and explain why they are worth making

“We Chinese never yielded. We waged indomitable struggles and succeeded in becoming the masters of our own destiny. … Our struggles in the over 170 years since the Opium War have created bright prospects for achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. … Achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is both a glorious and arduous mission that requires the dedicated efforts of the Chinese people one generation after another.”
Hero and nemesis

Powerful narratives boast a hero, who embodies the virtues that will help the community meet the challenge ahead, and feature a nemesis, who embodies the vices that will lead to failure

“Empty talk harms the country, while hard work makes it flourish. Our generation of Communists should draw on past progress and chart a new course for the future. … Reviewing the past, all Party members must bear in mind that backwardness left us vulnerable to attack.”
Victory and celebration

Powerful narratives prepare the audience to expect ups and downs, and they celebrate successes in light of the greater victory ahead

“I firmly believe that the goal of bringing about a moderately prosperous society in all respects can be achieved by 2021, when the CPC celebrates its centenary; the goal of building China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious can be achieved by 2049, when the People’s Republic of China marks its centenary; and the dream of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will then be realised.”

A successful narrative incorporates all five elements in a coherent and focused fashion. This essay continues to discuss each element in turn, reflecting on the European global narrative’s strengths and weaknesses relative to China’s. Both Europe’s internal narrative and Europe’s external narrative, specifically vis-à-vis Africa and the European neighbourhood, are discussed in connection with each other but also separately within each of the five chapters.