The mythologized past is the past that predominates in the minds of most people. Therefore, even as historians strive to counter it, it behooves us to study it with care. Although any aspect of the past has the potential to live on as myth in the present, certain events and persons, because they resonate with themes of broader historical scope and importance, have this potential to an especially high degree. Thus, in American history, where racism has been such a pervasive historical pattern, figures like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King who helped to ameliorate the condition of blacks are often treated in larger-than-life terms. To take a more complex case, in China in the twentieth century, where the West has been by turns hated as an imperialist aggressor and admired for its mastery of the secrets of wealth and power, the Boxers, because they attacked both the West and its modern secrets, have been alternately praised and reviled.

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