Nationalism in China - Implications for Chinese International Relations

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An awareness, related to the s, that the West could not provide all the answers to China's problems, and a feeling of insecurity in the face of foreign criticism of their country, and especially the dangers of economic failure or of social instability which they criticisms alluded to. This is why, worried by the implications of the globalisation of the Chinese economy, they were often hostile to China's accession to the World Trade Organisation WTO , and critical of the supposed weakness of their government during the negotiations. It was thus a question for China, by rising above the United States, of washing away the humiliation inflicted by the West and Japan from onwards.

This has always more accurately reflected the position of the Communist Party leadership than the more civilised discourse that it broadcasts on the international scene, and is moulded by a deep feeling of superiority which classically conceals an obvious feeling of inferiority. The same is true of the nationalism propagated within the armed forces, some studies of which have revealed its deeply anti-American and anti-Japanese character Nonetheless, nationalist intellectuals developed anti-American, anti-Japanese, anti-WTO, and sometimes racist ideas that manifestly went beyond even the internal discourse of the Peking authorities.

It is true that the authorities allowed these theses to be published and broadcast. The fact remains that Wang Xiaodong, Song Qiang and others like them developed from this period onwards an autonomous strategy and position which largely contributed to the spontaneous demonstrations in May , protesting against the accidental bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade by NATO forces, and to the violent and probably less spontaneous demonstrations in April against Japan With hindsight, one can first of all state that there was then a very clear convergence between the position of the government and the feelings expressed in the streets.

The Many Facets of Chinese Nationalism

The reasons for this encounter were, however, far from being identical. On one side the Chinese Communist Party reacted all the more strongly to the bombing because it had taken sides with the Yugoslav regime of Milosevic which it supported militarily, and had opposed the NATO airstrikes against Serbia. Consequently, it deliberately kept its citizens ignorant of the human tragedy in Kosovo.

The outcome of this convergence was the inability of most Chinese to believe in the hypothesis of an accident, a hypothesis that their government also strongly denounced and subsequently never accepted. Firstly, this movement developed independently, giving rise to violence, which having been tolerated, was partly controlled in Peking, and much less so in Chengdu, where the American Consulate was burned to the ground.

For about two weeks, the many foreigners resident in China were advised to reduce as much as possible their contacts with a local population which was galvanised against the Americans, and Westerners more generally. This was not a risk-free strategy, but it was successful in calming things down.

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Moreover this movement shed light on the deeply emotional character of Chinese nationalism. Rather than expressing itself through constant pressure on the authorities or on foreigners, it manifests itself through moments of intense mobilisation, which can lead to surges of anti-Western violence.

In , there were no foreign casualties. But one cannot exclude such a possibility in the future, so punctuated is the history of Chinese nationalism, in its populist and primitive dimension, with aggression against foreigners. The anti-Japanese violence perpetrated over the last few years, and particularly during the demonstrations in the spring of , have shown that such an evolution remains possible. Moreover the demonstrations in May gave them an opportunity to denounce the supposed concessions made by Zhu Rongji on the question during his journey to the United States the previous month.

Fang Ning and Wang Xiaodong, the two main organisers of the opinion polls in , wrote with Song Qiang, one of the authors of China Can Say No, an equally anti-American sequel to that book, entitled China's Path in the Shadow of Globalisation Quanqiu yinying xia de Zhongguo zhi lu.

On the other hand, the increasing power of populist nationalism worried certain intellectuals who had initially perceived in it a stabilising factor. In , the journal Strategy and Management excluded Wang Xiaodong from its list of contributors. The events of furthered this development.

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For example, these events led Xiao Gonqin, an intellectual described as a neo-conservative during the s, but in reality fairly liberal although a nationalist, to denounce the extremism and the emotional and destabilising character of this new movement, in his eyes the source of the failure of numerous reforms in China including those of Kang Youwei But the latter's attitude towards nationalism has remained deeply ambivalent, so central is this ideology to the survival of the present regime.

Thus the relative prudence advocated by Jiang Zemin after the demonstrations in was clearly called into question by Hu Jintao in the spring of The question here is not to pass judgement on the moral grounds for the Chinese movement of protest against the visits paid by the Japanese Prime Minister to Yasukuni, or against the approval by the Minister of Education of school textbooks with revisionist tendencies: Neither is it to disregard the general context of the rise in anti-Japanese feeling within Chinese society, nourished from a tender age by the education system and by government propaganda but also connected with China's emergence onto the world scene and marked by numerous incidents over the last few years.

The physical and verbal violence that surrounded the football matches between China and Japan, held in Chengdu and in Peking in the course of the Asian Cup during the summer of , were a striking illustration of this. Although insignificant because it added hardly any substance to previous commitments, this declaration nonetheless appeared at a difficult time, marked in particular by clearer military rivalry between China and Japan sharpened by the intrusion of a Chinese submarine in Japanese territorial waters in November , the lack of summit meetings between the two countries, because of Prime Minister Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni, and dissension over the underwater gas deposits at Chunxiao, which lie in an area which is claimed by both countries.

Although there is no tangible evidence that the authorities in Peking played any part in this initiative, the role they play in manipulating the debates taking place on the Internet unavoidably casts doubts on the spontaneity of this campaign This petition was enormously successful, with 22 million electronically-collected signatures within a month, and 40 million by the end of April China's claim over the Senkaku Diaoyutai islands was also brought up. First organised in Chengdu and Shenzhen on April 5th, these demonstrations reached Peking on April 9th, and then Shanghai on April 16th.

In Peking, and especially in Shanghai, verbal and physical violence was committed against Japanese representations with the permission of the Chinese authorities, and, even in Shanghai, against shops that sold Japanese products and several Japanese people, without the police showing any clear determination to prevent these people from being beaten up The verbally and physically destructive excesses which took place in Shanghai led the Communist Party leadership to bring a halt to the demonstrations it had allowed to go ahead, revealing its power to suddenly muzzle a nationalist movement which one might have thought had acquired a certain autonomy.

But information received after the events makes it possible to think that Public Security and the Communist Youth League, in other words the government, played a decisive role in setting off and organising the April demonstrations. Those responsible for these demonstrations were not the spontaneous representatives of an autonomous civil society, but the cadres of those organisations.

Those who participated belonged either to the student community, which is to say the future elite of the country, or to the new educated middle classes, such as those that now live around Zhongguancun, the new business district located near the capital's universities A final point is that these demonstrations brought together a fairly limited number of participants between 10, and 20, , for a country supposedly unanimously hostile to Japan.

The order given on April 19th by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Li Zhaoxing, to stop the movement, was meekly obeyed by these temporary demonstrators and the boycott against Japanese products they had launched fizzled quickly away. It has revealed an unappealing and rather undemocratic facet of Chinese society, and especially of its rising elites, who did not hesitate to resort to racist slogans comparing the Japanese to pigs, for example and physical violence in order to advance their cause. This temptation also allowed other, more anti-authoritarian forces, to interfere in the movement, particularly in Shanghai, revealing the potential for anti-government protest that exists in China.

The renewed instrumentalisation of nationalism decided on by Hu Jintao also caused dissension within the Communist Party leadership. The article in Jiefang ribao was also a virtually transparent denunciation of Hu's strategy and of its deplorable effects on social and political stability, and on the business environment, particularly in a city where Japanese economic presence is very strong. This is why the article was not reprinted in the national press and, according to outside sources, why the leaders in Shanghai were scathingly criticised for having allowed it to be published It also showed the limitations of the emergence of an autonomous populist nationalism whose existence no longer needs to be demonstrated but whose propensity for being manipulated by the government has also been proved.

Today the discussions about the theme of nationalism go far beyond international questions and tend to concern the legitimacy of the political regime and its ability to raise China to the rank of Number One World Power, however much this ambition may be a dream.

Since the end of the s, the growth of electronic communications and forums has favoured wider expression by society on political matters and particularly on nationalism Certain fora specialise in nationalist diatribes such as Qiangguo [Strong Country], or Jianchuan zhishi [Knowledge of Warships]. These fora are tolerated, particularly because of the support they receive from certain leadership circles, but they are also used by the authorities, since they are seen as polls on the opinions of society and particularly on the opinions of the educated population with Internet access there were about million Internet users in However, the Chinese Communist Party remains particularly vigilant over the subversive uses some might be tempted to make of nationalist sentiment.

In other words, even among the fora and journals that have served as carriers of nationalist ideas, these are far from dominating all the debates. On the contrary, some research tends to show that the emergence of an urban middle class has contributed to the moderation of society's nationalist sentiment The internationalisation of China and of its modes of consumption is doubtless not unconnected to this evolution.

More generally, the strategic role played by the United States in Eastern Asia and in the world, as well as its determination, perceived as imperial, to export its political system, its values and its mass culture, are the targets of denunciation by the Communist Party and by the nationalist sections of the intellectual elites which continue to irrigate Chinese society. It is a similar case with perception of Japan, which remains largely in thrall to trends from a past that is long gone.

Thus the Chinese government persists in placing at the centre of bilateral relations the problems connected with the war, with the apologies and with the Yasukuni Shrine, even going so far as to mobilise the man in the street against the Japanese government. The government uses it to strengthen its hand in its relations with Washington, Taipei and Tokyo. But it also finds itself constrained to use cunning and to conceal any flexibility under an intransigent and even aggressive discourse when it decides to reach a compromise.


But nationalist pressure is likely to remain strong, and in conjunction with the temptation to instrumentalise it which is often present in official circles, will continue to influence China's foreign policy as a whole, including that towards neighbouring countries such as Russia, India or Vietnam, with which border problems have not been completely settled, or even towards the European Union, which still refuses to grant China the status of a market economy and sometimes raises its voice in protest against the most visible human rights violations in that country.

And in the eyes of the majority of mainland Chinese, or at least of the elites who have the right to speak in their name, the question of Taiwan is part of those fundamental interests. One can perceive behind this strategy a desire to avoid allowing nationalism to become the monopoly of conservative forces close to the Communist Party. In fact, both within the Communist Party and in society, the various forms of nationalism examined here still exist, and will probably continue to cohabit in future.

Associated with the Cultural Revolution, which was still very present in people's minds, populist nationalism was little in evidence in the s. In contrast, from the middle of the following decade, its influence grew rapidly, concentrating its attacks on the United States and on Japan. Since it expresses a feeling of insecurity in the face of richer and more powerful countries, could this form of nationalism not decline as China sees its own power grow and its standard of living improve?

But for all that one cannot rule out the Party leaders and certain intellectuals of the New Left being tempted in the future, for political ends, to hive off into extreme nationalism the reservoir of frustration and discontent contained in Chinese society.

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Having said that, and despite the anti-Japanese demonstrations in April , this form of nationalism is today less perceptible within Chinese society, and even among the elite as a whole, which is perhaps a sign of a positive development. Is this to say that the globalisation of the economy and society in China have already contributed to marginalising this trend of thought?

But the anti-Japanese violence which the same Hu Jintao tolerated in April showed that the Communist Party remains in part a prisoner of its old demons. The future of Chinese nationalism will depend heavily on the Chinese elites and their ability to give society an image that is both independent and accurate, of the intentions of their country's main partners.

There is no doubt that much will also depend on the way in which these partners manage this nationalism, and, without acceding to its unreasonable demands, find ways to provide it with balanced and persuasive answers. One obviously thinks of Japan, which has not managed to come to terms completely with its past. Lastly, much will also depend on the Chinese authorities, and their ability to embark on real political reform. Only a genuine diversification of the Chinese political system will be capable of guaranteeing the reconciliation of Chinese society with its own history, independent access to information about the outside world, the marginalisation of populist nationalism and thus the irruption of a tolerant and democratic nationalism into Chinese society, which, reviving Yan Fu, Sun Yat-sen and Hu Shi, will find ways to co-exist smoothly with the other nationalisms which the world, and particularly East Asia, have produced.

As such an evolution remains unlikely in the foreseeable future, we have no choice but to remain vigilant and attentive to the various manifestations of Chinese nationalism. A multidisciplinary journal providing analysis of the latest political, economical, social and cultural trends in the Chinese world. Abstract While, for historical reasons, Chinese nationalism is in many ways specific, it has expressed, since the beginning of the modern era, which is to say since the Opium War of , the profound insecurity of the Chinese elite.

Outline The elitist nationalism of a great power dispossessed and humiliated. The diversity of nationalist responses to China's problems. The increase in the power of state nationalism after Tian'anmen. A new populist nationalism in China. The demonstrations in May The anti-Japanese demonstrations in the spring of Chinese nationalism and the new dialectic between the state and society. Nationalism and the stability of the regime. Full text PDF Send by e-mail.

Callahan, Journal of Contemporary China , Vol. Reflection on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism , Verso, One is tempted to apply E. Foster's personalism to Chinese society: Men and Ideas] Paris, Hatier, , p. Here he declares in particular: Directly inspired by the Leninist and Marxist tradition, this advice seems to have been long forgotten. China Daily , March 23rd Internet. Why Communism Did Not Collapse.

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