Chinese nationalism: Wikis


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Chinese nationalism (simplified Chinese: 中国民族主义traditional Chinese: 中國民族主義pinyin: Zhōngguó mínzúzhǔyì), sometimes synonymous with Chinese patriotism (simplified Chinese: 爱国主义traditional Chinese: 愛國主義pinyin: àiguó zhǔyì lit. Love country ideology) refers to cultural, historiographical, and political theories, movements and beliefs that assert the idea of a cohesive, unified Chinese people and culture under a unified country known as China.[1] One difficulty in this definition is the wide variation and ambiguities in the definition of the term "Chinese."


Ideological basis

Chinese nationalism has drawn from extremely diverse ideological sources including traditional Chinese thinking, American progressivism, Marxism, and Russian ethnological thought. The ideology also presents itself in many different and often conflicting manifestations, including Ultra-imperialism. These manifestations have included the Three Principles of the People, the Communist Party of China, the anti-government views of students in the Tiananmen protests of 1989, Fascist blueshirts, and Japanese collaborationism under Wang Jingwei.

Although Chinese nationalists have agreed on the desirability of a centralized Chinese state, almost every other question has been the subject of intense and sometime bitter debate. Among the questions on which Chinese nationalists have disagreed is what policies would lead to a strong China, what is the structure of the state and its goal, what the relationship should be between China and foreign powers, and what should be the relationships between the majority Han Chinese, minority groups, and overseas Chinese.

The vast variation in how Chinese nationalism has been expressed has been noted by commentators Lucian Pye who argues that this reveals a lack of content in the Chinese identity. However, others have argued that the ability of Chinese nationalism to manifest itself in many forms is a positive trait in that it allows the ideology to transform itself in response to internal crises and external events.

Although the variations among conceptions of Chinese nationalism are great, Chinese nationalist groups maintain some similarities, most notably Ultra-imperialism. Chinese nationalistic ideologies all regard Sun Yat-Sen very highly, and tend to claim to be ideological heirs of the Three Principles of the People. In addition, Chinese nationalistic ideologies tend to regard both democracy and science as positive forces, although they often have radically different notions of what democracy means.


There have been versions of a Chinese state for more than 3,000 years, since the Shang Dynasty. The status of the Xia dynasty is uncertain. The Chinese concept of the world was largely a division between the civilized world and the barbarian world and there was little concept of the belief that Chinese interests were served by a powerful Chinese state. Commenter Lucian Pye has argued that the modern "nation state" is fundamentally different from a traditional empire, and argues that dynamics of the current People's Republic of China (PRC) — a concentration of power at a central point of authority – share an essential similarity with the Ming and Qing Empires.[2] There were only a few periods in Chinese history when China fought total wars against foreigners (most notably the Mongols, Manchus, and Japanese), whereas all other conflicts were mainly civil wars that led to dynastic changes. However, attempts to sinicize foreigners or "barbarians" (such as the Vietnamese, and Koreans) who wanted to maintain a separate cultural identity had been going on for millennia. This particular trait of Chinese history was not conducive to realizing a Chinese nation-state, until contact with Western countries in the 19th century.


Defining the relationship between ethnicity and the Chinese identity has been a very complex issue throughout Chinese history. In the 17th century, with the help of Ming Chinese rebels, the Manchus invaded the Chinese heartland and set up the Qing dynasty. Over the next centuries they would incorporate groups such as the Tibetans, the Mongols, and the Uyghurs into territories which they controlled. The Manchus were faced with the issue of maintaining loyalty among the people they ruled while at the same time maintaining a distinctive identity. The main method by which they accomplished control of the Chinese heartland was by portraying themselves as enlightened Confucian sages part of whose goal was to preserve and advance Chinese civilization. Over the course of centuries the Manchus were gradually assimilated into the Chinese culture and eventually many Manchus identified themselves as a people of China.

The complexity of the relationship between ethnicity and the Chinese identity can be seen during the Taiping rebellion in which the rebels fought fiercely against the Manchus on the ground that they were barbarian foreigners while at the same time others fought just as fiercely on behalf of the Manchus on the grounds that they were the preservers of traditional Chinese values. It was during this time that the concept of Han Chinese came into existence as a means of describing the majority Chinese ethnicity.

In the late 19th century, Chinese nationalism identified Han with Chinese and argued for the overthrow of the Manchus who were considered outside the realm of the Chinese nation. This led to many rebellions by Han Chinese. Sun Yat-sen once declared: "In order to restore our national independence, we must first restore the Chinese nation. In order to restore the Chinese nation, we must drive the barbarian Manchus back to the Changbai Mountains. In order to get rid of the barbarians, we must first overthrow the present tyrannical, dictatorial, ugly, and corrupt Qing government. Fellow countrymen, a revolution is the only means to overthrow the Qing government!"

After the 1911 Revolution, the official definition of "Chinese" was expanded to include non-Han ethnicities as part of a comprehensive Chinese nation (Zhonghua Minzu), although some historians argue that this was due mainly to the realization that a narrow definition of "Chinese" would result in a loss of Chinese territory, and that the Manchus were too sinicized to be considered an outside group.

The official Chinese nationalistic view in the 1920s and 1930s was heavily influenced by modernism and social Darwinism, and included advocacy of the cultural assimilation of ethnic groups in the western and central provinces into the "culturally advanced" Han state, to become in name as well as in fact members of the Chinese nation. Furthermore, it was also influenced by the fate of multi-ethnic states such as Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. It also became a very powerful force during the Japanese occupation of Coastal China during the 1930s and 1940s and the atrocities committed by such regime.

Over the next decades Chinese nationalism was influenced strongly by Russian ethnographic thinking, and the official ideology of the PRC asserts that China is a multi-ethnic state, and Han Chinese, despite being the overwhelming majority (over 90% in the mainland), they are only one of many ethnic groups of China, each of whose culture and language should be respected. However, many critics argue that despite this official view, assimilationist attitudes remain deeply entrenched, and popular views and actual power relationships create a situation in which Chinese nationalism has in practice meant Han dominance of minority areas and peoples and assimilation of those groups.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese nationalism within mainland China became mixed with the rhetoric of Marxism, and nationalistic rhetoric become in large part subsumed into internationalist rhetoric. On the other hand, Chinese nationalism in Taiwan was primarily about preserving the ideals and lineage of Sun Yat-sen, the party he founded, the Kuomintang (KMT), and anti-Communism. While the definition of Chinese nationalism differed in the Republic of China (ROC) and PRC, both were adamant in claiming Chinese territories such as Diaoyutai Islands.

In the 1990s, rising economic standards, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the lack of any other legitimizing ideology has led to what most observers see as a resurgence of nationalism within China.


Anti-independence protesters in Washington, D.C. wait for Lee Teng-Hui to come out of a hotel.

One common goal of current Chinese nationalists is the reunification of mainland China and Taiwan. While this was the common stated goal of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (ROC) before 1991, both sides differed sharply on the form of reunification.

After 1991, the ROC unofficially moved away from supporting eventual reunification to a more ambiguous position. One reason is that the ROC itself remains split between supporters of Chinese nationalism, who support eventual reunification, supporters of the status quo who believe Taiwan should preserve independence as the ROC, and supporters of Taiwan independence, who believe that Taiwan should declare independence as a republic separate from either the ROC or the PRC. Another reason for the ambiguity is the stated threat that the PRC will take military action if a "Republic of Taiwan" is declared.

Much of the dispute in Taiwan has been muted because there is a general consensus to temporarily support the status quo. Despite this, the relationship between Chinese nationalism and Taiwan remains controversial, involving symbolic issues such as the use of "The Republic of China" as the official name of the government on Taiwan and the use of "China" as the name of Government-owned corporations. Broadly speaking, there is little support on Taiwan for immediate reunification or independence; the argument is over culture and how Taiwanese should see themselves. The pan-blue coalition views mainland China as an economic and cultural opportunity, seeks greater links between Taiwan and mainland China, and believes in a common Chinese identity. The pan-green coalition sees Taiwan as a distinct nation from China and desires to achieve de jure independence.

Overseas Chinese

Chinese nationalism has had mutable relationships with Chinese living outside of Mainland China and Taiwan. Overseas Chinese were strong supporters of the 1911 revolution.

After decolonization, overseas Chinese were encouraged to regard themselves as citizens of their own nations rather than as part of the Chinese nationality. As a result ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia have sharply divided the concept of ethnic Chinese from the concept of "political Chinese" and have explicitly rejected being part of the Chinese nationality.

During the 1960s, the People's Republic of China and Republic of China (ROC) maintained different attitudes toward overseas Chinese. In the eyes of the PRC government, overseas Chinese were considered capitalist agents; in addition, the PRC government also thought that maintaining good relations with southeast Asian governments was more important than maintaining the support of overseas Chinese. By contrast, the ROC desired good relations with overseas Chinese as part of an overall strategy to avoid diplomatic isolation and maintain its claim to be the sole legitimate government of China.

With the reforms under Deng Xiaoping, the PRC's attitude toward overseas Chinese became much more favorable, and overseas Chinese were seen as a source of capital and expertise. In the 1990s, the PRC's efforts toward overseas Chinese became mostly focused on maintaining the loyalty of "newly departed overseas Chinese", which consisted of mostly graduate students having emigrated, mostly to the United States. Now, there are summer camps, in which overseas Chinese youths may attend to learn first-hand about Chinese culture. Textbooks for Chinese schools are distributed by the government of the People's Republic of China.


In addition to the Taiwan independence movement, there are a number of ideologies which exist in opposition to Chinese nationalism.

Some opponents have asserted that Chinese nationalism is inherently backward and dictatorial and is therefore incompatible with a modern state. Others have asserted that Chinese nationalism is fundamentally an imperialist and racist ideology which in practice has led to oppression of minority groups such as Tibetans and Uyghurs. The extent to which Chinese nationalism is actually a manifestation of beliefs in Han Chinese ethnic superiority has been hotly debated. While opponents have argued that reactionary nationalism is evidence of Chinese insecurity or immaturity and that it is both unnecessary and embarrassing to a powerful nation, Chinese nationalists assert that Chinese nationalism was in many ways a result of Western imperialism and is fundamental to the founding of a modern Chinese state that is free from foreign domination.

Northern and southern

Edward Friedman has argued[3] that there is a northern governmental, political, bureaucratic Chinese nationalism that is at odds with a southern, commercial Chinese nationalism. This division is rejected by most Chinese and many non-Chinese scholars, who believe that Friedman has overstated the differences between the north and the south, and point out that the divisions within Chinese society do not fall neatly into "north-south" divisions.


During the 1990s, Chinese intellectuals have vigorously debated the political meaning and significance of the rising nationalism in China. From their debates has emerged a multifarious populist nationalism which argues that anti-imperialist nationalism in China has provided a valuable public space for popular participation outside the country's political institutions and that nationalist sentiments under the postcolonial condition represent a democratic form of civic activity. Advocates of this theory promote nationalism as an ideal of populist politics and as an embodiment of the democratic legitimacy that resides in the will of the people.

Detractors, however, disparage populist nationalism in China today, especially that expressed on the Internet, as a "hooligan culture" in which "Internet Red Guards" hurl obscenities not only against foreign "devils," but also against moderates and liberals who warn of the excesses and dangers that nationalism could pose to China's modernization. Chinese nationalism has recently found an outlet in anti-Japanese sentiment.

Populist nationalism is a comparatively late development in Chinese nationalism of the 1990s. It began to take recognizable shape after 1996, as a joint result of the evolving nationalist thinking of the early 1990s and the ongoing debates on modernity, postmodernism, postcolonialism, and their political implications—debates that have engaged many Chinese intellectuals since early 1995.

Modern times

The end of the Cold War has seen the revival throughout the world of nationalist sentiments and aspirations. In China, the rapid decay of communist ideology had led the CPC to emphasize its role as the paramount patriotic force and the guardian of the national pride in order to find a new basis to sustain its role. However, nationalist sentiment is not the sole province of the CPC. One truly remarkable phenomenon in the post-Cold War upsurge of Chinese nationalism is that Chinese intellectuals became one of the driving forces. Many well-educated people—social scientists, humanities scholars, writers and other professionals—have given voice to and even become articulators for rising nationalistic discourse in the 1990s. Some commentators have proposed that "positive nationalism" could be an important unifying factor for the country as it has been for other countries.[4]

As an indication of the popular and intellectual origins of recent Chinese nationalist sentiment, all coauthors of China Can Say No, the first in a string of defiant rebuttals to American imperialism, are college educated, and most are self-employed (a freelancer, a fruit-stand owner, a poet, and journalists working in the partly market-driven field of Chinese newspapers, periodicals, and television stations).

In the 21st century, notable spurs of grassroots Chinese nationalism grew from what the Chinese saw as marginalization of their country from Japan and the Western world. The Japanese history textbook controversies, as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine was the source of considerable anger on Chinese blogs. In addition, the protests following the 2008 Tibetan unrest of the Olympic torch has gathered strong opposition within the Chinese community inside China and abroad. Almost every Tibetan protest on the Olympic torch route was met with a considerable pro-China protest. Because the 2008 Summer Olympics were a major source of national pride, anti-Olympics sentiments are often seen as anti-Chinese sentiments inside China. Moreover, the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 sparked a high sense of nationalism from Chinese at home and abroad. The central government's quick response to the disaster was instrumental in galvanizing general support from the population amidst harsh criticism directed towards China's handling of the Tibetan unrest only two months ago.

Internet vigilantism

Since the state controlled media has control over most media outlet, the Internet is one of the rare places where Chinese nationalists can rant and express their feelings. While the government is known for shutting down controversial blogs, it is impossible to completely censor the Internet and all websites that may be deemed controversial. Chinese Internet users frequently write nationalistic topics online on websites such as The nationalists look for news of people whom they considered to be traitors to China, such as the incident with Grace Wang from Duke University[5], a Chinese girl who tried to appease to both sides during the debate about Tibet before the 2008 Summer Olympics. She was labeled as a traitor by online Internet vigilantes, and even had her home back in Qingdao, China, attacked. Her parents had to hide for a while before the commotion died down.

In response to protests during the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay and accusations of bias from the western media, Chinese blogs, forums and websites became filled with nationalistic material, while flash counter-protests were generated through electronic means, such as the use of SMS and IM. One such site, Anti-CNN, claimed that news channels such as CNN and BBC only reported selectively, and only provided a one-sided argument regarding the 2008 Tibetan unrest [6]. Chinese hackers have claimed to have hacked the CNN website numerous times, through the use of DDoS attacks. [7]

2008 Sichuan Earthquake

Many Chinese throughout the world donated to the earthquake relief fund for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, an event which was very sensitive in terms of nationalistic fervor.

In 2008, a girl called Zhang Ya (张雅) from Liaoning province, Northeast China, posted a 4 minute video of herself complaining about the amount of attention the Sichuan earthquake victims were receiving on television, and she made some comments about the victims' death and their struggles. An intense response from angry, nationalistic Internet vigilantes resulted in the girl's personal details (even including her blood type) being made available online, dozens of abusive video responses on Chinese websites and blogs. The girl was taken into police custody for three days.


  1. ^ Dikötter, Frank (Winter 1996). "Culture, ‘Race’ and Nation: The Formation of National Identity in Twentieth Century China". Journal of International Affairs 49 (2): 592. 
  2. ^ Pye, Lucian W.; Pye, Mary W. (1985). Asian power and politics: the cultural dimensions of authority. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 184. ISBN 0674049799. 
  3. ^ Friedman, Edward (1995). National identity and democratic prospects in socialist China. New York: M. E. Sharpe. p. 33, 77. ISBN 1563244349. 
  4. ^ Niklas Swanstrom. Positive nationalism could prove bond for Chinese. May 4, 2005, Baltimore Sun.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Anti-CNN website
  7. ^ SBS Dateline, 6 Aug 2008 [2] video link

Further reading

  • Harumi Befu, Cultural Nationalism in East Asia: Representation and Identity (1993). Berkeley, Calif.: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California.
  • Terence Billeter, L’empereur jaune: Une tradition politique chinoise (2005).
  • Maria Hsia Chang, Return of the Dragon: China's Wounded Nationalism, Westview Press (2001), paperback, 256 pp, ISBN 0-8133-3856-5
  • Kai-Wing Chow, "Narrating Nation, Race and National Culture: Imagining the Hanzu Identity in Modern China," in Chow Kai-Wing, Kevin M. Doak, and Poshek Fu, eds., Constructing nationhood in modern East Asia (2001). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 47–84.
  • Peter Hays Gries, China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy, University of California Press (January, 2004), hardcover, 224 pages, ISBN 0-520-23297-6
  • Prasenjit Duara, "De-constructing the Chinese Nation," in The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs (July 1993, No. 30, pp. 1–26).
  • Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation Chicago und London: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • FANG WEIGUI [方維規]: Lun jindai sixiangshi shang de minzu, Nation yu Zhongguo [論近代思想史上的「民族」,「Nation」与中國], in: Ershiyi shiji [二十一世紀] (April 2002, Vol. 70, S. 33-43).
  • FITZGERALD, JOHN: Awakening China – Politics, Culture and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (1996). Stanford/California: Stanford University Press.
  • HARRELL, PAULA: Sowing the Seeds of Change – Chinese Students, Japanese Teachers, 1895-1905 (1992). Stanford/California: Stanford University Press.
  • HARRISON, HENRIETTA: The making of the Republican citizen : political ceremonies and symbols in China, 1911-1929 (2000). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • HARRISON, HENRIETTA: Inventing the Nation – China (2001). London: Arnold.
  • HOSTON, GERMAINE A.: The State, Identity, and the National Question in China and Japan (1994). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • JUDGE, JOAN: Talent, Virtue and Nation: Chinese Nationalism and Female Subjectivities in the Early Twentieth Century, in: The American Historical Review (Vol. 106, Nr. 3, Juni 2001, S. 765-803).
  • KARL, REBECCA E.: Staging the World – Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (2002). Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • LIU QINGFENG [劉青峰] (Hg.): Minzuzhuyi yu Zhongguo xiandaihua [民族主義與中國現代化] (1994). Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  • LEIBOLD, JAMES. Reconfiguring Chinese nationalism: How the Qing frontier and its indigenes became Chinese. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
  • LUST, JOHN: The Su-pao Case: An Episode in the Early Chinese Nationalist Movement, in: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. XXVII, Part 2, S. 408-429.
  • SCHUBERT, GUNTER: Chinas Kampf um die Nation – Dimensionen nationalistischen Denkens in der VR China, Taiwan und Hongkong an der Jahrtausendwende (2002). Hamburg: Mitteilungen des Instituts für Asienkunde.
  • SHEN SUNG-CHIAO [沈松僑] (a): Wo yi wo xue jian Xuanyuan – Huangdi shenhua yu wan Qing de guozu jiangou [我以我血薦軒轅─ 黃帝神話與晚清的國族建構], in: Taiwan shehui yanjiu jikan, Ausgabe 28, Dezember 1997, S. 1-77.
  • SHEN SUNG-CHIAO (together with QIAN YONGXIANG [錢永祥]): Delimiting China: Discourses of 'Guomin' (國民) and the Construction of Chinese Nationality in Late Qing, paper presented at the Conference on Nationalism: The East Asia Experience, May 25-27, 1999, ISSP, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 20pp.(沈松僑/中研院近代史所助理研究員).
  • SAKAMOTO HIROKO [坂元ひろ子]: Chūgoku minzokushugi no shinwa: jinshu – shintai – jendā [中国民族主義の神話 : 人種・身体・ジェンダー] (2004). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
  • SPAKOWSKI, NICOLA: Helden, Monumente, Traditionen – Nationale Identität und historisches Bewußtsein in der VR China [Diss.] (1997). Hamburg: Lit-Verlag.
  • TØNNESSON, STEIN und ANTLÖV, HANS: Asian Forms of the Nation (1996). Richmond/Surrey: Curzon Press.
  • UNGER, JONATHAN (Hg.): Chinese Nationalism (1996). Armonk, New York und London, England: M.E. Sharpe.
  • WANG GUNGWU: The Revival of Chinese Nationalism (1996). Leiden: International Institute for Asian Studies.

See also

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