Defining Nationalism – Two Views

Two op-eds today try to define and differentiate between various strains of nationalism in China. In the International Herald Tribune, David Shambaugh writes about “An aggrieved, defensive nationalism,” vs “a confident and proud nationalism.” About the former, he writes:

The international community needs to understand the depth of this historical experience and sentiment in Chinese society and collective psyche.

It represents the raison d’être of the modern Chinese Communist state, which came to power on a promise to unify the nation, restore its dignity and never again permit foreigners to subjugate, discriminate against or try to “split” China.

Fifty-plus years of government propaganda and indoctrination have further embedded these beliefs in the populace. This is why the issues of Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang strike such a nerve in Chinese society. A part of China’s psyche has a very low threshold for foreign criticism, zero tolerance for “losing face” and little self-awareness of how nationalistic eruptions appear abroad.

…To some extent, the government is seeking to divert these social frustrations into nationalism and away from the Communist party-state.

Fortunately, the aggrieved nationalism witnessed in recent weeks is only part of China’s collective psyche. The other dimension is what can be described as China’s “confident nationalism.” This more confident Chinese nationalism is still a work in progress, and it coexists uneasily with China’s aggrieved nationalism.

In the Washington Post, human rights activist Yang Jianli writes about four types of nationalism: pragmatic nationalism, “vassal nationalism,” popular nationalism, and human rights patriotism:

So how does this influence what we should do before the Summer Games?

The worst option would be to fall silent; this would only embolden the regime. More than that, popular nationalists, with strength and prosperity foremost in their minds, might well align more closely with the Communist Party. Given China’s strengthened dictatorship, rapid economic growth and ever-expanding military forces, they do not really have a choice.

Since I left prison last year, I have advocated conditional participation in the Olympics. Participation must be predicated on some minimum standard of human rights. Applying this pressure will help enlarge the public space for discourse for human rights patriots in China.


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