Zhang Wen (章文), a thirty-something writer/editor and former head of the editorial department of Xinhua’s Globe magazine, makes the case for “clear-minded” patriotism in China in a recent blog post, translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan:
As the new year approaches, I’d like to say a few words out of my heart, to boost the spirit of myself and my friends.
To the Chinese people, the past year was one of great joy and great sorrow. It was also a year of heated debates on several major incidents. Fervent public opinions were aroused on the Tibet Independence incident, Carrefour boycott, the Olympic Games, etc. Among all the debates, the topic of patriotism and betrayal is the most conspicuous one in 2008.
As we have seen, anyone that tried to keep a calm mind and to comment reasonably on the incidents was labeled as a traitor. The more passionately one spoke about the issues, the more patriotic he was regarded. The case of the Olympic torch bearer Jin Jing illustrated the phenomenon well. She was highly lauded as a patriot after she bravely defended the torch in France. However, shortly afterwards — surprisingly and almost incomprehensibly — she was belittled as a traitor after she said she didn’t support boycotting Carrefour.
The dramatic change in public opinion toward Jin Jing vividly reflected the mentality of contemporary Chinese people. Narrow-minded patriotism is still the mainstream ideology. The mindset of people in a weak nation still dominates the general public. Whereas the attitudes of tolerance, magnanimity, and responsibility are being formed slowly and with great difficulty.
I never doubt the sincerity of my fellow countrymen’s patriotism, just as I never doubt the patriotism of those who kept calm in the face of adversity. We all love this country and this land. We differ only in how we love it.
In a civilized society, patriotism is not equal to the love of a government or a party. This point needs little explanation. Citizens need to monitor and often criticize the government and the ruling party — this is an act of patriotism. A nation is composed of its citizens. A government comes into being to serve the people, and its ultimate goal should be the development and happiness of the people.
Therefore, we should love our nation, but not blindly. We should remain aware of China’s real status in the world, of the gap between China and other developed nations. We should not be arrogant and boast about ourselves. Being a clear-minded patriot will benefit the nation much more than being a narrow-minded nationalist.
Times have changed, and our patriotism needs to change as well. Narrow-minded nationalism leads to an ignorant, extremist, and violent world view. People with such views fail to see how the world is getting increasingly more connected. They don’t know how to communicate with the outside world in a peaceful and reasonable way. Such attitudes bring China more harm than benefit. It’s time we throw them away.
It angered and saddened me to see so many newspapers (with Global Times leading the pack) and opinion leaders blatantly advocating extremist nationalism. They ignored the trend of global development and trumpeted narrow-minded ideologies out of their own self interest.
The media and people at large have been saying repeatedly that China’s current political system is superior and that democracy is not suitable to China. They have devised a vague concept of the “China Model”, and use it to resist accepting universal values. Since information does not disseminate freely in China currently, their assertions have negatively influenced public opinion. Many people have lost the opportunity to open themselves to different ideas. And China’s integration into the modern civilized world has been obstructed.
To decrease this negative impact, a large number of “clear-minded” patriots must stand out and resist the pressure from those in power who try to manipulate public opinion. They must make public the common sens that has been distorted and covered: Every man is born equal. Every man is born free. He has natural rights (jus nafural). It is a universal principle. It is applicable in all countries and nations. Any excuse to go against these principle should be denounced, whether it’s history or China’s special conditions.
I will continue to be a clear-minded patriot in 2009 instead of being a muddleheaded one.
Read also: Democracy Must Win by Zhang Wen.