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University of California Press
China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy / Edition 1

China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy / Edition 1

by Peter Hays Gries
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Three American missiles hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and what Americans view as an appalling and tragic mistake, many Chinese see as a "barbaric" and intentional "criminal act," the latest in a long series of Western aggressions against China. In this book, Peter Hays Gries explores the roles of perception and sentiment in the growth of popular nationalism in China. At a time when the direction of China's foreign and domestic policies have profound ramifications worldwide, Gries offers a rare, in-depth look at the nature of China's new nationalism, particularly as it involves Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations—two bilateral relations that carry extraordinary implications for peace and stability in the twenty-first century.

Through recent Chinese books and magazines, movies, television shows, posters, and cartoons, Gries traces the emergence of this new nationalism. Anti-Western sentiment, once created and encouraged by China's ruling PRC, has been taken up independently by a new generation of Chinese. Deeply rooted in narratives about past "humiliations" at the hands of the West and impassioned notions of Chinese identity, popular nationalism is now undermining the Communist Party's monopoly on political discourse, threatening the regime's stability. As readable as it is closely researched and reasoned, this timely book analyzes the impact that popular nationalism will have on twenty-first century China and the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520244825
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 07/05/2005
Series: Philip E. Lilienthal Book in Asian Studi
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Peter Hays Gries is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Codirector of the Sino-American Security Dialogue, and coeditor of State and Society in 21st-Century China: Crisis, Contention, and Legitimation (forthcoming).

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China's New Nationalism

Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy
By Peter Hays Gries

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2004 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24482-6


Dragon Slayers and Panda Huggers

On 1 April 2001, an American EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese F-8 jet fighter collided over the South China Sea. The EP-3 made it safely to China's Hainan Island; the F-8 tore apart and crashed. Chinese pilot Wang Wei was killed. A few days later, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called an unusual late-night news conference. Spokesman Zhu Bangzao, his rage clearly visible, declared: "The United States should take full responsibility, make an apology to the Chinese government and people, and give us an explanation of its actions." Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and President Jiang Zemin soon reiterated this demand. Secretary of State Colin Powell initially responded with equal bluntness: "We have nothing to apologize for." Viewing the aggressiveness of the Chinese jet as the cause of the collision, many Americans did not feel responsible. As Senator Joseph Lieberman said on CNN's "Larry King Live," "When you play chicken, sometimes you get hurt."

The impasse was broken after eleven days of intensive negotiations. American Ambassador Joseph Prueher gave a letter to Foreign Minister Tang: "Please convey to theChinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss.... We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance." Having extracted an "apology" from Washington, Beijing released the twenty-four American servicemen being held on Hainan Island. In the Chinese view, Jiang, "diplomatic strategist extraordinaire," had won a major victory. The American spin was quite different. Powell denied that America had apologized, again asserting, "There is nothing to apologize for. To apologize would have suggested that we have done something wrong or accepted responsibility for having done something wrong. And we did not do anything wrong." The conservative media was not so restrained. The Weekly Standard declared the People's Republic to be "violent and primitive ... a regime of hair-curling, systematic barbarity." A New Republic editorial asserted that "a non-Maoist tyranny in China is still a tyranny.... They are, in short, in transition from communism to fascism." Chinese nationalism, the National Review maintained, is "psychopathological."

Is China out to settle old scores with the West, or is China seeking to incorporate itself peacefully into the world system? Is China, in other words, a cute panda or an evil dragon? Westerners hold both views. Foreign-policy makers, businesspeople, and academics frequently sing China's praises. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paints a rosy picture of Chinese intentions. "China is no military colossus," Kissinger argues in the Los Angeles Times, and has "the best of intentions." China, Kissinger insists, can be counted on to pursue its "self-interest" in cooperation-high praise indeed from a proud practitioner of realpolitik. As China's economic reforms embraced the market, many in the West came to romanticize a business China that was thought to be capitalist, "just like us." In 1985, after six years of successful economic reforms in China, Time magazine even declared Deng Xiaoping "Man of the Year." Western businesspeople have frequently served Beijing in exchange for access to China's consumers. Academic China watchers also tend to present a rosy picture of China, rarely speaking out on controversial issues such as human rights. Scholars like Andrew Nathan and Perry Link are the exceptions that prove the rule. Because they have spoken out against Chinese human rights violations, Chinese nationalists and government officials have subjected them to vicious personal attacks, and they have been denied visas to China. For example, Penn State's Liu Kang, one of the most virulent of China's anti-American nationalists, viciously attacks Link in his "A 'China Hand' Not Welcome in Beijing" section of the best-selling 1997 diatribe The Plot to Demonize China.

Meanwhile, an odd alliance of politicians, celebrities, and journalists on the left and right join together in China bashing. On the left, a variety of politicians and actors have avowed a profound concern for Chinese human rights abuses and the fate of Tibet. Nancy Pelosi, congressional representative from northern California, feels so strongly about standing up for democratic values that she frequently joins conservatives in Congress to criticize China. Pelosi even has a special China human rights page on her Web site. Actors have joined the politicians. Living in affluent southern California, but enraptured by Tibetan spirituality, Hollywood celebrities like Richard Gere and Steven Seagal have turned to the Dalai Lama for spiritual guidance and depicted Beijing as a ruthless dictatorship. On the right, a "Blue Team" of conservative hawks has emerged on Capitol Hill to attack "panda huggers" and "Sinapologists." For example, William Triplett, coauthor of Year of the Rat and Red Dragon Rising, and a former staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues that China is a rising power determined to challenge the United States. He maintains that China's "dictatorial regime" is suppressing "the Chinese people's yearning for freedom and democracy." To such dragon slayers, America must stand up for democracy, disciplining an evil and despotic China. The Western media often reinforces this message: journalists stationed in China, harassed by the Beijing authorities, frequently focus on the dark side of life in what they characterize as a land of tyranny.

Some Westerners have even argued both sides. After acquiring Hong Kong's Star TV in 1993, media mogul Rupurt Murdoch declared satellite television an "unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere." Beijing soon declared war on Murdoch's News Corporation, pronouncing satellite dishes illegal. Murdoch quickly surrendered, and has been kowtowing to Beijing ever since, first pulling BBC off of Star TV, and then canceling publication of the memoirs of the former British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten. More recently, Murdoch's son James has parroted Beijing's shrill critique of the Falun Gong spiritual movement as a "dangerous ... cult."

China, it seems, means very different things to different people. Western fears and fantasies about China reveal a great deal about the interests and ideals that shape the American political landscape. They do not, however, teach us much about the real China. Romanticizing and demonizing China, furthermore, dangerously distorts our understanding of Chinese foreign policies. The way that we talk about China influences the ways we interpret and respond to Chinese actions. And the way that we talk about China also influences the way that the Chinese (mis)understand us. Such trans-Pacific muddles help explain how the United States and China came to blows in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1965-1973). And a conflict over Taiwan remains a real possibility at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Our China policy debate must, therefore, see beyond such distortions to focus on the real China.

To understand Chinese nationalism, we must listen to the Chinese. This study, therefore, seeks to introduce Western readers to the views of China's new nationalists. Specifically, I focus on Chinese perceptions of China's two most important rivals: America and Japan. There is real need for such a study. Recent academic and journalistic accounts have done an admirable job of recounting the American perspective on the United States's relationship with China. But Chinese perceptions of this relationship are woefully neglected. This book, therefore, will introduce the rarely told Chinese side of the story. The neglected Chinese perspective on Japan and America is found in a wide assortment of Chinese materials expressing nationalist sentiments: movies, television shows, posters, cartoons, but particularly popular books and magazines published in mainland China since the early 1990s. Most of these materials were produced by a "fourth generation" of Chinese nationalists in their thirties. These young Chinese seek to distinguish themselves from their elders, and to make sense of their experiences in the "Liberal '80s."

Ironically, the "fourth generation" appears to find the new victimization narrative of Chinese suffering at the hands of Western imperialists appealing precisely because they, unlike older Chinese, have never been directly victimized. The first generation of revolutionaries endured the hardships of the anti-fascist and civil wars of the 1930s and 1940s. The second generation suffered during the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s. And the third generation of Red Guards was sent down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s. The fourth generation of PRC youth, by contrast, grew up with relative material prosperity under Deng Xiaoping and Reform in the 1980s and 1990s. In their 1997 psycho-autobiography The Spirit of the Fourth Generation, Song Qiang and several of his coauthors of the 1996 nationalist diatribes China Can Say No and China Can Still Say No fret over their generation's materialism: "cultural and spiritual fast food has taken over." They are envious of the third generation who, "proud of their hardships," can celebrate them at Cultural Revolution restaurants like Heitudi ("The Black Earth") in Beijing, nostalgically eating fried corn bread, recalling the good old, bad old days. They then ask, "Are we an unimportant generation?" In a section entitled "How Much Longer Must We be Silent?", they lament that "We in our thirties are without a shadow or a sound ... it seems that we will perish in silence." Many of this generation, it seems, have a strong desire to make their mark. And they seek to do so through nationalism.

Many "fourth-generation" nationalists today have self-consciously defined themselves against the "Liberal '80s." Sociologist Karl Mannheim long ago argued that the formative events of youth mark each generation. Late-1980s experiences like the pro-Western "River Elegy" television sensation and Beijing Spring 1989 came at a pivotal time in the lives of Chinese nationalists now in their thirties. Today's nationalists frequently dismiss the 1980s as a period of dangerous "romanticism" and "radicalism"; they then depict themselves as "realistic" and "pragmatic" defenders of stability and order. During the "May 8th" nationalist protests of 1999, for instance, one group of students demonstrated with a painting of what might best be described as the "Demon of Liberty." During Beijing Spring a decade earlier, Chinese students became famous for their statue the "Goddess of Democracy." This self-conscious superimposition of America as demon over America as goddess tells us far more about changes in the worldview of Chinese youth since 1989 than it does about the United States.

These and other Chinese voices can help us with the thorny problem of just what exactly "Chinese nationalism" is. Because it is based upon analysis of European history, the definition that nationalism arises when nations seek to become states does not apply very well to China. The Western view of the nation as a uniquely modern institution is also problematic in the Chinese context. "China" has four millennia of documented history, and two millennia of centralized rule. Did it only become a "nation" in the twentieth century? Historian Prasenjit Duara has gone to great lengths to argue that premodern China's regions were linked to Beijing in a variety of ways, creating a widely shared notion of "China." Because premodern Chinese shared a common culture, he argues, they were the "first nation." Other historians disagree, arguing, for example, that local religious practices accentuated regional differences, undermining consciousness of a common "Chinese" identity.

Confucianism presents a further problem to those who want to define Chinese nationalism. One group of scholars holds that Confucianism and nationalism are incompatible: Confucian universalism, which holds that all peoples can become Chinese if they adapt to a Sinocentric civilization, mitigates against the idea of a Chinese nationalism that defines itself in contradistinction to other nations. Other scholars, however, argue that "Confucian nationalism" is not an oxymoron: Confucianism allows for the reinforcement of cultural boundaries when barbarians do not accept Chinese values. The "universal" "all under heaven" (tianxia) can and often has become a closed political community. Historian Lei Yi of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing has used the phrase "'Sinocentric' cultural nationalism ['Huaxia zhongxin' wenhua minzu zhuyi]" to describe such views. The Confucian world was not "one big happy family" (tianxia yi jia), but extremely Sinocentric, involving a "fierce racism, rejection of other cultures,... and cultural superiority."

Indeed, pride in the superiority of Confucian civilization is central to nationalism in China today. In 1994, Xiao Gongqing, an outspoken neoconservative intellectual, advocated the use of a nationalism derived from Confucianism to fill the ideological void opened by the collapse of communism. Popular nationalists frequently evince pride in China's Confucian civilization. The cover of a 1997 Beijing Youth Weekly, for instance, has "Chinese Defeat Kasparov!" splashed across a picture of the downcast grand master. Two of the six members of the IBM research group that programmed "Deep Blue," it turns out, were Chinese-Americans. "It was the genius of these two Chinese," one article asserts, "that allowed 'Deep Blue' to defeat Mr. Kasparov." Entitled "We Have the Best Brains," the article concludes that "we should be proud of the legacy of '5,000 years of civilization' that our ancestors have left for us." The Communist Party elite seems to concur. In 1995, for example, Vice Chair of the National People's Congress Tian Jiyun declared that "The IQs of the Chinese ethnicity, the descendants of the Yellow Emperor, are very high." Confucianism, it seems, does not "thin out" nationalism, but is instead the very basis of China's new nationalism.

This book avoids such controversies in taking a social psychological approach to nationalism. As Elie Kedourie noted long ago, nationalism "is very much a matter of one's self-view, of one's estimation of oneself and one's place in the world." Following social identity theorists, I loosely define national identity as that aspect of individuals' self-image that is tied to their nation, together with the value and emotional significance they attach to membership in the national community. "Nationalism" will refer to any behavior designed to restore, maintain, or advance public images of that national community.


Excerpted from China's New Nationalism by Peter Hays Gries Copyright © 2004 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Dragon-Slayers and Panda-Huggers

1. Saving Face
2. Chinese Identity and "the West"
3. A "Century of Humiliation"
4. The "Kissinger Complex"
5. Victors or Victims?
6. China's Apology Diplomacy
7. Popular Nationalism and the Fate of the Nation
8. Chinese Nationalism and U.S.–China Relations in the Twenty-First Century


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