China’s Nationalism Today

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Ulyana Fedorenko

China’s relations with other states are greatly influenced by its thousand-year history. This influence is symbolized by the name of the country in historic times as  – “Zhongguo” (“Middle State”). It depicts its location in the center of the world, surrounded by “barbarian tribes” who were only invading and indulge in wars. In new and modern times, China began to be perceived no longer as the dominant of the world, but as a state longing for the revival of its greatness.

Nationalism has already become an integral part of life in contemporary China, whether people around the world like it or not. On the one hand, in conditions of stable development and effective management, nationalism can become a stimulus for the growth of China. Beijing still adheres to the concept of the peaceful rise of the country but it is recognized that along with soft power, the country needs to protect itself from any future wars and invasion through military buildup i.e. hard power.  Chinese military expenditures are growing, the armed forces and military doctrine are being modernized.

In recent years, the domestic economy has grown to a manifold. The popularity of domestic brands and the role of traditional Chinese elements in different industries has increased in China. Chinese fashion and luxury brands are thriving in 2021 where the Chinese are proud of “Made in China” products. Beijing supports the domestic fashion industry and Chinese designers. Xi Jinping is in favor of developing different industries inside the country that should not rely on Western brands for its further development.

The popularity of “Made in China” things is growing daily. In the past, consumers were convinced that Western brands would guarantee higher quality than Chinese brands, but now this opinion is changing. Also in 2019, several international fashion brands including Versace, Coach, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, and ASICS were criticized by Chinese internet users for displaying maps of China on their websites or branded T-shirts featuring Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries, not as part of China. As a result, Chinese celebrities ended partnerships with many of these brands.

Firstly, these examples show that nationalism has been actively growing in China in recent years. It also demonstrates that the Chinese are ready to dictate the “terms of the game” not only to Western brands but also to other countries in the international arena. Chinese nationalism is one of the main driving forces behind China’s growth and progressive way forward. And the question here is not so much in economic factors or political leadership but in the initial impulse aimed at development under national slogans.

Secondly, the Chinese leadership is actively looking for ways to build national pride within the country and abroad. For example, President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader who participated in the celebration of Confucius’. In fact, nowadays President Xi Jinping is giving new impetus with combining elements of the communist paradigm, Confucianism, and nationalism. This approach is helping China to move ahead in the global committee of nations in all dimensions.

In regard to political ideals, President Xi Jinping is a staunch nationalist like other leaders and believing in helping China to march forward. He gave a speech during his visit to an exhibition on “The Road to Rejuvenation” on 18 November 2012, where he declared that he believes “that realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream of the Chinese nation in modern time”.

Nationalism has already become an independent factor in international politics but, at the same time, the phenomenon of nationalism in international relations has several specific features for East Asia. Apart from this, nationalism has an economic subtext in states with the positive dynamics of economic growth, based on the realization that the country “gets up from the knees” and finally acquires a “deserved” place in the world. This is one of the characteristics of China, where the powerful economic rise of the country is perceived as restoring historical justice. Moreover, the motives associated with historical memory are very strong in manifestations of nationalism.

This is not accidental that Chinese nationalism has sought to incorporate the experiences of the Chinese community across the world into an expanded community, where China is the cultural, political, or economic center of the world. Latest addresses given by official spokespersons have consistently framed the backlash toward Chinese overseas citizens and migrants as an attack on “the entirety of the Chinese population.”

Finally, the surge in racist xenophobia in the West has made Beijing to defend Chinese interests including members of the Chinese community and overseas migrants. Such ethnocentric nationalism enables the fostering of ties and connections between the Chinese civil society and the state. So, it remains to be seen how China’s national identity and search for prestige will adjust in the future. President Xi Jinping might express a Confucian-inspired identity that can win international admirers and provide a basis for China’s greater global role. On the other hand, nationalism might become a stronger driver of China’s growth while deepening tensions with other states, especially with the US. To understand its effects, observers must not simply dismiss Chinese nationalism but approach both its inherent risks and the rationales, sentiments, and enthusiasm of ordinary people.

The writer is a Postgraduate Student at the Department of International Relations and Law at Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service, Vladivostok, Russia

*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and neither represent the position of The Diplomatic Insight and nor the Department of International Relations and Law at Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service, Vladivostok, Russia

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