Speaking at USC, University of Denver scholar Suisheng Zhao argues that China¡¯s pragmatic nationalism is fundamentally interest-driven, reactive and flexible. (Release Date: 02/14/20
Coming of age in China during the intellectually impoverished period of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, Suisheng Zhao is now a leading scholar of Chinese studies, particularly the China-US relationship. Suisheng Zhao currently serves as Professor and Executive Director of the Center for China-US Cooperation at the University of Denver¡¯s Graduate School of International Studies. He is founding editor of the Journal of Contemporary China, a member of the Board of Governors of the US Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, a member of National Committee on US-China Relations, and a Research Associate at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research in Harvard University.
At the invitation of the USC U.S. 隆搂C China Institute
, Suisheng Zhao gave a talk on Feb. 1 to more than fifty enthusiastic scholars, students, and administrators on Chinese nationalism and its foreign policy implications.
Contrary to the traditional view that the ideology of communism is the foundation of the People¡¯s Republic of China, Suisheng Zhao proposed that nationalism is the foundation of the country. In 1949 when Mao Zedong announced the establishment of the People¡¯s Republic of China, he used a nationalist phrase -- ¡隆茫Chinese people have stood up ever since¡隆脌 -- to restore China¡¯s identity, pride, and its rightful place in the world.
Chinese Nationalism: affirmative, assertive, or aggressive?
With the economic, political, and military development of China in the late twentieth century, Chinese nationalism has been on the rise as communist ideology has been on the decline. Zhao sees no cause for concern in this trend. National interest and national pride are healthy in any state. However, the concern arises when political leaders use nationalism to demoralize other nations in order to promote national interest or to mobilize the people to act aggressively. This becomes savagism rather than nationalism. There are some alarmists who believe that Chinese nationalism is indeed a threat and will lead China to become an international aggressor.
Is Chinese nationalism aggressive? Suisheng Zhao gave a resounding ¡隆茫no¡隆脌 in response to this question. He further explained that Chinese leaders have followed Deng Xiaoping¡¯s instruction to keep a low profile in terms of international politics. China does not try to be a leader for fear of becoming a target of international aggression or interference. Therefore, Chinese nationalism is not a tool for assertiveness and aggression.
The origin of Chinese Nationalism
Nationalism did not exist until the Opium War in 1840-1842 between Chinese and British troops. China¡¯s defeat opened China¡¯s doors, which ultimately led to the disintegration of the Chinese empire and the loss of national sovereignty to Western imperialists. Chinese people had suffered humiliation from imperialism for hundreds of years ever since. From the beginning of the twentieth century through today, most Chinese political leaders have not only shared a deep bitterness over this humiliation, but also shared a dream of a strong China.
According to Zhao, ethnic nationalism was one of the earliest forms of nationalism in the twentieth century. It advocates the creation of a single ethnic nation. For example, the Han majority rose against the minority Manchu in the Qing Dynasty in 1911. The Han sought to create a state dominated by the Han majority. Since then, this type of nationalism has given way to other forms of nationalism. It remains dominant only among the frontiers ethnic minorities in Tibet and Inner Mongolia, groups that were never able to create their own ethnic states.
Liberal nationalism, also introduced in the early twentieth century, eventually surpassed ethnic nationalism in its popularity. It defines the nation as a group of citizens who have a duty both to support the rights of the state and to pursue individual freedom. The post-Mao reforms in the 1980s, accompanied by Deng Xiaoping¡¯s call for intellectual liberation created spaces for liberal nationalism to spread out and have a greater impact in contemporary China. After the Cold War, liberal nationalists have explicitly advocated the adoption of liberal democratic ideals to promote China¡¯s renewal.