Revival of Chinese Nationalism

IITM CSC Article #34
14 August 2012

Revival of Chinese Nationalism

Politically, this is an important year for China, with a political transformation taking place in the 18th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). This of course would take place if everything proceeds as per the plans. There are rumors as of now that the Congress may be postponed by a couple of months if the political bargains are not settled in time. In the meantime, a couple of important and interesting developments have made it amply clear as to how the Party wants to approach this transformation.

Many issues have been used as drivers to increase the nationalist feelings. The recorded misbehaviour by a Russian cellist of the Beijing Opera and an incident of a British national misbehaving with a Chinese woman attracted media attention in China. These incidents ignited a campaign against foreigners in a big way. Television host, Yang Rui used a microblogging website to argue that foreigners in Beijing were dating local women to espionage and appealed to the government to “clean out foreign trash, arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls.” Following this, the government initiated a Hundred Day Campaign to verify the documents of the foreigners residing in Beijing. Many foreigners including women, also reported harrowing experiences at the hands of nationalist and misinformed Beijing citizens following this campaign.

The Beijing government also asked the US embassy (in Beijing) to stop monitoring and publishing the local environmental index, accusing them of interfering in the internal affairs of the country. The US embassy has ben publishing this data daily for many years, including when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. Many watchers of Beijing’s environmental conditions deemed this data more accurate than the official data.

The third instance was when China reacted angrily, although relatively mildly, to the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement in the Shangri-La Dialogue that the US would reconfigure its forces to put more focus on the Asia-Pacific.

The biggest impetus to the nationalist sentiment came of course from the territorial and island disputes with Vietnam. Based on contested history, disputes in South China and East China Sea, has been a catalyst of nationalism in South and Southeast Asia. Its reemergence has led to revival of nationalist sentiments.

Since early June, in keeping with its nationalistic policy, China is extra cautious in its minority border regions. Tibet is now out of bounds for international tourists. This move is surprising as while Tibet has been closed for foreigners in the past, it is the first time this ban is being enforced during the peak season. The revival of self-immolations is likely to be a reason for this ban. Additionally, the government has advised certain groups of citizens in Xinjiang to avoid fasting during the month of Ramadan. It is clear that China wants to avoid any untoward incident from the restive ethnic minorities, this year.

While on one hand it is looking to ensure stability in its minority regions, the government has been relaxed in terms of the revival of nationalism amongst the Han population. The rise to power of the CPC is projected as the answer to that humiliation. In addition, rise of China in the last 20 years is seen as a natural progression. Thus, to be patriotic is to support the Party and its continued role as the controller of the state’s politics and economy.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the right wing Global Times recently published an article blaming India for the alleged double standard towards exiled Tibetans. It will not be surprising if to see more such propaganda coming out of the PRC media, as the Congress approaches.


Avinash Godbole
Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
Friday, October 16, 2015 - 15:45
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