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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Backgrounder: Nationalism in China

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer

April 23, 2008


With China hosting its first-ever Olympics, the country has seen a surge in national pride. But Chinese are angry at what they see as the West trying to spoil their party. In March, anti-government protests in Tibet followed by human rights’ demonstrations during the international leg of the Olympic torch relay sparked a sharp response from Chinese both at home and abroad. Their anger has taken the form of public demonstrations, newspaper editorials, online petitions, and other Internet activism. Olympic protests in Paris during the torch relay have drawn particular ire in China and have led to calls for a boycott of French goods. Flaring nationalism is not new. It has been set off in instances such as the accidental bombing of a Chinese embassy in 1999 during the Kosovo War and a 2001 incident in which a U.S. surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet off China’s coast. But experts say this time the public outrage appears to be more genuine, instigated by perceived unfair treatment by the West rather than stoked by the Communist Party. This change could pose challenges not only for the West coming to terms with a rising China, but also for China’s government trying to maintain peace and stability within its borders.

A Pillar of Legitimacy

China’s nationalism today is shaped by its pride in its history as well as its century of humiliation at the hands of the West and Japan. China expert Peter Hays Gries writes: (PDF) “Chinese nationalists today find pride in stories about the superiority of China’s ?5000 years’ of ?glorious civilization.’” This yearning for lost glory is accompanied by the story of victimization in the past, a narrative central to what being Chinese today means, says Gries.


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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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