Chinese Cyber Nationalism: Evolution, Characteristics, and Implications

By Volland, Nicolai | The China Journal, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Chinese Cyber Nationalism: Evolution, Characteristics, and Implications


Volland, Nicolai, The China Journal


Chinese Cyber Nationalism: Evolution, Characteristics, and Implications, by Xu Wu. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007. xii + 265 pp. US$85.00 (hardcopy).

If conferences and recent publications are an indicator, nationalism and the Internet are among the most closely watched issues in modern China studies. To join them up in a neat monograph is therefore a logical step. Xu Wu's Chinese Cyber Nationalism sets out to complete this task. Wu defines Chinese cyber nationalism, traces its origins and development, and explains its consequences for the increasing complexity of the PRC's internal and external politics. Drawing on a wealth of examples, the book enhances our understanding of the popular dimension of contemporary Chinese nationalism. By showing how an emerging middle class takes to the Internet to shape its ideas and make its voice heard on a number of core political questions, this book confirms a trend away from the questions that preoccupied the first generation of scholars working on the Chinese Internet: how the government's control of the Internet works and whether or not the Internet will lead to democracy. It is thus a welcome addition to both the growing field of Internet studies and to research on nationalism and Chinese political culture.

Chinese Cyber Nationalism seems to be the author's slightly revised doctoral dissertation. This helps to explain both the book's strengths and its shortcomings: while it offers numerous insights and is based on a wide range of primary sources and interviews, the unwieldy structure and the lack of editing make for sometimes tough reading.

The book is divided into three parts, called "Evolution" (Chapters 1-5), "Definitions" (Chapters 6-12) and "Reflections" (Chapters 13-15), as well as a final chapter with the title "Inconclusions". The first part is basically a timeline of the Chinese Internet, with special emphasis on the issue of nationalism. These chapters have little new to offer; it is also unfortunate that much of the information is repeated later in the analytical sections (see, for example, the discussions of the hacker organizations "Green Corps" at pp. 36-37 and 159, and "Honker Union of China" at pp. 53-55, 159-60). The second part of the book moves step by step towards a definition of the crucial concept of "Chinese cyber nationalism". It might have been better to move this section to the beginningonly three-quarters of the way through the book is the concept finally pinned down and explained. The last section might best be regarded as an appendix, presenting summaries of interviews with leading figures of the nationalist movement and with two government officials, as well as the results of an email survey. Since this section is extremely rich in original information, I would have expected more discussion on the issues raised by Wu's interlocutors.

So what is Chinese cyber nationalism? Wu defines it as "a non-government sponsored ideology and movement that has originated, existed, and developed in China's online sphere over the past decade (1994-present). It is a natural extension of China's century-long nationalism movement, but it is different from both the Chinese Communist Party's official version of patriotism, and the traditional Chinese nationalism movement" (p. 155). It thus has four characteristics: it is a non-governmental ideology, it is a grass-roots movement, it is inherently modern, and it is reactive in that it is triggered by external events, rather than by domestic pressures. With this last point, Wu hopes to prove wrong the proponents of the "China threat" theory who regard Chinese nationalism as aggressive and expansionist in nature. …

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