China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy

By Guo, Yingjie | The China Journal, January 2005 | Go to article overview

China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy


Guo, Yingjie, The China Journal


China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy, by Peter Hayes Gries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. x + 215 pp. US$24.95/£15.95 (hardcover).

The aim of this book, as stated in the Introduction, is to present a balanced view of "China's new nationalism", "one that acknowledges its legitimate grievances and recognizes its potential dangers" (p. 12). It argues from a social psychological point of view that Chinese identity "evolves in dynamic relationship with other nations and the past" and "involves both the Chinese people and other passions" (p. 19). These interrelated arguments are intended not only to challenge what the author calls "the dominant Western interpretation of Chinese nationalism" and the "West's state-centric view of Chinese nationalism" but also to draw attention to the dangers of China-bashing in the US and America-bashing in China.

"Nationalism" in this book refers to "any behavior designed to restore, maintain, or advance public images" of a national community (p. 9). What seems to make "China's new nationalism" new is its "genuine popularity" and "independent existence". This conclusion is based on the evidence that Chinese nationalism increasingly challenges the Party-state; that the Chinese, like all peoples, have deep-seated emotional attachments to their national identity; and that Chinese public opinion now plays a role in national politics. Another new feature of today's Chinese nationalism is the way in which it constructs narratives of a "century of humiliation". The national narrative of heroism and victory that served the requirements of Communist revolutionaries and nation-building goals under Mao are now superseded by a new and popular victimization narrative that blames the West, including Japan, for China's suffering. It is not immediately clear in the book why long-suppressed memories of past suffering resurfaced in the 1990s, but this seems to have much to do with a psychological need to return continually to unresolved traumas in the hope of mastering them.

These themes are developed through an examination of nationalist writings-mostly by Chinese intellectuals-and the official and popular responses to a number of well-known events in the 1990s and more recently. Chapter 1 looks at the protests in 1999 in the wake of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Chapter 2 discusses the ways that Chinese national identity is shaped in a dialogic process of comparison with and distinction from the US and Japan. Chapter 3 turns to the effect of Chinese visions of the "century of humiliation" on their self-image, as well as the impact of changes to their national identity on Chinese views of the century. Chapters 4 and 5 revisit Chinese views of the US and Japan, although this time the focus shifts to writings about past and future Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations. In Chapter 6-probably the most substantive and interesting chapter-Gries explores the motivation of Chinese nationalists, focusing on China's apology diplomacy. Chapters 7 and 8 can be thought of as a conclusion in two parts, in that they pull together and highlight once again some of the book's main themes.

The book does an admirable job in demonstrating that the way US policymakers and commentators talk about China dangerously distorts US interpretations of, and responses to, Chinese policies and actions, and influences Chinese understandings of the US. It also shows convincingly that anti-American and anti-Chinese polemics easily spiral into mutual dehumanization and demonization and thus lay the foundations for violent conflict. A no less significant contribution the book makes is its perspective on Chinese nationalism. Central to Gries' perception is the concept of face-so much so that he has consistently italicized the word in the book. What he means by face is not simply the figurative self shown to others but also a prerequisite for maintaining authority and the ability to pursue instrumental goals.

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