Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

Excerpt

The search for a new Chinese identity gathered momentum as early as the late 1970s, hand in hand with economic and political reform and the cultural debate on tradition and modernity. Since then, identity has been reconstructed in the broad context of rapid modernization and globalization as well as the gradual debunking of socialism. As China became increasingly ‘derevolutionalized’ and modernized, particularly in the 1980s, it came up against what was widely known as a ‘crisis of faith’, which was not merely a loss of faith in communism but a loss of faith in Chinese culture and tradition as well.

Under these circumstances, many in China found that what the Party-state presented as ‘the physical and psychological definitions’ of the collective self became largely irrelevant, let alone acceptable. In other words, ‘matters of identity’ could no longer be taken for granted, whether or not one wants to describe this state of affairs as an identity crisis. Evidently, however, the matters of identity have been conceptualized in vastly different ways before and after the dramatic Tiananmen events of 1989. Such was the national ethos throughout the 1980s that the ‘correct’ view in society was that nothing except wholesale Westernization could save China. Hence, ‘iconoclasm’ dominated intellectual debates under the tutelage of the proreform factions within the CCP. Today, as in the 1980s, the ideological contest between socialism and capitalism continues to tilt in favour of the latter, even though it has not been settled once and for all. In contrast, however, the post-Tiananmen era has witnessed the waning of ‘iconoclasm’ and the waxing ‘conservatism’ as a result of a concatenation of domestic and international events. As the context has changed, so have the dynamics that drive the reconstruction and the content of the reconstructed identity. In the new game of identity politics, the focus has clearly shifted from the liquidation of ‘backward traditional culture’ and the ‘ugly national character’ to the ‘reconstruction of national culture’ and the rediscovery of ‘the national spirit’, even though contestation is continuing unabated.

One of the most decisive structural changes that helped to bring about this dramatic turn of the tide was the changing of the guard in the CCP

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