Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent Cases

Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent Cases

Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent Cases

Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent Cases


Wei and Liu argue that Chinese nationalism is a multifaceted concept. At different historical moments and under certain circumstances, it had different meanings and interacted with other competing motives and interests. The authors of this timely volume, all of whom are of Chinese origin and bi-national education, have produced a balanced and non-culture-bound work of scholarship. It contains diverse, provocative, and in-depth analysis of both historical and recent case studies that can shed light on the contemporary incarnation of Chinese nationalism.

This interdisciplinary anthology looks at variants of Chinese nationalism upheld and contended by social groups, classes, and power-holders from the past to the present. The authors argue that nationalism can be supported by both patriotic and group- or party-oriented interest calculations. Forms of Chinese nationalism can result from situational as well as ideological conditions.


China is an ancient civilization, but it is also a rather new country. in a formal sense, “China” did not exist as a state before the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. the Republic succeed the Da Qing Guo, the Great Qing Empire, that vast expanse of territories and peoples of which China was the central part, but only part; and of course the Qing emperors were not of Chinese origin, but were Manchus, from beyond the Great Wall. They were, in historical terms, very successful. After all, no empire ruled by a Chinese dynasty had ever been so big, for so long, as the Qing realm of the Manchus. It may well be that the very fact that the Qing was not Chinese in origin was an important factor in the way it conquered, and held together, such disparate parts of its empire as Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet, not to mention China proper.

The great mission of Chinese governments since 1912 has been to hold this inherited empire together and to make it, increasingly, a Chinese national state. Internationally, the several Chinese republics of the twentieth century have succeeded in gaining recognition the world over for its sovereignty over the multi-cultural, multi-national Qing domain. Domestically, the multi-striped (for multiple ethnicities) flag of the early Republic would give one to the one-sun banner of the Nationalists, whose nationalizing mission would be continued by their Communist successors.

Chinese nationalism certainly predated the Republic to some degree: at the latest it is evident in elite responses to the Qing's disastrous defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1895. It could extend more broadly into urban populations with anti-foreign boycotts of the last decade of the Qing. But nationalism in the sense of a broad, popular identification with “China” is essentially a twentiethcentury phenomenon that in time would permeate all classes and areas of China proper and extend even into the original homeland of the Qing, Manchuria.

Nationalism became the ideological glue of campaigns against imperialism and the privileges of foreigners, who would be forced to relinquish their extraterritorial rights by 1943. An anti-imperialist nationalism would bring the Nationalist and Communist parties, who could agree on little else, into two united fronts. For intellectuals of the May 4 era and beyond, nationalism could be a justification for the critique and abandonment of much of Chinese national tradition, such as Confucianism. After all, the task at hand, in cultural as in economic as in military matters, was to jian guo, to build a new China.

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