We’ve had many discussions here on Chinese Nationalism. Last year, Chinese nationalism was stoked in the aftermath of the West’s response to the riots in Tibet and in the lead up to the Olympics. Many in the West chided China on a host of issues – from domestic human rights abuses to China’s policies in Africa. Many viewed with wary eyes the rise of Chinese nationalism, with some depicting Chinese nationalism as a force for instability in the world – some going as fars as comparing Chinese Nationalism to Hitler’s Naziism. Many painted the notion of Chinese Exceptionism (the vague idea that China occupies a special place in history and has a special role to play in the world) in dark, ominous terms.
My personal belief is of course very different. I believe Chinese nationalism is a force for good – not evil. I believe that the best chance for China to realize her utmost potential – a world in which every citizen, regardless of class, ethnicity, or religion, is liberated from poverty and ignorance, where all individual are empowered to lead meaningful and purposeful lives as members of a peaceful and prosperous society – is by uniting behind a strong nation.
My point here is not necessarily to argue one side or the other in this debate, but to point out that there is a healthy discussion within China on what it means to be nationalistic within China. What does China wants to be as it “grows up”? How will China view its rising strength and status? What additional burdens and responsibilities – both domestically as well as abroad – should China take on as it becomes more developed? What role does China want to play in International Affairs as it becomes stronger?
Here is one voice (albeit still incomplete) in that discussion – translated courtesy of China News Wrap:
People’s Daily: “China cannot long for the revival of past imperial glory”
The People’s Daily website has a headline opinion piece warning against the perils of aspiring to restore China’s prior imperial glory in the future.
The opinion piece was originally published by “Global Times (”环球时报”).
“The current financial crisis has triggered heated discussion about how the global power structure will be reconstituted. Will the world political strucuture be reformulated? Will power shift from the old colonial nations to newly-emerging powers? Will rapidly-ascending nations like China regain immense influence over the world? All of these questions have triggered a new wave of ethnic nationalism, with hopes that China will find atonement for the century of shame, and that the dream of a thousand years will be realized. This is a longing for empire – the hope that China will again become the centre of the world, and that past imperial glory will be restored. The problem, however, lies in the fact that longing for China’s traditional imperium is accompanied by the ideological model of the power politics of Western international relations theory.”
“Interpreted from the perspective of realpolitik, the development of emerging countries is necessarily in conflict with the current system, triggering a shift and exchange in power, thus bringing an end to great nation politics. Seen from the perspective of international political cooperation, however, the development of emerging countries not only means a change and transfer in power relations, but also means that the international community will to a significant extent change the previous disparity between the North and the South, and make internatioal development more balanced, thus creating an overall development model which is of even greater benefit to the international community, causing the current order to become even more rational, without any replacement in relationships.”
“Additionally, humanity has entered the nuclear age, and attitudes towards warfare, and the concept of warfare in which there are clear victors and losers, has changed. There are no longer winners and losers in warfare, but only loss and destruction on both sides. The concept of pacificism is becoming more and more widespread amongst humanity. This is one of the reasons for overall stability in great nation politics following the two world wars of the 20th century. Additionally, it is now very unlikely that warfare will lead to major shifts or transfers in power.”
“For this reason, new perspectives are needed to deal with changes in the international community. Firstly, the relative nature of power is becoming more and more obvioius. For example, since the conclusion of the Cold War, the overall power of the United States has not declined, but the U.S. has encountered an increase in opposition towards it, and has had no choice but to deal with challenges from all sides. The U.S. uses its advantageous position to deal with these problems, but this leads to a dispersal of its power, and thus a relative weakening. In definite terms, the U.S. has not declined, but the power of other global forces has strengthened. The U.S. has not failed to develop, but the pace at which other countries are ascending is increasing.”
“Secondly, the international system is more stable than it was in the past, and the effect of changes in individual countries upon the international system has diminished. The ability of an individual country to change the international order has declined. Regardless of whether it’s the decline of the U.S. or the ascent of China, their significance is not comparable to similar events in the past. The United States accounted for 27% of global GDP in 1978 and 26.7% in 2008, a fall of only 0.3%. However, its ability to influence the world has declined considerably, Factors which serve to stabilize the international order cannot be overlooked. For example, the contraints of the system itself, the objective constraint of the nuclear balance of terror, the spread of Western social values, as well as the expansion of the internet, all exceed and constrain the spill-over effects of the rise or decline of a single nation.”
“Thirdly, a situation of complete balance and equality cannot bring about genuine stability. For example, the nuclear arms race brought a military balance, but this balance was never a stable one. Because of the profound effects of power politics, people always wish to use force as a means of constraining others, or employ a balance of power as a means of preserving stability. In reality, however, imbalances are not always without benefit, and although balances are sometimes of benefit to stability, they do not always bring benefit to development. In the future, global imbalance will not necessarily be a bad thing.”
“For this reason, we should not consider national ascendance to be a cause of excess elation, and cannot consider the decline of other nations to be the price for ensuring our own rise. In today’s world, there are perhaps some people who in theory accept the concept of a ‘common fate’, but in actuality attempt to flee from this idea. In truth, however, the fact remains that ‘when one wins, we all win, when one is harmed, we are all harmed’ is the reality that humanity confronts, as well as the reality that nations themselves confront.”
“Following the increase in the number of challenges which confront all of humanity, the limitations of individual nation-states are even more apparent. Solely relying upon cooperation between countries will also make it difficult to deal with these problems. Instead, greater emphasis should be placed upon the use of higher-level international organizations. Looking at human society overall, aside from national cohesiveness, it is global cohesiveness which will decide the future fate of humankind. A major measure for determining future trends and changes will be the cohesiveness of humankind, rather than the cohesiveness of individual nation-states alone. National cohesiveness alone will be far from adequate.”
“In future, China will make an even greater contribution to humanity, and will become a great nation with global influence. Yet it cannot tread upon the path of imperialist development again. In today’s world, China is still very backwards – it is not possible for a country which is in a state of nascent modernization to lead or influence post-industrial nation-states. China is far from being able to exert radical influence. Although China is definitely becoming a nation of global influence, its ability and methods for exerting global influence must also be distinct from the great powers of past history. China must create a new model of the great nation, and must engage in greater investigation into this area. There are some people who suffer from a ‘weak nation complex’, yet who in their bones are unable to abandon the idea of imperial ascendence. Humanity, however, has already entered the 21st century, and in actuality the objectives of development for great nations in the future will not be those of the United States, nor those of the China empire for the past several thousand years. They can only be those of a new model of great nation.”
Title of original news story in Chinese: “中国恢复昔日帝国荣光之思要不得”
Do you think a strong and prosperous China is good or bad for the world? If good – what in your view (ideally) should a strong and prosperous China look like?