“Nationalism cannot only aggravate ethnic relations within the state, but it can also spill over borders and increase the likelihood of international conflict”
(Downs and Saunders, 1998/99:115).
Nationalism has become a major part of the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda to success and continued rule as it struggles to keep its legitimacy in China. Nationalism to an extent also shapes China’s international relations. This essay will first define what nationalism means for China by providing some background information to explain its rise, as well as the role that the ‘national humiliation’ narrative plays in it. It will also discuss the role of the patriotic education system and differentiate between state and popular nationalism. This essay will then go on to briefly mention the role nationalism plays in China’s relations with Africa and Taiwan and then it will provide a more detailed analysis of China’s nationalism and the impact it has on China’s relations with these countries. These four countries were picked as they have a long history and relationship with China that they sees as important. This essay will argue that although nationalism plays an important part in China’s relations with Japan and the United States, it isn’t the only factor that determines these relationships. The way other states treat China and Chinese history also plays a key part in shaping China’s international relations.
What is Nationalism?
Nations are central to understanding nationalism. Benedict Anderson, defines nations as ‘imagined communities’, this is because it is impossible to know the entire populace however there is still a sense of togetherness and unity amongst those from the same nation (Anderson, 2006:6). Therefore, nations are socially constructed. Elie Kedourie, (1960:9), defined nationalism as “a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It asserts that humanity is naturally divided into nations, and on this basis claims to supply a criterion for the determination of the unit of population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own, for the legitimate exercise of power in the state, and for the right organisation of a society of states” (cited in Mayall and Jackson-Preece, 2011:18). However, nationalism does not have one single definition, its meaning has evolved as society changes and modernises. Nationalism can “...refer to any behaviour designed to restore, maintain, or advance public images of that national community” (Gries, 2005:9). By the mid-1960s there were two main proposals to understanding nationalism. “In the first, nationalism was an aspect of national history, a sentiment associated with the nation...In the second approach, nationalism was a modern, irrational doctrine which could acquire sufficient power...to generate nationalists sentiments and even nation states” (Gellner, 2008:xx). Nationalism is defined differently by different schools of thought and theorists.