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  • A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism
  • David D. Buck (bio)
Suisheng Zhao . A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. 355 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 0-8047-4897-7. Paperback $24.95, ISBN 0-8047-5001-7.

Suisheng Zhao adds this thorough and illuminating study to his previous work on the People's Republic of China. As in his most recent book, Chinese Foreign Policy: Pragmatism and Strategic Behavior (2003), Zhao emphasizes how in the 1990s China's leadership has abandoned Marxism for pragmatic nationalism, which he defines as a commitment "to avoid dogmatic constraints and adopt whatever approach proves most effective in making China strong" (p. 253). "Dogmatic constraints" obviously means Marx-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, but beyond this Zhao sees pragmatic nationalism as an alternative to nativism and antitraditionalism, two competing currents in Chinese political thought. Zhao defines "nativism" as seeing China's problems as caused by foreign imperialism and believing that China must look inward to reassert traditional values in order to recover its rightful place of world leadership. "Antitraditionalism" views Chinese tradition as a burden that must be abandoned completely in order for China to embrace the foreign-derived strengths of modernization. Zhao finds in the Communist Party's advocacy of pragmatic nationalism historical parallels to the nineteenth-century Self-Strengthening formula of tiyong (Chinese fundamentals and Western technology). He asserts that both positions provide a means to make foreign ways acceptable in China (see pp. 52-53, 214, and 253).

Zhao's theme of pragmatic nationalism dominates the final two chapters, where he analyzes China's current domestic and foreign policies. He shows that the policies of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have both employed nationalism as the most practical and effective way to assemble domestic support for building a modern Chinese nation-state. Other analysts have reached similar conclusions about the instrumental nature of the post-Mao leadership's support for nationalism. Ross Terrill, in The New Chinese Empire (New York: Basic Books, 2003), sees in Deng Xiaoping and his successors a similar blend of "the nationalism and developmentalism of nineteenth century self-strengtheners" (p. 174). Terrill, however, comes to a completely different conclusion about the nature of China's current order. Terrill repeatedly invokes the Leninist nature of the Chinese Communist Party, the autocratic traditions from Chinese dynastic history, and the PRC's increasing control of previously nonintegrated peripheral lands to assert that the PRC is not a real nation but "is indeed an empire of our time, as out of place as a fish in trees" (p. 3). [End Page 290]

Unlike Terrill and many other authors critical of the current order in China, Zhao has no doubts about the legitimacy of the PRC as a nation-state. Zhao argues that China is a genuine nation-state in which the CCP has managed effectively to retain its position by guiding populist nationalism away from the twin dangers of nativism and antitraditionalism. Indeed, his whole book is devoted to tracing the evolution of Chinese nationalism and to show how the CCP has skillfully used nationalism to establish and preserve its rule.

Throughout the book Zhao shows an admirable breadth of understanding of both Western and Chinese writings about nationalism. The first three chapters provide a retelling of the origins and rise of Chinese nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The third chapter develops the well-established theme of the Nationalist Party's elite nationalism and its contrast with the CCP's populist and mass nationalism during the war against Japan. Although these pages are well written, readers will find little that is new in them.

It is in the third and fourth chapters, however, that Zhao breaks new ground. Here, Zhao takes up the present-day challenges to the Chinese polity of liberal nationalism and ethnic nationalism. Both are thorny issues for the CCP's leadership. Zhao agrees with a host of Chinese and foreign critics that the CCP has created an autocratic state that has rigorously suppressed the rights of individuals and regularly circumvented its own laws. Further, he acknowledges that the CCP requires the...


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pp. 290-293
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