- Discovering Chinese Nationalism in China: Modernization, Identity, and International Relations
Zheng Yongnian has provided us with an excellent road map for the extraordinary range of opinions among today's Chinese intellectuals concerning Chinese nationalism, external threats to China, and China as a threat to others. Chinese intellectuals span a wide spectrum of schools, including liberal, realist, the "old left" (which emphasizes strengthening the Communist Party), the "New Conservatism" or "New Left" (which tends toward anti-Westernization and anti-institutionalism), and "radical reformist" (which considers it inappropriate to overemphasize Chinese tradition and "Chineseness"). Their philosophies include modern radicalism, neo-authoritarianism, globalism, liberalism, and both "official" (patriotic) nationalism and "popular" nationalism.
Zheng's review of the discussion on nationalism in China goes beyond the views of intellectuals to include the perspectives of the factions within the Chinese Communist Party leadership and how these mesh or conflict with the intellectuals' various perspectives. His main focus, however, is on the "new nationalism" and the "New Left." Zheng is himself a member of the "New Left" and is part of the debate going on among Chinese scholars outside and inside China.
Zheng is not, however, intent on promoting the New Left's views on Chinese nationalism. He is scholarly and objective in his approach, and he notes the weakness of the appeal of the New Left's ideas in the present Chinese context. Nevertheless, Zheng does have a purpose. He believes that the West misperceives the nature and intent of Chinese nationalism and that the West's misperceptions arise from Western theories of international relations, notably realism and liberalism. He wants readers in the West to understand precisely what China's new nationalism is in the context of a modernizing and democratizing authoritarian regime in the post-Cold War era, why it presents itself in the manner that it does, and what implications this might have for the rest of the world. In working toward this understanding, he hopes to end the sorts of misperceptions in the West that lead to anti-China views which, in turn, lead to Chinese misperceptions of the intentions of American policy toward China.
Zheng presents the questions that are being raised in the discussion on nationalism in China. How can the Chinese state be transformed into a modern state? Do policies that have led to the decentralization of the state's economic, fiscal, and political power actually undermine the state's extractive capacity, and even threaten the breakup of the state? Is it possible to build a strong state without [End Page 574] returning to greater centralization and a more authoritarian regime? What are the appropriate symbols for China's "new nationalism," and how does it differentiate between Chinese and Western civilization? What effect does the emphasis on the superiority of Chinese traditional culture have on efforts to democratize? How deeply integrated with the international system should China be? To what degree should China, in the process of accepting more "universal" international norms, relinquish Chinese traditions and "Chineseness"? How far can China go in Westernization policies without jeopardizing economic development?
Zheng's treatment of the debate over nationalism in China indicates how lively the discussions on "wither China" have been. The debate spans issues of the role of the state both domestically and internationally, the relationship of economic and political reforms to national identity, and the role that Chinese patriotism and nationalism serve in the state's domestic and international policies. From Zheng we learn about which arguments are most likely to win out and which are objectionable from the perspective of the leadership, intellectuals, or even ordinary people.
Zheng adopts a "China-centered" approach: he encourages us to hear what the Chinese say their nationalism is and what it means, rather than accept Western interpretations of Chinese nationalism. Because the latter are characterized by "ethnocentric distortion," China is viewed as aggressive. The Western insistence on "the China threat" has led to "anti-China" theories. These anger the Chinese and fuel...