Workshop presentation - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

Workshop presentation

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Globalization and identification: the paradox of Chinese nationalism.

Adopting an approach which makes a distinction between the great historical periods, we make out two major categories of nationalism: the nationalism of the colonial era and post-colonial nationalism. In general, the nationalism of a colonized people has not only the purpose of establishing the legitimacy of a nation state; it is also a fight for individual liberation. Nationalism can also be qualified according to two tendencies opposite in nature: the one rather open and political, the other closed and ethnic. The nationalisms that emerged in France and in Germany after the French revolution respectively correspond to these two tendencies.

Of course, it is quite a long time since China freed itself from colonialism and semi-colonialism but present-day nationalism still feeds on the past humiliations of the modern epoch. It is evident that Chinese nationalism cannot easily be affiliated to one or the other of the afore-mentioned tendencies. In contrast, can we say that the current nationalism derives more from a desire of revenge and exclusion?

The nineties recorded a forceful return of nationalism. At that time various kinds of nationalisms appeared in China: nationalism as strategy, nationalism as alternative ideology, moral nationalism, anti-Western nationalism etc. Since the turn of the century, China has welcomed globalization with enthusiasm and has integrated into the global system. At the same time, globalization furnished China with material to feed upon and with a new space never known before. From anti-Americanism to anti-French phobia to a deep-rooted anti-Japanese hatred, from the book titled “China can say no” to the more recent “China is not pleased”, everything leads us to affirm that each new target of Chinese nationalism will soon be replaced by another one. The Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 should have been an event symbolizing China’s integration into the global system. In the end, they were just an occasion for the expression of an ostentatious nationalism on a world-wide scale.

In Europe, a long-standing battlefield of nationalisms, the European Union has established an institutional space that made it possible to surmount nationalism. Nevertheless, Europe is still today the scene of manifold forms of nationalisms. Can the comparative analysis of the various forms of nationalism in Europe and of the evolution in progress help us to better understand the current tendencies of Chinese nationalism? How can we define the nationalism of so great and ancient a civilization on the verge of becoming again the center of the world? How can we anticipate the forms Chinese nationalism will take in the future? Will it hold back or catalyze Chinese society’s development? In accordance with the influence on the rest of the world of China’s growing power, the expanse of its territory, its cultural heritance, its uncertain political orientation and the rapid transformation of its society, all these issues concerning nationalism should be a major subject of academic study but also a matter of public discussion in society as a whole.