Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Posts Tagged ‘Nationalism

Quick Hits

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Proof of creative, rebellious minds at work here in China.

Another example of hypocrisy:  the BBC’s shock at China’s effort to build national pride before the nation’s 60th anniversary. Do we in America not do this every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas?  I mean, duh.


Written by Miles

September 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm


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Two posts from NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman: — This one includes an interesting addendum.

Two Articles on the Economist:

An Interview on Chinese Self-Identity:

Two interesting articles on the elections and U.S. media bias:

Written by Miles

May 8, 2008 at 3:52 am

Locked out

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For whatever reason, even my VPN has been failing to get past the Great Firewall of China as of late. There have been a slew of topics I wanted to comment on, including some very interesting personal experiences. Since, I am logged on now by pure luck, I will be brief.

I think one of the most fascinating things happening here in China, today, is the dialogue Chinese people are having within their own communities debating patriotism versus nationalism. Don’t get me wrong, there are roughly zero people who weigh in on nationalism’s side. The Chinese see their recent reactions to the protests, their calls for boycotts of French companies, their condemnation of all Western media as anti-Chinese… they see these things as rational steps in defense of their beloved mother.

An article in the New York Times talking about the protests read, “‘Before I came here, I’m very liberal,’ said Minna Jia, a graduate student in political science at U.S.C…. ‘But after I come here, my professor told me that I’m nationalist.'” That’s the thing. Chinese see themselves as very rational and independent. But as the article goes on to point out, rightfully so, these students studying in the States, these students protesting in big cities along the Eastern coast of China, are all those who have benefit most from China’s opening up. In effect, they are the cream of the crop, the bourgeoisie of China, looking to protect what has been given them.

For years, Chinese have been told horror stories of the way their parents grew up. It has helped them to appreciate what China has accomplished. It has also embedded in them a faulty notion of entitlement. It’s a land of Only Children, and they act like it. Greed is palpable. Self-esteem is fragile. There is no room for criticism, they do not know how to accept it because they have never been in a position to give it out. In Chinese culture, there is no complaining, no protesting. It’s unacceptable to question the government. Therefore, when they see outsiders doing just that, they are shocked.

I have written before about how this country has surpassed America in term’s of global hegemony. China has officially bought, bribed, and blackmailed its way back to superpowerdom. But this is about as far as it will ever go, until the people within this country develop a culture the world can accept or strive for. There is nothing here the world wants to aspire to… corrupt government, a devastated environment, a mute press, a cowardly civil society. Until China can realize what once made it the historical superpower of the past– a vibrant culture– it will never overcome being the world’s sweatshop.

Written by Miles

May 8, 2008 at 3:32 am

The Dilemma: Tibet Before, China Now

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My own personal dilemma at work has partially handicapped my own thought process.   I realized this recently.  When confronted with something weighing heavily in one direction, the natural reaction is to instinctively pull in the other, seeking balance.  But issues rarely find that equilibrium.

Every time protesters interrupt the Olympic torch relay, an irrepressible smirk slides its way across face.   It’s not about spiting China, and maybe not even about Tibet.  It’s about the action, about people taking action.  It’s inspiring.  And I cannot help being amazed and intrigued by the reactions of my Chinese colleagues as they find out how the world is welcoming their torch (as a news organization, we are allowed to pipe in BBC news for footage purposes).

At the same time, this seemingly rewarding feeling shames me.  Many of my friends here in Shanghai are very proud of their country hosting the Olympics.  They should be.  This country has come a long way in a short time, not citing tactics, to arrive as a major world power… arguably THE world power.  Patriotism, often manipulated into nationalism, is an inevitable result of a nation which believes in a 5,000 year history of glorious facts and fables.  The Olympics symbolize China’s return to its rightful reign, in their minds.

It can be said that this idea is narrow and naive.  Yet, I have often pointed out the similarities in the way in which we Americans are taught to perceive our national identity.  We constantly hearken back to our own glorious periods of history, primarily the Revolutionary War and World War II– the Founding Fathers and the Greatest Generation.  We rarely discuss, let alone teach, let alone review, our past actions in those times or between.  We ignore realist justifications for our involvements, rather choosing to recognize the idealism and rhetoric of our actions.  Are we so different?  Is China a bastard nation for holding its own notions of Manifest Destiny?

And it must be realized that Tibet is given the benefit of the doubt with the foreign press.  Rarely do you hear the other side’s description of life in Tibet before China took control of the region in the 1950s.  Tibet’s feudal empire was ruled by religion, something I find repulsive in all forms.  I believe people should be free to choose and follow their own religions, sure.  But to rule by them is wrong.  Too often the world excuses backward ways of life as a certain people’s culture.  I just don’t buy that.  Freedom is choice.  Culture is too often a tool of repression, granting a mandate to megalomaniacs who defend their actions as a culture others fail to understand.

There is plenty I do not understand about Chinese culture.  Yet, as an American, their stubborn pride is not that surprising.  I chuckled when one colleague commented (in Chinese thinking I didn’t understand), “These are foreigners protesting in London?  Not even Chinese?  What the hell do they know about our affairs?”  This coming from a citizen in a nation that systematically denies access to balanced, timely information!  Ha!   Then I saw BBC footage of a cute young Chinese lady in London saying she was proud of her country and didn’t understand why people couldn’t celebrate China’s progress.  Achk!  It’s all a paradox of pride and shame, fact and fiction, progress and policy, reform and repression… can there be balance?  How?

The Danger of Nationalism and False Identity

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There was a well-written article posted yesterday on the issue that I think reiterates some of the points I made in my last post. Here are some highlights:

“Analysts have long debated how often the Communist Party steers and inflames nationalism versus how often nationalist public attitudes are beyond the party’s control. In the run-up to the Summer Games, the steady attacks against China on issues like Darfur, global warming, air pollution and human rights abuses have increasingly been interpreted by many Chinese, including those overseas, as an unfair attempt to undermine China’s Olympic moment.

But the Tibet crisis has touched directly on the raw nerve of separatism at the core of Chinese nationalism. Tibet is usually a low-profile issue within China, especially compared with Taiwan. But most Chinese, influenced by the government, are interpreting the Tibetan crisis as an attempt to split China.”

“Influenced by the government” is an understatement. The press has been bashing the Dalai Lama like he is Osama bin Laden, another man intent on destroying the world to promote his own agenda. Instead of engaging underlying Tibetan grievances, the CCP has aggravated ethnic tensions with one-sided reports on damages and the pain of Han Chinese. This goes against the image jogging its way around the world with Olympic torch in hand.

“Communist Party leaders have hoped the Olympics would showcase China as a modern, confident and nonthreatening emerging world power, while also validating the party’s hold on power. President Hu Jintao has advocated a “harmonious society” to signal a new government effort at addressing inequality in society. At the same time, China’s soft power abroad is rising with its bulging foreign-exchange reserves and its increasingly active diplomatic role on issues like the North Korea nuclear problem.”

But China’s geopolitical emergence hinges on support at home. As grand projects pave the way for a developed nation, the toll on society has been steep and often ignored. It is essential that the CCP maintain a positive image, providing its mandate for change.

“Scholars often describe nationalism as China’s state religion now that the Communist Party has shrugged off socialist ideology and made economic development the country’s priority. Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet specialist, said modern Chinese nationalism could be traced to Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary who described the country’s main ethnic groups – the Han, Manchu, Hui, Mongolian and Tibetan peoples – as the “five fingers” of China… Today, Han Chinese constitute more than 92 percent of the population, but without one of those five fingers, China’s leaders do not consider the country whole.”

So, it is with the intention of preserving the mechanics of change that the CCP reacts reflexively with excessive strength and secrecy. It maintains order and promotes a mythically unrelenting reach of power. It reminds citizens that their government is capable of anything—developing China at a rate never seen on this planet and willing to conquer any obstacles in its way.

Does this ring any bells with government information campaign and agenda-setting in the US as it seeks to maintain its own mandate for waging an unpopular, inhumane war in Mesopotamia?

Written by Miles

March 31, 2008 at 4:01 pm