The Paradox of Chinese Nationalism

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Making Room for China
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Liberalism and nationalism in China developed very much in lockstep, with the former serving the latter.

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<p>2008 was really a remarkable year for all this, because it&rsquo;s the first time where, in an unmediated setting, we have Chinese netizens and American or other Western, Anglophone netizens encountering each other. Enough Chinese-speakers now, enough bridge bloggers, enough Western media where there&rsquo;s room for comments, that in these comment threads, there are these really vicious battles going on between what I call the Rednecks and the Red Guards. They&rsquo;re standing nose to virtual nose, for the first time, and seeing anything but eye to eye on all these issues. There&rsquo;s a gaping chasm between the way that they see things and, in 2008, with the Tibet protests, and with the torch relay, and all the problems that the torch relay had in various Western cities that it went through, and, of course, the Olympics itself. It got really, really ugly. It got very, very ugly, and there&rsquo;s this assumption on the part of the Westerners that any time they see defense of China, that it&rsquo;s necessarily the product of brainwashing by the Chinese educational system, or it&rsquo;s these so-called 50 cent, (<i>wumao dang</i>) Party-paid posters who are given 50 Chinese cents for every pro-China post they put up there. This happens, I don&rsquo;t say that it doesn&rsquo;t happen, I&rsquo;m sure that it does happen, but it&rsquo;s certainly not as widespread as they imagine. And what this has its roots in is, and I&rsquo;m sure you&rsquo;ve seen this before in your travels here, but every time there&rsquo;s a big flare-up, whether it&rsquo;s about Tibet or any other human rights issue, people are astonished that these seemingly Westernized, cosmopolitan, quite liberal-minded Chinese, who may have been educated abroad, who may have, or may be, living or working abroad, who have American friends, who watch American movies and film and television, how these seemingly cosmopolitan people can still have, within that worldview, this rabid strain of nationalism. That&rsquo;s one thing that I think needs to be understood in an historical context. Liberalism and nationalism in China developed very much in lockstep, with the former serving the latter. People embraced classical liberalism at the end of the 19th and in the early part of the 20th century, not because it was seen as a noble end in itself, the end of history, but because that was perceived as the way that Western powers had become rich and powerful. And so, the liberal worldview was always in the service of nationalist ends. And that remains true to this day. People accept the inequalities visited on China by capitalism because it is creating wealth, it&rsquo;s making China stronger, it's not seen as an end in itself. So, that explains this seeming paradox in the worldview of so many of these Chinese people.</p>
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Kaiser Kuo describes how the internet has now become a forum for Chinese and American people to debate world issues. He talks about how Westerners are shocked by the level of nationalism they encounter and explains why nationalism in China is so strong and pervasive.