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College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University

Australian National University

Chinese Nationalism
Author(s): James Townsend
Source: The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 27 (Jan., 1992), pp. 97-130
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the College of Asia and the Pacific, The
Australian National University
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Nationalismwas the 'movingforce'of theChineserevolution, wrote

MaryWright,capturing in a phrasea convictionwidelysharedamong
studentsof modernChina.1 In this perspective,a 'rising tide' of
nationalismis a constantfactor,perhapstheonlyone, in China's long
revolutionaryera. As themetaphor suggests,thewatersof nationalism
steadilyengulfall thatstandsin theirpath- imperial,Republican,and
Communistinstitutions, eliteand popularclasses, coastal and interior
regions,reformist and conservativefactions,Chinese at home and
abroad.Othermovements and ideologieswax andwane,butnationalism
permeates themall.
The paradigmthatgovernsthis perspectiveis what I call the
to nationalism thesis'.It is a loose paradigmat bestand has
no single source or definitiveformulation,but its underlying
assumptions pervadetheacademicliterature on modernChina.The core
propositionis that a set of ideas labelled 'culturalism'dominated
traditionalChina, was incompatiblewith modem nationalismand
yieldedonly underthe assaultof imperialism and Westernideas to a
new nationalistway of thinking.The history of modemChina,then,is
one in whichnationalism replacesculturalism as thedominantChinese
view of theiridentityand place in the world. Because this was a
transformationof collectiveculturalandpoliticalidentity, it was a long
and traumaticprocessthatleftits mark,and continuesto do so, on all

The RisingTide of Change', in Wright
TheFirstPhase.1900-1913(Yale University
New Haven,1968),p.3,passim.


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The culturalism to nationalismthesisis a usefuland provocative

generalizationabouttheriseofnationalism in modernChina.The reality
andimportance ofthisphenomenon is notin dispute:all observerssee a
century or moreof vigorousChinesenationalist rhetoric and activity,
'rise of nationalism'thatdistinguishes modernChinafromits imperial
past. However, I believe that Chinese nationalismremainspoorly
understood and inadequately studied.The thesishas madean important
contribution,but it is conceptuallyimprecise and empirically
oversimplified in its versionof thehistoricalchangein question.The
purposeof thisessay is to summarize thethesisand itsimplications, to
offera critiqueof its conceptualand empiricallimitations, and to
suggestan alternative approach- whichmightbe called 'bringingthe
nationbackin' - to supplement thethesisand helpstrengthen thestudy
of Chinesenationalism.

The Culturalismto NationalismThesis

Overtwenty years,ago, in a concisesurveyofthescholarly literature
Chinese nationalism,James HIarrisonobservedthat 'the traditional
Chineseself-image has generally beendefinedas 'culturalism',basedon
a commonhistoricalheritageand acceptanceof sharedbeliefs,not as
nationalism,based on the modernconceptof the nation-state'.2 He
emphasizedthatthisself-image, developedovermorethantwomillenia
followingthe Qin-Hanimperialunification thatbegan in 221 BC, did
notprecludesomepoliticalor nationalistic loyalties.The long span of
imperialhistory offeredsomeevidenceofpatriotism, ofa senseofracial
distinctnessand xenophobia, and of commitmentsto imperial
institutionsand rulingdynasties.Nonetheless,the primaryChinese
identity was cultural,withno perceptionof a Chinesestateor nation
apartfromtheculturalheritage.Supremeloyaltyattachedto theculture
itself,nottothestate,and therecould be no justification
orevenchangingtheculturaltradition inorderto strengthen thestate.3
Harrison noted two prime elements in the constructionof
culturalism.One was the notion that China was the only true
its culturalsuperiorityunchallenged.Non-Chinesepeoples
mightbe military threats,buttheycouldneverbe truerivalsbecauseof
theirbackwardness and becausetheycouldneverruleChinaunlessin a
Chineseway. Therewas no conceptof,or needfornationalism, in this

2 JamesHarrison,ModernChineseNalionalism (HunterCollege of the City of

New York,ResearchInstitute
on ModernAsia,New York,n.d. 1969?),p.2.
3 ibid,pp.3-14.

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worlddevoid of culturalor interstate competition. The otherelement

was thepoliticalprescriptionthatrulersmustbe educatedin and govern
accordingto Confucianprinciples,which were of universalvalue.
Because the standardrestedon education,legitimaterule was not
limited to ethnic Chinese; aliens who accepted and exemplified
Confuciannormsmightalso rule.The politicalelite's loyaltywas to
principlesthatdefineda mannerof rule,not to a particular regimeor
Culturalism'srefusalto acknowledgea worldof formallyequal
statesand its insistencethatlegitimaterule restedon adherenceto
Confuciannormsdampenedthenationalistic impulsesthatoccasionally
surfacedin thecourseof fluctuating imperialfortunes and houses.Its
essentialintegrityas a worldview, supportedby the size, wealthand
powerof theempire,gave it greatlastingpower,enablingit to bridge
periodsof disunityand infusenew governments, whetherChineseor
alien,withvaluessupportive ofthetradition.Culturalism- so thethesis
goes - thusexplainsnotonly theempire'scapacityto surviveforso
long but also why it fell when a trulycompetitivealien culture
penetratedChina. Foreignimperialismdid not have to conquer the
empireto destroyit. It had only to demonstrate thatits formidable
militarypowercarriedan explicitchallengeto theChineseview of the
world by agentswho assumed theirown culturalsuperiority. With
culturally-based confidenceand identityin doubt from setbacks
administered bytheseavowedchallengers, andlackinga nationalistbase
tofallbackon,imperialChinadisintegrated. The logicaloutcomeofthe
crisiswas rejectionof culturalism
anddevelopment ofa nationalismthat
wouldprovidea newbasisforChina'sdefenceandregeneration.
Harrison provides a useful overview of the culturalismto
nationalism thesis,butit was JosephLevensonwho producedits most
subtle,provocative,and influentialelaboration,presentingthe core
conceptsas poles aroundwhichtheswirling currents ofmodemChinese
thoughtmightbe organized.In his firstbook,LevensontracedLiang
Qichao's (1873-1929) intellectualevolutionin searchof a formulathat
would halt the disintegration of both culture and empire that
characterizedthe final decades of the Qing dynasty(1644-1911).5
Passagesin thisbookdescribehow Liang 'foughthis waythrough from

4 ibid,pp.4-5.
5 JosephR. Levenson,Liang Ch'i-ch'aoand the Mind of ModernChina

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culturalismto nationalism'.6ElsewhereLevensonportrayed 'culturalism

and nationalismas competitors forloyalty'amongturn-of-the-century
seeingtheera as one in which 'nationalisminvades the
Chinesesceneas culturalism helplesslygivesway'.7
Manyothershave foundculturalism a usefultermto distinguish a
mainstreamConfucian image of China as a culturally-defined
community fromcompetingimagesof an ethnically-defined ('racism')
or politically-defined
community ('modemnationalism').8 Sometimesa
varianttermis used, as in IshwerOjha's analysisof theevolutionof
Chineseforeign policyfrom'culturism'to nationalism, theformer term
representing a 'non-territorial
concept',a loyaltyto and preoccupation
withculturethatdiffers fundamentally fromnationalism, which'treats
cultureonlyas a means'to aid thenation.9 JosephWhitney has analysed
China's shift'fromculturalentityto politicalentity'as the Confucian
idea of the state was replaced by an importednationalism.10 Not
surprisingly given the ubiquityof this theme,several studentsof
comparativenationalismhave acceptedthe thesisas an authoritative
It appearsin HughSeton-Watson's historyof nationsand
nationalistmovements, whereChinesenationalism is a purelymodern
productof Europeanideas and incursions;11 and in Selig Harrison's

6 ibid,especiallypp.108-22,quotation
7 JosephR. Levenson,ConfucianChina and its ModernFate: A Trilogyvol.1,
8 See, forexample,JohnFincher,'China as a Race, Culture,and Nation;Noteson
Fang Hsiao-ju's Discussionof DynasticLegitimacy',in David C. Buxbaumand
FrederickW. Mote (eds), Transitionand Permanence:Chinese Historyand
Culture:A Festschriftin HonorofDr. Hsiao Kung-ch'uan(CathayPress,Hong
Kong,1972),pp.59-69;and LaurenceA. Schneider, Ku Chieh-kang and China's
NewHistory:Nationalism and theQuestforAlternative
Traditions (University
9 IshwerC. Ojha,ChineseForeignPolicyin an Age ofTransition:TheDiplomacy
ofCulturalDespair,2nded. (BeaconPress,Boston,1971),pp.ix-xiv,1-50.
10 Joseph B. R. Whitney,China: Area. Administrationand Nation-Building
(Universityof Chicago Departmnent
of GeographyResearch,Chicago, 1969),
11 HughSeton-Watson, Nationsand States:An EnquiryintotheOriginsofNations
and thePoliticsofNationalism(WestviewPress,Boulder,1977), pp.9, 274-87,

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reference to China's historicalsense of identity as a self-centred

'culturalism' thatwasreplaced bynationalism inthetwentieth century.'2
Themostexplicit formulations ofthethesisconcentrate on thelate
QingandearlyRepublican periods, especially theyearsbetween1895
(whendefeatbyJapancatalysed Chinesenationalism) and1919(when
theMayFourth Movement marked culturalism's eclipse),as thiswasthe
era of competition betweenculturalism and nationalism and the
replacement oftheformer bythelatter. However, thefullrangeofthe
thesisincludesstudiesof earlierimperialhistory thatemphasizethe
weaknessor absenceof nationalism in China'spoliticaltradition, as
wellas studies ofthemodern periodcharting thetributariesthatfeedthe
swellingnationalist tide.Thereis noshortage ofevidence tosupport this
nationalisttriumphalism. Nineteenth-century xenophobia and turn-of-
the-century anti-Manchuism blendintothemorefullydeveloped ideas
andmovements of theMayFourthera,withtheirdedication to anti-
imperialism andnational salvation andregeneration. Fromthispointon,
observers haveinvokednationalism in at leastpartialexplanation of a
remarkable range of phenomena:aversionto foreignideas and
promotion of foreignideas; repudiation of traditional cultureand
celebration of nationaltraditions; Nationalist victoryin 1927 and
Communist victoryin 1949; Sino-Sovietalliancein 1950 and the
conflicta decade later;CulturalRevolution Maoismand post-Mao
modernization. The implication is thatnationalism permeates Chinese
manifesting itselfevenamongideas andmovements differing
widelyinother respects.
Atsomepointin itsintellectual history, thethesispartedcompany
withits favourite metaphor. This is a tide thatneverebbs. Once
triumphant inChinesepolitical identity,as dominant nowas culturalism
was in thepast,nationalism placesitsstampon eachnewdeparture in
Chinesepolitics.The recentpost-Maoperiodlinksnationalism to the
outward orientation ofthe1980s,producing whatsomeobservers have
calledan 'assertive'or 'confident' phaseofChinesenationalism.'3 Once
mainlyinternalin orientation, nationalismnow has profound
implications forunresolved territorialclaimsand how a modernized
Chinamight useitspower.

12 SeligS. Hanison,TheWidening
(The FreePress,New York,1978),pp.69-86,reference
on p.70.
13 AllenWhiting,'AssertiveNationalism
in ChineseForeignPolicy',AsianSurvey,
vol.23, no.8 (August 1983), pp.913-33; and Michel Oksenberg,'China's

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The rise of Chinesenationalismis obviouslyof globalimportance

butit is neithernovelnorsurprisingin thelightof comparative history.
A primaryassumptionabout the modernera is thatit is an age of
nationalism,linked to the institutions and doctrinesof the modem
nation-statethatcame intobeingwiththeEuropeanage of revolution
andNapoleonicWars.Thesedoctrines andinstitutions eventuallyspread
throughout theworld,so thattodayvirtually all theworld'sstatesand
peopleshave madethetransition froman absenceof nationalism, or at
most possession of some form of 'pre-modern nationalism',to an
embraceof modemnationalism. If thisis all the thesistellsus - that
China,too,has movedfroma pre-nationalist world- itis scarcelynews.
Thereis moreto thethesisthanthat,I think.First,ittriesto explainwhy
theChineseempirewas so muchmoredurablethanotherpre-modern
systems, finding theanswerin China'skindof culturalidentity. Second,
it arguesthatChina's entryintoa worldof sovereignnation-states was
unusuallyprolongedand traumaticbecause it forcedthe Chinese to
rejecttheirage-oldculturalidentity and adopta new politicizedone.
Third,it suggeststhat this long, wrenching'identitycrisis' makes
contemporary Chinesenationalismunusuallyintense,becomingin the
resolutionof thecrisissomething like thereligionof modemChina. I
will argue that each of these three propositionsremains more
problematicthan the thesisallows, but theyclearlyraise important
Some mightarguethatthe culturalism to nationalismthesisis a
straw man, an outdated interpretation reflectingthe uncritical
applicationto China of modernizationtheory,or other allegedly
ethnocentric biases of Western scholarship,whereas more recent
scholarshiphas challengedand modifiedmanyof its propositions.14
However,thethesisaboutnationalism seems muchmoredurablethan
thebroadermodernization paradigmto whichit is obviouslyrelated.It
remainsinfluentialin the work of China scholarsl5and is widely

14 A thorough discussionof thisissue,withcitationand analysisof scoresof

scholarlyworksthatchallengeolderparadigms,withwhichthethesisis clearly
is found
associated, in PaulA. Cohen,DiscoveringHistoryin China:American
Writingon theRecentChinesePast(Columbia UniversityPress,New
15 For example,a recentsynthesis of Chinesehistory challengesmanyolder
but emphasizesthe 'lack of unequivocalnationalistfeelings
amongthe Chinese'and the classical focuson 'culturalism ratherthan
Ray Huang,China:A Macrohistory (M.E. Sharpe,Armonk, NY,

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accepted outside the China field as an authoritative interpretation.

Althoughrecent scholarshipoffersmany new insightsinto issues
relatingto Chinese nationalism,I know of no publishedwork that
engages directlythe thesis's portrayalof Chinese nationalism.The
critiquethatfollowsidentifiessome conceptualproblemswiththekey
termsof nationalismand culturalism,then notes some-empirical
problems, andcloseswitha briefevaluationofthethesis.

A CritiqueoftheThesis
Conceptual Problems: Benjamin Akzin called the literatureon
nationalism a 'terminologicaljungle,16and morethanone explorerhas
been lost in it. The mostimportant pointto notehereis thattheword
coversa wide rangeof social phenomena, so thereis no way to assess
thethesiswithoutspecifying some of them.I mustalso clarifyhow I
willuse theequallytroublesome word'nation'.
Amongall the definitional controversiesabout nationalism,says
AnthonySmith,none has been 'so prolongedand confusingas that
between'statists'and 'ethnicists'.The formerdefinethe nationas a
unit',withnationalisminvolvingan aspirationfor
self-government; thelattersee thenationas a 'large,politicizedethnic
group defined by common culture and alleged descent', with
nationalism turning intoa culturalmovement.17 This confusionpermits
the meaningof nationto range froman ethnicgroupthatdoes not
constitutea state,to a statethatcontainsmorethanone ethnicgroup.
My discussionadoptsthe 'ethnicist'view thata nationis a particular
kindof ethnicgroup.The ethnicgroupitselfis 'definedby common
cultureand allegeddescent',or morepreciselyas a groupofpeoplewho
differentiatethemselvesfromotherson the basis of a set of perceived
culturaldifferences.18 Althoughthereis also disputeon what sets a
nationapartfromthe generalcategoryof ethnicgroup,thereis some
consensuson the idea thatthe nationis a 'large,politicizedethnic

16 BenjaminAkzin,StateandNation(Hutchinson,
17 Anthony D. Smith,
18 Thisformulation
drawson FredrikBarth,'Introduction',
in Barth(ed.), Ethnic
Groups andBoundaries:
Brown,Boston,1969),pp.9-38:Paul R. Brass,'Ethnicity and Nationality
vol.3,no.3 (September1976),pp.225-41;and George
DeVos and Lola Romanucci-Ross(eds.), EthnicIdentity:CulturalContinuities

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group',or an ethnicgroupthatseeks or has acquiredsome degreeof

politicalrecognition or autonomy.19 In otherwords,forourpurposes,a
nationis a culturalcommunity thatis or seeks to become a political
community as well.
This conceptof nationclarifiesthecoreidea of nationalism. Ernest
Gellnersays it is 'the strivingto makecultureand politycongruent'.20
Nationalismproposes thatnationsshouldbecome states(or at least
politicallyautonomous)and statesshouldbecome nations(or at least
relativelyunifiedand distinctfromothersin culture).Smith'searlier
distinctionnow supports two families of nationalism: ethnic
nationalism, in whichan existingethnicgroupstrivesto attain,enhance,
or protectits nationhood, perhapsby becomingan independent state;
and statenationalism, in whichan existingstatestrivesto become a
unifiednation(the idea of nation-building) or claims thatits goals
embody those of a nation and are essential to its nationhood.
Nationalismmay serveeithera stateor a nation,or a mix of these
communities. But howdoes nationalism serve?Again,scholarsdisagree,
offering threeversionsofwhatnationalism is.
One view sees nationalism as a doctrineor set of ideas. For Hans
Kohn,it is a 'politicalcreed' that'centresthe supremeloyaltyof the
overwhelming majorityof the people upon the nation-state, either
existingor desired',and thatregards, thenation-state as bothan ideal
and indispensableorganization.21 The doctrinemay be specifiedmore
precisely,and ethnocentrically, as 'a doctrineinventedin Europeat the
beginningof the nineteenth century[which]holds thathumanityis
naturallydivided into nations...and thatthe only legitimatetypeof
government is nationalself-government.22 For othersnationalismis
politicalactionormovement. It is 'theassertionof thewill to constitute
an autonomouspoliticalcommunity by a self-conscious group'23or 'an

19 The idea thata nationis distinguished fromotherethnicgroupsby a higher

degreeof politicization
is foundin Akzin,Brass,and Smith;see also theseminal
workof Karl Deutsch,Nationalismand Social Communication, 2nd ed. (M.I.T.
Press,Cambridge,1966),esp. pp.96-105.
20 ErnestGellner,NationsandNationalism (CornellUniversity
21 HansKohn,'Nationalism',
of theSocial Sciences
(1968), vol.11,p.63.
22 Elie Kedourie,Nationalism(Hutchinson,
London,1960),p. 9.
23 CharlesW. Anderson,FredR. von derMehdenand CrawfordYoung,Issues of

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ideological movement,for the attainment and maintenanceof self-

government and independenceon behalfof a group,some of whose
membersconceiveit to constitute an actualor potential"nation"like
others'.24 as sentiment, consciousness,
or stateof mind,emphasizing individuals'awarenessof and loyaltyto
To summarize, mycritiqueofthethesisdepartsfromtheidea thata
nationis a large politicizedethnicgroup;thatnationalism consistsof
doctrines,movementsor sentiments supporting a nation;and thatstate
andethnicnationalism are twodifferent, althoughpossiblyoverlapping,
varietiesof nationalism.Some authorities insistthatnationalismhas
existedonly in moderntimes,generallysince about 1800, whereas
othersallow forsomepre-modern forns.Smithacceptsthepre-modern
possibilityin whathe calls 'ethnocentric nationalism', and Akzincites
Chinaas an ancientnationthatenteredmodernhistory withnationality
and nationalism bothpresent.26 I acceptthepossibility of a pre-modern
nationalism thatlacksthecorepropositions of modernnationalism: that
nationsshouldbe states,holdingformally equal statusin a worldorder
properlycomposedof such states,whose membersare citizenswith
equal rightsand obligations.The thesis emphasizesnone of these
distinctions,although by nationalismit clearly means modem
Culturalism raisesproblemsof a different sortbecauseit is a word
thatdoes not appear in standarddictionariesand seems littleused
outsidetheChinafield.Chinascholarsare at liberty, therefore, to use it
as theyplease. The mainusage has been the 'culturalism as identity'
idea outlinedin earlierpassages.It has alwaysbeen a difficult termto
handle, however, and Joseph Levenson himselfrecognized two
in hisconceptofculturalism.
The firstwas thatculturalism as identity was difficultto distinguish
fromwhatI will call 'culturalism as movement'.The distinction arises
fromwhatculturalism meansin two different politicalcontexts.In one
contextloyaltyto thecultureand beliefin its superiority is so profound

24 Smith,op. cit.,p.171.
25 See Akzin,op.cit.,pp.41,46, 77-79;RoyalInstitute
of International
Nationalism (Kelley,New York,1966),p.xviii;BoydC. Shafer,Nationalism:
Myth andReality(Harvest,NewYork,1955),p. 10; andLouisSnyder, Global
Mini-Nationalisms:Autonomyor Independence (Greenwood,Westport,Conn.,
26 See thediscussioninSmith,

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thatbearersof theculturerecognizeno competition. This is culturalism

as identity,an unquestioned worldview thatcannotconceivablybe lost
or provenwrong.The othercontextinvolvesawarenessof competition,
hencetheprospectof choiceamongalternatives and theneed forsome
defenceand legitimation of theculture,evenbythose- indeedprecisely
by those - who believe most intenselyin its superiority. This is
'culturalismas movement',in whichconsciousargumentand action
become necessary to defend a culture under threat. Levenson
emphasizedthat'trueculturalism' had no conceptionofrivalrywhereas
Liang Qichao knewChinaand its culturehad rivals;therefore, Liang's
was not 'true' but rather'decayingculturalism',a 'culturalloyalty
whichhe feelshe mustjustify'and whichLevensonsometimes labelled
Others, too, have noted how easily culturalism
supportedor mergedwith a 'culturalnationalism'that vigorously
defendedChinesecultureagainstforeign competitors.28Ifculturalism as
identityslideseasilyintoculturalism as movement, despitethefactthat
thelatterreversesa keyconditionof theformer, it is notsurprising to
see thewordstretched in otherwaysas well.In one versionitbecomesa
label fortheimperialpoliticaland socialsystemas a whole.29 In another
itreferstotheapproachof scholars(likeLevenson)who emphasizethis
culturalproblem,notto theChineseviewoftheirculture.30
Levenson'ssecondcautionary noteon theuse of culturalism came
as an afterthought in reflections
on thedichotomies he analysedin his
fourbooks on ConfucianChina and its modemfate.The passage is
worthquotingat length:
Accordingly,whenI conjureup dichotomies - objective/subjective,
nationalism, andthelike- theseareoffered,
Confucianist/legalist, notas
butas heuristic
(notconforming to)thelifesituation.
categories Antithesesareabstractions,

27 Levenson,
28 Ojha, op. cit.,pp.x-xi,26-50;JohnKingFairbank,The UnitedStatesand China,
29 Leon E. Stover,The CulturalEcology of Chinese Civilization(Mentor,New
30 ArifDirlik,'Culture,
A Critical
Studiesof Modem ChineseThought',Working
Papers in Asian/Pacific

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let us see how, and why,theirstarknessin definition

is mitigatedin
In effect,Levensonis tellingus notto takethethesistoo literally
becausehe poses thecontrast betweenculturalism and nationalismas a
'heuristicdevice', not as a confrontation really'there'in history.The
thesisis a metaphorforChina's modemtransformation, not a precise
descriptionof historicalprocesses.It suggestsa set of categoriesto
study,witheveryexpectation thatthestudent will findthe'starkness'of
thesecategories'mitigated in history'.The problemis thatsome may
adopttheconceptbut notLevenson'scautionaboutthemethod.Great
misunderstanding can resultifmetaphors aretakenliterally.32
The thesis'svulnerability to conceptualconfusionis compounded
by certainassumptions and normative judgmentsthatbedevilthestudy
of nationalism in general.Assumptions aboutnationalism'ssupremacy,
universality,and irresistibilityappear in definitions thatstipulateit
centres'supremeloyalty' on the nation-state, or thatproclaimits
capacityto over-rideall otherpoliticalloyaltiesand objectives.They
appearas well in thetidalmetaphor so favouredby analystsof therise
ofmodemnationalism and nation-states.These assumptions oftenprove
truebuttheyare notlaws ofhistory. Contrary to muchthatis said about
nationalism by itsanalystsor adherents, nationsfluctuate in boundaries,
in beliefs about what is essentialto theirexistence,in intensity of
commitment frommembers,and in how members'loyaltiesare shared
withothercommunities. Nationalistmovements and doctinesrise and
fall,expand and contract, and changetheirstatements aboutwhatthe
nationis or is goingto be. Most statestodayincludemorethanone
nationor potentialnations,withcomplex overlappingor competing
nationalclaims on theircitizens.The survivalor revivalof 'ethnic
nationalisms'withinstatesonce supposedto be assimilatingthemis
well documented.33 Thereis more thanone kind of nation,and the
nationis butone kindof politicalcommunity. The studyof a particular

31 Levenson, ConfucianChina(op.cit.),General
32 For a parallelargument thatmisuseof a 'metaphor of growth',
has distorted
Western theoriesof development, see RobertA. Nisbet,Social Changeand
History:AspectsoftheWestern Theory ofDevelopment(OxfordUniversity
33 See, in particular,
WalkerConnor,'Nation-Building or Nation-Destroying?',
World Politics,
andAnthony D. Smith,The
EthnicRevivalin theModernWorld(Cambridge UniversityPress,Cambridge,

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nation and its nationalismrequires appreciationof its changing

relationships withothernationsandpoliticalcommunities.
Normative judgmentsaboutnationalismare also common.To the
ardentnationalist it is a good thing,butmanycontemporary analysts,
soberedby two centuriesof imperialism, revolution, and war, take a
negativeview. Isaiah Berlin saw nationalismas a 'bent twig', a
pathologicalreactionto scienceandrationalism, an 'inflamedcondition
of nationalconsciousness'usuallycaused by 'some formof collective
humiliation'.34 JohnDunn called it 'theverytissueof modernpolitical
sentiment',yet condemnedits 'moral shabbiness' as 'the starkest
politicalshameofthetwentieth century'.35 Deutschsynthesizes muchof
thisdoubtand condemnation in his idea thatnationalism producesfora
nationand its leaders 'a gain in power and a loss in judgment'.36
Because it is thoughtto uniteand strengthen a nationinternally butto
enhanceits fearand misunderstanding of externalforces,nationalism
may be thoughta good thingfor a countryfightingfor unityor
independence, a bad thingforone strongenoughto imposeits will on
others.Not surprisingly, manypreferto describethesentiments of their
owncitizensas 'patriotic', whereasothersare 'nationalistic' (currentlya
preferred Chineseperspective). How do thesenormative notionscome
intoplayin theculturalism to nationalism thesis?Thereis a tendency, I
think,to see the absenceof nationalism in imperialChina as a fatal
weakness;once thetideis running, failureto join it becomesa moral
flawakin to treason.Yet in theera of thePRC, nationalism beginsto
assume an irrational and dangerousqualitythatdistortsChina's true
andthreatens otherstates.
Thisdiscussionyieldsthreeconclusions.First,bothnationalism and
culturalism carrymultiplemeaningsand referto complexphenomena,
so thethesisis boundto be confusing unlessone specifieshow itsterms
are used. It is especiallyimportant to considerthenationas a kindof
political community,to examine its relationshipswith other
communities,and to distinguishamong varietiesof nations and
nationalisms.Second, the thesis errs in opposing culturalismto
nationalismand ethnicity,in arguing that culturalismblocked

34 Isaiah Berlin,'The BentTwig: A Noteon Nationalism',

no.1 (1972), pp.11-30.
35 JohnDunn, WesternPolitical Theoryin the Face of the Future(Cambridge
UniversityPress,Cambridge,1979),pp. 55-57.
36 Karl W. Deutsch,Nationalismand Its Alternatives
(Knopf,New York, 1969),

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nationalismand had to dissipateforthelatterto rise. Culturalism was

actuallyan assertionof Chineseethnicity as it emphasizedthecultural
distinctionsseparatingChinese fromothersand the importanceof
maintaining thosedistinctions.
Because one of the key distinctions in
questionwas theimperialsystem, culturalismalso assertedtheexistence
of a nation- an ethnicgroupwithits own politicalorder.Culturalism
was quite different butit was notinherently
incompatiblewith ethnicityand nationalism.Third, the thesis is
sometimesused metaphorically, and like all referencesto nationalism
maycarryquestionableassumptions and normative connotations.Such
usagesmaybe illuminating andappropriate at times,butwe musthandle
EmpiricalQuestions:The nextstepis to applytheideas introduced thus
farin a discussionof thethesis'sempiricalvalidity.The thesiscovers
fartoo muchgroundto examinecarefully in an article,and therangeof
knowledgerequiredtodo so is, in anycase, beyondmycapacity.WhatI
will do is pose a fewquestionsand hypotheses inspiredby fragmentary
to the
evidence suggestwhere thesis'sstrengths and weaknessesmight
lie. The discussionfollows a periodizationsuggestedby the thesis:
culturalistdominance (Imperial China), transitionto nationalism
(c. 1860-1919),and nationalist dominance(post-1919).It employsthe
conceptsalreadyintroduced of nation,stateand ethnicnationalism, and
nationalismas doctrine,movementand sentiment.Such discussion
cannot proceed, however,withoutresolvingthe problemof what
culturalism means.
The idea of culturalismas 'identity'- the most common
formulation - worksas a 'heuristic device' forLevensonbutis difficult
to apply in more rigorousfashion.It seems obvious that Chinese
'identity'did notliterally transform itselffrom'cultural'to 'national'in
thepast one or twocenturies. Thereis no singleidentity of eithersort
for all Chinese in eitherperiod,and the two identitiesin question
actuallygo together in complexways.It is betterto thinkof culturalism
as a belief,doctrine, or setofideas thatcan be specifiedwitha bitmore
precision,and thento ask how strongit was amongdifferent groupsat
Accordingly, forpurposesofthisdiscussion,I takeculturalism tobe
thebeliefthatChinawas a culturalcommunity whoseboundarieswere
determinedby the knowledgeand practiceof principlesexpressed
through China's eliteculturaltradition; thatthiscommunity was unique
and unrivalledbecauseit was theworld'sonlytruecivilization;thatit
was properlygovernedby an emperorwho heldabsoluteauthority over

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his subjects,consistingof all thoseparticipating in thecivilization;and

thatthe politicalauthority of the emperorand his officialsrestedin
principleon superiorculturalattainments, especiallylearningand a
capacityto governby moralexample.This set of beliefshad several
important implications forthecommunity itdefined.Mostimportantly it
specifieda particularset of culturalmarkers,drawnmainlyfromthe
Confucian philosophical and moral tradition,that would be
distinguished from,and exist independently of, more generalcultural
characteristicsdemarcating ethnicgroups.Chinese,Mongols,Manchus,
Arabs,Turksandthelikecould all join thecommunity by acceptingthe
principles,and be excludedfromit if theydid not.It was intellectual
commitment to theprinciplesthatcounted,notthespecificcultureinto
which one was born, because the principlescould be learned or
renounced.The community's precisemembership and boundariescould
fluctuateso long as the beliefwas maintainedin signilficant regions.
Rulers,too,couldgainor lose legitimacy, whichwas based on superior
commandor demonstration of the principles,and not on ethnic
Thereis no doubtthatthissetof beliefswas extremely important to
the maintenanceof empire.It establishedgroundsfor acceptingthe
downfallof Chinesedynastiesand installation of alien ones.It justified
imperialruleovernon-Chinese peoplesandrecruitment of someofthem
into the imperialbureaucracy. It rationalizedfluidityof the empire's
boundariesand population.It influencedthe language of
imperialdiscourseand thequalityof imperialrelationships withother
communities. But whatwas culturalism's actualextentand influence?
My firsthypothesis is thatthethesisoverstatesculturalism'sstrength,
whichwas limitedin twoimportant ways.
The firstlimitationwas largelyone of class. Culturalism derived
froman elite tradition passed on throughscholarlystudyand official
practice,makingit unlikelythatmanyordinary subjectsunderstood or
acceptedthecore beliefs.This is notto suggesta sharpseparationof
eliteand folkculturesbutrathera complexmixture of class and ethnic
Each of themanyethnicgroupsthatcomprisedtheempire
haditsown culturalmarkers, readilyrecognizedby itselfand theothers
withwhichit had contact.The Chinesewerebyfarthemostnumerous
of thesegroups,and forimperialhistory as a wholetheywerethemost
powerfulin everyrespect- althoughone or anotherof thenon-Chinese
groupsheldmilitary superiority attimes.The Chinesewerealso a nation
(so, too,weresome of theothers)becausetheimperialpoliticalsystem
was primarilytheirsin population,territory, officialdom and culture.
Culturalism was strongest amonga community of elitesthatoccupied

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theupperlevels of thesediversepeoples,whichweredistinguished by
language,religion,food,dress,ritualsand the like, and its influence
extendedinto the generalpopulation.But althoughit was a major
culturalidentificationforthoseat thetop,forthemajority itwouldhave
beenof less importance thantheirprimary ethnicidentification. It seems
likely that most Chinese thoughtof their cultural and political
community - theirnation- as a Chineseone,andthatculturalism, to the
extentthattheyunderstood theirsensethattheempirewas
also properlyChinese.
The secondlimitation is thattherewerealternatives to culturalism,
and ethnicity
as statecraft bothcompetedor intenningled withit; 'pure'
culturalismwas modifiedbyconsiderations of statepoweras well as by
Chineseethnicassertiveness. The imperialstatehad to be concerned
aboutterritory and its defence,sometimesinteracting withotherson an
equal footingthatviolatedculturalist assumptions.37 Internally, its law
distinguished betweensubjectsand aliens,assertingsovereignty over
residentaliensdespitetheculturalist logic thatforeigners ('barbarians')
would not be subjectsof the empire.38 Aliens wererecruited intothe
bureaucracy, sometimesin significant numbers, takingChinesenames
and demonstrating theidea thattheempirewas a community based on
culturalistbelief and practice.But Mongol and Manchu dynasties
establishedlegal distinctionsamongChineseand non-Chinese subjects,
some non-Chinese continuedto be markedas foreigners longafterthey
werealmostwhollyassimilated, and somealiensservedwithhonouras
imperialofficialsevenas theirhouseholdswerestillregistered locallyas
foreigners.39Scholars like Wang Fuzhi (1619-92) gave doctrinal
expressionto Han Chinese chauvinism,and anti-foreign sentiment

37 MorrisRossabi(ed.), ChinaAmongEquals: The MiddleKingdomand its

38 R. RandleEdwards,'Ch'ing Legal Jurisdiction
overForeigners',in JeromeAlan
Cohen,R. RandleEdwardsand Fu-meiChang Chen (eds), Essays on China's
Legal Tradition(Princeton
1980),pp.222-69;and Vi
Kyuin WellingtonKoo, 'The Statusof Aliens in China', Studiesin Hlistory,
Economicsand PublicLaw (ColumbiaUniversity),vol.50,no.2 (1912),pp.13-56.
39 T'ung-tsuCh'u, Law and Societyin Traditional China(Mouton,Paris, 1961),
pp.201-06;DerkBodde and ClarenceMorris,Law in ImperialChina (University
ofPennsylvaniaPress,Philadelphia,1967),pp.168-70;andDonald DanielLeslie,
(E. J.Brill,

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playeda rolein Chineseconflicts withbothMongolsand Manchus.40 In

thelattercase, secretsocietieskeptanti-Manchu sentiment simmering
fortwocenturies, untilitsurfacedagainin theTaipingRebellion(1851-
64) and theburgeoning Chinesenationalist movement at theend of the
century.Popular sentiment supportingthese non-culturalist doctrines
and movements in popular culturewas evident in patrioticthemes,
emphasizing nationalhistory andheroes.41
One shouldnotexaggeratethesenon-culturalist phenomenaor read
back into themmodernnationalistic content.The pointis simplyto
observethatculturalism's dominancewas modifiedor even challenged
by competingviewsin imperiallaw and statecraft and in botheliteand
popularideas about Chinese relationswithotherethnicgroups.My
hypothesis is thata fulleraccountwouldshow important variationsin
culturalism'sinfluence overtime,pre-1850periodswhensomething like
'culturalismas a movement'developed,and throughout imperialhistory
a greaterrole for issues involving ethnic differencesthan the
In thecriticaltransition
periodfromculturalism tonationalism- the
late nineteenthcentury through theMay Fourthera - thethesisis at its
strongest.Explicit nationalistdoctrinesand movementsemerged,
accompaniedbyrisingnationalist sentiments amongeducatedandurban
groups. By the 1920s, for most politicallyconscious Chinese,
nationalismhad replacedor at least overshadowedculturalism as the
propermodel for the Chinese politicalcommunity. This meantthat
politicaland culturalcommunities shouldcoincide,requiring efforts to
strengthen theculturalas wellas politicalunityoftheChinesestate;that
China should accept the normsof the international systemof states,
acknowledgingthe fomralequality of other states and asserting

40 See thediscussion
of Wang'sideasin EtienneBalazs,PoliticalTheoryand
Realityin TraditionalChina (School of Orientaland African
Studies,London,1965),pp.37-50.Variedmanifestations ofChineseresistanceto
theManchusare analysedin Jonathan D. Spence and JohnE. Wills,Jr(eds),
FromMingto Ch'ing: Conquest,Region.and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century
China(Yale UniversityPress,New Haven,1979); and FredericWakeman,Jrand
CarolynGrant(eds), Conflictand Controlin Late ImperialChina (University
41 Yuji Muramatsu,'Some Themes in Chinese Rebel Ideologies', in ArthurF.
(ed.), TheConfucian
1960),pp.241-67;andRobertRuhlmann, 'TraditionalHeroesin ChinesePopular
Fiction', in ArthurF. Wright(ed.), Confucianismand Chinese Civilization
(Atheneum, New York,1964),pp.122-57.

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vigorouslyits own territorial sovereignty; and thatthe Chinese state

shouldtransform its subjectsintocitizens,assigningthemequal rights
and obligationswithinthestate,whichwould commandtheirprimary
Some aspects of this transitionremainproblematic,however.
Accountsof both Chinese and foreignobserversaffirmthat large
sections of the population,mainlyrural,remaineduninvolvedin
politicalissuesoutsidetheirlocalities.Despiteall thenationalist activity
andrhetoric, thecountry was nottrulyunitedduringtheperiod;Chinese
politicalfiguresspentmostof theirenergiesfighting each other.The
thesispostulatesa prolongedcrisis,of course,whichit attributes to the
traumaof exchangingculturalist fornationalist The crisiswas
evidently real,butitis less clearthatitwas one ofnationalidentity.
The fact thatmany Chinese escaped the nationalisttide is no
surprise, giventhehistoricalbackground and theweak development of
moderneducationand communications in mostof thecountry. It need
notdetainus hereexceptas a cautionary footnoteon tidalmetaphors.
The more significant limitations in the thesislie in the problematic
meaningof the transition fromculturalism to nationalismand in the
puzzle of why the crisis of modernChina was (perhaps 'is') so
prolonged.I suggestthatthe adoptionof modem nationalismwas a
decisive break fromculturalism but leftunansweredsome important
questionsabouttheimplications of thatnationalism; and thatthecrisis
was one moreofpoliticalauthority thanof Chineseidentity.
Culturalism leftan ambiguouslegacy.Thoseelementswithinit that
explicitly contradictedmodernnationalism had to be discarded,buttwo
of its implications werereadilyadaptablein thenew era. Culturalism
had alwaysservedas an ideologyofempire, justifyingChineseruleover
non-Chinese peoplesas well as non-Chinese ruleovertheChinese.In a
senseit postulateda super-nation, a community definedby universally-
valid principles(thoughnot universallyaccepted ones) and ruled
throughan imperialpolitical systemcentredon China, one that
transcended thespecificculturaltraditions of thepeoplesincluded.One
neednotquestionthesincerity or commitment of culturalists
to observe
thatthiswas a verynice doctrineforemperors and theirofficials- that
is, foranyoneparticipating in therule of, or benefitsfrom,a multi-
nationalpoliticalsystem.It was a pointof view readilytransferred to
statenationalism, whichassertsthatthestaterepresents thetrueinterests
of itspeople as a whole,whoconstitute a nationin beingor becoming,
whatever theirpastculturalandpoliticaldifferences. On theotherhand,
thecultureof culturalism's empirewas Chinese;theprincipleallowed
non-Chineseto enter(even rule)thecommunity and Chineseto defect

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fromit, but therewas neverany doubtthatculturalism promoteda

Chinese cultureand others' participation in its practice.In effect,
culturalism emphasizedand extolledChineseethnicity, permitting an
easy shiftto culturalor ethnicnationalism - thatis, politicaldefenceof
Chinesecultureandinsistence thattheHan Chinesemusthavetheirown
unifiedstate.In short,culturalism could lend its ideas to eitherstate
nationalismor ethnicnationalism, to supportfora new China-centred
staterulingtheold empireand fora new politicalcommunity among
ethnicChinese;one couldretainitsdefactospecification of theChinese
contentof thecommunity's culture,or its moreformalistic insistence
thatthepoliticalcommunity restedon ideas transcending theparticular
ethnicidentity ofitsmembers.
Culturalism'sproteanqualities made the transitionto modern
nationalism easierthanthethesissuggests.The practiceof theimperial
statewas formally brought intolinewithinternational normsin thelatter
partof thenineteenth century, andthetransition amongintellectuals was
accomplished in roughlya generation. Butjust as culturalism had never
reallysettledquestionsof ethnicity withintheempire,so acceptanceof
modernnationalism did notresolvethepossiblecontradictions between
stateand ethnicnationalism. Perhapsculturalism's capacityto tolerate
suchambiguities remainsitsprimary legacytoday.(Moreon thatlater.)
In anycase,modemChinesenationalism displayeda strong
ethnic,even xenophobic,strainin opposingimperialismand Manchu
rule. Turn-of-the-century ethnicnationalismplaced its mark on the
formative yearsof the ChineseNationalistParty(KMT) and thenew
Republic of China (ROC), witnessedin extensivemobilizationof
overseasChinesecommunities in supportof theanti-Manchu cause and
thelatergranting of representation to thesecommunities in Republican
nationalassemblies.Particularly tellingwas thelate Qing adoptionof
theprincipleofjus sanguinis, confirmed in theNationality Law of 1909,
granting citizenshipto all Chineseanywhere, and laterallowing'dual
nationality'for Chinesesubjectsof anothercountrywho would also
retain Chinese citizenship.42Nonetheless,once Nationalist and
Communist statesemergedfromthetumioilof revolution, theyasserted
sovereignty overold imperialterritories and saw non-Chineseness as no
barrierto incorporation in a Chinesestate.Like culturalism beforeit,

42 Harley
A Studyin International
Law and Practice(CommercialPress,Shanghai,1925);
and ChutungTsai, 'The ChineseNationalityLaw, 1909', TheAmericanJournal
Law, vol.4,no.2(April1910),pp.404-1.

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modemnationalism permitted morethanone definition of theChinese

A secondprobleminvolvesthewaythethesisconstrues thecrisisof
modem China. In a provocativestudyof Chinese politicalculture,
Lucian Pye assertedthat'the Chinesehave been generallysparedthe
crisisof identitycommonto mostothertransitional systems',that'they
have littledoubtabouttheiridentitiesas Chinese',and that'the more
theyhave beenexposedto theoutsideworldthemoreself-consciously
Chinesetheyhavebecome'.The primary problem,arguesPye,has been
an 'authority crisis'brought on by erosionof thelegitimacy of existing
politicalauthorityandthesearchby Chinesefornewformsof authority
thatcan 'satisfytheirneedto reasserta historicself-confidence and also
providethebasis forreordering theirsocietyin modemtimes'.43These
aresweepingassertions indeed,hencesubjectto a varietyof challenges,
butI wantto endorsetheirmainthrust in thepresentcontext,whichis
thatthe culturalism-to-nationalism thesis overstatesmodem China's
identity crisisand directsattention away froma severeand prolonged
In the main,therehas been littledisagreement amongtwentieth-
centurypolitical elites on the basic postulatesof modernChinese
nationalism.Different regimesand competingelites have expressed
similarnationalist rhetoric and goals. Nonetheless,debilitatinginternal
political conflictshave continuedeven as China has faced severe
economiccrisesandinternational threats. Thisdoes notmeannationalist
rhetoric lacks conviction or substance.Ratherit suggeststhatthecrisis
of politicalauthority is so profound thatit has overshadowed threatsto
nationalsecurityor well-being.Exceptfora fewbriefperiods(mainly
1985-98,1919-27,and 1935-41),theintegrity andsurvivalof thenation
has been a less pressingand divisiveissue thanhow theChinesepolity
should be structured, who shouldhold politicalauthority, and what
doctrineshould guide social and economic development.I am not
suggestingthat the transitionfromculturalismto nationalismwas
painless or that the Chinese have had no problemsin definingor
redefining theirnation.My pointis thattheseproblemshave been less
acutethanthethesissuggestsandthatmodemChina's 'identity crisis'is
difficultto separatefromcrisesdrivenbyelitepoliticalconflicts.
The logic of the culturalism-to-nationalism thesis suggeststhat
Chinesenationalism enteredits high-tide phase about1919,buildingto

43 LucianPye, The Spiritof ChinesePolitics:A Psychocultural

Studyof the
AuthorityCrisisin PoliticalDevelopment
(M.I.T. Press,Canbridge,1968),pp.5-
6, passim.

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theestablishment ofthePRC in 1949.The newregimewas a productof

a movementwith strongnationalistcredentials.44 Its restoration of
nationalunityand centralpowerto a degreeunknownsince themid-
Qing,coupledwitha strongorganizational reachintothegrassrootsof
Chinesesociety,enabled it to mount a vigorousdevelopment program.
The resultingrise in Chinesepowerand international staturesatisfied
somenationalist aspirations andraisedawarenessat homeandabroadof
possible Chinese pursuit of expanded nationalistambitions.As
suggestedearlier,it was notdifflcult forobserversto see nationalism
everywhere in PRC history, goals,andbehaviour.
Once again, the thesiscapturesan important truthabout rising
Chinese nationalismwhile distorting or oversimplifying some of its
manifestations. My discussionof theprogressof nationalist doctrines,
movements, and sentiments suggeststhreepointsabout thepost-1949
period.First,a statenationalism has dominated officialdoctrine,placing
itsmarkon mostgovernment statements andpolicies,butcontradictions
remainin the state's definitionof citizenshipand its inabilityor
unwillingness to abandonor suppressethnicnationalism. Second,some
nationalistmovementshave occurredsince 1949, and a powerful
potentialforthempersists,buttheyhave notdominatedPRC political
behaviour.Third,nationalistsentiments have grownamong Chinese
citizens,but major questionsremainabout thefocus of nationalist
sentiments - thatis, abouthow thenationis defined- and theintensity
ofnationalism relativetoothercommitments.
State nationalismportraysthe state as the embodimentof the
nation's will, seekingfor its goals the kind of loyaltyand support
grantedthe nationitselfand tryingto createa sense of nationhood
amongall itscitizens.It is oftendifficult todistinguishstatefromethnic
nationalismin a countrylike China where political and cultural
communities are largelycongruent, bothhistoricallyandtoday.Butthey
are not totallycongruent, now or in the past,and recognitionof the
differenceis essentialin analysisof contemporary Chinesenationalism.
The PRC is a multi-national state,approximately 93 per cent of its
populationconsistingof Han Chinese(usuallyreferred to in thisessay
simplyas 'Chinese'),theother7 percentnon-Chinese dividedofficially
among 55 minoritynationalities.State nationalismassertsthat the

44 The classic statement

remainsChalmersA. Johnson, Peasant Nationalismand
Communist Power: TheEmergenceofRevolutionaryChina,1937-1945(Stanford
UniversityPress, Stanford,1962). While aspects of Johnson'sthesis are
of theCCP's incorporation
and use of nationalism
is not.

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Chinesenationincludesall PRC citizensirrespective oftheirnationality.

Like culturalism,it acknowledgesthe ethnicdifferences among its
populationbutinsiststhatall are membersof a largernationthatbinds
themtogetherdespite these historicalethnicdifferences. The state
cannot deny the potential for ethnic nationalism on behalf of a
or thatmanyof itscitizenslack strongattachments
nationality, to larger
political communities.Hence state nationalismrequires 'nation-
building';creationof a new Chinesenationthatincorporates all of its
nationalities;concentrationof political loyaltyon the state; and
repudiationof theidea thatChinesehistory and culturearepurelya Han
The terms'nationalism'and 'chauvinism'usuallyreferinofficial
discourse to reactionaryattachmentsto nationalities,whereas
'patriotism'is thedesiredlove and supportforthenew China,always
State nationalismaccordsclosely withconventionalinternational
norms emphasizingthe indivisibility of territorialsovereigntyand
citizenship.PRC pronouncementsusually support these norns
vigorously.A key illustration has been the PRC's retreatfromthe
principleof 'dual nationality'foroverseasChinesethathad emerged
duringthe floweringof Chinese ethnicnationalismearlier in the
century. Aftermanypartialorad hoccompromises on theissuefromthe
early1950s on, the PRC Nationality Law of 1980 explicitlyrejected
dual nationality,providedfor naturalization of aliens as Chinese
nationalsandrenunciation of ChinesenationalitybyethnicChinese,and
statedthatchildrenbornof Chinesenationalssettledabroadcould not
hold Chinese nationality if theyhad acquiredforeignnationality by
birth.46In keepingwiththisprinciple,the PRC has generallyurged
Chinese settledabroad to choose the nationality of theircountryof
residence,givingup Chinesenationality.
State nationalismhas met strongcompetition fromtwo sources,
however.One is the prominencein CCP doctrine,especiallyin the

45 The originsand evolutionof PRC policytowarditsnationalities

are analysedin
China'sForty Millions: Nationalities
Minority andNational
in the People's Republicof China (HarvardUniversity
Cambridge,1976); and Thomas Heberer,China and Its National Minorities:
Autonomy or Assimilation?
(M.E. Sharpe,Armonk,NY, 1989). For an example
of ChineseassertionsthattheChinesenationis actuallymultinational, and that
'China' (Zhongguo)historicallyincludedall thenationalities
and theirterritories,
see Social Sciencesin China,vol.3,no.4 (December1982),pp. 237-38.
46 'The NationalityLaw of thePeople's RepublicofChina',BeijingReview,vol.23,
no.40(6 October1980),pp.17-18.

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Maoist era, of class struggleand its impacton the real meaningof

citizenship.Class-based definitionsof the 'people' and recurring
movements of class struggledividedtheChinesenationup to 1979,in
effectrevokingthecitizenship of millionsof its membersby labelling
themas enemyclasses devoidof politicalrights.Nationalist movements
frequently identify as 'traitors'membersof the nationwho allegedly
collaboratewitha foreignenemy,butCCP practiceextendedthisact of
nationalexcommunication to vastnumbersof peopleforpurelyinternal
politicalreasons,oftenon the thinnestof evidence.The legal and
doctrinal implications of thisarecomplexbutone mustrecognizethatit
contradicts thesubstanceof bothstateand ethnicnationalism, dividing
the nationratherthanunifying it by imposingarbitrary and shifting
The otherproblemis ethnicnationalism'sstubbornrefusalto
dissipate,even in some doctrinalforms.On internalissues, state
nationalism has been relativelyeffective in resistingopen espousalof
Han Chineseethnicnationalism, butit has not silencedstatements of
ethnicnationalism fromTibetansand someotherminority nationalities.
Externally, Chineseethnicnationalism foundexpressionafter1949 in
grantingoverseas Chinese representation in the Chinese People's
PoliticalConsultative Conference (CPPCC) and theNationalPeople's
Congress(NPC), as well as in otherpoliciesaddressing thisgroup.With
the trendthatled to explicitrenunciation in 1980,
of dual nationality
formalpolicy changed.Overseas Chineseno longerhave seats in the
NPC and theirrepresentatives in the CPPCC are said to be 'Chinese
nationalsresidingabroad', that is, not overseas Chinese who hold
foreignnationality.48 Much confusionremainsin both Chinese and
foreignviewsofthismatter, however,andthePRC continuesto assume
or implythatethnicChinesetheworldoverhave some specialbondor
evenobligationtowardthePRC, albeitofvariableintensity. Particularly
significantis China's position on the nationalityof Hong Kong

47 See RichardKurtKraus,Class Conflictin ChineseSocialism(Columbia

Press,New York,1981).
48 Encyclopediaof New China (ForeignLanguagesPress,Beijing, 1987), p.151.
Key documentsof theearlyCPPCC and NPC are foundin TheodoreH. E. Chen
(ed.),The ChineseCommunist
and Commentary
New York, 1967). Complexitiesof PRC policyand terminology
overseasChineseare analysedin StephenFitzgerald,China and theOverseas
Chinese:A Studyof Peking'sChangingPolicy, 1949-1970(Cambridge
Press,Cambridge,1972) and Wang Gungwu,'ExternalChina as a
New PolicyArea',PacificAffairs,
vol.58,no.1 (Spring1985),pp.28-43.

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residents,expoundedin the 1984 'Sino-British JointDeclaration'and

the 1988 Draft'Basic Law', which implies thatall ethnicChinese
residentsare automaticallyChinesenationals.The suggestion thatHong
Kong's ethnicChinesewill automatically acquirePRC citizenshipin
1997, whereasnon-Chinesewill not,contradicts theprincipleof state
nationalism expressedin thePRC constitution and Nationality Law. If
Hong Kong and Macao are Chinese terrtory,all theirpermanent
residentswho do not hold foreignnationality shouldbecomeChinese
nationals,withthenon-Chinese treatedliketheminority of
thePRC.49Here,as withclass struggle, thereare competingdoctrinal
views of the Chinese nationthatconfusethe meaningof Chinese
nationalism andqualifyourevaluationofitssignificance.
Movementsand sentiments thatcan be identified as reflecting
stateand ethnicnationalism, oftenthoroughly mixed,have a prominent
place in PRC history.At the broadestlevel, statenationalismand its
nation-building aspirationsinveststatepolicywitha nationalistic tone.
Developmentbecomesa nationalcause,a collectiveeffort to transforn
China into a newlypowerfuland modernizedstateas well as a new
nationalcommunity integrating all of thestate'sterritories
and peoples.
If one accepts Deutsch's argumentthatnationalismgrows with the
intensificationof 'complementary communications',50 then the post-
1949 expansionof surfaceand air transportation, postaland electronic
communications, filmand publishing industries,
literacyand education,
and use of the nationallanguage(putonghua)- all accompaniedby or
infusedwithofficialpropagandaemphasizing nationalunity,goals,and
accomplishments must have produceda significantincrease in
national consciousness.From this perspective,the real nationalist
revolutionin Chinacame after1949 in thebuildingof an infrastructure
thatreachedall ofthestate'scitizensandregions.
The PRC's international conflictshave also stimulated nationalist
movements and sentiments. The KoreanWarwas theprototype, withits
use of forcein supportof stateobjectives,backedby a ResistAmerica-
Aid Korea campaignthatmobilizedpopularenergiesforthewar effort
through a varietyof nationalisticanti-American claimsand appeals.No
subsequentconflictquitematchedthisfirstone's intenseconcentration

49 On vaguenessand inconsistency in the PRC positionhere,see FrankChing,

'ChineseNationality in theBasic Law', in PeterWesley-Smithand AlbertChen
(eds), TheBasic Law andHongKong'sFuture(Butterworths, HongKong,1988),
pp.288-93: and Robin M. White, 'NationalityAspects of the Hong Kong
JournalofInternational Law, vol.20,no.1(Winter1988),pp.225-51.
50 Deutsch,supra,n.19.

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of militaryaction,domesticmobilization,and popularemotion,but
some mixtureof extraterritorial (thatis, involvingareas of disputedor
foreignsovereignty) military actioncoupledwithnationalistic rhetoric
and supporting populardemonstrations can be foundin the Taiwan
Straitscrises of the mid-1950s,the Sino-Indianborderwar of 1962,
Sino-Sovietborderclashes of the 1960s, the Chinese invasionof
Vietnamin 1979, and the Chinese seizureof the Xisha Islands (the
Paracels) in 1974 followedby occasionalSino-Vietnamese skirrnishes
aroundthose islands and more assertionsof PRC claims to all the
islands(primarily includingtheNanshaor Spratlygroup)in theSouth
ChinaSea.51The continuing dramaofPRC efforts toregainHongKong,
Macao and Taiwanalso ensuresa steadydietof nationalistic themesin
theofficialmedia.Althoughtheprimary nationalistcomponents in these
conflicts andpopulardemonstrations, and
evenexternalmilitary action,theyalso enterpopularcultureas subject
matterforfilm,drama,poetryand song.In thesemedia theycompete
withmore peacefulimages of the nationthatdwell on its history,
monuments, landscape,andethnicdiversity.
Because nation-building and international conflictsreflectstate
interestsand goals, theytend to definethe issues in termsof state
nationalism.Nonetheless,mobilizationof popular supportagainst
foreignthreatsoftenappeals to Han historyand symbolsand we may
assumethatmuchof theChineseresponsesees thenationdefendedas
Han,notas themultinational community portrayed in statenationalism.
Is theremoredirectevidenceof ethnicnationalism and conflictin the
PRC? Thereis no doubtthatChineseinclinations to distinguish sharply
betweenforeigners and themselves- an inclination I see stemming in
partfromculturalism's emphasisuponChineseethnicity - is alive and
well,surfacing in Han-minority relationsas well as in Chinesetreatment
of foreignersresidingor travellingin theircountry.The desire to
segregateforeigners is officialpolicy,notjust a popularattitude, and
although the state emphasizes the Chineseness of its minority
population,it also endorsesa continuing senseoftheirdistinctiveness by
grantingminoritiesvarious kinds of special representation and

51 PRC claimsin theSouthChina Sea, whichare disputedby manyotherstatesin

theregion,areanalysedin MarwynS. Samuels,Contest for theSouthChinaSea
(Methuen,New York, 1982). Therewas a suggestion,not approved,thatthe
islandsin questionbe incorporated
in thenewPRC provinceofHainanwhenthat
largeislandoffthe southern coast was separatedfromGuangdongProvincein
1988;see BeijingReview(21 September1987),p.5.

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Ethnicconsciousnessin China has also become conflictualand

violent,mostnotablyin Tibetwhereethnicnationalism has triumphed
fornowoverthestate'sversionofHan-Tibetan relations.Similarthough
less intenseconflicthas appearedin Han relationswiththeUighursand
otherMuslimnationalities, notablyin Xinjiangand Yunnan.Some Red
GuardbehaviourduringtheCulturalRevolutionrevealedHan hostility
towardTibetan,Mongol and Islamic nationalitiesas well as more
generalizedxenophobia.More recentyearshave witnessedrepeated
incidentsbetweenChineseand Africanstudents, and a fewmoreor less
spontaneousdemonstrations anti-foreign, especiallyanti-Japanese,
sentiment. The officialpresscondemnsall suchnationalist, chauvinist,
or racistideas and actions,whichit attributes to lingeringinfluences
fromChina's feudaland semi-colonial past; and it continuesto call for
patriotismamong all Chinese coupled withinternationalism in their
relationswithforeigners. Nonetheless,like popularsentiment, official
attitudesandpoliciestowardotherstatescontinueto showtheinfluence
ofinternational rivalriesofthepast.52
Althoughthe PRC has led what mightbe called a nationalist
revolutionin Chinesepoliticalbehaviourand sentiment, the intensity
and focusof thisrevolution remainuncertain. It is difficult
tojudge the
intensityof nationalistbelief in China because its professionis
somethinglike a statereligion.Like professionsof moralityamong
it maytellus moreaboutconventions
politicians, of politicaldiscourse
thantherealityof eitherpublicbehaviour or privatebelief.Muchof our
evidenceon Chinesenationalism, from1949 to thepresent, is fromstate
proclamations, state-promoted demonstrations, or state-sponsored and
censoredpublic expression.Withthiscautionin mind,I suggesttwo
generalizations.First,nationalismwas most intensein the period
between1949 and 1969 whentheKoreanWar, tensionin theTaiwan
Straits,and theSovietthreat of the1960s madecalls fordefenceof the
nationmorecredibleand emotional.Thereafter, Chineseleadersbegan
theirlongeffort to resolvethecrisisleftbytheCulturalRevolution, and
foreignenemies,in the main,became progressively less threatening.
Second, the primaryeffectof the post-1978 reforms(so far as
nationalism is concerned)has beento encouragea kindof privatization,
a retreatfrompoliticsand an increasingly open pursuitof individual,

52 See Allen S. Whiting,ChinaEyes Japan(Universityof CaliforniaPress,

Berkeley,1989) forthoroughanalysisof Chineseimagesof and policiestoward
Japan,emphasizingthe historicalimage of Japanas the enemyof Chinese
and givingspecial attention
to anti-Japanese
demonstrations among
Chinesestudentsin 1985.

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familyor groupinterest. The officialgloss portraying a unitedpeople

strivingtogetherfor China's modernization does not jibe with the
realitiesof Chinesebehaviour.The nationalism moststimulated by the
reforms was Tibetan,notChinese.
Statenationalismhas notmade thePRC's international behaviour
particularlyaggressiveor inflexible,accordingto mostobservers,but
rathercautious and opportunistic. China has pursued its interests
vigorously,backingthemwith forceon several occasions, but has
manoeuvredand even retreated on manyissues involvingnationalistic
concerns.In the 1970s the PRC abandonedits earlierdemandsfor
severanceof AmericanrelationswithTaiwan as a conditionforUS-
Chinarapprochement, acceptingde factorelationswiththeUS between
1972 and 1978 even as formalAmericanrecognition of and supportfor
the Republic of China on Taiwan continued.Some see the PRC's
positionon HongKong as nationalistic, butit had alwaysinsistedon its
sovereignty thereandcould hardlybe expectedto relinquish thatclaim.
The formulaof 'one country, twosystems'forHongKong,Macao, and
Taiwan involvesimportant concessionson mattersof local autonomy,
althoughthePRC insistson theformalities of its sovereigntyoverthese
As forpopularnationalism in China,I havealreadysuggestedthatit
is less intensethanthestatewouldhave us believe.It is also probably
less orientedtowardstatenationalism. No doubtmostofficialsinvolved
in nationalaffairstake statenationalism seriously,withrelativelyfull
understanding and acceptanceof its premises.That stance may be
widelysharedin morehighlyeducatedandpoliticallyconsciouscircles.
But theevidenceavailablesuggeststhatformostChineseit is theHan
Chinese nation,not the PRC state, that is the focus of national
sentiment. Judging fromHan-minority relations, fromChineseattitudes
towardforeigners, and fromChinese attitudestowardotherethnic
Chinese who are not PRC citizens,thisethnicnationalismis more
spontaneous, volatileand potentthanthestatenationalism thatit often
challenges.In sum,I am suggesting thatstatenationalism is weakerthan
officialcommunications proclaim;thatethnicnationalism, amongboth
Han and minorities, is morepowerfulthanthestatelikesto admit;and
thatneitherstatenor ethnicnationalismamongthe Han Chinesehas
beenparticularly intensein thepost-Cultural Revolution era.
Summary and Evaluation:The culturalism-to-nationalism thesishas two
primarystrengths. Mostimportantly, it identifies
a fundamental
in prevailingelite beliefand officialdoctrineabout thenatureof the
Chinesecommunity and its place in theworld.This beliefin imperial

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timeswas culturalism as definedat theoutsetoftheprecedingsection.It

was widelyheldamongthoseeducatedin theConfuciantradition and it
was part of the ideology of the imperialstate. As orthodoxstate
doctrine, culturalism gave way to modernnationalism undertheimpact
of imperialism, thetransition takingplace between the mid-nineteenth
century and theMay Fourthera.The twodoctrines wereincompatible in
threerespects.First,althoughbothdoctrines recognizedethnicdiversity
withina broaderculturaland politicalcommunity of empireor modem
state(both rulingmuch the same territory and populationat times),
culturalismplaced primaryemphasis on culturaldeterminants of
community boundariesand membership, whereasmodemnationalism
definedthecommunity statein theprocessofachievinga
as a territorial
higherdegreeof culturaland politicalintegration. Second,culturalism
did not acknowledgethe formalequalityof statesin an international
systemof suchstates,nordid itsee otherculturalorpoliticalsystemsas
competitorsthat could challenge Chinese ways, whereas modem
nationalism assertedthereversein bothcases. Third,culturalism saw the
commonpeople as subjectsof an absolutepoliticalauthority, whereas
modernnationalism insistedthatall subjectswouldbecomecitizensof
thestate,holdingformally equal rightsandobligations withinit.
A second strength is the thesis's conceptualizationof a broader
patternof intellectual changethataccompaniedthedeclineof empire
and its replacement by a new kindof state.Levensonmade use of the
thesisas a 'heuristicdevice', counterposing abstractionsthatare 'not
literallytherein history'.It refersto a struggle in themindsof China's
intellectualelitesas theytriedto resolvequestionsabouttheirown and
theirnation's 'identity',a struggleresolved in this formulation by
abandoningculturalism and adoptingnationalism. By dramatizing the
struggleas a confrontation between polar concepts, the thesis
emphasizestheintellectual and psychological dimensionsof thedebate
and sharpensthe focus on its key issues. I hope thatmy effortsto
respondto the broaderramifications of the thesisshow thatit does
indeedhave value as a 'heuristicdevice',even thoughone mayqualify
it sharply.
The thesis'smainweaknessis thatit exaggeratesthetotalityand
clarityof thechangein question.It overstatesboththedominanceof
culturalism and the weaknessof pre-modern nationalismin imperial
times,as well as overstating theeclipseof culturalism and triumph of
nationalismin modem times. Contraryto the thrustof the thesis,
culturalism could co-existwithotherideas aboutstateand nation,could
lendsupportin modemtimesto bothstateand ethnicnationalism, and
hencecould retainsome influenceon Chinesenationalism downto the

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present.Culturalismand statenationalism have beendominant elite

in their
doctrines respective
eras,butneither hasmonopolized thefield
Theseerrorsoccurbecausethethesisfocuses onintellectual
elitebehaviour,and officialrhetoric,without takingfullaccountof
popularsentimentsortherealitiesof statecraft,
considercarefullytheconceptual problems involvedin thestudyof
In particular,it doesnotanalysecloselythe
Chinesenationanditschanging relationshipto otherChineseandnon-
Chinesecommunities. The studyof Chinesenationalism requires
examinationofthesociallandscape in whichitoperates,tosupplement
the thesisby linkingintellectualhistory to an anthropology of the
Chinesenation.In theconcluding partof thispaper,I will tryto
demonstrate such an approachby a few generalobservations on
differentChinese nationsand their changingcompositionand

A Han Chinesenationhas existedforcenturies, recognizedby the
Chineseandothersas a distinct
culturalandpolitical community. There
is disagreement
on whenthisnationcameintobeing,thatis, whenthe
Chinesebecameconscious oftheir sharedcultureandbegantoviewthat
culturalcommunityas requiring
itsownpolitical system. Oneargument
datesthe nationfromthefirstimperialunification in theQin-Han
period,withitscombination of culturalstandardization and political
whereasa strictculturalist
perspective canassertthatit
was 'impossible
forsucha thingas a nation'toexistinimpenralChina."5
This is a dispute involvingboth conceptualchoice and empirical
evidence.My conceptualchoice revealsa pre-modern
nationin China
butI amnotqualified toassesstheevidence
thatmight datethatnation's
founding.It is sufficient
hereto observethattheQin-Hanunification
an administrativeandideologicalframework withinwhich
theChinesenationevolved.Internal divisions,

53 AlthoughI citefewtitles,thediscussionthatfollowsreflectsmyunderstanding
of a largeliterature
thatexaminestheseissues in depthand providesa growing
scholarlyfoundation fortheapproachI suggest.
54 WangLei, 'The Definition of 'Nation'and theFormationoftheHan Nationality',
Social Sciencesin China,vol.4,no.2 (June1983),pp.167-88.
55 EtienneBalazs, ChineseCivilizationand Bureaucracy,trans.by H.M. Wright
(ed.), byArthurF. Wright(Yale UniversityPress,New Haven,1964),p.22.

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cosmopolitanism, elite culturalism, peasantparticularism, and Han and

non-Hanmigrations andassimilation (in bothdirections)all complicated
butdid notblock thenation'sevolution.By thelaterdynasties, it was
distinguished fromotherethnicgroupsand nationsby a sense of a
commonhistory, withmythsof originanddescent;a distinctive written
languageand literary formsassociatedwithit; some commonfolklore,
life ritualsand religiouspractices;and a core politicalelite, witha
commoneducationand orientation towardgovernment service,that
staffedthe imperialbureaucracy,provided Chinese rule of most
localitieseven underalien emperors,and circulatedthroughofficial
assignments andothertravelthroughout theempire.
For manyreasons,however,thisnationwas not a continuousor
even prominentfocus for organizationor loyalty.The imperial
government'sphilosophyof rule, coupled with class barriersand
regionaldifferentiation, weakeneditsdirectcontrolof localities.Within
and between regions were pronouncedcommunal cleavages. In
peripheral regionsthesestemmedin partfromthepresenceof non-Han
subjects,butthefundamental problemwas communaldivisionsamong
theHan and a persistent tendencyamongcommoners(and not a few
elites)to attachtheirprimary loyaltiesto theselocalized communities
andorganizations. Foremostamongthemwerekinshipassociations,but
they included villages, marketingsystems,religious sects, secret
societies,and self-defence organizations The largestcommunities within
theHan nationwereethnicor sub-ethnic groups(scholarsdifferon the
properor leastconfusing term)definedby languageor 'dialect',related
culturalmarkers,and commonprovenanceor residence.All of these
communitiespossessed at least intermittent political organizations,
includingarmed forces,for managinginternalaffairsand external
conflicts.As theyweretheprimary objectsof loyaltyformostChinese,
theyreducedtheimportance of the nationin the Chineseuniverseof
communities and werean obstacleto nationalist movements ordoctrines
thatdemandedmajorsacrifices on itsbehalf.
Communalcleavages did not destroythe nationbecause of the
overlayof theimperialgovernment, alwaysre-centralized afterperiods
of disunity;the existenceof a pre-modern nationalism, expressedin
nationalhistory,mythand doctrine,that did not supportpolitical
separatismforregionaland ethnic(sub-ethnic)communities; and the
presenceof politicaleliteswho constituted a truenationalcommunity
andtiedlocalitiesindirectly to theimperialsystembytheirparticipation
in bothlocal and nationalaffairs.But theelites,too,contributed to the
low salience of the nation by theirbelief in culturalism,which
postulated a secondkindofChinesenationthatcouldincludealiens,and

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even alien rulers,and could exclude Chinesewho failedto adhereto

Confuciannorms.WhenthegreatChineseemigration got underwayin
Ming times(it was to continueoffand on to thepresent),a further
complicationarose with the overseas Chinese. Ming and Qing
governments tendedto assumethatemigrants were unworthy subjects
who had forsakenhome and ancestors;56 fromthe perspectiveof
culturalism theyhad ceased to be Chinese.Nonetheless,as we have
noted, a late-nineteenth centuryrevisionistculturalismcould view
overseas Chinese as imperialsubjectsbecause theywere obviously
Chinesein culture.The pointis thatculturalism blurredthe nation's
boundaries,opening up the possibilitiesof a Chinese nation that
includednon-Hanandone thatincludedChinesenotreallysubjectto the
nation'spoliticalauthority, botha bitdifferent fromthecore Chinese
nation.Thesedifferent nationsare moreapparenttoday,withournorms
of indivisiblesovereigntyand citizenship,and are politicallyvery
The Chinese nationin whichmodernnationalismemergedbore
littleresemblance to theideal-typenationof Westerntheory.It was one
amongmanycommunities to whichChinesebelonged,and seldomthe
mostimportant one to them,and even its leadersofferedno explicit
doctrine thatwe can comfortably call nationalism.Butitwas thereandit
endured,withitscore territory and populationrelatively stableoverthe
centuries.CharlesTilly remindsus thatthe construction of national
statesin Europe was a hazardousenterprise, despite the European
politicaltraditionthatsupposedlyfavouredsuch formations. Of some
fivehundredmore-or-less independent politicalunitsin Europein 1500,
onlyabouttwenty-five were leftin 1900; and even thesurvivorswent
throughprecariousepisodes in whichtheirintegrity and futurewere
muchin doubt.57Somethingmorethancommoncultureheld Chinese
together, as therewere ampleopportunities to dividetheempirealong
its internalregionalor communallines. The strength of the nation,
includinga formof pre-modernnationalism,must have been an
important elementhere.Culturalism and particularismbothloweredthe
salienceof thecore nation,placingotherloyaltiesabove it,butneither
challengedtheidea thatit was a politicaland culturalcommunity that
oughtto remainintact.Culturalism playeda particularly importantrole
byrationalizing periodsof alienruleandglorifying whatwas in factthe

56 MacNair,
57 Charles Tilly (ed.), 7he Formationof National States in WesternEurope

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core nation'scultureand tradition.Chineseattitudestowardthenation

seemto havebeenflexibleandpragmatic, enablingittoendureruptures,
discontinuities,contradictionsand competing loyalties, without
helpsexplainwhytheriseof modernnationalism
This perspective
failedto producea stablenationalunification.
Old conceptions beganto
shiftwithoutcrystallizingintounitaryform.The Han Chinesenationof
ethnicnationalism quicklyeclipsedtheculturalist
version,addingto the
core Chinese nation those overseas Chinese who respondedto its
appeals.Dual nationality in nationalpoliticalbodies
and representation
gave overseas Chinese legal membershipin the nation they were
supporting withtheirfunds,bodies,and overseashavens.The nationof
culturalism and empirethatincludednon-Chinesedid not disappear,
because no Chinesegovernment would abandonterritorial claims so
closelylinkedto nationaltraditionand security,
butit becamechanged
in significant
ways.The de facto separationor autonomy of mostnon-
Han peripheralregionstook themout of the mainstream of Chinese
politics. Moreover, ethnic nationalismnecessarily altered their
relationshipto thecore nation.Logically,underthisdoctrine,themost
distinctnon-Chinese groups - really nations themselves - deserved
formalautonomyif notindependence, and some Chinesefollowedthis
logic by acknowledgingsuch groupswere not part of the Chinese
nation.Generally,however,the KMT moved toward a policy of
assimilation,arguingthatthese territories remainedChineseand that
theirpeopleseitherwere,or by assimilation shouldbecome,ethnically
indistinguishablefromthe Han. In effect,modernnationalismwas
pushingtheChinesestatetowarda formalpositionon howan integrated
nationcouldemergefromthemulti-national empire.Ethnicnationalism
encouragedassimilationof minoritiesinto a Han nation or, less
acceptably,independenceor autonomyfor all nationalities;state
nationalismassertedthat all nationalitiescould unite in a greater
politicalandculturalcommunity basedon theterritorialstate.
Withinthecore Han nation,old regionaland communalcleavages
resistednationalintegration, while new classes contributed to rival
politicalmovements andideologiesthatheightened thecrisisofpolitical
authority.The paradoxicalresultbecamedecadesof risingnationalism
coupledwithpersistent nationaldisunity.The lattergenerally prevailed,
postponing realizationof nationalistgoals,butthecore nationsurvived
andwithitelitecommitment to builda modemnationon theruinsofthe
empire.The CCP's victoryin 1949 temporarily ended the crisis of
politicalauthority- it was to recurin theCulturalRevolutionand the

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1980s - permitting a new effortto definewhatan integrated modem

For severalreasons,theCCP committed itselfafter1949 to state
nationalismas a doctrineforcreatinga single Chinese nation.The
outcomeof theSecondWorldWarand thedecisivemilitary triumph of
thePeople's LiberationArmyextendedPRC authority intomostof the
old imperialdomains,so the new government faced immediately the
realityof its multinational state;and statenationalism,like culturalism
beforeit, was an appealingdoctrineforlegitimating thispoliticaland
culturalformation. Sovietdoctrineand exampleprovideda ready-made
model for creatinga new state-widenationthatincludedwithinit
several more or less autonomousolder nationalities,which could
continueto existas theirmembersadded on thenew super-nationality.
Internationally, the PRC's acceptanceof formalinternational norms
pushedit to abandondual nationality, althoughthisremainedambiguous
untiladoptionof the Nationality Law of 1980. In doctrine,then,the
PRC had establisheda single Chinese nationcoterminouswith the
In practice,theissue is notresolvedbecausefourdifferent Chinese
nations continue to exist. The firstis the officialone of state
nationalism, composedofall PRC citizens,Han and non-Hanalike.The
second,definedbyethnicnationalism is thePRC's
Han nation,composedof thecore Han population,distinctfromnon-
Han nationswithinthePRC as well as fromChineseoutsidethePRC
who are subjectto otherpoliticalauthorities. The third,a productof
ethnicnationalism and thevagariesof Chinesepoliticaland migratory
history,consistsof the PRC plus the 'compatriots'or tongbao (in
mainlandterminology) of Taiwan,HongKong and Macao, whomboth
the PRC and ROC see as partof the same nation-state even though
presently underdifferent politicalauthorities.
The fourth includesother
overseasChinese who retainsome idea, howeverattenuated, of dual
nationality;this is a nationmade possible by a continuingsense of
Chinesenesscombinedwiththe idea thatresidenceand citizenshipin
anothercountry do notprecludepoliticalas well as culturalattachment
to China. The studyof Chinese nationalismmustincludethesefour
nations,takingintoaccounttheirinternal cohesionandcleavagesas well
as theircomplexrelationswitheach otherand withothernations.They
are important, notbecause theirboundariesand membership are clear-
cut,butbecause theyall contribute to Chinesenationalism and whatit
means for themselvesand otherswith whom they are in contact.
Because all fournationsare in flux,Chinesenationalismremainsan
elusiveandunpredictable phenomenon.

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The officialnationis mainlyone ofaspiration, notsocialreality.No

doubtmanyeducatedHan, and some minorities, accept the idea that
Chinesenessis sharedamong all the nationalities, but most of the
movement towardintegration of thisnationresultsfromassimilation of
thenon-HanintoChineseculture.The mostactivenationalism within
thePRC is currently Tibetan,withstirrings amongtheUighurs,other
Muslims,and Mongols.Ethnicnationalism amongminorities makesit
clear thatsome may choose greaterdifferentiation and autonomyover
integration into a new PRC nation,a trendthaton all sides can only
strengthen awarenessof thedistinctiveness and dominanceof thecore
Han Chinesenation.That core nationis also changing,as it adds new
membersby assimilation or bytheprojectedinfusion ofHongKongand
Macao compatriotsat the end of the decade. Its earliernationalist
mobilization, whichwas moderated in the1970sand 1980s,couldeasily
revive in the face of a clear foreignthreator severe conflictwith
elementsof other Chinese nations. Nonetheless,the core nation
currently seemsless involvedin nationalist issues and movements than
eitherthePRC orcompatriot nations.
The third nation of compatriotsis the most complex and
unpredictable. For manyyearsafter1949 thegulfbetweenthePRC and
thethreeterritories was so greatthatthenationexistedonlyas a legal
fiction.Growingcontactswiththemainland,firston thepartof Hong
Kong and Macao, thenTaiwanin the 1980s,rekindledawarenessthat
theterritoriesdo constitute a nationin some senseandthatunification is
possible.For HongKong and Macao, it is now a virtualcertainty. The
ROC shows no signsof yieldingto PRC versionsof reunification, but
Taibeihas contributed significantlyto a renewedsenseofnationhood by
its vigorouspromotion of contacts.At the same time,a contradictory
trendexists in the rise of more open claims for Taiwanese self-
determination or independence. Moreover,because manyresidentsof
Hong Kong and Macao objectto reunification on PRC terms,or under
theauspicesof thecurrent PRC regime,they,too,maypushforgreater
autonomyor even independence, or mayat leastresistassimilation. In
otherwords,thisnationis in themidstof dramaticchangethatcould
lead to reunificationof all theterritories,to moreexplicitdemandsfor
independenceor autonomyforTaiwan and Hong Kong, or to many
othercombinations in between.Whatever theoutcome,itis important to
notethatnationalist activityin the 1980s was morevigorousin Tibet
and Taiwan,andperhapsevenin HongKong,thanin thecore Chinese
The fourthnationthatincorporates some overseasChinesecannot
take unifiedpoliticalform,as most of its externalmembershave

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primaryobligations to non-Chinese states. Nonetheless,it has

contributedbothpoliticallyand economicallyto thePRC, Hong Kong,
Macao, and Taiwan, continuingto nurturethe idea that important
community bondsremain.The historyof thisassociationand concern
aboutitsfuturerolemakeit a verysensitivepoliticalissue,especiallyin
SoutheastAsia. The fourthnationalso participated in themobilization
of externalChinesein supportof the 1989 democracymovementin
China,perhapsthegreatestsuchmobilization since turn-of-the-century
supportforvariousreformist andrevolutionaryactivitiesin China.Some
kindof nationalconsciousnessis obviouslyat workwhenChineseof all
thenationsdescribedherecan rallyarounda politicalmovement within
thePRC, although one mustnotethatthe'nationalism' of thesupporters
of this movementwas labelled 'unpatriotic'by PRC authorities.
Nationalism continuestodividetheChineseas oftenas itunifiesthem.
How these different formationsof Chinese nations will sort
themselvesout is difficultto foresee.We mustanticipatecontinuing
changesin theirrelationswitheach other,andwithothernations,as well
as in theintensity
and focusof ethnicsentiments amongtheirmembers.
Possible changesincludethe escalationof new Chinesenationalisms,
perhapsleadingto independence movements in Taiwan,Tibetand even
on eithera unitary
Hong Kong; or a reunification, or federalbasis,that
brings three of the nations - but not the overseas Chinese - into the
samepoliticalsystem.Studying Chinesenationalism does notenableus
to predictsuchoutcomes,butit does tellus something aboutthelimits
of change.We can be surethatreunification wouldnotremovea sense
of ethnic (or subethnic)differentiationamong the peoples brought
together, nor would independenceforTaiwan or Hong Kong remove
theirsenseof attachment to somekindof Chinesecommunity. It seems
to be a characteristicof Chinese nationalismthatit permitsshifting
loyaltiesamongdifferent to coexistwithan abiding

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