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Rise and Development of Nationalism in East Asia Essay


Nationalism means the identities that people have, which they view as distinguishing them uniquely as belonging to a particular nation. Thus, it covers one of the forms of patriotism. Several theories can be employed to provide an explanation of the origin of nationalism. The main ones are modernism and primordialist views.

Modernism theory considers nationalism as a recent societal process, which demands societal structuring for it to develop. On the other hand, the primordialist “describes nationalism as a reflection of the ancient and perceived evolutionary behavior of humans to organize themselves into distinct groupings based on the affinity of birth” (Tamir 13).

The paper uses the primordialist view. Based on the theory, nationalism may develop based on cultural artifacts defining people living within a given nation and political-related experiences in a nation among other things. From this point of view, this paper discuses the rise and development of nationalism in East Asia based on historic political related experiences and cultural elements including religion and clothing. Japan and china are used as the main examples in this quest.

Rise and Development of Nationalism in China and Japan

Cultural elements may act as mechanisms that can help to instill the perception of nationalism among people living within a common geographical area. Theses artifacts may be depicted through clothing, language, and religion.

With the onset of westernization, Chinese people encountered a dilemma whether to abandon their own clothing styles that defined their heritage and hence a sense of belonging as Chinese nationals or to adopt the rising western styles of dressing. This dilemma motivates Finnane to wonder what Chinese women deserve to wear for them to retain the symbol of nationalism (99).

Given the history of China that is rich in customs, the question is significant since resistance to the degradation of nationalism depicted by dressing style was evident as from 1949 when Mao Zedong declined from wearing black leather shoes and a suit. According to Finnane, the head of state argued, “we Chinese have our own customs…why should we follow others” (99).

This resistance was a replication of over half decade debates questioning the capacity of the western influences to impair the dressing codes of the Chinese people. Over that period, alterations of style were incredibly controversial. They attracted hefty public debates particularly when they involved the question of the women dress. The main interrogatives were whether the women dresses need to be long or short, tight or loose, or cover the arms for them to depict Chinese national women.

During the reign of Mao, the question on what Chinese people wore attracted superficial analysis. However, dressing styles and the type of clothes that were won by Chinese people acted as wonderful mechanisms of differentiating between China and the rest of the nations in the world.

In this line of thought, Finnane reinforces, “For politically correct Chinese people, clothing at that time differentiated the socialist elect from the rest…for outsiders, it was the single most obvious feature about contemporary Chinese culture” (100). Clothes were depictive of Chinese culture and hence a symbol of Chinese people.

Even though much of the concerns about the alteration of the dressing to have the capacity to erode the culture of the Chinese people concerned what women wore in the ninetieth century, the link between nationalism and the clothing was not only a problem of women: men were also equally worried. This argument is strengthened by the Mao Zedong’s rejection to wear a suit associated with the western culture.

Outside the Chinese context, clothing remains an important symbol of nationalism in other nations in the East Asia. For instance, in India, cladding in ‘sari’ represents a sovereign Indian woman because “the fertile ground for production of future generations both past and future-were embodied in her,” (Finnane 102).

On the other hand, in Japan, a woman dressed in ‘kimono’ profiles an ideal sovereign Japanese woman. From these examples, it sounds essential to infer that the perception of nationalism among people cannot be segregated from the cladding codes acceptable as representing the true national of a given nation because cultural artifacts are depictive of cultural differences among people who are often confined within different national boundaries.

Apart from the rise and development of nationalism from the context of dressing style, religion is yet another crucial cultural artifact that may help to build the perception of nationalism among different people living in different nations. For instance, in Japan, subscription to Shinto is perhaps an essential way of portraying ones strongly grounded spirit of nationalism.

Shinto assumed its shape upon the arrival of Buddhism. This was vital in helping to differentiate the new religion to the indigenous religion in Japan that was the representation of the ‘Japanese’.

Okuyama strengthens this point by further asserting, “Some 100,000 shrines of jinja served by Shinto priests attest to its physical presence nationwide” (94). Shinto defines the religious practices of the indigenous native Japanese to mean ‘the ways of ‘kami’ as opposed to ‘the ways of Buddha’.

Therefore, since the introduction of Buddhism in the 16th century, Shinto practices became definitive of the true Japanese nationalism. However, it is also crucial to note that Japanese people consider traditional customs as defining nationalism in spite of “whether they are Shinto or not” (Okuyama 97). The question that emerges is- to what extent do Japanese people perceive Shinto as a true representation of nationalism?

The response to the above question is perhaps well answered by considering the significance of Shinto shrines among all citizens of Japan including the nobles. In this regard, Okuyama reckons, “since he became the prime minister, Koizumi Jun’ichiro visited Yasukuni Shrine four times: 13 August 2001, 21 April 2002, 14 January 2003, and 1 January 2004” (106).

Nevertheless, even though this may be anticipated to be acceptable within the understanding of the traditional customs of Japanese people, the visits attracted opposition. Consequently, about seven lawsuits ensued as a result.

Nevertheless, Koizumi remained confident that the visits were necessary for a number of reasons. In the first place, the shrines served to portray his nationalism since they formed the places where he renewed vows never to take part in wars. Secondly, “he visited Yasukuni shrines to express relevance and gratitude to all the war dead despite the fact that these include class A war criminal” (Okuyama 106).

Arguably, from this cited reason of why Koizumi visited the shrine, it is questionable whether the shines are the best places to show ones patriotism. However, it is evident that Japanese people have a strong prescription to traditional religious beliefs as the main ways of portraying sincerity in ones commitments to the Japanese people and the nation as a whole.

The analysis of Shintoism as one of the theories of development of nationalism in Japan cannot be accomplished without considering the philosophers’ attempts to ensure the national beliefs were revived and purified.

The idea was to enhance the removal of all foreign ideas that were imported from various nations including China and India. The Shintoism restoration movement began in the 18th century with Motoori Noringa playing proactive roles. This campaign gave rise to the state Shinto with the emperor of Japan then claiming to be of Amaterasu decently.

A certain representation that tends to link people together creates the spirit of nationalism. According to Wang, the identification may include “China’s neo-neo-tribe and “Japanese shin shin jinrei” (547).

To Wang, such a representation can be used to secure a market for a particular product because it has high likelihoods of securing an immense success when a product is marketed based on its capacity to create a sense of nationalism. For instance, Wang argues that the term bobo has the impact of bringing Chinese people together by creating messages of premium value (535). What this argument means is that the spirit of nationalism can also be build by the products produced by nations.

Therefore, consumption of such products helps to depict that one is truly a patriot of a given nation. Using the Wang’s analogy, the term bobo is related to being a Chinese and belonging to a bobo class. Subsequently, when a product is sold bearing the tag that it is principally made for the bobos, it means that buying this product will not only mean fitting into the bobo class. Besides, it will also depict one as a sovereign citizen of the nation where the bobos live!

From a different dimension, nationalism may be built based on the experiences that people go through as a nation. Recollection of such experiences helps to remind one of the history encountered, which is definitive of why one is a nationalist of a given nation. This kind of nationalism is perhaps well exemplified by Japan through her Hiroshima trauma.

Painful experiences are crucial reflections of what it takes to be a nationalist since they provide links between different cultures (Caruth 3). Therefore, while Japan may be segregated based on different cultural affiliations, the Hiroshima experiences make Japanese people develop a sense of nationalism, which is critical in helping the nation to employ all strategies possible to ensure that such an experience would never reoccur.

Therefore, the Hiroshima experience is one unifying experience that ensures all Japanese are united together amid their demographic differences (Wood 191). Arguably, this is crucial since nationalism is hard to thrive in an environment that is ruled by segregations.


Therefore, based on the expositions made in the paper, it is enough to declare nationalism a representation of people’s identities. The identities help in building the spirit of patriotism. Cultural elements show people’s identities and political experiences especially the ones that culminated into painful experiences.

In this paper, nationalism has been explored through consideration of clothing as one of the ways of presentation of people’s cultural artifacts in the Chinese and Japanese contexts. The Hiroshima experience has also been considered as an example of painful experiences that has helped to shape the Japanese view of nationalism.

Works Cited

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History, Baltimore: Johnhopkins University press, 1996. Print.

Finnane, Antonia. “What Should Chinese Women Wear?” Modern China 22.2(1996): 99-131. Print.

Okuyama, Michiaki. Historicizing Modern Shinto: A New Tradition of Yasukuni Shrine. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2005. Print.

Tamir, Yael. Liberal Nationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Print.

Wang, Jing. “Bourgeois Bohemians in China? Neo-Tribes and the Urban Imaginary.” The China Quarterly 183.3(2005): 532-548. Print.

Wood, Nancy. Vectors of Memory: Legacies of Trauma in Postwar Europe. New Jersey, NJ: Berg Publishers, 1999. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Rise and Development of Nationalism in East Asia." November 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rise-and-development-of-nationalism-in-east-asia/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Rise and Development of Nationalism in East Asia'. 24 November.

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