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The Nature of Modern Chinese Nationalism Essay

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021


It is said that a country is only as strong as its history. True to this saying, Chinese Nationalism as we know it today has borrowed much from the country’s past. The effects of Chinese history are not only evident in the country’s cultural identity, but also in its present day nationalism and the sentiments aired by either the government or individual Chinese nationals. Indeed, China has not been an exception to the process of the invention of nations and has had its fair share of the inclusion of foreign progressiveness and ethnological thoughts. Despite all this however, one thing remains clear; the Chinese uphold the freedom, prosperity and power of their country.

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Under the Manchu dynasty, China experienced a more involving a form of governance where major Chinese ethnic groups could form the country’s governing structure. While the governing-general would always be from the Manchu, the governor could be from the larger Chinese ethnic group (Fairbank, H.K, 1983). The Manchu dynasty was largely seen as an imposing governing structure and put this governance structure in place in order to maintain a deliberate balance between loyalty from the different ethnic groups they led and the control of power. While trying to strike this balance, they would portray themselves as Confucian sages out to promote Chinese civilization (Chang, M. H 2001). However, this did not deter the native Chinese residents from developing rebel groups which fought against the Manchu invasion claiming that they (Manchu’s) were barbarian outsiders. On the other hand however, other native Chinese would fight for the Manchu’s claiming they were authentic Chinese nationals (Duara, P, 1992).

The modern Chinese nationalism suffers the same fate. While some people believe that there is strength in the united ethnic groups that form the People’s Republic of China, others are totally opposed to the idea of a centralized China (Fairbank, K, 1983). The Chinese people have different opinions on what would form a stronger China as well as the state’s structure, the goal of the Chinese State and the forms of foreign relations that would best fit China (Harrell, P, 1992). Modern Nationalism is a result of the Chinese people trying to strike a balance, where their internal strength as a nation is achieved through the integration of socialism, patriotism and good governance (Zheng, Y.1999).

Faced with the threat and ridicule of Western culture, Chinese intellectuals have made efforts meant to promote Chinese culture and seeking to gain international acceptance. However, this has always been met with negative results. This response is among the reasons why modern Nationalism arose, to defend China against western concepts of governance. The Chinese have especially been under criticism for bureaucracy in their social and political structures (Zheng, Y. 1999).

The fact that China stood strong as a socialist country and reformed its system consequently achieving rapid economic growth at a time when the Soviet Union and countries in Eastern Europe collapsed under the communist regimes has also a role to play in modern day Chinese nationalism. People argued that China was able to hold its reforms due to the traditions that the country upheld. This in turn gave the Chinese a strong sense of National pride, which they still maintain to this day (Zheng Y. 1999).

The Chinese belief in Confucianism also plays a major role in modern day nationalism. While Western cultures may argue that democracy, free market economies and human rights are responsible for the global economic growth or lack of it, the Chinese maintain that the teachings of Confucian are responsible for the prosperity evidenced in their country. In addition, they believe that the teachings will also bring global peace (Zheng, Y. 1999).

Overall, Modern nationalism in China was driven by the urge to resist imperialism, the need to overthrow the Manchu rule, the need for an organized centralized modern State and to oppose warlords. Warlords had been a common occurrence in China and would enforce abrupt changes of government based on lustful territorial control and the urge to gain control of civilians through excessive taxation. They were also seen as obstacles to the merging of China. To some degree, the reaction of the people to the bad governance posed by these warlords also gave rise to modern Chinese nationalism. Students aligned to the May Fourth movement had especially built a strong case against the warlords, whom they referred to as internal bandits with evidence of their collaboration with Japanese imperialists. As such, the students publicized the matter, portraying the warlords as imperialism agents and obstacles of change and modernization to the country.


Modern Chinese Nationalism takes the unification and upholding of Chinese independence as a moral duty. These ideals evidently transcend regional or ethnic loyalties. The Chinese may have had and might still have differences defining their identity and ethnicity. They may face challenges trying to define how their identity, ethnicity and differences should interact with the governing structures in order to ensure that the future of the country is secure. Evidently, however, they are dedicated to seeing that modern China has a social-political culture that will resist Western powers and hence uphold its sovereignty.


  1. Chang, Maria, H. return of the Dragon: China’s Wounded Nationalism. Boulder: Westview Press (2001).
  2. Duara, Prasenjit. Deconstructing the Chinese Nation. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs. 1993, No. 30.
  3. Fairbank, John K. The United States and China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.
  4. Harrell, Paula. Sowing the Seeds of Change- Chinese Students, Japanese Teachers. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1992).
  5. Zheng, Yomingnian. Discovering Chinese nationalism in China: Modernization, Identity and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
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