Chinese Nationalism In The 19th And 20th Centuries History Essay

1639 words (7 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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Chinese nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries followed a very different suit than Japan’s Shõwa evolution. Similar to Perry’s significance in Edo in 1894, the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1842) was a significant introduction of Western moral realism and imperialist influence in China. To a larger extent than Japan, China’s nationalisms were largely born of domestic adversity from influential Chinese figures.

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Sun Yat-sen once declared: “In order to restore our national independence, we must first restore the Chinese nation. In order to restore the Chinese nation, we must drive the barbarian Manchus back to the Changbai Mountains. In order to get rid of the barbarians, we must first overthrow the present tyrannical, dictatorial, ugly, and corrupt Qing government. Fellow countrymen, a revolution is the only means to overthrow the Qing government!”

Known often as The Father of Nationalism, Sun played a huge part in securing Chinese national identity and overthrowing the reactionary cultural grip of the Quing dynasty. Co-founder of the KMT, Sun set the tone for Mao’s adoption of Chinese Marxism and the progression to Maoism. The main concern for the Kuomintang, were that it’s policies and figures inside the party were too varying; that unanimous decisions were a rarity.

After the 1911 revolution, the official definition of “Chinese” was expanded to include non-Han ethnicities as part of a united Chinese nation although Michael Lynch seems to suggest this was due mainly to the realisation that a far too narrow definition of China and being Chinese would result in a loss of important Eastern territory, and that the Manchus were too immersed to be considered an outside group.

By the end of the nineteenth century, dichotomies were already proliferating to explain how Chinese orthodoxy could be maintained while importing knowledge from abroad, such as ‘Self sufficiency as essence, promote sincerity as function’, ‘defence as essence, war as function’, ‘rely on industry for essence, rely on commerce for function’, and ‘metaphysics [1] for essence, economics for function’ [2] . The best-known example of this is found in Zhang Zhidong (1837-1909), the late Qing dynasty ‘self-strengthening’ governor general of Hubei and Hunan, who advocated achieving state power through the construction of railroads, heavy industry and a foreign policy based on the balancing principle of ‘use barbarians to control barbarians’. His Exhortation to Study, written in 1898, is commonly identified with the ‘ti-yong’ call to appropriate Western functional knowledge to preserve Chinese essence . As such language demonstrates, the discussion by the ‘self-strengtheners’ of the Qing dynasty of local military, political and economic issues in terms of ‘world order’ was already typical of what sociologists would call a ‘globalistic mentality’ [3] . It is this mentality that made it possible for Kang Youwei’s fellow reformer, Liang Qichao, to import the Chinese term for nationalism from Japan, in articles he wrote between 1899 and 1901. [4] 

After the fall of the Qing, the claim to be able to use Western functional knowledge to preserve Chinese essence remained at the centre of the claim to legitimacy made by nationalist and communist elites. When president Yuan Shikai tried to make himself emperor during the early years of the Chinese Republic, he did so by reviving Confucianism as the state ideology. Sun Yatsen, the ‘National Father’, maintained a strong aversion to cosmopolitanism and a belief in the revival of Chinese tradition throughout his life. Chiang Kaishek continued this when he combined propagation of Sun’s nationalist orthodoxy of the ‘Three Principles of the People’ with the Confucian morality of the New Life movement after the 1927 Northern Expedition left much of the former empire under Nationalist control. This ideological strategy even survived under the KMT in Taiwan, until the island’s democratisation in the 1980s made it unsustainable.

The state-centric nature of the fluid international situation described by the ‘three worlds’ was developed further by the revival of the formula of the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, namely: respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful coexistence. This has a certain resonance in domestic politics because the Five Priniciples formula is attributed to Zhou Enlai, reinforcing continuity with the popular face of the CCP’s past and making a ready counterpart to Zhou’s Four Modernisations. When Deng revived the slogan of ‘seeking truth from facts’ during the leadership struggle in September 1978 [5] he presented Mao’s theory of the three worlds as useful in domestic politics for distinguishing the correct attitude of maintaining the international conditions that enable the importation of foreign capital, technology and know-how, as opposed to the incorrect branding of economic relations with other countries as a kind of ‘national betrayal’ [6] .

Over the years that followed, references to both proletarian internationalism and the three worlds were to be eclipsed by the Five Principles, which came to encapsulate the sovereignty-centred nature of PRC foreign policy.

The Communists, too, had to reconcile their Chinese identity with the promise of modernity offered by socialist internationalism. Mao Zedong is said to have achieved the ‘sinification of Marxism’. When he claimed leadership of the United Front in the conflict with Japan, he presented the CCP as the true inheritor of what he considered to be the essence of ‘a splendid old culture’ that was created during the long period of Chinese history and which could be used selectively to develop the ‘new national culture’. [7] Not only did Mao advocate learning from socialist cultures, but also from capitalist countries in the Age of Enlightenment. Yet, at the same time, he warned, ‘We should not gulp any of this foreign material down uncritically, but must treat it as we do our food-first chewing it, then submitting it to the working of the stomach and intestines with their juices and secretions, and separating it into nutriment to be absorbed and waste matter to be discarded-before it can nourish us’ [8] 

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The dilemma of balancing the preservation of political orthodoxy with learning from abroad is even clearer under ‘reform and opening’. China’s leaders since Mao have always been careful to balance the importation of investment and know-how from abroad with a call to build ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ and ‘socialist spiritual civilization’, and to insist that the nation combats the tendency of ‘worshipping things foreign, or fawning on foreigners’. [9] 

To search for logical consistency in this discourse, however, is to overlook how such actors are not concerned with talking to philosophical circles. The issues they address are essentially political, in the sense that there is no possibility of a logical solution, only the hope of achieving some kind of social compromise. As Zhang Zhidong realised at the end of the Qing dynasty, it is humiliation at the hands of foreigners that provides the conditions under which the apparently incommensurable positions of dogmatic conservatives and radical reformers can be reconciled. Zhang did this by reducing Confucianism to a symbol of loyalty rather than a practical guide for living. In the same way, China’s leaders under ‘reform and opening’ have reduced socialism to a symbol of patriotic loyalty, while the technological and market orthodoxies of globalisation have been introduced as the guide for policy. The condition for achieving this, however, is to portray the nation as threatened and humiliated by a coalition of enemies within and abroad, from which only the CCP can promise deliverance. It is thus that the legacy of the impact of colonialism and civil war has made possible the discourse on nationalism and globalisation that is so central to Chinese politics at the start of the new millennium.

As for upholding ‘Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought’, this does not refer to the ideas of the man who had engineered the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and internationalism. It meant remembering the leader who had allowed the Chinese people to ‘stand up’ in 1949, the statesman who had formulated the strategy of differentiating the ‘three worlds’ and personally ushered in a new stage in Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations. These elements of Mao’s heritage were further elaborated when the orthodox version of the past appeared in the form of the Resolution on CCP History (1949-81), two years later. In this document, the essence of Mao Zedong thought was presented as the principles ‘to seek truth from facts’, the ‘mass line’, and ‘independence’. The first of these had already become a safer formula than ‘thought emancipation’, because it could be presented to mean that the answers to China’s problems have to be found in Chinese experience and not in foreign teaching. The ‘mass line’, which had traditionally meant that the Party should canvass the opinions of the general population when developing its policies, was now presented as proof that the Party ‘exists and fights for the interests of the people’. ‘Independence’ was taken to represent Mao’s belief that China must find its own path to modernity, rejecting any kind of interference in national sovereignty

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