Nationalism under colonial rule

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Benedict Anderson (1991) proposed that a nation is "an imagined political community -- and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign."[1] In this sense, nationalism is defined as a sense of "Imagined Community" in which the members of the community, having the common sense of identity, live under a common accepted political environment and share common value. When the country has crisis, the powerful force of nationalism is reflected in the resistance to the foreign forces under colonial rule, but in the absence of colonial rule, the case also enables the people of a nation united, and the country develop rapidly.

Nationalism always has a positive impetus under colonial rule and encourages the people to struggle because colonialism often forces to change the existing political system and create indirect destruction of local culture. Gellner (2006) claimed that no ruler will surrender own district gladly because when one's culture is changed, it is always an agony for a nation.[2] When a country or a territory is occupied by a colonial power, the local government and ruler are often repressed. The colonial power will bring their model of administration into this country. This not only deprives of the original sovereignty of the local ruler, but also brings a conflict of culture and politics.

Take Vietnam as an example, as early as the 17th century, there were many French missionaries and traders arrived at Vietnam. On account of the rejection of Nguyen Dynasty emperor to the preaching of the Catholicism, as well as some incidents involving French missionaries killed, the French troops landed Da Nang and defeated the Vietnamese troops, thus began the French colonial rule in Vietnam.[3] In Vietnam during France's reign, there had been various types of anti-French campaign, which was also a period of the rise of nationalism in Vietnam. Can Vuong Movement ("Save the King" movement, 1885-1896), which rejected all the social changes brought in by colonialism, was led by the scholar-gentry and embodied the proto-nationalism of the Vietnamese.[4] Yet, it was finally suppressed and failed.

Later, Indochinese Communist Party and the Viet Minh nationalist front which were led by Ho Chi Minh became the most famous political party and anti-French campaign.After the Japanese occupation, Viet Minh began to fight with Japan. After Japan surrendered, Ho Chi Minh obtained the control of the Vietnamese regime. Although later, France once again returned to Vietnam and tried to restore colonial rule, it did not succeed. Ho Chi Minh who just declared of independence in North Vietnam, carrying the banner of nationalism and patriotism to engage in a war of independence, soon received the support of the Vietnamese people, and in the last successfully repulsed the French.[5] Whether to repel foreign religions (which can be regarded as a clash of civilizations) during the early period, or to resist the French colonial rule, it can be seen that when cultural conflict occurs and autonomy is violated, nationalism can exert a very powerful force.

On the other hand, for instance, the territory of China was divided among Western powers before the Japanese occupation of China. China signed a number of unequal treaties which surrendered the country's sovereign rights under humiliating terms. Actually, China could only be regarded as being "semi-colonized" as no western powers did really colonize China. However, since the Opium War had occurred, the alarm sounded. Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) also increase serious national crisis of China. The Chinese people's national consciousness began to play a role.

The first are the "Self-Strengthening Movement" occurred in 1860's to 1890's and the Hundred Days' Reform led by Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao at 1898. These movements are implemented under the pressure of the invasion by foreign powers, which provoked a sense of crisis, and aroused the Chinese to adopt some self-help measures. Besides, another example is the Boxer Rebellion, shifting from anti-Qing to "Support the Qing exterminate the foreigners" (Fu Qing Mie Yang). To a large extent, it can be regarded as the struggle of nationalism prompted them to the forefront of their obligation to protect the country. Although China is not a true sense of the subject to colonial rule, when the Chinese subject to external threats, that is, the powers deliberately divided the land of China, Chinese people began to have a sense of crisis, the nationalism began to exert a strong force. So, the Boxer Rebellions assisted the Manchu government to resist the intrusion of foreigners. It can be seen that the nationalism creates the unity of a country and identity of its people.

Although in China, there were first opposition between monarchy and democracy, and then opposition between Kuomintang and the Communist Party, once the invasion by Western powers occurred, and even after the Japanese attempt to occupy China, Chinese people's patriotic and national sentiments have been aroused. The eight-year's war of China's stubborn resistance to the Japanese invasion is an ironclad example. Even many overseas Chinese have resolutely returned to China, in order to make a contribution to the war, of which, such as Nan Chiau Machinists ( Nan Qiao Ji Gong,????)[6] is an instance of a group of patriotic overseas Chinese. Again, under the pressures of colonial rule or imperialism, the force of nationalism is remarkably powerful.

Next, shifting our attention to the countries which have not been colonized, the amazing strength of nationalism is reflected in the prosperity of a country and the power of its people. For instance, since the Meiji Restoration was carried out in Japan, the Takugawa Shogunate was overthrown and the power of the emperorwas restored. The new Meiji government launched a series of reforms under the slogan of "Enrich the Country and Strengthen the Military"[7]. Japan hired foreign talents to help the economic development of industry and sent students to the West to study Western science and technology.[8] This brought about the modernization and westernization of Japan. With the rapid increase of economic strength, military power has also experienced rapid strengthening. As a result, Japan won the victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1895) and Russo-Japanese War (1905) and abolished the treaties with foreign forces, hence leaped into the Asian power.[9]

Japan controlled the people's national ideology through the ideological education of "loyalty to the emperor", and the colonial rule, the island's unique cultural, as well as economic and military development, all contributed to the superior feeling of the Japanese nation.[10] Due to the powerful nationalism focused on emperor, the gradual rise of nationalism in turn prompted Japan to gradually move toward the path of militarism, and has brought disaster in China and other Asian countries in the 20th century. The militarist education of "Loyalty to the Emperor" in Japan at the time had profound impact on Japanese public consciousness, even made them have no doubt of the militarist aggression.[11] In addition, after the United States dropped two atomic bombs in Japan, Japan was crippled severely by the attack, but was able to resume economic development in decades and became Asia's largest economy power. Apart from the assistance by the United States and the strong leadership of Japanese government[12], the Japanese national spirit should not be overlooked. If there is no strong national spirit of Japanese, it is impossible for Japan to restore the construction so fast, again showing that nationalism can never be underestimated.

In conclusion, whether totally under colonial rule, like Vietnam, or under semi-colonial state by the threat of colonialism, such as China, nationalism can exert powerful force so that the people have the courage to resist foreign invasion and expel those who would affect their national sovereignty and their original culture. However, in the absence of colonial rule, nationalism can also play a strong role to make the country strong, so that the people have a strong sense of pride, Japan is the best example. In some sense, nationalism and patriotism are almost the same. A country needs citizens of patriot and nationalist, with the consensus to build their country together and live in harmony, to enable the country to become rich and powerful and prohibit from external threats.



  1. Benedict Anderson.Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition ed. London and New York: Verso, 1991.
  2. Ernest Gellner. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
  3. Gisèle Luce Bousquet. Behind the Bamboo Hedge: the Impact of Homeland Politics in the Parisian Vietnamese Community. University of Michigan Press, 1991.
  4. "Meiji restoration."The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from


  1. Retrieved March 17, 2010 from:
  2. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from:

  1. Anderson, Benedict.Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition ed. London and New York: Verso, 1991, pp. 5-7.
  2. Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p.39.
  3. Bousquet, Gisèle Luce. Behind the Bamboo Hedge: the Impact of Homeland Politics in the Parisian Vietnamese Community. University of Michigan Press, 1991,p.31.
  4. All the information about Ho Chi Minh, Viet Minh and Anti-French campaign were retrieved from, 9-13
  5. For more detailed information, refer to, 2005.
  6. "Meiji restoration."The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from
  7. Same with 7.
  8. Same with 7.
  9. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from:
  10. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from:
  11. Retrieved March 17, 2010 from: