China's Risky Return to Nationalism

Oct 18, 2019 | 09:00 GMT

This picture shows a Chinese demonstrator throwing back a tear gas bottle during an anti-Japan protest in September 2012.

Despite Beijing's apparent hand in stoking the 2012 anti-Japan protests (pictured above), the violent riots that broke out across the country spun far beyond the government's control.



  • The Chinese government is counting on a renewed swell of nationalism to grant it the political backing it needs to resist threats to its sovereignty, including the protests in Hong Kong.
  • But the Communist Party's nationalist agenda instead risks constraining its domestic and foreign policies, and could eventually become a new check on the party’s authority. 

Chinese nationalism is once again on the rise. From the public military spectacle showcased at the Oct. 1 National Day parade, to the recent slew of boycotts against foreign firms for their perceived support of the Hong Kong protests, a burst of patriotic fervor has increasingly made its way into China's state policies, public behaviors and business decisions. It's no coincidence that this chauvinist surge has occurred in tandem with Beijing's rising strategic and ideological clashes with the United States and its allies over democracy and human rights issues in places like Hong Kong and Tibet. Today, Chinese patriotism can be characterized as an uneasy relationship between the population's feelings of pride, hopes and anxiety about the country's future, as well as a deep ambivalence toward the West. And the Communist Party has expertly harnessed these feelings to reinforce its role as the guardian of the Chinese state, emboldened a renewed sense of foreign...

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