Chinese patriotism vs. nationalism

For whatever reason, the fenqing remain virulently adherent to the notion “If you criticize the CCP, you hate China.” This is one of those slam-your-head-against-the-wall arguments that never goes anywhere. “If you hate China so much why don’t you go back to America,” I was scolded many times when I lived in Beijing and had the temerity to point out stories of government excess or corruption or malfeasance or repression. Never mind that I also blogged often about how much I loved the Chinese people and treasured my experience living there, maybe my favorite place on earth. All my friends know I love China. but once you question the government, once you raise questions about the poor being thrown out of their homes or bloggers thrown in prison or rampant censorship you become an enemy of the people and a hater of the entire nation.

Which brings me to a superb opinion piece in the NY Times by Chinese author Yu Hua. In a voice far more eloquent than my own, he describes how “when the distinction between country and ruler is erased, patriotism ends up being hijacked, and easily manipulated by a narrow-minded nationalism.”

He gives a vivid example of an enraged official who vents his spleen at Chinese Internet users protesting the murder of a watermelon vendor at the hands of local officials in Hunan province. He also is enraged that the angry Weibo users aren’t focusing their rage at the US instead and shrieks, “These unpatriotic people are degenerates — the dregs of society!”

“These people so love to bad-mouth their native country, but then they hang around here instead of going off to America!…Off you go, hurry up! I’m all for it. But before you leave, be sure to get some plastic surgery done — you don’t want them to see you’re a Chinese! … These people hate their country so much they feel miserable that they’re Chinese, so let’s pack them off to America — the sooner the better! Such riffraff!”

All for protesting a murderous act by government officials.

For me, the high point of the column is where he relates a post that he himself put on Weibo:

Some people still aren’t clear about the difference between nation and government. And so anyone who aims a criticism at the government gets denounced as a traitor. Let me make an analogy: The nation is like one’s parents, and the government is like a steward; loving the steward and loving one’s parents are completely different things. One can’t change one’s parents, but one has every right to replace the steward.

Obviously a lot of young Chinese people have gotten this message. There was a backlash on the Chinese Internet against the official’s nationalistic hysteria, so much to the point that he was forced to tone it down. But there is another group, what we call the fenqing — young, usually male and totally unable to see the distinction between patriotism and nationalism — who can’t be reasoned with, and who actually become enraged at the very suggestion that there is such a distinction.

There is much more to this story than I can relate in a single blog post, and it is truly required reading. A pity those who need to read it most probably won’t, or will dismiss it as treason. After all, if he feels so strongly, why doesn’t he move to America? As I said, you might as well slam your head against a wall.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

“there is another group, what we call the fenqing — young, usually male and totally unable to see the distinction between patriotism and nationalism — who can’t be reasoned with, and who actually become enraged at the very suggestion that there is such a distinction.”

. . . as we will soon no doubt see on this page.

December 3, 2013 @ 2:12 pm | Comment

There have already been a couple so nasty I won’t publish them.

December 4, 2013 @ 2:24 am | Comment

Never forget how cruel our enemies are, said Deng Xiaoping, in a speech to military commanders in Beijing, after the Tian An Men massacre. this army of ours is forever an army under the leadership of the party, forever the defender of the country, forever the defender of socialism, forever the defender of the public interest, and they are the most beloved of the people.

That remains the CCP narrative. And it should be obvious that the CCP would sacrifice the country, rather than abandon power.

December 4, 2013 @ 3:10 am | Comment

When will NYT publish an opinion from a Japanese author lecturing Japan about this issue and giving an example where a Secretary-General of President Abe’s party called protesters of the Secrecy Law (which the US supports), terrorists?

December 4, 2013 @ 8:00 am | Comment

I would think the NY Times would publish such a column immediately if one were submitted by a credible author.

December 4, 2013 @ 8:34 am | Comment

Not in a million years. China is a easy target. Just as CNN would never publish an opinion piece by putting Muslim extremisms in the US to “acts of desperation.”

Hypocrisy in US Media at it’s finest.

December 4, 2013 @ 9:45 am | Comment

Borderline fenqing arguments. All the US media are against China. And yet the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal have both published op-eds by Eric Li that have gushed about China. Don’t believe me? Do your homework. Here’s a link. Did you see that? There are many, many examples of “pro-China” (i.e., pro-CCP) op-eds in many US publications, but fenqing want to pretend they don’t exist. Here, take a look at how much exposure Li has gotten. And he is one of many. But try convincing the fenqing that the US media actually offers a platform to pro-CCP voices. They see what they want to see. Same old story. Head banging against wall.

Li has often been contrasted with CCP critic Minxin Pei, who is a perfect example of someone who, like Li, loves China deeply but who, unlike Li, is willing to give the CCP the criticism it so richly deserves. Again, google to see how they face off against each other — there’s lots of ink in US media about them. Your claim that the media won’t “in a million years” publish columns that give the Chinese side of the story is patently false. “US media hypocrisy” is Fenqing 101.

December 4, 2013 @ 11:11 am | Comment

You are a crybaby, Jason. When will you start posting long comments that criticize the way China’s press (i. e. the propaganda department) covers U.S. issues?

December 4, 2013 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Marvelous post on China’s patriotism issue here. Another must-read. Snip:

To equal “love for the motherland” with “the love for the motherland under CCP rule” is something that the Chinese government has been trying very hard to achieve. For a short period in history, they succeeded. But in today’s China, more and more people are more eager than ever to make that distinction – they love their country, but such patriotism is not dependent on who is in power.

…[P]opular social science scholar 于建嵘 commented: “The motherland is indeed very important to us ordinary people. It’s our root. That’s the reason why we hope it can grow into a place with more equality, more democracy and more rule of law. Please don’t equal my motherland with certain interest group, who, in the name of the motherland, have been robbing the people and limiting the people’s freedom.”

[Update: I'm reading on Twitter that maybe the "You Are Nothing Without the Motherland" article may be a "fake grassroots net post" that managed to get picked up by virtually every Chinese media.]

December 4, 2013 @ 11:49 am | Comment

I’ve always been unsure as to just how much the high-level CCP actually buys into their own propaganda. On the one hand you have guys like the official described in the OP who it is very difficult to believe actually buy into their own arguments, even making allowance for the bottomless capacity for self-deception that people everywhere share. On the other, you have officials like those in this piece, who seem to genuinely believe that Australia only sides with the US in disputes with China because the US essentially orders them to, and that as a future ‘top dog’, they will hold the same power over that country.

Maybe it’s a case of double-think for some, cynical calculation for others, with some true-believers mixed in as well.

December 4, 2013 @ 8:33 pm | Comment

China and the Party are not the same thing. The Party is a small group that seized power and holds on to it tenaciously, primarily although not exclusively for its own benefit, but China will be around long after the Party is gone and forgotten. Only Party apologists and lackeys confuse criticisms of the Party with criticisms of China or the Chinese people.

December 4, 2013 @ 9:27 pm | Comment

@ FOARP

That was a simply a six man tag team tryout with a new and not so organised Australian Federal government.

Simply a little bit of diplomatic intimidation. They are also misreading the situation, since this new bunch of drivelling idiots are more than likely to tell them to get stuffed next time around.

Big contrast with the last bunch of Sino-obsequious drivelling idiots.

That aside, it is better that this new air defence zone identification system which the Chinese govt seeks to impose, is settled now, and in military terms (once a mishap takes place).

Rhetoric is one thing. Competent military follow up is something totally different.

Bet the farm on Japan who have both the human and military assets which they manage to hide under a bushel, unlike all the hoop la which takes place each time China wheels out a new piece of military hardware.

A short sharp military shock and all the neighbours will applaud.

Over to you Jason.

December 5, 2013 @ 6:16 am | Comment

Apol. To continue.

This intimidating spew by Chinese officials could also be connected to the fact that the Australian government is considering a major purchase of Japanese submarine technology.

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/connect-asia/aust-navy-considers-japan-technology-to-repair-submarine-fleet/1100366

Why? Well, it is high quality stuff.

While China’s military might look good on paper, keep in mind that it consists of a hodge podge of air and sea assets purchased from all over the place, and then reengineered. Integrating this materiel into a effective and unified mass under an effective chain of command presents Beijing with a serious challenge. Throw in the complacent, and corrupt inlands of guanzi within the PLA and you have inefficiency, intra-service rivalry, etc.

Not a recipe for military success.

December 5, 2013 @ 7:14 am | Comment

Familiar concept, this head-slamming against the wall. In the UK one of the guys in charge of The Guardian just had to face the question, whether he “loves his country” – in parliament! To his credit, he stayed calm and gave a reasonable response. I would have lost it right then and there. Emperor Wilhelm II comes to mind to: “I know no parties anymore, only Germans.”

For all the upsides and quality of life it has given to a great many people, the concept of the nation state sure can have ugly downsides. But whats the sound of one hand clapping…

I just sincerely hope, the Chinese (and in extension everybody in East Asia really) have the sense not to repeat the mistakes of Europe a century ago. Good luck to them.

December 5, 2013 @ 9:07 am | Comment

@ All the US media are against China.

This isn’t about pro-China or anti-China articles. I don’t have problem with Yu Hua’s article. What I do have problems is that NYT and people like yourself is using it as only a Chinese abnormality (eg. fenqing) rather than a global (yes, including democratic-elected government) abnormality.

@CCP critic Minxin Pei, who is a perfect example of someone who, like Li, loves China deeply but who, unlike Li, is willing to give the CCP the criticism it so richly deserves.

The late great comic, George Carlin has a better understanding of US-based democracy than the one unattainable US democracy that described by Minxin Pei.

@Justrecently

I do. I bring up every crazy loons who stab children in Chinese schools to counter the many shooting in the United States.

December 5, 2013 @ 3:35 pm | Comment

@Para – The double-ridiculous thing about that is that the guy asking the question was Keith Vaz, the same guy who led demonstrations in Birmingham against Salman Rushdie after the Ayatollah had called on Rushdie to be killed, the same guy whose response to an IRA attack on a British Army recruiting station was to try to make out that it was a British bomb that exploded, the same guy who took shady payments from the Hinduja brothers at the same time as their passports were being processed, the same guy who was suspended from parliament for making mad accusations against a policewoman. Basically, the guy asking the question is not a well-known patriot.

December 5, 2013 @ 6:54 pm | Comment

PS – Do yourselves a favour and go and read this now:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kathleenmclaughlin/the-aids-granny-in-exile

Yeah, I know, it’s a Buzzfeed article, but the pen-picture it paints is well worth your time.

December 6, 2013 @ 5:20 am | Comment

[...] patriotism vs. nationalism.” (The Peking Duck) Smog affecting Shanghai should be swept away as a cold front pushes through the city. [...]

December 10, 2013 @ 12:35 pm | Pingback

A Suggestion For the Chinese Gov’t To Make A Documentary Called “A History of Western Imperialist Invasions”

This post wants to suggest the Central Gov’t of China make a documentary called “A History of Imperialist Invasions”, in order to comprehensively introduce the history of invasion, genocide, pillaging of other nations by imperialist powers, especially against China. Currently, no such documentary exists in China. This I feel is not right. Mao Zedong once famously said “Let a thousand flowers bloom, let a thousand schools of thought contend.” He meant that a society should encourage a wide range of opinions and ideas, and not suppress any particular thought. In this spirit, I think such a documentary should be made.

This documentary should be made totally in a engineering mindset. That is, it should contain as little emotion as possible. The script for the narrator should not be emotional and dramatic when describing Imperialist invasions, should not be full of hatred for them and full of love for China. Instead, the script and tone of the narration should be very cold, very emotionless. When it’s describing a massacre, it should feel like it’s describing an experiment on a lab rat, very calm and cool.

The intended effect is that the audience, while watching this documentary, will start to hate the narrator for his carefree attitude, for his calm tone and words. And furthermore, experts should be invited to “defend” the invasions and pillagings, and those experts should act very eloquently in their defense, and talk in a seemingly convincing way. But subtly and subconsciously, those experts would be made to appear very despicable, and their defense very shameless and outrageous. And if the documentary can invite Western experts to do these defenses, it’ll be even better.

That is, the whole documentary is emotionless, cold, and even presents large amount of defenses from the opposite side. Yet the effect is that most Chinese will feel extremely at the imperialist powers after watching it.

Why should such a documentary be made?

Most young people in China today no longer devote enough time to study, and instead to playing. And those who do study hard do so for very trivial reasons, such as they want to get a good test and make their parents feel proud, or go to good college or get a good job. They do not have any worthwhile or ultimate goals in life.
This of course is partly the fault of society and media too. Today the social message is that if you study hard, you’ll get a good job and earn a lot of money, and buy a large house, cars, marry pretty woman. This kind of message is very unhealthy, and deceptive. It’s impossible that everyone in society will be successful and rich. A society needs rich people as well as poor people, it needs people at different roles, positions and levels. If it’s for the strength and development of your country, then anything you do can be worthwhile and meaningful. But if it’s only for getting rich and successful, then young people later will feel cheated by this social message after they studied so hard and realize that they, like most people, will not become rich and successful.

If students, after watching this documentary, are overwhelmed with emotion, go through an awakening and deep self-reflection, and are then realize the importance of studying for the growth and development for their country, instead of for their own personal gains. Then I think this is definitely worth it.

Of course, some intellectuals and rightists in will say that this kind of documentary will sow the seeds of hatred, will negatively impact the relationship between China and other nations, will create nationalism, will make it harder to be a dog of imperialist nations, etc. If those people today are in charge of China’s educational system, then I will feel very sad.

December 22, 2013 @ 4:24 am | Comment

What amuses me is someone wearing an “I [heart] China” t-shirt while littering which defaces the ground or smoking [for that matter] which ruins already bad air and is a form of suicide. But in a country of 1.2/3/4 Billion people, math and the law of averages tells us there are 600,000,000 or 650,000,000 or 700,000,000 people of below average intelligence and it is a fairly well accepted fact that about 20% of all humans have some level of mental [aside from intellectual] impairment. Many have access to the internet. The very same is true in every country it’s just that the raw number isn’t so great.

January 6, 2014 @ 7:49 am | Comment

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