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A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism.

A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism. By Suisheng Zhao. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. 355 pp. $24.95. Paper.

The literature on Chinese nationalism has grown rapidly since the end of the Cold War and has broadly covered the origins, causes, and development of Chinese nationalism. Suisheng Zhao makes two important contributions with this book. First, he develops an integrating framework for a large body of literature by both Chinese and Western scholars on Chinese nationalism. Second, he examines the link between the historical development of different types of Chinese nationalism and their international orientations. In doing so, Zhao argues that Chinese nationalism is dominated by a rational state-led pragmatic nationalism, which is characterized by its situational content, constructive features, and "inward-directed" sentiment.

At the outset, Zhao makes brief but sweeping claims about the historical origins of Chinese nationalism, the major forces that shape the contents of Chinese nationalism, and the international orientation of Chinese pragmatic nationalism. As regards the origin of Chinese nationalism, Zhao, following the historical school, holds that Chinese nationalism did not exist until the nineteenth century, with China's break from cultural identity (Confucianism) and its acceptance of political identity (nation-state). In contrast to those who view Chinese nationalism as being "eternal" and "objective," Zhao contends that its content has been "situational" and manipulated by self-interested political entrepreneurs. According to Zhao, Chinese nationalism is an outcome of competition among political entrepreneurs for dominance and is subject to manipulation by rational actors who deliberately mold it to respond to their observed and transitional interests. In general, Zhao identifies three major types of Chinese nationalism that have been advanced by different social or political forces: state nationalism, ethnic nationalism, and liberal nationalism. His core argument is that the rise of state-led pragmatic nationalism is an invented "traditional" post-Mao phenomenon as response to the challenges from liberal and ethnic nationalism.

Zhao's classification of "objective" versus "rational" nationalism is, on the one hand, helpful in differentiating existing literature; on the other hand, this dichotomy is misleading, because the construction of nationalist identity is both objective and rational. The pragmatic feature of state nationalism is utilizing the situational feature of people's identity construction, which can only be mobilized based on the objective content of one's identity. In other words, the objective content of nationalism functions as the necessary condition of rational nationalism.

Zhao goes on to describe the origin and development of these three types of Chinese nationalism. Deriving from the former colonial and semicolonial countries, liberal nationalism was introduced to China in the twentieth century as a response to foreign imperialism. Zhao correctly points out the difference between liberal and state nationalism: the former advocates both individual rights and national rights, while the latter emphasizes national rights at the expense of individual rights. He notes that liberal nationalism in contemporary China is independent of, and sometimes in conflict with, state propaganda and may thus undermine the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) rule of China. There is a disconnection, however, between his defined characteristics of liberal nationalism and its actual claims in some of the movements in the 1990s. For example, instead of emphasizing "the civil right of participation in government," so-called liberal nationalists were criticizing the state's inability to maintain national pride.

As for ethnic nationalism, Zhao notes that Hart ethnic consciousness vis-a-vis the Manchu rulers at the turn of the twentieth century was quickly replaced by a multiethnic nation-state sentiment proposed by Sun Yat-sen because of the need to retain all of the Qing territories. Both the KMT and the CCP then advocated state nationalism that "stresses political-territorial convergence" (p. 20). The ethnic nationalism in contemporary China, however, is no longer centered on Han identity; rather, its recent expression found in minority areas is related to separatism. Following its inefficient coercive suppression, the Chinese government started offering policy inducement in these areas, such as greater political representation, economic aid, and social benefits.

As a "strategic response" to the fading communist ideology in China and rising challenges from liberal and ethnic nationalism at the end of the Cold War, the CCP developed pragmatic nationalism reminiscent of that of previous communist leaders since Deng Xiaoping. Zhao then goes on to argue that not only is pragmatic nationalism reactive to perceived threats from liberal and ethnic nationalism, it is also constrained by them. On the one hand, pragmatic nationalism competed with liberal nationalism by prioritizing economic development over political reform and responded to the challenges of ethnic nationalism with preferential political, economic, and social policies. On the other hand, nationalism can be a double-edged sword, and the CCP may be subject to the danger of nationalism turning from a legitimate instrument to an aggressive threat to its regime. As a result, "although pragmatic leaders have consciously cultivated nationalism as a new glue to unite the nation ... they have to cautiously prevent the nationalist sentiment of the Chinese people from getting out of control" (p. 264). With such warning, however, Zhao implies that the Chinese masses are irrational actors still influenced by the "hundred years of humiliation."

Having acknowledged the potential danger of uncontrollable mass nationalism in China, Zhao contends that China's state-led, national interest-oriented pragmatic nationalism is flexible and defensive, not aggressive, in international affairs. Again, by examining the modern history of Chinese nationalism, Zhao reviews different international orientations of nationalism (such as anti-imperialist sentiment, West-emulation willingness, and xenophobic feelings) and links them with different nationalist perspectives: nativism, antitraditionalism, and pragmatism. Nativism emphasizes the corrosive influences from abroad and aims at building an independent China. Antitraditionalism, in contrast, attributes China's underdevelopment to its traditional culture. Pragmatism tends to "avoid dogmatic constraints and adopt whatever approach proves most effective in making China strong" (p. 253). The ti-yong formula of the late nineteenth century, the construction of Sino-US relations in the 1970s, and economic modernization instead of Western democratic influence during the reform era are seen as indicating the prevalence of pragmatic nationalism. This pragmatic nationalism advocates constructive interaction with foreign countries for China's development and emphasizes "positive compromises" in international affairs. China's state-led pragmatic nationalism, Zhao concludes, is "reactive" rather than "proactive."

In A Nation-State by Construction, Zhao reclassifies Chinese nationalism (liberal nationalism, ethnic nationalism, and state nationalism) and its international orientations (nativism, antitraditionalism, and pragmatism). Rather than offering an explanation of such a complex phenomenon itself, however, such recategorization integrates the suffixes attached to the word "nationalism." Although it does not offer a groundbreaking theory of Chinese nationalism, this book is an impressive work that provides a comprehensive overview of the debates on Chinese nationalism. It will appeal not only to students of Chinese nationalism but also to readers interested in the empirical implications of China's rise.

Juan Wang

Department of Political Science

Johns Hopkins University
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Author:Wang, Juan
Publication:Journal of East Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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