Nationalism, which is in essence pride in the nation and resentment against those perceived as attacking or harming its interests, has exercised a crucial influence in Chinese politics since the beginning of the twentieth century. On the whole, Chinese Marxists have appealed not to nationalism but to ‘patriotism’ (aiguozhuyi). Marx stressed class, not nation, believing that the working classes of all nations should unite against exploiters. Yet most scholars have seen nationalism in many PRC policies and actions.
Since the early 1990s, nationalism has tended to replace Marxism. Fewer ordinary people, and even CCP members, believe in Marxist ideologies, but retain strong confidence in China. This nationalism is of two kinds: proactive and reactive. The first derives from pride in China’s remarkable economic performance since the late 1970s, and on such major events as the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong (1997) and Macau (1999). Such developments have made Chinese leaders and people feel that their country is again taken seriously on the world stage. Reactive nationalism is based on perceived attempts by Western countries, especially the United States, and Japan to counter Chinese interests. Several specific events illustrate this rising nationalism, but the most important of them was the series of hostile demonstrations that followed the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 during the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization powers in Serbia over Kosovo. Few PRC Chinese accepted NATO claims that the bombing was accidental.
In addition to specific incidents, trends in the 1990s sparked Chinese nationalism, including constant criticism, especially from the United States, over human rights and China’s policy on Tibet and Taiwan. Human rights had taken centre-stage in American policy on China since troops suppressed independence demonstrations in Tibet from 1987 to 1989 and especially the student movement of April to June 1989. A Chinese diplomatic effort from November 1991 to defend China’s record on human rights on the grounds that communal, not individual, rights mattered most, brought little success.
In 1996, several books appeared with the theme that China could ‘say no’. They justified a China that stood up for its position on human rights, Taiwan, Tibet and other issues. In one of them (Peng et al. 1996:127–72), a typical chapter is entitled ‘Taiwan: The Fifty-first American State?’—the rhetorical question indicating the nationalist tone. One specialist sees nationalism as both popular and official, the first being the stronger of the two. He considers that nationalism is ‘due to external stimulation’, not to China’s rapid development (Zheng 1999:159), the implication being that it is unlikely to lead to chauvinism.
Gries, Peter Hays (2004). China’s New Nationalism: Politics, Pride, and Diplomacy. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Guo, Yingjie (2004). Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China: The Search for National Identity Under Reform. London: Routledge.
Peng, Q., Yang, M. and Xu, D. (1996). Zhonggua weishenma shuo bu [Why Does China Say No?]. Beijing: New World Press.
Unger, J. (ed.) (1996). Chinese Nationalism. Armonk, NY: M.E.Sharpe.
Zheng, Y. (1999). Discovering Chinese Nationalism in China: Modernization, Identity, and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.