The Chinese Government and Popular Nationalism in the Post-Tiananmen Era
The democratic protests that took place in 1989 at Tiananmen Square demonstrated to the Chinese Communist Party that the governmental approach to the people should be adapted to the new conditions of the Chinese free-market economy. Otherwise, without the needed ideological corrections, the Maoist doctrine of class struggle and the socialist rejection of the capitalist way of life would paradoxically contradict the capitalist reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Thus, the experience of Tiananmen established the new nationalistically oriented policy of the Chinese government that characterizes the post-Tiananmen era of Chinese history. The nationalist direction of the governmental ideological policy partly replaced that of a socialist kind, and in this way, the Chinese nation became unified by the new popular ideological trends. The main idea of this new ideology is the representation of the foreign democracies (the Western civilization, and the USA, in particular) as aggressors who want to exploit China. Along with the solution to the problem of the people’s demands for democracy, by this condemnation, the new policy provided the solution to the problem of the immigrant’s integration into the Chinese society because the attention to the political dimension of the Chinese nation, the ethnical differences became less important. The post-Tiananmen Chinese government cultivates the idea that the Chinese people should oppose foreign ideological trends to preserve their own traditional and national identity along with nationally-oriented economic development free from any Western restrictions.
The post-Tiananmen era began with the Chinese government’s understanding of the need for ideological transformations that would correspond to the new economic policy of China. The fall of the USSR served as a great lesson for the Chinese Communist Party which understood the people striving for democracy as the main threat to the Communist regime. Thus, the need for flexibility and a more sophisticated setting of state ideology presupposed the government’s focus on the nationalist ideological trend. As Osnos claims, nationalism helped the Party smooth over the paradox of being a socialist vanguard of a free-market economy (140). It is important that while in the middle of the XX century nationalists were the rivals of the Chinese communists, the ethnical policy of Soviet-style multiculturalism allowed the Chinese government to transform the nationalist ideology into appropriate forms. In the sphere of national policy, Jacka et al. underline three main ideological perspectives of today’s Chinese society (156). These are the Soviet-style multiculturalism, which establishes the dominance of the main ethnic group over 55 officially supported minorities; ethnocentrism which sees the dominant ethnic group (Han) as the source of modern culture while other ethnicities are regarded as backward; and Confucian Ecumenism that propagates the unification based on the notion of the cultural prevalence of the Mandarin dialect and Confucian social values (Jacka et al. 156). Thus, the post-Tiananmen official Chinese ideology became effectively adapted to these major trends.
The main point of the post-Tiananmen Chinese ideology is based on the idea of an opposition between the Chinese nation and the Western democracies represented as international aggressors and colonialist exploiters of weaker nations. The ideological policy of the Chinese government is elaborated with the awareness of the fact that most of today’s nationalists place their pride in the Chinese nation, not necessarily in the Party (Osnos 147). In this way, the Chinese nation becomes the most important value that should be protected from the international aggression that can penetrate the Chinese society in a form of Western propaganda of democracy. The typical Communist idea of class struggle loses its relevance within today’s China with its free-market economy, and thus the foreign aggressors replace the Chinese capitalists and imperialists, playing the role of China’s actual enemy whom the nation should oppose. As long as the post-Tiananmen Chinese government tries to avoid any internal opposition, the ideological policy turned toward a greater popular, as well as state, interest in collective harmony and well-being, and national pride (Jacka et al. 194). Serving as examples of the government’s focus on nationalist ideology, are multiple cases of bringing attention to the so-called historical epoch of the national humiliation when China was oppressed by Japan, Great Britain, and other powerful states at the end of XIX and the first half of XX centuries (Osnos 140). As Osnos underlines, the new ideological policy is primarily aimed at the Chinese youth (140). For example, Osnos provides a new educational program that explains Chinese history through the prism of the struggle between China and powerful states that always try to humiliate it, as well as the video game Resistance War Online where the player can fight on the Chinese side against Japan (141). As a result, as Osnos demonstrates, most Chinese students support the current regime because they think that it protects the Chinese national identity from any foreign aggressive influences.
The post-Tiananmen transformations of the Chinese government’s ideological policy are focused on the adaptation to the social and political challenges caused by Deng Xiaoping’s free-market economic course of China’s development. Thus, to prevent the Chinese intellectual elites’ struggle for democracy, the Chinese government provided a nationalist ideology that contraposes the national values of China to the values of foreign states and is interpreted as threatening to the Chinese identity and development. In this way, the current Chinese regime appears to be a protector of the Chinese identity, and the opposition to it becomes interpreted as an activity against China in general.