Xi Jinping’s Chinese Melting Pot

National and sometimes national chauvinist thinking has been natural to many people in the West for the past several centuries. Allegiance to a nation is expected to supercede allegiance to one’s ethnic group and locality in service to a nation-state. At one end of the spectrum this can be useful to holding together a republic in a dangerous world; at the other it can support the construction of a totalitarian state based on either far left or far right ideologies. Most people started using passports and getting visas about 200 hundred years ago. Once war was a matter for kings, princes and their soldiers; trade between people in warring states might continue. Napoleon’s wartime blocking off of trade from territories he controlled with England was an innovation. Now it is commonplace.

In China nationalism seems to have come more recently. Throughout Chinese history, many governing dynasties have been overthrown by foreign invaders (since the Emperor imagined himself ruling all under Heaven the idea of a foreigner may have been a bit vague) and these outsiders set up a new ‘Chinese dynasty’. One of these was the last dynasty, the Ch’ing. By the late 19th century, many Chinese resented the declining dynasty and so it came to be attacked as not being Chinese and at the same time, the idea of a Han nationality was created, harkening back to the name of the Han Dynasty near two millenia earlier. Nationalism became a strong unifying force in China — indeed the founder of the Republic of China Sun Yat-sen aka Sun Zhongshan in the chapter on Nationalism in his book the Three People’s Principles likened Chinese people to a heap of sand with not strong ties linking them to the whole. Sun wanted to found a guided democracy that would transition to a full democracy after a period of tutelage. Sun translated and promoted a version of Robert’s Rules of Order in order to encourage free and orderly debate in Chinese political assemblies.

Sun Yat-sen on Nationalism

What is nationalism? According to the social customs of Chinese history, I can say in one simple sentence that nationalism minzuzhuyi 民族主義 is the ideology of allegiance to the nation-state guojiazhuyi 國家主義. Chinese people revere their family and their clan the most, so there is only allegiance to family and clan in China, not nationalism. Foreign onlookers say that the Chinese people are like loose sand, what is the reason for this? It is because the people in general have only allegiance to family and clan but not nationalism. The Chinese have a strong sense of family and clan solidarity and are often willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect their clan. For example, in an armed fight between two surnames in Guangdong, people from both clans refused to stop no matter how many lives and properties they sacrificed, because of the deep clan concept. Because this kind of doctrine is deeply rooted in people’s hearts, so they can sacrifice for him. As for the country, there was never a time when they sacrificed with great spirit. Therefore, the unity of the Chinese people can only reach to the clan, and has not yet expanded to the nation-state.

When I say that nationalism is allegiance to the nation-state. This is appropriate in China, but not in foreign countries. Foreigners say that there is a difference between a nation and a state. In English, the term for nation is transliterated in Chinese as “Nashon”. There are two interpretations of the word “Nason”: one is a nation of people and the other is a nation-state. Although this one word has two meanings, its interpretation is very clear and there is no room for confusion. In the Chinese language, there are many words with two interpretations. For example, the word “society” has two uses: one refers to the general population, and the other refers to an organized group. Originally, there are many relationships between nation and state, and it is not easy to separate them, but there is really a certain boundary, and we must separate what is a state and what is a nation. Why is it appropriate in China but not in foreign countries? Because since the Qin and Han dynasties, China has been a nation created by one ethnic group. In foreign countries, there are several nations created by one nationality, and there are several nationalities within one nation. For example, Britain is the strongest country in the world now, but their ethnic nationality is based on white people, combined with brown people and black people, to become the “British Empire”. Therefore, it is inappropriate to say that ethnic nationality is same as the nation in Britain. It would be inappropriate to say that the British nationality in Hong Kong is the nationality. It would be inappropriate to say that the British nationality of Hong Kong is a nationality, and that India, which is also a British territory, has 30,000,000 to 50,000,000 Indians among its people. It is also inappropriate to say that the British nation in India is an ethnic nationality. We all know that the basic nationality of Britain is the Anglo-Saxons (3), but the Anglo-Saxons are not only in Britain, but also in the United States. Therefore, in foreign countries, we cannot say that ethnic nationality is the same thing as the nation.

Sun Zhongshan “Nationalism” 民主主義 in the Three People’s Principles 三民主義

For Sun the nationalism of China was Han ethnic nationalism. For General Secretary Xi Jinping, nation-state nationalism is for everyone in China as the Chinese melting pot produces a zhonghua minzu nationalism.

During China’s eight-year-long War of Resistance Against Japan, nationalism was mobilized in the war against the Japanese invaders. The Song of the Volunteers which later became the PRC national anthem

With the found of the PRC in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party faced the task of governing a vast state including the vast western two-thirds of the country, much of it mountainous, high plateau and desert, where the majority of the population (although less than ten percent of the population lived) did not belong to the Han ethnic group which predominated in the eastern third of the country. The Uyghurs and the Tibetans, in particular, spoke different languages and had a different culture and religion than the Han.

The PRC today recognizes 56 nationalities: 55 minority nationalities plus the majority (92%) Han nationality which are understood to all belong to the zhonghua minzu. Some of these nationalities seem arbitrary. During a visit to Guizhou, I was told that “the PRC split up some of the larger minorities into smaller ones and arbitrarily merged some distinct smaller nationalities into a larger one.” In Yunnan, the leader of a dance troupe from Taiwan composed of several of the sixteen distinct indigenous national groups in Taiwan. She told me that at every stop in the Mainland, a local Party official made it clear that there were to be referred to as the “Mountain Nationality” gaoshanzu 高山族 of Taiwan even though they had very different languages and cultures.

Foreign criticisms of China’s implementation of its nationalities policy, like those of its human rights policy, are sensitive for the Chinese Communist Party which often accuses foreigners are trying to stir up divisions within China. The sensitivity is extraordinary. Apparently the Communist Party is worried that more people will agree with criticisms of its policies as its continues to worry about stability within its political pressure cooker.

Several translations relating to China’s nationalities policy have appeared earlier on this blog, including:

Deepen the Study of the Chinese National Community and Forge a Firm Sense of Chinese National Community

By Zhang Jingze Guangming Daily (July 27, 2022, P. 6)

Zhang Jingze is a Special Researcher at the Beijing Xi Jinping Research Center of Socialist Thought with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and Secretary of Party Committee of Central University for Nationalities.

From Central Nationalities University website: Zhang Jingze, male, Han nationality, from Ruicheng, Shanxi, member of the Communist Party of China, master of law. 
He is currently a full-time member (deputy minister level) of the National Ethnic Affairs Committee and secretary of the Party Committee of the Minzu University of China.

  While attending the deliberations of the Inner Mongolia delegation at the fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that “ethnic unity is the lifeline of our people of all ethnic groups, and the sense of Chinese ethnic community is the foundation of ethnic unity. We must firmly grasp the main line of casting a firm sense of Chinese national community, deepen education on national unity and progress, guide the masses of all ethnic groups to firmly establish the concept of community of solidarity, honor and disgrace, life and death, and destiny, and constantly consolidate the ideological foundation of the Chinese national community.  

We must promote all ethnic groups in the Chinese national family: we are like pomegranate seeds clinging together to build a great motherland and create a better life together. Investing in maintaining a stable and healthy economic environment, a social environment of national peace and security, and a clean political environment, we will take practical actions to welcome the victory of the 20th Party Congress.” Since the 18th Party Congress, the Party Central Committee, with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, has focused on the new situation and new features of ethnic work in the new era, profoundly grasped the new tasks and new requirements for ethnic work in the development of the Party and the state, creatively make a positive assertion to “forge a firm sense of community in the Chinese nation”, leading ethnic work to open up a new realm of the Sinicization of Marxist ethnic theory. Ethnic colleges and universities have unique advantages in the study of the Chinese national community, so they should make their contribution to forging a firm sense of the Chinese national community through in-depth research.

  We should have firm academic confidence and grasp the innovative requirements of Chinese national community research. Ethnic colleges and universities are the main force of Chinese ethnic community research. Ethnic colleges and universities have long been committed to the research of ethnology, ethnic theory and ethnic policy, and have always walked in the same direction and resonated with national development. 

During its 70 years of operation, the Central University for Nationalities has always focused on the needs of the Party’s ethnic work and national development, and made important contributions in the field of Chinese ethnic community research. In the early years of the founding of New China, according to the needs of national construction, especially political construction, a group of scholars and trainees undertook and excelled in ethnic identification, which not only provided references and theoretical bases for the Party and state’s ethnic work, but also made a large number of original achievements and advanced the innovation of Chinese ethnic theory. 

After reform and opening began, a group of scholars represented by Fei Xiaotong, Lin Yaohua, Wang Zhonghan, Ma Xueliang, Chen Liankai, etc., carried out multidisciplinary cross research on the Chinese ethnic community and put forward the theory of the pluralistic pattern of the Chinese ethnic group. A group of scholars, notably Yang Shengmin and Shi Zhengyi, have conducted research on twenty-two smaller ethnic groups around the needs of modernization in ethnic areas, providing a basis for the national development strategy in the west and the implementation of the plan to develop the border and enrich the people.

In the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics, focusing on the strategic need to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, another group of scholars has focused on the main line of forging a firm sense of Chinese national community and conducted research on the Chinese national community, releasing a number of influential academic results. The above-mentioned major theoretical innovations and academic contributions are the academic missions undertaken by the Central University for Nationalities in different historical periods around the Party and national development strategies and the cause of national unity and progress. This is not only the achievement and embodiment of academic research of ethnic colleges and universities to keep pace with the times and develop innovatively, but also the academic foundation and confident bottom of ethnic colleges and universities to promote the study of Chinese national community in the new era.

  Promote education and teaching reform and grasp the educational needs of Chinese national community research. The research on the Chinese national community in ethnic colleges and universities is not only necessary to provide intellectual support for the Party and the State’s national work and development strategies, but also necessary to implement the fundamental task of establishing moral education and to carry out education on the awareness of the Chinese national community. Education to forge a strong sense of Chinese national community is a systematic project, which must pay attention to the interface between school education, social education and family education. Among them, there are many issues that need to be studied at the theoretical level for school education to reflect the integration and coherence of schools, schools and children. 

As an ethnic university where teachers and students of multiple ethnic groups live together on one campus, and as a platform for interaction, exchange and integration among teachers and students of various ethnic groups, and for promoting the study of the Chinese ethnic community, it itself needs to promote education and teaching reform, optimize teaching organization and set up, innovate education and teaching methods, and effectively carry out education to forge a sense of Chinese ethnic community. Education to cast a firm sense of Chinese national community cannot be mechanically instilled, nor can we engage in simple didacticism, but rather, as General Secretary Xi Jinping requested, “to forge a firm sense of Chinese national community, both visible and tangible work should be done, and a lot of ‘silent’ things should be done ” “all the work should be to the real, to the detail, to have a tangible, sense, effective”. Only in this way can the educational task of forging a firm sense of Chinese national community can really and truly become an essential part of their identity down in their most profound thoughts and into the blood of students of all ethnic groups.

  We must do scholarship rooted in Chinese soil and grasp the practical requirements of Chinese national community research. We must make the study of the Chinese national community serve the high-quality development of the Party’s ethnic work in the new era and serve the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We must deeply understand and accurately grasp the dialectical unity between theory and practice. Any practice that lacks the guidance of theory will bring about blind action; likewise, any theory that is detached from its practical basis will turn into an empty sermon. In the current study of the Chinese national community, there is to a certain extent more theory and less practice, more macro and less micro, which is ultimately due to the lack of research on realistic and concrete issues. In the study of the Chinese ethnic community, microscopic and practical studies are precisely the focus and value of research. Theoretical research is ultimately intended to guide practice, and only by doing both deep and detailed theoretical and practical research on the Chinese national community can we truly realize its political, ideological, theoretical and practical unity and promote the construction of the Chinese national community.

  Constructing an autonomous knowledge system of ethnic disciplines with Chinese characteristics and grasping the target orientation of the study of the Chinese ethnic community. A series of important discussions by General Secretary Xi Jinping on forging a firm awareness of the Chinese national community is a powerful ideological weapon to promote the high-quality development of the Party’s ethnic work in the new era and an important theoretical guide to build a research system of the Chinese national community in ethnic universities in the new era. 

      If research on Chinese national community, which focuses on forging a sense of Chinese national community, is too single-minded in sticking to its research disciplines, too traditional in research methods, too narrow in research perspectives and too old in discourse and logic, it will greatly slow down the construction and promotion of the disciplinary system, academic system and discourse system of Chinese national community research.  This may make it difficult to elaborate the correct path of solving the national question with Chinese characteristics in theoretical, academic expression and popular dissemination. This would not be conducive to accelerating the construction of philosophical and social sciences with Chinese characteristics and affecting the construction of an autonomous knowledge system in China. Therefore, the study of the Chinese ethnic community must be anchored by the goal of building an autonomous knowledge system of ethnic disciplines with Chinese characteristics and focus on joint research and comprehensive research with multidisciplinary intersection and multi-team cooperation. In this process, it is impossible to forge a firm sense of Chinese ethnic community without the joint support of multiple disciplines and fields, such as ethnology, sociology, economics, political science, history, archaeology and philosophy, and without the cooperation and joint efforts of a large team of old, middle-aged and young scholars.

深化中华民族共同体研究 铸牢中华民族共同体意识

作者:张京泽《光明日报》( 2022年07月27日 06版)







About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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