In a nutshell one aspect of China’s ‘peaceful rise,’ - or not, can be found through evaluating the type of nationalism the Government and the Party have promoted or channeled. Chen Zhimin is currently Professor and Chair the Department of International Politics, School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University, Shanghai. In 2005 Chen Zhimin published an excellent analysis of Chinese nationalism entitled, “Nationalism, Internationalism and Chinese Foreign Policy.” (see full cite below).
I had the great pleasure of meeting Chen Zhimin a number of his colleagues in the recent series of meetings I and my colleagues enjoyed in Beijing and Shanghai. The Chen Zhimin article casts a long glance at the rise and use of nationalism especially by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and then the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As Chen Zhimin points out nationalism or ‘patriotism’ - the term the Party prefers - has been a vital aspect of Chinese foreign policy even before the revolution but certainly since the revolution.
Professor Chen’s chronicle of the history of Chinese nationalism examines China’s self identification of statehood revolutionary patriotism through the Mao period to what emerges after the Deng Xiaoping economic reform - what is referred to as ‘positive nationalism.’ This dominant strain of Chinese nationalism is, according to Professor Chen, “… able to accommodate both the Chinese desire for national rejuvenation and the general welfare of the world community.” (p.36).
While recent nationalist strains have challenged this positive nationalism, most particularly a more fervent bottoms-up nationalism, what Professor Chen refers to as ‘popular nationalism,’ consciously more anti-American and anti-Japanese, the Party and State largely have remained committed to positive nationalism. As a result the Chinese have continued to hew to a positive nationalism narrative, which according to Chen Zhimin, “… is nationalist in the sense that it aims to realize the key unsettled national missions: economic development, nation-state building, political unity and independence, and the greatness of China. It is positive because it has adopted an internationally oriented strategy, emphasizing international cooperation and integration into the global economy. It is positive because it no longer calls for world revolution and the overthrow of the status quo.” (p. 53)
There are three terms that might encompass China’s goal and presumed status in the contemporary international system. The choice will have a great deal to say whether ‘peaceful rise’ is indeed how we come to see China’s emergence in international relations. The first is ‘daguo’. A reasonable translation is Great power. Then there is ‘chaoji daguo’ translated as Superpower. And finally there is the term ‘qiangguo’ or powerful country.
Obviously, those who subscribe or promote the ‘China threat’ thesis as opposed to the peaceful rise of China see China as a presumptive chaoji daguo with a goal of challenging today’s only Superpower - the United States.
The Party and the State argue that China aims to be a daguo - A Great power still focused on economic development and positive nationalism. With such a perspective, China remains willing to see the US still as the only superpower but one accomodative of China’s peaceful rise.
The remaining term is most intriguing and less well defined. What is China’s foreign policy if the leadership sees itself as a powerful country - qiangguo? We’ll need to explore this Chinese foreign policy narrative - in the future.
Chen Zhimin, “Nationalism, Internationalism and Chinese Foreign Policy,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 14, No. 42 (February, 2005), pp.35-53