A New Definition of Chinese Patriotism

CCP Authorities Increasingly Insist Loving the Party is a Precursor to Loving the Country

China’s ruling Communist Party has a message for Chinese citizens: You are for us, or you are against us.That’s the takeaway from a widely discussed September 10 opinion piece in pro-party tabloid Global Times, in which Chen Xiankui, a professor at the School of Marxism at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, proclaims that “love of party and love of country are one and the same in modern China.” Chen’s article has caused an uproar on Chinese social media, with many netizens scoffing at his formulation of patriotism.

Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images
Chen Long celebrates his gold medal win in the men’s single at the 2014 BWF Badminton World championships in Copenhagen on August 31, 2014.

Exhorting Chinese to love their ruling party is nothing new, usually done in the same breath with an exhortation for citizens to love their country. The implication—that one cannot choose between the two—has long been clear enough. But drawing an explicit line between the two is rare, and Chinese have noticed. Reaction on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, suggests most Internet users don’t buy into Chen’s logic. “Have they no shame?” commented Lin Tie, a television anchorman from the northeastern city of Tianjin. Businessman Shi Liqin wrote, “That’s what Nazis told the German people: loving one’s country is the same as loving the party, and loving the party is the same as loving the Führer.” Another netizen was more direct: “I love my country, but I don’t love the party. It’s that simple.”

Chen roots his analysis in the dubious conjecture that while political parties in the West represent different interest groups, the Chinese Communist Party only represents the “fundamental interests” of all Chinese people. Chen cites Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine as examples of developing countries that have become embroiled in upheaval after attempts at Western-style democracy failed. Chen writes that China’s one-party rule has shown itself to be “superior” in terms of stewarding economic development, bettering lives, and managing crises.



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Chen isn’t the first to use the Global Times as a platform to espouse equivalence between party and country. On September 3, the Times published an editorial, penned by Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin, that argued that while love of country and love of party are not the same, they are “certainly not contradictory either.” Trying to separate patriotism from the love of party is a “poisonous arrow” used by people with “ulterior motives” to undermine China’s unity, Hu wrote. A day later, the paper published an editorial criticizing those “brainwashed public intellectual in China” who teach people to believe that “loving the country doesn’t equal to loving the government and the party.”



Powerful Patriots

Jessica Chen Weiss
Why has the Chinese government sometimes allowed and sometimes repressed nationalist, anti-foreign protests? What have been the international consequences of these choices? Anti-American demonstrations were permitted in 1999 but repressed in 2001 during two crises in U.S.-China relations. Anti-Japanese protests were tolerated in 1985, 2005, and 2012 but banned in 1990 and 1996. Protests over Taiwan, the issue of greatest concern to Chinese nationalists, have never been allowed. To explain this variation in China's response to nationalist mobilization, Powerful Patriots argues that Chinese and other authoritarian leaders weigh both diplomatic and domestic incentives to allow and repress nationalist protests. Autocrats may not face electoral constraints, but anti-foreign protests provide an alternative mechanism by which authoritarian leaders can reveal their vulnerability to public pressure. Because nationalist protests are costly to repress and may turn against the government, allowing protests demonstrates resolve and increases the domestic cost of diplomatic concessions. Repressing protests, by contrast, sends a credible signal of reassurance, facilitating diplomatic flexibility and signaling a willingness to spend domestic political capital for the sake of international cooperation. To illustrate the logic, the book traces the effect of domestic and diplomatic factors in China's management of nationalist protest in the post-Mao era (1978-2012) and the consequences for China's foreign relations.—Oxford University Press

The rhetoric appears to be heating up as mainland tensions with Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous former colony in the Chinese south, increase. In late August, China’s legislature effectively ended hopes of universal suffrage in Hong Kong by declaring a mainland committee must vet candidates for Chief Executive, the city’s highest position, to ensure they had sufficient “love for country.” Around the same time, during a press conference to explain the nomination, a reporter from U.K.-based Financial Times asked a mainland official whether the candidates must also “love the Communist party” as a part of the requirement that they “love the country.” The official answered that “it goes without saying.”

The bundling of patriotism and party loyalty looks like a tough sell, both in Hong Kong and in the mainland. But it’s a tactic that the party seems increasingly willing to try. By making the concepts of party and country interchangeable, it becomes easier to label “unpatriotic” those who oppose party policies or question its legitimacy. But such rhetoric could also backfire by challenging readers to think harder about the distinctions between the two.