Love of Country, Love of State: Patriotic Education in Contemporary China

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 9:30 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Yue Du, Cornell University
Drawing from posters, textbooks, newspapers, and television programs, this paper examines patriotic education in post-Cold War China, focusing specifically on the core strategy adopted by the Chinese government: conflating the nation with the party-state. After the Maoist era, the legitimacy of the communist state is no longer based on class struggle and world revolution, but on nationalism and the leading role of the Chinese Communist Party in guiding the Chinese nation to achieve a great revival. By emphasizing the nation, whose revival is the primary mission for both the Chinese people and the party-state, the Chinese nation once again occupies the core of political loyalty and patriotic education.

Chinese patriotic education in post-Cold War years, however, is not merely about cultivating people’s sentimental ties and devotion to the motherland, despite the importance of “the century of humiliation” China suffered at the hands of Western and Japanese imperialists. Love of the nation can prove to be dangerous for the ruling regime if not combined with love of the state, as demonstrated by the struggles the ruling regime had in controlling anti-foreign demonstrations over the last two decades. Great efforts have been made to collapse the boundaries between love of the nation and love of the state. This paper particularly discusses how textbooks, newspaper articles, and TV programs exploit the multiple meanings of the central concept of patriotism, Guo, which in Chinese simultaneously means empire/nation/state/dynasty. By doing so, the communist party-state and its propaganda machines not only effectively direct people’s carefully cultivated loyalty to the nation toward the ruling regime, but also manipulate people’s fear of “losing the country” to achieve the ultimate goal of contemporary patriotic education: to maintain party rule and avoid political instability.

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