Domestic Troubles, National Identity Discourse, and China’s Attitude toward the West, 2003-2012 - by CWP Alumni Yinan He

Thursday, Dec 14, 2017

Prior to its recent, much discussed international ‘assertiveness’, China’s attitude to the West had deteriorated, as reflected in official discourse of national identity. Drawing from political science and social psychology literature on identity studies, I argue that the discursive pattern of national identity can shift as a function of an elite strategy to exclude internal others through opposition to foreign others. Internally exclusionary nationalism, often employed by elites during major crises, is instrumental to consolidating control and maintaining order. But when targeting internal opponents alone is politically inconvenient or lacks public resonance, elites will accentuate ethnocentric national identity discourse vis-a-vis foreign nations in order to reinforce internal battles and divert popular discontent externally. An interpretive analysis of the official texts of Chinese national identity discourse during the Hu Jintao decade, supplemented by quantitative data, shows a significant correlation between the regime’s fear of internal instability and bottom-up political opposition on the one hand and the timing and intensity of ethnocentric identity discourse regarding the West on the other. The party-state negatively framed the West in order to shift the blame for domestic troubles onto foreigners and discredit internal resistance.


KEYWORDS: China’s assertiveness, China Model, anti-foreign nationalism, ethnocentrism and national identity, Hu Jintao, national othering, Western hostile forces

Yinan He, “Domestic Troubles, National Identity Discourse, and China’s Attitude toward the West, 2003-2012,” Nations and Nationalism (December 2017)

Yinan He headshot