#04 event report: Nationalism and Politics in China


November 30, 2010, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)

Speaker: Prof. Dr. ZHANG Jian 张健 , Associate Professor, School of Government, Peking University


On 30th November 2010, Prof. Zhang Jian, a professor at the School of Government of Peking University addressed the Thinkin China community on the topical subject of nationalism in China. Prof. Zhang received his BA in International Studies from Peking University and his PhD in Political Science from Columbia University. He has served as Editor for Strategy and Management for the China Society of Strategy and Management and written for the Heartland, Eurasian Review of Geopolitics.

Prof. Zhang presented the concept of nationalism vis-à-vis Chinese domestic politics. He presented an account of the historical evolution of the idea of statehood and nationalism in China; observing that throughout China’s dynastic history, there was no notion of the Chinese state, rather, to be Chinese implied being a subject of the dynasty. The notion of a state in the Westphalian sense and the associated nationalism was largely thus, a product of the Republican era.

Addressing a nuanced topic, Prof. Zhang presented a diffuse view of Chinese nationalism as a contemporary concept. He isolated four different types of nationalism observed in China today; namely, Tibetan nationalism, Uighur nationalism, Taiwanese nationalism and Chinese or Zhongguo nationalism. He argued that what distinguishes the latter from Tibetan and Uighur nationalism is that Zhongguo nationalism does not refer to ethnicity.

A clear distinction was between the Han ethnicity and “Zhongguo” (中国, China) nationalism. He emphasised this point by noting that in his empirical research, he found that 40% of ethnic Uighurs consider themselves as “Zhongguoren” (中国人, Chinese) or of Chinese nationality before they consider themselves Uighur.

He ultimately argued that the CPC has come to embody the Chinese nationalism and assessed this notion of nationalism in juxtaposition with shifting ideologies and social contexts. Finally, he assessed the challenges and opportunities associated with the interaction of these diverse nationalisms.


As was to be expected from so textured a subject, Prof. Zhang’s talk was followed by an animated Q&A session. Attendees posed questions regarding the role of ethnic minorities in Chinese society, the impact of culture and the interaction of such nationalisms with a potential shift towards democratization. The ensuing discussion contextualised and reconstellated the ideas addressed in Prof. Zhang’s talk.