A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism

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A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism

By Suisheng Zhao
Stanford University Press, 2004
376 pp. $65.00

The dominant narrative of modern China has centered around its transformation from a universalistic empire to a modern nation-state--especially the difficulties of constructing viable elite and mass versions of nationalism. In this major work, Zhao examines the concept of nationalism in the context of modern Chinese history, exhibiting a total command of a huge body of literature by both Chinese and Western scholars. The framework of his story is well known--from the humiliation of the Opium War and the treaty port system to the fall of the Manchus, the May Fourth Movement, and the attempts to fuse communism and nationalism--but his narrative has a freshness and sharpness thanks to his skillful analysis of the complex sentiments that shaped Chinese nationalism at every turn. Zhao holds out hope that, after all the pain China has suffered in the process of modernizing, the country will continue to develop a form of "pragmatic nationalism"--focused on economic growth, and thus concerned with political stability and national unity. All of China's top leaders since Deng Xiaoping have been pragmatic nationalists, Zhao notes, but other versions of nationalism have also won support from sectors of the population.

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