Tea Leaf Nation

A New Definition of Chinese Patriotism

A New Definition of Chinese Patriotism

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 Sept. 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.     

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 of 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.

Chen isn’t the first to use the Global Times as a platform to espouse equivalence between party and country. On Sept. 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."

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.