Deconstructing Chinese history and nationalism

If there is one country which has caught the collective imagination of the world, then it is China.
Jan 10, 2019
If there is one country which has caught the collective imagination of the world, then it is China. Chinese history and nationalism have always intrigued the world and the ongoing debate on the contemporary relevance of these have never yielded easy answers. Prof Viren Murthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA in a discussion deconstructed these two topics and put focus on how to view China in a changing global order.
He began his talk by stating that nationalism is the idea of being both ancient and modern at the same time.  Speaking about how China viewed itself after 1945 when the world was grappling with the rise of US imperialism, he said China had the fear of constantly being disintegrated and how it tried to place itself in the global order was by looking beyond capitalism and imperialism.
It was at this phase that China embraced the socialist ideals espoused by Mao Zedong and the concept of a Maoist China took shape which was a state-led project to develop the economy. But the brutal crushing down of the enlightenment wave at the Tiananmen square in 1989 led the country to take a conservative turn.
The situation changed when Deng Xiaoping and the Communist Party of China implemented further reforms as a response to this. This gave rise to popular nationalism which was the first retreat from universality, an ideal which dominated the international discourse at that time. This was also the time which saw a revival of Confucianism.
Murthy then shifted his attention to the 2000s which marked a strong geopolitical turn for China. It marked the bold move of replacing the US influence in the global order. He traced the roots of this shift to the Confucian tributary system which was an acknowledgement of the Chinese superiority by foreigners based on the geographical and cultural past. This also led to the reemergence of Pan Asianism.
In his concluding remarks Murthy drew on Daneil Bell hypothesis which states Chinese model is about meritocracy and posed an open-ended question as to whether democracy is appropriate for China.
C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies who chaired the session observed that India and China share a complex and contradictory relationship and said the critical question is how the bilaterals will work for both the nations.

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