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Title: “The Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation”: Chinese Nationalism at the Party Congress
Authors: Pickering, Matthew
Advisors: Boix, Carles
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Class Year: 2024
Abstract: Every five years, thousands of top Chinese politicians assemble at the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), where China’s paramount leaders deliver a lengthy work report considered as one of the most authoritative pronouncements of the Party’s current ideological and policy platform. Party officials at every level of government parse Party Congress work reports for any perceived changes in Party priorities, updating their regulations and policies accordingly. In recent years, Chinese nationalism has become an increasingly relevant area of study, especially as politicians and media describe the explosion of nationalism in China under Xi Jinping. This thesis examines how Chinese paramount leaders discuss nationalism through their work reports at the Party Congress. I specifically examine how this nationalist discourse has changed across three administrations and seven iterations of the Party Congress. I primarily take a qualitative approach by closely reading the speeches’ text to uncover hidden meanings in the Party’s often arcane phraseology, supplementing this with quantitative text analysis to compare incidences of key phrases across speeches. I find that while the work reports under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao largely exhibit continuity in their vision of Chinese nationalism, Xi Jinping differs from his predecessors in several key aspects. He diverges from Jiang and Hu’s emphasis on economic development as a basis for state-led nationalism, instead pushing a theme of China’s historically inevitable national rejuvenation as one of his primary ideological contributions through the Chinese Dream. Xi also elevates national security as a requisite for development and a “bedrock” of national rejuvenation. And while Jiang and Hu adhere to the Dengist ‘peaceful rise’ strategy of maintaining a low profile on the international stage, Xi presents a more assertive nationalism, portraying China as an international leader amidst an increasingly unstable external environment. Xi still maintains continuity with his predecessors in calling for national unity through a ‘patriotic united front,’ inclusive of peaceful unification with Taiwan as an important milestone in national rejuvenation. Finally, Xi furthers previous Party leaders’ appeals to cultural nationalism, showing the current CCP as the inheritor of China’s traditional cultural heritage. This thesis and its exploration of modern top-down Chinese nationalism yield several implications for China-focused policymakers. Xi Jinping’s increasingly assertive projection of Chinese nationalism globally will likely manifest as a more assertive foreign policy from Beijing, exhibited through combative diplomacy, increased military maneuvers in the Asia-Pacific (especially Taiwan), and enormous global infrastructure investments. In addition, Xi’s emphasis on national security as a condition of national rejuvenation may be used as a justification for increased civil rights crackdowns—especially for ethnic and religious minorities —as well as purges of political opponents. Finally, China’s leadership often wields nationalism as a means of legitimizing the CCP’s rule. In their telling, only the CCP is capable of leading China to its national rejuvenation—and under Xi Jinping, nationalism and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation are often instrumentalized as a means of consolidating his personal power.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2024

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