Nationalist Indoctrination: China’s Double-Edged Sword.
Most of the time despite my Sinoskepticism I’m sanguine about the Middle Kingdom’s rise. I’m thrilled that hundreds of millions of Chinese are now living substantially better lives. The worst of Mao’s excesses lie in the past, and the CCP has taken slow, but significant steps to reform its governance both nationally and locally. Even the sabre-rattling from officials doesn’t worry me so much, as it’s quite clear the worst possible outcome for those in power would be a breakdown of the economic status quo.
I think that times might be interesting but on the whole they’re substantially more placid than they could be.
Then I spend my weekly time perusing ChinaSMACK.
A brief introduction. ChinaSMACK is a site that checks trends on the hottest discussions circulating through China’s netizen sphere. It along with places like Baidu Beat provide a fascinating glimpse into China’s net culture and what’s being discussed there. I find it an invaluable part of keeping current with what the world’s largest population of netizens feels are worth discussing.
So why am I distressed after this week’s look?
Part of it is this story. In itself it’s somewhat innocuous if disturbing. Essentially a young Chinese child reacts with visceral hatred to a visiting Japanese cousin. Much of it appears to have been indoctrinated at school, and shows the efforts that the Chinese government places in using education as a means of social control.
This on itself is not a cause for panic. Children are impressionable, and the Chinese government knows this. Some children take the words of teachers more seriously than others, but eventually they grow out of it. This is particularly true when the family members disapprove of the behavior being pressed by the school.
But this is a symptom of a larger problem. Charlie Custer notes that the huge wave of Anti-Japan protests over the Senkaku Island dispute had to have been state sponsored given their scale and mildness of the government’s response. Increasingly the use of fanning nationalist sentiment appears to be a tool the government uses to further its own foreign and domestic agenda.
The new generation of leaders slated to take over this year are known to have substantial links to nationalist elements of the Chinese state. These include the military industrial complex and status quo groups within the party, both of which have much to gain from fanning the flames of nationalism.
What’s not so clear is whether or not the Party has a viable long term endgame in mind. Perhaps they really do believe some of the jingoism and hope they’ll take over the entirety of East Asia. But as it stands, it’s leading toward a self-reinforcing tendency that is likely to only get worse as time progresses.
And as the internal pressures mount, there’ll be temptations to resort to the nationalist line further. Who knows where this’ll end up….