The hijacking of Chinese patriotism

The real question that needs discussing is, does criticism of the government necessarily mean criticism of the country? But all we got was a debate about rhetoric and whether a deputy governor had expressed himself properly.

The patriotic education promoted by the Communist Party over the last 64 years has managed to equate “love of country” with love of the party and the government. But when the distinction between country and ruler is erased, patriotism ends up being hijacked, and easily manipulated by a narrow-minded nationalism.

In August and September of last year, the controversy over the islands — known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese — ignited two rounds of demonstrations in many Chinese cities, which included violent attacks on Japanese-owned businesses and Japanese-made cars. In a shocking scene recorded on video, a motorist in the city of Xi’an, Li Jianli, had his skull smashed in while trying to protect his Toyota.

What makes me all the more uneasy is that it’s not just ordinary citizens who confuse nation and government. Some intellectuals do, too. A scholar friend once said to me, “Here at home we can criticize our country, but when we go abroad we need to defend it. In the same way, at home it’s O.K. to argue with one’s parents, but outside the home we never tolerate criticism of them.”