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Global Citizenship with Chinese Characteristics: Nationalism and Global Citizenship in Developing China

Module by: Leif Anderson. E-mail the author

Summary: The integration of the world’s communities due to globalization has led to a widespread re-negotiation of conceptions of citizenship. Educationalists throughout the world are debating the role of global citizenship in policy objectives. In China, a transition to a neo-liberal framework has integrated the formerly closed society into the globalized world. However, China’s development goals remain an exclusionary project. In this context, an emerging nationalism premised on a victimization narrative, resistance identity, and ethnocentric positioning marks contemporary Chinese citizenship discourse, thus limiting the possibility of a shift towards global citizenship discourse in Chinese education policy. Despite integration into the neo-liberal world economy, historical circumstances make the modern Chinese state a reluctant implementer of external ideologies and social theories. A Chinese global citizenship initiative premised on a foreign definition is sure to be met with resistance. Although evidence of prospective global citizenship exists in China, it’s survival is dependent on an internal negotiation of meaning based on Chinese conceptions, and an institutional level implementation that could only be called “Global Citizenship with Chinese Characteristics.”


This chapter examines identity, nationalism, and citizenship in the context of China and it’s ascension to the main stage of globalization. Emphasis will be on how these concepts are manifesting in China’s national education policy and curriculum. It is argued that an emerging assertive nationalism and an identity of resistance to international ideologies are prevalent in China’s institutional framework, particularly in education systems, thus limiting the capacity for conceptions of global citizenship to emerge. Given China’s rapid development and increasing capacity to assert itself in international affairs, an examination of the potential implications of these concepts in the discourse of global citizenship education is presented. Modern globalization has created a world of economic, political, financial, social, technological, and educational interdependence. This interdependence has instilled a global society of mobility and cross-cultural cooperation. As a result, education systems around the world are debating and implementing global citizenship concepts into policy initiatives. Due to the interconnectedness of globalization, the effects of domestic citizenship education policies are sure to reverberate throughout the world. Global citizenship policies in every nation-state have significance in the globalized world, however China’s exponential development rate make for a case of special significance requiring close examination.

Current Discourse in Global Citizenship Education

Although an international linking of economic and cultural processes has existed throughout history, the depth and range of this trend in contemporary globalization has created an immense challenge for scholars and policymakers attempting to negotiate the meaning of global citizenship education. Two prevalent themes in the global citizenship debate are the balancing of a global and national citizen concept in curriculum policy and the balancing of the demands of global citizenship education with the required education outcomes of the knowledge economy. As Moutsios (2008) has noted, “recent education reforms are…being aligned to policies of economic competitiveness. Curriculum reform, on one hand, emphasizes the formation of skills related to the new economy, and on the other, stresses the re-formation of allegedly threatened cultural identities” (p.515). In addition, Moutsios argues that the demands of the neo-liberal global economic model are causing a decline in democratic participation in ‘knowledge societies’ and having a detrimental effect on citizenship education initiatives. In this context, one might theorize that China’s developmental success is linked to the absence of democratic processes. While liberal democratic states struggle with politically negotiating the global economy, a one-party authoritarian system like China’s might be proving to be a rather effective model for the twenty-first century.

On the balancing of global and domestic conceptions of citizenship, theoretical discourse is built around the development of cosmopolitan societies and the role of patriotism and nationalism within this framework. Debates over the roles of and relationship between cosmopolitanism and patriotism are raging. Papastephanou (2008) has noted that “if one takes patriotism to be a form of chauvinism or takes cosmopolitanism to be a form of chauvinism or takes cosmopolitanism to entail hostility to all particular attachments, the relationship of the two becomes one of incompatibility” (p.170). Under this premise, incompatibility between patriotism and cosmopolitanism require state-centered entities to make a choice between the two. Liberal democratic societies may be able to balance the two concepts through political parties, interest groups, and individual choice, however, citizens of one-party systems like China’s are largely bound to the path the state chooses to take. Under this premise, Waks (2008) has discussed nationalism as a barrier to the cosmopolitan experience, “with regard to the nationalistic and statist biases in the projects of state schools systems, multiculturalists and postmodernists have for several decades challenged these, proposed non-biased alternatives and also taken note of countervailing multi-cultural and post-modern trends” (p.214-215). The question to bear in this essay is the depth of nationalistic and statist bias in the Chinese education system and whether multiculturalist and postmodernist voices are being heard in policy processes.

Clashing Civilizations and an Educational Security State?

In perhaps the strongest argument against the possibility of global citizenship in contemporary society, Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis suggests a world of ethnically and culturally bonded civilizations in political, economic, and military conflict with one another is coming, despite the international linking of society through globalization. Proponents of global citizenship argue that 21st century identity can be developed along the lines of a common humanity. For Huntington (2003), global citizenship, or what he calls universal civilization, is not possible as “humanity is divided into subgroups-tribes, nations, and broader cultural entities normally called civilizations. If the term civilization is elevated and restricted to what is common to humanity as a whole, either one has to invent a new term to refer to the largest cultural groupings of people short of humanity as a whole or one has to assume that these large but not-humanity-wide groupings evaporate” (p56-57). For Huntington, global citizenship is impossible as the bounds of identity and ‘othering’ is too strong for global citizenship conceptions to form, even in a neo-liberal world.

‘Othering’ is a natural, albeit mostly detrimental, aspect of cross-cultural interaction which facilitates conceptions of nationalism, identity, and positioning as will be further discussed later. First coined by Said (1979) in his timeless analysis of Orientalism, or what he defined as, “the ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and…’the Occident’”, ‘othering’ has developed to encompass the implicit and explicit categorization of cultural traits along the lines of perceived notions of “us” and “them” (p.2). According to Huntington, the “civilizational ‘us’ and extracivilizational ‘them’ is a constant in human history” (p.129). Intra- and extra-civilizational differences are formed from feelings of superiority or inferiority between different groups, fear and lack of trust of other groups, difficulty of communication, and lack of familiarity with assumptions, social practices, motivations, and social relationships of the ‘other’ (ibid). Huntington’s thesis asserts that developing China is set to form one of the core civilizations at odds with other core civilizational entities. Despite political and ideological differences of other nations in the region, China’s sheer size and ethnic similarity with the cultures of other East Asian nations will allow it to become the leader of the East Asian region in a “clash of civilizations”. This assertion challenges the notion of global citizenship education and suggests that regional citizenship may be an academic consideration for 21st century citizenship discourse.

On the role of Asia and, particularly, China in the clash of civilizations, Huntington cites the economic rise of several East Asian nations in what he calls the “Asian affirmation”. Attributes of the “Asian affirmation” include an increasing confident, assertive, and nationalist Asia region; and an Asia with increasing continuity and collective identity when facing against the West, yet still fragmented and hostile to one another. On the cultural reconfiguration of global politics and the politics of identity, Huntington asserts Asia will be the site of a cultural homogenization of the ‘lesser China’s’, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc, which will become linked with the mainland based on cultural bonds. Additionally, as China begins to form a core state in the civilizational order, Huntington claims the coming emergence of a Greater China and a co-prosperity sphere where China forms cultural bonds with periphery states with cultural ties such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and overseas Chinese. Huntington’s overall thesis suggests one of cross-civilizational conflict, and thus limited opportunities for global citizenship. However, the integration of lesser states into a core state suggests the possibility of regional citizenship.

Education systems that embrace notions of global citizenship have the capacity to provide a preventative response to the gloomy scenario laid out by Huntington. Advocates of global citizenship might argue that the effects of globalization require some semblance of global citizenship in policy initiatives. However, globalization links the world along competitive lines. Spring (2006) has argued global competition has created an “educational security state” that has “brought together the military demands of the nation-state with educational plans for growth and development” (p.5). Under this premise, universal civilization or global citizenship is limited by national development goals which emphasize bottom-line economic outcomes rather than common humanity in a globalized world. For Spring, global competition actually accentuates, rather than reduces, notions of ‘othering’. The opening of the world to alternative ideologies, cultures, and identities causes a reactionary rejection of the global citizen, as opposed to an embrace. Spring’s definition of an educational security state is that:

…the government attempts to mold and control the learning of children and youth for economic and military purposes, and the government incorporates educational planning into national economic and military planning. The educational security state places science and math along with the teaching of economic and religious ideologies at the center of the school curriculum because of their importance for industrialization, militarization, national patriotism, and cultural cohesion (Spring, 2006, p.3).

With an emphasis on national economic and military development, cultural cohesion, and patriotism in education policy initiatives throughout the globalized world, there are limited opportunities for global citizenship. Critical examination of the objectives of educational security policy initiatives and active political participation of citizens of the world’s respective citizens may limit the detrimental effects of the educational security state on global citizenship.

As a counter-point to Huntington and Spring’s theses, one could argue that global interconnectedness and international mobility bridges the cultural divide that drives the clash of civilizations. In terms of global citizenship education, international education itself might be seen as a vehicle for bridging cultural divides. Lingard and Rizvi (2009) have examined the depth of academic mobility in globalizing education policy. Despite ‘othering’ tendencies of national policy discourse, the widespread international mobility of students exposes them to alternative ideologies and viewpoints, thus allowing for global citizenship regardless of whether or not it is a policy target of world education systems. Internationalizing curriculum is one means of bridging cultural divides and instituting global citizenship. Lingard and Rizvi’s analysis of internationalizing curriculum initiatives reveal “three interrelated categories: facilitating study abroad and educational exchange to broaden and enrich students’ cultural experiences; learning about other languages and cultures as a way of developing their skills of intercultural communication; and preparing graduates to work in the global knowledge economy” (2009, p.173). The first two points are easily applicable to global citizenship, but global knowledge economy skills under the pretense of internationalization could also be linked to exclusive national policy goals. Studies of international students in the U.S., primarily from India and China, reveal that an overwhelming number are studying technology, math, and science fields (Burnelli, 2010, Lingard and Rizvi, 2009). Given the intense global competition in the knowledge economy, notions of international student mobility as a means for global citizenship may be superseded by national security and intellectual property concerns given the fields of study primarily taken by international students. The study abroad experience itself may expose students to cultures and ideologies they have been previously taught to resent, but are a few years abroad enough to undo the systematic indoctrination of a decade of instruction in the educational security state?

Identity, Citizenship, and Nationalism in Modern China

A 2004 article by Helen Haste examining the construction of citizenship in a globalized, neo-liberal 21st century has made some striking observations of contemporary citizenship (Haste, 2004). These observations make a fruitful discussion when looked at through the lens of Chinese citizenship education. First, Haste observes a clear distinction between what are typically labeled “stable” and “transitional/changing” societies. In “stable” societies, participation in political processes and a sense of identity are essentially the status quo, while “transitional” societies are more actively engaged and focused on carving out a distinct identity. Despite the adoption of neo-liberal economic principles throughout much of the world, one should not be surprised that individual states actively seek to affirm a sense of national identity differentiated from other states, despite economic ideological similarities, through the construction of national narrative and collective memory. China’s economic reforms and subsequent rise to prominence have set the benchmark for the modern “transitional” state, the current political system limits the active engagement Haste has citied, but as this essay will explore the construction of a distinct Chinese identity are a significant focus of citizenship education.

On the construction of identity, Castells (1997) has observed three major forms and origins: legitimizing identity, resistance identity, and project identity. Legitimizing identity might be defined as the process of justifying the ideology, customs, norms, aims of a given group in an effort to claim its role in the world. Resistance identity is marked by a collective effort by a group to protect itself against any perceived threats of indoctrination or assimilation by an external entity. Project identity can be labeled as the participation of group members in a collective project with the expected outcome of exemplifying the redeeming qualities of the given group. China’s transition to a neo-liberal economy via the Reform and Opening Policy of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s has inspired an active negotiation of identity in modern China. While Castells implies that the above-mentioned forms of identity construction are individually applied on a case by case basis, China’s identity negotiation represents a unique case where all three forms converge to form a distinct identity. On legitimizing identity, the dissonance between a free market economy and a one-party communist system require the systematic legitimization of the current government system. On resistance identity, the neo-liberal model has connotations of Westernization and democratization, two concepts the CCP are inclined to distance the nation from. With a stinging collective memory of colonialism and imperial conquest, an identity built on the concept of resisting undesirable foreign ideals is emerging. On project identity, China’s economic reformation and development represent a national project bent on repositioning China as a leader in world affairs. Identity built on legitimizing the Party, resisting foreign ideals, and a collective project of building a dominant society make contemporary China perhaps the most unique of the “transitional” societies. Political participation remains limited, but active engagement with identity is thriving.

Haste’s second observation is that nationalism is a surprising presence in contemporary citizenship. While identity remains a critical source of nationalistic conceptions, Haste cites narrative and positioning. For Haste, nationalism is “not universal or a unitary concept but is transmuted by each state through its own cultural narratives” (p.414). For citizen construction through narrative, formal education programs provide the most explicit means of message transmission. Haste’s analysis of narrative cites several types; such as shared, competing, and taken-for-granted narratives, as well as narratives that “locate, explain, and justify the citizen and the nation” (p.420). The concept of positioning, or how the collective or individual views itself in relation to other actors, is an active and constantly changing process, especially in the era of globalization where constant fluctuations in power are prevalent. Haste observes that a “particularly useful feature of…positioning is the slant it gives to minority status and the management of being ‘othered’-as well as othering” (p.433). While Haste suggests that nationalism is not necessarily a bad thing, she observes that a “’pathologized’ nationalism is associated with an ideology of exclusion, in which the outgroup is cast as a threat to the ‘purity’ of the nation by virtue of race, religion, or language” (p.416-417). Despite China’s integration into the world economic model, scholars have noted a rise in a rather pathologized nationalism in modern China, built on a victimization narrative and ethnocentric positioning (Anderson, 2011, 2010, Zakaria, 2009, Gries, 2005).

As discussed earlier, globalization is forcing education systems around the world to balance both global and national citizenship and citizenship with knowledge economy demands. China is no exemption. As Zakaria notes, “Beijing is negotiating the same two forces that define the post-American world more broadly- globalization and nationalism. On the one hand, economic and technological pressures are pushing Beijing towards a cooperative integration into the world. But these same forces produce disruption and social upheaval in the country, and the regime seeks new ways to unify an increasingly diverse society” (2009, p.88). Thus, a strong nationalism is emerging in modern China. Since China has abandoned an orthodox commitment to communism, the Communist Party “has been using nationalism as the glue that keeps China together” (Zakaria, 2009, p.122). Since nationalism and identity are easily transmitted through formal education systems, evidence of nationalism initiatives is found in Article 6 of the Education Law of the People’s Republic of China, which states that “the State conducts education among educatees in patriotism, collectivism, socialism, as well as in the importance of ideals, ethics, discipline, the legal system, national defense and national unity” (Spring, 2006, p.205). The presence of an emerging assertive nationalism casts an ominous shadow of doubt on prospective global citizenship in developing China.

Recent scholarship has identified the cultural narratives and positioning processes of modern Chinese nationalism. Gries (2005) has examined a paradigm from a narrative of victor to one of victimization in Chinese nationalism. The victimization narrative emphasizes the humiliating events of China’s modern history, such as the Opium Wars, Treaty Ports, Boxer Rebellion, Colonialism, the Japanese Occupation, Taiwan’s autonomy, and the West’s perceived interference in China’s contemporary internal affairs. Thus, this narrative simultaneously projects both a resistance and legitimizing identity by demonizing foreign ideals and absolving domestic authorities of any internal responsibility for past tribulations. On positioning, Gries cites numerous examples of dehumanizing rhetoric of the “other” in nationalistic discourse designed to propel the Chinese ethnicity to the top of the social order. Gries’ analysis of modern Chinese nationalism suggests it is developing into the highly assertive and “pathologized” version as observed by Haste. In his analysis of history curriculum in East Asia, Vickers (2009, 2002) has observed primordial conceptions of ethno-cultural and historical identity and a sense that China’s economic rise is a natural process placing China in its rightful place in a international social hierarchy. China’s economic reforms and subsequent rapid development instill a collective project identity with connotations of ethnocentric positioning.

Haste’s final observation of citizenship in the globalized era is the “dissolution of the left-right spectrum…and the fragmentation of old ideological boundaries,” particularly in Western democratic states (p.414). China’s one-party system and its ability to censor, manipulate, and indoctrinate has limited opportunities for ideological fragmentation. However, instances of dissent have periodically emerged, particularly in the infamous incident at Tiananmen Square in 1989. As a response to this event, Party leaders convened at a National Morality Conference to formulate a plan to prevent any future subversion (Vickers, 2009). The result was a Patriotic Education Campaign, implemented in schools systems as a catalyst for assertive anti-foreign nationalism in the education system (Shirk, 2008, p. 62-63). Although other factors have been influential, this policy has certainly contributed to the collective resistance identity and surging nationalism in modern China.

Other instances of dissent against the nationalistic discourse of the Party line in China have also periodically emerged, such as in fringe provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. In addition, analysis of the negotiation of global citizenship in China should also include observation of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Although mainland China still persists that Taiwan remains an entity of the mainland and remains a domestic concern, a half century of democracy has created a sense of Taiwanese identity distinct from the ideology of China proper. Liu and Hung’s (2002) analysis of history curriculum in Taiwan revealed that prior to the 1990s Chinese identity was emphasized, but Taiwanese identity was been given greater emphasis recently. According to Liu and Hung, this shift in conceptions of identity in Taiwan, “has been part cause, part consequence of the democratization process and the shift of political power away from the KMT old-guard and towards more ‘nativist’ Taiwanese elements” (p.567). In the future, whether Taiwan attempts to proclaim independence or becomes integrated into mainland China, the shift in Taiwanese conceptions of identity are likely to remain ingrained. How mainland China copes with Taiwan’s conceptions of identity and citizenship is likely to be an indication of how global citizenship in China is conceived on a grander scale. That is, Taiwanese perceptions of civic engagement are likely to remain forever distinct from the party line of the mainland. If Taiwan’s fate is that of independent nation or semi-autonomous territory of the mainland, similar to the “One country, two systems” model of modern Hong Kong, one presumes this would occur as the result of a progressive, flexible shift in the mainland towards citizenship conceptions on the global level.

As for Hong Kong, since its release from British control and integration into the Chinese political sphere, the ideological split between the mainland and Hong Kong has already induced the title of “One country, two systems.” The allowance of such a circumstance might suggest that Beijing is indeed capable of adopting some notion of global citizenship. Perceptions of a historical lack of political autonomy in Hong Kong, whether under Beijing or the British, suggest significant difficulty in producing a history curriculum from a local perspective (Vickers, 2002). Vickers’ study outlines the attempts of Hong Kong history curriculum developers to implement a local perspective despite political pressure from external forces. In doing so, “they have come under pressure to ensure that syllabuses conform to the ‘orthodox’ interpretation of Hong Kong’s identity and status sanctioned by Beijing” (Vickers, 2002, p.587). Although the Hong Kong-mainland China relationship may exist under the title of “One country, two systems” pressure from Beijing for Hong Kong educational authorities to conform to a particular identity suggests that the mainland is not comfortable with notions of flexible identity and dynamic citizenship. Like Taiwan, future negotiated intercourse in identity and citizenship between mainland China and Hong Kong may make enticing qualitative evidence of China’s capacity to implement global citizenship into its policy discourse. Beijing’s acceptance of the ideological range and active civic engagement of Hong Kong’s residents as an integral part of modern Chinese citizenship would present an optimistic vision of the future of global citizenship in China.

Nationalism and Global Citizenship in China’s Social Studies Curriculum

Cultural and political observers of developing China frequently cite a growing assertive nationalism. Despite the illusions of prospective global citizenship in globalization discourse, education policy goals concerning identity in China are built around Spring’s conception of an educational security state. Despite the liberalization of international education, policy objectives of cross-cultural interaction are less about global citizenship and more about global competitiveness and national strength. Under Spring’s educational security state, international education policy comprises a “know your enemy” rationale. The educational security state is prevalent in all education systems in the world, but as this chapter examines citizenship in China, that will be the focus. Lingard and Rizvi (2009) eloquently sum up the educational security state in international education by asserting, “the educational rationale underlying international education was largely concerned with the development of skills, attitudes, and knowledge, so that, upon their return, graduates could make a robust contribution to national development” (p.169). While international education has emerged as a requirement of developing societies, the exposure to alternative ideologies is often viewed as a threat to the state. As previously discussed, the aftermath of the 1989 incident in Tiananmen Square inspired a Patriotic Education Campaign designed to inoculate the masses from ideologies challenging the Party line and the accepted cultural narrative. Although media remains a highly effective means for constructing collective identity, education systems are perhaps the most explicit institutional means.

The construction of identity is assisted by numerous social factors in our lives; however, this section will consider the influence of social studies curriculum in modern China as a significant force in constructing Chinese identity and citizenship. Vickers (2009) has provided an illuminating analysis of the national social studies curriculum in China’s secondary school system. Titled “Thought and Politics” and consisting of four textbooks: Economic Life (jingji shenghuo), Political Life (zhengzhi shenghuo), Cultural Life (wenhua shenghuo), and Life and Philosophy (shenghuo yu zhexue), the standard secondary social studies course in mainland China provides the basis for an indoctrination of identity, nationalism, and citizenship in developing China. Due to the dissonance of China’s political ideology and its reform and neo-liberal development strategy, the “Thought and Politics” course highlights Castells (1997) three aspects of identity construction: project, resistance, and legitimization, in an effort to justify the neo-liberal development model while maintaining the illusion of socialism.

On project identity, Vickers argues that the “Thought and Politics” course explicitly “sells” the national development strategy as a collective effort to re-establish the Chinese state in its rightful place in the world order. While some scholars argue that global integration may open the door for the emergence of global citizenship, Vickers’ examination of Chinese social studies curriculum suggests China’s integration into the world economy is something of a “means to an end” where the development model in an exclusionary project for domestic citizenry. On resistance identity, Vickers analysis conjures the image of Chinese nationalism narrative as described by Gries (2005) victimization narrative. A curriculum of emphasis on the past transgressions of foreign entities upon China deflects domestic criticism of social, economic, and political problems and ensures a state of perpetual skepticism and resentment of alternative ideologies. Thus, a highly nationalistic narrative built around an anti-foreign discourse has emerged which protects the state, ensures enthusiastic participation in a collective project identity which re-positions China along ethno-centric lines, and limits the opportunity for the emergence of global citizenship. Finally, as an extension of the Patriotic Education Campaign, social studies curriculum actively seeks to legitimize the communist party leadership as the sole entity in civic engagement. Vickers asserts that modern curriculum exhibits a paradigm shift away from glorifying the contribution of the party in modern history to linking the party to past eras of greatness. In this way, the predominant role of the party over fringe territories and minorities is justified. Although this is largely a domestic citizenship issue, if we are to consider the possibility of global citizenship in China, the roots of such a phenomenon is likely to be found in active, liberal citizenship on the domestic level before it can shift to the global scale. Finally, the active legitimization of the party’s role in China’s development via social studies curriculum effectively handicaps the capacity for global citizenship in contemporary China.

Although the theoretical conceptions of global citizenship remain in flux and in a state of debate, the core attributes are likely to be built around the ideas of liberal democracy, human rights, freedom of the press and speech, and multiculturalism. These concepts highlight much of the contestation between China and the West. A simplified definition of global citizenship would imply that cross-cultural understanding comprises the rudimentary vision of global citizenship. However, the Western vision of global citizenship is bound to expand to the above mentioned attributes. Historical circumstances, collective memory, nationalistic narratives, resistance identity, and primordial conceptions of ethnic positioning in China as outlined in this chapter suggest that external attempts to convert China’s education policymakers to a global citizenship ideology it likely to be met with resistance. China’s reforms and development over the past thirty-five years could be argued as being premised on external economic ideologies. However, the frequent labeling of policy initiatives as being “X with Chinese characteristics” shows that mainland is wont to maintain a distinct semblance of autonomy in its domestic affairs despite the obvious external influences. Even if the attributes of the Western conception global citizenship is privately regarded as desirable within party circles, a historical legacy of colonialism, invasion, and exploitation suggest that efforts to convert China to an ethos of global citizenship will be met with resistance, perhaps out of mere spite. Jones (2002) has highlighted the conscious attempts of China’s education system to dissuade young people from adopting foreign ideologies despite China’s integration into the world economy. To prevent the adoption of “seditious” ideologies, such as political pluralism and regional independence, and to prevent “blind West-worshipping”, the central government “has called for intensified moral education (deyu) and the construction of ‘socialist spiritual civilization’ while making populist appeals to nationalist sentiment and launching sporadic campaigns against ‘spiritual pollution’” (p.547). As discussed earlier, the aftermath of the 1989 incident in Tiananmen Square provided the catalyst for a moral and ideological education focused on strengthening patriotism, faith in the Party, and cultural pride (ibid. p.559-560). While the West perceives notions of democracy, human rights, and peaceful evolution as key components of global citizenship, Jones contends that Chinese history education regards these concepts as “the sugar-coated bullets of ‘reactionary enemy forces’ conspiring to undermine China” (p.559-560). Clearly, proponents of global citizenship are facing an uphill climb if hoping to convert China’s educationalists to a doctrine of global citizenship. At worst, examination of social studies curriculum suggests evidence of Huntington’s clash of civilizations emerging.

Reasons for Optimism

Thus far, this examination of nationalism and identity in modern China paints a rather bleak picture of the capacity of global citizenship to emerge. Although party leaders and education policymakers seem to be constructing a culture of resistance to global citizenship, some evidence of flexible and active citizenship does exist, suggesting that global citizenship in China is not necessarily a lost cause. Although Zakaria (2009) has cited nationalism, censorship, intellectual property violations, support of world dictators, and clear anti-Japanese and anti-American sentiment as detriments to China’s global citizenship capacity, he also observes instances of openness and reform. For instance, Zakaria cites instances of Chinese scholars and students seeking political reform and studying the democratic processes of so-called rival states. Additionally, Zakaria highlights a recent mainland television series examined the development of history’s great powers with unusual respect and admiration for the openness and democratic processes of Western civilization. Although Jones (2002) presents a rather pessimistic view of curriculum reform in China’s social studies, she does acknowledge that “many people are wont to claim, ‘I love the country, but not the Party’ (ai guo bu ai dang), indicating that it is perfectly possible to be patriotic without supporting the regime or political system” (p.563). A recent study of Chinese students’ knowledge and perceptions of China and the U.S. revealed objective viewpoints of both. According to the study, Chinese students held extensive knowledge of U.S. history, geography, socioeconomic system, and education. Although they admired the U.S. socioeconomic and education system, they resented American hegemonic influence in world affairs and China’s domestic issues. In their perceptions of China, they expressed patriotic pride in China’s rapid development, but were concerned with education quality and economic inequality (Zhao, Zhou, & Huang, 2008). Finally, Guthie’s (2009) analysis of the effect of globalization on China revealed the emergence of a rational-legal system at the institutional level leading to a more active citizenship in Chinese society. Citing the recent implementation of laws related to labor, contracts, arbitration, property, and rural democracy, Guthrie suggests a modern China on its way to widespread democracy and active citizenship. Thus, there may be cause for some cautious optimism for the future of global citizenship in China; however, the realization of Chinese global citizenship education still requires a significant ideological shift at the policy level.


This chapter has examined nationalism and the potential for the implementation of global citizenship in modern China. Despite some optimistic evidence of an emerging framework of active domestic citizenship which could lay the foundation for a global turn, institutional barriers and the circumstances of China’s collective consciousness limit the capacity for a timely adoption of global citizenship principles. In the backdrop of a potential clash of civilizations, an educational security state has endorsed a nationalistic ideology into Chinese education systems designed to inoculate citizens from liberal and alternative ideologies despite the Chinese integration into the global economy and international education system. National education policy has helped to construct an identity of nationalism premised on a collective national project of resistance and legitimization. A collective memory and cultural narrative of victimization has created a culture of resistance against foreign ideals and justified an ideology of ethnic positioning. Although it could be argued that several nations are attempting to negotiate global citizenship under related circumstances, China’s rapidly increasing global influence suggest that the repercussions of its global citizenship negotiation will reverberate strongest throughout the world.

It is my hope that global citizenship in China is not wholly rejected on the premise it exhibits the Western notions of democracy and human rights which denote the contestations of China-Western relations. Given the collective memory of humiliation in Chinese society, one can understand the need to maintain autonomy and “development with Chinese characteristics.” Through critical examination of the possibilities and potential of global citizenship, it is my hope that the concept emerges in the minds of Chinese leadership as a practical and desirable trait for modern Chinese society. For Western observers of China, it must be accepted that historical implications will force an abandonment of the concept should global citizenship be perceived as an indoctrination of foreign ideals and an unwanted interference in China’s domestic affairs. The path to Chinese global citizenship is through exposure to the concept through international education and other aspects of globalization, followed by the internal negotiation of the meaning through Chinese policymakers and educationalists, and finally the independent implementation of core principles and variations in what might be called “global citizenship with Chinese characteristics.”


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