The Chinese Communist Party’s recent return to Chinese roots has brought about a new synthesis between political and cultural nationalism. China’s one-party state has not only moved away from its usual revolutionary style but it is also promoting Sino-centrism with uncharacteristic gusto. This shift has notable ramifications for China both domestically and internationally.
Chinese political nationalism, on the other hand, sought to reconstruct the political authority of the state and replace China’s cultural heritage with a new culture congenial to the state. It also served the purpose of nation building, state building or modernisation depending on the prevailing contemporary political ideology. Political nationalism dominated its much weaker opponent from the early 20th century to the late 1980s thanks to the popular belief that Chinese cultural traditions were responsible for the country’s backwardness and humiliation at the hands of Western powers.
But now, under President Xi Jinping, Chinese cultural nationalism has gained new prominence. In November 2013, he visited Qufu — the birthplace of Confucius — and the following year attended an official commemoration of the sage’s birthday. During the same period, the Ministry of Education released a set of guidelines on teaching traditional Chinese culture in educational institutions. Party officials are now required to attend ‘study sessions’ at Party Schools and State Administration Colleges. More recently, Xi has added ‘cultural confidence’ to the ‘three confidences’ that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wishes to boost, which include ‘ideological confidence’, ‘confidence in the [socialist] road’, and ‘confidence in the [socialist] system’.
This development is one manifestation of the party-state’s current movement away from Marxism and its long tradition of political nationalism. Since the reform era, the historical mission of the CCP has shifted from one of class struggle and continuous revolution to a focus on economic development, harmonious society and the ‘China dream’.
The CCP is no longer a ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ based on the alliance of the industrial proletariat and peasantry, as it is defined in the country’s constitution. Nor is it simply guided by Marxism–Leninism or Mao Zedong thought. In the new milieu, the CCP must be guided by traditional Chinese ideas, beliefs and visions. And, rather than relying on the economic performance of 1949–2013, the CCP’s legitimacy must now be derived from its conformity to traditional notions of good governance.This is huge. The European-inspired revolution is over. It has achieved its purpose, and now China can return to its business of being Chinese.
This portends to be a second "cultural revolution" but in a very different sense than the first one.
Whereas Marxism is incompatible with Western liberalism, it is not incongruent with Chinese culture, which is an amalgam of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. This is "socialism with Chinese characteristics."
Individualism is unknown in Chinese culture and expressions of it are looked down upon as adolescent. Chinese generally consider Western civilization adolescent in comparison with the antiquity of Chinese culture, and the US as childish in the pursuit of individualism. They regard Western technological superiority for the last 500 years as merely a historical blip that will eventually be reversed and "natural order" restored with China at the center of world civilization.
China is beginning to feel that it is coming into its own again. That will be a good thing — if China and the West (US) can avoid the Thyucides trap originally described by Graham T. Allison. But China regards itself as at least as exceptional as America.
The Western belief that China would Westernize and adopt Western liberalism after regime change is just wishful thinking.
East Asia Forum
The CCP returns to Chinese cultural roots