Is There a Growing Wave of Nationalism in China?

Is There a Growing Wave of Nationalism in China?
Feb 01, 2017 By Trey Archer ,

There is an indisputable trend of nationalism sweeping the world, as seen with Duterte, Trump, and Brexit. But somewhere that isn’t making the headlines as much is China. From harassing Olympians and nationalistic hip hop groups, to boycotting foreign brands and smashing iPhones, recent events may indicate that there is a growing wave of nationalism sweeping through the Middle Kingdom.

Before we get started, it’s best to define the differences between patriotism and nationalism. The Huffington Post states: “patriotism fundamentally means affection for one's country and willingness to defend it, nationalism is a more extreme, unforgiving form of allegiance to one's country. As opposed to patriotism, which involves social conditioning and personal opinion, nationalism involves national identity and the belief that one's nation and/or its government is supreme.”



There have been many instances of harassing and trolling on social media for those who say bad things about China and/or Chinese people. The Economist lists some of the most recent, high-profile incidents:

  • Lambasting French cosmetic giant Lancôme for sponsoring a Canto-pop star who participated in anti-Mainland protests in Hong Kong
  • Lashing out at Lady Gaga’s Instagram page for her meeting with the Dalai Lama
  • Flooding the social media accounts of Olympian swimmer Mack Horton after he criticized a Chinese athlete
  • Verbal assaults on Tsai Ing-wen’s social media accounts after she was elected President of Taiwan because of her pro-independence stance

The Economist stated that these digital trolls are known as “little pinks” (小粉红). According to the source, the “Communist Youth League praised the online mobs as female nationalists.” Luckily the members of this little pink gang aren’t violent and often just post “silly” pictures to make a statement. However, this is a concern that this group could become more radicalized in the future.


In an article by Forbes titled “Will Growing Nationalism Kill Foreign Brands in China?”, the contributor points out that there were intentions to boycott foreign businesses after The Hague ruled against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. After the ruling, there were calls to boycott US-based companies like Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, and Apple, since the Americans were viewed as taking an anti-China stance. In fact, many Chinese even began smashing their iPhones to pieces to protest against the USA, while Hangzhou Bina Industrial Technology Company declared that employees would be fired if they purchased the new iPhone 7.

The US isn’t the only culprit. The same Forbes article showed that there were dozens of protests throughout China after The Hague verdict not only against the US, but also the Philippines and Japan as well. In fact, “a survey by showed that 40 percent of 144,000 respondents supported these demonstrations.”

However, there is always two sides to every story. I remember walking around Shanghai the days after the international court’s decision and noticing that life was quite normal at KFC, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. When I asked my Chinese colleague what she thought about The Hague announcement, she answered “I don’t care” while texting on her bright and shiny new iPhone.

Main Stream

CD Rev, a young hip-hop group from the mean streets of Chengdu, further illustrates this growing sentiment of nationalism. Time reported on CD Rev, and even has one of their music videos in case you’re interested in listening to a really bad rap song. The group spits nationalistic lyrics such as “Tell Uncle Sam the red king’s coming back!”, and brags about the greatness of being able to pay with mobile phones, and (of course) repoints to the fact that China has 5,000 years of history. In a bit of irony, the rap group was inspired by the US greats of NWA, and has a flare of US street style with hoodies and backward hats. They even have English nicknames like Chuckie and Pissy.

Nationalism is even seeping into schools. The BBC reports that Chinese universities must “shun” Western values, highlighting the government’s hand in promoting nationalism. As seen on the Shanghaiist, “China's top legislature [in November 2016] passed a revised law that bans for-profit private primary schools and junior high schools from operating in the country,” another move pointing the government’s plans to undermine Western style education in favor of a Chinese version. Previously, private schools were allowed to teach any curriculum they wished.

Continuing, I asked a teacher friend of mine about his thoughts on China’s youth. He stated that there is “undoubtedly a wave of nationalism with teenagers.” He continued saying, “it’s to the point where you can’t even begin to say anything negative about the country, because the kids will get mad at you. My older students are much more open to discussing both the pros and cons of their country, but it’s the younger generation who really seem to be radicalized.”

At the end of the day…

The Chinese nowadays are generally much more open and knowledgeable about the world than they used to be. Could it be that the wide use of social media and internet make the transmission of news and information easier, amplifying the small minority of anti-foreigner sentiment in the country? Possibly.

But on a personal note, I may agree with my teacher friend. After living here for nine years, my overall experience has been great. But unfortunately, I just don’t think that China feels the same way about me. In my own personal opinion, I feel less welcomed than I did in 2008, and believe that this anti-foreign sentiment is growing year after year.

So is China becoming more nationalistic? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section.

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Keywords: Nationalism in China Chinese nationalism


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unfortunately yes

Feb 20, 2017 17:31 Report Abuse



This is more like conforming the the CPS than it is nationalism. Everybody loves their own country. People want to protect their traditions. I don't see much difference between Nationalism in China over North America. What I read here is mostly the CPC trying to maintain control by telling the people what kind of music to listen to and what to wear.

Feb 13, 2017 01:55 Report Abuse



I see a difference - one can love one's country, but be really angry about the government. That's not something that seems to be well understood here. Also, one of the first examples was about the Olympic swimmer who was called a cheat... in most other countries of the world, it wouldn't be taken as an attack on the country as a whole - but only on the individual.

Mar 01, 2017 13:15 Report Abuse



nationalism is growing everywhere, more big is the gap between rich and pour countries, and more rich individuals we have, more nationalism we will see.

Feb 11, 2017 09:10 Report Abuse



I have lived in Shenzhen for 8 years, I still feel totally welcomed and at peace with people here, it's almost like family anywhere I go, I run into so many people I know all the time. These are very nice people and I know they have a temper, but 90% of the time they solve big temper issues with a simple statement "sorry". So I don't feel any negativity from Chinese, never have, so feel this post might be written by someone who can't control their emotions in China to adjust to the style & rhythm here.

Feb 02, 2017 22:51 Report Abuse



Dude... it was about nationalism and patriotism... not about rudeness, or attacking people.

Mar 01, 2017 13:13 Report Abuse



Of course it is, it's mostly the men though, women anywhere in the world tend to be more liberal, China is no exception. Also the ongoing gender gap isn't helping with millions of men unable to find a woman, there is bound to be a lot of envy and hostility when they see Foreigners with hot Chinese girls. Other existing problems such as stagnating wages, broken social elevator, overpriced real estate and rising cost of living are making people dissatisfied with their life and angry. The fact is, none of these problems are the fault of Foreigners at all, China's worst enemy are Chinese themselves with all their greed and shortsightedness, but China has a long history of willingly being blind to the true roots of problems and trying to deflect blame on outsiders until it becomes obvious that they targeted the wrong people all along and everything comes back to hit them in the face before crashing down in a bloody civil war, many times in history. History repeating itself.

Feb 02, 2017 19:38 Report Abuse



I'm an American, so can I ask what about the fault of my people? Why do they shoot and kill, rape, give drugs to kids and parents, why do we let illegals in, why do we use English is "totally uncool way dude?" So why China you say China is its own worst enemy than don't forget we are guilty too! I personally love the fact that China hasn't made "personality fools" out of them selves yet, I'm so happy to haven't seen a stupid fool sag their pants with shot of their underwear. So while China is still developing don't forget your country also has its own worst enemy too. Give China a break.

Feb 02, 2017 22:59 Report Abuse



Guest - "I'm an American".... did you tell the CCP that you've changed citizenship, and handed back your Chinese passport?

Mar 01, 2017 13:11 Report Abuse



the problem with nationalism is you have to have a nation to be proud of to even start the trend. I have found nothing in China to be proud of, overcrowding tourists sites, lousy schools, sup par infrastructure quality, when all you have is 5000 year history, its a lost argument, perhaps the egyptians say the same thing. Maybe the whole world should have copied the pyramids and everyone would be great.

Feb 01, 2017 15:46 Report Abuse



What's funny about the whole "5000 years" claim... is that it's a myth, based on a dynasty that THERE IS NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE OF. Archaeologically, its more like 3400 years.

Feb 02, 2017 07:37 Report Abuse



The story goes as they used to claim 3000 years in total. When Jiang Zemin visited Egypt in the late 90s he realized that they have 4000 years of proven history over there. That's when they came up with 5000 years, because China MUST have the longest history.

Feb 02, 2017 19:10 Report Abuse



Really: good example of Nationalism: Donald

Feb 01, 2017 10:17 Report Abuse