2005 Student-Faculty Fellows: Dickinson College
China: Everyday Notions of Patriotism
Mentor: Neil J. Diamant, Asian Studies/Political Science
Students: Alexander Becket, Amy Eardley, ’08; Abhishek Kedia, ’07; Sarah Loudon, ’08; Katherine Paul; Caitlin Steirman, ’08
Neil J. Diamant
This three-week research trip to China was very beneficial to my on-going research on “everyday notions” of patriotism in China. The many meetings we had with students of different age levels (including a school for migrants, a middle school, two universities and graduate students) provided me with a much clearer sense of the extent to which official understandings of patriotism have been inculcated among the Chinese youth and the different ways patriotism is understood and manifested in ordinary life. Most elite students tended to emphasize anti-Japanese or anti-American sentiments, at least in their rhetoric, but virtually none were willing to support a boycott or turn down an opportunity to study in the United States. Poorer students, on the other hand, appeared to be more concerned with social welfare as a manifestation of patriotism. Military service, so important in US history as a “marker” of patriotic commitment, was not even mentioned.
In terms of pedagogy, this trip reminded me of just how important it is to “disagreggate” Chinese society. Even though many students tended to parrot the “party line” about a host of topics, there were disagreements among them, whether owing to their parents’ influence and experiences and/or their socioeconomic class. The trip also reinforced the importance of teaching research methodology to undergraduate students. Because our research was largely confined to students in cities, my students now realize that we cannot generalize about how “the Chinese” understand patriotism. As a result of this trip students have become more aware of the possibilities of on-site fieldwork-they did learn things they did not know before-as well as the difficulty of collecting data when researching a sensitive topic in a relatively restrictive environment.
What struck me the most during our stay in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Beijing was the amazing amiability of the Chinese people. I am not sure if the attitude of the Chinese resulted from our out-of-place looks, but I personally did not encounter one surly or rude Chinese in our entire three weeks in China. Ironically enough, my most frustrating moments came while conversing with our pre-selected student panels at the different schools we visited. They seemed to be so stuck in their ways and defense of China. I attribute my frustration with what the students were saying to the fact that they were being supervised.
My research topic was the opinion of the Chinese people concerning table tennis players who have left China to compete for other countries. Usually these players are sent away with the blessing of the Chinese government and the Chinese people; however, an interesting situation arises occasionally. What happens when these players, who are not the best players in China, meet the Chinese team in an international competition? Are they patriotic if they compete, and perhaps beat the players on the Chinese team? In our student panels I brought up my research topic several times. Each group of students gave me different answers and brought up different points. While speaking with ten undergraduate girls who attend the University of Shanghai and were also, interestingly, all economics majors, we discussed the propagation of table tennis throughout the world. The girls seemed very intent on discussing how it’s important to spread the sport around the world. They applauded the Chinese players’ defection to other countries because it benefits the sport as a whole. Graduate students at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences expressed the opinion that the Olympic stars are patriots, solely because of the fact that they represent China to the rest of the world. It matters not if they win or lose, merely showing up is an honor. Overall, the opinions of the Chinese had a more individualistic tone than I had expected.
After having the unique opportunity to travel to China to research patriotism, I now know more about Chinese history and culture than I could have ever absorbed from a classroom setting here in the United States. During our trip my fellow American students and I traveled to four cities and visited several schools, including graduate schools, a high school, and a school specializing in international relations. I very much enjoyed having the chance to converse with Chinese students, not only about my research topic but also about their everyday lives, customs, and current political issues involving the United States and China. Although my trip abroad was only a short three weeks, it has convinced me of the necessity of submerging oneself in another’s homeland to successfully obtain a profound understanding of that culture and its people. Whereas before my trip I simply thought of “Red China” as a distant nation about which I knew very little, I now think of the wonderful sights, experiences, and, most importantly, the people I met in China. I feel it is vital for countries to form ties built upon individual relationships, such as the ones formed between my group and the students from the Shanghai Academy of the Social Sciences, so that foreign nations seek to respect and understand each other before broaching their differences. In the future I plan to use what I gained from my experiences in China to assist the US government in its foreign policy negotiations by encouraging leaders worldwide to recognize a country’s culture, customs, and citizens in addition to its system of government.
I explored how economical changes have influenced patriotic sentiment in China and the role of economic patriotism among the members of China’s starkly contrasting socioeconomic groups. I also compared the patriotic sentiment of the wealthier, more educated Chinese with that of the less educated peasants, and the influence the country’s divergent views of its economy and national pride have had on the relations between the socioeconomic classes. When I asked the students of graduate schools and universities what they, specifically, considered to be “patriotic,” the students explained that building and developing China, building China’s economy, gaining the respect of other countries, attracting foreign investment, and working to make China richer and stronger were all patriotic actions of the highly educated Chinese. While upper level Chinese students and intellectuals embrace this sense of economic patriotism, such notions are clearly not shared by those who have not benefited from a higher education. Therefore, poorer Chinese prove their patriotism by making smaller contributions to society, such as building infrastructure, hanging pictures of Chinese leaders in their homes, serving in the army, refraining from committing crimes, striving to give their children a better education, and improving Chinese society by being good neighbors and loving their country and its people. While the more educated Chinese have diverse opinions of their poor countrymen, the lesser educated in Chinese society tend to view the upper class in a negative light. Nevertheless, the lesser educated Chinese acknowledge the pride the educated have brought to China via its booming economy, and poor schoolchildren cling to the hope that through hard work and dedication they, too, can one day be a part of the educated elite.
China is a nation riding on a cheetah’s back with growth rates of about 10% per annum. It is moving towards becoming a superpower and has enormous potential. It is becoming a service-oriented economy like other developed economies and attracting people from all over the world. It is not only a hot place for businesses but also a popular tourist destination for global activities. All this makes one want to visit China; however, the problem of not knowing Chinese often makes one rethink this possibility. Language poses a substantial barrier for many activities, but significant effort is being made in both directions. The younger generation is eager to learn English while many students all over the world are studying Chinese. China is no longer a third world economy and has good infrastructure. Education all over the country has been enhanced. The technological progress in China has had an enormous – and beneficial – impact on the nation. Thus, China’s growth and promising future is a wake up call for other developing and underdeveloped countries.
China is a fast moving economy and has enormous hunger for growth. As globalization makes nations interdependent and interconnected, sometimes nations cross cultural boundaries and adapt to new cultures. Development in China has brought Western attributes into the nation including Western business techniques, multinational corporations and people from all over the world. The co-mingling of cultures at times brings about changes in national sentiments. This happens everywhere, and China is no exception. China’s rich heritage is treasured by its people and has instilled into them patriotic feelings. However, the functioning of a market economy is having an impact and making people more individualistic and self-centered. Overall, China is a nation where the strong history and the highly influential culture have a deep impact on people’s thinking and makes them love their country.
Despite the thousands of miles and distinctive cultures that separate China and the United States, there are some clear similarities between us. Almost everyone in both worlds, as a child, learns to sing their respective national anthem and understand the symbolism of their flag, and for the most part, people respectfully stand when the anthem is played or the flag is raised. During my stay in China, I was able to visit a small school for migrant workers’ children. In one classroom filled with a range of students, the topic of music was introduced, and within a few minutes’ time, the children sang both their national anthem and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with equal gusto and ease.
I found my research on Chinese patriotic music and art to be very bipolar. On one hand, art and music are some of the only true manifestations of culture and of the sentiments of various movements and generations that transcend time and language barriers, making my research possibilities limitless. On the other hand, music and art are created to provoke a personal reaction in an audience, something that would require significant surveying, thus making it very difficult to collect substantial data across a language barrier in such a short amount of time. I came to realize that Chinese patriotic music and art, in particular, are more like calculated, passive, but very powerful propaganda tools currently used extensively by the Communist Party. While you cannot force someone to be moved by a particular work, society, with the help of the Party, has engrained certain patriotic values and habits into the Chinese people.
With all of these elements to consider, I was able to conduct my research by citing trends in the patriotic sculptures and works of art and analyzing the lyrics and melodies of songs that are widely accepted to be patriotic. Throughout my research, it was fascinating to see how the patriotic music, posters, statues, and paintings that people may not even notice most of the time have such a passive but profound influence on Chinese society. All it took was a song to revolutionize people’s perception of the Great Wall from a symbol of tyranny to one of strength and unity for China. While the Chinese people may not question the patriotic sentiments that are evoked by these works, it is clear that patriotic music and art are powerful tools for enacting change.
The opportunity to travel in China and conduct research influenced my life in several ways. I was exposed to a culture dramatically different from my own, which has inspired me to seek out future opportunities of this nature. Most immediately, I am now planning on spending five months in Cameroon in the spring of 2007, something I had neither the intention nor interest in doing until I went to China. I have also developed and adjusted my career goals. Although I still intend to major in psychology, I now know that I would like to study the effect of culture on personality and development, whereas before my interest was general and undefined. This time in China was critical in the development of my intentions for the future, as well as of my world view. I am now more internationally aware, and will use this newfound awareness throughout my life.
While in China, I researched the emotional responses, if any, that people had while visiting the national monuments of their country. These included the Marco Polo Bridge, the Great Wall, the Old Summer Palace, and the site of the Nanjing Massacre. My curiosity in researching this topic was centered on whether or not these sites created stronger feelings of patriotism. I predicted that the responses of those interviewed would be relatively similar, regardless of the memorial or site in question. Through the interviews, this prediction was proven untrue, as the responses about the Great Wall were dissimilar from the responses about the other memorials. The majority of the reasons for visiting a particular site were related to its significance in China’s history, whereas at the Great Wall, the majority of the respondents had come for the beauty of the views. In the future, I hope to continue my research by studying American memorials and the emotions linked to them, thus enabling me to begin drawing comparisons between the two countries in this area.
I was taken by the novelty of being in China and struck by the differences I encountered daily. At a migrant school outside Shanghai I saw children in an environment I could never have imagined. I had the opportunity to speak with my Chinese peers and pose questions about their hopes and ideas. This trip opened my eyes to the academic opportunity of studying China and creating a distinctive path in which to construct my undergraduate work. However, this experience promoted much more than that. As I was given the occasion to travel to a once obscure and unknown place, I came to contemplate my individual role in the world. I found the importance of exploring something that is uncommon and taking chances that have limitless rewards. I witnessed the force of people from diverse lives coming together to communicate; the simplicity of these exchanges were rousing and their power was enduring. China instantly bombarded my senses with new sights, smells and sounds. My curiosity awoke for a nation that had remained vague and mysterious to me throughout my education. This foreign land was novel to me and I reveled in the excitement of discovering it. I imagine that few experiences will ever have such an impact on me.
My research on the roots of patriotism in China demanded a combination of oral and historical data. Patriotic education is the means by which people establish their patriotic sentiments and learn the rituals and philosophies that sustain their nationalism. For the people of China, these notions of loyalty and country are unwavering. However, they are extremely personal and abstract beliefs that remain difficult to generalize. As I read books, spoke with students and visited patriotic sites there was no unambiguous message regarding patriotic education. It became clear that the Chinese national government, directly aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, aimed to depict its past in a specific light in order to maintain, and further establish, a sense of ultimate devotion to China. Controversial historical facts were presented with only one side of the argument and patriotism made its way into Chinese classrooms when students were vulnerable and trusting. Ideas of wholehearted loyalty reside deep in the hearts and minds of Chinese students, but their ability to slowly fathom bias seems to be developing. Patriotic education is an active and thriving occurrence in Chinese classrooms, family settings, societal rituals and civic displays. Chinese people learn and value these sentiments throughout their life.