Nationalist sentiments falling since 2009: Study

SHANGHAI • Analyses of Chinese public opinion suggest nationalist rhetoric has only limited appeal among today's more educated and informed Chinese citizens, while stability-obsessed authorities are wary of stoking nativist flames that could burn the ruling party itself.

After peaking with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, nationalist sentiments have actually declined, according to a study of Chinese opinion surveys by Harvard University academic Alastair Johnston.

"On a number of measures, levels of Chinese nationalism have stagnated or dropped since around 2009," said the study released this year. "Moreover, it is clear that younger respondents are less nationalistic than older ones."

Since launching economic reforms four decades ago, the Chinese Communist Party has occasionally leaned towards nationalism to fill the ideology vacuum, especially in times of trouble, such as the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Chinese territorial claims and a border standoff with India recently have added to "rising nationalism".

Yet China "recognises the double-edged nature of nationalism and tries to keep it in check", said Mr Kaiser Kuo, who hosts the Sinica Podcast on

After an international tribunal ruled against Chinese claims to the South China Sea last year, demonstrators who blamed Washington protested at KFC restaurants in several cities. That sparked an online public backlash against "irrational patriotism", and state media outlets also told protesters to pack it in.

Says Mr Kuo: "Surely most millennials recognise that (China's) prosperity resulted from its engagement with and participation in global systems, and... from repudiation - not embrace - of traditionalism and rigid ideology."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Nationalist sentiments falling since 2009: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe