Dissertation Abstracts

Nationalism among university students in contemporary China

Author: Liqing Li, llq-work@outlook.com
Department: SPAIS
University: University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Dr Jon Fox & Professor Jeffrey Henderson
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: national identity , banal nationalism , Chinese nation(ism) , national habitus
Areas of Research: Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Migration , Political Sociology


This study set out to explore nationalism among university students in contemporary China against the background of alleged rising nationalism in China in general, and two contradictory or even polarized portrayals of student nationalism identified in the existing literature in particular. While some have suggested a nationalistic outlook among students, others have provided evidence of the opposite, depicting students being more concerned with their own well-being driven by individualism, pragmatism and materialism. Employing a mixed-method of small-scale self-completion questionnaire survey and 52 in-depth face-to-face interviews with elite university students, this study generated data of both outlooks among students. In order to make sense of the two seemingly contradictory outlooks among students, this study – by engaging with the literature of ‘hot’ and ‘banal’ nationalism and with insights drawn from broad social theories – developed an analytical framework of an unselfconscious ‘hot’ nationalism, against which the seemingly contradictory outlooks among students was analyzed, comprehended and interpreted. On the one hand, because the seemingly ‘hot’ nationalism is unselfconscious, it does not entail self-conscious engagement / commitment, which explains students being more involved in their own well-being. On the other hand, because the unselfconscious ‘hot’ nationalism, as part of taken-for-granted national habitual thinking, is engrained in students as second nature, it equally involves commitment / engagement but in an unselfconscious way. This provides explanations to the mobilizations of students for collective actions from time to time. This major finding problematizes the popular connotation of ‘hot’ and ‘banal’ nationalism, from which the analytical framework developed in this study was stemmed. It shows that the usual understanding of ‘hot’ nationalism perceived to be intertwined with self-conscious engagement / commitment is problematic in the Chinese context. Considered conversely, it also suggests that not all unselfconscious reproduction of the nation is ‘banal’ nationalism. Therefore, to avoid misinterpretation or over-exaggeration, it is important that analysis of nationalism should consider critically the usual assumptions people make about nationalism in general and ‘hot’ nationalism in particular; and take into account how seemingly ‘hot’ nationalistic expressions are played out particularly in an authoritarian country like China rather than taking them for granted and assuming the party involved in them are self-consciously committed ‘hot’ nationalists who seriously engage themselves with the nation.

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