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Home  /  Inside China  /  Nationalism and Social Mobilization in 21st Century China – Does Capitalism Repress Unity?
Nationalism and Social Mobilization in 21st Century China – Does Capitalism Repress Unity? print version
Immense changes have taken place in the Chinese society throughout the Mao and Deng regimes up to present days, though in many domains the State in China is still quite effective in taking hold of the society and initiating behavior changes.
The revolutionary flavor of Mao's regime, along with its totalitarian features, made the Chinese society very 'moveable'. Though he wasn't an all-mighty emperor in many aspects, the incorporation of the masses in the political and economical transformation of China was a phenomenon which wasn't widespread in the imperial days, when local elite groups were very powerful.

Through yundong 运动 movements (运动=movement), the Communist Party initiated projects, that were publicized through the media, posters, work unites and more, which were very efficient in recruiting the society into a certain cause or activity (from eliminating sparrows as a part of the Four Pests Campaign (1960), home-production of steel during the Great Leap Forward and more). Not participating meant taking the risk of being informed on by neighbors, friends or work unit supervisors, but there was also a revolutionary nationalist spirit that pushed people forward into such activities.

Later on, as the open door reform broke loose, government supervision couldn't remain as efficient, though the leadership did remain, even if symbolically, in the driver's seat, stressing the importance of a more liberalized economy, consumption, entrepreneurship and so on. The One Child Policy is an example of the both the manner in which the state can penetrate into the society and the sharp transformation in the Chinese family structure, which is in accord with the national agenda of creating a more balanced and successful society.

Much is said about how the Chinese leadership nowadays is less totalitarian compared to 20-30 years ago. The political sphere is less a moral or ideology guide, as it was in the Mao years, and economic forces are the sea that moves the state boat, and not vice versa. Religions, tradition and money are all elements that fill in the ideological void, left since Deng opened the door and showed that even if the government is still powerful, political agendas don't necessary have to fill the hearts of the people.

It can be asked to which extent the new economic forces in fact suit patriotic-nationalist agendas and to which extent they are simply making the life of the individuals more hopeful. The government and the party obviously wish to appropriate any local success or overall economic improvement to their direct policies, but it is clear that such policies are sometimes very minimalistic. In some aspects, the young businessman that cares about one's own profit and has no deep political awareness is a much more desired product of the leadership than a patriotic idealist.

Still, the road between local economy and politics isn't completely a one way street. Furthermore, national sentiments are still widespread throughout the Chinese society, as well as the notion that the government should be followed as the guardian of such feelings. The fuel of wanting to become an improved nation, as China is going through a process of endless reforms, still promotes national unity and the desire that all components of the society should take part in this journey. It was interesting to see how the vast majority of China followed the 2008 Beijing Olympics with pride or how the entire society was aware of the 2010 Expo exhibition in Shanghai, even though it is an event that isn't appealing to the masses (are all Korean aware that the 2012 takes place in their country?).

Though China is far from being a 'green' nation, it is quite impressive how in recent years environmentalism is being put on the table and enters the head of every kid who attends school. Though the body is often stronger than the brain, it is also quite remarkable how many citizens, including elderly people, have refrained from spitting on the streets in since the last 3-4 years, as this conduct was criticized to some extent by the powerful people in Beijing.

Clearly maintaining a strong authoritarian potential enables the government to penetrate the society in certain moments and domains, though the society, with its sense of national aspirations, respecting of authority and the belief it is going through a continuous benefictory social change, is also preserving the yundong cooperation to some extent.

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