Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's not a 'bond', it's nationalism

I'm always surprised by how 'nationalism' does not feature in the North American vocabulary. It is as if the whole critical scholarship on nations and nationalism has been almost absent from the public discourse on this continent, maybe except references to Anderson's 'imagined community' (which I personally think are more a matter of being fashionable and quoting a popular author without really understanding where the author is coming from).

I read an article the other day on the Canadian Chinese diaspora's newly discovered bond with the former homeland. I'd like to challenge this title: it's not about 'fostering a bond' - it is all about plain and simple nationalism. In the article, a radio show host talks about how the Canadian Chinese audience is no longer willing to accept any criticism of China (and in particular things like human rights violation or censorship), accusing those who voice them of being traitors and diminishing the Chinese nation.

Mr. Kwan, who admits to a new-found sense of pride himself, said he worries the sentiments being expressed will be mistaken for "ugly Chinese nationalism" instead of shows of dignity and cultural pride.


I do understand that for some people there is a difference between 'ugly' nationalism (by which they generally refer to violent xenophobia) and patriotism. And I do understand that the latter can be a source of empowerment especially for those relegated to the periphery of the West (read Eastern Europe, 'Third World' countries etc.). But the only difference between the 'ugly' and the 'good' side of nationalism (yes, patriotism does count as nationalism - you are proud of your country, of its implied territorial boundaries, of its assumed common national values, ideas, sensibilities etc.) is the visible violence it may or may not entail.

As long as culture remains a political domain, as long as collective identities are the basis of ethnic politics, as long as we identify with an amorph and unknown mass of people called the 'nation' (with whom we share nothing in common, except we happen to inhabit a common state whose boundaries were arbitrarily drawn) - as long as these things are still there, in the background of feeling proud and feeling 'part of' the nation, then we remain nationalists. We are not 'open' and 'tolerant'. We see the others in terms of 'belonging to a particular group', on a particular territory. We defend our culture against the 'invasion' of the foreign elements (and I'm not saying here we should all accept cultural imperialism, quite on the contrary). We still remain subjugated by a national label which we have to carry with us like Sisif had to carry his stone.

2 comments:

Restructure said...

In the article, a radio show host talks about how the Canadian Chinese audience is no longer willing to accept any criticism of China (and in particular things like human rights violation or censorship), accusing those who voice them of being traitors and diminishing the Chinese nation.

This is a generalization from a radio host in a newspaper article. The editorial writer also interviews random Chinese Canadians and presents their views as representative of an entire group that has nothing in common except ethnicity.

Should you even be working from the assumption that a newspaper article is valid data?

The type of people of a given ethnicity who are regular listeners of ethnic community radio shows are not representative of the general demographic. It's not the case that most Chinese Canadians are the type of people who would listen to Chinese radio and join the Chinese Canadian National Council and other Chinese-specific groups. It is quite plausible that people who do this already have nationalistic tendencies. Also, recently, most Chinese immigrants to Canada are coming from the PRC, while in previous decades, most Chinese immigrants were of Hong Kong (pre-hand-back) origin.

thinkingdifference said...

definitely, that's a very good point about generalizations!

 
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