The National Fetish

Even the CPC anniversary, which in strictly ideological terms might be a celebration of world revolution, is all about an obsession with state building. Despite a lot of very public lip service to Marxist theory, the CPC and Xi Jinping fully embrace the concept of the nation-state. No other Western ideological import can possibly compete with the extent to which the nation-state is fetishized by China’s leaders. I mean a serious fetish. The kind of fetish where, if the nation-state were an actual physical entity, the CPC Standing Committee might swaddle it in full-body saran wrap and take turns running train on the nation-state while wearing rubber gloves and an assortment of Peng Liyuan’s unmentionables. It’s that sort of obsession.

The problem is that idealizing the nation-state often leads to suspicions about folks who think globally. There has long existed a tension between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, especially in China. During May Fourth/New Culture Era (roughly from 1915-1919) the eclecticism and iconoclastic tendencies of students and scholars eventually gave way, following the debacle of the Paris Peace Conference and the May Fourth demonstrations of 1919, to nationalism. The Patriotic Education Curriculum, which began in earnest in the mid-1990s, was intended not only to bolster an appreciation for the Party and the state but also to refocus students’ attention away from international ideas and the possibility that some values might transcend the nation.