I think it would be difficult to suggest that the whole of China has the exact same views, for example, I travelled to three different cities in China and they were all different when it comes to ‘China’s self-image and patriotism’. For example, I noticed the sense of patriotism to be significantly stronger than Hong Kong, a part of China that was only recently part of the British Empire. Plus you also have to take into account that I, myself, am British, and it is my belief that, where I am from, the percentage of people that are considerably patriotic is noticeably lower than the USA for example. Within the United States it is difficult to travel through a village or town without seeing the American flag hanging in pride from someone’s window or garden, however, this is not as commonly seen within the United Kingdom. The reason I mention my own countries patriotic levels is because we always compare one country to our own, and so, for me, China tends to appear substantially patriotic, however, someone from America may only state that China is fairly patriotic. I can simply state what I observed from my time being there and allow these experiences to be interpreted in whichever form is deemed necessary.
I shall begin with Beijing, where my journey began, and the capital of China. If you think about London, and the amount of flags and cheap ‘I (heart) London’ articles there are, you can imagine Beijing to be the Chinese equivalent. I will begin with the influence of the media. On the television during adverts I noticed an advert in which a song is sung by charming young Chinese children that was played quite frequently. I later learned, through research, that the song is called ‘I love Beijing’s Tiananmen’. In this advert (which wasn’t advertising anything in particular) the great Tiananmen Square was shown along with the Forbidden City and the picture of Chairman Mao.
I will point out, whilst on the topic of Tiananmen Square, there are only a few people that know about the protesting that happened in Tiananmen Square. Information cannot be found on the internet with websites saying that they cannot be connected to at this time, almost as if the government doesn’t want the general public to know that they are purposely blocking certain websites. I would suggest that they refuse to mention this incident, as it would damage their self-image of being a proud and controlled nation.
Referring back to the media, I’m guessing that the song on the television was quite a well-known song in Beijing, and maybe most of China; however, it also shows how the importance of patriotism is generally pressured onto children. I also noticed this strong feeling of self-pride, in reference to their country, within some of the children when teaching.
Another ‘image’, or ‘images’, of China that I noticed during my travels, mainly but not exclusively in Beijing, were pictures of Mao. The most prominent being the one on the wall of the Forbidden City that I mentioned previously. However, if you found yourself in a market you would easily find plenty of paraphernalia surrounding Mao, be it posters or even badges. Mao Zedong, or often referred to as Chairman Mao played a very large part in the Chinese Communist Party and being the founding father of the People’s Republic of China; it is no surprise that his pictures are in quite a few places.
Another symbol, related to Mao, is the communist symbol. I noticed this in many places in Beijing, but also in a lot of places in Xuzhou, the city in which I taught.
I will point out, however, that this year (2011) was the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, so it would be understandable for there to be considerably more symbols scattered around China than there would be normally. I did also notice the symbol on the television a lot, on what I assume was the Chinese news. I personally would suggest that this is China being fairly patriotic; as it’s not very often you see the British flag or any other symbol floating around on the television.
In contrast, Xuzhou was not as overwhelmingly patriotic, however, more so than the average city in England. There were still communist symbols dotted around in places; furthermore you would still easily be able to find some sort of Mao memorabilia in a marketplace. Having focused primarily on patriotism within this paper, I will take time now to also mention China’s ‘self-image’. Not only was I able to see the ‘self-image’ of the general working-class, but also from the children’s perspectives of those that I taught.
I was able to learn from a visit to a museum with the children in Xuzhou that the government has a very strong influence on what the Chinese population can know. For example, this museum was based on the civil war, between Taiwan and mainland China. Looking at the ‘facts’ stated it was clear to see that the history was retold from a very one-sided point of view. I don’t know if this was to simply deter the population from the real facts, or simply because they were proud they wanted to exaggerate what happened. Either way, the children appeared to be very impressed. I also noticed at one point that the children were re-enacting fighting with guns, and when I discussed this topic with them I learned that a lot of them would be willing to join the army and fight for their country. I’m assuming this type of belief must have been put onto them via their parents or through other influences. All I can assume is that their self-image of China is that China is a country to be very proud of. I didn’t see any strong attitudes suggesting “China is the best” or other extreme beliefs, however, as most of the children I taught wanted to travel and see England, thinking that England would be amazing to see.
Finally, there is the other end of the spectrum: Hong Kong. Whilst here, I noticed no references to Mao, or and communist symbols at all. They also use the Hong Kong Dollar more so than the RMB, showing that they are almost still trying to separate themselves from China. They also have a different view of foreigners, in both Beijing and Xuzhou I was stared at as if I had green skin and one eye, however, in Hong Kong; no one seemed to bat an eyelid. Hong Kong seemed to be a lot more relaxed than the rest of China when it comes to ‘self-image’ and ‘patriotism’, and this is probably due to the British influences.
To conclude, depending on where you are in China there may be more or less observations of both self-image and patriotism. In my opinion, however, China is very patriotic, and people generally seem to have a high self-image of their country, regardless of what other countries may think about them and the way their country is ran.
By Amelia Lane (worked in Xuzhou, summer 2011)