The Roots of Chinese/Japanese Rivalry

Much like in Germany in the 1840’s, when appeals to private enterprise converted the entire middle class to nationalism, China’s capitalist restoration has awakened mass nationalism. Hundreds of millions now see themselves as sharing in the nation’s dignity, and are eager both to contribute to it and to defend it from insult.

BOSTON – The anti-Japan protests that continue to roil China are just another indication of the rise of a potent Chinese nationalism. After a century slowly fomenting among Chinese intellectuals, national sentiment has captured and redefined the consciousness of the Chinese people during the last two decades of China’s economic boom. This mass national consciousness launched the Chinese colossus into global competition to achieve an international status commensurate with the country’s vast capacities and the Chinese people’s conception of their country’s rightful place in the world.

Rapidly, visibly, and inevitably, China has risen. Indeed, our era will likely be remembered as the time when a new global order, with China at the helm, was born.

Competitive national consciousness – the consciousness that one’s individual dignity is inseparably tied to the prestige of one’s “people” – worked its way into the minds of China’s best and brightest between 1895 and 1905. In 1895, China was defeated by Japan, a tiny aggressor whom the Chinese dismissively called wa (the dwarf). China was already accustomed to rapacious Western powers squabbling over its riches, but had remained self-confident in the knowledge of these powers’ irrelevance. However, the assault from Japan, a speck of dust in its own backyard, shattered this self-assurance and was experienced as a shocking and intolerable humiliation.

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