Jie Li
1PhD in History at the University of Edinburgh in 2017 3 Floor, 21 Ferry Street, Yau Ma Tei, Jordan, Kowloon, Hong Kong jielican2009@hotmail.com
Kitaêznavčì doslìdžennâ 2021, 3:60-82
https://doi.org/10.51198/chinesest2021.03.060
Section: History, Philosophy, Science and Culture of China
Language: English
Abstract: 

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 has had a profound impact on China’s nationality politics. In the 1990s, Chinese scholars reviewed extensively on the intrinsic problems of Soviet federal system, which was deemed as one of the fundamental agents in triggering the downfall. They argued strongly that federalism was not feasible for China and discussed on how to dilute its influence on the country in the future. Moreover, the concept of zhonghua minzu (the Chinese nation) coined by Chinese anthropologist Fei Xiaotong in 1988 was also introduced to the 1990s Chinese debate. Chinese scholars argued, while the Soviet style of federalism contributing to lax national cohesion, the notion of the Chinese nation could provide fresh impetus in strengthening the Chinese common national identity and maintaining state unity, against the negative repercussions of the demise of the Soviet empire. The 1990s Chinese discussions on Soviet federal system and its consequences could be summarized as the following points: federalism might awaken and strengthen ethnic national identities, which pose a danger to state unity; federalism is a product of Western democracy, and it requires certain power sharing with local regions, which might weaken the central control; federal design is not in compatible with Chinese tradition of state supremacy and grand unification; the lesson of the collapse of Soviet federal system for China is that only a strong central authority like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could have the capacity to maintain state unity and sovereignty. Moreover, the Chinese debate on the concept of the Chinese nation was not only about how to strengthen national cohesiveness against the negative precedent of the Soviet collapse. The debate was followed by some CCP-sanctioned state manoeuvres in the 1990s, such as promoting and unifying the use of Mandarin language in China and intensifying the patriotic education, thus reinforcing the national identity of being Chinese among various ethnic groups. Moreover, the goal of those scholarly writings and official initiatives aimed to make Chinese people recognize that the socialist path and one-party rule are the common destinies of the country, and only those could build and ensure national cohesiveness. Those scholarly writings aimed to convince Chinese people that socialism and one–party rule were the common destinies of the country, and only those could ensure national cohesiveness. They made the communist regime the representative of China’s national interests and thus justified its dictatorship in China. The article will not only analyse the Chinese post–mortem on Soviet nationality politics, but also study the interplay of scholarly writings and political decision making on China’s nationality issues, and answer the question of what China learned from the Soviet experience and how it changed its national politics to adapt to the post–communist world.

Keywords: autonomy, China, communism, ethnic minorities, federalism, independence, nationalities, the Chinese nation, the Soviet Union

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