Chinese Higher Education: Growing Nationalism

They argued that it is only natural for one to be loyal to the family, even if the family is not perfect. Furthermore, just as its members’ interests are closely tied to the family flourishing, one’s own fate will be definitely affected by the nation’s development. This kind of loyalty to one’s country constitutes what Fong (2004) refers to as ‘filial nationalism’ found among Chinese young people. – Fengshu Liu[1] 


Chinese Student Activism

Learning to Read and Write (1949)

Artist: Shu, Deng – property of Flaten Art Museum of St. Olaf College

This wood block, Learning to Read and Write, demonstrates how even at the beginning of the People’s Republic of China, there was a belief that education fostered political action. For example, the little boy writes “live live Chairman Mao” on the blackboard.

Learning to Read and Write (1949)
Tienanmen Square, Beijing, May 1989
Tienanmen Square, Beijing, May 1989

Negatives in the collection of Robert Croma


Tienanmen Square, Beijing, May 1989
Chinese Students Protesting in Favor of the Olympic Torch in 2008
Chinese Students Protesting in Favor of the Olympic Torch in 2008

Attribution: Benlisquare at en.wikipedia


Chinese Students Protesting in Favor of the Olympic Torch in 2008
Anti-Japanese protest in front of Japanese Embassy in Beijing (Photo taken by VOA reporter)
Anti-Japanese protest in front of Japanese Embassy in Beijing (Photo taken by VOA reporter)

The center sign exclaims “1.3 billion Chinese smash little Japan”


Anti-Japanese protest in front of Japanese Embassy in Beijing (Photo taken by VOA reporter)


The highly educated youth of China display a strong form of nationalism which will hinder the integration of the Asian region in 2014. The nearly 24 million students currently in higher education programs in China and the many more recently educated graduates are the future leaders of China and the world economy as China continues its astronomic economic rise.[2]  Also, while on your Term in Asia, you will spend a lot of time living along side Chinese students,. Thus, the importance to understand and respect their cultural, social, and political beliefs will be evident at every moment. The students you will live with will shape the direction of the region over the next century, and their nationalist views matter.


Current Examples

Chinese citizens have a relatively positive view of American democracy. The question did not specifically ask higher education students, but it does represent the overall apolitical nature of the Chinese citizen. Many approve of american democracy but they are actively and nationalistically protesting against the Japanese, not there own authoritarian government.

First of all, you must understand that the educated of China often protest in defense of their national pride. In 2008, they  staged many actions against  the “global separatists” of the West who criticized China for their human rights offences.[1]  More recently, nationalist protests against Japan have increased as relations worsen. For example, in Sichuan province, an estimated 35,000 people took part in a protest that saw demonstrators march to a Japanese department store to show their pride in China.[3]  The Chinese protests are full of college students, while the anti-China, nationalist protests in Japan contain a much older, middle-aged demographic.[3]  Others have called the Chinese student protesters ‘Netizens’ for their active use of the internet to spread their pride in China.[1] The Chinese students’ apolitical but highly nationalistic pride in their education and the opportunities their country can now offer them stems from successful, government policies undertaken by the CCP after the 1989 protests to reform the education system.[4]  Their apolitical stance on government should be taken with a grain of salt, as the students interviewed might have been worried of what might happen if they are caught on record saying they participate in illegal political discussions. In contrast, citizens in the rural areas and country actively protest against the CCP over issues such as land and environmental degradation.[5]  Also, the clear lack of higher education institutions in the west may be another cause of the protests and they did not have time to instill the nationalism that comes with higher education.[6]  In conclusion, compared to 1989, it now seems unlikely for change of the authoritarian style of government to a liberal democracy to originate in the college students of China.

What to expect

For 2014, you should remember that the Chinese are overwhelmingly apolitical regarding their own government process, so it is unlikely one will get into a heated debate over the organization of the Communist Party, or just the general political process of China. In no case should you criticize China’s history, culture or the country itself as  may incite nationalist insecurities that may escalate to yelling on their part. You should be respectful and acknowledge that you are a guest in their country.

Anti-Japanese demonstrations in Nanjing

Author of the film乌拉跨氪


An interactive map of China created by the World Bank  can be used to show the location of the largest sectors in the country, including universities where these nationalist students are living.


For More Information About this Topic

Web Portals

The Diplomat  A news site which puts together articles about the Asia-Pacific region and organizes them by geographical location and thematic topic. It contains many intriguing articles about student protests. Its prestige and accuracy in covering international relations is unquestioned. This widely popular web resource presents information representative of the current political happenings current and actions of the youth. Use this site to look into the international relations between countries within the region of Asia, as well as the relations between the region of Asia and the world, and also to gain a better understanding of what events may cause nationalist protests in different parts of the region.

China News -East Asia Forum – This platform analyzes and researches politics, economics, business, law, security, international relations and society relevant to public policy. The China News section collects the latest news solely on Chinese policy. It updates twice daily, so it is sure to have the most constant and current, up to date news on China. Many in the Asia-Pacific read its articles for a respectable source on current events.

RAND Corporation – China – A Think-Tank based in Santa Monica, California with  a mission to help improve policy and decision making through research and analysis. In its research they follow the core values of quality and objectivity. Around 1,700 people from more than 50 countries work at RAND, representing diversity in work experience, academic training, and political outlooks. In sum, it is a non-profit organisation which provides clear, accurate, and non-biased information to better inform policy makers.








Reports and Articles

China’s Angry Young Protesters– Jason Miks lives and writes in Tokyo. He was the editor of The Diplomat when he wrote this article. He is also managing editor of the Center for International Relations’ Web site, International Affairs Forum. His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Yomiuri, the American Spectator and TCS Daily, among other publications. This article offers an interesting perspective from a journalist in Japan as he witnesses the rise of nationalist protests, both in China and Japan. The article is a little dated, but tensions between China and Japan are again on the rise, so this is very important to comprehend.

China’s Growth and Future Challenges -Minquan Liu, a professor of economics at Peking University, argues that there are many obstacles that China must overcome in the future, and having as many college educated students is necessary for China to continue its world wind, economic pace.  This article helps readers understand the worries and pressures that recent Chinese students may be facing. As in the pride of their country rests on their shoulder to not screw up and lose all of the recent economic gains. . This article will help students abroad understand where Chinese students their age are coming from in their pressures to do well. Further, it explains that the current students struggle living up to their parents high expectations, as their parents were the first widely educated population.

 China’s Loyal Youth – Mathew Forney, the former Beijing bureau chief for Time Magazine, currently raises his family in China. Although it is an editorial, it offers an interesting perspective about China’s youth that you probably have not witnessed in your reading of the news. He argues that those in the West have a skewed opinion about the college students in China,, in their false belief that they secretly seek democracy. He states from his experiences that they loyally obey the government. This thought-provoking article reads very well, and it will be something you can compare it to on travels to China.










Top Scholars

Fengshu Liu – She teaches at the University of Oslo in Norway. Her main focuses include the construction of young people’s identity in modern societies; gender studies, China’s only-child generation and the long-term consequences of the one-child policy, the interactions between youth and the Internet, the impact of China’s higher education reform, rural education in China, and postgraduate supervision from an international and comparative perspective. Further she wrote an extremely interesting article about the Chinese youth which can be seen here: ‘Politically indifferent’ nationalists? Chinese youth negotiating political identity in the internet age.

Jian Liu – She is a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) postdoctoral fellow at Population Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Jian’s main research areas include student choice, access and success/development,  governance and finance in higher education, globalization and education, with a particular interest in the Chinese context. Jian has published articles in Higher EducationInternational Higher Education, book chapters and reports, and currently has two manuscripts under revision for Compare and Higher Education. Using data from the Research Database of Higher Education in China and the China General Social Survey, she is examines individual characteristics and educational opportunities and changing patterns of inequality in Chinese higher education. Also, she  worked as a journalist for China Education Daily before she started her MEd and Ph.D. studies. An example of expert work can be seen here: China’s higher education expansion and the task of economic revitalization

Dr. Gu Jiafeng – He teaches at Peking University in China. Some of his studies include the admission score-setting behavior of universities, special competitive strategies in enrollment competition,  the effects of size affect on the competitive behavior of universities, and the difference between admission scores as distance between competitive universities increases. He also wrote the enlightening and thought Harmonious expansion of China’s higher education:a new growth pattern about China’s policies in Higher Education that has fermented this nationalism in the youth.












About the Author: Erik Olson ’16 is an undergraduate student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN pursuing his B.A. in Political Science and Economics.