Western Racism and Chinese Nationalism at loggerheads on D&G
Photo: CZTV.com
The D&G incident is a case in point, it may have unleashed the force of such virulent nationalism inadvertently, yet it sheds a revealing light on how easily and fast the anti-west sentiment can spread. Unfortunately, as negative impact of the trade war continues to take its toll on Chinese economy and middle class, more similar incidents shall be expected down the road. 
The West and China have been intertwined for nearly two centuries of hate and love entanglement, and the relationship can be depicted as bitter-sweet. What the Chinese call the “century of humiliation,” from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, and the disparaging moniker of "Sick-man of the East Asia" have left an indelible scar in the national psyche.
The arrival of Western gunboats, missionaries, and the opium trade resulting in the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century has devastated the central kingdom which prided itself as the most powerful country under heaven while despising those white men as barbarians. Signing the Treaty of Nanking with Britain in 1842 was the starting point of “national humiliation” in the Chinese nationalistic view of history. After the event, China continually ceded and leased territories to foreign powers. Under a series of treaties, foreigners in China had extraterritorial rights and China lost tariff autonomy to foreign powers.
But it also forcefully opened up a closed backward dynasty and pushed the Chinese into modernization. Generations of patriots and revolutionaries tried to learn from the West to save the country through the Self-Strengthening Movement, the Hundred Days of Reform, the Chinese Revolution and the New Culture Movement. Even the Chinese Communist party was borne as the result of this Modernization or Westernization period.  Equipped with Marxism to mobilize the vast masses, the CCP successfully lifted the country out of the century of humiliation.
Love-hate entanglement
Although the humiliating century has been brought to an end, humiliating incidents that hurt Chinese public feelings never fell short.
Prior to China’s hosting of its first-ever Olympics in 2008, which the country has touted as a surge in national pride, human rights activists’ demonstrations during the international leg of the Olympic torch relay sparked a sharp response from Chinese both at home and abroad. Olympic protests in Paris during the torch relay have drawn particular ire in China and have led to calls for a boycott of French goods.
The latest D&G racist promotional campaign just added to the long list. Even China has grown into the world's second largest economy,  it's still being denied of proper dignity and respect it deserves at least in the eyes of its nationalists.
Other similar incidents abound. Those misfortunate incidents have apparently more to do with the western arrogance and ignorance of different cultures and national conditions. It couldn’t stop the historical trend of China's opening up and integration into a globalized world. Chinese people may dislike being patronized by the west from time to time but their desire to integrate into the west-led world and modern way of life will not change.
Benign Nationalism VS Virulent Nationalism
Such complex entanglement has given rise to ambivalence in Chinese’s attitude towards the west, which further split Chinese nationalism into two factions -- benign nationalism and virulent nationalism.
The “benign” form of nationalism is also called patriotism and encourages citizens to take pride in their nation’s achievements as a means of staying loyal to the state. Yet the “virulent” form of nationalism is frequently associated with anti-foreign sentiment and feelings of superiority, even domination, over other nations. Destruction of property belonging to Japanese-owned businesses is a pointed example of how virulent nationalism has played out in China.
Academic studies of Chinese nationalism show that the country’s groups of benign and virulent nationalists are two rather distinct demographics. Benign nationalists mainly consist of young, urban, and educated Chinese with medium to high level of incomes while virulent nationalists mainly consist of older, rural and less-educated Chinese with low incomes.
While they are distinguished by several marked differences, certain principles remain constant across China’s benign and virulent nationalist groups. Members of both communities, for example, will probably agree that China suffered great humiliation at the hands of colonial powers from the 19th-century Opium Wars onward and are keen to redress this through realizing some future ideals of national rejuvenation.
Benign nationalists are more likely to have an internationalist perspective on how to achieve national rejuvenation. Patriots more keenly desire international recognition of China’s growing status and hope to see the country actively participate in resolving global challenges. China’s positive role in assuaging the 1997 financial crisis is therefore a source of pride, as is the spectacular opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.  
Benign nationalists usually hold more pragmatic views on China’s place in the world. For example, they may attribute the country’s so-called century of national humiliation to a lack of modernization, economic isolation, and impotent imperial governance, and thereby perceive integration into a globalized economy as key to China’s ascendancy. In short, benign nationalists are more likely to rally behind the “peaceful rise” argument commonly cited by policymakers.
Rising virulent nationalism
At present, China’s virulent nationalists are in the minority. Yet I am concerned about how long their views can be kept out of the mainstream. Little by little, benign nationalists are coming into conflict with the populist movements gaining power in the West. U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters have blamed the Chinese middle class — along with those in other developing nations — for the loss of vast numbers of American jobs. We cannot discount the prospect that such so-called American hate and the ensuing trade war. Should this trade war escalate out of control, the Chinese middle class may find their incomes undermined. If the West lurches away from globalization, the resulting economic downturn would deprive many Chinese of the opportunity to catch up with Western living standards.
A heady cocktail of protectionism and stagnating living standards would breed widespread resentment in China and turn current benign nationalists toward a more virulent ideology. Having shared in the benefits of China’s peaceful rise to date, the tolerant views of the middle class are dependent on international economic cooperation and growing household wealth. A retreat from globalized economics would undermine the foundations of this position and give the upper hand to virulent nationalists more supportive of a hard-line, military-backed approach.
The D&G incident is a case in point, it may have unleashed the force of such virulent nationalism inadvertently, yet it sheds a revealing light on how easily and fast the anti-west sentiment can spread. Unfortunately, as negative impact of the trade war continues to take its toll on Chinese economy and middle class, more similar incidents shall be expected down the road. 

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