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Saving Face: An Analysis of Chinese Nationalism

By Yan Zhuang

From the author, Yan Zhuang:

As a 1.5-generation immigrant from China, I have always held a deep interest in the international relations between China and the United States, my two home countries. Hence, when presented with the paper assignment for PSC 221: Comparative Political Analysis, I decided to write about Chinese nationalism, an issue that has oftentimes shaken the stability of Sino-American relations through incidents such as the 1999 American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the 2001 spy plane collision over Hainan Island.

With the goal of furthering Sino-American understanding, this paper seeks to explore the phenomena of contemporary Chinese nationalism as a reaction to Western imperialism during the "century of national humiliation" (百年国耻), distinguishing it from Western nationalism as illustrated by Benedict Anderson in his book Imagined Communities. This reaction to the West is characteristic of China being a "high-context society" that places tremendous value on face (面子), a concept that is alien to "low-context societies" such as the United States. By understanding the nature of Chinese nationalism and the importance of face in Chinese society, the United States will be able to improve its relations with China-as described in my paper, "a goal with an importance that cannot be underestimated." 

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