Some Thoughts on “Loving the Country” and “Loving the Party”

This article is probably the author’s last bow as a contributor of China Focus Blog as his career at the School of Global Policy and Strategy is about to conclude.

As a Chinese national who has been raised both by the country (People’s Republic of China) and the Party’s indoctrination (Communist Party of China) for over twenty years, I deem it necessary to reexamine my thoughts on these two entities, especially my deep immersion in “western ideas” during the past two years. In any case, I think handing in a “test paper” that expresses my sophisticated feelings on the country and the Party is conscientiousness in my responsibility as a political science student born in China and later transplanted to the United States. I love my homeland, and meanwhile have an entangled emotion over the Party. But I still advocate for the Communist Party leadership in China.

Beyond all doubt, as a Chinese national, I love the Chinese nation (zhonghua minzu, 中华民族). It has a splendid civilization that never perishes, even though countless ethnic groups and dynasties have dominated this mass land during the course of Chinese history. Some traditions, for example benevolence (仁), righteousness (义), etiquette (礼), wisdom (智) and sincerity (信) they are called five constant Confucius virtues (五常) still endure today and have never lost their brilliance. The Chinese nation endows me with these personal traits that I find indispensable in an age of extravagance. It makes me look different extrinsically, but the more important thing is I am a better and wiser person thanks to my homeland’s nurture. Loving the nation is the baseline for a person. Needless to say, my American colleagues have deep affections for their nation as well. In a word, the nation shows its paramount value in the essence of a person, and further makes the person unique and excellent to an extent. This can partially explain why Shenyun, a performing-arts and entertainment company as well as a branch of Falungong that opposes the CPC’s rule in China, never resists classical Chinese dance and Chinese culture, because the Chinese nation helps the performers discover their personal charismas.

Like Shenyun performers and most Chinese nationals, I love the Chinese nation. Moreover, it is the People’s Republic of China that grants me the opportunity to inherit innumerable invaluable characteristics (five constant Confucius virtues, for instance) from my illustrious and intelligent ancestors and enjoy other spectacular stuff (Chinese cuisine, Chinese medicine, calligraphy, Four Great Classical Novels and so on). As a result, I am proud of my country, feel indebted to it, and love it very deeply.

But the tricky thing in China is that “country” and “state” are almost the same when they are (and can only be) translated as guojia (国家) in Chinese. It is acknowledged that there is an obvious trace of ideology in the definition of “state.” As the New Oxford American Dictionary reports, state is “a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government.” For a Chinese person, however, it is not easy to make clear in a short conversation whether she loves the broad Chinese nation with a government (need not to be the government led by the Communist Party) or the much narrower People’s Republic of China specifically led by the CPC.

So, in China, there is almost no distinction between the less ideologically defined “nation” and the more ideologically defined one, if people look at them through the linguistic lens. Consequently, the CPC does not face too many obstacles when educating the common Chinese people that “loving China is exactly loving the Communist Party-led China,” or in a more direct sense, “loving the country equals to loving the Party.” The CPC’s efforts have paid off in a way. Patriotic Chinese, including me, of course will not hesitate to safeguard the sacred Five-starred Red Banner under any circumstances. Interestingly, we love the banner, implying that we love the largest yellow star: it represents the CPC as well. In addition, patriotic Chinese students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) recently were vigorously protesting the school’s decision of inviting Dalai Lama to deliver the keynote address at the all campus commencement this year. Doesn’t it mean that they already fully accepted the content in the CPC-approved history textbook that Dalai Lama is a “traitor” and shall be denounced vehemently?

There are a couple of reasons that account for the CPC’s untiring endeavors to indoctrinate the people that “loving the Party” is vital. First, the Party faces harsh criticisms outside the Great Wall. Under the CPC’s domination, China is incontestably not an accommodating figure from the outsiders’ perceptions. The western world is filled with resentment against China’s repressive regime. The most commonplace comment made by the western scholars is the authoritarian regime (i.e. the CPC-led China) lacks political legitimacy, indicating that the liberal democracy shall constitute a universal evolutionary model whereas authoritarianism must be forgone. For instance, in one of his most-cited work, political scientist Andrew Nathan indirectly criticized China by arguing the establishment of the Party Congress as an institution for political participation is to strengthen the CPC’s legitimacy among the Chinese people at large. Confronting the torrent of denouncements, the Party needs people to be ideologically united so that they can interlock and integrate into a single-minded powerful entity, enabling China to have a better chance of winning the modern day competition against other countries. That partially explains why the famous “red song” (红歌) Unity is Strength (团结就是力量) has never tarnished and is still sung far and wide.

The story does not end here. As a matter of fact, the western rhetoric has a spillover effect. Given that China is not a totally closed country, and more importantly, many bright people have figured out how to get to the other side of the firewall, it is not entirely impossible for the common people to access the information which could pose cast doubt on CPC rule. The outcome is, the popularity of the western “inimical” rhetoric gradually gives birth to the so-called domestic historical nihilism (历史虚无主义) a genre that is held reproachable by the CPC. In accordance with the Party rhetoric, this school denies the new democratic revolution led by the CPC and the achievements of the socialist construction, and distorts and denigrates the images of the Party and state leaders. By and large, the thoughts proposed by historical nihilism are detrimental to the CPC’s rule. Laissez-faire might cause the regime to collapse, and it is a grave situation that the Party leaders are unwilling to witness. CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping once pointed out that the root of the downfall of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) is the fierce competition within the ideological realm and in the end, the dominance of historical nihilism. For him, the CPSU’s collapse is a “cautionary example,” so it is conceivable to see the Party has been exerting all energies to cultivate people’s love for the Party and eliminate the negative effect made by the domestic historical nihilism.

No matter what, the CPC is in trouble now: the western world is always antagonistic toward its formidable regime, while at the same time the younger Chinese generation is tired of the dogmatic ideological and political classes which are required courses in all levels of education institutions. To cope with this pressing problem, the Party encourages and directs people to look outward. When some controversial accidents happen to China, the victimization narrative (the CPC has been inflicted serious damage during the war against Japan and Kuomintang)– concept borrowed from Zheng Wang (2008)— automatically takes effect. People might think their homeland is experiencing a new form of humiliation, so they must fight for it and safeguard its integrity regardless the type of the government (i.e. no matter if it is led by the Communist Party or not). Through this way, the CPC’s legitimacy in the country is corroborated, and it is exactly what the Party wants. As a consequence, we can see nationalism is rising in China nowadays. For example, Lotte has been bearing the brunt of angry Chinese on the pretext of “patriotism is not guilty” (爱国主义是无罪的) due to South Korea’s determination to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The Chinese students at UCSD almost unanimously accept the CPC’s patriotic education they once received wage war against the school after the Chancellor announced the Dalai Lama will be the commencement speaker. Often, those who express support for the Party, or at least do not oppose it, can receive credits from the central government. A not-so prime example is Carrie Lam’s victory in the most recent Hong Kong executive race, who makes clear that “on the issue of Hong Kong independence, in line with what the premier has said, there is no future and no room.”[1]

In sum, under the CPC’s manipulation, the line between “loving the country” and “loving the Party” is slowly blurring. But I argue these two terms are mutually exclusive. I love my country deeply, then what is my attitude toward the Party? It is hard to summarize it succinctly. I am not able to shout out proudly that I love the Party, meanwhile I do not disdain it either. In a nutshell, I accept the CPC’s leadership.

Some Facebook extremists might take advantage of the so-called “national anthem logic” (国歌逻辑) to laugh at my “servility.”[2] At the same time, I also expect a portion of my fellow Chinese compatriots might be astonished by my being “politically sound and professionally competent” (又红又专) even though I am a political science student educated by a western institution. The followings are my rebuttals.

First, people shall respect the history. The CPC defeated Kuomintang in the 1940s physically and mentally with true abilities. Afterwards, it established the People’s Republic of China and became the leader of mainland China. To an extent, the CPC is the product of that time and was picked by history. People should respect this. One might argue that sometimes history picks the wrong guy who should be condemned, Nero of the Roman Empire, Adolf Hitler of the Third Reich and Saddam Hussein of Iraq are appropriate examples. But the CPC, even though it has fabricated a flurry of catastrophic incidents throughout the Party history, is certainly not a devil like the Nazi Party, especially in the present time. In fact, it must be judged in a positive light. After a stream of trials and errors, the CPC-led China has achieved countless productive results in all dimensions that cannot be tallied in one hand. Furthermore, the Party’s 70-year-old history of triumph and the CPC-run Chinese government are recognized and respected by 174 foreign states in the world in terms of diplomatic relations. Seen in this light, wouldn’t it be unethical if the Chinese nationals themselves violently despise and revile its own government and the Party, who is the one and only contributor for boosting their livelihoods in the past 40 years?

Second, people shall not simply attribute many existent problems in China to the CPC’s rule. One might disagree with the point I made in the last paragraph: it is undeniable that people’s material wealth has enriched dramatically, but China’s rule of law lags behind greatly. The underlying root of this phenomenon is the CPC’s “illegitimate” rule in the country. A popular viewpoint is that China’s authoritarian regime, thanks to the CPC, is busy with centralizing the state power, safeguarding the paramount position of the Communist Party and purging officials who have “political conspiracies.”  In contrast, the rule of law is just the CPC’s de jure task. The conservatives’ perspective is: only when the CPC is overthrown and another truly democratic party that accepts competitive elections succeeds it will China set the rule of law in train. This is exactly what the purged then-CPC General Secretary Zhao Ziyang thinks, who eventually argues for a western parliamentary democracy as is illustrated in the book Prisoner of the State. My point, however, is that the CPC should not be made as the scapegoat. China is a gigantic country with a huge population, implying that it is unambiguously hard to build a system of omni-directional rule of law at the grassroots (anyhow it should be set as the ultimate goal however tough the task is). If the CPC were replaced by a democratic party, the comprehensive rule of law still cannot be realized in the foreseeable future given the country’s demographic situation and wealth and education inequality problems. Hence, people shall never blindly envy the western countries and demand the Party to transplant their political system to China. In fact, the CPC’s current strategy, which is allowing people’s livelihood to flourish in order to materially prepare for the further embracing of democracy while shoring up the legal system (as designated as a mission during the 4th Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee), is a smart move. In brief, fervently appealing for the downfall of the CPC and a subsequent replacement by the western democracy while turning a blind eye to China’s actuality is thoughtless. Moreover, several other embarrassing news (and I personally feel sorry for my country), such as the Hong Kong public indecency incident that happened in 2014 and a Chinese couple’s theft of thousands of flowers in Shanghai Disneyland last year, should not be attributable to the CPC’s sheer negligence at all. The primary cause is the involved peoples’ ill manner.

Finally, the Chinese nationals shall unite and do their own best to fulfill the civic duties instead of daydreaming the collapse of the CPC, a fantasy that will not happen. There are normally two ways for the dynasty change: the bottom level revolution and the top level one. Neither of them is likely to happen in China. To begin with, China’s state apparatus is efficient in snuffing out the flame of protest, let alone revolution. The June 4th Crackdown is worthy of reference for people. In addition, there will never be a military coup or a Glorious Revolution at the very top because the selectorate, in line with Bueno de Mesquita et al.’s (2003) theory, within the CPC, which is the CPC Central Committee members who possess a great deal of formal power, is the de facto beneficiary of the CPC’s rule over China. Therefore, it will neither vote nor act against the Party. Furthermore, Andrew Nathan’s groundbreaking serial articles, Authoritarian Resilience and The Authoritarian Resurgence: China’s Challenge, have provided detailed analyses on why the CPC is able to survive the Huntingtonian “Democracy’s Third Wave” and the political decay envisioned by Francis Fukuyama from Stanford University. So, fantasizing about the ruination of the CPC, Minxin Pei and Gordon Chang are two infamous prophets, is purely a waste of time. Instead, the countrymen shall make full efforts to carry out their own duties: abiding by the laws and regulations and improving their moral masteries, for instance. The CPC is definitely not a decadent and closed political party. It already has realized the urgency of a law-based governance within the contemporary China framework and issued numerous laws and regulations, as can be seen in the 4th Plenary Session held 3 years ago. Put another way, now it is the turn for all Chinese nationals to defer to such spirit. If China eventually failed to enforce the rule of law, it is the Chinese nationals rather than the Party that is culpable because building a prosperous, venerable and rule-based country relies on people. After all, people are “masters of the country”, according to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, whereas the Party is merely a pathfinder. I require every Chinese compatriot who tends to rebuke the CPC’s leadership to examine her own conscience first: have you fulfilled your own duty in terms of preventing any types of misbehaviors?

To sum up, my love for my country is unequivocal, but I have a complicated feeling toward the Party. I have familiarized myself with the “tricks” the CPC has employed to fortify its rule, obviously, these are the stuff the “thoroughly red” Chinese nationals and leftists never want to delve into. This indicates that contrary to the CPC’s long-lasting “loving the country equals to loving the Party” ideology education that has been forced upon me starting from my childhood, deep in my heart there is an unambiguous distinction between the two concepts. Nevertheless, I still advocate for the CPC’s leadership. Now that the political situation in China is hard to be altered, why shouldn’t fellow Chinese compatriots attempt to be “confident in the chosen path, confident in the guiding theories, confident in the political system, and confident in the culture” (道路自信,理论自信,制度自信和文化自信)? Losing faith in our own government, attacking the Party execrably, and obsessively accusing the Party of past sins while ignoring self-misconduct will do no good but bring our beloved China to a doomsday scenario.


[1] It is not the prime example, though, because the past winners do not explicitly express their support for the Party in that it is not appropriate to make such statement in a somewhat democratic, free and diverse Hong Kong (but the situation is certainly not as promising as before). Anyhow, they support the central government (and the central government is led by the CPC) with no exception. This implies they support the Party’s rule, at least superficially.

[2] The first sentence of the Chinese national anthem is “arise, ye who refuse to be slaves.” Extremists might think that on one hand, as a patriotic Chinese, I uphold my country’s anthem, which means I should break shackles; on the other hand, ridiculously, I continue being the “slave of the CPC” in that I accept the Party’s leadership.


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Chutian Zhou

Chutian Zhou has a multidisciplinary background in journalism, finance, political science, and data science. He graduated from the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), UC San Diego in 2017, and later obtained his second Master’s degree from Columbia University with a focus on quantitative social science. His thesis examines non-violent tactics used by the Chinese leader to pre-empt domestic political challenges. At GPS, Chutian's interests lie in Chinese elite politics, cross-strait relations, and methodology. He is now based in New York working as a data analyst.

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Reuters / Dale De La Rey