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Interpreting nationalist texts: a post-structuralist approach

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This article critically appraises the narrative of nationalist resurgence in China in the 1990s that structures much of the secondary literature on Chinese politics since Tiananmen. Adopting a post-structuralist method, Chinese texts from the 1990s are treated as discursive rather than as expressions of a common consensus, emergent ideology or political movement. This makes it possible to bring out the disparate points of view concerning the desirability of nationalism for China and to understand the strategies that are being deployed by authors within the context of everyday Chinese politics. It also reveals the significance of the absence from both the primary and the secondary texts of any mention of the advocacy of nationalism by the political leadership. When this hidden discourse is taken into account, it becomes evident that many of the texts that have been taken as expressions of a nationalist revival are either not particularly interested in nationalism or are highly sceptical concerning its possibilities for solving the problems faced by the Chinese state. Particularly significant is the way in which many of the texts locate themselves in relation to the official discourse on nationalism by appropriating its themes in order to promote and legitimate a wide range of other discourses with which it can be bound up, ranging from democracy to authoritarianism.

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