A ‘grass-roots’ Internet forum post titled ‘Without the motherland, you are nothing’ has been circulating on the Chinese Internet since November 2013, sparking heated discussions over the old but influential topic of patriotism.
China’s state media Xinhua published [zh] an article on December 2 praising and summarizing the post and it has since been reposted by numerous Chinese media such as the Beijing Daily and the Global Times.
The post used the “fallen-apart” Arabic Spring countries as examples to call for the Chinese people to stay alert for conspiracies by Western countries. It argued that China cannot afford to descend into chaos, and that the people who suffer most in times of unrest are the common people. The conclusion was that the Chinese people must firmly stand behind the Communist Party and President Xi. “Every Chinese should have a patriotic heart.”
This post has aroused a lot of criticism, from scholars to common netizens, on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, mainly for deliberately distorting the meaning of patriotism.
China’s popular sociologist Yu Jianrong marked the difference between the nation and a power bloc:
The motherland is indeed very important to us ordinary people. It’s our roots. That’s the reason why we hope it can grow into a place with more equality, more democracy and more rule of law. Please don’t equate my motherland with a certain interest group, who, in the name of the motherland, have been robbing the people and limiting the people’s freedom while already sending their children aboard!
Yu Jianrong's comment resonated with an article in the New York Times by China’s famous author Yu Hua, which accused the Chinese Communist Party of “the hijacking of Chinese patriotism”. Yu Hua said “over the last 64 years [the CCP] has managed to equate ‘love of country’ with love of the party and the government[…] But when the distinction between country and ruler is erased, patriotism ends up being hijacked, and easily manipulated by a narrow-minded nationalism.”
The Chinese government has stepped up control of the internet to maintain its propaganda grip. Critical comments from opinion leaders such as Yu Jianrong's micro-blog have been forcefully removed, but it is not difficult to find criticism from less influential Weibo users and more subtle comments. For example, the property tycoon and social activist Ren Zhiqiang posed a question on the meaning of nation:
Without happiness and freedom, what is left of a nation?
Weibo user, “Empty thought” criticized the disguised political propaganda:
Patriotism degenerates into a slogan when the rulers hijack a nation. Russia has become stronger since Soviet Union fell apart. Don’t fool people. The privileged and the powerful have hijacked the motherland. Shut up Beijing Daily.
“Alley Uncle”, an other Weibo user believed such propaganda would not be able to fool people anymore:
You’ll be nothing without winning people's hearts. Now is not the ra of obscurantist, enlightenment has started. The motherland will never disappear, instead what could disappear are emperor and government. First we are human living in this earth. As human being we aspire for freedom and choose to stay where there is freedom. Those who are dying [refers to authoritarian rulers] should not hijack people anymore, and deep down in people's hearts, they know who are good to them.
“Hearsay in cold water” pointed out that many great thinkers were exiles:
Karl Marx was still himself as an exile; Einstein was still himself after fleeing Germany; Solzhenitsyn was still himself after leaving Soviet Union; Sun Yat-sen was still himself when he travelled around the world [to advocate for revolution]. Tsung-Dao Lee, Samuel Chao Chung Ting, Chen Ning Yang and Charles Kuen Kao won Nobel Prizes after they left China. Without people, you [the rulers] will be nothing!