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A Contested Discourse

Abanti Bhattacharya

By Bhavna Singh
Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 229, Rs. 995.00


There is a plethora of studies on Chinese nationalism emerging since the mid-1990s and still many more oeuvre are being written as nationalism is a contested subject and there is certainly no last word on it. Bhavna Singh’s book is another such work that attempts to understand what Chinese nationalism is all about. Instead of focusing on the nature of Chinese nationalism, which she claims is the focus of most literature on the subject, she opts to ‘understand the modus operandi of Chinese nationalism’ (p. 20). In her introduction to the book, she promises to provide an analysis of nationalism from the prism of public spaces created by the forces of globalization. She then avers to unravel how this metamorphosed nationalism is ‘managing, realigning and curbing’ (author’s own quote without reference) the dissenting and conflicting voices generated by ‘global onslaught’ and finally, through the case studies on sports and cinema, she seeks to argue how nationalism plays out in the softer realms. She reflects on the Chinese state apparatus in weaving a discourse on nationalism and uses Foucault’s notion of discourse to argue that Chinese nationalism is a discursive one. However, the book fails to meet the readers’ expectations.   The problem with her study begins after the introductory chapter where instead of looking closely into the softer realms or putting the book in the context of public space, she grounds the book on a shallow treatment of history dotted with several sweeping contentions and flawed understanding. The chapter seeks to study the patterns of national culture through the discourses of prominent figures in China through history. But her chapter on ‘stalwarts’ also includes the Japanese invasion of China, discourse on national humiliation and others. She locates the growth of Chinese identity in Fairbank’s concept of Sino-centricism and this is problematic as it essentially premises Chinese nationalism on a western construct. There have been massive studies on Qing historiography during the last decade that has seemingly revolutionized our understanding of nationalism in China. Ignoring such historiographies makes the whole effort to understand Chinese nationalism truncated and redundant. It is, therefore, erroneous when she writes that the ‘nationalist underpinnings during the Manchu or the Qing dynasty were by and large instigated in the economic realm’ (p. 28). From a cursory mention of Genghis Khan, the chapter jumps to the problems of the Qing dynasty and talks about the germination ...

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