The Mixed Legacy of Revolution: China’s Hesitant Move to Nationalism in the 1980s

Luyang Zhou, Zhejiang University

Comparative scholars have noted that communist regimes embraced nationalism for self-legitimization. This article, investigating China’s political indoctrination (“Thought work”) between 1983 and 1993, concludes that this process involves tensions caused by a mixed legacy of the long communist revolution. China of the 1980s discarded internationalism and class struggle, but had not yet invoked conventional elements of nationalism like ethnic purification, autarky, irridentism, and cultural conservatism. There was a top-down initiative to invoke patriotism, but it did not go far. The system highlighted economic development to say farewell to revolution, which restrained space for ideological reconstruction. Revolution also exerted cultural inertia - propagandists tended to adapt Maoist language rather than invent new tradition. Moreover, due to the anti-traditional character of the long revolution, nor did the overall low levels of education and historical research support an institutionalized glorification of China’s national past. The mixed legacy of revolution made this period one of confusion, hesitation, and sincerity, rather than a determined move to nationalism.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 17. Can Revolutions Be Permanent? New Approaches to Assessing Revolutionary Outcomes