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China wrestles with redefining love of the country   2012-05-31 07:45:00

Children admire the Chinese national flag during their visit to the national flag squad at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on August 6, 2010. (Photo: CFP)

A 30-year-old woman from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen attracted the ire of Web users and was even labeled a traitor earlier this month, when she took to her Sina Weibo account to denounce calls for China to go to war with the Philippines or Japan over islands at the center of heated territorial disputes.

"Even if we secure Huangyan Island and the Diaoyu Islands through war, the profits gained in exploiting oil near them will have nothing to do with us. Instead, we could be levied with another tax - a war tax. Refueling your car will still be expensive. Do you still want war?" the woman, whose user name is "Happy Girl," wrote in the post uploaded on May 9.

China's "angry youth," or fenqing, have earned a reputation for being fiercely nationalistic and aggressively criticize those deemed soft on China's core interests. They have been at the frontlines of protests, urged boycotts of foreign products and even pelted stones and eggs at embassies of countries perceived to have bullied China.

However, the definition of patriotism has been challenged by those who feel there are less aggressive ways to express love for their country.

Changing views

"Happy Girl," whose real first name is Ying, recalled how in the past she saw herself as a "devoted patriot." When she studied at a university in Nanjing - a city that saw the slaughter of more than 300,000 people during its Japanese occupation in 1937 - she and her friends used their own money to establish an anti-Japanese goods website. They also collected and distributed anti-Japanese materials, both online and to pedestrians on the street.

Upon graduating in 2004, Ying moved to Guangzhou to work in the international trade industry and naturally came into contact with more foreigners. Whenever foreigners would criticize China or discuss sensitive topics, she would confront them and argue aggressively in defense of her country.

However, her views about what it means to be "patriotic" began to change as she learned more and matured.

"Chinese don't know how to love themselves. If they love themselves and care about defending their own rights, it's possible for them to care about others and the whole country will be better. That's patriotism," Ying told the Global Times. "I'm still a patriot, but not a blind one. I urge people to protect the patch of ground at their feet more than a patch of land on a faraway island."

Li Chengpeng, 44, an author with more than 5 million followers on Weibo, also expressed his view on the changing concept of patriotism.

In a post on May 12, the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, he said he abandoned "fanatical patriotism" after he went to Beichuan, a hard-hit area of the earthquake. It was in Beichuan that he saw firsthand the poor construction of schools that contributed to the deaths of children, many whose names have never been publicized by authorities.

"The most important thing for patriotism is not to own vast land, but to embrace life with dignity," Li wrote.

Conflict with materialism

Some Web users believe the current notion of patriotism is laden with negative connotations.

"Those who love their country are criticized as backward conservatives. By contrast, those who betray their country are often deemed open-minded, free thinkers with sharp personalities," Han Deqiang, a teacher at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, posted on his Weibo microblog.

Anyone who expresses positive views about China's development on the Internet will be attacked by Web users immediately, according to Sima Nan, a media commentator.

"In the past, we strived for unity and collectivism. Now, people have multiple values and this results in the variety of opinions surfacing on the Internet," Sima told the Global Times.

China's opening-up and reform and the rise of the Internet have resulted in greater public access to information from around the world. This has led to people being more rational than they were in the past, according to Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at the Renmin University of China.

"Patriotism aims to foster civilization, legislation, justice and peace within countries," Zhou said.

Growing materialism in China has led to people becoming more individualistic and concerned with their own interests, said Peking University sociology professor, Qiu Zeqi.

"More people hate the traditional model of encouraging patriotism. In the past, it has been too superficial and formulistic. Patriotism is not just crying slogans. It must be materialized in daily life," Qiu said.

Generational differences

Such opinions were also reflected in a recent survey by the Global Times.

According to the survey that collected opinions from more than 1,000 respondents in seven major Chinese cities, about 70 percent of respondents agreed that loving one's country means one should protect national interests and support the government during international disputes.

At the same time, more than half of respondents also agreed that making contributions to public welfare, working hard and living a positive life were also ways to show love for one's country.

However, older generations still hold on to more traditional values that define patriotism.

"Patriotism in China is a tradition and its nature has remained constant over time to involve loving one's country, loving its social system and loving its people," Chen Huijun, a 63-year-old retiree in Beijing, told the Global Times.

Although people have different views about patriotism, it is still regarded as a revered notion in Chinese society.

"Patriotism is integrated in our blood and is a universal value … China is not perfect and patriotism means acquiring China's strong power and its people's dignity by sacrificing several generations," CCTV host Yang Rui posted on his Weibo microblog.

source : Global Times     editor:: Ma Ting
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