Racial Nationalism & Party Legitimacy in China

Report: By Kahlil Stultz.

Early last month, elite Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members assembled in Beijing to discuss the 2017-2018 national agenda for the People’s Republic at the yearly meeting of China’s chief political advisory body – the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

One of these was a policy proposal by a major figure in the Chinese foreign policy establishment, that declared security forces needed to be mobilized to fight a race war against Africans. Rather than considering this the rantings of an eccentric bigot seeking to ape Trump or Le Pen – one should appreciate this as very much in line with the völkisch racial nationalism of the CCP. Race is a powerful but unstable ideological facet of maintaining control over the Han majority.

Day of the African

Until March 2017, Pan Qinglin was an otherwise comfortable, middling and forgettable Tianjin party apparatchik. A successful businessman turned foreign policy functionary in the CCP, he had served as an officer in the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) for twenty-six years, and was the diplomat who spearheaded commercial initiatives with figures as diverse as Shinzo Abe and the Governor of Utah.

Pan is certainly confident,  declaring himself on his website as having “superb ability in handling international affairs and foreign relations in China”. However on March 3rd 2017 at the beginning of CPPCC and NPC meetings, he held an informal conference in Beijing with anything but international friendship on his mind.

“Africans bring many security risks,” he told Chinese journalists at the beginning of the plenary CPPCC meetings (In Chinese). “They engage in drug trafficking, harassment of women, and fighting, which seriously disturbs law and order… Africans have a high rate of AIDS and the Ebola virus…if their invasion continues, China will change from a nation-state to an immigrant country.”

This invasion requires a  national call to action, with the “constant vigilance of the Chinese people” on black foreigners, a vigorous propaganda campaign meant to showcase black criminality and the mobilization of various arms of China’s post-Tiananmen Square security state.

Mixing both party and state apparatuses, Pan proposed that personnel and funding from the General Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security should be used to develop operations for the “rapid removal of Black African communities”, the patrol of the areas where blacks reside, a “crackdown” including riot police, customs officers that would specifically target Chinese and Blacks who cohabit together and the deportation of half-black children.  

Uninhibited and finishing his speech in a manner with an antiquarian scope which would have left Enoch Powell and Pat Buchanan dumbfounded, Pan warned that without action one hundred million black people would call China home within the next 50 years. He went further to say this population would bring terrorism, crime and disease that would destroy Chinese civilization in the same way that Ancient Babylon and Egypt were, according to Pan, destroyed.

In that moment Pan went from Party Apparatchik to Party race warrior.

Blood and Soil

Pan Qinglin has not apologised for his proposal. Nor have the state media rebuked his claims, scrutinizing how a moribund minority of 200,000 Black African merchants, students and businessmen could be coordinating an demographic and social assault on China.

One might think that at a time when there has been a media spotlight on China’s deleterious episodes of racism, the mighty CCP, which defensively touts its government’s legal and foreign policy endorsement of racial equality, and has proudly branded itself as a cosmopolitan and globalized alternative (to the applause at Davos ) to insurgent nationalism and populism would be hawkish in matching rhetoric with action.

Particularly after the a year of race related scandals from state-owned Air China warning travelers to stay away from Asian and Black neighbourhoods in London, to a viral detergent ad that seemingly equated dark skin with poor hygiene, the CCP of all institutions – should take the initiative to remonstrate one of its members –a foreign affairs and economic advisor at that, from racializing the discourse on national security.

All this would assume that the CCP’s belief in racial equality is sincere and not just political rhetoric. This is the same Party which recently penalised a member for not choosing to needlessly offend the sensibilities of Muslim Uyghurs elders by exhaling cigarette smoke in their faces.

The truth is that within China, the CCP’s post-Mao ideological adhesive of nationalism is patently racialist. This episode goes beyond personal prejudice and anti-African sentiment and reflects a larger theme in the way the CCP maintains control – the ideology of race based nationalism and xenophobia.

Since the fall of Mao’s Marxist-Leninist approach and the opening up, the internationalist ideals and third world solidarity mandated by Mao has given way to blatant racial nationalism, an obsession with bloodlines, genetics and racial consciousness.  According to China scholar Roderick MacFarquhar, the only thing in the aftermath of Maoism that can tie the state, the party and the people: “is the dangerous route of nationalism.”

While the spotlight is often on the cultural construction of racial issues and identity in China, and the role of intellectuals, the media and white expatriates in shaping prejudice and racial tropes is often given the most amount of academic attention, it is important to also look at the way in the Chinese Communist Party itself takes advantage of racial fears by presenting itself as a nationalist party protecting a homogenous, spiritually and biologically superior ethno-state from malevolent foreigners.

The clearest evidence that the CCP has engaged in racialist politics would have to be resurrection of the cult of the Yellow Emperor – an ancient Chinese Hercules said to have created Chinese Civilization and recognized by the CCP politburo in the mid-1980s to be the racial progenitor of all Chinese existing today.

This figure – a representation of Chinese homogeneity and racial uniqueness, has been touted by the Party as a real man, and whose worship is formally encouraged by the otherwise atheist Party. Indeed, it has even been frequently injected into security and foreign policy discourses relating to the control of Beijing over Taiwan and Hong Kong. Party Chairman Xi Jinping annunciated the party’s stance on why Taiwan must return to the mainland declaring during a meeting with Taiwanese leaders in 2015: We are brothers connected by flesh even if our bones are broken, we are a family whose blood is thicker than water… descendants of the Yellow Emperor”.  

It should be of little surprise that the Chinese government has experimented with initiatives (praised by western neo-eugenicists such as Geoffrey Miller) to prohibit ethnic Han with physical or mental disabilities from having children and promoting government research labs (with projects bearing the namesake of the Yellow Emperor) to experiment with “refining” Han Chinese genes.

All this should be taken in context though. The CCP has not formally endorsed racial nationalism in its doctrine, nor has it expressed any overt interest in lebensraum, apartheid or genocide.  Zhu Dake – a cultural analyst at Tongji University has remarked that this all has a cynical purpose as a political strategy by the CCP: “The state needs this bloodline”.

That being noted, the Party has institutionalized this ideology not only through mandating the presence of the Yellow Emperor in school books but also through educational programmes aimed at encouraging nationalist thought in young children. In China, patriotic education includes mandatory modules which all Han Chinese students have been forced to take since the Deng Xiaoping Era. support of the Party-state is made in plain terms – either you’re a race hero who aids the Party in making the Chinese race more powerful and glorious or a race quisling who opens the doors for foreigners to pollute and exploit China.

Übermensch & Untermensch

As the CCP has encouraged a spiritual and biological distinctness of the Han race, it has also emphasized the danger of the non-Han – all to maintain enthusiasm for its rule. As an anonymous Party official declared in the late 1990s; if Chinese people feel threatened by external forces, the solidarity among them will be strengthened and this nationalism will be useful for the regime to justify its leadership.

Pan Qinglin’s anti-African proposal is not an exception in Chinese politics. The Party has conveniently vilified non-Han populations and governments for a myriad of issues within China – whether it be the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square, the continued autonomy of Taiwan or protests in Hong Kong. The ideas and tropes of Chinese racial uniqueness has been a very critical element in successive Chinese governments seeking to shore up support in the modern era. Whether it be the Qing Dynasty and the anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion or Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin’s manipulation of Sino-Japanese conflict, chauvinism and racial consciousness has been used as a rallying flag for regime legitimacy.

Xi Jinping has characterised his leadership of the party with an aggressive xenophobia, praising and disseminating the writings of an extreme nationalist blogger named Zhou Xiaoping who has claimed that foreigners (particularly westerners) have had a negative impact on China since the sixteenth century and are moral and cultural contaminants.

Around the same time of Pan Qinglin was pushing his proposal at CPPCC meetings, the Party-state’s Beijing apparatus produced a propaganda comic hung in public offices, specifically warning Chinese women to beware of romantic advances from foreign men (implied to be spies, saboteurs and criminals), and encouraged all citizens to report suspicious foreigners to the security forces. In January 2016, a Swedish expat leading an NGO which trained Chinese lawyers was arrested and forced to confess his crimes of sabotage and espionage on television. Likewise in 2013, the PLA released a film warning Chinese that foreign diplomats, NGO workers and businessmen were spies who could not be trusted.

Across the Party infrastructure and Party-state territory, xenophobic ideology reflected in Pan’s statements and racial propaganda are not uncommon. In Hong Kong, the local pro-CCP affiliate – the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, has made the presence of foreigners in the territory a racialised national security issue, creating a narrative of a Chinese city-state under attack from predatory foreigners with an emphasis on their sexual crimes.

They propose their elimination in similar terms as Pan has used: through heavy government mobilization that includes  the creation of a concentration camp to scare off “undesirable” foreigners. These policies have been panned by local refugee rights activists as race-baiting and opportunistic. Furthermore, at the March 2017 CPPCC/NPC meetings, the presence of foreign judges in Hong Kong was subtly used by some delegates as a scapegoat for democratic protests in the territory and it was decided that their purview would be drastically restricted.

Looking at the Party’s nationalist ideology and its relationship with wider Chinese society, it would be wrong to minimise the cultural impact of racialists like Pan Qinglin. With the advent of social media and mass communication, these views have gained a broad following and it is here where the ideology’s greatest success and greatest liabilities can be seen.

Race War

With heavy party investment in this ideology there has unsurprisingly been a legion of nationalists rising to protect the volk and repel the pollution.

As with the Red guards who championed Maoism at the grassroots level and targeted groups deemed to be inimical to the regime’s national security, a new generation of ‘Little Pink’ guards operate on the internet, embracing supremacist ideas, promoting racial hatred towards non-Chinese as well as threatening those Chinese consider race traitors.

Operating both online and offline, empowered by Party directives calling for nationalist education and activism, Chinese ‘Netizens’ support nationalistic propaganda with harassment and violence. In 2008, a Chinese exchange student at Duke University, who deviated from the party line on Tibet during a campus event, was brutally harassed by online nationalists. In addition to her personal information being revealed and threats of death and dismemberment being hurled at her if she ever returned to China, her parents were forced to go into hiding.

When Tsai Ing Wen’s pro-Independence DPP party was elected in Taiwan in early 2016, Chinese netizens broke through the government firewall and proceeded to attack her, pro-Taiwanese independence groups and a local singer on social media, valorising the Chinese Communist Party and calling on Taiwanese to respect “Father China”. All this coincided with PLA military drills and exercises meant to intimidate Taiwan. The response of Party-State apparatchiks was to praise the offending netizens, calling their harassment a “holy war”.

Dismissing this mass-mobilized generation of race warriors as sad internet trolls is easy, but that would ignore that the Party-state has facilitated a style of thinking which has frequently spilled over into violence.

The same users which have hailed Pan and the CCP and warned of a black invasion of the Han nation-state, have begun to post pictures of random black and African foreigners in China, encouraging lynching and mob violence against them and in particular scorn against Chinese (particularly women) who socialise or are romantically involved with them. Both black and white foreigners (especially when with local female friends or romantic partners) have been the victims of bloody attacks by Han Chinese racist mobs, with not even American and Gambian diplomats being spared racist violence. In one case in 2015 in Beijing, an Australian student and his ethnic Korean companion were nearly beaten to death by gang of Han men with bats yelling nationalistic slogans.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the U.S. installation of a  THAAD missile defence system in South Korea, a spate of Chinese arsonists have followed dramatic state media calls for a boycott of South Korean goods by entering South Korean supermarkets and grocery stores, engaging in vandalism and intimidation. This recalls the 2005 and 2012 anti-Japanese riots, in which nationalist protestors – sanctioned and later defended by the CCP, engaged in arson and violence.

So far the government has refused to condemn these attacks and has not sought to rein in racial nationalist activists or gang members through the same public mobilization campaign its functionaries call for against Caucasian male spies in Beijing or against African criminals in Guangdong. If anything, many on Chinese social media feel empowered to take a personal stake in preserving the bloodline of the Yellow Emperor and “driving out foreign dogs”.  

Going Forward

None of this piece should be read as an indictment of Han Chinese in Mainland China nor should the findings in this article betray the idea that every member or affiliate of the CCP harbors racist or racialist ideas. Indeed the Chinese public is by some measurements more inclined towards the principles of racial equality than Americans.

But the CCP, by promoting racial cults and allowing its members to openly endorse racism and xenophobia, goes beyond what an observing western liberal would label “deplorable”. With China’s economic growth slowing and endemic issues with corruption and income inequality making the ‘Rising China’ boast ring more and more hollow, Xi Jinping’s CCP has increasingly become more reliant on authoritarian racial nationalism to support its continued rule.

It is bad for a rising power that aims at being modern and cosmopolitan but also can eventually lead foreign firms, and foreign governments hesitating to allow citizens and assets to be in a country where safety of life and property cannot be guaranteed and where government greenlights on violence are common.

With men like Pan Qinglin fueling the flames of racial hatred with policy proposals that create more problems than solutions, the CCP has not learned from previous experiences where nationalist baiting has led to serious damage to China’s reputation. The 2012 anti-Japanese riots are an excellent example of this – where Party agitation and propaganda, led to rioting. This episode led to severe property damage and tarnished the image of the Party.

In the aftermath of the riot – the Party, through its mouthpieces, encouraged “rational nationalism”, but when it seems that the government is contradicting itself, desiring international cooperation and business yet setting into motion riots, one must ask whether the behavior of the Party in this regard is rational.

The CCP can fight espionage and foreign criminality without xenophobia and it can also celebrate its culture and history without racism. By using stability as a collateral for legitimacy, by promoting ideas which are inherently chauvinistic and violent, it only creates a short term solution and sets the stage for long-term problems.

If the Party truly wants to cement a healthy legitimacy then it should seek effective methods to institutionalize anti-corruption measures in all sectors of Chinese life. It should also expand Chinese social welfare, environmental safety, and promote greater socio-economic opportunities for the young and vulnerable. If the CCP truly wants to cement its post-Mao legitimacy then it should listen to the so-called children of the Yellow Emperor who have consistently stated that the above concerns matter the most to them; not nationalism.

If the Party continues down the current course it will permanently tarnish its image and may not only alienate moderate Chinese citizens, but also breed a collection of racial activists who will smear China’s image on the global stage and increasingly cause domestic turmoil.

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