There are waves of nationalism that move from the grass-roots to political leadership, and waves that move in the opposite direction. One of the major challenges for the twenty-first century will be finding ways to channel the energies of the world's most populous nation into positive directions.
There are many perspectives on the potential motivations, and possible outcomes, of Chinese nationalism. There are some that see this movement as a "reckless movement driven by China's traditional Sino-centrism and contemporary aspirations for great-power status" (Zhao, p. 131). Bernstein and Munro conclude, for example, that China is "[d]riven by nationalist sentiment, a yearning to redeem the humiliations of the past, and the simple urge for international power" (Bernstein and Munro, p. 19). This has led the Chinese to demonstrate with particular urgency against the United States, whom it wishes to replace as the dominant power in Asia. One example of this would be the massive demonstrations in front of the U.S. diplomatic missions in China after the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO forces under the command of the U.S. Western diplomats were shocked to find that the Chinese assumed that the bombing had been intentional (Zhao, p. 132). After a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea in April 2001, similar demonstrations broke out, with the Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, honored as a "martyr of the revolution" (Pomfret, p. A1).
James Lilley's 2004 article in Public Affairs and Maria Hsia Chang's book Return of the Dragon: China's Wounded Nationalism are two examples of anxious observations of the fervent nationalism that has arisen at the end of the twentieth century, which was seen by many Chinese as one of humiliation. However, it would be short-sighted to describe the new Chinese nationalism as nothing more than emotionalism running rampant in the streets and squares of China. After all, the Chinese government has shown considerable skill in managing the public outbursts of its citizens. The idea that Suisheng Zhao has termed "pragmatic nationalism" refers to the ways in which the Chinese government actually organizes the shows of patriotism. This nationalism, according to Zhao, is a force used to "hold the country together during its period of rapid and turbulent transformation into a post-Communist society" (Zhao, p. 132). However, the leaders of China want peace and development, and they realize that if Chinese nationalism is perceived as being out of control, the ideals of political stability and economic development would be threatened, as other countries would tend to distance themselves from what they saw as an unstable situation.
Nationalism is a relatively new phenomenon in Chinese culture, particularly given the ancient times in which the Chinese Empire began. The Opium War with Great Britain (1840-1842), however, was a disaster. China was occupied and incorporated into Western empires, and it was only at this point in time that