Book Project

Nationalism in Globalization: Understanding Consumer Nationalist Protests in Contemporary China

Despite an increase in international tension between China and its neighbors as well as the U.S. in the recent decade, there has not been any major nationalist protest on the streets since 2012. Meanwhile, the platform of nationalist public expression has moved online, and more notably, the main targets have shifted from foreign countries (Japan and the U.S.) to foreign companies (Marriott, the Houston Rockets, H&M, and more). How do consumer nationalist protests come to dominate the space of popular nationalist expression and how do they operate? How does the rise of consumer nationalism affect business relations and change the contour of Chinese nationalism discourse? 

This book project theorizes an innovative process through which the Chinese state and society develop nationalism: mutual learning. Instead of treating consumer nationalist protests as eruptions of nationalist sentiments that require crisis management of repression or tolerance, the Chinese state takes cycles of consumer nationalist protests as a process of learning as it adjusts the ways of engaging with nationalist protests based on observing and learning from the nationalist protesters. Simultaneously, nationalist consumers adapt their objectives and protest strategies in response to signals from the state. In effect, mutual learning sustains cycles of nationalist protest, strengthens the collective consciousness of nationalist ideology, and builds an ecosystem of nationalism. The theory is developed using original qualitative panel data collected through process tracing and supported by in-depth interviews that interrogate the intentions of observed state and popular actions.

The book then zooms in on the targeted foreign businesses and explains the micro-foundations behind the consumer nationalist protests. Through survey experiments and original interviews, the project demonstrates that strong state responses and swift business actions to adopt business practices favorable to consumers can affect the intensity of consumer nationalist protests. 

Working Papers

Learning to be Nationalist: How Do Consumer Nationalist Protests Thrive in China?

How does the state strengthen nationalism while preventing popular nationalist protests from turning against it? Drawing on data collected through news reports, official statements, online ethnography, and in-depth interviews, this article theorizes an innovative process through which the state and society develop nationalism—mutual learning— that sustains cycles of nationalist protest and strengthens nationalist ideology. The theory of mutual learning is developed in the context of the rise of consumer nationalist protests in China in the last two decades, as citizens politicize their consumer choice to protest foreign companies’ market practices that they deem to offend their nationalist sensibility. This approach uncovers three mutual learning processes through which the state and consumer-citizens foster and sustain cycles of nationalist protests: they expand the nationalist agenda and protest tactics by way of modeling and recreation; develop narratives of collective political efficacy to maintain the passion for repeated protests; and co-opt influential actors in media and entertainment to build the structure for mobilization. In effect, mutual learning sustains cycles of nationalist protest, strengthens the collective consciousness of nationalist ideology, and builds an ecosystem of nationalism.

How Does Political Language in China Strengthen the Communist Control?

How does the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) manage and control the vibrant online discourse of state criticism and ideological debates? Examination of the process of modern political language formation in China suggests that a perspective that goes beyond institutional control and the ideological shift is required in order to gain a better understanding of discursive formation in China. This paper explores the mechanisms of discourse management through political language in Chinese cyberspace. Following the ways through which three types of political loanwords configure their surrounding discourse space, the paper analyzes how contrived political language enables a less invasive and more ubiquitous form of discourse management that consolidate communist control and undermine regime challenges. Adopting the confined linguistic tools in political discourse implicitly restricts the power of the discourse participants and induces tacit acceptance of the established political relationship with the state.

Self-censorship and the Boundary of the Permissible

Ambiguity and uncertainty have been frequently used by observers of Chinese politics to describe the duality of the Chinese state. Regardless of whether such characteristics arise intentionally or due to limited state capacity, mixed signals are sent in nearly all segments of governance. In the space of political discourse, such uncertainty gives rise to self-censorship and induces citizens to constrain their expression of grievances and criticism. Many have argued that having a blurry boundary of the permissible is cheaper and easier than setting an explicit boundary and ensuring universal enforcement. This paper aims to set up a preliminary model that compares the two forms of speech control and evaluate their respective payoffs under different conditions. The model shows that if the state wants to adopt restrictive speech-control policies yet is unable to impose a high enough cost of punishment, then the state would induce more self-censorship and pay a lower cost to punish if they keep the boundary unknown to the citizen.