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ESSA research project
Re-defining China’s identity at the beginning of the 21st century –
Changing patterns of perception of Chinese culture and society
and the emergence of a critical public opinion

Short description
During the past 30 years, China has become the most rapidly changing society in the world. After surpassing the economically disastrous system of centrally planned economy 1949-1978 and abandoning the bad parts of the communist ideology with the crackdown on its own people in 1989, the Chinese people in all fields of society undertake pioneer steps on their way towards the new Chinese identity of the 21st century. The Chinese want to fill the ideological vacuum left by the bad parts of the communist ideology, which proofed to have failed in 1989. Materialistic satisfaction failed to reinvent the Chinese self. The propagated "3rd way" of liberal economy and restricted freedom of mind proofed to be a cant. The first winners of the nationwide quest for meaning of life are a revival of Confucian values and the regaining of strength of patriotism, driven by the economical successes and the new role as the second superpower next to the United States. Especially the freedom of travel and the internet have stimulated the need for freedom of mind. The Chinese of the 21st century want to face the problems of society like corruption, a non-reliable legal system, environmental pollution and want to participate in the legitimation of state power. The nation-buildung process and conceptions of Greater China seem to be relevant focuses of an interdisciplinary approach. Comparisons within the long Chinese history as well as its recent historical experiences, comparisons with the development of Taiwan, Eastern Europe and Eastern Germany and a look on Chinese visionaries and utopists promise to be fruitful.
The project analyzes the self perception and foreign perception of the Chinese identity in all fields of society like politics, economy, legal system, philosophy etc. and tries to find patterns of perception. Moreover, it aims to describe the current state of the Chinese identity, which appears somehow more homogeneous than other national identities like the US national identity due to many reasons.


Phase I: October 2010 - September 2012
(in preparation: Phase II: October 2012 - September 2014)

Funds granted by the
European Science & Scholarship Association.

Publications on the subject