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Global Viewpoint

'Soft' nationalism is good for China

Chinese-style soft nationalism takes pride in Confucian values and should be the way of the future. But can it spread from Nanjing to the rest of China? There are reasons to be optimistic.

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Nanjing’s institutes of higher learning are keen to emphasize their international links. Nanjing University was the first university in China to institutionalize learning of Western-style scientific developments. It was also the first Chinese university to establish an international center of higher education: the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies that trains future diplomats from the US and China. The Chinese are taught in English, and the Americans in Chinese.

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Nanjing’s party chief, Yang Weize, spoke proudly of Nanjing’s cultural heritage. He told our group that the Confucian examination system reached its climax in Nanjing and that the first Republic of China government was established in Nanjing, which was helpful for reform in later Chinese history. Mr. Yang noted Nanjing’s special links with the US: It has the oldest modern-style hospital in China – founded by an American missionary – and it was the first Chinese city to pair with an American city (St. Louis). Mr. Yang himself was trained at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2006.

From a moral point of view, there is no doubt that soft nationalism is – or should be – the way of the future. But can it spread from Nanjing to the rest of China? There are reasons to be optimistic. Most Chinese intellectuals and political reformers recognize the need for a softer form of nationalism. The revival of Confucian morality in China’s educational system certainly helps. In early January 2011, Confucius’s statue was unveiled on Tiananmen Square, but it was removed three months later. We will know that soft nationalism has reached Beijing when Confucius returns permanently to Tiananmen Square.

Daniel A. Bell is Zhiyuan Chair Professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University and co-author of “The Spirit of Cities” (Princeton University Press).

© 2013 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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