The Paradox Of Nationalism In A Rising China

Raising the flag in Beijing
Raising the flag in Beijing
Wu Jianmin*


BEIJING â€" After 30 years of domestic reform and opening up to the world, China is a changed country. Society has progressed, but also diversified, resulting in a true plurality of opinions about various issues. With a wink to earlier liberalizations in China, included Mao Zedong's aborted call to let "100 schools of thought contend," some have characterized this moment as “the Third Contending Era.”

However, during this period of lively debate, an alarming brand of nationalism seems to now be on the rise. In a way, perhaps, it was inevitable. When a country's power expands, very often a narrow kind of nationalism will spread. China of today is no exception.

How can we better understand China’s current rise of nationalism?

First and foremost, it is an expression of a sense of victimization of China in the sphere of international cooperation. Often we read discourses on the Internet or in the press about how China’s opening up has allowed foreigners to cash in, while we ourselves make only hard-earned money. In brief, Chinese people are not winners but losers in the global game of competition.

Though there may be some truth to this, we have to look at it in a comprehensive way. After being closed for decades, China needed to develop step by step. We had scarce access to technology, funding or modern managerial practices. What we had was abundant labor and a market, though the market capacity at the beginning was also nothing like it is now.

Unless there was an incentive for profits, foreign investors wouldn’t come. So China’s economic development started off this way. But rather suddenly, it all began to scale, until China became the world’s second largest economy in 2010.

Boom times in Chongqing â€" Photo: Baetho

Reform and opening up brought benefits to the Chinese people. In 1955, China’s global share of GDP was 4.7%. By 1978, this had fallen to 1%, before beginning its rapid ascent to current levels. Before the opening up of recent decades, China was regularly running low on commodities, and more and more goods were distributed by issuing ration tickets. It is impossible to compare China’s economy and market supply now with then. So international cooperation has allowed both China and its partners to benefit. Calling China a victim is therefore ultimately not true.

A militaristic mindset

A second reflection of nationalist sentiment is in the inherent critique of Deng Xiaoping’s idea to “put aside disputes and seek mutual development.” This thrust of nationalism advocates the use of military force.

As China's rise has gained momentum, mistrust has deepened between China and both the United States and Japan, as well as other countries. This has prompted these other countries to strengthen their defense measures towards China. The most notable result is the ongoing tension around the South China Sea territorial disputes.

Deng Xiaoping was a man of great wisdom. It’s no accident he proposed the above-mentioned approach, which helped resolve the issues of Hong Kong and Macao’s return to China and gained recognition and praise from the international community. Since Deng died, the evolution of international affairs has further confirmed that Deng’s approach was correct.

The pursuit of peace, development and cooperation has become an irresistible trend of our times. In this first decade of the 21st century, China’s development follows this trend. Deng’s ideas, anchored by his "One Country, Two Systems" approach, can help make for better long-term relations with China's neighbors, and more prosperity at home.

The focus of international relations at the outset of this century sees a shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The force driving this change is Asia’s rise. And as the continent hosts the world’s fastest growing economy, we see more and more Asian countries opening up to each other, rather than isolating themselves. It is the path of cooperation rather than confrontation. Keeping momentum in this direction is in the common interest of all Asian people, and the world as a whole.

The third tendency of the current nationalism is blindly rejecting multinational corporations. Back in the 1974, China led a group of developing countries that referred to transnational companies as “the tool of neo-colonialism.” But in more recent times, progress in China has been closely linked to the arrival of multinationals, which brought along advanced concepts, technology and management, helping to propel both the economy and society. But after years of China welcoming these multinationals, certain parts of society have begun to reject them.

Globalization is the engine that pushes forward mankind’s progress â€" and multinational corporations are the fuel for globalization. Rejecting transnational companies means foregoing improvements to productivity and economic growth. Instead of rejecting multinationals, China should instead be focused on building some of its own.

Today, the relationship between China and the world continues to evolve. But what is clear is that China's development is inseparable from its relationship with the rest of the world. It is also true that the world's prosperity and stability are linked to a prosperous and stable China.

*Wu Jianmin is China’s former Ambassador to France.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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