By Richard Baum, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour ignited a virtual explosion in China’s economic growth and foreign investment. By the end of the 1990s, the combination of Deng’s initiatives and Zhu Rongji’s mid-course corrections had created the conditions for China to cross the threshold of global economic power.
Consequences of China’s Economic Growth
There were two fascinating by-products of China’s economic explosion in the 1990s. The first of these by-products was the visible rekindling of Chinese national pride and patriotism. Not since the early 1950s, when Mao reclaimed the wounded dignity of the Chinese people, had the laobaixing displayed such unabashed pride in their country and its accomplishments.
The second by-product was a near mirror image of the first, only more negative. It involved a revival of the darker side of Chinese nationalism— xenophobia—and a venting of long-repressed resentments against those countries that had victimized China in the past.
Chinese anger had accumulated over a century of victimization at the hands of Western (and later Japanese). Imperialism played a major role in shaping the Chinese Revolution, both during and after the May 4th era. Chinese scholars have coined a name for these feelings of victimization. They call it ‘guochi‘, the ‘national humiliation’ syndrome.
This is a transcript from the video series The Fall and Rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Changes in China: From 1989 to 1993
In August of 1989, the campus of Peking University had been swathed in a volatile mix of grief, rage, and anguish. By 1993, however, a massive change had taken place in China and in the world at large.
Communism had disappeared in Europe and the Soviet Union, and the new economic opportunities arising from China’s economic boom had begun to divert people’s attention from the wounds of June 4, just as Deng Xiaoping had hoped—and gambled—that they would.
At the height of the post-1992 economic boom, the entrepreneurial spirit had already begun to come alive visibly. An epidemic of xiahai had broken out on the campus. (Xiahai literally means ‘jumping into the sea’ of private commerce.)
Students were no longer either in mourning or quietly seething about the massacre on June 4; nor were they resisting the new bargain that Deng had offered them in the course of his southern journey: “Keep your mouths shut, don’t make political demands, and we will give you a better life.” Not only were students not rejecting Deng’s bargain, but they were also now openly embracing it.
In 1989, the campus had felt a lot like Berkeley in the 1960s—teeming with righteous indignation and youthful zealotry, with protest in the air. Four years later, in 1993, the atmosphere seemed less like Berkeley and a lot more like the Harvard Business School. The students had traded their political dreams for a ticket to a successful career in the future.
Learn more about China’s economic transformation.
2000 Summer Olympics: Patriotic Pride
Alongside the emerging ethos of personal ambition and the pursuit of prosperity, Beida students were now also displaying a surprising degree of patriotic pride, something that had been almost totally missing earlier.
A key turning point in this makeover occurred in the summer of 1993, when Beijing was selected as a finalist in the competition to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.
In late September of ’93, ‘Olympic fever’ was sweeping the Beida campus. The students were uniformly proud that their city had made it to the final round. The rapidity with which the anger of 1989 had seemingly dissipated was puzzling. Was PTSS, Post-Tiananmen Stress Syndrome, really a thing of the past? Was it gone?
Losing the Olympic Bid
On the evening the winning Olympic bid was due to be announced, in mid-October, a huge crowd gathered at Peking University to watch the ceremony on a giant TV screen, set up at the center of the campus. As the moment of truth drew near, the atmosphere was festive and celebratory. Most students expected Beijing to win, and they were in a partying mood.
When Sydney, Australia, was declared the surprise winner, the mood changed rather abruptly. A group of students grumbled that the Europeans and Americans on the selection committee had secretly conspired to support Sydney in order to block China from winning. One voice in the crowd said: “It’s just like the Yinhe incident. America doesn’t trust China.”
Learn more about China’s economic ascent.
The Yinhe Incident
In the summer of 1993, the Central Intelligence Agency alleged that a Chinese merchant ship, the Yinhe, was transporting chemical warfare components from North Korea to Iran. The Chinese government vehemently denied the allegation, whereupon ships from the United States navy ships shadowed the Yinhe all the way from the East China Sea to the Persian Gulf.
There, at the behest of the U.S. government, the Saudi Arabian navy boarded the ship and searched its cargo holds. No contraband items were found, chemical or otherwise.
This incident proved hugely embarrassing to the Clinton administration and highly insulting to the Chinese government and people. China was experiencing the first stirrings of revived anti-Western nationalism, and the feeling of resentment was palpable.
America had been widely admired in the 1970s and ’80s. By the ’90s, however, much of that earlier goodwill seemed to have dissipated. As China rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of revolutionary Maoism, Chinese pride began to reassert itself, and along with it came a new Chinese assertiveness.
Common Questions about China in the 1990s
China’s economic growth led to the visible rekindling of Chinese national pride and patriotism. Unfortunately, it also led to more extreme versions of nationalism, like xenophobia.
When Sydney, Australia, was declared the winner and chosen to host the 2000 summer Olympics, a group of students grumbled that the Europeans and Americans on the selection committee had secretly conspired to support Sydney in order to block China from winning.
In the summer of 1993, the Central Intelligence Agency alleged that a Chinese merchant ship, the Yinhe, was transporting chemical warfare components from North Korea to Iran. At the behest of the U.S. government, when the Saudi Arabian navy boarded the ship and searched its cargo holds, no contraband items were found. This incident proved hugely embarrassing to the American administration and highly insulting to the Chinese government and people.