Monday, February 22, 2010

Pg. 99: William A. Callahan's "China: The Pessoptimist Nation"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: China: The Pessoptimist Nation by William A. Callahan.

About the book, from the publisher:
The rise of China presents a long-term challenge to the world not only economically, but politically and culturally. Callahan meets this challenge in China: The Pessoptimist Nation by using new Chinese sources and innovative analysis to see how Chinese people understand their new place in the world. The heart of Chinese foreign policy is not a security dilemma, but an identity dilemma. Chinese identity emerges through the interplay of positive and negative feelings: China thus is the pessoptimist nation. This positive/negative dynamic intertwines China's domestic and international politics because national security is closely linked to nationalist insecurities.

To chart the trajectory of its rise, the book shifts from examining China's national interests to exploring its national aesthetic. Rather than answering the standard social science question "what is China?" with statistics of economic and military power, this book asks "when, where, and who is China?" to explore the soft power dynamics of China's identity politics.

China: The Pessoptimist Nation examines Beijing's propaganda system and its patriotic education policy to see how Chinese identity is formed through a celebration of ancient civilization and a commemoration of humiliation suffered in modern history. It shows how China's relationship with itself and the world takes shape in the pessoptimist dynamics of patriotic education policy and the national humiliation curriculum, national days and national humiliation days, national maps and national humiliation maps, foreign brothers and domestic strangers, and Chinese patriots and foreign devils. Together the chapters demonstrate how the identity politics of Chinese nationalism produce the security politics of Chinese foreign policy. They show how the pessoptimist link between China's dream of civilization and its nightmare of humiliation is not fading away. It provides the template of China's foreign relations that inflames popular feelings for future demonstrations, and primes the indignant youth for explosive protests.

Callahan concludes that Chinese identity grows out of a dynamic of reciprocal influence that integrates official policy and popular culture. This interactive view of China's pessoptimist identity means that we need to rethink the role of the state and public opinion in Beijing's foreign policy-making.
Read an excerpt from China: The Pessoptimist Nation, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

William A. Callahan is Professor of International Politics and China Studies at the University of Manchester, and Co-Director of the British Inter-University China Center at Oxford University.

The Page 99 Test: China: The Pessoptimist Nation.

--Marshal Zeringue