Posted by: Mm | July 16, 2010

New patriotic ontologies take it to heart

In 1983, Zhang Mingmin sang about “his Chinese heart” (中国心), an allegedly unchangeable essence of Chineseness, that flew through his veins wherever and whenever he was (“无论何时无论何地”). The song that became an anthem of the new surge of Chinese patriotism, claimed that there is a permanent Chinese characteristic (pun intended) that relates a Chinese person – even if he/she was born elsewhere (就算生在他乡也改变不了) – to the emblema of Chinese motherland such as the Great Wall, Yangzi river, Huang shan or the Yellow river. In this song, xin, heart, is used as a locus of a person national identity. The other defining element is the supposedly Chinese blood flowing through this heart (流在心里的血) and that can’t be changed either.

Interestingly enough, this quite basic nationalist rhetoric mixes two different symbolic traditions. The use of the xin, heart, is quite classical, for the heart is understood by classical authors as the locus of the cognitive capacity, and not, as it is sometimes misunderstood, as the source of emotions. The heart, in classical terms, is also essentially connected to the idea of the inner nature, xing, the inborn quality of the person. An individual is defined by its xing, whether essentially inclined to good (e.g. in Meng Zi) or evil (e.g. in Xun Zi) and the nationalist rhetoric seems to imply that being a Chinese is an inborn characteristic, a cognitive capacity, that largely determines a Chinese person, regardless of passport or citizenship.

On the second level, Chineseness is linked to a person’s blood, namely, his physical composition, as xue is traditionally interpreted (血气) as linked to the person’s qi, his bodily composition. If we apply this questionable duality, we could speculate that the Chineseness of the Chinese, according to the ideas of this new patriotism, is defined  both on the level of bodily composition (形) and the mind (心). Apart from that, if we follow Zhang’s text, it is determined by tradition, ancestry, cultural and natural heritage.

Be it so, it is even more interesting to observe this patriotic ontology in relation to the new growing “occidentophily” or a more specific “europhily” in China. Interesting examples can be found in the discourse of the travel advertising. Most amusing specimen I could find is an ad for a new series of Europe travel tours (such as “11 countries in 15 days” ) with an alluring slogan: “寻觉你的欧洲之心!” (Get to feel your European heart!).

The picture in the background, a hybrid European skyline, a mixture of EU cities, is accentuated by a rock guitarist, British phone booth and a flying Gallic helmet. The most interesting part, however, is the slogan itself. If we read it together with the concept of the new nationalist “chinese heart”, does it mean that there is a European heart to be found within the hearts of the Chinese? The 18th century Figurists would gladly agree. Is the European heart, found while rushing with a camcorder from St. Peter’s to the Capitol, supposed to replace the originally present Chinese heart?  … What would a “heart attack” mean in this context?

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