Princeton University Library Catalog


Ting, Christie [Browse]
Senior thesis
He, Yinan [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
138 pages
Restrictions note:
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note:
In the past four decades, Chinese nationalism has emerged as a strong yet often unpredictable force to transform public opinion and foreign policy discourse in China. In particular, strong anti-Japanese public sentiment in China had recurrently fueled widespread demonstrations and significantly destabilized Sino-Japanese relations. This thesis examines the policy implications of Chinese nationalism through a theoretical framework and applies it as an independent variable to understand its impact on Sino-Japanese relations in two case studies: the 2010 and 2012 Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands disputes. A defining characteristic of modern Chinese nationalist thought today is indisputably its anti-Japanese component. This thesis begins by tracing the evolution of this component through distinct historical periods. Beginning from the 1980s to the 2000s, I identify three major sources and proponents of anti-Japanese nationalist ideas and values: Chinese political leaders’ official statements and diplomatic rhetoric, Chinese academic personnel and history textbooks, and finally, market-oriented mass media and the Internet. Tracking their impact on Chinese public opinion over time, this thesis finds that anti-Japanese nationalist advocacy has largely experienced a shift in agency, from party-state institutions and mechanisms to nonstate actors and independent organizations. This phenomenon implies that in a matter of four decades, anti-Japanese attitudes and sentiments have rapidly diffused across and permeated through Chinese society to become deeply entrenched in Chinese public opinion. The thesis then proceeds to analyze the political implications and historical background of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. It finds that China’s Diaoyu policy was largely moderate and conciliatory from the 1990s to 2005, but has experienced a markedly negative turn since 2010. To understand the reasons behind this strategic adjustment, the study introduces two casual mechanisms, emotion and intention, to explain how Chinese nationalism exacerbates the Chinese people’s emotional grievances and threat perception of Japan. The study goes on to propose three hypotheses, to examine how Chinese nationalism 1) shifts the focus and direction of foreign policy discourse 2) distorts policymakers’ strategic reasoning and relative gains concerns and 3) influences foreign policy outcomes. Analyses of the facts and time sequence in both 2010 and 2012 crises validate all three hypotheses. In each incident, widespread displays of anti-Japanese sentiment, such as public mobilization and sensationalist media reportage exerted overwhelming public pressure on Beijing to harden its position on the sovereignty of the islands and to take stronger diplomatic and military measures against Japan. Finally, this thesis concludes with a review of the most recent developments related to the islands. China’s successful leadership transition and increasingly stable domestic political conditions can catalyze the move toward reconciliation. This prediction is corroborated by a positive turn in Chinese diplomatic rhetoric, state-media reports, enactment of new maritime policies, and more voices calling for peace and constructive engagement. However, the study remains cautious towards the outlook of Chinese nationalism. Despite official efforts to censor media and online content, the prevalence of strong anti-Japanese public opinion may invite more acrimonious island disputes in the future.