East Asia

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 229-250

First online:

“Holding Nationalist Flags Against Red Flags” —Anti-American Icons in Contemporary China and their Reconstruction by the Public (1999–2003)

  • Simon ShenAffiliated withHong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese University Hong Kong Email author 

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Focusing on the construction and reconstruction process of anti-American icons in contemporary China, this paper compares the patterns of interactions between the Chinese government, intellectuals and general public during four events centering on China-US relations: the 1999 Belgrade embassy bombing, the early 2001 plane collision incident, the September 11 attacks, and the 2003 war in Iraq. The article suggests that the proliferation of anti-American icons in China does not only point towards the existence of anti-foreign ideologies. It is also a channel for different players in China to advance their personal and group interests. As long as tolerance from Beijing is signalled, much nationalist rhetoric is a coded way of directing limited dissent at the Chinese state itself, but how exactly the Chinese public hold the “nationalist flags” — which is allowed by the party–state — against the “red flags” of the same regime remains relatively unexplored. Filling up such an intellectual vacuum is the central focus of this paper.


Chinese nationalism Liberalists Martyrs Public opinions Sino-American relation