, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 229-250
Date: 03 Aug 2007

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

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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.