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Focusing on Chinese nationalism: an inherently flawed perspective? A reply to Allen Carlson

Nations and Nationalism

Published online on


My article replies to Allen Carlson's critique of the existing literature on Chinese nationalism (Carlson's article was published in Volume 15, issue 1 of Nations and Nationalism, 2009). I address Carlson's criticisms and proceed to evaluate his proposal to move away from an allegedly unhelpful focus on nationalism towards the allegedly more illuminating framework of national identity construction. My approach to the existing literature on Chinese nationalism acknowledges efforts made within it at grappling with issues of theory and definition and builds on this acknowledgement to operate a selective appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses. I argue that while some of the problems identified by Carlson do indeed plague the literature, his advocacy of abandoning nationalism as a focus of research is unwarranted. There is continuing validity in using nationalism as a lens for understanding how China sees its place in the world.