My dissertation is currently entitled Rational Nationalism on the Rise: Chinese public opinion and foreign relations. Below is the abstract from the most recent version of my dissertation.  You can also access my Dissertation Proposal (Rasmussen, May 2012).


Dissertation Abstract

The following dissertation evaluates the impact of emergent Chinese (PRC) “rational nationalism” on foreign relations. The study is rooted in the view that nationalism can both constrain and enable a state’s foreign policy pursuits. Nationalism is both a positive and a negative for Chinese foreign relations. Necessarily, the study examines both the domestic emergence and international impact of Chinese nationalism. While this analysis focuses on the “second image” (Waltz) in international affairs, there is also a need to consider contending theories of international relations particularly the debate between material versus non-material sources of motivation in state behavior. That debate is captured in the term “rational nationalism”, which contains the contrast between the rational actor model and the constructivist perspective that ideational factors explain international behavior. Understanding how Chinese nationalism effects its foreign relations allows for a unique window on state motivations, particularly that of a rising power.

Methodologically, I employ comparative case analysis in a mixed-method approach. I examine several cases including protest against Japan, the United States, and Europe contrasted by non-emergence of protest against Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations. In the process, I answer key questions: When does nationalistic protest materialize and escalate? What are the ways in which the Chinese government uses nationalism but also is beholden to domestic public opinion? What are the responses by other states to Chinese nationalistic upsurges?  First, I explain when nationalism emerges in response to an international incident with nationalistic protest as a dependent variable. After that, I show through multiple cases how the Chinese government relationship with protest varies. Finally, by focusing on the variable of nationalism, I will be able to isolate its impact on international affairs as foreign audiences respond to Chinese rational nationalism.

I examine the early 20th century historical origins of Chinese nationalism in order to understand current cases where nationalism plays a major role in foreign relations. In doing so, I show whether Chinese nationalism has an impact on its foreign relations and the degree to which it enables China’s foreign policies. The origin of contemporary Chinese rational nationalism is both government managed and grassroots. Nationalistic protest emerges domestically in China when there is 1) sensitivity on traditional security concerns; 2) Chinese geopolitical ascendance in international affairs; and 3) historical and territorial tensions. I find that nationalism is not linked to economic forecasts as a ‘rally the troops’ effort during periods of economic decline nor to leadership change or potential periods of domestic instability. While the Chinese central government has the ability to manage nationalistic protest, several cases show limitations in either mobilizing or quelling protest. In fact, the complex government relationship with rational nationalism should not be characterized as perfectly unilateral as leveraging protest requires an approach that allows nationalistic protest to go beyond the government’s control. Beyond the analysis of the emergence and government relationship with rational nationalism, I find that Chinese nationalism can serve to change the behavior of foreign audiences outside of China, enabling Chinese foreign relations. In this way, nationalism can be seen as a way for China to gain leverage in international affairs.


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