Kapok | Everything’s patriotic now!

Eric Sautedé

Patriotism is double-edged: nurture the bond that it entails and it becomes a virtue; make it a blind imperative and venture into dangerous territories in which hierarchies are induced, force prevails and ultimately oppression arises. Broadly speaking, patriotism is assumed to be an act of “love”, whereas nationalism, its contemporary by-product, helps build the case for war. Among the most notorious quotes drawing a distinction between the two is that by American essayist Stanley Harris: “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”

The word “patriotism” comes from “patria”, the Latin for “fatherland”, and indicated an attachment and commitment to a “familiar place” in Roman antiquity. It evolved into more of a political concept meaning a loyalty to some values, even though it was strictly more social than political. The civic engagement it presumed was in no way a challenge to the powers that be! From there, the idea was that patriotism be linked to citizenship, and a republican form of government took shape. In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, patriotism is “associated with the love of law and common liberty, the search for the common good, and the duty to behave justly toward one’s country.”

In contrast, nationalism, which originates in the Latin “natio”, meaning birth, implies a linkage between the birthplace, language and culture, although at least two perspectives compete: a more “objective” one, backed by German philosophers, emphasises the commonality of characteristics shared by a group of people; and a more “subjective” one, upheld by French philosophers, insists on “the will to live together”, and thus a voluntary act of belonging.

No doubt it is a mix of both conceptualizations that led Sun Yat-sen to define “nationalism” as one of the Three Principles of the People — together with “democracy” and “welfare” — that would allow China to restore its pride and become once again a free, prosperous and powerful country. In 1949, Mao’s Communist Party “liberated” China from foreign invaders, and the People’s Republic of China’s army is still today called the People’s Liberation Army. The problem is that “nationalism” is a “bourgeois ideology” in the Marxist tradition, and the reference to “nationalism” was somewhat confiscated by the Kuomintang, literally the “party of the people of a nation”. In Chinese, one refers to a “feeling” (xin) when patriotism is summoned, whereas a “doctrine” (zhuyi) is invoked when it comes to “nationalism”.

In today’s Macao, patriotism serves every purpose. No significant association will not include — or have its statutes changed to reflect that new requirement — an article that insists on the purpose to “love the country, love Macao” (aiguo aiao), whether it is to promote Macao’s F&B, modern dance or communal gatherings – even more so in education.

Although the “One thousand people program” (qianren jihua) funded by the Macao Foundation was originally to “nurture and promote the development of talents in Macao”, its blunt imperative is actually to bond with the “motherland”.

Almost all participating organisations in 2016 and 2017 (altogether 22 schools and 21 associations) correspond to Macau’s traditional patronage associations, the very same that have been vested with this task for decades — from the General Association of Chinese Students of Macao to the Association of Returned Overseas Chinese Macao, together with the youth organisations of the Kaifong, the Women’s General Association, the Federation of Trade Unions. Are these really the best channels to stimulate a “feeling” of double inclusiveness – an attachment to the familiar and a respect for a broader unity? Allowing for a bit of genuine “engagement” from diversified sources may prove more convincing!

Categories Opinion