Symbolic Power and Subnational Identity in China and the USA

Regardless of the domestic political climate, chances are that many Americans are still proud to hail from the United States. There is a strong sense of patriotism in this country, generally coming from citizens themselves. Whether it’s driven by notions of freedom and liberty, or perhaps other factors, most people are proud of their national identity. How does this compare to another great country on the world stage, one that disseminates nationalism in a very different way, China?

Jonathan Hassid, Associate Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, seeks to understand how national and subnational identities vary within and across the United States and China. Subnational identities are affiliations to one’s province or state or hometown that is separate from one’s connection to their country of origin. Both the United States and China are large, multi-ethnic, multinational countries, so there is large potential for subnational identities to play a role in one’s identity formation. To understand this, Hassid used both subjective and objective measures to capture cultural uniformity. He ran surveys in the U.S. and China, finding that both nations are immensely patriotic, agreeing that their respective countries are the greatest in the world. 

Most interesting, Hassid found that nationalism in the United States is more civic in nature, and in China it is based around an ethnic identity. In China, one’s connection to the country is essentially about being Han, whereas in the United States it is generally untied to one’s ethnic background. He supplemented survey research with analysis of street name data in order to understand how subunits varied across respective countries compared to the national average. The United States actually had less heterogeneity across the country compared to China, potentially suggesting greater cultural uniformity. This is indeed a surprising result as the CCP has taken a staunch top-down approach to ensure cultural stability and unity within the country. Ultimately, despite different mechanisms used to generate pride in these two countries, nationalism runs high in the United States and China.

Hassid’s talk today came from an ongoing book project. To learn more about his other research, click here.

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