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July 06, 2008


Jillian York

Wonderful summation, Rebecca. I particularly loved this quote:

One thing that's clear from the GV experience so far is that people have multiple identities: many bloggers chafe at being pigeonholed in accordance with one accident of birth above all others.

Alice B.

Thanks for this, Rebecca. This is a nice big picture snapshot. Very helpful for someone who wasn't there in person. Lots of work ahead.


You wrote: "Will indigenous people in Bolivia and teenagers in Malawi be deprived of the chance to shape the future of global communications to the same extent that college kids in California and Finland were able to do?"

As those communities are introduced to new technology, they become a different iteration of themselves, so it is hard to say just how a community now would be affected later.

That is, if we argue that technology is meant to foster change. Is it poor thinking to establish that I believe technology is meant to move people from archaic beliefs to more profound (relatively so) beliefs that are different than those generated in that people's current cultural framework?


Thank you Rebecca, your post is thorough and very readable. I am trying to write an article for Media Watch in Taiwan, and I will use some of your words.


Different people react to the internet in different ways, and one mistake is to take one person's experiences and generalize them across all people.

It's interesting since the internet has made me much more of a nationalist than I otherwise would have been. A nationalist that tries to be tolerant, open-minded and cosmopolitan, but a nationalist nevertheless. Accidents of birth put me of three potentially conflicting nationalisms, that of the United States, the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of China. But the internet has allowed me to integrate those different nationalisms, and I'm actually much more emotional about the US, the PRC, and the ROC than I would be without the internet.

As far as what nationalism means to me. With the internet you realize how large the world is, and that there are millions of issues and millions of different groups of people that you could care about. You don't have time to care about everyone and everything, so you have to choose. What being nationalistic means to me is to say I care about these people and these issues.


One thing that I think is true in the current world is that "one size fits all" just will not work, so I think trying to come up with a general structure that fits all situations is pointless.

Part of the reason you *need* different voices is that situation A is going to be different than situation B, and to understand what is going on you need people with deep knowledge of a particular situation.

This is one reason that the concept of journalism as opinion leaders and shapers needs to be rethought since pretty much everyone knows something to much greater detail than the Washington press corps.

As far as my own experience...

The great nightmare that I have is that the various nationalisms that are part of my identity will turn out to conflict irreconcilably, and this could happen if the PRC and the US get into a war over Taiwan. I used to be quite annoyed that I was in this situation, but then I realized that if the US and the PRC did get into a war over Taiwan, I wouldn't be the only one who would be looking at a disaster, and being where I am, I do have some rather deep knowledge of the political systems of Washington, Beijing, and Taipei, which I can use to be a small part in making sure that things don't blow up.

Also in talking to people you learn a lot of unexpected things. For example, I've learned a lot about what it means to be "Chinese" from the Czechs, the Irish, and the Syrians. Studying and thinking about Syrian nationalists helps me much better understand Chinese nationalism since I can look at Syria with much more detachment and less emotion than I can looking at China.

One of the interesting ironies is that one of the people who I think of as being a "model Chinese person" happened to be my Latin teacher who was a traditionalist Catholic from North Carolina and was as far as I know, not ethnically Chinese at all. The reason I think of that person as the model Chinese is that he embodied what "being Chinese" means to me, even though he didn't have brown eyes or black hair.

Studying history in college, I learned that this wasn't a coincidence. The Manchu emperors had a problem of getting people to see themselves as "Chinese" even though ethnically they were very different. The way they did that was to define "Chinese" in terms of scholarship and academic advancement and to deemphasize race and ethnicity. The Manchu agenda of being accepted as Chinese also fit in with the agendas of Catholic missionaries like Matteo Ricci, who were as far as I am concerned also quite Chinese. What ended up happening was that there was an idea, a passion that got transmitted through my Latin teacher's teachers and my parent's teachers.

I didn't realize it (and neither did he) but when I was in high school Latin reading Caesar and learning about the history of the Roman Republic, but my Latin teacher and I were part of a conversation about "being Chinese" that has been going on for a very, very long time.

Nationalism works in some odd ways.

Rebecca MacKinnon

Really good points you raise Twofish. You're absolutely right about the fallacy of generalizing, and right to point out that the way the internet influences a person's nationalism may be very different depending on a person.

As you say in your great second comment, it's also true that nationalism has different flavors: it can be inclusive or can be racist - and that the Chinese sense of what it means to be "Chinese" has not always been as ethnically exclusive as it generally seems to be at this point in history. An old friend of mine in Beijing used to point out that what made China great in its heyday was the ability of Chinese culture to accept all kinds of outsiders and ethnic groups as long as they agreed to conduct their lives a certain way - and that the multicultural makeup of Chinese culture had not adequately been taught in Chinese schools.
To go back to the first point, I guess I am not a determinist or fatalist in that I believe the impact of technology and media on the future of human society is not pre-determined: how things play out will depend on the choices and actions of many individuals and many groups. So I believe in being pro-active. I am hopeful that if we believe that having a democratic (small "d") conversation amongst all the world's people is a good thing for the human race in general, and if we do something proactive to facilitate such a conversation, we will increase the chances that more people's experiences of nationalism - if they retain it or find it strengthened- will be of the inclusive and tolerant variety, as opposed to the ethno-centric and/or confrontational variety.


The notion of "Chinese" as a national identity originated in the 19th century like pretty much all national identities. Once you have a nationalistic notion of "Chinese" its possible to look at history through that point of view, and to start creating educational bureaucracies that reinforce the idea of nationhood.

One of the interesting things about looking at someone else's nationalism is that you figure out how weird their history books looks to you, and if you think for a moment, you figure out how weird your history books must look to them.

A lot of the contradictions in the notion of Chinese was shaped come from different groups in the 19th and 20th century that were trying to define the term to advance their political objectives. You had the Manchus that were a small minority group trying to create a national identity that included themselves and all of the peoples of the lands which they ruled, and the Ming loyalists, then the Taiping and then Nationalist revolutionaries that were trying to create a national identity that excluded the Manchus.

What the Manchus in the 19th century did was to appear to be different things to the different groups that they ruled. To Han Chinese, they portrayed themselves as patrons of Confucian classical learning, and used the Imperial examinations to create a class of bureaucrats who were loyal to the Emperor. It's this group of people that were my intellectual ancestors, and one of the interesting things is how these notions of how the world should work carried over to elite college admissions in the United States.

I should also point out that the notion of Chinese that came out of this is not particularly ethnically exclusive. One can see this by the passionate insistence that a lot of people from the PRC have that Tibetans and Uighurs are Chinese, even though they are very distinct ethnically, culturally, and linguistically from the majority Han. And within Han Chinese you have lots of differences.

In fact, one of the annoyances of Chinese nationalists like myself is the fact that people in the West often insist that nation-states be ethnically homogenous and oppose efforts to create a national identity out of people that just don't look like each other.

I get very nervous around people that advocate "narrow" and "clear" definitions of national identity since my status is very unclear and "narrow" definitions of what it means to be Chinese or American put me at grave risk of being an outsider or worse yet, a traitor.


Is there really a need for an alternate GV arranged by topics, or is this just a natural progression where we will begin tagging articles not by a country but choosing instead to tag them as a topic. Most of the times, we blog about events that are not exactly "regional", they could've happened anywhere, not specifically in that area, and we've gotten used to tagging them as a country first and foremost.

I think the change is in us. Or that's the conclusion we reached when discussing covering the topics of culture, literature, sexuality, etc... just tag things better, be broader in the topics covered and eventually the "country" aspect will become extra information, and not one that defines the post.


Nice post Rebecca.

Multiple identities - good language for that is 'polymorphy;' it's especially interesting in severely restricted environments, where a second identity exists outside the public sphere, for instance Pakistani or Iranian women with travel, work, and association restrictions imposed on them by their families.

Two thought experiments for how GV would look without the nation-state structure:

I'm a big proponent of a borderless world. It would be really fascinating to set up the borderless world shadow site, to see whether and how participants choose to align themselves. Of course, we'd take all sorts of baggage along, but would something else also emerge?

Alternatively, the polymorphy approach; is there some way to exploit that notion to allow for multiple characterizations of a given place, issue, subject? User customization? Tags, obviously. What other tools could encourage or make evident polymorphy? It's the same challenge we face with serendipity - engineering randomness into our directed searches on the web.

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