Is there a necessary tension between the nationalism and liberal democracy concepts in today’s China? Are the rights of the nation (and its “long arm” the Party-state) and the rights of the individuals constituting the nation in deep contrast with each other and incompatible? These questions will be analyzed within this thesis by way of an assessment of respectively the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) state nationalist discourse’s view on the issue of national rights and the Chinese liberal nationalist discourse’s critique of the state view. The latter group, Chinese liberals are those groups of intellectuals that believe the struggle for individual rights should be a primary concern for Chinese national citizens and that this struggle should be supported and not subdued by the Party.
The methodological focus is a political discourse analysis of the state and liberal nationalist discourses. Both discourses will be structured and defined around narratives that have something to say about the conflict between collective (national rights) and individual (civil and political rights). In this regard it is clear that the state discourse represents a point of view that elevates national rights above the counterpart, human rights, in Chinese politics. The liberal discourse is critical of the state view that in effect proclaims that the individual’s rights and interests always should be subdued on part of the nation’s rights (and the Party’s rights as the representative of the nation). In this sense there may be seen a link between the state nationalist discourse and the Chinese human rights discourse. The latter discourse is strongly dominated by the CCP.
Indeed, the CCP state nationalist discourse guides the Chinese human rights argumentation to a relatively large extent. Main arguments promoted by state nationalists are repeated in human rights discussions internationally as parts of a Chinese human rights language that advocates a particular set of collective human rights. This language emphasizes 1) that China is subject to a particular set of national conditions that make a “Western” human rights conception non-eligible in the country, 2) that certain foreign values, such as the concern for political and civil freedoms on behalf of the individual, constitute a threat to the Chinese national interest with regard to overarching issues such as national stability, unity and state sovereignty and 3) that the Chinese Communist Party is an embodiment of the true Chinese nation and 4) that without the Party China will delve into chaos. Clearly the liberal criticism has moral merit to it but it will have a hard time guiding Chinese human rights policy because it advocates principles that question the CCP’s right to name the Chinese nation.