Nation / 国家
‘Nation’ tends to be understood as a community of people living in a particular area or a country, characterised by having its own government, language, history, and traditions.
The Chinese language makes no distinction between nation, country and state using them interchangeably to translate the word guojia (国家). In its narrow sense, the term ‘Chinese nation’ refers either to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) founded in 1949, or to the historical empires which controlled various parts of the territory that is today governed or claimed by the current Chinese regime. In its broad sense, it embodies the notion of a Chinese super-ethnicity, Zhonghua minzu (中华民族) – which is the Party State’s shorthand for all PRC nationals plus the Chinese diaspora.
The Chinese terms used to translate ‘nation’ are linked to notions of ethnicity and civilisation. As the official narrative equates the Chinese nation with the Chinese Communist Party-led state, Chinese patriotism – loving your nation (爱国) – involves loving the Communist Party and being loyal to the party-controlled state.
The boundaries of the modern nation-state are set by citizenship. In China’s official and popular discourse, however, the extent to which an individual is seen as belonging to the Chinese nation is first and foremost decided by a person’s ethnicity. All individuals with some Han Chinese heritage, including both PRC citizens and foreign nationals, are perceived by the state as being part of the Chinese nation. This notion has potential implications for all persons with Chinese ancestry, including a diaspora of as many as 60 million people.
The Chinese state divides the diaspora of the “Chinese nation” into three main groups: PRC nationals who reside abroad (huaqiao), “Chinese” naturalised abroad (huaren), and those of Chinese ancestry born overseas (huayi). The three groups only include overseas Han, while a fourth group, “shaoshu minzu huaqiao huaren”, or ethnic minority overseas Chinese, has been suggested to categorize non-Han with roots from PRC territory.
The Chinese leadership expects “the sons and daughters of China”, including “overseas Chinese compatriots”, to contribute to the safeguarding of national interests such as the realisation of the China Dream of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” (中华民族伟大复兴的中国梦). The slogan, which was officially launched by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2012, is a euphemism for strengthening the Chinese Party State.
An official narrative suggests that the Chinese nation is the world’s only “civilisational state” (文明型国家), meaning that it is unique in terms of ancient history, territorial vastness and technological development, and where the (Han-)Chinese population are indigenous to the territory. By Beijing’s own accounts, the Chinese nation is based on a civilisation dating back some five thousand years. In order to be able to promote its version of Chinese history, the PRC government has embarked on a project in which science is tasked with backing up this claim.
From the Chinese regime’s perspective, the Chinese nation that it claims to represent not only encompasses citizens of other states and the history of ancient empires. The notion of “national sovereignty and territorial integrity” (国家主权和领土完整) also includes territories outside of the Communist Party’s control, such as Taiwan. Before the founding of the PRC, however, the Communist movement explicitly excluded Taiwan from China’s territory. This was also the case in the Nationalist government’s Constitution of 1912.
The official name of the Chinese nation is China (中国, Zhongguo) or the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国). When Taiwanese refer to ‘China’ (Zhongguo), it is normally with the connotation that it is a country separate from Taiwan. When China is referred to as the mainland (大陆) or inland (内地), the implicit meaning is that China and Taiwan form part of the same nation.
 O. Almén, The Chinese Communist Party and the Diaspora – Beijing’s extraterritorial authoritarian rule, Stockholm: Swedish Defence Research Agency, 2020.