Invented Borders: The Tension Between Grassroots Patriotism and State-led Patriotic Campaigns in China

Chi Zhang, Yiben Ma

    Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Patriotic campaigns and mass mobilization draw on existing xenophobic attitudes of the public, reinforcing the ‘us vs. them’ dualism between China and ‘the West’. However, patriotic campaigns are not always top-down, state-led, nor are they always primarily driven by political ideology. Patriotic content appeals to a growing nationalist audience who consumes a mixed feeling of perceived victimization at the hand of foreign aggression and the pride arising from being a Chinese citizen. This paper argues that the profitability of patriotic content circulating on social media exacerbated the tension between market-driven grassroots patriotism and state-led patriotic campaigns. The tension grows out of, and is manifested in, the online popular debate around economically driven, grassroots ‘patriotic’ content that can challenge the state state-led patriotic rhetoric. While the state sometimes strategically co-opts some patriotic contents into its own patriotic narratives, it also delegitimises other undesired ones through labels such as ‘high-level black’ (gaoji hei) or ‘low-level red’ (diji hong). These labels were initially used to differentiate meticulously crafted political satire and parody from incompetent, illogical and vulgar propaganda pieces that unintendedly blemish the state’s patriotic campaigns, but later evolved into an exercise of power to distance the CCP from undesired patriotic content.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)897-913
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Contemporary China
    Issue number144
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


    • high-level black
    • low-level red
    • nationalism
    • patriotic campaigns
    • propaganda
    • satire
    • social media

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Development
    • Political Science and International Relations


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