Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Tang, Wenfang

First Committee Member

Hesli, Vicki L

Second Committee Member

Lewis-Beck, Michael

Third Committee Member

Thies, Cameron

Fourth Committee Member

Polumbaum, Judy


This dissertation examines the process of through which the government of the People's Republic of China ostensibly produces popular legitimacy by inculcating an attachment to Chinese national identity among the public. It seeks to understand the theoretical connections between national identity and support for the state and to learn which groups of people are most affected by the state's influences in this regard. A basic two-step process is theorized, in which the first step is the state's attempt to shape the public's concept of Chinese national identity and the public's attachment to the nation. The bulk of the dissertation addresses this part of the process at the individual level. Two main mechanisms of state influence on national identity are examined: the educational system and the mass media. The main method of research used is the analysis of survey data. The analysis here comes from three survey datasets: the 2005-2008 wave of the World Values Surveys, the 2006-2007 Chinese Ethnicity Survey, and the 2008 China Survey. In the investigation of Chinese education, survey data analysis is supplemented by field research conducted in two middle schools in China, including classroom observation and informal conversations with teachers and students. A brief analysis of a middle school Chinese history textbook is also included. These qualitative investigations are able to show the mechanisms through which education produces an attachment to Chinese national identity. The last chapter of the dissertation turns to the second step in the process: nationalism's relationship with support for the state at the individual level. Survey data are again used to investigate this relationship.

This dissertation finds evidence that the state is able, to a certain extent, to influence national identity among the public, both in terms of the elements of Chinese national identity, and in terms of the strength of people's attachment to the nation. A person's level of exposure to the media and his or her level of education are both shown to be significant predictors of their levels of attachment to Chinese national identity, and these relationships look just as the theory would expect. With respect to the second part of the process, strong evidence is found that those who cling more tightly to Chinese national identity are more supportive of the state. In addition to this relatively unsurprising finding, however, we find that this relationship is the strongest among Han Chinese, and among those with particular ideas about the social purposes of China. From these findings it is concluded that the process of state legitimation through nationalism--an oft-mentioned but rarely examined process--does, to some extent, work. Levels of education and media consumption are some of the most powerful predictors of national attachment, and national attachment itself is the most powerful predictor of state support. However, while these are statistically significant relationships, they are not to be overstated. Most of the variation at the individual level, both in Chinese national identity and in state support, remains unexplained: both are difficult to successfully predict based on the models. The state, while it does have a `nationalizing' impact through the media and the educational system, does not by any means have control over popular levels of nationalism or state support.


China, legitimacy, nationalism, public opinion, state support, survey


v, 195 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 186-195).


Copyright 2011 Benjamin J. Darr