Investments in Patriotism: A Case Study of the PRC in the Post-Deng Era

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Michael Nylan


This paper explores two types of investment in the current People’s Republic of China, both of which promote fantasies about the past and future, presumably as a way to forestall uncomfortable conversations about the present. But the author is less interested in state decisions than in what makes an unofficial person “buy into” such fantasies. Her answer is, “misperceptions about tradition” (some intentionally fostered by the Chinese Communist Party), longstanding cultural preoccupations (some distorted in the current climate), and genuine desires to secure honor and glory in an insecure world. Her largely diagnostic paper briefly considers possible responses to the question, “What, in such a dire situation, can be done to introduce more complex notions of sedimented identities?”

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How to Cite
Nylan, M. (2019). Investments in Patriotism: A Case Study of the PRC in the Post-Deng Era. Journal of World Philosophies, 4(1), 55-86. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Michael Nylan

Michael Nylan (Princeton PhD, 1983) is Professor of History at the University of California at Berkeley, where her primary field is early China and her second field is the modern reception of antiquity, its “use and abuse.” Her most recent books detail the role of classical learning in China (early to contemporary), the history of the Western Han capital at Chang’an (Augustan Rome’s equal in size and organization), and a famous letter ascribed to Sima Qian, China’s most admired historian; as well as pleasure theory in China from the fourth century BCE to the eleventh century CE. Current projects include an English translation of the Documents classic, the prime repository of political thinking in early China, as well as essays on manuscript culture, resonance theories, great libraries, and the future of comparative philosophy. Cross-cultural analysis (especially with Ptolemaic Egypt and classical Greece and Rome) remains important to her thinking and writing.