Dr. Alessandro Uras
Research and Teaching Fellow, Department of Social Sciences and Institutions, University of Cagliari (Italy)
The rebranding of maritime patriotism in the South China Sea
As ruling elites manipulate identity and culture, they generate expectations about how the nation- state will conduct itself in domestic and international settings. 2005 marked the 600th anniversary of Zhang He’s journey of diplomacy, trade and discovery. The myth of the ancient mariner helps Beijing to reorient its citizens towards the sea, instilling in them a sense of mission. This process generated an increased awareness among the citizenship, but also a strong criticism towards the political strategy in the South China Sea, which became a question of primary national interest. Beijing is attempting to use the past in order to build a certain identity and a maritime culture with a specific fitting with today’s exigencies, but it also has to direct in the right way the growing popular cognizance. The Chinese leadership needed to engage the population in this process, consequently they started to craft a shared maritime identity in which the sea was always been an important asset. This work aims to investigate the nationalistic rhetoric established by the Chinese political élite regarding the South China Sea issue, and how such political discourse contributed to build a standard collective consciousness of the sea among the Chinese population. Building on that, the paper will outline the process of politicization and securitization of specific cultural products emerged in the post-Tiananmen years, and how they contributed to rebrand the South China Sea as an effective part of the Chinese territory. In such regard, the 1992 Patriotic Education Campaign and the inception of the Maritime Day in 2005 will be central in our study.