SCMP Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Soccer win greeted with pride and caution


China was engulfed in growing nationalism yesterday after its soccer team ended decades of attempts to qualify for the World Cup. However, analysts cautioned that the euphoria should not be allowed to mask the problems facing the country.
China has had a fruitful year. Last month, it was approved as a full member of the World Trade Organisation. In July, Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
Soccer fan Zhang Juxiang, a business student at Jimei University in Xiamen, Fujian, said the successes signalled China's growing national strength, adding: "We are becoming more unified than before. In the past, China did not have a high standing internationally. However, the situation is very different now."
Michelle Wang, an office worker in Shanghai aged in her mid-20s, echoed Mr Zhang's views. "Every Chinese expects success," she said. "I am very proud of China."
Poon Yeuk-yu, a business student from Guangzhou studying at Hong Kong Baptist University, shared the optimism. "The success of the soccer team shows that our country has become stronger than before," she said.
Lau Siu-kai, professor of sociology at Hong Kong's Chinese University, said the central Government had taken advantage of the rise of nationalism to unify the people and legitimise its rule. However, he warned that surging nationalism might lead to xenophobia if public sentiment was not handled properly.
"Chinese people always believe that China will eventually obtain her rightful place in the world," Professor Lau said. "However, over-aspiration - coupled with their self-awareness of the country's shortcomings and problems - would make them over-sensitive to disrespect from Western countries."
Peng Kaiping, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, did not believe recent successes would contribute to a revival of nationalism.
"Chinese people are enjoying a happy mood at the moment . . . nationalism will only be revived if people are defeated or have negative experiences," he said.
But he added that recent international achievements would make the Chinese people realise that China could succeed by "playing by the rules".
Hong Kong-based China-watcher Lau Yui-siu said while it was understandable that the Chinese Government would emphasise the nation's achievements, it was important the public did not become blinded to its problems.
He said if instability occurred, it was doubtful whether the Chinese could face the challenges posed, and that public resentment would rise as more people felt the pain, through job cuts, of integration with the global economy.