"China has stood up!": Mao Zedong's revolutionary nationalism (masquerading as Marxism) empowered the Chinese people to shrug-off both the European and Japanese imperialists who had subjugated and exploited their country for more than a century. They must find New Zealanders' willingness to sell their most valuable economic resources to foreigners deeply perplexing.
HAS NEW ZEALAND become a "creepily nationalistic" country? Is xenophobia running rampant in the heartland? At what point, exactly, does love of country become a disease?
It’s always struck me as odd that both the extreme Left and the extreme Right have no love of borders. Whether it be Karl Marx’s ringing exhortation for "workers of all lands" to "unite!"; or the proud boast of free marketeers that globalisation has made the nation state "redundant"; poor old Patria has been getting it in the neck for the best part of 150 years.
Fortunately Patria – literally, "the land of our fathers" – has a pretty tough neck.
The Socialist International, in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War One, worked hard to ensure that if the worst happened, and war did break out between the Great Powers, proletarian internationalism would trump the nationalist’s call to arms. "The bayonet", cried the socialists, "is a weapon with a worker at both ends."
But in August 1914, when the mobilisation orders were posted, workers of all lands rushed not to the barricades, but to the railway stations and the recruitment offices. The International’s call to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the workers across the borders was drowned out by the cries of: "La Patrie en danger!"
The bayonet turned out to be what it had always been: a weapon with "Us" at one end – and "Them" at the other.
The clarion call to internationalism rang out once again in August 1991, when actually existing socialism "in one country" (and its satellites) suddenly withered away.
The disintegration of the Soviet Empire, boasted the American neoliberal scholar, Francis Fukuyama, signalled not only "the end of history", but the inevitability of globalisation. The triumph of free market capitalism and liberal democracy, he predicted, would set humanity on course for a borderless world.
Ten years later, nineteen young men – apparently unconvinced by Mr Fukuyama’s thesis – demonstrated that history wasn’t quite dead by flying their hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
America’s response was instructive. Less than a month after 9/11 the US Congress passed the Patriot Act, and President George W. Bush established the Department of Homeland Security.
Turns out borders mattered after all.
So, is nationalism really as "creepy" as the Auckland business community’s glamorous correspondent, Deborah Hill Cone, suggests? Or, is Patria’s claim to our love and loyalty as strong and as natural as that of our own parents’? And, is being "Pro Patria", or, to set this whole discussion in its proper context, taking a lively interest in who is, and isn’t, permitted to purchase large tracts of New Zealand farmland, really the same as xenophobia?
The short answer, according to Property Council New Zealand’s Chief Executive, Connal Townsend, is "Yes."
Interviewed by Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme, Mr Townsend said that "there’s a real danger in pandering to a kind of ignorant, racist and xenophobic anti-foreigner feeling in this country, and not actually thinking sensibly about what’s actually best for our nation."
Ms Hill-Cone is even more explicit: "On the chattering classes dinner party circuit it is acceptable to be downright racist against Chinese interests buying land here".
I suspect the Chinese themselves would greet such statements with a degree of wry amusement – and be genuinely puzzled as to why those who sought to protect New Zealand’s vital economic interests are being pilloried in this way. No Chinese citizen would seriously contend that foreigners be permitted to venture into the heart of their homeland and secure exclusive control of its key resources.
Most Westerners simply don’t appreciate the Chinese people’s intense shame at being humiliated and exploited by European and Japanese imperialism. The Chinese State’s history stretches back through two-and-a-half millennia and no people could be prouder of their nation’s achievements.
When Mao Zedong created the Peoples Republic in 1949, he declared to the world: "China has stood up" – a statement whose full import could only be appreciated by a people who, for more than a century, had been forced to bow their heads to foreign invaders.
No, there’s little New Zealanders could teach the Chinese people about the love of country.
What Ms Hill Cone and Mr Townsend are teaching us, however, is how little they understand the people whose investment in New Zealand they are promoting. The Chinese may be tough negotiators – hard bargainers – but they will not be "put off" by those whose patriotism requires them to fiercely protect their nation’s resources. They would do no less – and they expect the same from their economic partners.
Indeed, I’m confident the only behaviour Chinese citizens would find "creepy" is the willingness of some New Zealanders to sell their country to strangers. Mao’s revolutionary nationalists called such people "compradors" – native-born agents for foreign businesses.
Those who did not flee to Formosa were shot.
This essay was originally published in The Press on Tuesday, 13 July 2010.