Chinese Anarchism for the 21st Century

The case for unique principles and ideology for the development of a Chinese identity within anarchist politics and the wider socio-political sphere

By Nikola Laurieston

Published: March 2018

A link to a PDF file of the essay can be found here:



Chinese people have had a long history of civilisation and culture, dating back thousands of years. With the legacy of European colonialism left on the Chinese people which continues to the 21st century, the need for a uniquely Chinese-influenced approach to anarchism must be pioneered so that anarchism will preserve the freedom of the Chinese people and the preservation of our heritage. This can be achieved through an anarchist adaptation of Sun Yat-sen’s three principles of the people as a structure for the forming of a Chinese anti-colonialist and anti-racist movement, characterised and unified by a Chinese identity. Solidarity and mutual aid must be promoted with other movements of other ethnic groups so that we may fully achieve the implementation of the principles. Without our movement and identity, we risk losing everything, besides race, that makes us Chinese and distinct from all other ethnic groups, both in our modern society and in any envisioned anarchist future.


Chinese anarchism has had its peak influence during the late Qing dynasty/early republic period (Yu and Scalapino, 1961). Leading up to the 21st century, the public and obvious influence of Chinese anarchism has declined, being forced to become an underground movement in the present day (Dickens, 2010). It is from my personal experience that Chinese anarchism has not made its impact on Chinese populations in western societies, which has impacted the manner in which Chinese individuals respond to xenophobia and racism, making this a significant issue to be considered by Chinese populations in understanding our place in the world and our potential power as a socio-political movement.

In this essay, a case will be presented as to how and why Chinese anarchism is to be promoted as an influence and guidance on how Chinese populations in western nations and societies can develop presence and a political vehicle. Intersectionality will be discussed, with the role that Chinese activists should play in supporting and showing solidarity to other social movements using the political vehicle for revolution as a tool for support.

Throughout this essay, the traditional form of writing will be used for the Chinese translations of different terms, with the Pinyin pronunciation included alongside. This will only apply to the first use of terminology; later uses of the same terminology will not include translations or Pinyin. Dr. Sun Yat-sen will be referenced as “Dr. Sun Yat-sen” followed by his Chinese name and Pinyin pronunciation. As with the terminology, this will only apply to when his name is first referred to in the essay.

Part 1: Three Principles of the People (三民主義, Sān Mín ZYì)

The three principles of the people is a political philosophy which has been developed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙, Sūn Yì Xiān) to provide a framework for establishing a Chinese republic to replace the imperial government of the Qing dynasty (清朝, Qīng cháo). These three principles are listed at the sub-headings below for this part, with the details of the definitions and applications of each principle to the subject of this dissertation discussed.

In a brief summary of the three principles, I will define them each with a few sentences here.

Nationalism: Chinese culture has had a tradition of kinship and filial piety (, xiào) due to religious influences such as Confucianism (儒家, rú jiā) (Teon, 2016) but not of national identity, which has led to China being a fractured nation with divided people (Sun, n.d.). Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s vision of a nationalist China meant that all ethnicities living in China will be unified under a common identity to be strengthened against western and Japanese nationalism so that China can combat the imperialist ambitions of such nations (Sun, n.d.).

Democracy: Sun Yat-sen’s vision of democracy is not completely different to the republican system of government of the west. However, a key difference is that while in the west, democracy is associated with the liberty of individuals, while Sun Yat-sen believed in the collective freedom of the liberty of the nation (Linebarger, 2012). While this may seem paradoxical, it is not necessarily so, as the lack of organised and disciplined people leads to a weak nation that is easily oppressed. Following where this justification leads, it would appear that Sun Yat-sen believed that this organisation and discipline should come about through a governing leadership which is made up of elected individuals by the people, with democracy being the expression of the Chinese people’s power as a nation (Linebarger, 2012).

People’s livelihood: the meaning and definition of this principle is controversial and highly disputed. The interpretation provided by Linebarger (2012) explains that Sun Yat-sen believed that there are three doctrines to people’s livelihood: implementation of nationalist democracy, national enrichment and economic justice. For the doctrine of implementation of nationalist democracy, people’s livelihood is believed to be necessary for the Chinese people to be able to gather the material strength to resist imperialist oppression and allow the operation of the other two principles (Linebarger, 2012). The doctrines of national enrichment and economic justice lead to potential conclusions being drawn that Sun Yat-sen’s principle of people’s livelihood is a socialist principle (or is applicable as a socialist principle), addressing the need of the Chinese people to become economically enriched to escape poverty and for economic justice to be achieved through the fair distribution of property and wealth (Linebarger, 2012).

Nationalism (民族主義, Mín Zú Zhǔ Yì)

In western interpretations of nationalism, it would appear that it is contradictory and impossible to both support nationalism and anarchism together. However, I believe nationalism in the form of Sun Yat-sen’s principle can be applicable as being able to promote the liberty of Chinese people in western nations and societies.

If we look at the anti-racism movements of other ethnic groups, we can see that they are unified by a cause to preserve their unique identity and to promote pride so that they will not be seen as inferior to the identity of the white race or western civilisation. This can be found in the unity of the Black Panther Party (while they were Marxists and not anarchists, their pride in their black ethnicity and effort to protect their ethnicity and culture from assimilation and racism provides lessons to anarchists of colour, specifically Chinese anarchists for the purposes of this essay) as their organisation gave black people a unified cause (Baggins, 2002).

I must add that in my own personal view, I do not believe that Chinese people in the west face the same issues that black people, during the time period in which the Black Panthers existed, faced. This is not a call for Chinese people to unify in an identity to compete with other ethnic groups for attention. As with all groups and identities, we all have our own distinct issues we will be dealing with, so we cannot compare ourselves against other ethnic groups or claim that we have the same needs. Issues that are specifically Chinese are what needs to be addressed.

Keeping in line with anarchist values, the “Chinese identity” which is intended to unify Chinese people against racism and assimilation is a voluntary identity to be adopted. Chinese people should not be coerced into identifying themselves with the nationalist values. While this is to avoid authoritarianism, this is also because of the question of who is Chinese. The geographical area of China is made up of many different ethnic groups, some of which identify themselves as Chinese (such as the Manchu people) and some of which see themselves as distinct from the Chinese identity (such as the Tibetan people). Coercion into reviving and maintaining Chinese culture and values is not easy when drawing lines between Chinese and non-Chinese people is blurred. Doing so would risk us perpetrating the very issue we are fighting against on other ethnic groups: assimilation.

While the question of who is Chinese can be defined as people belonging to the Han Chinese ethnic group, this is also not a sufficient solution. The Manchu people are not Han Chinese, however there are Manchu people who identify themselves as Chinese. In excluding ethnic groups such as the Manchu people from the Chinese identity, we are closing off people who have had lived experiences, history and culture as Chinese people on the basis that their racial heritage does not match. This can only lead to the conclusion that nationalism must be non-ethnic and take the form of an identity which is voluntarily associated with.

This logic may cause some to come to conclusions that white Caucasians, who have generations of ancestry having settled in the geographical region of China and adopted all the culture, language and history to the point that they are almost identical to Han Chinese people in social background, will also be able to associate themselves with the Chinese identity in the same way as the Manchu people. I will not argue against this, however it does highlight the need to make a distinct separation between the Chinese identity and the racial identity of people. While white Caucasians can identify themselves with the Chinese identity, this is only in the sense of the non-ethnic national identity and not racial identity. As a result, this means that white people can both associate with the Chinese identity while also experiencing the same white privileges that white Caucasians from western regions experience. This distinction must be made clear so that the limitations of speaking as Chinese people that white Caucasians have are clear.

Now that the boundaries and limits of who the Chinese identity applies to have been clarified, the defining principles of the Chinese identity will be explained. Chinese nationalism is a revival of the traditional cultures, languages and history that define us as a distinct people from others. While Chinese people have always had a significant variety of culture, religion or beliefs and languages, they can all be associated under the label of Chinese. Chinese nationalism should aim to promote all these on the same level in relation to each other (Mandarin Chinese is the dominant language, with lesser known languages arguably dying out and losing significance) (Blanchard, 2010) and to foreign equivalents, as opposed to viewing our identity as outdated and opting to assimilate into the values of western civilisation.

It must be made clear that nationalism in this context does not mean uncritical approval and loyalty to anything that is historically and culturally Chinese. If we are to have an identity to be proud of and empowering by nature, it must be critically studied by all of us as Chinese people. This includes the traditional practice of foot binding, which has now been ended (Mills, 2015). If we truly are to use our identity for anti-oppression purposes, care must be taken to ensure that it does not enable or actively encourage oppressive behaviour of others.

It may be argued that if we allow such significant diversity within what it means to be Chinese, it will reduce the meaning. Not so, as despite the huge diversity, there is always a common history or root culture which we all have developed from. Similar diversity already exists in other nations (Raento and Husso, 2002) without the meaning of their nationality being lost.

Democracy (民權主義, Mín Quán Zhǔ Yì)

Sun Yat-sen’s ideas surrounding democracy had often linked it with Chinese cultural values so that the ideology did not become a copy of western ideology (Linebarger, 2012). This lesson can be taken and applied to anarchism, with Chinese people looking into the history and culture to adapt to anarchism. One example of this is the application of Daoism (道教, dào jiào) to provide a framework for anarchist politics (Josh, 2005).

In regard to Sun Yat-sen’s vision of a republic, I share the same views as the Paris Group as written in their publication, New Century (新世紀, xīn shì jì): “Rather than merely opposing the Manchu Court, was it not better to oppose monarchy, Manchu or Han?” (Yu and Scalapino, 1961). It is highly likely that within a republic, decisions will be made which will unfairly advantage certain ethnic groups over others, most likely the Han Chinese majority. This is where I disagree with Sun Yat-sen’s idea of the liberty of the nation. It will likely not be the people’s will enacted through the state but rather the Han people’s will which is enacted.

The answer to this issue is to take the next step further from democracy: anarchism. By ensuring that individual liberty is achieved, collective liberty can be strengthened by ensuring that all individuals voluntarily participate in the collective effort so that unwilling individuals are not coerced into the collective decisions, which prevents Han Chinese majority of any organised group from oppressing minority ethnic groups that may consider themselves Chinese. This will fulfil nationalism by allowing all Chinese groups to have the full autonomy to promote their cultures, languages and history, so that the Chinese identity may prosper into a rich and diverse identity which will stand strong against assimilationist efforts of western civilisation.

Only through these efforts will the fullest form of individual and collective liberty be achieved.

As there are conflicting ideologies within anarchism, I will not go into further detail on the method of achieving and organising an anarchist society. While that is a different debate, it will still be necessary to be had in order for groups to agree on what path will best achieve the goals set out in this essay.

People’s Livelihood (民生主義, Mín Shēng Zhǔ Yì)

The third principle has its importance as being part of the structure with the other two in supporting each other. The socialist values of people’s livelihood mean that the anarchist ideology promoted in the principle of democracy needs to be justifiably socialist, in order to provide all ethnic groups with the means to support themselves as individuals and collective organisations in order to support the first principle of nationalism.

This means that people’s livelihood has it’s importance in supporting anti-colonialism and anti-racism through provision of the material means of preserving culture, as well as ensuring that the material means for physical survival are present. This is what makes the socialist ideology in people’s livelihood distinct from the socialism of western theorists: it is a necessary requirement for anti-racism.

Within the context of the current socio-economic situation in China, people’s livelihood should require the redistribution of ownership of wealth and the means of production from the political and economical elite of China to the wider population and the establishment of public land in order to allow minority ethnic groups to freely harvest and use resources found in areas inhabited by the ethnic groups. This includes the return of Tibetan land and resources to be publicly owned by the people of Tibet.

In the west, this principle may have different applications. The ownership of means of production and wealth by westerners should be distributed to the rightful owners (with “rightful” being defined by the agreed anarchist ideology), especially to Chinese people, so that we have the necessary resources and means of production in the west for the preservation of culture and languages. However, it must be recognised that Chinese people are also capable of being part of this very role of unfair ownership, which means that this principle must be fairly applied with understanding and consideration of the needs of others, especially of people from other ethnic groups. This will be addressed further in part 2.

Part 2: Working with Other Ethnic Groups

As pointed out throughout the adaptation of the three principles of the people to anarchism, Chinese people must self-strengthen in order to be able to preserve our identity against colonialism and racism. However, we must recognise that we are not the only ethnic group that face this struggle. Solidarity and mutual aid with the efforts of other ethnic groups in anti-racism must be promoted above competition.

A starting point for promoting solidarity is recognising our own shortcomings when it comes to relations with other ethnic groups. While we may not individually support racism against other ethnic groups, we must recognise that as we participate in western society, we are also prone to enabling and actively participating in racism against others. Even outside of western societies, we must recognise that it is not impossible for us to enable or actively participate in racism. Our own experiences with dealing with the issue do not prevent us from also allowing it or causing it to be imposed on others. This can be seen in the CCTV Spring Festival Gala of 2018, which featured a Chinese actress in blackface to portray the African people (BBC, 2018).

Using our political movements which we will build using the structure of the three principles, we must act as representatives of our identity and use that to provide public support of other ethnic groups and their anti-racism efforts. We must support other movements such as Black Lives Matter as Chinese people for two reasons: to publicly distinguish ourselves from white westerners to have recognition and fulfil the first principle of nationalism, and also to ensure that the push for social change is applied to all, not just Chinese people. If we rise up without bringing non-Chinese ethnic, groups along with us, we have done nothing more than joined the ranks of white westerners and will have not achieved enough to dismantle racist oppression. This is important in recognising that we cannot truly be anarchists or anti-racism if we participate and support concepts that use racist oppression (Johnson, 2008).

We must recognise the differences in issues that we face with racism compared to other ethnic groups. We cannot copy the same approaches and methods that other groups use to combat racism as they may not be practically applicable and at worst, a waste of resources and effort that could be better spent on others. Unless innocent Chinese people are statistically murdered by western police officers at a significant level to judge as a significant racism issue, we must not attempt to compete with Black Lives Matter for attention and space with our own signs saying “Asian Lives Matter.”

Part 3: Conclusion

Uniquely Chinese ideology, culture and history can strengthen our resolve to build and maintain anarchism in a world in which anarchism appears to be dominated by western ideologies. The existence of this movement and identity is essential to preventing the loss of our culture and history before and after achievement of anarchism. We must recognise that even in the absence of coercive institutions that make up racist oppression, colonialist values can still harm the Chinese identity through other socio-economic factors.

Reference List

Baggins, B. (2002). History of the Black Panther Party. Available: Last accessed: 08/03/2018

BBC. (2018). Lunar New Year: Chinese TV gala includes ‘racist blackface’ sketch. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Blanchard, B. (2010). China’s minority languages face threat of extinction. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Dickens, P. (2010). Anarchism, ethnicity and culture: the Oriental anarch. Available: Last accessed: 07/03/2018

Josh. (2005). Anarchism and Taoism. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Johnson, C. (2008). Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Linebarger, P. (2012). The Political Doctrines of Sun Yat-sen. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Mills, J. (2015). The last women in China with bound feet: ‘They thought it would give them a better life’. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Raento, P. and Husso, K. (2002). Cultural diversity in Finland. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018

Sun, Y. (n.d.). San Min Chu I: The Three Principles of the People. Available: Last accessed: 08/03/2018

Teon, A. (2016). Filial Piety () in Chinese Culture. Available: Last accessed: 08/03/2018

Yu, G. and Scalapino, R. (1961). The Chinese Anarchist Movement. Available: Last accessed: 09/03/2018


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