Visualizing Affective Democracy: Learning Community in China and Taiwan through Images of Foreigners


In the past few years, cross-strait relations have been in the news again, especially in terms of China’s hard power reunification strategy and its sharp power influence operations. Indeed, much ink has been spilled about what lessons Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has for a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2024 has also led to increased analysis on Beijing’s use disinformation, misinformation, and other influence operations to favor candidates more friendly to the PRC. Indeed, Chinese military’s daily testing of Taiwan’s air and sea defense is both a hard power and a sharp power strategy because it wears down both material capabilities and psychological endurance.

This article contextualizes and analyzes recent China-Taiwan tensions by examining the soft power of how Beijing and Taipei construct political community through compulsory education. While much research examines history and geography textbooks to show how China and Taiwan have engaged in nation-building—specifically building Chinese or Taiwanese nationalism—over the past decades, this article takes a broader view of identity beyond nationalism to focus on how civic education textbooks work to build community in local, national, and global space. Importantly, it compares Chinese and Taiwanese textbooks to see how they imagine their nations and the world in different ways. The analysis suggests that, on the one hand, Taiwan’s textbooks show a shift from Han-centric ethno-nationalism to a civic identity that is multi-layered, global, and democratic. On the other hand, China’s textbooks shift over time from Chinese-style socialist internationalism to focus more on Han-centric ethno-nationalism. But rather than a simple transition from socialism to nationalism in the 1990s, the textbooks show a shift to what Frank Pieke calls “neo-socialism,” which syncretically mixes Chinese tradition, Chinese nationalism, and international socialism.1 While Taiwanese textbooks imagine identity in terms of fluid social constructions in transnational space, Chinese textbooks look to an essential national identity that interacts with foreigners through state-to-state relations. In other words, Taiwanese textbooks work to craft democratic global citizens in transnational space, while Chinese textbooks labor to create national citizens in a through friendship diplomacy in an international world.

To analyze how identity is constructed in China and Taiwan the article examines images of foreign people and places in primary school civic education textbooks to see how each country builds political communities that look to themes including Cold War ideology, ethno-nationalism, neo-socialism, and affective democracy.* This longitudinal interpretive study of textbooks from Taiwan (starting in 1963) and China (starting in 1988) explores community-formation by considering three visual themes: The Globe, China/Taiwan, and Majority/Minorities. The analysis of these themes employs two strategies. First, rather than just focus on how civic education defines the “good citizen” in positive terms (patriotic, law-abiding, democratic, socialist, etc.), it examines how identity emerges as a social relation between kin and strangers, citizens and foreigners, the majority and minorities, and self and Other. Second, the aim is to get beyond textual analysis that seeks to discover ideology in order to appreciate non-textual modes of affective experience: i.e., not just what the textbooks mean, but how they make people feel in community. The conclusion analyses what these identities mean for cross-strait relations and considers how democratization is not just ideological but also affective and is part of a long and complex process that is both institutional and social.

Nationalism, Neo-Socialism, and Globalism

As mentioned above, most analysis of Chinese and Taiwanese textbooks looks to history and geography to examine how national identity has been constructed. In Taiwan, national identity studies generally look to the KMT’s campaign to “Sinicize” Taiwanese people after the Japanese empire’s decades of assimilationist education on the island.2 In China, the shift in identity from socialism to nationalism is traced to Beijing’s Patriotic Education Campaign that started in the early 1990s as a response to the Beijing Uprising in 1989.3

However, what is interesting about civic education textbooks is that they largely ignore the Patriotic Education Campaign’s grand historiography of the “century of national humiliation.” Certainly, there is criticism of Japan’s World War II atrocities. In the 1980s-1990s, textbooks prominently told stories of brave Chinese kids fighting evil Japanese imperialists in the Anti-Japanese War. One such lesson is used to introduce new vocabulary words: “bandits” (寇) and “seeking revenge” (復仇). Japanese soldiers are also called “devils,” while Chinese who work with them are “race traitors” (漢奸).4 In the 2000s and 2010s, however, textbooks use less emotive images to explain the Anti-Japanese War,5 and envision Japanese people as examples of interesting cultural difference, in ways that mobilize both socialist internationalism and Chinese tradition.6 Indeed, while there is much demonization of the United States and the West in Chinese educational and mass media materials,7 Chinese civic education textbooks generally aim to make connections with foreign friends, including Americans. Hence the graphic images of Japanese as “foreign devils” serve as the exception that proves the rule: Chinese civic education textbooks generally work to include foreign friends rather than exclude foreign devils.

Indeed, the popular narrative of a grand shift in China from socialism to nationalism underplays the continuing importance of socialist ideology and the growing importance of Chinese tradition, especially under Xi Jinping.8 As mentioned above, rather than see a wholesale shift from socialism to nationalism, it is better to appreciate this dynamic in terms of “neo-socialism” that syncretically mixes Chinese tradition, Chinese nationalism, and international socialism. As a composite ideology, neo-socialism brings together these contradictory ideologies to work together in a “loose assemblage.”9 Here one should not see identity just ideologically in terms of China becoming a more socialist country, a more nationalist country, or experiencing a grand shift to liberal democracy. Neo-socialism isn’t an ideology in the standard sense because it appreciates ideology as everyday experience, and thus as a broad way of thinking that informs a particular way of framing questions and answers, and thus a particular way of framing problems and solutions as well. In Chinese civic education textbooks, neo-socialism frames encounters with foreigners in terms of international friendships. “Friendship” here is a technical term from socialist ideology that refers to the CCP’s United Front Work strategies that are used to co-opt and socialize foreigners into supporting the party-state’s agenda.10 Rather than use a negative soft power strategy that creates Chinese identity through demonizing foreigners, civic education textbooks employ a positive soft power strategy to create Chinese identity through forging friendly links between people who are essentially defined as “Chinese” and “non-Chinese.”

Certainly, many academic colleagues in China and Taiwan have warned me not to over-interpret public education materials because they are merely “propaganda” that has little lasting impact on students or society. Yet this article aims to show how a more complex understanding of ideology allows us to take seriously the power of mandatory public education to create citizens by examining how textbooks work as an important technology of ideology and affect. Here, I follow Brian Massumi’s exploration of affect theory to understand “ideology” in the broad sense of narrative discourse, especially in written and spoken language. Massumi contrasts this view of ideology with “affect,” a non-narrative expression of sensory feelings that move and connect people to bring them together in shared communities—as well as separate them into hostile groups.11 While ideology certainly means “socialism” and “democracy,” it is more than that because it also refers to the rational content of narrative messages. While affect is certainly “emotion,” it is more than that because it appreciates how social experiences can move and connect people as collectives.12

We can see this dynamic of ideology and affect in primary school textbooks. In the 1960s-1980s, textbooks in Taiwan organized civic education according to a set of abstract values: honesty, industriousness, filial respect, friendship, neighborliness, law-abiding, and patriotism in the first semester; frugality, responsibility, shame, forgiveness, perspicacity, justice, and peace in the second. But since it is difficult to explain abstract ideas to young children, textbooks also used a social/spatial method of “from inside to outside,” where kids learn how to “get along” first in their family, and then in their neighborhood, school, town, nation, transnational region, and finally in the world. Textbooks thus aim to make connections between “self, others, society, and nature,”13 not just in 21st century curriculum reform, but from early on in the 1960s (except for nature).14 Rather than drawing clear lines between domestic and foreign, this pedagogical strategy highlights the links between them: civic education textbooks shift from focusing on the nation to gaze at the local and global, where kids become world citizens who have the Global Village as their shared home in Taiwan, or where kids become international citizens who interact through the friendship diplomacy of state-to-state relations in China.

This article is part of a larger project that considers how China’s ideological worldview is shaped by its view of foreign peoples and places.15 While excellent work has examined how civic education defines the “good citizen” in positive terms (patriotic, law-abiding, civil, democratic, etc.),16 this article considers how political community emerges as a social relation between kin and strangers, citizens and foreigners, the majority and minorities, and self and Other. David C. Schak analyzes textbooks in China and Taiwan to consider how “civility” is formed by “how you treat others, especially strangers, even in banal ways.”17 While Schak focuses on relations with strangers in domestic society, this article explores relations with strangers in international society as well. Hence, rather than focus on how new nationalist “self-identity” was created in Taiwan after 1949, and in China after 1989, it examines how community emerges from images that distinguish the self from foreign peoples and places.

Like much research that considers identity politics, this article focuses on how the self creates the Other in order to assert self-identity.18 But as William E. Connolly reminds, turning difference into Otherness actually creates the ethical problem of exclusion: the ethical solution is to creatively engage with difference in inclusive ways that allow diverse identities space to be.19 As shown below, civic education textbooks in China and Taiwan provide interesting examples of both divisive ideology and affective creativity in ways that can encourage affective democracy.


While mathematics textbooks have a reasonably clear focus (i.e., numbers), civic education does not have a clear referent. Certainly, the textbooks discuss the importance of obeying the law, citizens’ rights and duties, and constitutions and political institutions. Generally, these topics are addressed in a few pages in a multi-volume curriculum that is over 500 pages in length. Rather than teaching a clear and stable content, civil education textbooks vary over time: often they include “health”: how to wake up, bathe, eat, dress, brush your teeth, go to the dentist/doctor, avoid disease, etc.20

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Figure 1: Ideology and affect in civic education (1969)21

Indeed, this “care of the self” integrates the ideology of moral hygiene and the affect of physical hygiene and is trained into students through daily rituals and political symbols: e.g., the concrete repetitive activities of brushing your teeth and saluting the flag every day. Figure 1 shows how both pedagogies can work together: the rational ideology-work of the school principal lecturing students on values (here the “benevolence” of “caring for elders”), and also the bodily affect-work of learning how to line up, salute the flag, and stand at ease.

Civic education textbooks thus are interesting because their content is a blank sheet that is reflective of what the state wants from individuals, and from society. Hence textbooks do not reflect the “truth” of China or Taiwan. They present an idealized view of self and society, and the nation and the world, that is powerful in the sense that it has socialized (and continues to socialize) generations of citizens. As the Taiwanese textbooks explain, education is not simply the citizen’s right: “receiving national education” is also listed as one of the citizen’s duties (along with paying taxes, obeying the law, and military service for men).22 And as Bi-yu Chang notes, free school textbooks were “almost the only source of information [students] received about the world,” especially in the 1960s-1970s.23

At times textbook images are multisensory. For example, images about community show a marked shift from studying national flags to enjoying “exotic” food. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Taiwan’s textbooks engaged with the foreign first through loving the ROC flag, and then through learning how to respect the foreign flags of “friendly countries” in ways that assert a top-down state-to-state understanding of international relations.24 In the 1990s, this shifts to the self/Other relations of food, where people share different national delicacies in an active social experience that works to build local communities from the bottom up.25 Here “joining the party” shifts from joining the political party (i.e., KMT or CCP) to joining the potluck multicultural fiesta. Engaging with otherness thus shifts from a distant toleration of the foreign in state-to-state relations, to a multisensory, multinational experience of enjoyment and desire at home in community. Taiwan’s most recent textbooks normalize and mainstream this diverse multicultural view of society by tying it to people’s everyday experiences: one prominent illustration shows kids at Taiwan’s ubiquitous night markets enjoying food from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Italy, and India, and well as regional Chinese cuisines.26 However, as we’ll see, Chinese textbooks employ everyday experiences to promote socialist internationalism’s United Front Work of building foreign friendships as part of state-to-state relations.

Taiwan’s Textbooks

Numerous themes stand out in this collection of Taiwanese civic education textbooks from 1963 to 2023. As mentioned, there are interesting illustrations of democratic themes: voting, elections, political parties, protests, citizens’ rights and duties, human rights, Indigenous rights, women’s rights, disabled rights, and so on. However, here I understand democracy less as a set of laws, procedures, and institutions, and more in terms of the broad sense of how to “get along” with people in community, how to work with people for the common good, which includes getting along with and working with the natural environment in ways that encourage participation, accountability, and diversity. While the textbooks’ topical narratives generally go from inside to outside and from the self to the Other, I am interested in how communities are formed in three themes that go from the outside to the inside to explore how the Other constructs the self: The Globe, China/Taiwan, Majority/Minorities.

Taiwanese textbooks from the 1960s and 1970s were products of the Cold War era, where communities were divided by ideology in the standard sense: democracy versus communism. “123 Freedom Day” (Figure 2) refers to a holiday created by the ROC to celebrate the transfer to Taiwan of 14,000 mainland POWs from the Korean War, which happened on January 23 (thus 1-23), 1954. It is also illustrated with images of parades of cheering soldiers and civilians welcoming the POWs to the ROC on Taiwan. This story is repeated in Taiwan’s longest running civic education textbook, Life and Morals (生活與倫理), that was used from 1968 to 2001. The world here is divided into “friendly nations” and “communist bandits” who are led by the evil emperor in Moscow. This image underlines how the ROC is a frontline fighter in a global anti-communist struggle.

Figure 2: “123 Freedom Day”27

Figure 3: “Three People’s Principles Unite All Peoples”28

Figure 3, which is from the same volume of Life and Morals, is one of the first to use the globe in a metaphorical way. It mixes many tropes: Sun Yat-sen’s “Three People’s Principles” book is elevated above and held up by a multinational and multiracial group of men who represent the peoples of the world, which we can see because they are standing on top of the globe. Importantly, white doves fly out from the Three People’s Principles book. These images are part of the chapter on “peace.” It asserts that the “true meaning of peace” is anti-communism (also seen in other images where Chiang Kai-shek gets an award from the World Anti-Communist League that he founded). More importantly, peace involves spreading an alternative ideology around the world: Sun Yat-sen’s three principles of democracy, nationalism, and people’s livelihood. Once again, communities are formed through ideology: the “free world” community is united around the Three People’s Principles to fight against the evil communist bloc. Peace here is peace through strength, which includes planning to conquer the Chinese mainland. This image is noteworthy beyond this specific chapter because it not only reappears in each new edition of the textbook, but also graces the cover of numerous editions of volume 4 of Life and Morals. Importantly, the image also shows slippage between ideology and affect: the “Three People’s Principles” is a book that promotes the ideology of the written text, but in this image, it is transformed into a visual icon that provokes an affective response as well. Figure 3 also shows how the KMT, which like the CCP is a Leninist party, employs United Front tactics to create its identity in relation to “friendly countries” through state-to-state relations.

While these Cold War images work in a binary way to build world community by excluding difference—e.g., the World AntiCommunist League—in later textbooks other interesting images of the globe begin to appear. Often they were odd images such as the massive Globe public art sculpture at the New York World’s Fair (1964),29 or were in the background: e.g., a globe in the corner of the classroom that students are cleaning.30 Indeed, instructing students to have a clean body, a clean mind, a clean home, a clean classroom, and an (ideologically) clean world in early textbooks helped to promote the ecological lessons of a clean globe in later textbooks.

Here, the concept of “Global Village” (全球村) quickly became popular, and works well to foster links between local, national, and world communities. Certainly, this new focus on the globe grew out the emergence of environmentalism as a global movement. It also speaks to Taiwan’s own social and political challenges in the 1970s-1990s, including the diplomatic de-recognition of the ROC, environmental pollution from rapid industrialization, democratization, the rise of local Taiwanese identity, and so on.31 What is fascinating is how the globe has become a symbol for diversity and care both in the human community, and in the ecological community of humans and Nature.

Figure 4: “How can you get along with ‘friends who are different’?”32

Figure 5: “The globe is crying”33

Figure 4 has doves like in Figure 3’s Three People’s Principles image. But while Figure 3 unites people by excluding difference, Figure 4 unites them by celebrating difference: i.e., different ethnicities, races, ages, abilities, and genders. As the monkey guide in the lower left corner asks: “How can you get along with ‘friends who are different’?” (Later editions excise adults and babies to focus on kids, and correct the global map that here is inverted.) Rather than standing on the globe as in Figure 3, in Figure 4 people share, love, and support the globe (the image continues onto page 25 to show the globe releasing more red hearts). The world community thus shifts from adult men promoting an ideology that divides the world, to children sharing feelings of love of difference among humanity. In this way, Figure 4 moves from ideology to create communities according to the affect-work people getting along through love and care.

There are dozens of images in Taiwan’s civic education textbooks that show people loving and caring for the world in terms of Nature, ecology, the environment, and the Global Village. Some even animate the globe itself as happy, sad, injured, and robust. “The globe is crying” (Figure 5) animates the globe in ways that can touch young students in relatable ways by showing the air pollution, noise pollution, and water pollution from Taiwan’s rapid development that they encountered in their everyday life. While the globe is animated to show human kindness and environmental awareness, traditional ideologies generally are much less important in textbooks after the educational reforms of the 1990s.

Chinese textbooks

The globe does not figure prominently in Chinese civic education textbooks. Perhaps because my sample starts in the late 1980s, Cold War ideological views of the world are not prominent. Environmental problems are an important topic, but they are addressed in the Chinese context or through state-to-state relations, rather than through the images like the Global Village. Indeed, in all of the textbooks surveyed, there is only one image of an animated globe: as Figure 6 shows, the globe is suffering from climate change. The world does appear in the PRC’s images that celebrate its space program, e.g., Shenzhou 6’s manned space flights in 2005. But again, China’s space program is a national project rather than a transnational endeavor. Indeed, the 2017 curriculum’s textbooks primarily see the globe in terms of the PRC’s assertion of global jurisdiction to fight “corruption,” which violates the sovereignty of other nation-states.

Figure 6: Globe with greenhouse gases34

Figure 7: Citizenship: Peter in Foreigners Line35

Rather than look to the Globe to gather humanity in a transnational community, Chinese textbooks generally refer to “the World” as the international system of state-to-state relations. Textbooks from the 1980s-1990s use the images of “international friendship” to tell children how to act around foreigners who have a “different skin color and clothes.”36 Foreigners—primarily Africans on official delegations, and Euro-Americans as tourists—are temporary visitors, who do not live in China. Similarly, when a textbook asks if students know anyone who lives abroad, it is likewise seen as a temporary situation, where Chinese relatives and friends do not settle abroad, but are temporarily studying or working abroad with the goal of returning to the PRC to help build the Chinese fatherland.37

China’s international friendship relations thus stress the difference, and the incommensurability, of divergent national identities.38 The discussion of the “meaning of citizenship” in China’s current textbooks starts not from the self, but from the Other: the English teacher Peter has to enter China through the “Foreigners” line at immigration, as opposed to the “Chinese citizens” line that students use (see Figure 7). Indeed, textbooks seem to promote “inter-racial” relations more than inter-state or inter-national relations because people are presented as African, Euro-American, or Chinese: e.g., a student writing calligraphy on a poster that says “China-Africa Friendship.”39

As mentioned above, “friendship” here is a technical term from socialist ideology that refers to the CCP’s United Front Work strategies that are used to co-opt and socialize foreigners into supporting the party-state’s agenda. Children are continually told that they represent not just themselves but “our nation and our country,” when they interact with foreigners as “little ambassadors.”40 As one Chinese character tells us, it is her duty as a Chinese citizen to “make a little contribution to China-US children’s friendship.”41 Here, foreigners are not excluded as enemies, but are included as friends. But they are included in a particular way that reinforces essential identity differences and promotes people-to-people connections in terms of state-to-state relations. In this way, UFW’s international friendship technique combines socialist internationalism and Chinese nationalism in neo-socialism’s composite ideology.

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Figure 8: Celebrating socialist internationalist holidays with foreign friends42

Another common international friendship theme is “holidays.” In the 1980s and 1990s, textbooks marked “international socialist” holidays by celebrating May 1st as International Workers Day and June 1st as International Children’s Day, which are linked to China’s domestic socialist holidays: July 1st CCP founding day, August 1st People’s Liberation Army founding day, and October 1st National Day. Interestingly, in the 1990s traditional Chinese holidays were added to these socialist internationalist holidays: i.e., the Mid-Autumn Festival that is celebrated with compatriot friends in Taiwan was added to May Day that is celebrated with “foreign friends.”43 This again shows the neo-socialist logic that combines socialist internationalism, Chinese nationalism, and Chinese tradition in ways that look to affective shared experience.

China/Taiwan (1)

Discussion of cross-strait relations in terms of agreements and institutions appears and disappears at various points in Chinese and Taiwanese civic education textbooks.44 Even so, nationalist and nativist discourses in Taiwan generally assume a stable political cartography, where Taiwan is either part of China, or it is not.

Figures 9-12 are interesting because they highlight movement and connection, in both time and space. They are from primary school civic education textbooks from 1963 to 2005. When we read them from top to bottom, we can see first how Taiwan separated from the mainland when sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago. Then the two middle images show how people from Fujian and Guangdong migrated to settle in Taiwan a few hundred years ago. And finally, at the bottom, we can see Chiang Kai-shek’s “China Dream” of recovering the mainland from communist bandits.

Figure 9: “The Future of Taiwan Island”45

Figure 10: Migration from mainland China46

Figure 11: Family history47

Figure 12: Recover the mainland48

These images are pregnant with interpretive and affective possibilities. They move from glacial natural history to early modern social history to Cold War political history, and also shift from the movement of animals, to the movement of migrants, to the movement of soldiers. We can also read them from bottom to top to appreciate how they were socially constructed as visual discourses: the Cold War image (Figure 12) is the oldest, and highlights ideology and geopolitics. The middle images (Figures 10 and 11) show the macro and micro movements of peoples that are complex and personal: the girl in Figure 11 is interviewing her grandfather about their family’s particular experience. The natural history image (Figure 9) is the newest, and it highlights a long-term global view of environmental issues. As we saw in the previous section, this transition from geopolitical to socio-economic to ecological views of the globe is common in Taiwanese textbooks. These images also highlight personal affective experiences more than abstract ideological campaigns.

China/Taiwan (2)

Who is China, and who is Taiwan? Identity in Taiwan used to simply point to ethnically Han Chinese who brought the mainland’s traditional Chinese culture to the island: Figure 13 declares “we are all Chinese,” and points to the mainland. Then as Figure 14 shows, Taiwan’s sense of community progressively included Hokkien and Hakka people, then Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples, and then immigrants from Southeast Asia and Euro-America.

As Figure 15 shows, Taiwanese identity now includes mixed-race families as well: the baby has red hair, which is a common marker of Euro-American identity in Taiwan. Importantly, the most recent textbooks move from seeing foreigners as “white” to focus on Southeast Asian “new migrants”: a textbook from 2022 has an image of an Indonesian mother teaching Indonesian language to her mixed-race son, who has brown skin and curly hair.49This is a significant shift in Taiwan from exclusive bloodline nationalism to a civic nationalist and democratic community that inclusively celebrates diversity.

These textbooks thus show both harsh binary distinctions that divide the world and works to engage with difference in more respectful—and even fun—ways. As mentioned above, here “joining the party” shifts from joining the political party (i.e., KMT or CCP), to joining the multicultural potluck party (see Figure 14). This play with the concept of “party,” once again, moves from ideology to affect. Engaging with difference thus shifts from a distant toleration of the foreign in state-to-state relations, to a multisensory experience of enjoyment and desire at home in community.

Figure 13: “We are all Chinese”50

Figure 14: “Different foods, languages and customs”51

Figure 15: “What is my future?”52

Cross-strait relations are rarely mentioned in Chinese textbooks. Taiwan is dutifully included on Chinese maps.53 In the 1980s-1990s, Taiwan emerges in a story about families that have been separated by the reactionary branch of the KMT that fled to Taiwan in 1949: i.e., highlighting the tension between ideological conflict and shared kinship relations. The two sides of the Straits are “blood and guts kin” who “hope to soon unite, and [thus] unify the fatherland as soon as possible!”54 Otherwise, Taiwan is visually referenced with a picture of a “Taiwanese” building and garden that is presented alongside images from sites in the other Chinese compatriot regions, i.e., Hong Kong and Macau.

In recent textbooks, Chinese students wish Taiwanese kids a happy Mid-Autumn Festival, with a drawing of kids releasing balloons.55 In a textbook’s geographical discussion of China’s place in the world, Taiwan is the only “province” that gets its own map and images, which highlight a tourist-style view of popular sites like Sun Moon Lake and Alishan. The island thus is presented as a part of the fatherland’s sacred territory since ancient times, where “even an inch cannot be separated.” Indeed, Taiwanese compatriots are a key focus of China’s United Front Work that here aims to cultivate Cross-strait friendships through techniques that appeal to Chinese tradition and Chinese nationalism.

While Taiwan’s recent textbooks present a diverse and fluid view of ethnicity and community, Chinese textbooks tend to present essentialized views of identity, defining Chinese people in terms of “yellow skin, black eyes, and black hair.”56 As mentioned above, Chinese civic education textbooks also see things geopolitically, with identity defined according to state-centric citizenship (and race-centric international regions), rather than mixed social relations: you are either Chinese, Euro-American, or African, but never Chinese-American or Afro-Chinese. Likewise, rather than being part of the local community in China, “foreign friends” (外賓) are presented as temporary visitors, especially comrades visiting on junkets from Africa or Europe.57 Here we have a focus on ethno-nationalism that sorts people according to essentialized races, and as Figure 7 shows, defines the citizen in distinction from the foreigner at the border. Still, even though Chinese images promote stiff essentialized views of self and Other, they do not see foreigners as essential enemies. Rather, all foreigners are potential international friends according to United Front Work’s view of friendship diplomacy.


By Majority/Minorities, here I mean Han/Indigenous relations. Figure 16, which is captioned “Equality among nationalities [minzu] at home/domestically,” references Sun Yat-sen’s vision of China as a “Five-Race Nation,” and includes Hui, Mongolian, Manchurian, and Tibetan men in traditional clothes, who are led by a modern Han man in Sun Yat-sen-style clothing. This image was reproduced in each edition of the Life and Morals textbook that provided civic education from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. It is paired with Figure 3’s “Three People’s Principles Unite All Peoples” image of multiracial men standing on the world to argue that a China united under the KMT will be a force for global anti-communism, and thus world peace. It is a key image because, like with the men standing on the globe, it also appears on the cover of numerous editions of Life and Morals. What is noteworthy about this image is its reference to communities that generally do not exist in Taiwan: Hui, Mongolian, Manchurian, and Tibetan communities in Taiwan are small, and generally are part of the KMT’s mainlander migration to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War. More importantly, it erases Taiwan’s own Indigenous peoples.

Figure 16: “Equality among nationalities at home”58

Figure 17: “Wu Feng Sacrifices Life for Justice”59

Taiwan’s Indigenous people appear elsewhere in Life and Morals, initially in volume 11’s “Benevolence” chapter, and then in volume 1’s “Justice” chapter.60 Both chapters tell the story of Wu Feng, a righteous Han Chinese man from Fujian, who “sacrificed his life for justice.” This is a deeply colonial story of a civilized Han teaching barbaric “mountain compatriots” (山胞) to stop headhunting. The image shows Indigenous people wailing over Wu, who has tricked them into killing him as a graphic way to teach them the “backwardness” of their culture. This troubling story and image exemplify a “Han saviour complex” that homogenizes Indigenous people as socially and culturally foreign in a hierarchical view of civilization and barbarism. It was only removed from the textbook in the late 1980s after protests.61

Figure 18: Indigenous woman: Detail of community potluck62

Figure 19: “We are all the same in sharing Constitutional rights!”63

Figure 20: “Must learn to respect Others’ rights, and tolerate their differences”64

In textbooks from the 2000s, there are many more images of Indigenous peoples, including maps that show where they lived both before and after foreign invasion, illustrations of their cultural activities, and use Indigenous kids as “characters” who tell the story of Taiwan. As the above three images from Society (社會) show, there is a tension in how majority/minority relations are envisioned. On the one hand, Indigenous people are pictured in terms of traditional costumes and dances, similar to the “singing and dancing minorities” images that define patronizing views of “national minorities” in the PRC.65 As Figure 18’s detail from Figure 14’s “potluck diverse community” image shows, the Indigenous woman is included, but is in the background, literally obscured behind the ideological text bubble. Figure 19 is more inclusive, speaking of different communities all sharing Constitutional rights in Taiwan. But it is not clear whether the Indigenous kids are placed in the community as insiders or outsiders: if the black-haired Han girl is a Taiwanese citizen, then are the Indigenous kids “internal foreigners” as opposed to the red-haired Euro-American girl who is an “external foreigner”?

Figure 20’s image, which envisions a diverse world of respect and tolerance, is fascinating. On the one hand, its combination of the globe and a multiracial group of people mirrors the “Three People’s Principles Unite All Peoples” image examined above (see Figure 3). Once again, rather than a group of men using ideology to unite all peoples in a “World of Great Harmony,” this multiracial group of kids calls for love, respect, and toleration of difference.

Images from the 2022 Society textbooks take the different tact of normalizing and mainstreaming Indigenous peoples by having an Indigenous boy serve as the guide through volume 1, and images of Indigenous peoples as political and economic actors, rather than just as cultural curiosities.66 This is an important step in recognizing the important difference of Indigenous peoples that does not reduce them to the Other.

Figure 21: Nationalities dancing at Tiananmen Square67

Chinese textbooks generally appeal to the similar images and logic seen in Taiwan’s early textbooks by defining Indigenous groups as “national minorities.” Similar to Chinese textbooks’ images of foreigners as essentialized Others, Indigenous peoples are envisioned as happy “singing and dancing minorities,” where “all nationalities live together harmoniously, like older brothers and younger brothers living in the fatherland’s great family” (see Figure 21).68

Interestingly, textbooks tell two stories about how Chinese leader Zhou Enlai visited national minority autonomous regions in China, where he respectfully takes part in local customs (water splashing for Dai and sitting on a kang for Koreans). Zhou even tells a member of his entourage that to truly understand the Korean national minority, he needs to eat dog meat.69 Throughout the textbooks, Han are told that they have to “tolerate” national minorities’ barbaric customs by eating dog meat with Koreans and drinking milk tea with Mongolians.70 Rather than sharing delicious food to build communities from the bottom up, here superiors tell inferiors to tolerate disgusting food for the good of the party-state. While this Han ethno-nationalism certainly stigmatizes Indigenous people as essentially different, the lesson is not to exclude them as external Others, but to use United Front Work to build friendship that includes them in Chinese nationalism and Chinese socialism.

Conclusion: Affective Democracy

This article examines hundreds of civic education textbooks from China and Taiwan over six decades to think about how democracy works not just in terms of ideologies, procedures and institutions, but also in terms of affective human relations, including humanity’s relation with Nature. The analysis of images generally shows how Taiwan has shifted from building community according to ethno-nationalist and ideological icons to foster more diverse and inclusive notions of local, national, and global community. Particularly surprising was how some of the more conservative images persisted long after the democratization of Taiwan and the liberalization of textbooks: e.g., the Wu Feng story (Figure 17). At the same time, much more inclusive and respectful images of Indigenous peoples and others were also popular in the same textbooks. This tension between authoritarianism and democracy, seen in images that are either essentialist stereotypes or fluid social constructions suggests that textbooks are a part of living-breathing process, where editors tinker with new images while still keeping some of the old images.71 Even so, Taiwanese textbooks show a significant shift from geopolitical to socio-economic to ecological views of foreign peoples and places that work to build global citizenship. This is strong evidence for the argument that civility and democracy support each other.72

While Taiwanese images look to democracy and globalism, Chinese textbook images of foreign people and places are going in a different direction. Certainly, they show respect for different groups. In the 1980s-1990s, the images worked according to a logic of socialist internationalism’s friendship diplomacy. As argued above, this reaches out to respectfully engage with Others, but it does so in a way that creates and circulates essentialized national and racial difference. The purpose of international friendship is to use United Front Work tactics to promote the party-state’s current agenda. Textbook images in the 2000s-2010s are more neo-socialist because they work to reinforce these state-to-state international friendship relations through appeals to Chinese tradition and Chinese nationalism, where it is the student’s duty to positively represent the Chinese party-state, both at home and abroad. PRC textbooks very clearly aim to produce “Chinese citizens” in an international world. On the other hand, as the final lesson in Taiwan’s primary school textbooks tells us, their goal is to produce “world citizens” through global and transnational relations.73

This article thus shows how images in both Taiwanese and Chinese textbooks employ not just ideological icons, but also affective experiences. The images are designed to emotionally move students, evoking pride in their country, fear about enemies, rage about Japanese devils, pain about the injured Earth, joy in making new friends, and so on. Images often are drawn as caricatures that accentuate specific features: big-nosed, red-haired Euro-Americans; smoking, obese communist bandits; globes in the shape of a heart; different races dancing arm-in-arm, and so on. The textbooks’ accompanying written texts also stress emotions, often asking how images make students feel. This underlines how community-building not only relies on rational ideological-work, but also on emotional affect-work. It is especially effective for primary school students, who are just starting to learn how to read, and just starting to learn how to get along with strangers. The first few volumes in both Chinese and Taiwanese textbooks thus concentrate much space and time on the affective experience of belonging in community.

The soft power of China’s civic education textbooks also can help to explain Beijing’s current hard and sharp power policies toward Taiwan. On the one hand, it frames Taiwanese as fellow ethno-nationalist Chinese compatriots, who share “blood and guts,” but are divided by ideology. Hence Beijing can justify its military strategy of (eventually) conquering Taiwan as saving the Taiwanese from themselves, i.e. saving people from elite “splittists” who have brain-washed the general public with false ideas of self and Other. The civic education textbooks also help to explain Beijing’s engagement policies with Taiwan that seek to use tourism to do the United Front Work of building Cross-strait friendships, as well as run influence operations that aim to shape Taiwanese identity in ways that favor the party-state’s interests. Taiwanese textbooks, on the other hand, show how the country wants to co-exist with China in a world that is local, national and global, and where shared Sinic culture and history do not unilaterally determine political sovereignty.

This article also provides evidence and analysis for the argument that democratic community is built, in part, by visual and affective experiences of belonging that are more diverse, inclusive, and accountable. Democratization here is not just ideological but also affective and is part of a long and complex process that is both institutional and social. To put it another way, since there is much research on nationalism not just as an ideology but also as an affective experience, more research needs to explore Taiwan as an example of the politics of “affective democracy.”

* I thank the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy for funding fieldwork in Taiwan, and the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University for hosting my stay. For their aid and comments, I thank Gilbert Rozman, Weihong Bao, Mau-kuei Chang, Chang Yu-Hsuan, Lee-Yang Chiang, Kelvin C.K. Cheung, Chiung-Chiu Huang, Huang Yu-Lin, Ling Syuan Huang, Andy Haolun Li, Li Cheuk Ho Gabriel, Yeh-chung Lu, Maciej Patryk, David C. Schak, Shih Chih-yu, and David Tobin.

1. Frank N. Pieke, Knowing China (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 8-14, 3.

2. Bi-yu Chang, Place, Identity and National Imagination in Postwar Taiwan (London: Routledge, 2015); Allen Chun, Forget Chineseness: On the Geopolitics of Cultural Identification (New York: SUNY Press, 2017); Mau-kuei Chang, Shih-ch’i Chin, and Hsiu-chin Yang, “The Reorientation of History Teaching in Taiwan’s 12-year Basic Education,” in Taiwan During the First Administration of Tsai Ing-wen: Navigating in Stormy Waters, Gunther Schubert and Chun-yi Lee, eds. (London: Routledge, 2022), pp. 180-208.

3. Suisheng Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004); Peter Hays Gries, China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics and Diplomacy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004); William A. Callahan, China: The Pessoptimist Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Gilbert Rozman, ed., East Asian National Identities: Common Roots and Chinese Exceptionalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).

4. Sixiang pinde, vol. 3 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 2000), pp. 5-8.

5. See Daode yu fazhi, vol. 5b (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2019), pp. 66-73.

6. See Pinde yu shehui, vol. 5b (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2012), p. 112.

7. He Yinan, “Linking Internal and External Enemies: Impact of National Identity on Chinese Democratization and Foreign Relations,” in Democratization, National Identity and Foreign Policy in Asia, Gilbert Rozman, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2021), pp. 103-118.

8. See, for example, Xi Jinping “Hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics and strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects: Report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China: CN-EN bilingual version,” China Neican: (October 16 2022),

9. Pieke, Knowing China, 8-14, 3; William A. Callahan, “Chinese Global Orders: Socialism, Tradition, and Nation in China-Russia Relations,” Issues & Studies 59:2, 2023: 1-28. Gilbert Rozman makes similar points about how the CCP combines Confucianism and Communism as part of its nationalism (Gilbert Rozman, “Chinese National Identity: A Six-Dimensional Analysis,” in East Asian National Identities, pp. 73-99.

10. Anne-Marie Brady, “Magic Weapons: China’s Political Influence Activities under Xi Jinping,” Wilson Center, (18 September 2017),

11. Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).

12. See William A. Callahan, Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 32-45.

13. Hsiao-Lan Sharon Chen and Hsuan-Yi Huang, “Advancing 21st Century Competencies in Taiwan” (New York: Asia Society, 2017), p. 1.

14. See Gongmin yu daode [Citizenship and morals], vol. 3 (Taipei: Shengli chuban gongsi, 1963).

15. See William A. Callahan, “Chinese Visions of Self and Other: The International Politics of Noses,” International Affairs 99: 5, 2023: 2079–2099.

16. David C. Schak, Civility and Its Development: The Experiences of China and Taiwan (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018); Chang, Place, Identity and National Imagination; Christopher R. Hughes, and S. Stone, “Nation-Building and Curriculum Reform in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” China Quarterly No. 160, 1999: 977-991.

17. Schak, Civility and Its Development, p. 7.

18. He, “Linking Internal and External Enemies”; Rozman, “Chinese National Identity.”

19. William E. Connolly, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox, rev. ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002), p. 64.

20. See Gongmin yu daode, vol. 3 (Taipei: Shengli chuban gongsi, 1963); Daode yu jiankang: Jiankang [Morals and health] (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 2000).

21. Shenghuo yu lunli [Life and morals], vol. 7, 1st edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1969), p. 31.

22. See Daode yu jiankang: Daode, vol. 9 (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 2000), p. 53; Shehui, vol. 5 (Taipei: Kangxuan wenjiao jituan, 2022), pp. 70-71.

23. Chang, Place, Identity and National Imagination, p. 160.

24. Gongmin yu daode, vol. 4 (Taipei: Xinguang wenhua chubanshe, 1964), p. 31; Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 8, 1st edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1970), pp. 44-45.

25. See discussion below of Shehui [Society], vol. 3b (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2012), pp. 24-25.

26. Shehui, vol. 2 (Taipei: Kangxuan wenjiao jituan, 2022), pp. 36-37.

27. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 1, 3rd rev. edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1984), p. 67.

28. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol 4., 8th rev. edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1990), p.  70.

29. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 2, 1st edn. (Taipei: Taiyuan yinshua youxian gongsi, 1968), p. 57.

30. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 2, 10th rev. edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1999), p. 63.

31. See Schak, Civility and Its Development, pp. 112-135.

32. Shehui, vol. 1 (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2003), p. 24.

33. Daode yu jiankang, vol. 4, (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 2002), pp. 72-73.

34. Daode yu fazhi [Morals and law], vol. 4a (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2019), p. 90.

35. Daode yu fazhi, vol. 6a (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2019), p. 22.

36. Sixiang pinde [Correct thinking and morals], vol. 6 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1992), pp. 13-15; Sixiang pinde, vol. 5 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1992), pp. 48-51.

37. Pinde yu shehui [Morals and society], vol. 5a (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2013), p. 95.

38. Pinde yu shehui, vol. 6a (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2013), p. 56.

39. Sixiang pinde, vol. 6 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1992), p. 14; Sixiang pinde, vol. 5 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1992), p. 49.

40. Daode yu fazhi, vol. 3b (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2017), p. 8.

41. Sixiang pinde, vol. 11 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1988), p. 28.

42. Sixiang pinde, vol. 2 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 1999), p. 9; also see Sixiang pinde, vol. 3 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1992), p. 6. Curiously, another socialist international holiday, International Women’s Day, is missing from this list.

43. Daode yu fazhi, vol. 1a (Beijing: Beijing shifan daxue chubanshe, 2016), p. 42.

44. See Shehui, vol. 8 (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2006), pp. 29-30; Shehui, vol. 8 (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2007).

45. Shehui, vol. 5 (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2005), p. 15.

46. Shehui, vol. 5 (Taipei: Renlin wenhua chubanshe, 2005), p. 51.

47. Daode yu jiankang: Daode, vol. 9 (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 2000), p. 175.

48. Gongmin yu daode, vol. 1 (Taipei: Shengli chuban gongsi, 1963), p. 36.

49. Shehui, vol. 7 (Taipei: Kangxuan wenjiao jituan, 2022), p. 63.

50. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 1, 1st edn. (Taipei: Huaxin yinshuafen youxian gongsi, 1968), p. 68.

51. Shehui, vol. 2, 6th edn. (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2012), pp. 24-25.

52. Shehui, vol. 5b, 1st edn. (Taipei: Nanyi shuju: 2014), p. 35.

53. Sixiang pinde, vol. 2 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 1999), p. 5.

54. Sixiang pinde, vol. 12 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1989), p. 23-25.

55. Daode yu fazhi, vol. 1a (Beijing: Beijing shifan daxue chubanshe, 2016), p. 42.

56. Sixiang pinde, vol. 2 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 1999), p. 5.

57. See Sixiang pinde, vol. 5 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1992), pp. 48-51.

58. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 4, 1st edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1979), p. 64.

59. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 1, 3rd rev. edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1984), pp. 74-75.

60. Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 11, 1st edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1969), p. 31; Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 1, 2nd rev. edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1978), pp. 66-67.

61. See Shenghuo yu lunli, vol. 1, 7th rev. edn. (Taipei: Guoli bianyiguan, 1988), p. 67; Chang, Place, Identity and National Imagination in Postwar Taiwan, pp. 181-182.

62. Shehui, vol. 2, 6th edn. (Taipei: Hanlin chuban shiye gufen gongsi, 2012), p. 25.

63. Shehui, vol. 5, 2nd edn. (Taipei: Renlin wenhua chubanshe, 2005), p. 84.

64. Shehui, vol. 1, 1st edn. (Taipei: Nanyi shuju, 2011), p. 75.

65. See Dru Gladney, Dislocating China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004

66. Shehui, vol. 1 (Taipei: Kangxuan wenjiao jituan, 2022), pp. 38-39, Shehui, vol. 4, 2022, p. 64.

67. Sixiang pinde, vol. 2 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 1999), p. 5.

68. Sixiang pinde, vol. 2 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 1999), p. 5.

69. Sixiang pinde, vol. 7 (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1989), p. 2; Sixiang pinde, vol. 7 (Changchun: Jilin sheng jiaoyu chubanshe, 2000), p. 48.

70. See Pinde yu shehui, vol. 5a (Beijing: Renmin jiaoyu chubanshe, 2013), p. 83.

71. Chang, et al., “The Reorientation of History Teaching”; Chang, Place, Identity and National Imagination in Postwar Taiwan.

72. Schak, Civility and Its Development, p. 158.

73. Shehui, vol. 8 (Taipei: Kangxuan wenjiao jituan, 2022), p. 97ff.

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