How Nation Building Backfires: Beliefs about Group Malleability and Anti-Chinese Attitudes in Hong Kong

Siu Yau Lee*, Kee Lee Chou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


An intriguing phenomenon documented within political science research is the association between nation-building programs and increased subnational intergroup conflicts. Based on data collected in Hong Kong, an epicenter of subnational conflicts in China, this article suggests that nation building may intensify the tension between subnational groups because it helps to spread the belief that groups have fixed inherent characteristics. Specifically, in the face of deep intergroup cultural and political differences, people who see their nation as a historically unified entity are more likely to believe that those differences are unchangeable and, in turn, develop negative attitudes toward other subnational groups. We support these arguments with a representative survey of the population and two laboratory experiments. In the first experiment, respondents who are exposed to narratives that emphasize the homogeneity of the Chinese nation report a higher level of fixed group perceptions than those who receive the opposite message. In the second experiment, respondents who are primed to believe that group characteristics are fixed report significantly more negative attitudes toward migrants from other parts of China. Our findings contribute conceptually to the study of nation building and shed new light on the formation of immigration attitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-944
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations

User-Defined Keywords

  • China
  • group malleability
  • Hong Kong
  • immigration attitudes
  • implicit beliefs
  • nation building


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