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Morning, Thursday, April 27, 1989
Moderator: Liang Congjie
Participants: Ge Yang, Bo Yang, Wu Tianming, Chang Hao, Geremie Barmé, Wu Zuguang
Discussion from the Floor
Ever since China's humiliation at the hands of Western powers began around the middle of the last century, the biggest question underlying Chinese cultural, political, and intellectual history has been: How can a splendid and ancient civilization, justly proud of the glories in its past, adjust to a world in which, by common modern standards, it is no longer obviously the most glorious place? This big question led to others: Can there be a way -- somehow -- to recover primacy, and retain a basis for pride in China's distinctiveness, at least moral if not material? If not, does China need a new self-definition, some combination of traditional and Western elements? If so, what combination? Of what elements? Chosen by whom? And will the result allow China still to be distinctive and proud?
The power of modern Chinese patriotism can be seen in a story that one of China's most eminent historians recalled, in the winter of 1989, about his parents. In 1937, when Japan invaded north China, the family was living comfortably, indeed luxuriously by the standards of the time, in a traditional-style Beijing courtyard. When the father was summoned by the Japanese police to a "meeting", the real purpose of which was to force him into collaboration, the parents decided to flee, leaving immediately and keeping only what they could carry with them. They made their way to Chongqing in Sichuan, living in poverty for several years. They could not even afford shoes or proper medicine for their children.
"But I never heard my parents complain," said the historian. "They were doing it for China. Once, in fall of 1944, the Japanese army advanced to within two days of Chongqing. I asked my parents what they would do if the Japanese really arrived. My father just looked out the window at the Yangtze River and said, 'We Chinese have an old method: the river.' I panicked when I realized what he meant. 'But what about me?', I asked. I was in high school then. My father answered, 'If such a day really comes, can we still care about you?'".
Chinese patriotism as intense as this is rare today, especially among young people. Years of insistence by the Communist Party that "love of country" must equal "love of Party" has distorted the idea of patriotism and drained it of much of its life. But it is by no means dead. The assumption that China is special, and that every Chinese person is responsible for Chinese pride, remains culturally axiomatic even among the most disillusioned. I told the above story, a few days after I heard it, to one of China's most brilliant young humanists, a man in his early 30s.
"I find that father's answer to his son strange," he said. " I would even call it abnormal. I have a son, and can't conceive saying such a thing to him." But later in the same interview with this young scholar, whose utter contempt for China's current regime can hardly be exaggerated, I pressed a bit further about his sense of identification with China as a country. "If you were on an academic delegation going overseas," I asked, "would you speak just for yourself, or feel you had to represent China?"
He thought for a moment and then said, "I would definitely feel I had to represent China. I would be concerned with two things: not to offend the foreign hosts, and not to lose face for China. Others on the delegation would be watching me, and could report my 'mistakes' back home. But that is not what I mean. I mean, at a deeper level, that as a Chinese I would feel a duty to represent China's dignity."
This deeply embedded sense of the primacy and dignity of China is something that the regime and the intellectuals, despite their antagonism on nearly every other issue, share in common. They share it so fundamentally that neither side ever thinks to acknowledge it as area of agreement. It is simply given. It seems to come, directly or indirectly, from China's magnificent history, and from an awareness that Chinese in the present are its living inheritors. The dust in which Qu Yuan trod -- and the First Emperor of Qin, and Liu Bang, and Zhuge Liang, and Tao Qian, and Wang Wei, and Zhu Xi, and many, many others -- is this dust, and it cannot be the same as any other.
This idea is thrown into sharp relief by contemporary comparisons of China to other places. The examples of the so-called "Four Little Dragons" of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are especially clear, and are disturbing to Mainland Chinese intellectuals at more than one level. Because the Four Little Dragons have done spectacularly well economically, and because three of the four are basically Chinese culturally and ethnically (while the fourth is not very far removed), to Chinese intellectuals they seem to present iron-clad evidence that China's problem is its social system. "Look," as one said in late 1988, "the Chinese people are not stupid. They are not lazy, something is wrong."
But the success of the Four Little Dragons is also unsettling in a much deeper sense, at the level where the primacy and dignity of China's basic identity are at stake. The Four Dragons exist on the fringes of China. They can experiment with modernization, and attract attention, but something is very wrong if they become the main focus. They can do well, and even amass great wealth, but never can be, in some ultimate sense, "better". At bottom these is something absurd about the very comparison of the land of Confucius and Qu Yuan to a place like Singapore. Comparisons with more distant places differ only in degree.
The big problem, then, has been how China can find a way to modern wealth and power, those twin pillars of prestige that the world respects, and at the same time retain a distinctive identity. Much of China's history over the past century can be viewed as a fitful, shifting, incessant struggle to achieve that end -- through "self strengthening," reforms, revolutions, facing East, facing West, campaigns, purges, rehabilitations, and more. "Why do you think China's direction zigs and zags so much?" one of China's leading sociologists asked me in late 1988. "Why are there so many policy reversals? Yes, of course, it is partly because the Communist leadership is continuously torn by factions. But fundamentally the phenomenon is much larger. The whole country is frantically searching for a way out, and has been for many decades, even before the Communists. We're like a big fish that has been pulled from the water, and is flopping wildly to find its way back in. In such a condition the fish never asks where the next flip or flop will take it. It senses only that its present position is intolerable and that something else must be tried. We intellectuals complain a lot about the influence of Soviet-style dictatorship in China. But originally, the 'Soviet path' was also just one of the flops of the fish, trying to find a way out for China."
In imperial times, an important steadying role was played by China's official Confucian ideology. It was widely assumed that, at least ideally, students who memorized classic texts would thereby absorb the morality that would qualify them to rule society as officials of the state. Thus literary education, morality, and public service were understood (very differently from in the modern West) as a seamless whole, and one that underlay a single prestigious career pattern for which there was no peer. The official ideology and its accompanying institutions were crucial in bringing political unity across a vast empire and a varied populace. After the Communist revolution, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism served some importantly similar functions. Again, specified texts became the sources of an orthodoxy that informed -- indeed now dominated -- education, public morality and official service. The single career pattern was even more dominant than it had been before. To be sure, Confucianism and Marxism-Leninism and Maoism differed immensely in both their content and their methods; but each provided a sense of "national identity" (to use a modern term somewhat anachronistically) that could help to unify a huge country. Moreover both ideologies permitted, besides unity, a sense of pride that China had something better, something others would do well to learn from.
Any nation needs some sense of identity, however defined. But one can argue that China, because of its tradition, has an especially strong need for a culturally-constructed identity -- rooted in ideology, worthy of Chinese pride, and maybe even based in texts. Viewing things in this way, one can begin to appreciate the depth and severity of the "identity crisis" that beset China in the late 1980s. By then, alienation from Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology was so complete that it was simply a dead issue, not even worthy of serious argument. But the gap that was left behind was tremendous: What is our ideology, now? We can hardly go back to Confucianism, can we? What can we point to, as we used to point to Confucianism or socialism, and say, "This is us; this is what holds us together and sets us off from others?" People peered within themselves in search of a solid core to rely upon, but found only aching emptiness. The emptiness had to be covered up, because of a certain embarrassment at letting it be exposed. But it produced a lack of confidence, which in turn only underscored the basic problem: Chinese people should feel solid inside, and thus confident outside.
Some thought the problem went even deeper than ideology. Are there flaws in Chinese culture itself, or in our "national character", that constrict our vision and condemn us to be out of step with the modern century? But to blame what is deep in one's culture amounts to painful self-dissection. How can one even stand outside the problem far enough to get a clear view of it?
There was talk of "democracy" as a new ideology for China. But there were also enough questions about it that the sense of inner solidity was still lacking. Could democracy be imported? How? How fast? With what adaptations? And above all, the huge question that overshadowed all the others was: How can we make democracy our ideology when it faces constant repression by a hostile government? Advocates of democracy concentrated, understandably, less on the complex questions of how to build democracy in China than on the struggle against the tyranny that opposed it. (Ironically, it was precisely the government's hostility that gave the Chinese democracy movement most of its unity. This important contribution of the Chinese regime to the democracy movement can be seen by observing how easily splits and bickering have cropped up in the democratic movement overseas, where the heavy hand of oppression is absent.)
"Science", that partner of "democracy" in the slogans of the 1919 May Fourth Movement, also reappeared in the late 1980s as a possible "inner core" to rely upon. Fang Lizhi's linking of science and democracy by saying that both are based on universal principles, and not subject to arbitrary violation on account of some dictator's declaration about "national characteristics", had great appeal, especially to the young. Fang's declaration that "patriotism should not be our highest priority" was somewhat more controversial. It drew wide approval insofar as it meant opposition to the Communist Party's insistence that "patriotism" mean "loyalty to the Party". But Fang's further implication that the notion of Chinese primacy (or any nation's primacy) may be outmoded in the modern world was harder to accept, especially among older Chinese. Fang's young supporters claimed that this very sensitivity among their elders showed that Fang had put his finger on the key problem in China's inability to adjust to the 20th century.
Whatever its answer, that "key problem" is essentially the same as "the big question" (as I called it in paragraph one above) that underlies much of modern Chinese history. It was also the underlying question of the first panel discussion at Bolinas. The weight and centrality of the question can be seen by its relevance to the range of issues that were raised from various perspectives, including those of Mainland Chinese, Taiwan Chinese, American Chinese, and Western Sinologists.
The discussion was conditioned -- indeed, delayed for about an hour -- by the news that had just arrived from China that morning, April 27. Students in Beijing, angry at a People's Daily editorial that called their movement "turmoil" instigated by "a tiny group of troublemakers", had defied a government prohibition against further marching and had peacefully broken through police barricades, to the cheers of, and with active support from, large crowds of Beijing citizens. It is worth noting how some of the conference participants foresaw an eventual crackdown even as they absorbed this good news.
Is there a relationship between China's economic backwardness and its culture and politics? If the solution to China's now blurred sense of self is a new syncretism which endeavors to take the "best from East and West", what then is worth retaining of traditional and Maoist politics and culture, what should be abandoned, and what should be borrowed from the West?
This symposium coincides with the anniversary of China's May Fourth Movement of 1919. I was born before that time, and although I have not prepared anything special, can offer you some comments from the perspective of my 70 years.
I like to speak of the past 70 years in terms of four periods, two of 17 years each and two of 12 years each. The first 17-year period, 1919-1937, was a time of true "blooming and contending" in China. They were the years of my youth, during which, especially in the early 1930s, I read a lot of May Fourth-period books. The slogan "equality of the sexes" had a special meaning for me. Before May Fourth, women wore earrings, had to bind their feet, and could not go to school. We made the right of education our first goal, so that we could be on an equal footing with men.
The first 12-year period, 1937-1949, was dominated by the Anti-Japanese War and then the Civil War. In the Communist-controlled Liberated Areas, where I was living, cultural life came to a virtual standstill under the ideological monopoly of Chinese Marxism. In the areas of China controlled by the Nationalists, cultural development was better.
The second 17-year period, 1949-1966, following the Revolution, should, by rights, have seen impressive cultural change, instead it saw the establishment of monolithic Party control. Stalinist Marxism was borrowed from the Soviet Union and used in combination with China's feudal tradition. To use a saying from Mao Zedong, "old things were made to serve the present and foreign things made to serve China." For 17 years this monster of Stalinist-feudalism dominated not only China's political structure and economy -- bringing about the nationalization of everything -- but culture as well. A long series of campaigns against writers, film-makers, and scholars guaranteed the sterility of culture. To China's outstanding writers -- such as Mao Dun, Cao Yu, Lao She, and Ba Jin -- the years after 1949 were suffocating. They produced practically nothing. The one little book that Ba Jin did write had to be published overseas. Oppression by the feudal-fascist dictatorship eventually pushed the people too far, creating some of the conditions that gave rise to the violence of the Cultural Revolution.
The last 12-year period, from 1977 until now, has been marked by economic reform and the open door policies. In the late 1970s, the debate over the "criterion of truth" served to effect a "second liberation" of thought. People who had been wrongly labeled as "Rightists" had their labels removed. Economic reforms began in the rural areas and moved into the cities. But it soon became evident that, to be thorough, reforms would have to be political as well as economic. The government, wary of political reform, described itself as wanting to "cross the river by feeling the way stone by stone". But in mid-stream they suddenly saw "capitalism" on the other bank and made an about face, abandoning political reform. Then came the death of Hu Yaobang [in April 1989], who had been largely responsible for the "second liberation". The mourning of Hu has sparked the student democracy movement and its demands for structural political reform. Without such reform, China's official decadence, bureaucratism, and corruption will be impossible to eradicate.
The spontaneous growth of the student demonstrations into a genuinely popular movement should be viewed not as an accident but as an inevitable historical development. It reflects a strong popular desire for political reform. From this we can see that China's future lies with its young generation and with the people below, not the ones on top.
I am from Taiwan, and hence cannot respond to this morning's news with the same emotion as the people here who have come from Beijing. But as a Chinese, I can still offer some reflections.
Just now Ge Yang concluded that China's future lies with its young people. This is always true, because the old inevitably die off. Yet I can remember, as a youngster, my elders also told me, "The future lies with you." Later I told my son the same thing, and I know my son will tell the same to his son. I still don't know who will finally come to the rescue of China.
Last year, when I visited Mainland China, I met many students who seemed to think I might be that rescuer. "Please tell us," they said, "how to save our country." This happened so often that my wife finally lost her patience. "Stop asking him that question," she said. "He doesn't even know how to save himself, let alone the country. Not even God can save this country, to say nothing of a writer from Taiwan -- or from anywhere else for that matter".
We need to recognize the enormity of the problem. Student movements, too, have been tried before -- in fact several times in the 1920s through 1940s. Those "anti-feudal" movements, which were also aimed against the foreign imperialist invaders, cost a lot of lives. Each seemed to mark the "awakening" of the people, but in the long run all those sacrifices went for nougat.
I have long been haunted by the futility of our Chinese hope that our country can become wealthy and strong. We seem to be aiming for the impossible. If someone could guarantee that chopping off my head would save China, I -- and many others, I'm sure -- would be ready to do it. Indeed, many people in modern Chinese history, both Nationalist and Communist -- and on Taiwan -- have paid precisely this price. But even though we hope things will improve, nothing ever does.
I feel it is too early to be optimistic about the student movement and today's news. The dictator has raised his sword, and is going to bring it down on the people. What can we do about that? Hardly anything. Being a dictator, his mind works differently from ours. It would be nice if dictators had wisdom, tolerance, and foresight. If they did, they would never fail. But they don't. They are always convinced that they are right, while in fact they often are not. This is true of all dictators, Chinese or foreign.
We are often told that the Cultural Revolution could never happen again. But the people who claim this shouldn't be so hasty. Personally I feel that the Cultural Revolution could stage a comeback at any time. Of course Mao Zedong and Jiang Qing won't reappear, but the same kind of turmoil can, because the conditions for it are still present.
And what are those conditions? We Chinese have no sense of guilt. We never have regrets, and we are ungrateful. We don't have the courage to face problems. Our only solution to any problem is to say "let bygones be bygones." This is an outstanding characteristic of Chinese culture.
I have a German son-in-law. He can never bear to see documentary scenes of Jews being executed by Hitler's fascists. But the killing of the Jews was not as great as the massacres that have occurred in modern Chinese history. Just think of the slaughter of Communists by Nationalists and Nationalists by Communists during the Civil War. That was followed by the fratricide among the Communists, and all the killings of the Cultural Revolution. But are there any Communists who feel sad when these massacres are mentioned? Very few! Again, they take refuge in the philosophy of "letting bygones be bygones". I have a friend in Munich who says, "As soon as you allow yourself to forget humiliation, cruelty, and ferocity, you risk inviting them back."
There is something missing in our culture. How else could it give birth to such a cruel regime? How can it be possible that our intellectuals are so submissive? Why do they wait for things to be "bestowed" on them by others?
Yesterday I heard a Chinese at our conference say, "We must make foreign journalists know about our sufferings. They don't seem to pay much attention to us." Why do they neglect us? Because we're not worth their attention. They don't respect us because we don't respect ourselves. No wonder we are "looked down" upon.
We must wake up from our illusions. We need to examine ourselves and accept something new. I do not mean Marxism of any kind. The experiments with Marxism have been a proven failure. We need to look at ourselves in a mirror. If we don't have the courage to look, but simply smash every mirror we see, we'll never be able to find out if we have warts on our faces. Even millions of years from now those warts will still be there.
Earlier today someone was saying we need "freedom". I think this is too abstract. Why don't we ask for a legal system -- a democratic legal system that provides checks and balances? The idea of relying on a single wise leader is a very dangerous one. A single person will never be wise enough, especially when there is no limit to his power. Power will turn him into a blockhead. Deng Xiaoping has become just such a person. Power enthralls him, and so he abuses it. I'm not making a slight on his character. Anyone -- and that includes us if put in his position would probably do the same thing.
The system of state ownership is a scourge like AIDS. It has brought irreparable harm to the Chinese nation. Everyone here, I guess, is either from China or has been there recently. Don't you feel the atmosphere in China is quite different from other places? I don't mean to say that the Chinese people are not good; for thousands of years they have been a kind and hospitable people. But suddenly they seem to have turned very hostile. It is the system of state ownership that has conditioned them to become what they are today. If this system doesn't change, we can expect that in 500 years people will have lost their basic human qualities altogether. Only their most primitive animal instincts will remain. We must find ways to end state ownership, and to establish a system of private ownership which can generate a middle class, democratic politics, and a legal system. This is the only way to save China. Will it mean that every problem is solved? Of course not. But it is the only way in which real problems can be dealt with rationally. Under the current system, there is no way to solve problems.
I, too, was very glad to hear the news this morning. It has helped relieve the extreme depression that I have felt since early last year. But when I discovered this morning that everybody else was just as happy as I, I began to worry. Why are we so happy? I can say unequivocally that the Chinese authorities aren't going to change their minds. They have made it clear that they will deal firmly and thoroughly with this so-called "riot" and they mean it. I fear our rejoicing is a little premature. We need to calm down, and prepare for the worst.
Bo Yang's remarks are extraordinary and insightful. In his numerous books he has offered us a range of brilliant views on a variety of subjects. Regretfully, I have neither time nor the ability to study these questions further. I am nearly 50, and often feel depressed to the point of utter despair. I'm not worried that China will "perish" as a nation. I despair because there is no political party, no alternative organization, that is strong enough to stand up to or replace the Communist Party.
Politically, the Chinese people have a strong tendency to rely on others. They readily accede to being ruled by a small coterie of people. It's a characteristic of Chinese culture. For many years, the misrule of the Communists has been possible because they have taken advantage of this national psychological weakness.
In 1987, while I was at a film festival in Tokyo, I went out at 7 o'clock one morning to take some pictures of the city. As the sun was rising over those tall buildings, and the streets were so quiet and peaceful, I just stood there for half an hour, sad to the point to tears. Japan is a small country. It was defeated in 1945 and its national strength exhausted. But 40 years later it has become an economic giant, boasting the largest currency reserves in the world. People say China's backwardness is due to its large population. But Japan's population density is far greater. Why is China, one of the victorious nations in the last war, still in such a sorry state?
As I stood there, I also reflected on Taiwan. In 1949 Chiang Kai-shek fled to that small island, and now its currency reserves have jumped to the second place in the world. Taiwan's currency can be changed for American dollars in New York. Taiwan people go to Hong Kong and spend money as if things were for the taking. But outside its borders China's currency is a mere scrap of paper. Why?
Let's compare Hong Kong and Shanghai. In 1949, Shanghai was the premier cosmopolitan city of Asia. Today, 40 years later, it is a shell of its former self, while Hong Kong has leapt way ahead. Why? It hurts even to ask the question. But my simple conclusion is: while they have been working hard building up their economy and their competitive enterprises, we have been busily engaged in power struggles, pitting people against people, killing each other.
China's economic system is characterized as "ownership by the whole people". But this means, in fact, that the people own nothing. Ownership is by a privileged group. True, their salaries are not much more than ours, but everything they want is "supplied" to them: sumptuous food, expensive cars, luxurious housing. In Shaanxi I once visited a hotel specially built for top leaders from Beijing. Each suite had two huge bedrooms, two extravagant sitting rooms, and two bathrooms outfitted with bathing pools, Jacuzzis, and the like. Needless to say, those parts of the hotel were strictly off limits to ordinary people.
Just now Bo Yang spoke of a legal system. This is a hard nut to crack. Over the years China has made all kinds of laws, but any of them can be made null and void at the whim of one man. What's the use of such a legal system? Now the People's Daily has accused the students of "violating the constitution". But who in fact are violating the guarantees of free speech that are written into that constitution? Laws in China are made for the convenience of those who make them. What can you do if the lawmakers break their own laws? Nothing. This is why I have recently felt so frustrated, sad, and pessimistic.
I would like to comment on the question of "borrowing from the West" in the context of my own work in this area. I think Chinese intellectuals have, in one sense, been very biased in their evaluation of Western culture. They have concentrated on secular culture, almost entirely ignoring religious culture. To put it another way, they have looked at modern culture, and the cultures originating from Greece and Rome, but have largely ignored Jewish and Christian culture. Kang Youwei and Tan Sitong were only partial exceptions to this unfortunate bias.
I'm not a Christian, and have no interest in advocating Western religion for China. I speak as an historian. If you want to understand Western culture, you cannot ignore religion. Let's take the two areas that have interested Chinese intellectuals most: democracy and economic development. The rise of the capitalist economy in the West is generally acknowledged to be connected with the "Protestant work ethic", to use Max Weber's phrase.
"Democracy" also has complex interconnections with Western religion. Here I will limit myself to a single example. The Christian notion of "original sin" played an important role in the development of constitutional government. Because sin is rooted in human nature, people with power need to be watched and limited. The lust for power is a great sin, and people poisoned by power can persecute millions. Lord Acton, originator of the famous remark, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," was a devout Christian. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "My sensitivity to the poisonousness of power comes from Christianity's alertness for the seamy side of human beings, and for the sinfulness in the relationship of men and men."
I believe this wisdom of Christianity, as reflected in the words of Acton, is well worth the attention of Chinese intellectuals as they review Chinese political history. Although ancient Chinese culture, as well as Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism, paid some attention to the dark side of human nature, such attention has been lacking in modern Chinese thought. There is no concept of "sin" in Marxism, an ideology full of idealism. Mao Zedong was also very much an idealist, believing that, "All 600,000,000 people are wise like Emperors Yao and Shun". This is why I feel that, in "borrowing the best from the West," China must look squarely at all of Western culture, including Western religion.
I would like to raise the question of "communist culture", this is, the special culture created under communist rule. It is a matter of world-wide relevance, and much has been written on the subject, especially in Eastern Europe, touching on Soviet, Hungarian, and Polish communist culture. But Chinese intellectuals have a predilection for talking about their traditional culture and are loath to discuss the phenomenon of Chinese communist culture. Perhaps they have yet to appreciate that it exists.
Just now Ge Yang commented on China having emulated the Soviet model. Similarly, Wang Ruowang wrote after being expelled from the Communist Party two years ago that the problem confronting China is not one of traditional culture, nor a dilemma about how to "take the best from both East and West", but a problem of Sovietization.
The fact remains that today China's political culture is primarily Stalinist. This is a question that has not received the attention it deserves. At our forum several people have repeated a sentiment seen often in the Chinese press: political reforms have made little headway. Why? Because the Stalinist model remains in place. The nature of Deng Xiaoping's rule, the rhetoric of the People's Daily, and so many other things all attest to this fact. The machinery of the Proletarian Dictatorship is still intact and can be put into operation at any time. Yesterday the government refrained from unleashing this machine, but this is not proof that the students have won. Deng, being the practiced politician that he is, doesn't want to let the students capitalize on the anniversary of May Fourth or on Gorbachev's visit. Deng will feign tolerance until Gorbachev leaves Beijing, and will then use force to clean up the mess. He would be a patent fool to do otherwise.
In recent years, Chinese intellectuals have made little effort to study Eastern Europe with an eye to comparisons with their own situation. Instead much attention is paid to the countries that, in their eyes, represent "modern international standards" -- in particular the United States and then France and Japan. To try to emulate such nations is a pipedream. China would do much better to look to the Eastern Bloc, for example the Soviet Union or Hungary, for a solution to its predicament. It would be a tremendous achievement if China could emulate Hungary; if China were now to "learn from the Soviet Union", as it did in the 1950s, it might indeed have a "radiant future".
Equally, it is futile for China to attempt to revive "traditional culture", as if its communist history had never occurred. Communist culture is a fact of life, whether you like it or not. But there is a new interpretation of things in China. Recently, at a meeting held for some Hungarian delegation, Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang said that China cannot emulate the democratization process that is proceeding in the Soviet Union, because this would not be in keeping with China's "national characteristics" (guoqing). Isn't that marvelous! According to the People's Daily, Li Peng made a similarly absurd remark just a few days ago. But just what are China's "national characteristics"? A central feature of Chinese reality is its domination by a Soviet-style machine. If the Eastern European style of reform doesn't suit China, what ever will? But then the Chinese are only interested in discussing "democracy" with Americans or Frenchmen. They don't want to have a dialogue with Poles or Hungarians. They don't even know what's going on in those countries. The head of Solidarity recently said he would not run for the presidency of the country. What a luxury! Who in China -- which head of which union -- could be so magnanimous? Why doesn't China care to learn from them?
[At this point the moderator, Liang Congjie, interjected: "Don't forget that the students named their organization 'Solidarity Students' Union'. This shows at least some Eastern European influence!"]
But to return to the topic of today's panel, "What is worth retaining from traditional or Maoist culture?" It is interesting that this issue is so often posed as a question. The implication seems to be that someone -- or some social class or group, perhaps -- can actually decide what China should retain or discard. But is this possible? Mao Zedong appears to have tried and failed. Can any of the present political incumbents, or even the intellectuals, do any better? I feel we should question the way this topic itself is conceived.
I would like to conclude with what I think is a revealing little anecdote. It's a story that touches on something which we in the West have drummed into us from youth: the relationship between means and ends.
My wife, who is in Beijing, tells me that a friend of ours observed an incident that occurred among the serried ranks of students marching toward Tiananmen Square. They were in neat columns, having organized themselves according to school, department and class. Their very organization exhibited "communist culture" -- the same patterns initially used by Red Guards in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. They even chorused the same slogans and sang the same theme song -- "The Internationale". They carried posters with a uniform message. Their stated goal was "democracy", but they hardly appeared to be an army marching for democracy. Behind this force trailed a scruffy crowd of long-haired arty types and others from art and film schools. This slovenly bunch didn't march in line, nor did they sing the prescribed songs or chant the proper slogans. Embarrassed by this unseemly eyesore, the student leaders angrily demanded that the mob of stragglers either conform or not march at all.
It's food for thought, isn't it?
It has been seventy years since the May Fourth Movement. Back then the students demanded "science and democracy". It seems we haven't got anywhere in seventy years, because here we are still demanding the very same things. Seventy years ago the enemy was "feudalistic dictatorship"; today we're still living under it, or something even worse. And that Party of ours still remains as unmoving as ever.
I am told that one of the student posters at Tiananmen reads:
The lower levels obey the upper levels
The upper levels obey Party Central
Party Central obeys Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping just follows his whims.
I would like to comment on following one's whims. I'm all for it. The most oppressive thing for me over the last 40 years has been that we have not been allowed to follow our own impulses. We always have to follow the "leaders". Confucius said, "To be too fond of teaching others is man's worst enemy". I say, "To be too fond of leading others is the Communist Party's worst enemy". The Party insists on being charge of everything, at all times, in all places. It's something I've never been able to get used to.
In China, anything you do on impulse is sure to result in criticism. I know because I've fallen afoul of the authorities myself, and have been criticized many times, labeled a "counter-revolutionary", and so on. In 1957, I wrote an article in which I asked, "If the Party has to lead everything, how did Qu Yuan, Du Fu, and all the other great writers and scholars in Chinese history ever manage without it?" This remark was subsequently classified as a "most vicious attack on the Party".
But here I am again, stating my opposition to "the party leading everything". "Party leadership" is an abstract phrase; in practice leadership has to be carried out by people. And if those people are incompetent, or stupid, they ruin whatever they are attempting to "lead". The truth of this has been proven time and again. In artistic circles, for example, if a person had been in Yan'an, he would certainly be a Party member, and as a "Yan'an Party member" would automatically be a "leader" -- even if he had the ability only of a primary school student or worse. This is what "Party leadership" actually means -- and it remains in place even as we speak.
I want to conclude these remarks by offering two illustrations of the problem from my own experience. When the 1983 Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign hit China, I was traveling in the United States, and constantly felt embarrassed when Americans asked "What's it all about?" Frankly, I felt humiliated and ashamed by what was going on in China. When I got back to China I gave a speech at the Writers' Association and said that the Spiritual Pollution Campaign did nothing but ruin the country and discredit its leadership. I was greeted by warm applause from my fellow writers. By this time the campaign itself had long been over, having lasted only 28 days and been pretty well discredited. Nevertheless, I was later approached in private by a well-respected senior figure in literary circles, a man with a reputation for being open-minded. "How could you possibly have contradicted Deng Xiaoping this way?" he asked. From this we can see the awe in which the words of the top leader are supposed to be held.
Some time later I wrote an article about Ouyang Yuqian's play called "Pan Jinlian", in which I offered an opinion that happened to contradict something that Zhou Enlai had said many years earlier. (I was supporting the playwright's interpretation of the heroine, who lived hundreds of years ago, as someone oppressed by her feudal environment; Zhou Enlai had said, "We can forgive anything but not a woman who kills her husband.") After finishing the article I was once more visited by that highly-respected old man. "You can't say things like that. It simply won't do to contradict Premier Zhou Enlai. Who are you to criticize him?" The purpose of my article had not been to criticize Zhou Enlai, and my "contradiction" had been quite accidental. But because of it, the journal Drama refused to publish the piece. My Party Secretary admonished me, "Even if they won't publish it you must delete the paragraphs that criticized Zhou Enlai's remark. If you don't, everyone in the cultural sphere will despise you."
My point today is that this thing called "Party leadership", with its great vanity, is something that always hangs over you like a dark cloud. And I don't see how this is going to come to an end.
DISCUSSION FROM THE FLOOR:
I think that the important issue emerging from our discussion is how the political system screens and selects "culture". Here I am thinking of culture as a kind of material, whether from East or West, that China can draw upon. I disagree with the premise of the television series River Elegy that China's backwardness is a cultural problem that cannot be changed. But I do think Geremie Barmé is right when he says "selecting the good and discarding the bad" is very difficult. Not everyone, moreover, will want to select the same culture. The key problem with China is that the political system imposes its "pre-selection" which often discards the good in favor of the bad.
Ge Yang has spoken of China's contemporary "feudalism". I think the term should be expanded to "feudalistic dictatorship plus Stalinist-style Marxism". Of all the whole range of political cultures the world has to offer, China's political system has selected these two elements. Everything else, including the best of what Chinese tradition and the West have to offer, is constantly rejected as "bourgeois", "revisionist", or whatever. A few years ago Hu Qiaomu said that we should learn from the Soviet Union, because they were true Marxists. Today he has made a 180 degree turn and says we should not learn from the Soviet Union, or from the Eastern European countries, either. From this it is clear that if people in another culture make some progress, he will advocate discarding them, filtering them out. Right now, our regime is filtering out Soviet and Eastern European experience, as well as American and Western experience. What's left? Only this New Authoritarianism. But New Authoritarianism will not work, as even Samuel Huntington, founding father of the theory, has recently acknowledged. Political progress must go hand-in-hand with economic progress.
I believe this is the crux of the matter: all the pessimism, frustration, despair, money-mindedness, and political weariness we now see in China is the result of this cultural censorship to which we are subjected.
I would like to ask Geremie Barmé: What do you see as being the essential difference between the traditional Chinese "scholar-gentry" and contemporary Chinese intellectuals?
Today's intellectuals are more malleable. They change according to the prevailing ideological winds, be these political movements, or even student movements. They change according to the political situation, even according to the message of each political meeting. If a new idea is raised at a meeting, they will be quick to adopt it. You don't find this phenomenon so readily in China's traditional culture, where the scholar-gentry had greater integrity.
I believe we should posit a third group between post-1949 intellectuals and the traditional scholar-gentry. These are the intellectuals who emerged between 1895 and 1920, who were modern-minded, and thus different from the old scholar-gentry, but who also had a strong critical sense and strong independence, thus setting them off from intellectuals in the Communist period.
I would like to comment on the question of "taking the best from East and West". Ever since the opening of China after the Opium War in 1840, Chinese thought has, in my view, suffered from an unfortunate preference for perfectionism. Chinese have assumed that by taking "the best" from both Chinese tradition and the West, and combining the two to make "the best of the best", China will create a perfect society and culture, that can lead the world in terms of morality, material wealth and cultural life.
This quest to make China the best was fueled by the humiliations China suffered in the past century. It caused Chinese to look for solutions first in Western democracy, and then, when it appeared that the Western imperialists did not want to help China, to the Russian revolution and Marxism. This is how Communism came to China -- through the effort to make China the best. And it helps to explain why Marxism became so idealized.
The "perfectionism" in modern Chinese thought is further strengthened by the lack of a native religious ideology. Chinese intellectuals, who have no spiritual sustenance, no place to focus "other-worldly" concerns, channeled their spiritual impulses into political perfectionism instead.
More important, is this recurrent Chinese utopianism results from a lack of actual experience. Marxism looked wonderful to the Chinese until we actually had to live with it. Now "science and democracy" look wonderful. But only when you actually experience something can you know what it is like, including both the good and the bad. Americans hold critical attitudes towards technological development, which has led to pollution, the threat of nuclear warfare, and so on. The Chinese perfectionist attitude toward science and democracy is stronger among scholars from Mainland China than among Taiwan or overseas Chinese scholars, whose actual experience gives them a more mature view of these things. To them, the slogans of Mainland intellectuals for "freedom and democracy" seem courageous and admirable, but also somewhat empty and abstract.
This perfectionism, in addition to creating false hopes, can be exploited by the Chinese regime to discredit American democracy. All they need to do is point to American social problems like homelessness, or bribery, or name-calling in Congress, or whatever, and -- if you measure these things against an implied standard of "perfection" -- then it's easy to discredit the democratic system of which they are a part. To persist in perfectionism is to provide ready ammunition for those who oppose democracy.
We should help our young people to become more politically mature in their views regarding "democracy", help them shed their romantic illusions and be more practical, so that their slogans will sound less empty, so that they will not play into the hands of the opponents of democracy, and so that, when the time comes actually to introduce democracy into China, they will have a more realistic sense of how to implement it.
Some Western scholars have recently argued that traditional Chinese culture has many features that are conducive to economic development. Chinese religion, to cite just one example, held that a person could pray to the gods for help in making a profit.
Are there similar affinities between traditional culture and democracy? Obviously, traditional China was not a democracy, but we mustn't therefore rule out the question of affinities. For example, the old saying "the rise and fall of the country is the concern of each ordinary person" shows a sense of civic responsibility. The traditional virtue of "endurance", or "yielding", suggests an idea of mutual tolerance. The traditional concept of justice was that everyone should enjoy fair treatment before the law. If you felt unjustly treated you could appeal all the way to the Emperor in Beijing. And China had a tradition of social mobility. In principle, anyone could upgrade himself and raise his social status. So perhaps we can say that China's traditional culture had some elements conducive to both economic development and democracy.
I have noticed that China's intellectuals seem to delight in criticizing their traditional culture, but strangely enough, so far, I haven't met a single one who wants to discard his Chinese way of life [audience laughter]. Maybe the Chinese way of life is too good to abandon. In short, culture is multi-dimensional. It contains many elements. To say simply that China's traditional culture is suitable or not suitable for a particular political structure is, I think, far too general.
And culture can change. For example, culture in Taiwan has undergone many changes, and yet is still identifiably Chinese. Culture in Mainland China is no longer traditional, even though it is Chinese. Culture is not a monolithic force that leads to a determined outcome.
I'm sorry, but I can't wait to add a few words on these issues. China's traditional culture was conducive to economic development? I would hold that quite the opposite is true. It was extremely unsuited to such development. It valued agriculture but despised commerce. Laws prevented merchants from becoming officials, riding in vehicles, or owning good houses. A merchant could earn a lot of money, but had no political or social status. The popular attitude is captured in the old saying, "There is no merchant who is honest".
And I would say there is no democracy in Chinese tradition, only a monarch; moreover, there is no democratic spirit in traditional Chinese culture. There is no tradition of toleration or concession-making. If you visit Taiwan or Mainland China, you will see that in quarrels or negotiations, no one ever makes a concession. In traffic altercations no one ever makes concessions or apologizes. If you apologized, you appear to be in the wrong. The Chinese never make compromises politically, either. So it is really hard to negotiate with the Chinese. Concession-making is an art, a virtue, but it will take a long time for the Chinese to learn it.
A Japanese once asked me what I thought of Japan. "The Japanese are courteous," I said. Wanting to please me, the Japanese said, "All our rituals and courtesy are from your country, China." I responded, "Yes. You learned the virtues from China and have preserved them. But in China, they are just words on paper."
The Chinese seem to have a very peculiar habit. They always negate their own worth. First they negate their traditional culture, and then negate their Maoist culture. But if you negate everything, then you deny yourselves. So I want to ask my friends from China: Is there anything in the Maoist culture worth retaining? You have lived in a socialist country for 40 years. Can it be that nothing at all, whether in whole or in part, is worth retaining?
My comment goes back to the question of traditional culture. I don't believe that there has been a unified, ultrastable authoritarian culture in Chinese history of the kind attacked during the May Fourth period, or more recently in River Elegy. To be sure, there indeed has been such a component within Chinese culture, and it has been exploited by rulers to consolidate their power. But Chinese culture as a whole is much broader. It has included highly divergent philosophies like Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism. It has absorbed Buddhism and other foreign influences. It includes a rich folklore culture, which May Fourth activists so admired. It also includes countercultures that differ from those of the ruling orthodoxy.
We shouldn't just lump all these cultures together and discard them along with the authoritarian political culture that we oppose. The crucial separation we need to make is between "political screening of culture", which allows a handful of people in power to decided what can be available to everyone else, and "free cultural selection", which allows everyone to make their own choices. There is no such thing, I believe, as a single right answer to the question of "taking the best from East and West". China has a rich, multi-dimensional culture, and each person should be free to draw from it, or from Western culture, as he or she pleases.
On the question of "choosing what is best" in a culture, be it Western or Chinese, we need to be very careful. It is too easy to come up with conclusions about what is the "cream" and what is "dross" according to a particular model or a subjective point of view. Conclusions about applying values to whole societies require research, including hard facts and statistics.
Take the example of Marxism in China. A few years ago Marshal Ye Jianying said, "We've been criticizing revisionism all this time, but frankly I'm not clear what 'revisionism' really is." One of Deng Xiaoping's speeches asked similar questions about the terms "socialism" and "Marxism": "Do we really know what these terms mean?" Deng asked. Yet so much had already been done in their name.
An example of "mis-borrowing" is when Yuan Shikai usurped the republican government in 1915 to declare himself emperor. He invoked the words of an American authority, F. J. Goodnow, to the effect that monarchy is better than democracy. This reminds me of the current use of an American authority to justify the use of New Authoritarianism in China. The recent dissemination of this theory in our country deserves close watching. Recently I was reading Hitler's Mein Kampf, and I can tell you I was amazed by the similarity between Hitler's ideas and the arguments now raised in support of New Authoritarianism.
I want to comment from the perspective of someone from Taiwan.
On the issue of whether China's traditional culture is conducive to economic development, I would like to observe that there are already two well-established opposing views. Leftists in Taiwan, like Bo Yang, have been arguing for many years that traditional Chinese attitudes toward profit-making have stifled capitalist development. But recently there has arisen a new argument, which says that China's Confucianism has aided capitalist development in the so-called "Four Little Dragons", meaning South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.
But is it worthwhile to argue at such an abstract level? I don't think so. If Confucianism is a sufficient condition for the development of capitalism, then how do we explain two thousand years of non-development in China? To understand the "Four Little Dragons", I think we need to look at the facts of history and economics in each case. What, concretely, allowed them to develop so fast?
First, Taiwan and South Korea were important anti-communist military bases for the United States after World War II. The U.S. aided these places considerably in building capitalist economies, which the U.S. believed to be the best insurance against communism. Second, anti-communist state security systems were gradually built up. Capital accumulation can be very fast under such systems. This factor gave a big boost to Taiwan's economic development. Third, the structure of the international division of labor was advantageous to them. In the 1960s, as America and Japan reached high levels of economic development, they handed over the less advanced technologies to places like Taiwan, who began to use them to develop themselves. Recently China, referring to "the initial period of socialism", has talked about doing the same thing. But will it work for a place like China? I believe there are major problems here.
Next I want to comment on New Authoritarianism. Some people in China, it seems, hope that authoritarianism will be the key to economic development. But hasn't China been an autocratic authoritarian society for years? Why has there been so little economic development? To be sure, Taiwan and South Korea developed their economies under authoritarian systems, and the authoritarianism played a contributing role. But look at some other authoritarian societies, for example in African and Latin America. Where is the big boom in their economies? Obviously, other factors than authoritarianism are involved. Development in Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore was related to American hegemonism in the Pacific. America singled out Taiwan and South Korea as partners for special relationships. American dollars played a very important role in Taiwan's land reform, which boosted the economy as well as bolstering the regime politically.
I think intellectuals in Mainland China should think more carefully about New Authoritarianism. They should analyze the successes of others in more concrete terms. In particular they should take a more global view of the problem, so as not to overlook important international influences. Modern Chinese intellectuals have always felt the China, as a great nation, should be better than it is. They used to blame the Nationalist Party; now they blame the Communist Party. But they don't appreciate that these questions are not just internal. They have to do with the international context. Intellectuals from Taiwan perhaps can see these factors more clearly.
Finally, I want to comment on democracy. I find it understandable that our Mainland Chinese friends are thirsty for it. This reminds me of how we in Taiwan felt twenty or thirty years ago. Then the Nationalist Party was interfering in our campus life, and with the publication of our newspapers -- acting just as the Communists have been acting. We were questioning the political system, the Chinese nation, and Chinese culture. We wanted "democracy".
By now, Taiwan has changed. It has become very open and liberal-minded. But what is the result? Is everybody happy and free, as we expected? It used to be that public lectures on campus were forbidden. Now anyone can get up on a soap box, but nobody listens. It used to be that if you spoke in defiance of the authorities, you were an automatic hero. Now you get polite applause, and eventually no applause, because there's nothing "new" in your speeches and the audience gets bored. This lack of interest in politics results partly from economic development, which diverts people's interests. I think the same phenomenon can be seen in the United States.
Money plays a big role in Taiwan's recent politics. The ruling Nationalists will buy votes at any cost. The opposition People's Progressive Party [Minchintang] receives considerable donations, either overtly or covertly. In recent years I have been working with the Taiwan Labor Party, which has no money. To us, free speech is by no means sufficient to assure democracy. Democracy in real life is much more complicated than that.
I would like to ask the mainland intellectuals the same question that Orville Schell raised. How do you regard the past forty years of China's experience? Is it simply worthless, or is there something to understand and analyze more deeply in it? For a long time China was bullied by foreign imperialists. This was an important factor in the success of China's revolution. How do our Mainland friends now view matters such as this?
I would like to comment on how China "selects culture" from tradition or from foreign countries.
First, I find a tendency toward extremism that is akin to the "perfectionism" of which Ding Xueliang spoke. In foreign relations, for example, China either completely shuts the door to all things foreign, or else does everything possible to fawn before foreign powers.
Similarly, in relations between the individual and the group, Chinese insist on putting one of the two unequivocally above the other. During the Cultural Revolution the campaign against Soviet revisionism was fed by the same extremist impulse. The Soviets were betraying Marxism with their "reform" and their "peaceful coexistence" with the West. The Chinese stance in favor of "revolution" was more thorough, more properly extreme.
Second, the Communist Chinese government has exploited the tradition of asceticism in traditional culture to its own advantage. The same opposition to Soviet "revisionism" illustrates this as well. The Soviet were said to be paying too much attention to individual material gain and creature comforts, which would "contaminate" the minds of the Chinese people and cause them to forget revolution. This was the same kind of asceticism one finds in traditional Confucianism ("the noble man has no personal desires", etc.) -- only now it was brought to an extreme. Of course, we must not forget that the Communist stress on asceticism came in part from the demands of its historical experience. In the 1930s and 1940s, facing the annihilation campaigns of the Nationalists, the Communist Party needed strong central leadership and suspension of individual liberties. Members had to restrain themselves severely in matters of food, clothing, and even marriage. During the Civil War a person had to have eight years of military service and be a regiment officer in order to get permission to marry. At the time, everyone willingly accepted these restraints.
Eventually, though, this extreme frugality and restraint became something sacred and "revolutionary". It was popularized and made into the dominant culture. This problem, I feel, deserves more attention than it has received.
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