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Thursday, 27 April, 1989
Moderator: Liu Binyan
Participants: Wu Zuguang, Wang Ruoshui, Liu Zaifu, Wu Guoguang, Geremie Barmé, Liang Congjie, Perry Link, Chen Kaige, Cao Changqing, Bei Dao, Orville Schell, Carma Hinton, Liu Binyan
The Chinese Communist revolution of the 1940s and 1950s turned the Chinese world on its head. The hierarchical structure of traditional society that had lived on well into the 20th Century was attacked directly; the order of things broken up violently and irrevocably. It was a part of a massive social transformation engineered from above and implemented with often great enthusiasm below. It was widely seen as establishing a new order, a definitive break with the past, a popular revolution that would usher in an age of unprecedented national revitalization.
Many Chinese intellectuals, that modern stratum of educated men and women, were both allies of and participants in this revolution. But as the history of New China unfolded in the 1950s they gradually discovered that the Party had lumped them together with the bourgeoisie as being among its chief targets for denunciation and reform. The Party required of those who had been educated in the past that they remold their thinking, change their class standing and revolutionize their attitudes. Even those raised "under the red flag" after 1949 have lived under the constant suspicion of ideological deviation. For over forty years, China's intellectuals were subjected to numerous political campaigns aimed at forcing them to reorient themselves consciously and publicly to the ad hoc fiats of Party rule. Many complied willingly, some still did.
A number of the Mainland Chinese intellectuals present at the afternoon session of the first day of the Bolinas Symposium were renowned for their stance against the Party's cynical and utilitarian approach to intellectual endeavor in China. Many of them have paid dearly for their unwillingness to conform.
The session revealed significant differences of opinion or at least emphasis among the Mainland participants which can perhaps best be understood in generational terms. Wu Zuguang, a veteran playwright who grew to artistic maturity and fame before 1949, avoids discussing vague theoretical questions about the plight of intellectuals in China today. Like the Taiwan-based critic and historian Bo Yang, he is a man of conscience and personal integrity who is less interested in the grand questions of theory or limning Chinese cultural history in broad brushstrokes of bombast than issues of integrity and accountability. In particular he is painfully aware, as he has been since the 1940s, of the problems of artistic and intellectual censorship and submission to the authorities. Wu is an individual steeped in the traditions of the Chinese "gentleman" (junzi); his response to Party coercion and individual compliance is one of honest moral outrage. He was purged from the Communist Party (or rather, invited to leave it) in August 1987 for, in essence, being a too outspoken and prickly individual.
The slightly younger speakers such as Wang Ruoshui, Liu Zaifu, Liang Congjie and Liu Binyan, are all Party intellectuals who began their professional lives under Communist rule. Their diction and world view was formed in the days of Party orthodoxy in the 1950s; the abiding influence of that period is obvious in their concerns. The editor and philosopher Wang Ruoshui and the literary critic Liu Zaifu were both prominent in the 1980s in helping the Party engineer its way out of the baleful predicament in which Marxism-Leninism had left it while still working within the confining structure of Marxism itself. They have in the past commonly been dubbed "reformist" intellectuals, they are (or were not at the time of this meeting) dissidents.
In Liu Zaifu's speech we witness the style typical of Party discourse. Particularly noteworthy is Liu's constant use of the plural personal pronoun "we". He speaks as though from a podium at a cosy gathering of Party cognoscenti about what "we" should and should not do as members of the intellectual elite. This rhetoric is typical of Party intellectuals who talk with the voice of the ideological collective when discussing intellectual issues. Much of what both Liu and his coevals say is representative of the reasonable and human face of reformist Party intellectuals before June 1989.
This older, socialist generation of Chinese intellectuals, products to one extent or another of what Wang Ruoshui calls "Maoist culture", tends to emphasize both the burden of the past (as inheritors of the traditional "scholar-gentry") and the depredations of Mao Zedong's rule, his callous use and abuse of the nation's educated stratum. Wang Ruoshui's comments are of particular significance: rather than blaming outside forces, as is the tendency of loyal Party men such as Liu Binyan who feel unfairly victimized, he discusses how the notion of socialist "original sin" among intellectuals lead them to don the hairshirt of Maoist ideology and accept their status as the "stinking ninth category".
The younger participants, men in their 30s born after the founding of the People's Republic, are more critical of their intellectual tradition, be it classical or contemporary. The film director Chen Kaige mentions the work of the reporter-historian Dai Qing, later jailed for nearly a year for her involvement in the 1989 demonstrations. Dai's study of Chu Anping, a liberal writer and editor active in the 1940s and 1950s, which was published in early 1989, revealed the details of the life, career and thoughts of a member of the minute group of liberal or independent intellectuals who existed in China before 1949. The destruction of this group -- whose members either fled China before the Communist take-over or were purged during the 1950s -- saw an end for decades to independent intellectual activity on the Mainland. One of the most striking aspects of the cultural change China experienced in the 1980s was the reemergence of a home-grown group of independent intellectuals. Since June 1989, certain Chinese commentators have declared that the Party has once more been placing a priority on purging the land of independent intellectuals. The truth of the situation, however, may be that many of those purged are merely victims of another factional dispute within the Party. Few of them, even if judged by the loose and fuzzy standards presented by most speakers in this session, could be regarded as having been engaged in intellectual activity that was not oriented to the Party's activities in one way or another. While it may be easy to silence unruly individuals during a period of terror, there is little chance that independent voices can be silenced permanently. Chen comments on the past failures of Chinese intellectuals (as opposed to the traditional scholar-gentry) and points out with some optimism that the early phase of the 1989 Protest Movement seemed to indicate a new awareness among China's young educated people.
The specter of Mao Zedong looms large throughout this session. Much is said about his relationship with intellectuals. Unfortunately, no one raises the question which many have speculated was a root cause of his attitude to the educated stratum: a personal detestation of Chinese intellectuals. Did his shoddy treatment by famous intellectual figures in the May Fourth Period when he worked as a library assistant at Beijing University and his later jealousies of those who had studied overseas inspired his dismissive attitude towards intellectuals and book learning? However, more intriguing perhaps is the issue raised by Wu Guoguang, formerly of the People's Daily, when he mentions the liumang nature of China's rulers and Mao Zedong in particular. The liumang is a complex cultural phenomenon, but Wu uses it to mean the wily political gangster who is prepared to use any and all means at his disposal to achieve and maintain power. Mao certainly had this element in his personality, one he described as his "monkey spirit" (houqi). But there is more to this question that has been overlooked: Mao was perhaps the sharpest observer of Chinese intellectuals in recent history and knew better than any other their weaknesses and needs. Mao's cynicism towards Chinese intellectuals has, sadly, more often than not been born out by events. Even Liu Binyan in both his concluding comments and his autobiography, A Higher Kind of Loyalty, notes that his colleagues who were most pitiless in their denunciations of him after his fall from grace in the 1950s. The viciousness of intellectual and cultural purges originating in the Party from 1942 have at every step proved the darker side of the intellectual character. Mao perceived this, channeled it and manipulated it to devastating advantage. Support-seeking, guilt-ridden and self-pitying intellectuals were somehow attracted to Mao and for many years repaid his cruel treatment of them with gratitude and complete subservience. The current bravado of some of these discussants, Liu Binyan in particular, in regard to this question, is not always convincing.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this session is the intellectual simplicity and ahistorical approach that is displayed. It is also one of the most disheartening. Although there is much sincerity and thought here, are we not also witness to vacuity and a lack of sophisticated reflection? Dai Qing has commented that Chinese intellectuals would be better be understood as "mental laborers" rather than individuals who engage in independent ratiocination. Chen Kaige makes this same point. Now that many of those who spoke at this session have been silenced or forced into exile as a result of the events of June 1989, it may well be worth recalling the comments on the intellectual in exile by the iconoclastic literary critic Liu Xiaobo, an invitee to the symposium who returned to China to take part in the student movement just as this conference was being convened. His remarks, made in an essay written in Beijing in May 1989, are particularly relevant now that so many Chinese intellectuals have been forced into both internal (that is, cut off from their peers and former activities) and external exile.
Why has China failed to produce any outstanding exiled writers? Why are the famous Chinese cultural figures so unsuccessful when they are forced into exile? It is by no means just a language problem, far more important is the fact that the vision of Chinese cultural figures is too narrow, for they are transfixed by China's problems; their thinking is too utilitarian, for they are concerned solely with immediate and practical values. Chinese intellectuals lack the will to overcome, the spirit of opposition that allows an individual to stand up to the whole society. They lack the character to endure loneliness; they lack the courage to confront and find excitement in a new and unknown world. Chinese intellectuals can only survive on familiar turf, surrounded by ignorant supporters, basking in their applause. This is particularly true in the case of the famous; it is virtually impossible for them to cast aside the reputation they enjoy in China and start from zero in a strange land. It is a psychological complex that is nearly inescapable; its central feature is that these people lack true individualism.
Liu Zaifu talks of the dilemma of intellectuals who have given their people nothing -- none of the inspiration or strength of, say, intellectuals in Eastern Europe. He talks in terms of merely intellectual accomplishments and not in terms of moral courage or intellectual honesty, something still sadly lacking among this group of people. They are not so sure where they have been, and so no wonder there is so much confusion as to where they are going. While moral indignation comes easily to these figures, individual reflection and action is rare as Cao Changqing, a friend of Liu Xiaobo, points out so tellingly in his comments on the death of Hu Yaobang.
Although these speeches reveal a tone of indignation at Party rule and Mao's abuse of the intellectuals, throughout the session one notices the enduring specter of traditional intellectual attitudes. Wang Ruoshui sums it up when he repeats the traditional belief that the intellectuals were the educators and the peasants those to be educated. Mao and earlier Party policy turned this relationship on its head. Even though the results were cruel and wasteful, one still questions, as perhaps Carma Hinton does, whether those decades of enforced thought-reform and contact with the toiling masses of China did help that country's intellectuals come closer to understanding their predicament. The poet Bei Dao sums up his doubts about the worth of intellectuals in China today when he asks what right they have to demand better pay given the fact that "workers and peasants work hard to produce material wealth for the society, while you [intellectuals] only churn out 'spiritual garbage'".
The Protest Movement of 1989 led to an unprecedented outpouring of popular emotion and enthusiasm in China. However, despite the high profile of students during the demonstrations there was an obvious lack of individual intellectual leadership and vision throughout the April-June period. Many people are still meditating on the complex reasons for this. Yuan Zhiming, one intellectual activist and co-author of the banned television series "River Elegy" who is now in exile, summed up his view of the intellectuals who so often looked on and offered advice from the sidelines:
It is my sincere hope that the next time a surge for democracy builds up in China all of the fearless students, civilians, and the new opponents [of the government] will simply ignore us. Just let us reflect deeply for three years!
How did it happen that in just forty years after 1949 the status of intellectuals in China so precipitously changed from that of the respected "scholar-gentry" to the reviled ''stinking ninth class"? How were intellectuals responsible for this change?
Who would like to speak first?
During the Anti-Japanese War period many intellectuals had some connection with the Communist Party. Zhou Enlai was actually the leader of the progressive intellectuals [in the wartime capital of Chongqing]. Though the Nationalist (KMT) ruled the country, many intellectuals preferred to take a lead from the Communist Party. As a result, people like myself got to know Zhou very well, we were like close friends. But things changed after 1949. We started to treat him with considerable deference.
In the l950s, just before the Anti-Rightist Campaign, I was invited to dinner in Zhongnanhai. After dinner, Zhou invited us to watch some stage performance in the Huairen Hall. "Chairman Mao will also be there," he said. His manner startled me. When he said Mao's name it was just like the KMT days when Chiang Kai-shek's name was mentioned: people were expected to stand up at once to show respect, even during a film or when the Party song was sang. I believe this is still the situation in Taiwan today. Even now Deng Xiaoping's statements or Zhou Enlai's speeches are treated like gospel, no one can contradict them.
Why have China's intellectuals become the reviled ''stinking ninth class"? One answer, of course, is because of the Party's policies, especially the policies of the Cultural Revolution. But another reason is the tendency among intellectuals towards self-abasement, their sense of inferiority. The term "stinking ninth class" was, after all, partially self-imposed. Chinese intellectuals have developed an inferiority complex.
I have had some personal experience with regard to the question of freedom of speech. A very interesting form of censorship existed during the rule of the KMT in the Anti-Japanese War. It was called "opening a skylight".
There was a censorship office called the "Central Publications Censorship Committee" whose responsibility it was to examine all books, newspapers and periodicals. Before a newspaper went into print, for example, it had to be submitted for examination. The officer concerned would tell you what was, and more importantly, what wasn't permitted. Since this procedure left editors with no time to find replacement material they would simply cut out the offending article and leave a blank on the page, "a skylight" (tianchuang). Such "skylights" were glaring evidence of censorship, a type of protest that literally couldn't be concealed. People often said that the KMT were undemocratic. By comparison, the Communists are far more cunning: they don't let you spot the "skylights". They re-educate you ideologically and train you how to examine things correctly. They don't need a central office for censorship: every editor is his own censor. Editors are trained to know what is acceptable and what is not. Even the writers are censors themselves. When a writer picks up his pen he knows just what he can write and how far he can go.
Has a ''skylight'' ever appeared in a Communist publication? Yes, once. [In early 1987] when Liu Binyan was expelled from the Party the journal Literary Review [a bimonthly edited by Liu Zaifu and published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences] was going to carry an article by him. Given the fact of his recent purge the article simply couldn't be allowed to appear. Although the editors soon found a filler so the journal could appear as normal, they realized too late that they'd left the title of the original article in the table of contents. They had to hire people to cover up the title in every copy of the journal, even then you could tell something had been removed. In this way the first "skylight" under Communism appeared. When Hu Sheng, the head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, learned of it he was livid and shouted at the editor, "There hasn't been a skylight since the founding of the People's Republic of China. It is a disgrace that one of our journals should break the record."
Pressure from above and our own complicity: timidity, obedience and weakness have combined to reduce Chinese intellectuals to the category of the "stinking ninth class". Even when we know the truth we dare not speak out. This is one reason why things have been so hard to change. Although an individual of no significance I have been determined to do something about the situation since my rehabilitation from being a "rightist". I speak up, not so as to show off, nor to advertize the fact that I am not afraid of dying, nor to show people I'm not concerned about the well-being of my wife and children. I speak up because I hope others will follow suit.
It's been very disheartening to learn that some of the people who signed the open letter to the government [to petition for the release of Wei Jingsheng et al in February 1989] have relented, some going so far as to say they feel they've been cheated [by having been approached at all]. Fang Lizhi was prevented from attending President Bush's banquet. Fang wasn't afraid of what would happen if he went; it's the people who kept him from the banquet who are really afraid. The professor terrifies them. Only people who feel their days to be numbered could react in such a manner. The truth is in the hands of the people, in the hearts of the people. If the truth is on your side there's nothing to be afraid of.
One reason why intellectuals have lost their status as the mainstay of Chinese society is, of course, because the Communist Party and Mao Zedong despised them and relegated them to the "stinking ninth class". But another is that the intellectuals themselves have taken the situation for granted. Here I am developing a point raised by Wu Zuguang. Some people have simply pinned the blame on Confucianism, but I think that between the collapse of Confucianism [in the late 19th and early 20th centuries] and today a new culture has evolved, one we could perhaps call "Maoist culture".
In 1949, the Communist Party came to power after people had lost all hope in the KMT government which had become decadent and rotten to the core. When Chairman Mao declared that the Chinese people had stood up from the rostrum of Tiananmen Gate every Chinese felt deeply proud of the Communist Party. Like countless other intellectuals I too felt profound gratitude to the Party for making China, previously a nation bullied by foreign powers, independent.
Because this new political force had indeed grown out of the barrels of guns, intellectuals didn't feel they had made any direct contribution to the establishment of new China, but they did experience an improvement in their standard of living. The gratitude and loyalty of the intellectuals bred a willingness to study Marxism, the key to the Communists' success. They wanted to learn things anew and identify themselves with the Party. The social and economic improvements they were witnessing seemed proof of the miraculous ability of the Party and made the intellectuals even more determined to follow its lead.
But starting in the early 1950s, Mao Zedong unleashed a series of ideological re-education campaigns against the intellectuals. He was unequivocal on the point that the workers, peasants and soldiers were the bedrock of the revolution and the sole task of the intellectuals was to serve the People. Of course, the People refers to the workers, peasants and soldiers. Mao used a metaphor to describe their relationship with the People: intellectuals are like the hair, they can only survive if they attach themselves to some skin. Before  the capitalist class was the skin, now intellectuals had to attach themselves to the skin of the proletariat for their survival. In terms of social status Mao's dictum reduced intellectuals to the level of an accessory with no independent value. Of course, the whole Marxist-Leninist theory of human nature has been devised to justify this very approach. According to this theory man has no individual or universal human nature, only a class nature. This theory also denies individuality per se. Accordingly, the proletariat is perfect, pure, selfless and far-sighted. If it suffers any shortcomings they are the result of the insidious influence of the bourgeoisie. Indeed, all that is foul, dirty and mean originates with the bourgeoisie. Intellectuals were lumped together with the bourgeoisie and thus they developed a sense of original sin. Feeling guilty about their background intellectuals would first examine themselves for faults and criticize themselves whenever a political movement was launched. Those who were unwilling to reform were classed as counter-revolutionaries and purged from the camp of the revolutionaries. During the Cultural Revolution this took on a quasi-religious aspect. One individual [Mao Zedong] was transmogrified into a supernatural being and everyone worshipped him. Intellectuals were now cast as "Cow Monsters and Snake Demons" who were to be eliminated.
The whole nation placed its hopes in one man, believing he could save them and carry the revolution through to the end. The irony was that this particular man happened to despise intellectuals. This created, I believe, a state of complete alienation.
Mao Zedong enjoined the nation to learn from Lei Feng. But what exactly is the Lei Feng mentality? Lei Feng was a soldier who would do whatever the Party asked of him. He worshipped Mao. To learn from Lei Feng meant that one had to emulate his spirit of Mao-worship: Mao was too diffident to demand directly of the people that they worship him. This adulation reached a zenith during the Cultural Revolution, when people were instructed to have boundless love for and faith in Mao Zedong to the exclusion of all else. The more you loved and believed in Mao, the less you believed in yourself; the more you worshipped Mao, the more you despised yourself. In the end, any remnant sense of independence was totally destroyed.
Traditionally, intellectuals were called the educators and the peasants were the people to be educated. In new China the teacher-student relationship was reversed: intellectuals had to learn from the peasants. They had to acquire a peasant ideology and discard their own ideology, their own ideas of freedom and equality, which were introduced from the West, and were now regarded as the dross of the bourgeoisie.
China's intellectuals played the historical role of educators during the May Fourth Movement [c. 1915-1925]. They acted as the reformers of the society and as a public conscience, working to reform the peasantry. Later for many complex reasons this student-teacher relationship was reversed. As this is such a large topic I will not dwell on it here.
Chinese intellectuals need to ask themselves why their social status has fallen and why they are no longer respected. Ideologically, intellectuals are superior to those who are to be educated. In traditional society they were even regarded as the teachers of the emperors. But after 1949 Mao Zedong assumed the role of both emperor and teacher.
Why have we intellectuals lost our social respect? Reflection is required: if we want to be respected we must first of all respect ourselves. Intellectuals are possessed of knowledge, we should revere knowledge just as we revere truth. Sadly we lack such reverence. Yet we need an almost religious piousness in regard to knowledge.
I think there are three aspects of our way of thinking that we need to examine. First, we used to look at our society from a pathological but not physiological point of view. By this I mean you can't satisfy yourself with exposing the dark side of society, criticizing the political situation or being destructive. If that's all you have to offer, people will naturally lose interest in you. They look to intellectuals to provide them with something nutritious and constructive, but we have failed to give them anything that is both modern and classical, anything which can represent the spirit of our modern times. What we have done, therefore, can't arouse the people's sincere respect. When tradition is mentioned in the Soviet Union people automatically think of their l9th Century literature. In China we talk of The Book of Songs, The Poems of Chu and the poetry of the Tang and Song Dynasties. Nobody thinks of the literature of the May Fourth period for it didn't produce any memorable classics.
The second point is our attitude towards both history and historical figures. Over the past decades, when we were compiling text books or writing articles we didn't look at our history sympathetically. We haven't tried to understand it. On the contrary, we have approached it in order to determine who should be blamed. There have been many bitter lessons. Take, for example, the denunciation of [the pre-1966 President of China and ally of Deng Xiaoping] Liu Shaoqi and his tract How to be a Good Communist. We vilified him and labeled him a traitor. We carried things too far. We should treat people, not only people but also social and ideological trends with understanding and sympathy. Our young people -- and I have noticed many young people here today -- should adopt this attitude when looking at things, including the issues of socialism and Communism in China. For it is only by so doing that we can really solve our problems. Take, for instance, the philosophy of Communism, a philosophy that emphasizes service and morality. This is why it has attracted so many people, especially the oppressed. This is why intellectuals have been able to accept it. We need to understand how we came to accept Marxism and Communism in the first place, and then how it changed and became opposed to Western trends of thought.
The third point I want to make is about intellectual ossification. When we look at things, we tend to generalize that if something is not A then it is B. We have distorted dialectics and changed it into an "if-not-A-then-B" theory. For example, if you are not a good guy, then you are a bad one; if you are not revolutionary then you are counter-revolutionary. It simply divides rich and complex human experience into two simplistic categories. It is a very naive and immature way of thinking, very primitive. Unfortunately, nobody so far has fully realized its danger and we have suffered a great deal for it. It consumes our national vitality, our wisdom and has entered the deep structure of our traditional culture. It is imperative that we overcome this way of thinking.
Our intellectuals are partly responsible for this state of affairs. We helped create this ideology that has enslaved us.
I want to cast some doubt on the statement that China's intellectuals were respected as a scholar-gentry class. I believe it was the type of respect they enjoyed that is the root-cause of their tragic situation today. Looking back at Chinese history we can see a pattern: many emperors started out their careers as louts (liumang). Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong are merely two modern examples. It seems that only liumang can become emperors in China.
Under what circumstances can our intellectuals possibly be respected? Only when liumang want to use them to gain power. Mao Zedong treated our intellectuals with great respect during the Yan'an days [late 1930s and 1940s]. Though Wang Shiwei and a small number of intellectuals were cast aside the majority still cherish fond memories of those days. Why did Mao treat intellectuals so well, or at least pretended to favor them? Because he knew full well that they had a crucial role to play in the process of social revolution. He wanted to use them. Once in power, however, he realized that the intellectuals posed a threat to his position. Mao Zedong had a quirky personality. On one occasion [in the early 1970s] he said to [the pro-Party American journalist] Edgar Snow that he had something of both the "tiger" and the "monkey" about him. Indeed, he said, he had more of the latter than the former. This suggests that although he was the emperor he never quite stopped being a liumang.
Only when the liumang personality is combined with the intellectual personality and the two are complementary, can the two achieve any true success. The relationship between Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai -- a major intellectual -- is incontrovertible proof of this. Of course, Zhou is an example of an intellectual who lacked self-respect. I know many of you will not agree with me. But it was just this combination of Mao's personality and the culture he represented on the one hand and Zhou's personality and the culture he represented that on the other led to China's great tragedies.
As intellectuals we always need to be on the alert. We must be quite clear about what we are doing and who we are serving. Even if the intellectuals did become the ''stinking ninth class", they have still belonged to a select group, one that has a considerable responsibility for what has happened. As an intellectual in China you are, very possibly, a member of a group which has been benumbed, bought and used by the people in power. You contribute nothing to the development of the society, merely helping to sustain that privileged group from whose dinner table scraps are all that you desire as your reward. As a commentator of the People's Daily I feel extremely sad about this situation. This acceptance of one's fate as a tool or a slave can be found all too commonly among Chinese journalists. If you go to the grass-roots level to collect some materials as a journalist of the Party's newspaper, you will certainly be treated as a VIP, staying in the best hotels, eating the best food. The local officials will do every thing to please you: they're scared you'll leave with a bad impression of them and make trouble. Some journalists daresay are content with such treatment -- it can be very corrupting.
I am particularly interested in Wang Ruoshui's comments regarding the need Chinese intellectuals have felt to repent. Professor Chang Hao has remarked that intellectuals began this process of self-examination after 1949. But I think its origins can be traced back to an earlier period, indeed back to the first years of the Republic of China [founded 1912]. At that time some leading intellectuals felt a burden of guilt [for the state of the nation] and attempted to reform themselves. Of course, at the time this self-reform had no specific goals, but the trend was already in evidence.
A Chinese journalist called Huang Yuansheng [who was killed in 1915] wrote several articles on the subject of repentance. One of these even used Rousseau's Confessions for its title; the articles were published in Eastern Miscellany [Dongfang zazhi] between 1914 and 1915. In his "Confessions", Huang stated that the aim of self-reform was self-renewal, repentance for the sake of redemption, so that one could go on and reform the society and the nation. Confession was not merely aimed at extirpating one's wrongdoings so as to turn over a new leaf. Self-reform was to be undertaken in order to enable oneself to adapt to general social trends or, in other words, to play a positive role in the new political structure. These articles were written in the semi-literary, semi-vernacular style of Chinese [common in the 1910s], and therefore have not attracted much attention.
By the 1920s, China's intellectuals began to feel a need to reform themselves spontaneously. In his early novel Family [Jia] Ba Jin raises this question, though without a very clear-cut goal in mind. During the late 1920s the idea of self-reform became something of an intellectual leitmotif, the poem "I Have Come to Repent" by Ye Shengtao being a typical example. Ye virtually says in this poem that he had sinned, that when confronted by the broad masses of people he did not feel fully human. He wanted to identify with the laboring masses, to be one of them. After the bloody May 30th Massacre [of 1925] he, Zheng Zhenduo and Yu Dafu all had the same desire to reform themselves, a reform that was to be undertaken not for the sake establishing their independence, but self-reform on behalf of an abstract group, the "People", the broad masses of workers and peasants. To a certain extent this mindset dovetails neatly with Neo-Confucianism.
After 1949, self-reform became even more spontaneous, and on a larger scale. You can sense this by reading the self-criticisms of [leading intellectuals such as] Yu Pingbo, Liang Shuming or Zhu Guangqian. But so far nobody has seriously studied these works of the early 50s. The novelist Ba Jin has seen this [as an important theme in modern Chinese intellectual history] and makes it a central feature of his memoirs [Random Thoughts ]. But his appreciation of this question is superficial when compared to that of Huang Yuansheng. Unfortunately, except for the few speeches at today's symposium little has been said on this crucial subject in China. Of course, Liu Zaifu mentioned the need for self-reflection in 1986.
I have my doubts about the appropriateness of the question we are discussing. Were intellectuals really respected in China prior to 1949 or even before 1911? Traditionally, intellectuals were revered not as members of a learned social group but as part of the ruling class. They were regarded as officials or officials-to-be. Unlike their counterparts in the West, China's intellectuals have served the rulers since earliest times. China has never had an Archimedes who basically devoted himself to the study of natural laws and had little truck with the rulers (of course he did have some links with politics).
In the closing years of the Qing Dynasty, the imperial college, the forerunner of Beijing University, was the only institution of higher learning which was not abolished by the dowager empress Cixi. At the time there were no physical education classes, and Cixi ordered physical training to be introduced so as to accord with the model of western universities. Since no suitable teachers could be found Cixi had the college employ a Boxer. But even in class he addressed his students respectfully as "Sir". He knew that after graduation these students would become officials, at least county magistrates. No one, not even a Boxer, dared offend future officials.
Before 1949, many intellectuals received a western education. Their attitudes were completely out of tune with the worker-peasant revolution led by the Communist Party. Why did the Communists tolerate these intellectuals so long, especially during the Yan'an days? Because it was necessary to mobilize their talents as part of the National Salvation Movement. After 1949, the leaders discovered that the intellectuals were less obedient than they used to be in the Yan'an days. They now complained too much, they had ideas that differed from the Party line. Previously, such people had been in a small minority and it was relatively easy to deal with them, such as in the case of Wang Shiwei, whom they executed. Now the leaders found intellectuals could no longer be dealt with so simply. That's why the Anti-Rightist Movement was launched against intellectuals who held different ideas from the Party.
Many speakers have commented that China's intellectuals have become members of the "stinking ninth class". But are they still regarded as such? I ask this question because on the evening of 2l April [the night before the official mourning ceremony for Hu Yaobang], among the big crowds in Tiananmen Square, a worker suddenly shouted "Long Live the Students!", which was chorused by large crowds of people. The on-lookers -- mostly workers I would imagine -- were very supportive and seemed on good terms with the students. The scene made me think of student protests in the U.S. during the 1960s. We had an anti-war student movement. But no workers were as supportive as those in Beijing. And the police were totally against us, while the policemen in Beijing, I found, looked on sympathetically, at least most of them did. They didn't seem particularly tense, in fact they were smiling. How often have you seen smiling policemen?
Perhaps Chinese intellectuals were members of the "stinking ninth class" during the Cultural Revolution, but today things would seem to have changed.
Mao Zedong once said China's intellectuals are like hair, which must attach itself to the skin of the ruling class. In objective terms, Mao was right. Liang Congjie has remarked that, from ancient times, China's intellectuals have been tools in the service of the ruling class. During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period it was a common practice for rulers to attract a large group of scholars for their own purposes. This was part and parcel of the art of ruling.
We can define the term "intellectual" by considering the Chinese equivalent: "zhishi fenzi". The first two characters [zhishi] mean cognition, thus zhishifenzi is a person who has knowledge about the objective world and who understands and knows himself. According to Liang Congjie, as a social group or social force, China doesn't have intellectuals, merely a scholar-gentry class. Geremie Barmé has raised the question as to whether there is any difference between the ancient scholar-gentry of the past and today's intellectuals. They are, I think, essentially the same. The primary characteristic of China's scholar-gentry is that they were would-be officials or candidates in the imperial exams. There is a very well-known saying about the scholar-gentry: "If I become an official I'll better the world; if I remain poor I can better my soul." Another characteristic of the scholar-gentry is that they were willing to die for a ruler who appreciated them. This was a powerful emotional hold that the rulers have over the scholar-gentry class . The story about Jing Ke trying to assassinate the king of the State of Qin illustrates this point.
However, I also think there are fundamental differences between the scholar-gentry class and the intellectuals of today. Up till now, in terms of being a social force, I would say that in China we have only had scholar-gentry class and no intellectuals. During the Zhengde reign of the Ming Dynasty, five hundred third-rank officials knelt outside Wumen Gate [outside the Imperial Palace], risking their own lives to petition the emperor. They would happily have sacrificed their lives so long as they could be appreciated. Six of the ring-leaders were persecuted and the rest were sent into exile. Would intellectuals be willing to die this way today? They might die for the sake of truth but not that way.
There has been a similar incident during the [present] student protests. Three students knelt down on the stairs of the Great Hall of the People for hours [holding a petition for Premier Li Peng]. There's a definite conceptual link between this and the incident during the Ming Dynasty [mentioned above]. This is by no means a criticism of the students, mind you.
During a recent visit to China, I happened to read an article by Dai Qing about Chu Anping. Chu described Chiang Kai-shek's government as "disastrous" and in a long letter to Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou, he described the Communist rule as "total Party domination". I think Chu Anping was an true intellectual. But intellectuals like him appeared only at the end of the Song Dynasty or the beginning of the Republic.
Looking back over the past century of Chinese history, we can see that China has produce some intellectuals but they never become a social force and even now remain a very small group. I feel a group of real intellectuals is being forged in today's student movement. Some of the literature that has appeared indicates that the conceptual ground has been laid for the appearance of real intellectuals.
When we review the forty years of Communist rule in China it is obvious that as a social group intellectuals ought to feel ashamed. But what has caused their deterioration into ''functional illiteracy"? I think there are two basic reasons. In the first place traditional Chinese culture still has a strong influence; intellectuals still see themselves primarily as officials. They want to be the hair that attaches itself to the skin of the ruling class. The reactions among intellectuals to Hu Yaobang's death [on April 15] is further proof of this. Their evaluation of Hu is as distorted as the official view. They have praised him to the sky, they've done everything but deify the man. Chinese intellectuals are still weak, they have never regarded themselves as independent; when they attach themselves to a piece of skin they can only hope it's a healthy one. When they can't find any healthy skin they become despondent and lose all sense of perspective. The second reason for our intellectual degeneration is forty years of Communist rule, under which the conditions necessary for the fostering of intellectual development have been eliminated. As a journalist in China I have been acutely aware of how this process works, how Party control is reflected in every aspect of social and intellectual life. Take, for example, the system of residence cards [that determine which city you can live in], the food rations, the right to get a job transfer, the wage system, and even the Party's control over your right to get married and have a child.
The death of Hu Yaobang has been a test for Chinese intellectuals as a social group. Hu has played the same role as Zhou Enlai. As a moderate within the Party his greatest contribution was to prolong the life of an autocratic political system. He advocated a sort of enlightened dictatorship; Zhou's greatest contribution is that he helped prolong Mao's rule. Many of China's intellectuals pinned their hopes on the "enlightened group" represented by Zhou Enlai. That is why the Tiananmen Incident [of April 5, 1976] occurred after his death. With the absence of some moderate intermediary force, the conflict between inner-Party factions escalated. In the same way, Hu's death has intensified the struggle. The lack of a free press in China makes it impossible for people to communicate and to take uniform action. People have to take advantage of someone's death or some other dramatic occasion to express their political views.
I feel Hu's death has acted as a signal telling people that the moderating force he represented and in which people have trusted has gone. The contradictions between the Communist Party and the people have intensified. In this sense his death is a good thing as it will hasten the eventual collapse of Communist rule. The government will resort to force to crush the student movement and there may be bloodshed. Nonetheless, it will be a victory for the students: bloodshed can educate people, particularly those who still have some illusions about Communist rule and the so-called enlightened elements in the Party. Bloodshed will educate those who still want to be hair attached to the skin of the ruling class.
Today Chinese intellectuals have three courses of action. They can act as an independent social group and stand on the side of the students to fight against the autocratic system. Actions do, after all, speak louder than words, and the intellectuals should translate their words into actions. The second choice is to support the student movement with words though not with actions. The third choice is to hold out some hope for the Communist Party, to delude themselves that other enlightened elements like Hu Yaobang will emerge within the Party.
I've heard some intellectuals say "The makers of atom bombs are not as well paid as people who sell eggs." It is an inappropriate comparison. Our intellectuals aren't well paid, but they ought to address their grievances to the people who are responsible, instead of comparing themselves to peasants who, by selling eggs, are earning their living the hard way. After all, what have the intellectuals done to deserve good pay? Workers and peasants work hard to produce material wealth for the society, while you only churn out "spiritual garbage". What right do you have to demand better pay? This may sound rather harsh, but if you haven't done what you should have, you have no right to be demanding. Another point I'd like to make is that I think Mao Zedong was an extraordinary individual for he destroyed China's intellectuals' illusions about fame and fortune. In the past intellectuals hoped to enjoy a good life and be treated like officials. Mao put an end to those daydreams.
I want to raise a question. Do the intellectuals in China have any social force as a group? The following speakers are welcome to give their opinions on this question.
It is self-evident that if a society does not respect its culture then it will not respect its intellectuals, the representatives of its culture. But in China which culture should people be respecting? Certainly not Maoist culture, nor even traditional culture. There is a void. How can people respect a void? How can people respect intellectuals who represent a void?
I don't want just to repeat what others have said and won't make any comments on what all you have said. I only want to make a comment on a subject no one else has touched on.
I was brought up and educated in China. I know how professors and intellectuals live. After I had been living in the United States for some time I noticed some difference between the intellectuals in these two countries.
I have found that American intellectuals are not afraid of working with their hands. They are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. They repair their houses and farm their land, whether they are writers or scientists. But, unfortunately, this is not the case with the Chinese intellectuals.
It is very hard to find a good definition for the term "intellectual". Let's simply say that everyone who has received a higher education can be regarded as intellectuals. In China so long as you have had some schooling, no matter how little it is, you feel different from the workers and peasants, and divorce yourselves from both physical labor and reality. Don't you think it is necessary that intellectuals should, in a way, reform themselves? Of course, I don't mean intellectuals should be forced to go into the countryside to remold themselves as a sort of punishment.
Once I went to see an American friend who is a well-known writer. I found he does many things himself. He has his own carpentry workshop, does the cutting and sawing and everything himself. But it is very rare to see a Chinese professor who would be willing to do any heavy and dirty work. [applause]
It is an unusual fact that in China the Communist Party has for many decades enjoyed tremendous popular support among the people. Communists of other countries have never enjoyed such a level of prestige, nor did any emperors in Chinese history. I think the fate and treatment of the intellectuals in the past several decades had a lot to do with this high level of prestige. Because of this situation coupled with the level of education among the Chinese people, which is lower than that of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, intellectuals became the only social force which could change the rule of the Communist Party and who have some rebellious ideas. Therefore, from the very beginning Mao was very hostile towards the intellectuals. Whenever the intellectuals were attacked they would find themselves to be isolated. I had bitter personal experiences of this during the Anti-Rightist Movement [of 1957]. We were labeled "Rightists", but none of us thought that we had done anything wrong. And people around us also thought that way, or they thought we were very progressive. But almost overnight, they changed. They took the side of the Party. The second day after we were formally accused of being Rightists, nobody wanted to speak to us. They tried to avoid us. This situation lasted twenty years. The most terrible thing was that this sort of thing took place where there were a lot of intellectuals. It was a newspaper office. Intellectuals despised other intellectuals. I think this is one point which is very different from the Soviet Union and many Eastern European countries. Of course, nationalism, as mentioned by Liang Congjie, also played a part in this.
Another strange thing is that some good elements of Chinese traditional culture have also helped make the Chinese intellectuals obedient even when they were being persecuted. It is not because of the power of the Communists but because the intellectuals feel obligated to make sacrifices for the sake of the People. This is a very odd state of mind. We intellectuals knew that we had been wronged and our punishment was too severe, but we still thought we were suffering for the interests of the People. And that we should "take the well-being of the whole people as our own concern" and "worry about the people first and enjoy yourself last." This explains why Chinese intellectuals have been able to endure all the sufferings they have and why they have lost the spirit to stand up against all this unfair treatment.
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