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CHINA SYMPOSIUM '89 DAY TWO
April 28, 1989 MORNING
Moderator: Carma Hinton
Participants: Wang Ruoshui, Wu Guoguang, Andrew Nathan, Perry Link, Tu Wei-ming, Chen Kaige
Discussion from the floor
Although China Symposium '89 met while the greatest movement in Chinese history for democracy and human rights was taking place, and democracy and human rights were on the agenda for this session, the participants virtually ignored these two topics in favor of a third, individualism. The choice in effect was to focus not on political institutions or the legal system as the root of China's problems, but on culture.
The discussants proceeded from the assumption that China is a failure, not just in the realm of economic performance or social and environmental policy, but at the fundamental level of building a functioning social order. Speakers portrayed the West as having managed to combine individual initiative with public order and voluntary cooperation, but they denigrated their own and their countrymen's efforts since the death of Mao to live without the dictatorship of a man-god as having been constantly undermined by destructive egoism and factionalism.
They diagnosed China's problems as flowing not from policy errors or badly designed political institutions but from a flaw in national character. In their eyes Chinese behavior revealed one or the other of the two sides of an authoritarian personality type, either conformist or intolerant. They found the source of China's failure in the civilization itself, a failure at once personal and pandemic, a source of chagrin for oneself and of contempt for others.
The participants saw national character as in turn shaped by grand determinative forces worthy of Hegel or Marx -- geography, the inherited economic system, "tradition" -- and accordingly as massively resistant to change. If China's problems are part of a vast integrated whole that combines present and past, family, economy, and polity, personal habits and political institutions, then the destructive traits can be changed, if at all, only by a long process of reeducation. This process needs to start from among the intellectuals themselves, but it encounters at the outset the inability of the intellectuals to agree on either a goal for change or a program for carrying it out.
In light of all this, it was not surprising that a sense of despair hung over the discussion. While all the Chinese participants seemed to agree that China needs more individualism, it was hard to get much beyond the obstacles embedded in the very structure of their language, which seemed to defeat even the effort to agree on what individualism means. Since the standard Chinese translation sounds like "me-first-ism," speakers suggested alternatives that sound more like "self-management" or "personal integrity." But even if intellectuals could agree on the term, they seemed to feel it would be a long time before they could replace the standard word with something carrying better connotations, much less solve the deeper problem of legitimizing individual autonomy in collectivist society.
Individualism as a value in the West is more problematic than the speakers acknowledged. Even in the Western nation where individual interests are given the strongest priority, the United States, pure self-seeking is not morally prized, and the boundaries between individual and social interests are constantly being debated and adjusted. Chinese culture, too, is more diverse than the conversation had time to explore. Confucius was a testy moralist who refused to serve rulers who did not pay him proper deference; the Daoist Zhuangzi lived as he pleased without regard for convention or worldly success. The neo-Confucian school dominant in the later dynasties stressed the individual official's responsibility for his own and others' moral behavior and for the welfare of the political unit, even if this sense of mission placed him at odds with his superiors. Among contemporary Chinese, personal ambition and the desire for recognition are strong motives. Around the globe, Chinese are successful entrepreneurs wherever market economies are found. In short, if individualism is broken down into separate components, it is hard to agree that the Chinese, as a people or as a culture, are less individualistic than others.
Even the individualism of the Chinese participants in China Symposium '89 tended to disprove their lament for their culture. In their personal daring and sense of mission, their turbulent personal histories, their distinctiveness as personalities -- in their articulateness, their yearning for freedom, and the diversity of their ways of analyzing the problem of Chinese conformism -- they disproved the proposition so many of them asserted.
The problem with Chinese civilization is not that it lacks elements of individualism, but that the political authorities have denied legitimacy to so many of them. Both Confucianism and Communism condemn openly self-seeking behavior. Both offer only ambivalent support even to individualistic behavior justified by a moral obligation to the collective (family or state) or by moral integrity. In a sense, the Chinese speakers at the symposium were saying that China has individualism at the behavioral level but not at the ideological level, that China needs an ideology of individualism more in keeping with the individualism of Chinese personalities.
Moreover, they were saying that in some ways China has too much behavioral individualism, that Chinese need to learn how to combine individual ambition with organization. They seemed to feel a lack of what de Toqueville called the "art of associating together." Too often Chinese organizations have presented their members with the choice between loyalty and excommunication. The Chinese yearn for that easy combination of freedom and cohesion which they perceive, somewhat idealistically, as available in Western culture.
Had the discussion gone on longer, it might finally have turned to the topics of human rights and democracy. For the problem the participants identified is not really a global deficit in Chinese culture, but a relatively narrower, more technical problem of codifying an understanding of the boundaries among the universally clashing cultural values of individual rights and state interests, freedom and duty, and self-fulfillment and responsibility to others., The elements are there in Chinese civilization, but have not yet been conceptualized in a way that satisfies most Chinese. The Chinese intellectuals' quarrel is not really with their civilization, but with the legal and political systems that have been tried in China so far in this century. These systems are man-made, not given by geography, history or ethnicity. To change them is a daunting task, but not as enormous as remaking the culture.
Since 1949, the term "individualism" in China has almost become synonymous with selfishness, which is very different from how people in the West understand it. In our discussions we should take into account this difference in interpretation. The terms "freedom" and "democracy" have also been used in various ways. In Chinese pro-democracy movements throughout history, it seems to me people knew very well what they were fighting against -- oppression and high-handed policies. But they did not seem to be clear about what they were fighting for. They had only a vague desire for freedom and democracy. But what is freedom and democracy? Does freedom mean that you can do whatever you like? Or has it a deeper meaning? The same questions apply to the idea of democracy.
I was still in high school when the Cultural Revolution started. The students criticized the school authorities not because they had ambitious ideas but because they just wanted some freedom. When the school leadership collapsed, it left a power vacuum. To fill it, the students established a system which was exactly the same as the one they had sought to abolish.
Now many Chinese students in America are supporting the student movement in China. They demand democracy and freedom. But in their actual activities, especially when they disagree with one another, they don't act democratically. They act high-handedly towards those who have different ideas. I just raise these questions for you to think about.
Individualism and human rights are very big issues. So I'll narrow down to a few essential questions.
I think there is little support for individualism in China, culturally speaking. China has ceaselessly criticized individualism for the past 40 years. In 1949, Mao Zedong wrote an article attacking the U.S. government's White Paper in which Secretary of State Dean Acheson had said: We place our hope in China's democratic individualists. Mao responded by saying: We should oppose democratic individualism with democratic collectivism. In the 1950s, criticism of individualism was an important part of the ideological remolding movement for the intellectuals. Ever since then, individualism has been interpreted as representing the selfish, class nature of the bourgeoisie, against which the Communist Party has counterpoised proletarian collectivism and reliance on the Party.
It was in the spirit of proletarian collectivism that the Party put people under the control of organizations -- "work units" -- responsible for every detail of their lives, including food rations, housing, promotions, medical care, and so on. Now when people meet they first ask: "What unit are you from?" Individuals are thus subordinated to the collective.
It is strange how Western concepts like "individualism" acquire entirely different meanings when introduced into China. "Liberalism" is another case in point. Mao wrote an article entitled "On Combating Liberalism". By liberalism Mao meant undisciplined behavior, laziness, disorganization, nepotism, favoritism and patronage. Although many of these characteristics are actually feudal in nature, Mao criticized them as bourgeois.
Of course, this emphasis on collectivism has its historical origins. During the period of revolutionary struggle [before 1949], collectivism was stressed as part of military discipline. Many intellectuals went to the Liberated Areas and devoted themselves to the cause of the Party at the expense of their personal interests. After 1949, the Party went on to reorganize the whole nation, continuing to place collectivism before all else. As one model hero of the Cultural Revolution said: "A personal matter, however big, is a small matter; while the business of the collective, however small, is a big matter."
People are taught to make unconditional sacrifices for the collective. But what exactly is this collective? Who is it? A collective is a social group. Society is a collective, so is a class, and so is a country. But a collective can't speak. Individuals must speak on its behalf. This individual represents this class, this Party, this country, this society. So in effect the individual, in the name of the collective, the country, the Party, the society, demands that other people sacrifice themselves for him. In the end, it is not the people, the members of the collective, who benefit, but a handful of rulers who reap what others have sown. This results in an alienated collective, an illusory collective, a collective without people.
Marx once said there are two kinds of collectives. One is the real collective, from which no individual will separate himself and with which no individual will sink into oblivion. In this collective, the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. The other collective is an illusory collective, such as those in capitalist countries. This kind of collective puts on an act that its members are working for the interests of society, but in fact they are all struggling for their own interests.
In the 1940s, Mao Zedong occasionally talked about the liberation of the individual. But in the past four decades, individuality has come under constant attack from the Communists, who want to strip people of their individuality and turn them into tools of the Party and of the class. Therefore, I feel it is necessary to raise the issue of individualism. Of course, Chinese must adopt a critical attitude when introducing Western individualism to China.
China is presently experiencing the development of a market economy. Previously, the Party demanded that intellectuals be as dependent on it as hairs on skin. Now it admits it's unable to improve their standard of living and expects them to work things out for themselves. Thus, gradually, it is becoming possible for intellectuals to free themselves from Party control. The development of a market economy also provides the conditions for the growth of individualism, because such an economy needs freedom and equality. Though the emergence of individualism will give rise to some problems, it is the way things are headed.
Liu Xiaoqing, a film star, once wrote an autobiographical article and she was criticized because rather than attributing her success to the leadership of the Party, she credited it to her own efforts. The situation has changed since then. Now the Party encourages people to struggle to better their lot. It's only the sons and daughters of high-ranking officials who don't need to rely on their own efforts: they simply use their parents' connections to get access to privileges. American young people work very hard. Don't you think that it's better to work hard and stand on your own feet than to rely on your parents? Just as the market economy is a necessary development, individual self-reliance is also a basic step towards a high level of harmonization between the collective and the individual.
I am going to focus on the relationship between individualism and the emergence of a new political system in China.
Political systems can be divided into three categories.
The first is autocracy or totalitarianism. Under this system, a single person or a small group of people control the affairs of all the people. Any one individual's problem is regarded as being everyone's concern, a problem concerning the collective. Therefore only a few decision-makers are needed to find a solution. Once their decision is made, everyone must "unify their thinking" and act as a collective.
The second type is an imaginary, ideal system under which each and every citizen will participate in decision-making. For example, there are 50 of us here. Whatever an individual wants to do must be approved by a democratic vote. The minority must submit to the majority. This is the Marxist concept of democracy, the essence of which is general participation in decision making. The National People's Congress, which in China acts as the highest organ of power, is supposedly based on this theory.
As a matter of fact, this system allows no individual to have the right to make his own decisions. Maoist China was a perfect example of this type of political system. Because it is impossible for all the people to vote on every matter, in the end this system will degenerate into autocracy: a single person or a small group of people controlling and managing the affairs of everyone.
The third type of system is one under which everyone makes his own decisions on things in his own sphere, and on larger matters, the decisions are made by all the people. Only in this system does politics begin to have its proper meaning. Dr. Sun Yat-sen made a famous remark: "Politics is the management of the public's affairs." But there are things which are outside politics. A political machine can only function well when it is able to differentiate between the political and the non-political. If it attempts to decide on all matters, the system won't work effectively. The Western democratic system, imperfect as it is, is founded on the premise that individuals can have the final say on matters which pertain only to themselves.
The first two types of system are based on a hyper-collectivism that completely denies a role to individual initiative or will. In China, as Wang Ruoshui has just pointed out, individualism has never been understood as it should be; conversely, it has been regarded as the root of all evil. When the concept of democracy was introduced into China, it was understood only from the collective point of view. Thus people always think of democracy in terms of general participation in decision-making. I admit that participation is an important indicator of the depth and scope of democracy, but only to an extent.
Any neglect of individual initiative will lead to problems. This is obvious in the case of Yugoslavia where the Workers' Councils enjoys a high degree of autonomy yet allows no place for individual initiative. The Soviet Union has traveled the same road, a "democratic" road designed by Marxism. Perhaps for a certain period of time this system may be able to bring into play people's initiative and arouse their interest in state affairs. But before long, under such a system, people lose their political enthusiasm. If China's political reform takes this road, it too will end in failure.
In the West, the culture of individualism is the mainstay of society; Marxism has only modified individualism. Because China has a culture that denies the value of individualism, people found it easy to accept the Marxist criticism of individualism, which reinforced their original cultural prejudices.
I would like to raise two issues for discussion. First, is China ready for democracy? Although some people don't think so, I'm not so sure. In fact, China has good conditions for democracy. Western social scientists have identified some minimum conditions for democracy. One set of conditions are socio-economic. China's per capita income may not be high, but it is as high as some of the poorer democratic nations when they began to practice democracy, such as India, the Philippines and Turkey. And China's per capita income is rising. Moreover, the distribution of wealth in China is less polarized than in many democratic countries. This can also be considered an advantage. Another condition is the level of education. Although China's educational system is not perfect, basic education is quite widespread. A third set of conditions concern political culture. By that I don't mean people's understanding of abstruse philosophy. What I mean is the common people's knowledge of and attitudes towards politics. Generally, in China, people's political awareness is higher than that of people in the United States. In addition, the Chinese are very patriotic and have a keen sense of public responsibility. A fourth condition is the state machine. China has a powerful state mechanism which can guarantee the maintenance of public order, something which is essential for democracy. The last set of favorable conditions are those of China's external environment. China doesn't face any external force which seriously threatens its security, and the world climate is very favorable for democratic transformation.
The second issue is how China might make a transition to democracy. Some Western political scientists believe that such transitions come less often from below than from above, at the initiative of forces within the ruling body. For example, Mikhail Gorbachev is moving toward democracy by mobilizing forces from below to help him in his struggle with antagonists in the Party. In Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo used the same tactic to initiate reforms leading toward democracy.
I want to put this question to you: Is there a group or section in the Chinese Communist leadership that will benefit politically from a transition to democracy? At the moment I don't see such a group. But without it, given the strength of the state machine, the prospects of democratization are poor.
If such a transition does begin, one of the most urgent first step is the establishment of a sound legal system, to help solve the conflicts that a political opening will bring to the surface. For example, if there were a strong legal system in place now, the courts could resolve the conflict between the students and Deng Xiaoping. The establishment of a legal system should be followed by freedom of the press, a very important tool in achieving democracy. The key to democracy is a set of methods which will make the government accountable to the people.
Chinese often talk about "freedom" and "control" or political "opening" and "closing". To China's intellectuals democracy first of all means freedom, such as the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to supervise the government, and so on. But I would like to remind you that the concept of democracy also includes the idea of self-control or self-management. I think China's intellectuals, including the students, haven't realized this point yet.
The way ordinary people see democracy and human rights is somewhat different. My wife and I went to her home town, a small village in Kaiping County, Guangdong Province, for New Year's Day. I asked my wife's cousin, "Do you support democracy?" "Of course," he replied. "Who do you want to vote for?" "A Huang," he said. Since his own family name is Huang and most of villagers share the same surname he wanted to cast his vote for a Huang (laughter).
"Okay, so you vote for a Huang in your village, but who would you vote for in Beijing?" "It is none of my business," he responded. "Our system is democratic centralism. I vote for village leaders who in turn vote for leaders above the village. The central government has nothing to do with me. I don't elect them." I asked, "Just suppose you were to vote for the top leaders, would you vote for Li Peng, Zhao Ziyang, or Deng Xiaoping?" His answer was simply, "I don't know them."
Obviously, my wife's cousin doesn't have the political awareness that the ideal citizen of today should have. This is one reason why the Chinese authorities and some Western observers believe that China lacks the basic preconditions for democracy. I think this is groundless. You don't need awareness for perfect democracy. American democracy is by no means perfect.
I would like to raise the issue of when it is legitimate for the state to limit human rights. Western scholars often illustrate this problem with an example. If you stand up in a crowded theater and shout "Fire!" even though there is no fire, you are abusing the freedom of speech. Again, does the government have the right to limit personal freedom by banning pornographic movies and books? When confronted with the problem of overpopulation, does a government have the right to restrict the freedom of people to have children? If you demand personal freedom then how can the government carry out its family planning policy? This is a particularly difficult problem. Of all Mao's mistakes, his failure to limit the population may be the most difficult to deal with.
When we talk about individualism, we must talk about it on the basis of an understanding of our cultural tradition. Not traditional culture, such as religion, but cultural tradition, which influences the Chinese not only in Mainland China but also in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and even in North and Latin America. In this sense Western culture has became a very important element in China's cultural tradition. For example, Marxism is an outstanding example of the Western cultural influence on China; similarly, many of our terms in the field of politics, economics, religion and so on, are borrowed from the West and have become an inalienable part of China's cultural tradition.
Since the May Fourth Movement, many intellectuals have tried to introduce the positive aspects of individualism, such as self-respect, an independent personality, private property, and so on, into China. To say that individualism means selfishness is little more than a political slander. Yet, although individualism has become an intrinsic part of the cultural tradition of Chinese intellectuals, it remains difficult to introduce it into China's political culture, political system, or social life. It is also difficult to realize the healthy dimensions of individualism in Chinese society while trying to minimize its negative aspects. In the West, individualism is a part of a whole set of values embodied in the legal system, democratic procedure, and the concept of freedom. If you lack these other values and systems, it is extremely different to inculcate a healthy individualism.
In the West, individualism finds expression in many aspects of life, but its origin goes deep into Judeo-Christian and Greek civilization. We can't move ourselves back to Greek or Jewish civilization, but if we can't understand and explore this spiritual wealth and merely introduce to China those superficial elements of individualism, it is inevitable that we'll see more of its negative than positive aspects.
One thing we should also do is to explore and exploit all the resources of our own cultural tradition. Because we have done very little in this department we have become culturally weak; our culture has become too politicized and superficial and its real strengths are overshadowed. Our responses to problems have been superficial and we tend to concentrate our energies on immediate and temporary solutions.
I used to be opposed to cultural Westernization, but I've come to change my mind. I think we need further in-depth study of Western culture. Liu Xiaofeng is an outstanding young scholar [on the Mainland] who claims that Christianity is his life and soul. He has gone a long way in his studies of Christian theology, trying to explore and bring out its spiritual wealth. It will be a very significant thing if Su Guoxun, who is very interested in Max Weber, studies Weber and introduces his ideas into China; again it will be a very good thing.
The exploration of Western culture and the study of one's own cultural tradition can support each other. At present we don't enjoy this type of mutual promotion, but rather are caught in a vicious circle. How did this come into being? If tradition is understood merely as feudal despotism, if Western civilization is only understood in terms of its superficial and instrumental historical effect on China, or if it is just taken to mean bourgeois liberalism, if Marxism is only understood as Stalinist autocracy, then the real wealth of Marxism, of traditional Chinese culture, and of Western civilization will remain unexplored. If we want to gradually introduce the positive aspects of Western individualism into our political culture and political system, we need to undertake a serious study of individualism.
As someone who was born after 1949 and experienced the Cultural Revolution I am representative of a whole generation of young people. We were taught in our childhood that individualism was the root of all evil, that the word was a synonym for selfishness. I think the rise of our cultural totalitarianism had something to do with China's geography and its methods of production over the past two or three thousand years. An ancient Chinese saying goes: "All under the sun is the King's, all inhabitants of the land are the King's subjects." All the land and the people on it were under the control of the monarchy. The nature of production required a monarch who held supreme power so that he could supervise all agricultural production.
When I was a kid, I could not understand what it mean to "obey the Party", because the Party was not a person. One day I asked my mother who the Party was. After considerable hesitation she said, "The Party is the Party (laughter)." Things were just how Wang Ruoshui has described them: Your housing, food rations, marriage -- everything -- were controlled by the Party or the government or some sort of organization. The individual was entirely stripped of personal freedom.
Even [State President] Liu Shaoqi said after the massive famine of the early 1960s: "If we don't regulate the people's communes properly, they may become a form of fascist dictatorship." In fact, thousands of people died of hunger in Henan Province alone just because they didn't have any means of transportation and weren't allowed to migrate to other places. People simply had no freedom. In a village, your mobility, as well as every other aspect of your life was controlled by the Party Secretary. He was responsible only to his superior, who in turn was responsible to an even higher superior, and so on, with Mao Zedong as the ultimate superior. This was the social structure of China.
This reminds me of the question someone asked during yesterday's session. How is China different from other Communist countries? Eastern European nations have a cultural tradition similar to that of the West. In China people don't have the same set of values. Confucianism became the culture of China's ruling class because it met the needs of the feudal rulers and it served the feudal system well.
If you ask me to describe [the nature of] China's society over the last two or three thousand years, I would say there were two basic paradigms. The first was that of highly-centralized state with absolute control over every individual, although the degree of this control varied depending on the personality of the ruler. The monarchy had a charismatic effect not unlike that of a magnet, the second the magnet loses its pull society falls into chaos. This second paradigm of social formation was just this: chaos.
Political ideals have always been imposed on the Chinese by the collective. Since they are not heart-felt, no one feels any sense of political or social responsibility. Anybody can find an excuse for his wrong doings. This has resulted in China's dramatic degeneration in social morality.
During the Anti-Japanese War, when North China was occupied by the Japanese, the students used to say "although China is a vast country there is no room for a writer's desk." This was because scholars and students believed everyone had to become involved in the struggle to save China from the invading Japanese. But when I was in Beijing last October, a friend of mine said jokingly: "Even if the sky caves in, I'll make my room a peaceful place for my studies."
A scholar once said to me with great emotion, "China's intellectuals have been going around in circles for ages. They rebel when persecuted, are imprisoned and fall silent. Eventually, they rebel again and once more they are imprisoned or killed, and so it goes without end." China's intellectuals have never devoted themselves to the establishment of a system of thought or lifestyle that can have a long-term influence over the Chinese people. China has never had a real Enlightenment, nor does it possess the kind of ideological base that has enabled the West to become so advanced. I would like to see Chinese intellectuals make a real effort to explore the wealth of our culture.
Finally, I'd like to say a word about the relationship between the leader and the people. By the time of his death Mao Zedong had become a god. But who created this god? The people themselves. In a sense, I felt sorry for Mao, because the people incited him to commit crimes. If I were Mao, standing on Tiananmen rostrum with millions of people shouting "Long live Chairman Mao!" I think I'd probably make the same mistakes. [It's ironic that] the leader once so esteemed and supported by the people is now spurned.
DISCUSSION FROM THE FLOOR
The Soviet poet Mayakovsky once wrote: "When we speak of Lenin, we are speaking of the Party; and when we speak of the Party, we are speaking of Lenin." The leader becomes the embodiment of the Party and the working class, placing himself above both the Party and class.
In an article published in 1984, Hu Qiaomu used a metaphor to describe the relationship of the society to the individual. He said individuals are the leaves and branches of a tree, and society is the trunk and the roots. The roots cannot be without the leaves, yet the leaves depend more on the roots. I have criticized this view by pointing out that society should be seen as the aggregation of individuals, not as something more important than individuals. The society is the entire tree, not just the roots. Hu's pamphlet was checked by eight scholastic institutes and revised four times in three months, and still he couldn't help making such a simple mistake. In fact, it represents a subconscious assumption by the Party that it represents the society; the individual is supposed to contribute to the Party and to the society, leaving nothing for himself.
Traditionally individualism in China is seen as virtually an equivalent of egoism. Actually this view is not unique to the Chinese. The French had a similar view in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Why was the concept of individualism in these two cultures so different from that in Anglo-American society? Today China is similar to pre-revolutionary France in it degree of centralization. There are similarities also in the case of Russia. Lenin said that without strong organizations, a strong government, and strong leaders nothing could get done there.
If collectivism is imposed on individuals in any society, the moment the coercion to collectivize is gone, regardless of whether the coercion came from the government, the church, or the army, then collectivism will collapse and be replaced by unrestrained individual egoism.
Chinese history has repeatedly shown this to be true. We can still see this tendency in ourselves. In absence of strong control, it is difficult for the Chinese to reach unanimity. Nobody wants to listen to anyone else, everyone pursues their own ends. This is a typical trait of the Chinese personality, an authoritarian personality.
This is reflected in the personalities of Chinese leaders. Mao achieved popular support to oust Chiang Kai-shek using anti-despotism as his rallying call, only to become a new dictator himself. Deng led the critique of Mao but he became Mao the Second. The student movement is aimed at overthrowing the Deng regime, but if they do so a Deng the Second will probably appear. The theory of neo-authoritarianism has been paving the way for that. Even if Zhao Ziyang achieves ultimate power, he won't be much better. We Chinese are all brought up in an authoritarian family structure.
It is difficult for Chinese to discuss things. The Chinese view things hierarchically, so one's relationships with other people are of superiority or inferiority; equality never comes into it. When the Chinese discuss an issue, someone will inevitably stand up and attack the speaker even before he's finished. If you disagree with or criticize the speaker, you'll never become friends. It's hard to discuss anything on an equal footing.
I have no problem exchanging ideas in a calm and good-humored way with American friends. But it's nearly impossible to do the same with my compatriots. I'm not saying that I'm superior; I'm just as bad or even worse. It's just this despotic temperament we all share.
Carma was right when she pointed out that Chinese students overseas often discuss democracy in a very undemocratic way. If I propose an idea or a theory, you're supposed to agree with me, just because I think it's the best possible proposal.
Factionalism is common, too. A group, a seminar, or a statement all belong to someone. If someone has spent a lot of time and energy organizing a meeting or seminar, then he has to be the authority on the subject under discussion, and no one is supposed to disagree with or offend him. It's the same with student associations or groups concerned with politics, economics, and history. Whoever has raised the money becomes the boss, and there is no way that you discuss things with him as an equal. I very much appreciate the remarks made by Chen Kaige, that if we really want freedom and democracy we have to start with ourselves.
My conclusion is that the Chinese do have a strong tradition of egoism which is markedly different from individualism as understood in the West. Individualism not only includes personal rights and liberty, but also individual dignity and responsibility. If we are to adopt individualism, I hope we do not develop an unbridled egoism once exterior controls are lifted. What we need is individualism that includes a sense of responsibility and self-restraint.
I want to read a letter from Gao Ertai, who was prevented from attending this symposium.
I would like Tu Wei-ming to clarify his point about "total Westernization." Does he mean the total Westernization of Chinese society, or total Westernization of the individual? My understanding is that he meant the latter, namely, that individuals should be allowed to become Westernized, if they wish.
What I said was an overstatement. It is impossible for either a society or an individual to be totally Westernized. Every nation has its own customs, language, religion, and history. It is possible to make certain changes and adjustments within a culture [without outside influence]. But a culture cannot be discarded altogether and changed to something totally different.
Quite so. Apart from the Marxist-Leninist classics, I am not aware of any other collection of outstanding Western thinkers, social activists, or religious leaders who have been translated into Chinese. This is a very arduous task. It may take the efforts of several generations to have all the Western classics translated into Chinese.
I want to suggest four reasons why individualism has not taken root in China.
First, the structure of authority. In China, authority is not based on rationality. Equality between people and equality before the truth are mere slogans.
Secondly, the social structure. The establishment of individualism in Britain was connected with its aristocratic society, and in the U.S. it is related to the vast natural environment and the role an individual can play in that environment.
Thirdly, the economic structure. It is difficult for individualism to develop in a non-market economy. The concepts of the self-employed person and the entrepreneur are very new in China. Yet in the West they are very closely related to individualism.
Forthly, under the Communist regime there is a unified ideology which denies any legitimacy to the individual.
We have been talking about individualism, freedom, and democracy in the abstract, ignoring the historical context of contemporary China. There were specific historical and social circumstances which motivated Chinese intellectuals to discard the ideas of freedom and individualism. For a period they sincerely believed that these concepts could not help China. It was a time of great hardship and they sacrificed their freedom and individualism to the so-called collective. We cannot simply say that individualism, freedom, and democracy are absolute ideals, declare that everything that was done in the past was wrong, and that all patriots who cared for the nation were stupid. This is not the right approach.
I recently visited South Korea. I was very impressed with the intellectuals there. They have no Communist Party or Chairman Mao, but many intellectuals make the effort to go out among the masses and spread the ideas of democracy. I met an energetic young man who'd just returned from studying in Poland. He was running an open university of democracy at the grass roots level. As a university professor in Seoul he could have enjoyed a far more comfortable life, but he felt that in that way he would be separated from the masses.
Therefore we should not negate everything that was done in the past just because of the nightmare that it became. To do so would be as mistaken as it was to blindly support everything in the past.
I greatly appreciate this opportunity to meet with so many intellectuals from the Mainland. I am listening to what is being said with great interest. I shouldn't talk too much. But sometimes it is hard to restrain from expressing the doubts I have and giving my opinions.
Ch'en Ying-chen has made a very important point. Sometimes Chinese tend to think in terms of absolutes, in black and white. Actually there is a gray area between black and white. What is in this gray area? Ambiguity? Or non-absolutism? It is very hard to find an equivalent expression in Chinese.
It seems we interpret the word individualism in different ways. Is individualism necessarily the opposite of collectivism? There is another Western concept which is also very difficult to translate into Chinese, namely "privacy". I don't know whether you have seen "The Great Wall", a movie made by Peter Wang. In one scene, the American-born Chinese young man wants to explain the idea of privacy to his Chinese relatives, but he just cannot get through to them.
Another concept that is hard to translate is that of "civil society". It is based on the idea of privacy. It does not only apply in the economic sense, the sense of private property, but more broadly, the ability to determine one's own destiny. It applies to various aspects of one's life, such as religious faith, philosophical belief, personal relationships, love, and so on. The concept of privacy is the source of democracy and civil society. I would like to hear from my Chinese friends, in your view what is the relationship and difference between individualism and privacy?
Wang Ruoshui has talked about alienation. My own experience is an example of this process. The seventy years of my life can be divided into five stages composed respectively of seventeen years, twelve years, seventeen years, twelve years, and ten years.
In my first seventeen years I worshipped the Communist Party. The following twelve years, from 1937-1949, were the halcyon days when I joined the Party. The next seventeen years, from 1949-1966, was a period when I met Chairman Mao for the first time. Afterwards I composed poems about the meeting with tears in my eyes. In this period I was subconsciously influenced by feudalistic thinking. Why? Everyone is conditioned by the social structure. Chinese social and economic structures denied the individual and advocated collectivism. During the second twelve years, from 1966-1978, from the start of the Cultural Revolution to the downfall of the Gang of Four, this tendency reached its apex.
The last ten years began with the debate concerning "the criterion of the truth" initiated by Hu Yaobang and ended with his recent death. That debate was crucial in the [post-Cultural Revolution] ideological emancipation of the Chinese. During this period almost all the people who had been unfairly victimized, including Deng Xiaoping himself and people like me, were rehabilitated. This great debate brought about the period of reform and the open door policy.
The reforms started in the countryside, turning away from collectivism by going back to individual farming, and thereby increasing productivity. When the reform began to encompass the cities, it stopped with economic changes although it should have included a reform of the political structure, for without that development in every field is hamstrung.
There is one exception to this, an autonomous county in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. They carried out rather thorough-going political reform. I tried to organize a conference in Beijing to spread this news. My conclusion is that the hope for China lies down in the countryside.
If we say the concepts of democracy and human rights are from the West, is there a possibility that they would be rejected because of this? It is a tradition in China to reject all values imported from the West.
Maybe we have put too much emphasis on cultural elements and have not paid enough attention to structural factors.
In China, the "unit" (danwei) system and the Party committee system together form a structure in which everyone's life is confined. Since everybody depends one hundred percent on the collective, individuals are very isolated. As Liu Binyan has said, once you are expelled from the Party or labeled as a bad element, you will be totally isolated from people around you. Nobody dares side with you because they too depend on a work unit. The unit is under the control of the Party committee which is under the higher Party authorities.
We in the West sometimes find it difficult to understand why many Chinese intellectuals after 20 years of persecution still remain loyal to the Party. They do not blame the Party or the leadership, they always criticize themselves. Yesterday we heard explanations from the cultural point of view and some psychological explanations for this. I think an analysis from a structural point of view is more convincing. What we heard in yesterday's discussion seemed to me more of a rationalization for what happened than an analysis of the reasons why it happened.
Couldn't we say that if individualism is not acceptable in China, it is not due to the culture but due to the structure? If you were to get rid of the work unit system and the Party committees I am sure Chinese culture would accept or even create a Chinese-style individualism.
The concept of individualism has many positive elements. But when it is translated as geren zhuyi (literally "individual-ism", with the connotation of "me-first-ism"), it sounds completely negative, implying selfishness and egoism. It would be better to translate individualism as geti zhuyi (integrity of the self) or geti jingshen (self-reliant spirit). Then we will be able to advocate it as a new idea and an enlightened concept.
I agree that the translation is totally wrong. Perhaps we should redefine the word geren zhuyi by giving it a new explanation as a concept introduced from the West. Or we can adopt another translation such as geti zhuyi (the person as a unit), as opposed to jiti zhuyi (the collective as the unit).
There are other terms which are hard to translate into Chinese, or for which the present translation is not accurate. For example, the word "liberalism" (ziyou zhuyi) in Chinese implies no respect for any rule or discipline. Its original meaning in English is totally lost.
Chinese traditional culture and the past forty years of the Communist regime never recognized the value of individuals. Now when we begin to talk about individualism, people take it as a reaction or resistance against collectivism, which could be a misunderstanding. The true meaning of individualism embraces a spirit of self-restraint.
The same holds for democracy. We Chinese have never enjoyed any democracy. When we begin to speak of democracy now, some people interpret it simply as being able to do whatever they want. But as a matter of fact, democracy involves a spirit of compromise, a sense of order and institutionalized practice.
Now the students in Beijing are facing the same problem. Several hundred thousand students turned out in the streets. In contrast with past suppression, it appears as a form of democracy. But the question of how to crystallize the will of so many people through a democratic process, and come up with concrete and viable plans, remains to be solved.
There have been some encouraging signs in the past three to five years. The first premise for any civil society is pluralism, something that is emerging now [in China]. Besides political power, the economy and the mass media are emerging as new forms of influence. These will lay a good foundation for democratization.
Secondly, does Chinese tradition value personal dignity and the independent personality? Just now Wang Ruoshui mentioned that in 1984 Hu Qiaomu said that individuals could be likened to the leaves and society the roots of a tree. This is in opposition to the traditional Chinese idea that personal cultivation is the root, while supporting the family, building the country and seeking justice are the branches and leaves. Chinese literature is full of praise for personal dignity.
What has happened in the ten years of reform has been a revenge for the previous forty years. During the Mao era, ideology was pushed to the extreme of absurdity and hypocrisy. It was natural that things would move to another extreme later on.
The newly developing market economy encourages personal incentive and individualism. But is this type of individualism entirely beneficial? It is becoming evident that this spontaneous, extreme individualism or egoism is beginning to have some destructive effects. The people are in despair; there is a profound sense of indifference and apathy. The individual feels that the nation, the society, or the factory where he works is alien to him, he can be as destructive or as careless as he wants, even though it won't do him any good. In Beijing, a lot of money was spent on public telephone booths. Now they are all damaged or destroyed.
A mad, barbarous and incomprehensible psychological state is now rampant in China. People feel that public interests are not only irrelevant but often contrary to their own.
There's no way you can do anything to change this irrational and ugly situation. If you talk out of place you may be branded a criminal. So people become indifferent. The despair is horrifying.
Another dangerous and fashionable tendency among intellectuals and young people is to worship individualism or egoism. They believe everybody should be self-centered, think nothing of the country, or of others or of giving. The ideal is to be allowed to do whatever you want.
Recently I met a student who believed in absolute individualism. I asked him, "If you do not love or care for China, do you care about mankind"? He said, "I'm a science student, of course I do". Then I asked, "If you do, what about one quarter of mankind [i.e., China]?"
As far as patriotism is concerned I have a different view from Fang Lizhi. It could be regarded as reactionary to talk about patriotism in Japan or in Germany. But in China today, I feel patriotism has a positive role to play. The Chinese nation is too divided. We need a cohesive force and patriotism is such a force. Why must we deny or reject it?
The latest news I heard from Beijing is that more and more students are going into the streets. Great chaos or even national turmoil may occur. We all recognize that the student movement is a form of self-sacrifice. We are all deeply moved. But there are also certain irrational elements in it. Now we need our own form of collectivism, some self-imposed restraints. People must take the overall situation into consideration.
I agree with Ch'en Ying-chen. The Chinese ideology of the past forty years has had positive as well as negative elements. The positive ideas such as heroism, collectivism, patriotism, and idealism have not disappeared and are gaining a new substance. If we discard the false and hypocritical elements of these concepts, they can still be useful. The student movement is a good example. Three thousand students have written their wills in order to fight for democracy and freedom. This is the best proof that positive traditional values are still alive.
My people came as immigrants. Before this country existed, they crawled out of their awful ships and crawled up onto the land, and barehandedly made a country out of nothing. They came west on wagons and they slept on the wagons' bare boards. Then they built a log cabin and slept on the mud floor.
My point is that a group of strong-willed individuals discovered that they had to live together. They would build their barns together. Then they all went home to their private lives. They lived in isolation but they harvested together. One day a neighbor came to help my great grandfather. My great grandfather did not like the way he was working and he said to him: "Jim, you are a fool". And Jim said, "I know, but I am a fool in my own way". So they worked together voluntarily. They created organizations which reduced their freedom a little. Freedom does not mean total freedom. It means the power of the individual in its intensity gently controlled.
The Chinese have their personal dossier system, work unit system and party committee system. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, great attention is paid to the study of the internal structure and control. But I have not seen systematic and careful analysis of these systems in Mainland China. Even the present movement for freedom and democracy has not raised these issues.
I once discussed this with Fang Lizhi. I asked him whether anyone had ever proposed to change the dossier system or the Party committee structure in the 1950s. He said someone did, but nobody listened. Now thirty years have passed, perhaps they should try again. So far I have come across only one book that touches upon this issue, namely Washing in Public by Yang Jiang. This novel depicts the ideological change of a group of intellectuals in the process of coercive self-remolding. They gradually get used to the Communists' terminology which is a special language system that I call Mao-speak. The novel is very incisive and vivid in revealing that process. But in the mainland nobody has paid any attention to this novel.
Regarding the translation of individualism, in the early 20th century, someone suggested borrowing the Japanese term renge zhuyi (personal integrity). I think this translation is more appropriate than geti zhuyi.
LIANG CONGJIE (returning from taking a phone call):
The latest news from Beijing: People continue to pour into the streets. The expected dialogue has not started. The students have not put forward a concrete proposal for dialogue, nor have they agreed on the representatives for the dialogue. The number of people joining the demonstration is still increasing. That's all for the moment.
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