Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University
Voices of Protest & Resistance (XXIV)
Upon taking up a position at Tsinghua College (later Tsinghua University) in 1914, the prominent thinker and political activist Liang Qichao (梁启超, 1873-1929) addressed a student audience on the theme of ‘The Gentleman’.
In making an argument in support of academically outstanding and socially committed men and women in the early Chinese Republic, Liang employed a classical term 君子 jūnzǐ, one that we previously noted in our discussion of 君子人格 jūnzǐ réngé, or the ‘personality of the superior man’. The concept of 君子 jūnzǐ is championed in The Analects 論語 attributed to Confucius where it denotes the learned, morally sound and socially adept individual. The ‘jūnzǐ ideal’ was the basis for the dynastic-bureaucratic empires of China from the time of the Han dynasty. Simon Leys describes it in the following way:
Originally it meant an aristocrat, a member of the social elite: one did not become a gentleman, one could only be born a gentleman. For Confucius, on the contrary, the “gentleman” is a member of the moral elite. It is an ethical quality, achieved by the practice of virtue, and secured through education. Every man should strive for it, even though few may reach it. An aristocrat who is immoral and uneducated (the two notions of morality and learning are synonymous) is not a gentleman, whereas any commoner can attain the status of gentleman if he proves morally qualified. As only gentleman are fit to rule, political authority should be developed purely on the criteria of moral achievement and intellectual competence. Therefore, in a proper state of affairs, neither birth nor money should secure power. Political authority should pertain exclusively to those who can demonstrate moral and intellectual qualifications.
— Simon Leys, The Analects of Confucius, pp.xxvi-xxvii
from Xu Zhangrun, ‘The State of a Civilisation’
China Heritage, 8 March 2019
In 1914, Liang had a particular kind of modern jūnzǐ in mind:
The scholars at Tsinghua are learned individuals who are familiar both with Chinese and Western learning; they are talents that hail from all parts of China, congregating here whether as teachers or as students they are dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge in concert. In the future this place will also attract foreign talent who will help introduce the latest things that modern civilisation has to offer. This will contribute to the betterment of our society and help develop the political life of China. If Tsinghua is not to become the home to just such jūnzǐ, where else shall we find them?
In his discussion of the cultivation of such ‘Noble Individuals’ Liang also quoted the I Ching, the classic Book of Changes, a venerable oracle and a source of philosophical wisdom. The two lines to which he referred — one from each of the first two Hexagrams in the ancient text — would later become, and they remain to this day, the motto of Tsinghua University: 自強不息, 厚德載物, the official translation of which is ‘Self-Discipline and Social Commitment’.
Hexagram I, Qian 乾, Heaven
Strong is the Movement of Heaven.
The True Gentleman
Hexagram II, Kun 坤, Earth
Ample is Kun,
Sustaining all matter.
Knows no bounds
The Australian-based writer and academic Feng Chongyi (馮崇義, 1961-) uses another line from Hexagram I of the I Ching in the title of the following essay about the Tsinghua professor Xu Zhangrun and the significance of his work, and his behaviour, in Xi Jinping’s China. The line that Feng’s employs is ‘亢龍有悔’, translated by John Minford as ‘The Dragon overreaches himself. There is Regret’. Or, to quote Minford’s translation and commentary in full:
Yang in Top Place
Est quod poeniteat.
On the Image
That which is full
On the Words
The Master said:
But hold no position;
But have no subordinates
The worthy hold lower positions
But provide no support.
Things have reached an extremity.
At odds with the moment,
One can Advance
But not Retreat.
One can survive
But not disappear.
One can take hold
But not let go.
Only the Sage can master both
Advance and Retreat;
Only he can survive and disappear,
And never lose his True Nature.
Yang Line in Yin Place. The previous Place (the Flying Dragon) is the highest point in the Hexagram. It is the most opportune moment, writes Cheng Yi, properly Centered and True. To overstep that moment is to go too far, to overreach oneself, with consequent Regret. The Sage knows the limits; he knows when to Advance and when to Retreat; he knows how to survive. He does not overreach himself. He has no pride. He has no Regret. The Sage has already gone through all the spheres in which he is called upon to display his qualities, comments Legge. It is now time for him to let go and relax. The string should not always be pulled taut; the bow should not always be kept drawn. The inﬂexible use of force will give occasion for Regret. The moral meaning found in the Line is that ‘the high shall be abased.’ Here the Dragon is paralyzed (bloqué), writes Jullien, following Wang Fuzhi. That which cannot increase, that which is already full, will necessarily decline. But the Dragon is still a Dragon. Its Inner Strength remains intact. The Regret of the Dragon Sage is a stoical Regret. Joseph Needham writes of the ‘self-regulating Organic System’ of the Universe. The Chinese Sage is ‘only ﬁnding out what all natural bodies, celestial and terrestrial, spontaneously know and perform.’ He quotes Heraclitus: ‘The Sun will not transgress his measures.’
— I Ching 易經, or Book of Changes,
translated by John Minford,
Penguin Classics, 2015, pp.22-23
As ever, I am grateful to Reader #1 for spotting typographical errors and also for suggesting elegant improvements to the draft translation of Feng Chongyi’s essay.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
22 May 2019
- The Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 Archive, China Heritage, 1 August 2018-
The Implacable Dignity of Xu Zhangrun
The Imperial Hauteur of Xi Jinping
Feng Chongyi 馮崇義
Translated by Geremie R. Barmé
People have been worried about my friend Xu Zhangrun’s wellbeing ever since he published his magisterial work, ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’ [translated in China Heritage, 1 August 2018], in July 2018. That’s because it was a disquisition that dared confront the Dragon Ruler in His Desolation. On 23 March 2019, China’s party-state finally took action against a man targeted for removal. On that date, the political gendarmerie were dispatched to interrogate Xu and he was formally informed that he was suspended from his job pending the results of an official investigation. News of this led to widespread disquiet, all the more so because this seen as being far more than an isolated incident. Many people recognised the fact that it was an integral part of the overall repression of China’s intelligentsia.
On 18 March, only a few days before the action launched against Xu Zhangrun, the party-state-army leader Xi Jinping presided over ‘A Symposium for Teachers of Ideological and Political Theory’ during which he declaimed that [educators] ‘must be adept at detecting politics in everything and they must be mindful of the political dangers inherent in every situation’. This was an unmistakable signal that the State was gearing up to carry out a purge of academic life. Around the same time, a number of other university lecturers were also suspended or dismissed on the grounds of various forms of ‘Speech Crime’. In the case of Xu Zhangrun, however, the crackdown did not have the desired cautionary effect; quite the opposite, in fact, for it elicited widespread resistance and academic colleagues immediately gave voice to their disquiet, a petition was also launched and quickly garnered numerous signatures. [For details, see ‘Speaking Up for a Man Who Dared to Speak Out’, China Heritage, 1 April, 2019; and, Yan Huai 閻淮, ‘Rashomon & Growing Pains at Tsinghua University’, China Heritage, 10 May 2019] In the face of this sort of active opposition and emotional outpouring on the part of the academic community, one would speculate that if the authorities rashly took up the cudgels [against Xu and the academic world in general] it may well serve to hasten popular rebellion.
The assault on Xu Zhangrun by the Communist Party-State at this juncture reflects a particularly complex reality. In regard to how Xu himself was dealt with, this incident is daresay the brainchild of ambitious underlings and lickspittles inside the system who are anxious to curry favor with their masters in the expectation of future reward. As for The One [今上, literally, ‘the present ruler’, that is, Xi Jinping], he is well known to be possessed of a particularly pusillanimous nature and a man who is forever alert to slights and ever-ready to mete out punishment. He regards all outspoken criticisms of his unassailable majesty to be as a dagger aimed at his heart. As for the society as a whole, the clash between Xi and Xu is symptomatic of a far more broad-based political contest, one that is still unfolding. It also embodies various other nationwide conflicts — such as that between the Party-State and the intellectual world as a whole, as well as revealing new patterns taking shape in the ongoing political competition embroiling the Xi Jinping Claque and other groups in the Party hierarchy.
We must pause to emphasise here that Xu Zhangrun is by no means a radical; he is a junzi-like gentlemen cast in the temperate mould of the past. According to the political calculus of the Communists the real radicals — that is, the not inconsiderable numbers of democratic activists and dissidents who appeal directly to the masses, call for popular demonstrations and form political organisations with the aim of upending Communist rule — invariably end up in gaol, are forced into exile or are otherwise subjected to various forms of detention or house arrest. Xu Zhangrun should be located at the more moderate end of a broad spectrum of independent or liberal intellectuals who gradually made an appearance from the 1990s when they openly broke ranks with the ideology of the Party-State.
In 1998, Li Shenzhi, a man celebrated [following his death in 2003] as the ‘Leader of Chinese Liberalism’, published a series of essays — including ‘Rekindle the Torch of the Chinese Enlightenment’ [written in 1999 on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of the May Fourth demonstrations] and ‘Celebrate the Tradition of Liberalism of Peking University’ — in which he declared with clarion force that as a leading ideology Marxism in China was bankrupt. He appealed to the nation to find fellowship once more with the broader global tradition of modern thought, one that championed ‘mainstream liberalism and individualism’. In ‘Five Decades of Trials and Tribulations’, an essay he published in 1999, Li offered some advice to Jiang Zemin [the Party General Secretary who by then had been in power for a decade], a man ‘who had made absolutely no significant contribution’ to justify his position at the heart of Chinese politics. He called on Jiang to abandon the outmoded practices of autocracy and to embrace instead the global trend of democracy.
At the time, the Jiang government did not dare take action against Li Shenzhi. Others with a belief in the importance of freedom and democracy also spoke out; they advocated an end to the depredations of the one-party state while championing such universal values as Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law. Over time these men and women formulated ways in which constitutional rule in China might be able to evolve, and soon they formed a loose coalition of liberal thinkers. Since Xi Jinping has taken the helm, however, and in particular since he revealed to us the grotesque mien of the autocrat [in March 2018], outspoken members of the liberal camp have been unswerving in their critique of his regressive behaviour, his advocacy of autocracy, his personality cult, his depredations of civil society, contempt for universal values, advocacy of cultural hegemony, vitiation of the national economy, attacks on social consensus and contempt for global norms — all actions that are both incorrigibly obstinate and despicable. The ‘Xi Jinping Core Leadership’ [of the Communist Party] has instituted political repression and repeatedly launched putsches against its political enemies. Its victims are innumerable.
Xu Zhangrun is a law graduate but his scholarship is broadly based as it spans both Chinese and Western academic traditions. He is noted for his accomplishments in the study of legal philosophy and constitutional law and he possesses a strongly individual view of constitutionalism. His doctoral dissertation — The Anxieties of Confucianism — addressed the complex relationship between Confucian traditions, concepts of virtue and modern legal thinking. His scholarly publications, such as the books Talking About the Law, Living in the Law, Establishing Law and The Wisdom of the Legal Scholar, focus more on legal philosophy than on particular issues to do with the law. In particular, they consider the question of how the spirit of the law and legality can meaningfully inform and influence social ethical norms and people’s actual lives, that is to say, the ways in which abstract principles and human reality, law and morality can achieve a meaningful balance.
In recent years, Xu Zhangrun has published a series of works that have garnered him fame both inside China and internationally. They include:
- ‘The Global System and “Reform and Openness” ’;
- ‘ “The Nation as a Universal”: China and Global Peaceful Coexistence’;
- ‘Words of Warning for the Present Age: China’s Inflection Point’;
- ‘The Five Campaigns of Liberalism, and the Fourth Wave of China’s “Reform and Openness” ’;
- ‘Reaffirming the Grand Concept of a Republic’;
- ‘Protect “Reform and Openness” ’;
- ‘Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility’;
- ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’; and,
- ‘China’s Red Empire — To Be or Not To Be?’
These polemical essays are written in a way that puts forward biting observations that are nevertheless couched in an erudite and elegant prose style, one that is both powerfully engaged and that glories in its own literary éclat. Xu’s is a global vision; it embraces the unfolding story of modern Chinese history covering a span of nearly two centuries. In his expositions he reaffirms the vital value of democracy and constitutionalism, he advances a critique of the ‘Reform and Openness’ policies — elucidating in the process both their successes as well as their limitations; he evaluates China’s current state and advocates for the continuing, urgent need for China to pursue the path of on-going transformation. Furthermore, he dissects the sheer folly as well as the incipient dangers resulting from Xi Jinping’s restoration of one-man autocracy.
In his writings Xu Zhangrun alerts readers to the alarming signs that embedded in the philosophy of Constant Struggle as advocated by Xi Jinping, China’s ‘Stability Maintenance System’ and its ‘System of War Preparedness’ are being melded in such a fashion so as to once more lead the nation towards another ‘War of All Against All’ [an expression Mao Zedong used in late 1967 to celebrate the state of civil war engendered by his Cultural Revolution]. Xu’s polemics directly address the pressing issues of the day, and they constitute a powerful call for reflection and concern. They have also made Xu Zhangrun famous throughout the Chinese-reading world. In particular his [July 2018 cri de coeur] ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’ took issue with the Xi Jinping Core Leadership, one that has [since July 2018] framed Xi as ‘The Ultimate Arbiter’ [定於一尊, an ancient expression denoting imperial absolutism] while banning ‘Inappropriate Comment on Party Central and Its Policies’. That essay holds extraordinary merit for it lays out in detail the Xi Jinping regime’s array of criminal missteps that move counter to the current of its own history.
By publishing what amounted to a ‘provocatio’ Xu Zhangrun was also authoring an act of signal bravery. He was taking a stand on behalf of a broader Contemporary Chinese Liberalism. His riposte to the Totalitarian Tide swelling up in the country like a miasma also advanced a defence of constitutional democracy. The manner in which he did this was to embody in the here and now an ancient Chinese tradition of letters in which an individual of unyielding dignity dares to speak out. This is an expression of ‘strength of character’ or virtus. The articulation of such unwavering personal dignity is found in:
- Mencius [an early classical text] where it extols a person who is known ‘to be above the power of riches and honours to make dissipated, of poverty and mean condition to make swerve from principle, and of power and force to make bend — these characteristics constitute the great man’; [‘Teng Wen Gong II’, in The Works of Mencius, trans. James Legge 《孟子 · 滕文公下》]
- It is the kind of steadfast personality summed up by the statement [in The Analects of Confucius]: ‘One may rob an army of its commander-in-chief; one cannot deprive the humblest man of his free will’; [trans. Simon Leys]
- It is that celebrated breadth of vision and generosity of spirit that allows one to stare down the grand and powerful and contemplate rather the pressing needs of average people;
- It is a real-life example of moral courage that embodies a belief that ‘If, on self-examination, I find that I am upright, I will go forward against thousands and tens of thousands’; [‘Gong Sun Chou I’ in The Works of Mencius, trans. James Legge《孟子 · 公孫丑上》]
The precious virtus of the steadfast person overlaps with the guiding ethos of China’s modern liberal intelligentsia, one that is often summed up in the words [attributed to Patrick Henry in 1775] ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!’
During the Republican era [1912-1949] Tsinghua University was itself home to an outstanding group of intellectuals who embodied the modern academic ideal of combining fluency in Chinese and Western scholarship while at the same time being able to feel at home in the traditions of the literati of the past. In their tireless pursuits the scholars of that era excelled academically while never shying away from contemporary political realities. They endeavoured to meld the vital essence of Chinese civilisation with the pluralistic world of engaged global knowledge. The kernel of their intellectual venture and fierce independence was summed up by [the historian] Chen Yinque in the epitaph he composed [in 1929] for the Wang Guowei Commemorative Stele on the Tsinghua campus in which he said that Wang exemplified ‘A Spirit Independent and a Mind Unfettered’. [See ‘The Two Scholars Who Haunt Tsinghua University’, China Heritage, 28 April, 2019.]
As a moderate figure in China’s contemporary liberal camp, Xu Zhangrun published his keen critiques and salutary advice on the follies of the age, but in so doing he did not agitate for the masses to rise up in rebellion, rather he urged the ruling clique of the People’s Republic to confront existing dilemmas head on and change course while it is still possible. In ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’ Xu expressed a considered stance and laid out ‘Eight Hopes’ [for policy reform] that consisted of appeals:
- for the authorities to put an end to the profligate waste of hard-earned public funds on vainglorious ventures;
- to stop the extravagant use of government largesse to bribe foreign dignitaries;
- to bring an end to the institutionalised corruption that lavishes public funds on retired senior members of the Party gentry;
- to eliminate the Special Provisioning System [that offers luxury and scarce goods at heavily discounted prices via secret outlets to members of the Party nomenklatura], something that provokes universal outrage;
- to introduce a law that acts as a ‘Sunshine Policy’, one that will require bureaucrats to make public their assets and those of their families;
- to bring an immediate halt to the new Cult of Personality [promoted by the Xi Jinping Claque];
- to reinstate term limits for the State Presidency [which were abolished in March 2018 thereby giving Xi Jinping unlimited tenure as China’s leader]; and,
- to re-evaluate and overturn the official verdict on the Fourth of June [Beijing Massacre and the protest movement that preceded it].
It was obvious that, like [the Peking University sociologist] Zheng Yefu who called on the Communist Party to initiate a ‘slow fade from history’ [in an essay published in December 2018 titled ‘Why Political Reform is Laborious’ 政改難產之因] and ‘The Pirouette of Time — After the Future in China’, China Heritage, 19 January 2019, Note 19], Xu Zhangrun’s modus operandi was not that of the street agitator nor of the rebel; rather he chose to confront The One by choosing a traditional form of protest, that of directly remonstrating with The Throne. There is no doubt that it was a decision not taken lightly nor one born of a lack of courage; it sprang instead from wisdom and daring, and it is one that encapsulates a most profound cultural and political symbolism.
Appeals to The Throne are by no means always the sole power of the powerless. In the tradition the wise and sagely resort to such means fully cognisant of the fact that to do so invites death. Despite this they chose to pursue their ideals by advancing their advocacy in the face of the power-holders and maintaining what they regard as being the Way of Upright Decency. Such acts have from ancient times been celebrated as an expression of Indomitable Strength. Traditional Chinese literati took The Way and its pursuit to be their duty and they believed that the best way to serve was to tell the truth even if it caused offense to those in power [a reference to The Analects, 14.22]. It is a spirit [famously summed up in a line Xu himself quotes from Sima Qian, the Grand Historian of the Han-dynasty] animated by the belief that ‘The refusal of one decent man outweighs the acquiescence of the multitude.’ [See Xu Zhangrun, ‘And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!’, China Heritage, 10 November 2018] How many scholars of valour in the past have had the daring to confront The Throne with urgent advice only to die as a result? Their name is Legion, for they are many.
It is in Xu Zhangrun’s daring appeal [of June 2018], and the multifarious responses to it, that perhaps we can detect a new temper within the intellectual sphere, perhaps too it indicates a change in the atmospherics of Chinese politics itself. Since the 1980s, the intelligentsia has gone through a number of major transformations. In the first decade [after Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution] intellectuals were, by and large, in a state of euphoric exuberance; a New Enlightenment offered opportunities to advance all kinds of extravagant claims. Following the merciless crushing of the 1989 Democracy Movement the forces for democratic change were greatly reduced and the esprit de corps of the educated collapsed precipitously. Following the 1990s, a deterioration in the overall political environment led to a two-pronged assault: independent thinkers were constantly being repressed while others of lesser character were lured by the prospect of wealth and position. For the most part, men and women of learning in this ancient land succumbed to self-degradation and in the process they evinced both a woeful neediness and grovelling sycophancy. Everywhere the cynical accommodated themselves to the status quo. Despite this suffocating environment of decline there were still a number of liberals who cleaved to basic decency and who stood steadfast in their continued resistance. In the new millennium this coterie gradually expanded their ranks and they focussed on raising people’s awareness within China in regard to human rights and a range of concepts related to democracy, law and constitutional governance.
Since there is now a much greater, broad-based appreciation of the importance of such ideas and values, Xi Jinping’s open challenge to Universal Values and his restoration of autocracy look all the more ridiculous, vainglorious and unpopular. All that talk from Xi regarding ‘Red Genes’ [that is the promotion of the Party’s DNA of struggle and violence, see ‘Homo Xinensis Militant’, China Heritage, 1 October 2018] is actually a way to extol [Mao’s saying that] ‘Political Power Grows Out of the Barrel of a Gun’. The barbaric genetic makeup of this polity determines its fundamental behaviour — that of unabashed armed repression wedded to the ongoing and outrageous fabrication of lies, both of which further entrench Communist Party power.
The ugly absurdity of the situation has reached extraordinary proportions. Xi Jinping’s grab for autocratic dominion may only be an expression of his personal ambition, but it has been enabled by the sheer bloodymindedness of the Communist elites. They may themselves be unsettled by Xi Jinping’s brazen power grab, but they dare not offer any resistance for they are in turn trepidatious about the unintended consequences that could result from efforts to frustrate his plans. Confronted by Xi’s use of an anti-corruption campaign to purge factional enemies, these members of the elite know full well that the purge threatens them as well, but they are at a loss to act for they are paralysed by an anxiety that if ‘the Party and the State Collapse’ their own self-interest will also suffer. Despite their abiding fearfulness, they are just trying to get by as best as they can and all the while Xi Jinping is picking them off one by one. But they cling on regardless, dejected and depressed. Yet Xi Jinping himself is hardly a man of outstanding talent, let alone is he someone possessed of the political character and moral fibre essential for a person in his position. His dictatorial regime is akin to a hegemon having his way with the people, an autocracy bereft of broad-based support. That is why Xi and his Claque rely on the dark code of omertà, one typical of this Communist-style mafia. Since the Nineteenth Communist Party Congress [in October 2017] a stream of Party documents has added to the code. They include:
- ‘Central Committee Politburo Regulations Regarding Strengthening and Enhancing Support for Unified Central Leadership’;
- ‘Regulations Governing the Seeking of Guidance in Regard to Major Matters of Party Policy’;
- ‘Regulations Governing the Selection and Appointment of Leading Party Cadres’;
- ‘A Communist Party Central Committee Opinion Regarding the Enhancing of Political Construction’; and,
- ‘An Opinion Regarding Strengthening and Improving Party Construction in Central Party-State Organs’.
The last of these, released as recently as March 2019, directly targeted the highest echelons of the Party. Under the item in it titled ‘Clearly adhere to the Party’s political discipline and political behaviour’ it sternly warns that high-level personnel in the Centre [of Party-State power]:
- are forbidden from circulating any views or opinions that contravene the Party’s Theory, Political Line, Directions or Policies;
- are forbidden from engaging in any and all inappropriate discussion of Party Central;
- are forbidden from formulating or in any way disseminating political rumours or opinions that question or tarnish the image of the Party or State;
- are forbidden from forming any kind of faction or lobby; and,
- are forbidden from engaging in duplicitous behaviour or acting in an underhand, two-faced manner.
It is in just such paranoid Mafia-like rules and regulations, not to mention the array of things that leave Xi Jinping sleepless at night — such as all the fun and games to do with ‘low-class red’ and ‘high-end black’ [online forms of popular political satire], and talk of ‘there being darkness even in the light’, that constitute the multifarious phenomenon embroiling his Red Court — that reveal to us a bleak vista, one scoured by the pitiless elements of political uncertainty.
By its very nature autocracy ‘can transform every problem into a potential disaster’. It is hardly surprising that in the wake of Xi Jinping’s ultimate elevation at the Nineteenth Party Congress then, he immediately became the embodiment of hubris [famously described in the ancient classic I Ching]: ‘The Dragon Overreaches Himself. There is Regret’; — having seemingly achieved one’s ambitions one finds oneself instantly assailed by disaffection, a widespread sense of betrayal and a mood of hopeless despair. As troubles both in- and outside China mount, it is not difficult for us to imagine just how many people there are — either in the thrall of the Court or in the civilian realm — who have reached the point of estrangement caused by Xi’s excesses:
- How many indeed are now alert to the fact that Xi Jinping is leading the Chinese Nation to the edge of a chasm?
- How many have apprised themselves of Xi’s true nature and have no desire to end up as his cannon fodder?
- How many have discerned the nature of party authoritarianism under Xi and don’t want to be embroiled in ‘The Zhao Family’ [that is, to be tainted as members of the corrupt elite] or sacrifice themselves for the ‘Red Rivers and Red Mountains’ [of the Party-State, see ‘Ruling The Rivers & Mountains’, China Heritage, 8 August 2018]?
- How many are willing to put aside the usual practice of keeping their heads down in the hope of just getting by and instead are prepared to resist and seek meaningful change?
In his deeply felt writings Xu Zhangrun has given voice to a world of opinion and concern. Yet they are more than that for they also address a post-totalitarian future, one in which China can turn towards constitutional rule, something that may offer vast potential. This is why his work has resonated so widely, be it inside the Communist Party hierarchy or throughout Chinese society.
Following the agonies visited on them by the disaster of the Cultural Revolution people were only gradually able to reclaim — or claim for the first time — a true sense of self and self-worth. As a result they could free themselves from the kind of mass stupefaction still witnessed in North Korea today; they came to enjoy a life that was no longer the pitiful plaything of the puppet-masters who ruled over them.
In normal circumstances the Chinese should be on a path to leading to greater personal autonomy so that they may enjoy a life in the light that allows them to embrace a modern civilisation, one vouchsafed by constitutional democracy. How then is it that this cruel joke of a manipulator with his thoughtless temerity dares dragging us back into the Stygian gloom of the totalitarian past?