In September 1953, the modern Confucian thinker and rural reformer Liang Shuming (梁漱溟, 1893-1988) famously clashed with the Communist Party Chairman, Mao Zedong. Liang was mildly critical of how, following the Liberation of 1949, Party policy favoured the urban working class to the disadvantage of the countryside. Until then, Mao had regarded Liang as a zhèngyǒu 諍友, ‘a principled friend who dares to disagree’. Liang dared speak truth to power. During a heated exchange at a meeting of the Central People’s Government Council power spoke back. After a series of biting remarks about the Confucian scholar, Liang openly asked the Party Chairman if he had the ‘magnanimity’ 雅量 to allow him to voice his views at length. Mao famously replied:
I probably won’t show you the magnanimity you’d like!
He did, however, say that he would be magnanimous enough to allow Liang a seat on the National Consultative Congress; Liang didn’t need to perform a self-criticism. ‘For you,’ Mao told him, ‘all that remains is denunciation 批判.’ He subsequently launched a scathing attack on the scholar, who only resurfaced because he managed to outlive his nemesis.
Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, a professor of law at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the author of the following cri de coeur, has praised Liang as a dàrú 大儒, a Great Scholar of Principle — here the term rú 儒, often clumsily translated as ‘Confucian’, means ‘a man whose learning and actions are grounded in Confucian principles of righteousness, fearlessness and probity’.
On the eve of the 120th anniversary of Liang Shuming’s birth on 18 January 2018, Xu offered the following appraisal:
Liang tirelessly travelled through the land for the betterment of all. True Confucian scholars [rúzhě 儒者] put Confucian thought into practice, they do so in their own lives and through their actions. They have a kind of religious sense of working for the salvation of the world. Nowadays there are those New Confucian Academics 新儒家學者 who might claim they are Confucian Scholars, but then they just head off to sing karaoke. Mr Liang was always mulling over issues to do with our Family-Nation-All-Under-Heaven. You must include these words when you write up your report. What’s the good of blathering on in the abstract if you don’t possess an all-encompassing perspective 眼界 and true insight 眼光. Most people simply don’t get it. 為蒼生起，奔走於大地。儒者是要實踐儒家學說，要身體力行，有一種宗教般的救世情懷，現在有一些新儒家學者，天天在說我是一個儒者，說完可能就唱卡拉OK去了。梁先生從來都是在家國天下這個大框架里來思考具體問題，你們寫文章，一定要把這句話寫進去。沒有這個眼界、眼光，瞎嚷嚷有什麼用？但這正是一般人忽略的問題。
On 24 July 2018, Xu published a lengthy online critique of China’s present political and social dilemmas. In issuing his Jeremiad, Xu, who is something of a latter-day rú 儒, locates himself in the Grand Tradition by effectively addressing a Memorial to the Throne, 諫言 or 上書. Given the relentless police repression and intensifying ideological clamp-down in Xi Jinping’s China, this is a daring act of ‘remonstrance’ 諫勸.
Although composed for the most part in modern Chinese, Xu’s appeal also employs numerous turns of phrase and formulations from the literary tradition. Among other things it appeals to the Way and Heaven, as well as eternal principles of governance.
Reading Xu’s petition, students of Chinese history will readily recall the outspoken scholars of the Eastern Forest Academy 東林書院 in the late-Ming dynasty who railed against the rule of eunuchs and imperial corruption (and who were extolled by critics of Mao in the early 1960s); or the ‘Scholars’ Memorial’ movement 公車上書 from 1895 that contributed crucially to the short-lived One-hundred Days Reforms 戊戌變法 under the emperor Dezong 德宗, Aisin-Gioro Dzai Tiyan (愛新覺羅 · 載恬, 1871-1908). But Xu’s work has a wider audience since, in effect, he is also ‘cautioning the world’ 勸世, that is, warning China as a whole of the incipient dangers threatening the nation if its modernising trajectory dating from the mid-nineteenth century is frustrated once more. It is here that his work is reminiscent both of similar analyses and writings by his contemporaries, as well as of Zheng Guanying’s 鄭觀應 famous 1893 tract Words of Warning to a Prosperous Age 盛世危言.
Of course, Xu Zhangrun’s Petition also recalls the most famous ‘Memorial to the Ruler’ of the Communist era, that addressed by the Minister of Defence Peng Dehuai 彭德懷 to Mao Zedong. Known as the ‘Ten-thousand Word Appeal to the Ruler’ 萬言上書, it was written during a crucial Party meeting at Lushan in south China in July 1959. In it Peng warned his old comrade-in-arms and fellow Hunanese revolutionary of the unfolding disaster of the Great Leap Forward, and he backed up his advice with details recorded during his own investigations in the countryside. For his troubles Peng was denounced, not only by Mao but by other Party leaders including the State President Liu Shaoqi 劉少奇 and Party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping 鄧小平. He ended his days in ignominy. Peng’s outspokenness and Mao’s obsession with weeding out all support for it would be a pretext to launch the Cultural Revolution in 1966. The sweet irony of the cataclysm is that both Liu and Deng were themselves early victims of what soon became a nationwide purge.
Xu’s Jeremiad also brings to mind the 1974 Big-character Poster of Canton — ‘Concerning Democracy and the Rule of Law under Socialism’ 關於社會主義的民主與法制. This 26,000-character critique of the Cultural Revolution was written in calligraphy on multiple, large sheets paper in the form of a ‘big-character poster’ 大字報. The work of a writing collective that signed itself Li Yizhe 李一哲 (the nom de plume of Li Zhengtian 李正天, Chen Yiyang 陳一陽, Wang Xizhe 王希哲 and Guo Hongzhi 郭鴻志, as well as a number of others), it appeared on the walls of buildings at the intersection of Beijing Road in the heart of Guangzhou on 10 November 1974. As Simon Leys wrote at the time:
In Canton at the end of 1974 three courageous young revolutionaries wrote under the pen name of ‘Li Yi-che’ a political manifesto of historical importance. On the occasion of the anti-Lin Biao campaign, then in full swing, they dared to ask the only relevant question: what is the point of attacking a dead person if we do not attempt to identify the mechanism by which he came to power — what is the point of denouncing Lin Biao, if we do not endeavor to denounce the Lin Piao system?
— Simon Leys, ‘Comrade Chiang Ch’ing’,
Broken Images, London 1979, p.77
The lead authors were detained for having published a ‘reactionary big-character poster’ and they were subjected to dozens of mass denunciations, although on occasion they were also permitted the right of reply. Supporters surreptitiously put up their own posters in defense of Li Yizhe, but, in late 1975, the group was formally arrested on the charge of having formed a ‘Counter-revolutionary Clique’ 反革命集團. When Xi Zhongxun 習仲勳 — the father of China’s present ruler and the object of Xu Zhangrun’s digital ‘big-character poster’ below — took charge of the Guangdong Party Committee after Mao’s death, he ordered that the case against Li Yizhe be re-examined. The Li Yizhe collective was exonerated and formally rehabilitated at a mass rally in February 1979.
Posters, petitions and pleas direct to the Chinese authorities, both by single authors and by groups of writers and signatories, have been a hallmark of the era of Reforms and the Open Door. Starting with the public outpourings on Democracy Wall in Beijing from November 1978 to December 1979, they continued throughout the 1980s and reached a crescendo with the petition movement that unfolded both before and during the Beijing Protests of April-June 1989, with such powerful gestures as students kneeling to petition the rulers 跪諫, some even willing to advance their pleas at the cost of their own lives 死諫. It is now nearly ten years since over 300 Chinese men and women of conscience signed Charter 08 零八憲章, a manifesto calling for the peaceful evolution of China’s authoritarian system towards democracy. It is just over a year since the Charter’s most famous signatory, the imprisoned writer and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo 劉曉波, was murdered by state neglect.
Xu Zhangrun’s powerful plea is not a simple work of ‘dissent’, as the term is generally understood in the sense of samizdat protest literature. Given the unease within China’s elites today, its implications are also of a different order from liberal pro-Western ‘dissident writing’. Xu has issued a challenge from the intellectual and cultural heart of China, or 文化中國, to the political heart of the Communist Party.
The author possibly sees himself within the ‘tradition of Confucian continuity’ 道統, the age-old stream of cultural becoming with which certain intellectuals identify. It is a tradition that long pre-dated Communist rule, and it is one that will still flourish long after they quit the historical stage. The content and powerful literary style of Xu’s ‘remonstrance’, as well as its tone of ‘moral outrage’ 義憤, not to mention the author’s scathing humour, will resonate deeply throughout the Chinese party-state system, as well as within Chinese society and among concerned citizens more broadly.
If, as some scholars have previously observed, many Chinese men and women of letters revere ‘China’ 中華 as something akin to a religion — that is, an all-embracing system of identity, personal salvation, values and beliefs — then the author of this extraordinary petition, a sincere devotee, has offered his advice as an act of sacrifice on the Altar of State 社稷. One could say that Xu’s gesture is both that of conscientious objection and of martyrdom for China 殉國.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
1 August 2018
Another Lesson in New Sinology
In China Heritage we celebrate the vital aspects of the Chinese tradition both by introducing readers to Nouvelle Chinoiserie 奇趣漢學, as well as by adding to our long-term advocacy of New Sinology 後漢學, which we first articulated in 2005. Previously we have illustrated this way of appreciating contemporary China in the context of the tradition in the series New Sinology Jottings 後漢學劄記. We also publish translations related to contemporary Chinese politics and culture. To date, these have included political commentaries by the noted Hong Kong writer Lee Yee 李怡 (see The Best China), an annotated translation of series of critiques from the People’s Daily and an introduction to Deng Tuo’s 鄧拓 Evening Chats at Yanshan 燕山夜話. The following translation is the latest addition to this growing body of material.
What’s useful about New Sinology? As we have remarked previously:
Today’s corporatised education system too often leaves students of China well versed in the professions, but unable to understand with ease and fluency the wellsprings of what China is today. Deprived of the broader linguistic and cultural context, they are ill-equipped to understand, translate or engage with such daily essentials as online discussions, coded commentaries or sometimes even newspaper headlines, let alone the myriad traditional concepts used by Chinese thinkers, politicians, economists and strategists in articulating China’s sense of itself and its new place in the world. …
New Sinology advocates an approach to contemporary China that appreciates the overculture of the dominant Chinese Communist Party and what, through ideology, its policies, the mass media, the education system and its internal and global propaganda efforts the Party promotes as Official China. It also inducts those engaged with China into the particularities of Translated China, that is the versions of China advocated by the Party authorities through their selective approach to and interpretation of the Chinese world, be it in the contemporary context or that of the tradition or the twentieth century.
Today, the Xi Jinping-era version of The China Story claims to be the sole legitimate way to understand China, both present and past. Many writers, journalists and academics, be they inside China or overseas, strain to hear, report, create stories or translate the polyphony of voices, the jostling of ideas, aspirations and the melding of the traditional with the contemporary that can inform an engaged yet independent appreciation of the Chinese world unencumbered by Communist Party dogma. It is the task of China’s Communist Party organs like People’s Daily to corral a Chinese multiverse that is constantly threatening to break out of the prison of words. Through our advocacy of New Sinology we hope to aid and abet people to appreciate better the limits of that party-prison.
Xu Zhangrun’s essay ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’ 我們當下的恐懼與期待, offers words of warning to China’s leaders, as well as a series of practical (although unimaginable) policy suggestions. Xu’s style is a heady admix of the most dense kind of writing combining the vernacular with the literary registers of written Chinese. Despite the sometimes knotty circumlocutions, it is an incisive, amusing and sarcasm-laden work. It does not spare its reader literary references, quotations from important traditional and modern works, the use of historical analogy, or indeed contemporary jokes and vulgarities.
Although the author’s message is clear, his layered and nuanced prose may well be overlooked by the careless reader or dismissed by those ignorant of Chinese discourse as mere affectation, nothing more than an effort to appeal to sanctified tradition, a kind of pedantic footnoting or a flashy display of scholarship. However, for those familiar with modern Chinese prose more generally, such devices are par for the course. This kind of literary-historical-intellectual 文史哲 usage adds both literary validation and strength to prose that appeals both to the heart and the mind of the Chinese world. Merely to mine this kind of writing for transient and ill-conceived political purposes, or to fail to appreciate the broader cultural, social and political ambience that it reflects — one far beyond the limited purview of the Communists and their immediate critics — is to overlook an essential part of Chinese cultural expression.
— The Editor
Xu Zhangrun in China Heritage:
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!, introduced, translated and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé, China Heritage, 10 November 2018
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, To Summon a Wandering Soul, China Heritage, 28 November 2018
- Geremie R. Barmé, The Pirouette of Time — Introduction to ‘After the Future in China’, China Heritage, 28 January 2019
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility — Part I, trans. and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé, China Heritage, 31 January 2019
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, The State of a Civilisation — Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility, Part II, China Heritage, 8 March 2019
- Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, China’s Red Empire — To Be or Not To Be (Translatio Imperii Sinici I), China Heritage, 16 January 2019
Reading Xu Zhangrun:
- 許章潤, 國家理性與建國道路——2012年8月16日與劉蘇里的對談, China Review 中評網, 30 October 2012
- 彭蘇, 許章潤：思想者以思想發聲, 愛思想, 4 June 2013
- 彭蘇, 許章潤：思想者以思想發聲, 南方人物週刊, 3 January 2018
- 許章潤, 我們當下的恐懼與期待, 天則觀點, 24 July 2018
- Chris Buckley, As China’s Woes Mount, Xi Jinping Faces Rare Rebuke at Home, The New York Times, 31 July 2018
- Jeremy Goldkorn, Peak Xi Jinping? Two Essays, Six Years Apart, Offer Perspective On Chinese President, SupChina, 2 August 2018
- Jerome A. Cohen, Xi Jinping sees some pushback against his iron-fisted rule, The Washington Post, 2 August 2018
- 李怡, 興亡在天, 蘋果日報, 3 August 2018
- Contentious Friendship — a decade of zhengyou 諍友, China Heritage, 29 April 2018
- Mendacious, Hyperbolic & Fatuous — an ill wind from People’s Daily, China Heritage, 10 July 2018
- Deathwatch for a Chairman, China Heritage, 17 July 2018
- It’s Time to Talk about Evening Chats at Yanshan, China Heritage, 20 July 2018
- Mao Zedong 毛澤東, Criticism of Liang Shuming’s Reactionary Ideas 批判梁漱溟的反動思想, 14-15 September 1953
- Li Yizhe 李一哲, On Democracy and the Rule of Law under Socialism — Offered to Chairman Mao and the Fourth National People’s Congress 關於社會主義的民主與法制, November 1974 (Chinese)
- From the Li Yizhe Big-character Poster to the Tiananmen Incident of 1976 從李一哲大字報到天安門事件, 30 May 1976 (Chinese)
- Guy S. Alitto, The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity, UC Berkeley: Centre for Chinese Studies, 1979
- He Xin 何新, A Word of Advice to the Politburo, translated, annotated and introduced by Geremie Barmé, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No.23 (January 1990): 49-76
- Geremie R. Barmé, ‘Screw You, Too’, which features a discussion of contemporary Chinese ‘memorial literature’ 奏摺文學, in my In the Red, on contemporary Chinese culture, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p.365ff
- Editorial, China’s Prosperous Age (Shengshi 盛世), China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 26 (June 2011)
- Gloria Davies, Fragile Prosperity, China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 26 (June 2011)
- Deng Yuwen 鄧聿文, Ten Grave Problems Facing China 十大問題, trans. Eric Mu, The China Story, 8 September 2012
- Geremie R. Barmé, The Five Vermin 五蠹 Threatening China, including a translation of an advice paper by Yuan Peng 袁鵬 addressed to leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, The China Story, 4 November 2012
- Deng Yuwen, Civilising China: China Story Yearbook 2013, G.R. Barmé, Jeremy Goldkorn, Gloria Davies, eds, Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World
- Rong Jian 榮劍, Thinking China, The China Story
This Translation is Dedicated to
Wu Zuguang (吳祖光, 1917-2003)
Inspiring friend, playwright and essayist, a True Gentleman with
boundless contempt for Mao Zedong and his Cult
(See A Disaffected Gentleman)
To the Reader:
This is a Draft Translation of a long and intricate document. Due to the level of interest in Xu Zhangrun’s outspoken views among English-language readers, the following has been produced in a matter of days, whereas in the normal course of events a work that is the result of deep thought and reflection (and informed by a lifetime of experience) on the part of the author would require weeks of dedicated effort for any translator to do it justice.
In undertaking this task I am particularly grateful to Warren Sun 孫萬國, an old friend, who is himself a writer of elegant Chinese and a noted expert on the intricacies both of Chinese history and politics. As my energies lagged and my ability was found wanting, Warren’s alacrity, insights and timely corrections proved invaluable. I would also like to thank Chris Buckley of The New York Times. It goes without saying that for the many infelicities and absurdities of this translation I bear sole responsibility.
Square brackets  indicate amplifications and explanations by the translator. Further revisions of the text and extended annotations will be made over the coming days.
— The Translator
Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes
Xu Zhangrun 許章潤
Translated with Commentary and Notes by Geremie R. Barmé
Yet again people throughout China — including the entire bureaucratic class — are feeling a sense of uncertainty, a mounting anxiety in relation both to the direction the country is taking as well as in regard to their personal security. These anxieties have generated something of a nationwide panic. This is primarily due to the fact that in recent years our National Orientation [立國之道, literally, ‘The Way to Establish the State’, a term popular among Confucian-oriented thinkers from the Republican era (1912-1949). The Communists claim sole proprietorship over the expression, its articulation and its contents. By using this and other expressions related to modern Chinese history, Xu indicates that he doesn’t limit himself to the Party line] has betrayed the Basic Principles that I outline below. In fact, we now seem to be heading in the opposite direction from the one that we have previously been taking. In my opinion, these Basic Principles should not be compromised, and under no circumstances should they be undermined. They are the principles central to the policies formulated by the Communist Party following the ‘Cultural Revolution’ and during the years that it slowly and painstakingly managed to regain a measure of political legitimacy. Throughout the three decades of the Open Door and Reform era [c.1978-2008], these Principles proved to be the most appropriate political approach; they reflected a minimum consensus arrived at by the entire populace on the basis of which the country could enjoy a form of peaceful co-existence.
1. Four Basic Principles
So, then, what are the Four Basic Principles?
First Basic Principle: Security and Stability
For four decades the present system has enjoyed a legitimacy based on maintaining basic security and stability. This is why, in the wake of the Catastrophe [of Mao’s rule and the Cultural Revolution] over some four decades hundreds of millions of Chinese have supported the policies of Reform and the Open Door.
What we need is continued social order and a clear vision for the nation’s future. There must be an end of the tendency to pursue new and repeated ‘Political Movements’ [that is, mass moblisation and voluntarist campaigns with short-lived political aims] as well as ‘Lawlessness’ [here Xu uses a well-known two-part pun or double-entendre: 和尚打傘 (無髮/法無天) ‘A monk in the shade of an umbrella (no hair/law 髮/法 and no sky above 天/ limit to power)’. This saying was famously used by Mao to describe his limitless power and authority to Edgar Snow on 18 December 1970, but Snow misunderstood him completely. By using this expression he is comparing Xi Jinping to Mao], and that includes repeated cycles of ‘Strike Hard’ campaigns [that have been launched variously in 1983,1996, 2001 and 2010] aimed at crushing criminals and underworld gangs. It is important [for the government] to confront increasing signs of social anomie and maintain social order, while at the same time promoting social reconciliation. Only by so doing can they vouchsafe the basic conditions of normalcy that allow the Common People to go about their daily business.
Admittedly, these public goods as ensured by the government are legitimate; they are essential for the broad spectrum of needs essential for normal life: basic social order, a fair society, employment opportunities, as well as the chance to live with dignity. It is inevitable that with the passage of time and given changing circumstances, people’s aspirations are bound to evolve. In the absence of ‘high-tier public products’ [that is, freedom of expression and an independent judiciary, in short, real democracy], the people of China who have experienced so much turmoil and suffering in the past require the base-line guarantees of safety and stability.
Overall, the Basic Principle of Security has been assured, even desirable. After all, people just want to have a peaceful life, make enough for food and clothing and enjoy a measure of prosperity. All of these things are premised on individuals enjoying a settled environment and living in a reasonable society. Nonetheless, this kind of stable environment [we have] and the ‘Stability Maintenance’ [維穩, short for 維護國家局勢和社會的整體穩定, ‘Protect the Overall National Situation and Maintain the Stability of Society’. Although this policy evolved in the wake of the Protest Movement of 1989, and was a particular feature of the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiaobao decade of ‘Harmonious Society’ building from 2003 to 2012, its origins go back to the early reform period when, faced with political challenges and pressures, Deng Xiaoping declared that ‘Stability Comes First’ 穩定壓倒一切] policies that have been developed to maintain it, have in turn generated new problems and revealed their own limitations, creating in fact deadly lesions that threaten the political legitimacy [of the party-state] itself.
Moreover, for over three decades, in particular following [Deng Xiaoping’s Tour of the South during which he invigorated the process of economic reforms that had stalled following 4 June 1989 and the ideological squabbles that ensued in] the spring-summer of 1992, the ruling Communist Party has pursued economic growth or, as the formula goes ‘Devoted Itself to Development, Focussed Its Energies on Construction’. Such a policy was pursued for twenty years and overall it enjoyed for the most part the active collaboration of officialdom and the society as a whole. Despite a few clashes, the average Chinese has been of the opinion that no matter who was in power, or who fell from grace, given the orderly succession of bureaucrats, a general feeling grew up over time that national policy priorities would continue to focus on substantive nation building. Thus, when it came down to it, most people were willing to put up with the existing political arrangements, in other words: ‘You hold onto the reins of power; I’ll enjoy my personal life’. This official-popular consensus and collaboration produced the social stability and security that I have been discussing here. That’s to say, it’s not so much about ‘This Dream’ or ‘That Dream’, rather it’s been about growing the economy and developing the society with an emphasis on nation building. Don’t launch any more political campaigns; let us continue to enjoy a peaceful life. This Basic Principle is the starting point for the [generally held] view that [the power-holders] were fulfilling their moral duty [to the people]. It’s on the basis of this premise that the common citizenry of China accepts Your Rule.
Second Basic Principle: A Measure of Respect for Property Rights
Respecting private property and tolerating people’s desire to pursue wealth creation is the Second Basic Principle. We went from a time when private property and ownership were regarded as the source of all social evils [during the era of ‘High Maoism’, from 1956 to 1976] and entered a period that tolerated hundreds of millions of Chinese legitimately pursuing greater personal wealth, and then on to a time when there was the prospect that property rights would even be recognised constitutionally — or as the short-hand puts it, ‘private property would be allowed into [recognised by] the Constitution’ [私產入憲]. This new approach liberated the natural desires of our people to seek prosperity for themselves and their families. The politics of China [finally] embraced the natural human desire for a better life. In these circumstances, not only did the state enjoy massive economic growth, it also made it possible for the state to allocate appropriate funding to Science and Technology, Education, Culture, National Defense and the Military. Importantly [for the Power-Holders], it also underwrote the massive expenditures of the Party-State itself. Of course, the average Chinese benefited as their standard of living improved. Such is the legal and legitimate basis upon which China has enjoyed such rapid development; it is also the underlying economic rationale behind why the existing political legitimacy [of the regime] has been tolerated by All-of-China. After all, this is what people regard as fundamental: Touch whatever you must, just don’t touch our wallets. This is a principle universally accepted by humanity at large for, in the modern era, the idea of private property is wedded to the concept of human nature.
After [the Party implemented a raft of policies in the late 1970s in the wake of the Cultural Revolution as a result of which] ‘Wrongs were Righted and Order replaced Chaos’ [撥亂反正, a short-hand covering a series of significant policy adjustments, including the rehabilitation of tens of thousands of cadres, intellectuals and individuals, along with the implementation of new quality-oriented educational policies and the encouragement of basic positive social values, among other things. The conceit of the Communist Party was that for a time — 1957 to 1976, or 1966 to 1976, it had strayed from its mission to build a united, strong and prosperous China. This ‘fake history’ has been central to the Party’s post-1976 self-mythologising, and to The China Story that it now tells] China converted [皈依, a Buddhist expression that denotes conversion to the tenets of faith and the foreswearing of one’s sinful past] taking up once more the journey along the Broad Way of Universal Human Existence. And, lo and behold!: ‘Verily, There is No Greater Virtue than to Realise the Error of Your Ways’.
Third Basic Principle: A Measure of Tolerance of Personal Freedoms
Over the past decades, civil society has not evolved in China. Whenever there’s been an outbreak of anything approaching normalcy, it has been crushed. This has had a profoundly negative impact on the individual growth and political maturation of our citizenry. Politically speaking, things are dire and the Chinese Nation as a whole continues to be seriously diminished as a result. However, personal ethics have, to a great extent, enjoyed a revival; in the economic and private realms there has even been positive growth.
Today, people enjoy their liberties of social actors but not as citizens; this is particularly so in the case of the more economically advanced provinces where this has been the case for some time. What I mean by ‘the liberties of social actors’ is that in the private sphere people can enjoy limited personal freedoms, in particular in regard to normal pleasures such as eating, going about one’s daily business and personal intimacy behind closed doors. There is also latitude in regard to a range of individual choices that have no immediate political dimension. For example, if nothing else, people don’t have to be worried about official invigilators interfering with their hairstyles or fashion choices [as they did from 1966]. You can also enjoy massage parlors and public baths, travel freely, eat yourself silly and even indulge in extra-marital affairs [in Chinese, the tone of these remarks is, to put it mildly, ‘male-centric’]. It’s all very comfy and petit-bourgeois. People have for some time been able to enjoy a general sense of social normalcy and everyday ease. Given the brutal monotony of the Maoist years when everyone had to be careful to keep it in their pants, you can’t be that critical of the fact that people prefer to settling for normal everyday pleasures rather than perilously demanding their true rights as citizens. Again, this [relative non-interference in the private sphere] is a major contributing factor to why people are willing to tolerate the present political arrangements.
And it is in this context that we should also mention how, the police use the pretext of, say, cracking down on prostitution to target certain individuals [as in the case of the environmental activist Lei Yang 雷洋 who died in custody after being detained by the police for supposedly soliciting a prostitute at a foot-massage parlor in Beijing in May 2016]. Such policing behaviour contributes to an atmosphere of insecurity. Although you might think you’ve achieved what you want in one particular case, [since these stories are reported both in the official and the unofficial media] you end up undermining people’s general sense of personal security. So you end up losing more than you gain.
Or take the policy to clean up Beijing [launched by Cai Qi 蔡奇, mayor of Beijing and one of Xi Jinping’s protégés, in late 2017, ostensibly aimed at ‘urban renewal’, but for all intents and purposes it was a putsch against what was derisively referred to as the city’s ‘low-end population’ 低端人口 of itinerant workers and their families]. The forced closure and destruction of small shops, convenience stores and bars was a typical example of ‘Vanity Politics’ [that is, political actions that are more for show than practical effect; policies that are aimed either at pleasing other bureaucrats or at currying favour with one’s superiors] that allowed the Authority to demonstrate His power over the common mass and to pursue an aesthetics of suffering in the process. — Don’t urban planners in such international metropolises as Hong Kong, London and Paris allow spaces for open-air trading and business as a matter of course?
In a market economy, people all too readily despise poverty but they tolerate prostitution; some even chose to amuse themselves to death. There people who might put on a big show and come across all coy, yet [behind closed doors] they indulge in the boundless possibilities afforded to them by their obscene wealth and they do so in the most immoral [無德], mindless [無識] and shameless [無恥] fashion. Very well, [we admit that] such debauched phenomena are the price one pays for the existence of a consumer society. In the eyes of ordinary people who living average lives, such things are all part and parcel of the modern comedy — or the post-modern farce. They have no choice but to live according to the logic of the market, one that stipulates that everything is a commodity.
Fourth Basic Principle: Set Term Limits for Political Appointees
For over three decades, and despite the evidence of a certain level of social pluralism and a measure of political tolerance [at certain points in time], China has in fact experienced no substantial political reform. In essence, the Party-State is founded on dictatorial political principles which at their rotting core are maintained by a philosophy of pitiless struggle and factional infighting. On the surface, this is a political modality with an ugly maw that can only be sated by ruling over and consuming the wealth of the nation. However, due to a Constitutional Provision [introduced following Mao’s death and in consideration of the depredations resulting from his lifelong tenure as Party Chairman] that limited the highest power-holders to two five-year terms in office — and that includes both the state president and the premier — since 2003 [when Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao came to power], and with the peaceful transition of leadership [from Jiang Zemin who was personally appointed to lead the party-state by Deng Xiaoping following the ouster of his predecessor Zhao Ziyang at the time of the 4 June 1989 Beijing Massacre], the country finally experienced ten years [2003 to 2012] after which the leadership showed that it was satisfied with two five-year terms in power. It finally seemed as though we were coming to regard the situation [involving the regularisation and peaceful transition of political power] as something like a ‘constitutional convention’.
For once it was as though the Law and our Reality were in sync, and that we might now be able to proceed along a set path [of regular political turn-over]. The situation afforded the people of China a measure of political certainty and it bolstered international confidence due to the fact that our country seemed to be on the way to becoming a modern polity. It should be pointed out that this, and this alone, has, over the last thirty years, been the only tangible example of real political reform and progress in China. Despite all the vacuous hoopla about other kinds of political reform initiatives, the Party-State system had otherwise remained immobile. So, everyone came to believe that now, no matter who you are or what you do [that is, regardless of how bad or incompetent Party and State leaders might prove to be], at most you’ll only be in power for ten years. For the blameless masses of Chinese — they who are as humble and as numerous as ants, the people who till the yellow earth tirelessly, their sweaty backs bent beneath the sky, those who live laboring to the end of their days just to keep their families fed, people who are absolutely powerless to resist the might of a highly organized state machine — now, finally, they had [understood the concept of] a ‘ten-year rule’; there actually seemed as though a [quasi-legal] measure had been instituted that would prevent the outbreak of yet another period of political instability. Finally, the Masses could go about their everyday lives with one less thing to worry about.
Reviewing the above, social control based on the maintenance of public order, which as a public good, is still effective. However, in expanding to become a system of ‘Stability Maintenance’ the methods of employed to achieve social control have in effect put entire areas under quasi-martial law [in particular, the Tibetan and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions in West China]. The system has become unwieldy as well as economically unviable, proof that this approach has exhausted its potential and is in need of renovation and upgrading. The recent Sino-US Trade War has, in particular, revealed underlying weaknesses and the soft underbelly of the system. All of this has only served to exacerbate a widespread sense of insecurity in the society at large. Prior to this, at a high-level meeting [of The Chinese Communist Party in Dialogue with World Political Parties 中國共產黨與世界政黨高層對話會 from 30 November to 3 December 2017], our Highest Authority declared that ‘political legitimacy cannot be fixed at once [neither can it be taken for granted]’. This would seem to to indicate that the Concerned Authority is aware of a legitimacy crisis. However, more recently there has been a definite lack of sensitivity in regard to this issue coupled with a tendency towards overweening self-confidence. This [attitude] has found expression in such things as the Party’s anti-poverty programs which approach policy issues by using dated methods from the era of old-style mass mobilisation campaigns [which pursued short-term political goals at great cost but for scant long-term benefit]. This undermines confidence in policy continuity and sustainability.
The limited protection of property rights, along with a basic tolerance of people working to strike it rich, has contributed to economic growth and enhanced the living standards of countless Chinese. But [over the last decade], both of these things have encountered the nationwide [Party] polity allowing for the ‘State to Advance while the Private Sector is Forced to Retreat’ [國進民退, that is, a Party-led government policy aimed at protecting state-owned enterprises (SOEs) not on the basis of financial realities but to guarantee the political role and power of official ideology and the cadre-ocracy. These policies became more prevalent during and after the Global Financial Crisis; calls for the reform of SOEs as part of an urgent need for China’s further economic transformation have been continuous]. In the private sector, people have also witnessed repeated cases of official rapaciousness and the [state-sanctioned] plundering of private property and wealth. As a reaction, people have increasingly wanted to promote the ‘Sanctity of Private Property’. There is now a public awareness that the logic lurking behind all of this is that ‘Power Cannot be Privately Held and Property Should Not Be Public’ [a line devised by the economist Mao Yushi 茅于軾 and inspired by the ideas of John Locke]. And so it is that the division between the public and the private is the basis for social peace, both are intrinsic to the politics of the past and of the present. Only if China manages to work through this stage [of conflict] will there be true peace. But, in recent times people been both critical and fearful of the meaning of the revision of the Constitution [in March 2018] and the abandonment of term limits on political leaders [which has, in effect, allowed State President/ General Secretary/ Chairman Xi Jinping to enjoy de facto tenure for life]. It is felt that this amounts to a negation of the last thirty years of the Reform and Open Door policy era. It is feared that in one fell swoop China will be cast back to the terrifying days of [one-man rule under] Mao. Along with this Constitutional revision there is also a clamour surrounding the creation of new personality cult, something that in particular has provoked the Imminent Fears that I outline below.
2. Eight Imminent Fears
Below I offer an overview of the major causes of anxiety and panic in contemporary China under eight topics.
Fear One: Property Tremens
Is there any certainty that people will be able to protect the personal wealth they have amassed over the past few decades, regardless of how much it is? Will they be able to maintain their standard of living? Will property rights as outlined by the law really be protected by the relevant legislation? Will you be bankrupted or your family destroyed if you happen to fall foul of one of the Power-Holders (a stratum that includes bureaucrats as low down as the Committee Head of a village)? Over time, especially in the past few years, certainty about these issues has decreased, and this has contributed to a sense of panic at all levels of society. Those most concerned are the people who Got Rich First during the initial wave of economic reforms [in the 1980s]. The response of these wealthy individuals has been to immigrate. As for average members of the middle class although they don’t have to worry about basic necessities such as food and clothing — in fact, they enjoy a surplus — but like others who are just trying to live a normal life, they are also constantly worried about the unexpected. In particular, they are concerned both about inflation and devaluation, for either way their money could become worthless.
The wealthy immigrate for a host of different reasons: some do so in pursuit of a better quality of life, others slip away to launder money, while members of the Party nomenklatura want to put themselves beyond the reach of the law. But the most common reason for immigrating is born of worry about the safety and security of private wealth. The biggest winners during the decades of the Reform policies and the Open Door has been that particular [and peculiar] stratum of Party bureaucrat-cum business tycoon. They have milked the system with consummate skill and they make up the lion’s share of the migrating uber-rich. The official media carefully limits information [about all of this], but popular grumbling is rife and, added to that, the propagandists still time and again strum the old tune about ‘the ultimate goal of communism being the abolition of private property’ to which hysterical populists add [the old early revolutionary slogan] ‘Overthrow the Wealthy, Divide the Spoils’. All of these [mixed messages] simply exacerbate the sense of anxiety [among property owners]. Then, smack in the middle of all this anxiety it has been truly marvelous to witness the Pinnacle [that is the members of the ruling Communist Party Politburo] sitting themselves down for a collective study session devoted to The Communist Manifesto. [On 23 April 2018, the fifth collective study session of the Politburo elected by the Nineteenth Party Congress the previous October was devoted to this topic.] It’s only here and now in China that a dazzling work written by two wildly talented young authors [Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels], one that absolutely unsettled the status quo when it first appeared, can truly be appreciated as it both explains things and shakes the equanimity of just about everyone in the country.
Fear Two: Putting Politics Back in Command
[For the Authorities] To emphasise yet again policies that ‘Put Politics in Command’ [政治掛帥, a Mao-era strategy dating from the Great Leap forward in 1958 that required the nation to orient itself entirely according to Party policies; it was put in practice through mass political movements and class-based politics] and abandon the Fundamental National Policy in favour of developing the economy is what I mean by Fear Two.
In recent years, the gunpowder-like stench of militant ideology has become stronger. It reeks of what is [fashionable termed] ‘Taking the Lead to Achieve Discursive Hegemony’ [that is, the right of the voices of those in power to speak over all others], although in reality it is a perverse use of the public to impose ideological punishment [on private citizens]. This has already lead to a universal dread being felt in the intellectual sphere. Given this situation, coupled with a ever-increasing emphasis on Self-Criticism [that is, formulaic rituals in the work place during which people are pressured to negate openly what are deemed to be private failings and then pretend to measure all of one’s thoughts, words and deeds against the Party’s ever-changing ideological catechism], the publishing industry has already experienced severe contractions and the silencing of the media more generally is becoming worse by the day. This state of affairs is also increasingly hindering exchanges between China and the outside world. We are even seeing examples of official propaganda in which children are encouraged to report on their parents, in flagrant violation of normal ethical relations. Such an approach is a betrayal both of our traditions and of our present aspirations. In this day and age one would have thought it to be unthinkable: but this vile totalitarian mien brings to mind the barbarism of the Cultural Revolution.
The influence of such propaganda is seeping throughout the society, and some university lecturers have been singled out and repeatedly punished for what they say [in lectures]. They now live in trepidation, ever fearful that Party ideological watchdogs [in their institutions] or Student Spies will report them. Even more serious is the fact that local bureaucrats, afraid of making political mistakes, are being forced into passivity. In reality, China’s economic development is dependent on the political engagement and achievements of just such local cadres, men and women who are dedicated to and believe in development. While over there the remnants of the [highly politicised] ‘Chongqing Model’ [promoted by Bo Xilai 薄熙來, former Party chief of Chongqing who in 2011-2012 was in competition with Xi Jinping to lead the Party, and then subsumed by Xi’s own gimcrack policies, was a socio-political formula that encouraged political revanchism in tandem with harsh policing as part of a strategy to mobilise, manipulate and control the population] are working hand-in-glove with the ‘Three Types of People’ [三種人, or types of opportunists active in the Cultural Revolution era: Red Guard Rebels 造反派, Factional Opportunists 幫派分子 and Violent Thugs and Thieves 打砸搶分子 — these categories of extremists were denounced by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970 but in many cases they went unpublished for their deeds] in the tertiary education sector. With a sleight of hand and consummate skill they have become a burgeoning force that disguises itself as ‘New Leftism’, and they are baying for blood.
Painful memories of ‘political movements’ still linger in the minds of average citizens [of a certain age]. Younger people are engrossed in urban life and are accustomed to a suitable modicum of economic comfort. They have absolutely no interest in or awareness of the lurking totalitarian tendencies undergirded by the illogicality of a new, manufactured push to ‘Put Politics in Command’. If you force them to pay attention to such things it will have the opposite of the desired effect and repulse them. In reality, over the past decades people’s thinking has been fairly unified, and [as noted a number of times] the reason that the present Political System has come to be tolerated is because it has focused on economic construction, been devoted to development, and has no longer been obsessed with a constant quasi-movement mentality that constantly tried to impose ‘Political Proselytising’ on everyone. That [had eventually] come to an end or [at least] its interference in the private sphere was reduced; people knew there would be no more crazy talk about ‘preferring the weeds of socialism over the sprouts of capitalism’ [the ‘Gang of Four’ member Zhang Chunqiao’s 張春橋 1975 slogan that promoted a tolerance of the wastefulness and irrationalities of the socialist command economy over the iniquities, efficiencies and benefits of the market]. Ultimately, ‘Economic Development as the Core’ should by all rights evolve towards a core desire to pursue a constitution-based rule of law, and it is on that basis that politics and the economy should work together to build a truly modern nation; thereby the two will be like joint handmaidens at the birth of modern China. However, in the present circumstances, what is necessary is for the former [that is economic development] to be be maintained unstintingly; it is unthinkable that other plans should be afoot or that anyone could be considering a volte-face.
Fear Three: Class Struggle, Again
Starting a few years ago the official media and Party ideologues began to talk again about Class Struggle [that is, imposing artificial socio-political categories on individuals and groups and demonising, ostracising or otherwise scapegoating them for political and economic ends]. By now, people have been anxious about this for ages. The general thrust of politics in recent times has led people to speculate about the possible revival of the farrago of Class Struggle-based Politics of the kind pursued by Stalin and Mao Shaoshan [Mao Shaoshan is a classically styled derogatory name for Mao Zedong. The author has substituted the name of Mao’s birth place, Shaoshan in Hunan province, for his personal name]. Even worse is that, given the continued pursuit of the Anti-Corruption Campaign [initiated by Party leaders under Xi Jinping from early 2013], and in particular with the establishment of this new and all-powerful National Supervisory Commission [formally inaugurated in March 2018] — a party-state institution that which will wield authority over all government employees and teachers [and use politically determined goals to exercise nationwide control] — people feel no greater security in their legal rights. In fact, its quite the opposite — they can’t help but think that these developments are an augury foretelling the advent of a form of KGB-style control [under a secretive Party bureaucracy] that will itself become embroiled in the factional politics of the Communist Party. As a result, people are panicked about the fact that we may be returning to the long-gone days of Class Struggle. This is why so many are feeling increasingly alienated from the country’s political life; the overall social atmosphere of peace and harmony is under threat. After all, memories of a political model that was based on constant, pitiless Struggle [under the Communist Party itself form 1949 to 1978, and in reality during the mini-purges of the 1980s — in 1980, 1983, 1987 and 1989, and beyond] remains fresh and the concern that it could well be reimposed on China is real.
Given the two-term limit imposed on state leaders [formerly stipulated by the Constitution, a regulation that would normally have resulted in a defined ten-year period of rule for Xi Jinping, but which was abandoned in early 2018] and the continuation of an orderly politics of succession within the Communist Party itself, people were hopeful that China would continue to move in the direction of becoming a normal, and normalised country, one in which both property rights and human rights would, over time, be granted appropriate expression in, and protection by, the Constitution. It was assumed that the old mantra of ‘Ceaseless Struggle’ had lost its power. But these years it seems as though, yet again, we are moving in the opposite direction [from the one we were previously headed in]. Not surprisingly, there is widespread alarm.
Fear Four: A New Closed-Door Policy
Just as we at loggerheads with the United States — the representative of the [civilised] Western World — China is engaging in renewed intimacy with heinous regimes like North Korea. China’s economic development and social progress are part and parcel of this nation’s self-advancement as a civilisation. This is a continuation of the logic of the Civilisational Transformation that has been taking place [in China] for over 150 years, one that has seen a backward nation once more participate in the unfolding global system. It isn’t something authored or directed by external forces. But in terms of practical policy, [from the late 1970s] China reinvigorated policies [and ideas] related to Reform and the Open Door [which had been integral to previous efforts to modernise the nation from the mid-nineteenth century dating from the years of the Tongzhi Restoration 同治中興 (1860-1874), and again during the Self-Strengthing Movement that was related to that restoration]. Concomitantly, relations with the West improved and moved in a progressive direction so that China would [as the slogan of the Jiang Zemin era when China worked to join the WTO put it] be able to ‘be integrated within the global community’ [and in the process accept its norms and practices]. This was brought about by fast-tracking development as part of the globalisation of economic activity. If it were not for the fact that the ‘Open Door Forced [Ever Greater] Reform’ [meaning that the pressures brought to bear on the Chinese system by its global trade policies were constantly putting pressure on the party-state to extend, often reluctantly, its internal economic and structural reform agenda] , China would not enjoy the economic, social and cultural prosperity that it does today.
Now, for China to buddy up to failed states and totalitarian regimes like North Korea and Venezuela not only goes against the popular will, it flies in the face of the tide of history. Indeed, it lacks wisdom. [Given the anomalies of the present situation], ordinary folk are scathing when the mock a situation in which large swathes of the cadre-ocracy and their progeny long ago squirreled away wealth in those very foreign climes [that are officially being attacked, that is, North America] and that’s why they are not overly concerned about rising tensions in the Sino-US relationship. However, if by chance there is some major slip-up [in the Sino-US relationship] China as a whole will suffer, as will the nation’s wealth, something that, theoretically at least, belongs to all the people. Regardless, the effects will be felt by ordinary Chinese men and women, they will be hurt in the pocket. What really lies at the root cause [of this hubristic behaviour of allowing tensions with the US to increase why diplomatically embracing North Korea is that the requirements of One Political Party [that is the Communists] outweigh the reasonable and rational needs of the nation. [To disguise this reality] a twisted statist logic is employed [by the party-state propaganda machine] to repress and pervert popular common sense. With no real will to pursue [the reform process] in a positive fashion, yet harboring a dogged determination to indulge in their own willfulness, [The Powers That Be] have been failing to keep up with the currents of modern thought. And so the folly continues understandably, inevitably.
Fear Five: Excessive International Aid
Over-investment in international aid may well result in deprivations at home. It is said that China is now the world’s largest source of international aid; its cash-splashes are counted in billions or tens of billions of dollars. For a developing country with a large population many of whom still live in a pre-modern economy, such behaviour is outrageously disproportionate. Such policies are born of a ‘Vanity Politics’; they reflect the flashy showmanship of the boastful and they are odious. The nation’s wealth — including China’s three trillion dollars in foreign reserves — has been accumulated over the past four decades using the blood and sweat of working people, in fact, it has actually been built up as a result of successive policies and countless struggles dating from the time of the Self-Strengthening Movement [launched during the Tongzhi Restoration during the 1860s when, following its defeat in the Second Opium War, the court of the Qing-dynasty adopted the first modernising reform agenda in Chinese history. By saying this Xu, to an extent, indicates that he does not completely embrace the Communist narrative or its soteriology]. How can this wealth be squandered so heedlessly?
The era of fast-paced economic growth will come to an end; how can such wanton generosity be tolerated — a generosity which, in many ways, replicates [the vainglorious Maoist-era policies when China boasted that it was the centre of world revolution to] ‘Support Asia-Africa-Latin America’ [which meant that an impoverished China was generously giving aid to Third World countries in an effort to gain political advantage and counter the influence both of the American imperialists and the Soviet revisionists] that led to countless millions of Chinese being forced to tighten their belts simply to survive, and which even saw the corpses of those who had starved to death scattered in the fields.
Following the recent outbreak of the Sino-US Trade War, the official state media has called on the nation to ‘Overcome the Present Difficulties in a Spirit of Unity’ [共克時艱], a slogan that has been widely mocked. [The slogan 共克時艱 is a reformulation of the older expression 共濟時艱. It has been recast by online jokers as 艱時克共: ‘times are tough so we should all oppose the Communists’]. Added to that, there’s all that grand pontificating [expressed by using a common quote from an essay by the Song-dynasty writer Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹] about how ‘One should put the cares of the nation ahead of the enjoyment of the individual’. The Masses have responded by deriding such nonsense mercilessly: ‘Fuck you’, you hear people say. ‘What the hell does that have to do with anything?’ Such sentiments reflect popular sentiment; people can’t be duped like the hapless and uncomplaining subjects of yesteryear.
Fear Six: Repression of the Intelligentsia
There has been a leftward [that is, repressive, Mao-era-like] turn in policies related to the intelligentsia, along with a renewed imposition of Thought Reform [like that first imposed by the Party from 1952 when university professors, employees and people in the state bureaucracy were required to accept Party dogma and then to parrot it both in dedicated study sessions and publicly]. Although it has long been said that intellectuals [a broad category including many who are educated, as well as educators] are part of the working class [this was Party policy until the High Maoist years, from 1957 to 1976, during which intellectuals were regarded as dangerous ideological enemies; Deng Xiaoping championed the role and status of the educated, technocratic elite again from 1977], but when there’s the slightest policy tremor once more they are unfairly targeted, or indeed treated like the enemy.
The way intellectuals are regarded has long been the regnant dynasty’s most reliable political barometer; it reflects the basic tenor of the nation’s life. The Ministry of Education has repeatedly declared that it is necessary to intensify Ideological Education among educators [so that they in turn inculcated the correct political ideas and attitudes among their students]. Online speculation holds that returnee teachers who have studied overseas are seen as a particular threat. Meanwhile, a small clutch of Remnant Leftists [‘New Leftists’ and anti-humanists who support various aspects of a revived Maoist ideology, some of the most famous of which are celebrated in the left-leaning international academy] in the tertiary sector are jumping for joy; it’s as though they have been given a new lease on life [如打雞血般, literally, ‘it’s as though they’ve been injected with chicken blood’ — a satirical reference to late-Cultural Revolution-era quackery. See Joel Martinsen, Injecting Chicken Blood]. They are bounding around in a blood-thirsty frenzy. All of these phenomena contribute to an atmosphere of fear, a trepidation among intellectuals that enforced Ideological Reform [that is the demand for intellectual conformity] is making a comeback. The leftward turn in educational policy and a mooted Thought Reform movement may indicate that even more extreme developments are on the cards.
[The old expression] ’Inappropriate Discussions’ is once more a term bandied about with a deadening effect; the result is that people are being scared into silence [the ban on ‘Inappropriate Discussions of the Major Policies of the Centre (of the party-state)’ 妄議中央大政方針 came into force from late 2015 when the Communist Party Central and its Disciplinary Commission issued warnings against, and stipulated the punishment of, idle speculation about Party policy, leaders and factional infighting]. In an atmosphere such as this, how can there be any freedom of speech? Without Intellectual Freedom and the Independent Spirit [自由思想與獨立精神, an expression taken from Chen Yinque’s 陳寅恪 epitaph for Wang Guowei 王國維 and a long-cherished formulation embraced by China’s liberal intellectuals from the 1980s, one that has it roots in the Republican era when it was celebrated in particular by academics at Tsinghua University] what hope is there for people to explore the unknown, for the advancement of scholarship or for intellectual creativity? Up until recently, given the positive legacy of the last four decades — one that should be further enhanced by the concerted efforts of the next few generations — there was good reason to believe that [in the future] Chinese Civilisation could well enjoy an extraordinary peak of achievement in terms both of its intellectual and of its scholastic life. However, if the present policies that clamp down on free speech continue, or are extended further, these hopes will remain unrealised. China will be little more than a cultural backwater of intellectual dwarfs.
Fear Seven: A New Arms Race and the
Danger of War, Including Another Cold War
Over the last decade, Asia as a whole has for all intents and purposes entered an arms race. Fortunately, the probability of war has so far been maintained within acceptable parameters. The main issue for China is that we cannot afford to interrupt our developmental trajectory or further frustrate the Great Modern Transformation [that has been unfolding for nearly two centuries] just as it is within sight of being realised. Over the past two years, I have written two essays — ‘Don’t Let Civil War Break Out in China’ and ‘Protect the Reform Policies and the Open Door’ [both collected in Xu Zhangrun’s book The Rational State and Superior Politics: a Chinese Understanding of China’s Problems 國家理性與優良政體：關於中國問題的中國意識, Hong Kong City University Press, 2017] — in which I argued that China has added a System of Military Preparedness to its previously existing Stability Maintenance Regime [mentioned above]. I did so in an effort to point out the inherent dangers in this development and to forewarn of its negative consequences.
At the moment, as the political atmosphere of China is becoming increasingly repressive and the country is entangled in a foreign trade dispute, there is an increased possibility of an economic downturn, something that could led to things that are beyond control and that may have various unintended consequences. In such a situation it is not unreasonable to be afraid that matters could result in some form of military conflict, be it either a hot or a cold war. One should mindful of the need to prevent such an outcome. Popular wisdom argues that a trade conflict between China and the United States should not be used as a pretext [by the propagandists and policy advisers] for heightened ideological contestation, nor should there be a competition over which side has a superior political system. I think my earlier concerns have recently been justified by the evidence of just such developments.
Fear Eight: The End of Reform and a
Return to Totalitarianism
Even though the word ‘Reform’ is somewhat tarnished and, despite the fact that even rather reprehensible polities use it as camouflage, nonetheless, given the discursive environment of contemporary China and the fact that we are at a time in the country’s life when the Great Transformation requires a final push, and compared to the outbreak of some explosive revolution or a regression to a form of extreme leftism, Reform is and remains the most prudent and promising way forward. The engine of reform, however, has been idling for the last few years; [now] if it isn’t used to propel us forward we will go into reverse. In fact, this state of affairs has become the hallmark of the last term [that is, Xi Jinping’s first term in office from 2012 to 2017]. Given the overall direction being taken people may be entirely justified in asking whether the Reform Policies and the Open Door have reached the end of their history, and will totalising politics now return in their stead? Who knows? At the moment, this questions is of the greatest concern to the largest number of Chinese.
During the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao decade [from 2003 to late 2012] it seemed as though the Totalitarian was transitioning towards the Authoritarian; that’s why some dubbed the resulting arrangement a ‘Post-Totalitarian-360-Degree-Authoritarian Political System’. Over the last two years, however, we have seen things moving in the opposite direction, ergo the widespread anxiety that we may all be witnessing a ‘Thorough-Going Return to Totalitarian Politics’.
Modern Chinese history teaches us that first, because of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, and then, with the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance starting in 1937 [and continuing until 1945], China’s advance towards modernity was interrupted. Those wars put paid to any hope that the country could enjoy a normal political life. Modernity was derailed. Now we are approaching the final stages of a profound Transformation that has unfolded over nearly two centuries [starting with the political and military disruptions of the Daoguang era of the Manchu-Qing dynasty and the First Opium War of 1840]. We need a final push to achieve the goal [a point that the anxious author has already made a number of times]. Under no circumstances can the nation be derailed again by yet more military conflict. If that were to happen, when might history present us with another opportunity? Heaven only knows!
3: Eight Immediate Hopes
In outlining the above anxieties and the broadly felt sense of panic I have focussed on the domestic political realm — I have not expanded my considerations to discuss matters related to the economy or trade (including the question of massive tax cuts), nor have I touched on the provocative themes of democracy and rule of law. Below I will confine myself to offering a series of concrete policy suggestions [that is, Hopes] that I believe are of timely importance.
The First Hope: Put a Stop to Empty Grand Gestures and
Wasteful International Largesse
Average Chinese are most frequently offended by the way the state scatters large sums of money through international aid to little or no benefit. China is still slowly making its way up the steep slope of development. In terms both of basic infrastructure and social facilities, as well as in regard to people’s ability to access welfare, we are confronting massive problems; our burden is great and the road ahead leads far into the distance. And I make this point without even mentioning the crisis in aged care, or issues related to employment opportunities and education.
Rural destitution is a widespread and crushing reality; greater support through public policy initiatives is essential. Without major changes, half of China will remain in what is basically a pre-modern economic state. That will mean that the hope to create a modern China will remain unfulfilled, if not half-hearted. If this situation continues what good is it to talk about the Great Revival of Chinese Civilisation?
At the recent China-Arab States Cooperation Forum [on 10 July 2018] the Chinese Leadership [that is, Xi Jinping] announced that twenty billion US dollars would be made available for ‘Dedicated Reconstruction Projects’ in the Arab world. On top of that, [Xi Jinping declared that] ‘a further one billion yuan will be offered to support social stability efforts in the region’. Everyone knows full well that the Gulf States are literally oozing with wealth. Why is China, a country with over one hundred million people who are still living below the poverty line, playing at being the flashy big-spender? How can the Chinese not comment in astonishment: just what is the Supreme Bureaucratic Authority thinking? Don’t They care about our own people? Furthermore, the people who indulge in such grand and expensive gestures evince no respect for existing budgetary procedures or institutional formalities; in the process They shunt aside a National People’s Congress that is constitutionally empowered to maintain budgetary oversight. In the process, existing institutionalised bureaucratic mechanisms are for all intents and purposes paralysed. It is akin to a declaration of war on the authority of the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
The Second Hope: Put an End to Diplomatic Extravagance
Even the most commonplace international meeting organised in China involves extraordinary levels of expense. There is no regard for budgets; fiscal waste and the heedless loss of human work hours is considerable. Such activities are content-free and superficial. It’s all about pursuing ‘Vanity Politics’ not ‘Practical Politics’, let alone ‘Hard-edged Politics’. Such events have nothing to do with the so-called ‘venerable traditional of warmth and hospitality demonstrated by the Chinese people from ancient times’; only the most vain and self-serving [leaders and bureaucrats like to] indulge in such things. If foreigners were to copy what we ar constantly doing here, then the VIP-filled headquarters of the United Nations in New York would be on police lock-down 24/7, and the headquarters of the numerous international organisations based in Geneva and Paris would perforce have to stage nightly fireworks displays with their personnel expected to be decked out in all their finery all the time.
As independent entities countries should aim for validation by means of their actual national strength [實力], and thereby they can pursue their own national interest [實利] through regular international activities, while in the process also exhibiting certain values and moral probity [道義]. All of these things can co-exist and they can have a net benefit for one’s people. The glory and respect will come naturally. — To lack this breadth of understanding and devote instead considerable energy to political grandstanding, even though the Host himself might feel very smug, it is nonetheless a waste of human resources; it is the behavior of a wastrel who is careless of public finance. Moreover, such excessive displays actually elicit contempt from foreign guests; they serve merely to excite popular outrage among one’s own people. Even our Lard-Arse neighbour — Kim Jong-un, a loathsome dictator ostracised by the international community — was welcomed to Beijing with an extravagant motorcade; you can see it all in the print and electronic media. Gossip even has it that top-tier Special Mou-tai valued at 1.28 million yuan a bottle [sic] was served at the official banquet. To be quite frank, this one gesture offended and alienated untold numbers of people in China. Now, as for the so-called China Dream, all I can say is: Dream On!
The Third Hope: End the Privileges of the Party Nobility
Elitist privileges for retired high-level cadres should be eliminated. The system of the present ‘dynasty’ [國朝, the dynastic-era term for ‘court-as-country’] allows for the state to provide inclusive retirement-to-grave care for high-level cadres according to a standard that is far and away above that allowed to the average citizen. These cadres retain the privileges they enjoyed during their working lives, including premium health care and special access to luxury resorts for recreation and holidays. Everyone is aware of the financial burden this places on the people, but the details are never released for fear of sparking public outrage. This system replicates the kinds of prerogative that were provided to the Imperial Zhu Family Lineage during the Ming dynasty [founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368CE], as well as the emoluments permitted to the families of the Eight Banners [八旗 jakūn gūsa, the exclusive Manchu military and administrative groups that were crucial to the founding and rule of the Qing dynasty in 1644; those privileges continued until the abdication of the Royal House in early 1912]. This is not merely a betrayal of the self-advertised ‘Revolutionary Spirit’ [of the Communist Party], it is also in breach of modern standards of civic life. What’s all that talk of ‘the remnants of feudalism’ for? This is a perfect example of it! People are outraged but powerless to do anything about it and it’s one of the main reasons why people regard the system itself with utter contempt. On one side of the hospital Commoners face the challenge of gaining admission for treatment, while everyone knows that grand suites are reserved on the other side for the care of high-level cadres. The people observe this with mute and heartfelt bitterness. Every iota of this bottled up anger may, at some unexpected moment, explode with thunderous fury.
The Fourth Hope: End the System of Luxury Provisioning
Eliminate the system of Special Needs or Luxury Goods Provisioning. Starting in [the wartime Communist guerrilla base] Yan’an some seventy years ago, this system [whereby Party cadres/ government bureaucrats have been permitted privileged access to goods and services depending on their rank in a 27-tier network] continued unimpeded even during times of mass famine and deprivation. And it continues even now as the Countless Masses are ever increasingly concerned about [the quality of and access to] dairy products for their babies and the hygiene and safety of their everyday foodstuffs.
The Special Needs Provisioning system allows the high-level Party nobility access to a vast range of specialty products far beyond the dreams of the average person. Apart from a few totalitarian polities, there is no other country that does this like China. Surely this is a case of ‘luxury in the extreme and shamelessness that defies description’ [豪奢之至，而無恥之尤]. Of course, inequalities exist in all societies and disparities in ability and wealth are only natural, but they are a result of differences, not due to the fact that the ideal playing field imagined by our citizens does allow for a level starting point. And none of this even takes into account the outrage felt because a small group of Party grandees is being continuously mollycoddled by [a political party] dipping into the coffers of the state. As long as this system and ‘No 34’ [a code word for the regulations covering special access to necessities and luxury goods provided to the Party nomenklatura which was set up after 1955. (See ‘Providing for the Leadership 特供茶’ in Barmé, More Saliva than Tea 口水多過茶, 2012)] remains unchecked, real food safety in China will never be realised; neither side will really be assured of its long-term security.
The Fifth Hope: Require Officials to Divulge their Personal Assets
People have been calling for a law requiring officials to gazette their assets for many years, without effect [it was also an early demand of student protesters in 1989]. It is evident that this is where the real skulduggery takes place and that is why the truth cannot be revealed. As cadres and government bureaucrats scale the ladder of officialdom there is a complete lack of transparency about the personal assets that accrue to their children and their families; this is a closely guarded secret hidden deep in the Party’s personnel files. Normal people have no knowledge of what is really going on and everything is clouded in obfuscation.
In terms of the state’s ability and economic wherewithal, let alone in terms of technical ability, all is in readiness [to reveal the truth], what’s required is for the system to be activated. Thereupon, via the national Internet, and with the oversight of 1.4 billion pairs of eyes, everything would immediately become clear. Despite continued anti-corruption activities, boundless new cases of corruption are constantly being generated. That is because both [the anti-corruption push as well as the corrupt activities themselves] take place internally (and secretly), none involve a legal process based on the principles of open and transparent politics. What is missing is a ‘Sunshine Policy’: if you have nothing to hide then implement such a policy and everything will finally be out in the open! If you are truly sincere, then join the majority of other countries who have signed up to the anti-money laundering Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. Why conceal yourselves in the obfuscating mists of rhetoric and treat the Vast Multitudes of China like simpletons?
The Sixth Hope: Put a Stop to the New Personality Cult Immediately
An emergency brake must be applied to the unfolding Personality Cult. Who would have thought that, after four decades of Reforms and the Open Door, our Sacred Land would once more witness a Personality Cult? The Party media is going to extreme lengths to create a new Idol, and in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as Modern Totalitarianism. Portraits of the Leader are hoisted on high throughout the Land, as though they are possessed of some Spiritual Mana. This only adds to all the absurdity. And then, on top of that, the speeches of That Official — things previously merely to be recorded by secretaries in a pro forma bureaucratic manner — are now painstakingly collected in finely bound editions printed in vast quantities and handed out free throughout the world. The profligate waste of paper alone is enough to make you shake your head in disbelief.
All of this reflects the low IQ of the Concerned Official and His craving for fame. More importantly, we need to ask how a vast country like China, one that was previously so ruinously served by a Personality Cult [under Mao Zedong], simply has no resistance to this new cult, and this includes those droves of ‘Theoreticians’ and ‘Researchers’. In fact, they are outdoing themselves with their sickeningly slavish behaviour [舔癰吸疽, literally ‘licking the carbuncles and sucking liquid from the ulcers’ (of the power-holder to gain favour and solicit reward)]. It’s as though hundreds of millions of Chinese are oblivious; people tolerate the New Cult and allow it unfettered freedom; they are powerless in the face of all those arse-kissing bureaucrats. It goes to show that China’s Enlightenment is far from over. Every generation must champion rationalism in public affairs and continue painstakingly to forge a way to the future. The New Cult is clear evidence that China faces a long struggle before it can claim to be a modern, secular and rational nation-state.
The Seventh Hope: Restore Term Limits for the National Presidency
International opinion was astounded by the decision made earlier in the year to revise the Constitution and abandon the term limits set for the State Presidency. In China it resulted in widespread and profound anxiety. Overnight it seemed ‘As though we were shocked awake after a four-decade-long dream.’ Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, we had a ‘Supreme Leader’ with no checks on his power; how could people not have all kinds of strange imaginings and new fears?
It is for this reason, that I urge that at an appropriate time during this or the coming year — say, for instance, at a Special Meeting of the National People’s Congress this autumn or at the scheduled annual convocation of the Congress in March 2019 — a further revision of the Constitution should be made so as to reinstate the term limit on the presidency. To do so would vouchsafe the policies of the Reform and Open Door era while frustrating the slide towards the totalitarian politics of the Cultural Revolution. We have a Constitution, and regardless of its quality it is, after all, the nation’s Basic Law, and it should not be revised willy-nilly. However, it is still a Temporary Constitution that was formulated by a political arrangement during what has in effect been a crucial transitional period in the nation’s life, therefore it cannot but be repeatedly subject to revision. Hopefully, this will be the final necessary revision of the Constitution before the eventual transition [to democracy] is achieved.
The Eighth Hope: Overturn the Verdict on 4 June
Overturn the Verdict on the ‘4th of June’ [1989 Beijing Massacre]. Over this and next year China will mark a series of sensitive anniversaries: it will be the fourth decade since the policies of [what would become known as] the Reforms and Open Door, the centenary of the May Fourth Movement [of 1919, a major feature of which was modern student activism and strident patriotism; it was also a contributing reason for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921], as well as the thirtieth anniversary of 4 June. The upshot of the Sino-US Trade War will extend through this period and will only serve to add to the uncertainty of things.
In pursuit of the usual posture of Stability Maintenance [the authorities will daresay] ‘use policing methods to deal with political issues’ in the process of which they will ‘deploy the mechanisms of the state machine [政制] to clamp down on [鉗制] the political situation [政治]’. The system will go to extremes rather than approaching things by ‘dealing with politics by employing politics [for the resolution of things]’ [as we witness in the West when they deal with difficult political issues]. Back in the day, the ‘5th of April’ [1976 Tiananmen Incident when protesters flooded to Tiananmen to mourn the recently deceased premier Zhou Enlai and denounced Mao and his coterie, later known as the ‘Gang of Four’] was re-evaluated [literally, ‘rehabilitated’] and ever since then that date has no longer been one of any particular political sensitivity. This was precisely because [after Mao’s death, the authorities] ‘confronted a political problem by employing a political solution’ — as the old saying puts it: ‘when an army approaches a good general knows how to block its advance; when the waters rise we know how to sandbag against flooding’. Everyone took from that [decision regarding the 5 April 1976 Tiananmen Incident] what they wanted and all were satisfied.
That’s why, in light of the upcoming thirtieth anniversary of 4 June [in 2019], I would encourage Those In Power to find a suitable moment either this or next year to rehabilitate ‘4 June’ publicly [that is, to re-evaluate an event which is still officially classified as a necessary military action launched to quell a ‘counter-revolutionary rebellion’ by hooligans in Beijing against the Chinese state with the aim of toppling the Communist Party]. This would not only demonstrate a sincere and wise application of the principle of ‘politics embracing the political’, it would also mean that from then on there would be no need to treat the 4th of June every year like a political emergency. [The authorities, that is Xi Jinping] would clear the way for all Chinese to enjoy a peaceful coexistence, it would uplift people psychologically and benefit [the party-state] by accruing political capital to its legitimacy.
The Hopes outlined above merely articulate what one would call contemporary political commonsense; they also reflect widespread appeals and desires [regularly expressed] within the populace at large. Herein I am — to use an old expression — ‘Putting My Life on the Line Simply to Say What Everyone Knows and Thinks’.
In this vast world of great disorder, if there is no reasonable way to express such views [說法] there can then be no [reasonable way to legitimate them through appropriate] legislation [立法]. And, in that case, neither I nor the Masses have a way to live [活法] [without fear]. What to do? Alas and Alack indeed!
4: In What is a Period of Transition
Don’t panic just yet since, although over the past two years the world has entered a mini-cycle of political adjustment, the dust has far from settled. For China to get through this period what is of crucial importance is that the nation must continue along its chosen path of sustained internal reform while focusing on raising the standard of living and ameliorating the wellbeing of the people. What matters for China and the world is that this particular Grand Ship of State continues to catch the wind in its sails as it peacefully steers a course on the way to continued political normality.
Conflict and warfare are part and parcel of the inherently violent nature of the human animal. The Sacred Duty of politicians living during a period of historical opportunity like today is to delay or avoid entirely the outbreak of hostilities. This is a great test for the wisdom and moral probity of the Meat-Eaters [肉食者, an ancient term from pre-dynastic times that refers to the social and political elite who, according to court regulations, were permitted to eat meat]. Human beings are, above all, political animals, and politics is the ultimate expression of human ingenuity. What is necessary in the here and now is that, no matter what the present situation happens to be, we cannot allow ourselves to deviate from the grand course of Peaceful Development. We have a period of historic opportunity that can only be seized on by the wise. We don’t need heedless antagonism; at all costs we must not cast aside the good hand that we have been dealt.
The Great Powers on either side of the Pacific [China and the United States] now find themselves by chance ‘Under the Rule of Old Red Guards’ [this is a somewhat baffling description, first in regard to Donald Trump, a roué whose tone is more tangerine than red and, secondly, mystifying in the case of Xi Jinping who was more of a ‘Blackguard’ 黑幫, that is from a family under attack in the early Cultural Revolution, than a ‘Red Guard’ 紅衛兵]. This is and can only something that happens in a transitional moment; it’s the typical kind of unruly coincidence that occurs during periods of heightened historical drama. On this side of the ocean we have One who has no real historical awareness or truly modern political sensibility, let alone a moral vision that reflects an awareness of the principles of universal civilisation. The One is blind to the Grand Way of current affairs and is scarred indelibly by a political brand from the Cultural Revolution. Overweening pride and official competence leads this One to bend his efforts to serve the wrong ends; talented enough to play the bureaucratic game, and doubtlessly masterful at achieving high office, but as for Guiding the Nation along the Correct Path, [what the One does] is worse than arrant time-wasting for there is something perverse at work.
And there, on the other side of the Pacific, a crowd of the Ghoulish Undead nurtured on the politics of the Great Game and the Cold War have taken the stage. Certainly, they have their own analysis of world affairs and an particular understanding of the cultural upheavals of today, but like their opposite number here, they lack a truly historical perspective; they are shortsighted and avaricious. Since their diagnosis is faulty, the prescriptions they offer are completely off the mark. Trained in a mercantilism that favoured the capitalist elite, with a personality amplified by bloated self-regard and the lifetime habits of rapaciousness, the result is [a person possessed of] a prideful quasi-imperial mindset that is coupled to heinous vulgarity. We now have [to deal with] the crudest of blackmailers, a person who knows no shame. What, therefore, [in the case of the United States today] we are presented with is but a degraded civilisation under the tutelage of a flailing and desperate imperialism that is itself in terminal decline. Their boastful and vainglorious patriotism stokes the fires of national disaster; we know them all too well as ‘Patriot-Scoundrels’ [愛國賊, literally ‘patriot thieves’; a kind of shyster who boastfully promotes themselves while sullying everything in the guise of loyalty].
Be it in China or abroad, in the present or in the past: we’ve seen their kind before. One is reminded of those [recent] jokes about how ‘Bad People Have Gotten Older’ [a reference to a popular comic observation that: ‘It’s not that old people have suddenly turned bad, it’s just that bad people have gotten older’ 不是老人變壞了，而是壞人變老了]. Everyone is the product of the education they receive. So [for the ‘Old Red Guard’ on that side of the ocean, Donald Trump] there’s no way he can break out of those self-made shackles; he simply doesn’t give a damn on top of which he’s completely lacking in self-awareness. Dealing with new problems within the framework of an out-of-touch mindset while nonetheless exuding supreme confidence, je inevitably make the mistakes of the willful. Their ideas and policies are, as Alexis de Tocqueville said [of the Ancien Régime], nothing more than a load of musty debris. [Note: Like autocrats elsewhere, Chinese Communist Party leaders are fascinated by the history of regime collapse. Shortly after joining the Standing Committee of the Party’s ruling Politburo in late 2012, and as head of the Central Disciplinary Commission charged with oversight of Xi Jinping’s ‘signature’ anti-corruption campaign, Wang Qishan 王歧山 recommended that his underlings study de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution.]
At this moment, taking stock of the general tenor of discussion in the Chinese-speaking world, and the mindset that it reflects, it is evident that a kind of political awareness based on civilian rationalism has come into maturity; nor is it lacking in proud righteousness. What would appear to be deficient, however, is a cultural self-awareness based on national rationality, in particular people seem to have difficulty identifying National Rationality as it relates to the political relations between nations, and National Rationality in terms of how citizens engage with their own political lives [that is, emotionalism leads people to act against their own, and their country’s self-interest]. The confusion between the two, with neither besting the other, in some cases leads people to admire that Old Red Guard reprobate on the other side of the Pacific. These tyros end up being little better than those rednecks from the Rust Belt. To apply a famous line from a famous person, they are ‘Too Young, Too Simple’ [this is a jocular reference to former Party leader, Jiang Zemin, who once berated a young Hong Kong journalist for their naïveté. Here the Chinese transliteration of ‘too young, too simple’ — tǔ-yàng-tǔ-suī-pɑo 土樣土尿泡 — is a play on Jiang’s Yangzhou-accented English pronunciation. In the original, Jiang added ‘sometimes naïve’]. At the same time, the appeal of [our own] political system is insufficient, resulting in an insufficient or weak sense of identity. The result is a strange contradiction between Citizens and Civic Awareness. But then again, although the ‘Great Qing’ 大清 [dynasty ruled by the Manchus] was enmeshed with ‘China’ 中華, they weren’t really one and the same thing at all.
You [Communists] ‘Rule the Rivers and Mountains’ [坐江山, a traditional expression that indicates control over the geo-political and civilisational realm of China]; you ‘Gorge Yourselves on the Rivers and Mountains’ [literally, ‘Eat/ consume the Rivers and Mountains’ 吃江山] but, when Your Rivers and Mountains are in trouble [江山有事了], suddenly we’re all expected to pull together and [help you] ‘Protect the Rivers and Mountains’ [保江山] as well as ‘Join as One to Overcome Present Difficulties’ [that have resulted from the trade war]. What utter nonsense! There is discussion in the non-official media that although certain figures are seemingly busying themselves [in negotiations] they are really acting as they though they aren’t Chinese; instead they devote their real energies to coming up with ways to convenience the other side. Oddly enough, this is not all that surprising. After all, this is the kind of scenario you should expect in a nation that lacks a coherent and unifying focus.
Moreover, putting aside debates about identity and what ‘Being Chinese’ really means, given the present situation, there are those Prophets who each say their piece and in their proud justifications end up finding no common ground for compromise. Let repeat my previous observation: a nation’s maturity relies on the nurturing authority of its intellectual elite, and for their wisdom to have full sway they require a freedom of spirit. All the red noise and attempts to silence it cannot detract from the realities of shared human ideas. It is necessary to rejecting the misguided folly and pridefulness of any and all Absolute Authorities. In China it is necessary to call for an end to the ever-increasing censorship and to give freedom of expression back to the intelligentsia [讀書人, literally, ‘those who read books’]. For only then, and only with the painstaking work of generations, can the motherlode of Chinese Civilisation be regenerated and nurtured, its role protected and its relevance strengthened. Only then will it be possible to face unfolding possibilities with clear-sightedness, or to be able to respond calmly to immediate challenges so that we can apply ourselves to practical service in the world.
At present, the Authorities repeatedly claim that despite the Trade War they will not change the basic national policy of Reform and the Open Door; they will not slacken their efforts to pursue economic development via continued open-door exchange; and they reaffirm their determination to work collectively to protect the multilateral system. Echoing this stand, a series of related policies have been announced, so there seems to be a measure of certainty. This should be regarded as further evidence of the ‘Open Door [to the outside] Forcing [Further] Reform [on the inside]’. It’s a particularly Chinese kind of developmental path dependence. Yet despite [all the talk], we have yet to see any actual internal reforms. ‘Though the heavens may resound with thunder, only a few drops of rain are falling’; despite all the expressions of sincerity [from the Authorities], the lack of practical results leaves people cold and with no choice but to look on from the sidelines unconvinced.
And so that’s why I have offered here my Eight Immediate Hopes — a series of concrete policy suggestions that I believe to be of timely relevance. Let’s just see what happens. Forget all the pretty talk about You being willing and able to take action. We’d be delighted if you managed to implement just one of the Eight Hopes. If you carry out three or four, we’ll sing your praises and bless you in our hearts. Now, if you manage all eight then the whole of China will rejoice rapturously. Earlier this year, the Supremo said a series of impressive policy measures would be launched to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Reform and Open Door. Well, we’ve already passed the six-month mark and, although we are still wanting to believe, we’re waiting.
And, furthermore, while I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to say: there are only fifty to sixty households in Liangjiahe Village in Shaanxi, and the place only has a population of over a hundred people [where Xi Jinping spent seven supposedly formative years; nowadays as part of the state-manufactured Xi Cult, Liangjiahe is accorded the status of a ‘sacred site’]. But, despite such modest statistics the place boasts a representative office in Shanghai along with an exhibition space for showcasing local agriculture produce. It’s obvious that the unassuming and frugal farmers [of Liangjiahe] didn’t come up with any of this themselves. Rather, one imagines that the whole performance is being stage-managed by a duet of bureaucrats and businessmen, each in hot pursuit of their own ends.
Then there was a report informing us that the Supreme People’s Procuratorate was creating the 12309 Disciplinary Investigative Service Centre. The Party Secretary of Liangjiahe — a place that has absolutely nothing to do with any of it — was invited to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony [for the centre in late June 2018]. On the day, a scrum of eunuchs was on hand, all to them eager to pursue their own agendas, kissing arse as they flaunted their shamelessness. And, as for the Academy of Social Sciences in Shaanxi announcing that it was pursuing a research project titled ‘The Profound Wisdom of Liangjiahe’ [announced on 21 June 2018 and disbanded on the orders of Beijing in early July], along with all of the research topics devoted to the Personality Cult and Leader Worship, I have this to say: they are antediluvian, they fly in the face of progress and are an affront to credulity; they are grotesque, cringeworthy and much, much more. As for all of this to do: it’s simply too much, too excessive, over the top, as those involved vie to outdo each other. All of these things serve to drag us back to the Dark Ages of fearfulness and deprivation. [觳觫苟存; 觳觫 húsù is used in Mencius to describe the trembling of an ox being led to slaughter; 苟存 gǒucún means ‘living in dire circumstances barely able to survive’.]
That’s all I’ve got to say now. We’ll see what Fate has in store; only Heaven can judge the nation’s fortunes.
— July 2018