What’s New About Such Thinking?

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The Best China, II

China Heritage celebrated the 1st of October National Day of the People’s Republic of China by introducing the work of Lee Yee 李怡 (李秉堯), a celebrated essayist and political analyst. We regard the work of writers like Lee Yee, and the Chinese realm it reflects — Hong Kong — as being part of The Best China.

In this second instalment of ‘The Best China’, we translate another recent commentary from Lee Yee’s ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生 column published by Apple Daily 蘋果日報. It follows on from an observation that Lee made some weeks before Chinese Communist leaders convened the Nineteenth Congress of their political party in Beijing in mid October:

The New China News Agency reports that during Politburo deliberations regarding the Communist Party’s Constitution it was decided that ‘major theoretical advances and thinking would be included’ in a revised document. The report offered no further details but it is rumoured that the ‘major thinking’ mentioned here is Xi Jinping Thought. That means that Xi Thought will leap over the theoretic contributions both of Hu Jintao and of Jiang Zemin — and even that of Deng Xiaoping — to share equal billing with Mao Zedong Thought itself. 中共十九大將召開,官方的新華社報道,中共政治局討論了黨章修改稿,確定要把「重大理論和思想寫入黨章」。報道沒有具體說明,但傳聞所謂的重大思想就是「習近平思想」,意味習的地位將超越胡、江甚至鄧小平,與「毛澤東思想」同以「思想」稱,與毛平起平坐了。

— 李怡《歷史車輪》, 2017年9月21日

(See also The Ayes Have It, China Heritage, 18 October 2017.)


In previous comments on the revised Chinese Communist Party Constitution of 24 October 2017, we noted that as head of the  party-state-army Chairman-of-Everything and Chairman-for-Life Xi Jinping is now also Chairman of Everyone (黨政軍民學) and Chairman of Everywhere (東南西北中). We are grateful to Lee Yee for permission to translate his observations on Xi Jinping Thought.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
le Quartier Français
5 November 2017

Reading Into Xi Thought


Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


Let’s take a moment to examine just what ‘Xi Jinping Thought for the New Epoch of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ really means. 且就字面意義解讀被中共列入黨章的「習近平新時代中國特色社會主義思想」。

What exactly is ‘thought’? It means the views of an individual; if you’re human you think. Of course, everyone’s thinking is influenced by that of others, but when it comes down to it your thoughts are your own. One person can’t think on behalf of another. People invariably have new thoughts, and they can lead to creativity and flashes of insight. All innovations come about because people having new thoughts; that’s what creativity is. If a society places One Thought above all others and restricts itself to the thinking of one individual, creativity will wither. During the Cultural Revolution the whole nation studied the Thought of Mao Zedong. At the time the [Hong Kong satirist] San Su observed: ‘Why can’t I think Mao Zedong Thought? Because I’m not Mao Zedong.’ It’s a comment that went straight to the heart of the matter. 何謂「思想」?思想是指一個人的想法,只要是人,就有思想。每個人的思想雖會受他人影響,但思想基本上是屬於個人的,自發的。一個人不可能有另一個人的思想。人的思想總會有些新想法,由此產生創意,點子。人類種種創新都源於個人的新想法,即創造力。若整個社會思想定於一尊,受一個人的思想所規限,社會就不會有創造力。文革時全國學習毛澤東思想,當時作家三蘇就說:為甚麼我無法學習毛澤東思想?因為我不是毛澤東。這是一針見血的評論。

What then is ‘socialism’? It’s a theory that propounds that a society should be treated as a whole and that as such all of its capital and resources should be allocated in an equitable fashion. In nineteenth-century Europe people advocated various forms of socialism. The Marx-Engels version of socialism that is taken as an article of faith by the Chinese Communists holds that socialism is a transitional social formation on the way to the realisation of Communism. Socialism is the result of inequalities created by capitalism. Equality is the core of socialism. For over a century, the concept that ‘socialism = equality’ has been challenged theoretically and confounded by reality. 何謂「社會主義」?社會主義(socialism)是一種社會學理論,主張整個社會作為整體,擁有和控制所有資產、資源,並作平等分配。19世紀社會主義在西歐發展出不同分支。中共信奉的馬克思恩格斯認為社會主義是資本主義向共產主義過渡的社會形態。社會主義的產生基礎是針對資本主義造成的貧富不均。平等,是社會主義核心。100多年來社會主義對平等的追求,既受到理論的有力質疑,亦在實踐中被證失敗。

What then to make of ‘Chinese characteristics’? There’s no standard interpretation of this formulation. None of the Fourteen Basic Strategies to ‘grow Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ listed in Xi Jinping’s report to the Nineteenth Communist Party Congress mention ‘equality’, something that is a universally recognised core element of socialism. Therefore, one could say that ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ is a socialism that has abandoned the basic principle of socialism. The Fourteen Strategies emphasise the leadership of the Communist Party and the absolute control of the army by the Communist Party. They validate one-party rule and the monopolisation of power. 何謂「中國特色」?中國特色沒有一個標準解釋。根據習近平十九大報告提到的「發展中國特色社會主義」的十四條基本方略,無一條提到「平等」這個全世界對社會主義的最基本認識。因此,可以這樣說:「中國特色社會主義」就是拋棄社會主義基本原則的社會主義。十四條強調黨的領導、黨對軍隊的絕對領導等,顯示中國特色就是一黨專政、權力私有。

The Hall of Shared Righteousness, brick carving 磚雕 at the Chen Clan Temple in Guangzhou 廣州陳家祠.

As for the ‘New Epoch’: what’s that? Everyone at any time can claim that they’re in a new era. A new epoch is merely the political, economic and lived reality of a certain time. As Chinese Netizens observed about the Party Congress: ‘it chose to employ the technology of the Outlaws of the Marsh at Mount Liang [the focus of the action of Water Margin 水滸傳, aka Outlaws of the Marsh, a classical novel about a group of 108 rebels who defy the Throne]. The Congress abandoned technology [that allows people to cast ballots anonymously] in favour of an old-style show of hands.’ In the New Epoch they employ the methods of the Old Epoch. [As the Netizen observation put it:] ‘That’s so the Man on Top could see who opposed him. The old ways are the best ways: once the unruly “outlaws of the marsh” — people usually occupied with attacking and obliterating each other — gathered in the ‘Hall of Shared Righteousness’ [where the rebels in the novel met] they valued their lives so much that every motion was passed unanimously. 何謂「新時代」?任何時代,身處其中的人都可以說這是新時代。新時代,應解釋為適應當代的政治、經濟體制和生活、處事方式。大陸網民有指「棄用表決器而用土法傳承的舉手方式表決」是「梁山泊選舉大會」的方式,不用說這是舊時代方式,「乃因誰支持、誰反對老子皆可一目了然!土法恒久遠,一招永流傳。之所以在選舉表決時充份保證100%的通過率,皆因這些平時靠打打殺殺混進聚義廳的各路綠林中人,都比較珍惜生命罷了!」


The politicians in the West who represent a new generation are the expression of a new era. In May this year, the thirty-nine year-old Emmanuel Macron became the youngest president in French history. In June, Leo Varadkar, a thirty-eight year old became the youngest Irish Taoiseach. That same month Austria voted in a chancellor who was not quite thirty-one. And, just when everyone thought that the Labor Party in New Zealand had no hope of claiming electoral victory, ten days ago Jacinda Ardern, a woman born in the 1980s, became prime minister of that country! It would seem then that a new era is one in which a new generation takes the political stage. Although their political acumen still has to be tested, there is no denying that at least they are ‘new’. A system that demands people wearing adult diapers who constantly nod off while sitting through a political report that takes 200 minutes to be read out loud is hardly one that represents a New Epoch. 真正體現「新時代」的,是今年以來西方政壇紛紛產生的「新世代」。今年5月,39歲的Emmanuel Macron,成為法國近代史上最年輕的總統;6月,38歲的Leo Varadkar成為愛爾蘭最年輕的總理;同一個月,剛滿31歲的Sebastian Kurz成為奧地利總理!當人們認為新西蘭工黨絕無勝算時,十天前新西蘭選出了一位80後女總理──Jacinda Ardern!新時代的重要特徵似是新世代主導政治舞台。他們的政績當然有待考驗,但「新」卻是不爭的事實。帶着紙尿布打着瞌睡聽200分鐘講話的體制,很難說是新時代吧。

And, what of ‘Xi Jinping’ himself? Do I really have to say this? To put an individual’s name ahead of a pile of dogmas reminds me of something that [the former Chinese Party General Secretary] Hu Yaobang said [at the end of the Cultural Revolution as the personality cult of Mao Zedong was being dismantled]:

As soon as you create a personality cult, there is no room for democracy, no place to seek truth from facts, no hope for the liberation of thinking; what is inevitable is the restoration of feudalism. There is nothing more pernicious than this.


— 李怡, 「習思想」解讀, 2017年10月30日


The Pantheon of Party Thinkers:


— from the Chinese Communist Party Constitution, 24 October 2017