Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University
It is three years to the day since we inaugurated China Heritage by publishing the essay ‘A Monkey King’s Journey to the East’. In our discussion of the incoming president of the United States of America we observed that:
The Chinese Communist Party under its Chairman of Everything, Xi Jinping, hasn’t had to confront such an erratic and populist leader since Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution fifty years ago.
By the same token, America has had to deal with a Chinese leader who has brought a disconcerting new focus and vaunting ambition to his overlordship of the Chinese party-state and its relationship with the outside world.
In July 2018, the Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun published an unsparing critique of both leaders (see Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes — a Beijing Jeremiad 我們當下的恐懼與期待, China Heritage, 1 August 2018). That essay — one that was both polemic and philippic — was one of a cycle of works written by Professor Xu during that year in which he discussed China’s momentous struggle with modernity, the state of the nation under Xi Jinping and the mixed prospects for its future. Those collected essays were to be published as a book in Hong Kong in May 2020 under the title Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog — 許章潤著 《戊戌六章》. The authorities forced the publishing house to drop the project, although the volume did eventually appear in June 2020, but with a Chinese-language publisher based in New York. (See 《戊戌六章》 China’s Ongoing Crisis: Six Chapters from the Wuxu Year of the Dog, New York: Boden Books 博登書屋.)
The 2018 Year of the Dog, a ‘Wuxu Year’ according to the traditional Chinese calendar, marked the 120th anniversary of the ‘Wuxu Reforms’ 戊戌變法, also know as the Hundred Day Reforms of 1898 百日維新. At that time, the Guangxu Emperor, the ruler of the Qing dynasty, supported a group of political strategists who had devised an ambitious program to advance further dynastic renewal and national modernisation. A palace coup led to the emperor being placed under house arrest and the arrest and execution of a number of the reformers — they are celebrated to this day as the ‘Six Gentlemen of Wuxu’ 戊戌六君子. The urgent changes that had been supported by the emperor were overturned and a dangerous new era of autocratic rule began. The consequences of that coup proved to be fatal for the Qing dynasty, which collapsed in 1912.
Xu Zhangrun’s ‘Wuxu Essays’, all of which focus on the threat of renewed autocracy under Xi Jinping and the pressing need for legal and political reform in China, were revised and collected in a single volume despite the fact that, from March 2019, their author had been formally banned by Tsinghua University from undertaking any academic work, pursuing any writing projects or publishing any material. As we have previously noted, despite that interdiction Xu remained defiant. He declared that: ‘I will not submit, I will not be cowed’ 老子不服，老子不怕.
We plan to publish a translation of Xu Zhangrun’s introduction to Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog but, before we do so, we offer here an essay that the Good Professor invited me to write for that volume. An annotated translation of this essay will also appear in these pages in due course.
I would like to thank my dear friend Warren Sun 孫萬國 for reading the draft of this essay and for suggestions that not only improved the text but that saved me from untoward embarrassment. I would also like to take this occasion to celebrate the four decades of our friendship — Warren and I met in Canberra in 1980, having been introduced to each other by my mentor and former employer, the editor and writer Lee Yee 李怡.
Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
1 January 2020
「欲攘外，亟須自強；欲自強，必先致富；欲致富，必首在振工商；欲振工商，必先講求學校、速立憲法、尊重道德、改良政治」 乃《危言》之宗旨。時過境未遷，「立憲法、重道德、改政治」之當今訴求，迫在眉睫，更有甚於往昔者。世道雖曰詭譎多變，當局不思自我改造，與時偕行，反而諉罪於外夷魑魅。華夏舊邦，其命維新。由1898至2018，「重道德、改政治」 的戊戌變法，益發為今日中國刻不容緩的命題。
先生近年系列時文，集成於此。其篇篇力作皆針對同治中興以降的「中國問題」（ The China Syndrome），及現今國朝之「中國方案」或「中國之治」， 針砭現狀、痛陳時弊。其「仰觀吐曜，俯察含章」的才思與文字，堪稱為三不朽之典範。區區不才，貿然應允作序，為着是先生耳提面命的魅力， 更是為着先生以情以愛、昌明「護心」的要義。其文旨在喊話有心人，同時裨益於普世。
拙文蒙好友 孫萬國兄 潤飾、斧正之恩，于此謹表謝忱。