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Deliberative Dictatorship?
March 6, 2008 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Paradoxically, the power of the Chinese intellectual is amplified by China's repressive political system, where there are no opposition parties, no independent trade unions, no public disagreements between politicians and a media that exists to underpin social control rather than promote political accountability. Intellectual debate in this world can become a surrogate for politics—if only because it is more personal, aggressive and emotive than anything that formal politics can muster.
China's New intelligensia

But see also:
China 'graylists' its intellectuals
In China, Talk of Democracy Is Simply That
China Detains Dissident, Citing Subversion
posted by anotherpanacea (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Say what you will about China, but you're less likely to end up a prisoner there than you are here in the US.
posted by mullingitover at 9:03 AM on March 6, 2008


...but you're less likely to end up a prisoner there than you are here in the US.

Did you control for "being careful what you say"?
posted by DU at 9:07 AM on March 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Say what you will about China, but you're less likely to end up a prisoner there than you are here in the US.
posted by mullingitover at 9:03 AM on March 6


Fly over with 5000 pamphlets describing, with pictures, the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Begin handing them out in the Forbidden City. See if you make it back to your blog that afternoon.
posted by plexi at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2008


plexi writes "Fly over with 5000 pamphlets describing, with pictures, the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Begin handing them out in the Forbidden City. See if you make it back to your blog that afternoon."

Here in the US, you have to do something worse to get into trouble. Like be a Democrat and become governor of Alabama.
posted by mullingitover at 9:24 AM on March 6, 2008


Here in the US, you have to do something worse to get into trouble. Like be a Democrat and become governor of Alabama.

...or hug someone under the age of 18.
...or take a picture of a cop.
...or exercise your right of peaceful assembly.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I read the article in your first link earlier in the week and quite enjoyed it, if finding it a bit broad-brush in parts. That would be inevitable given the familiarity of his readership with the subject and space restrictions though.
I've seen some of the influence that the kind of consultation process with intellectuals he mentions can have - I followed the debate in the run-up to the revised trade union law that came into effect in 2001, and intellectuals did help push it to becoming a slightly more useful piece of legislation for the defence of worker's rights. There's certainly been a lot of input into rural policy from left economists like Wen Tiejun as well, who coined many of the buzz-words used in debate.
There's a bit of a revolving door between the think-tanks and government these days. One influential human rights scholar at the law academy I did some work for was later appointed to a senior government post with some security oversight (in what was seen as a liberalising move) and retiring senior officials will often end up with a berth at some academic institute.
Glad you chose to link to the story about the brouhaha over the list of public intellectuals though, because that's the other side of the coin - a deep unease in the Party for those who speak from outside of the framework it dictates. Really, within that framework you have everything from the most google-eyed of free-marketeers to some very tankie old Stalinists and they can all rub along with just the odd outburst of verbal venom. It's when you seek to build something entirely independent that things get sticky. I very much enjoyed Geremie Barmé's comparisons with the kept intellectuals of the old eastern bloc and the "velvet prison" in his book In the Red. That focuses on the artistic and cultural world but has some value in reference to the wider intellectual milieu IMO.
posted by Abiezer at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2008


Fly over with 5000 pamphlets describing, with pictures, the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Begin handing them out in the Forbidden City. See if you make it back to your blog that afternoon.

To be fair, you could disappear in the penal system in the United States, or worse, depending on where and whom you are protesting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:29 AM on March 6, 2008


It's funny, I just read something by Chomsky that said the same thing about the Soviet Union vs the USA. It was dealing with manufactured consent or somesuch.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:47 AM on March 6, 2008


Jesus fucking Christ, people. This post is not about the USA. Not everything is about you and your country.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Fuck stupid little flame wars. Read the article, it's absolutely fascinating.

Wang Hui's quote:
"China is caught between the two extremes of misguided socialism and crony capitalism, and suffering from the worst elements of both..."

This quote embodies the"broad-brushed", as Abiezer said, description of the enormous obstacles of modernizing China. However, it does give good insight for a westerner who is familiar with the problems that comes with both ideologies, especially since it comes from a native who pays close attention to the problems.

The author is trying to make the subject more accessible to Americans, but the usage of "neocon" when describing the "new right" in China brings unwanted connotation to what the author is identifying because it describes a very specific kind of American political alignment; I'm still uncertain about what he means by it because he doesn't distinguish old right communists from the new.

More insight would come by knowing differences between China's Left and Right because they're not the same in any two countries, especially when comparing China to the United States.

Great post, thanks much.
posted by hellslinger at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uh yeah so back to China...
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:01 AM on March 6, 2008


Jesus fucking Christ, people. This post is not about the USA. Not everything is about you and your country.

It's going to take a while for people to get used to this.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


hellslinger - the author does modify that to "neo-comm" (as in communist) though doesn't he - to point up the identification these figures have with maintaining elements of what could broadly be called a socialist model. It's been interesting in the recent arguments over privatisation of the land though, because that doesn't split along quite the ideological lines you might expect. In some arenas you can frame the debate as choosing between moving towards a more European social democratic model or a US one - certainly that's how I saw the sides lining up in recent debates over health reforms.
Wang Hui is one of the thinkers feature in a recent compilation of essays called One China Many Paths. I confess I've not read all of them myself yet, but from waht I have and being aware of some of the other authors included, it's a pretty good, more substantial introduction to some of the strands in contemporary Chinese thought and about the only thing of its type in English I recall seeing.
posted by Abiezer at 11:26 AM on March 6, 2008


Abiezer,

Thanks for the link to the essays, I can't wait to read them.

I did pick up that "neo-comm", which started as being Chinese neocon, implied a socialism, but knowing that there is a difference between neocon and "classical conservatism" in this country (adding neo in front of con means that), his usage suggests that there is a new and distinct kind of communist ideology emerging from the likes of Mao and Xiaoping, as the author mentions. Either way, it's a stretch that only adds to the confusion rather than make it more accessible.
posted by hellslinger at 12:25 PM on March 6, 2008


That's a fair point - more confusing than enlightening. There was also the historical Neo-Confucianism and a strand of modern thinking that's recently grow fairly influential on the Mainland usually called New Confucianism in English, so probably not a wise choice of contraction even in a purely Chinese context, as I thought he might have meant the latter on first skim.
posted by Abiezer at 12:42 PM on March 6, 2008


Some bits I liked:
Yu Keping is like the Zhang Weiying of political reform. He is a rising star and an informal adviser to President Hu Jintao. He runs an institute that is part university, part think tank, part management consultancy for government reform. When he talks about the country's political future, he often draws a direct analogy with the economic realm. When I last met him in Beijing, he told me that overnight political reform would be as damaging to China as economic "shock therapy." Instead, he has promoted the idea of democracy gradually working its way up from successful grassroots experiments. He hopes that by promoting democracy first within the Communist party, it will then spread to the rest of society. Just as the coastal regions were allowed to "get rich first," Yu Keping thinks that party members should "get democracy first" by having internal party elections.
The idea that democracy is a cure for what ails a dictatorial regime that is nonetheless harmful if taken in large doses has been confirmed everywhere, yet many democratic theorists seem unable to get past the idea of a gradual, grass-roots reform of institutions in increasingly democratic directions. Avoiding mass rule was the key to the founding of the American Republic, but we always forget that lesson. Why not start small and expand?
The thing that interested him the most was the distinction that ancient Chinese scholars made between two kinds of order: the "Wang" (which literally means "king") and the "Ba" ("overlord"). The "Wang" system was centred on a dominant superpower, but its primacy was based on benign government rather than coercion or territorial expansion. The "Ba" system, on the other hand, was a classic hegemonic system, where the most powerful nation imposed order on its periphery. Yan explains how in ancient times the Chinese operated both systems: "Within Chinese Asia we had a 'Wang' system. Outside, when dealing with 'barbarians,' we had a hegemonic system. That is just like the US today, which adopts a 'Wang' system inside the western club, where it doesn't use military force or employ double standards. On a global scale, however, the US is hegemonic, using military power and employing double standards." According to Yan Xuetong, China will have two options as it becomes more powerful. "It could become part of the western 'Wang' system. But this will mean changing its political system to become a democracy. The other option is for China to build its own system."
This is scary, but China is the reality that most Americans refuse to face, except as enemy or neo-Soviet threat. I'm endlessly fascinated by local attempts to make sense of global problems, which always requires a translation between small-scale traditional concepts (the overlord) and large-scale modernisms like 'hegemony.'

Anyway, thanks for the essay link, Abiezer: it's good to have some depth to add to the breadth that most of us still need to understand China.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:58 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heh... should have googled more before I posted. Check out this excellent little piece from the New Left Review on Dushu, a review magazine that became the locus of a number of these contemporary debates for the Chinese 'new left,' and was edited by Wang Hui and Huang Ping.

NO FORBIDDEN ZONE IN READING? Dushu and the Chinese Intelligentsia

posted by anotherpanacea at 1:18 PM on March 6, 2008


The New Left Review is one of the best sources for decent translations of contemporary Chinese thinkers (though obviously from one particular side of the ideological divide). I've linked to their interview with Qin Hui all over the shop, as he's a thinker I admire, and I did an FPP of one piece by an former teacher of mine a while back. I wish they would pay me to shill for them :D
posted by Abiezer at 1:29 PM on March 6, 2008


Quick scan of the Dushu piece you link looks great, but I'll have to save it for tomorrow as my stock of midnight oil is running low.
posted by Abiezer at 1:33 PM on March 6, 2008


Intellectualism is all well and good, but if it's not tempered by common sense it can be every bit as much a disaster as the worst sorts of ignorance. It is not uncommon for bright people to make really dumb decisions.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:55 PM on March 6, 2008


To get some historical perspective on the current Communist regime in China I recommend reading "Mao, The Unknown Story", by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.
posted by rickh at 6:30 AM on March 7, 2008


I never bothered with that in the end, rickh. They had access to new archives in the old Soviet sphere, but I was put off by various sinologists I respect saying it was just an over-the-top hatchet job on Mao. Not that he doesn't deserve condemnation, more that as they write it he was completely useless too and only got to the top and stayed there by sheer luck, which is just ridiculous if the case. I thought Philip Short's bio that came out a few years before that did a much better job of putting the man in context without any airbrushing either.
I will try and skim the Chang and Halliday effort though, just for the new material, but they had too much of an axe to grind for it to be a valuable overview of the history is the impression I've been given.
posted by Abiezer at 8:07 AM on March 7, 2008


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