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China’s ‘Perfect Dictatorship’ and Its Impact — An Interview With Professor Stein Ringen

China Change, November 6, 2018 

Teng Biao interviewed Prof. Stein Ringen on August 2, 2018 and October 5 via Skype. Stein Ringen is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Oxford and Professor of Political Economy at King’s College London. Teng Biao is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University and a Chinese human rights lawyer. – The Editors


Ringen_the perfect dictatorship

 Teng Biao (TB): I think your book, The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century, is one of the best books on Chinese politics in recent years. Is this your first book on China? What inspired you to study China?

Stein Ringen (SR): First, I’m interested in governments and states and how they work. This is the biggest and most challenging one. So if you want to understand states you need to understand the Chinese state, and so there’s the challenge. The other reason is that I had already done a study of the South Korean state. And I thought that the developmental states’ experience of Korea might be a relevant background for looking into the Chinese story. I thought it might be rather similar. In fact, it turned out that the Chinese story is very, very different.

TB: Yes, and then you wrote the book The Perfect Dictatorship. Why did you choose this title?

SR: I found that it is a dictatorship that is, from its own point of view, functioning very well. It is a dictatorship that is in full control. So my idea with the title was not to praise the Chinese system but to give a warning that this is a dictatorship that is very hard, and very much in control.

TB: In your book you created some interesting concepts, like “controlocracy.” What do you want to suggest by creating this term?

SR: The idea was, on the one hand, to say that this is a regime that is dictatorial, but in a way that sometimes it doesn’t even look dictatorial. It is obsessed with being in control. It is not obsessed with dictating everyone in their daily lives. It’s not like under Mao that people have to dress in a certain way or like certain forms of entertainment. But, it is in control. So control is the commanding feature of this dictatorship and it is very good at keeping and staying in control. The party-state is everywhere. It sees everything and knows everything, and they are in their very big population in perfect control.

TB: Another thought-provoking term in your book is “sophisticated totalitarianism.” In a piece I wrote recently for ChinaFile, I cited your term and elaborated on it a bit. I wrote: “This totalitarianism is strict and refined without being brittle and dogmatic; it’s cruel and barbaric without being chaotic. China’s booming economy, social stability, and apparent popular support for Xi have fooled both the world and most Chinese citizens.”  What’s your view on the difference between this “sophisticated totalitarianism” and Stalin or Mao Zedong-style total control system? Is this system more adaptable, flexible and resilient, than traditional totalitarianism? Is the CCP able to learn from the collapse of other party-state dictatorships and maintain its own monopoly on power for quite a long time, say 40 or 50 years?

SR: It’s not acceptable. It is a very hard dictatorship and is therefore an unacceptable form of government. But they are very clever in making themselves look acceptable. I think both within China, but also in the outside world. As you know, people keep travelling to China and when they come back they are starry-eyed in admiration of the delivery of the system. So they are very much able to control their own narrative both at home and abroad. And, of course, they have learned very much from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in Beijing was studied very carefully. And they understood the weaknesses in the Soviet Union that they had to prevent at home. These are, for example, to never lose control of the narrative, to always consolidate the alliance between the Party and the military, to maintain surveillance and propaganda and censorship ruthlessly, and to never let go, and also to not allow factions in the Party system. This they learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union and they are determined that there shall not be a similar kind of collapse in the Chinese system.

TB: Former Singapore UN ambassador Kishore Mahbubani once said that every year tens of millions of Chinese people travel internationally and then they voluntarily go back to China. He used this as a strong example to praise the so-called “China Model.” What do you think are the reasons? Do you agree with that?

SR: Many Chinese are traveling. Mainly, I think, because they can afford it; they have enough money to be able to travel internationally. We know that very much in Europe, for example, that there are very many Chinese tourists who travel here. They go back. On the other hand, there are many people in China who leave the country either because they have to, you know something about that, or because they wish to send their children to education outside of China. They try to bring their own money out of China to invest it and secure it outside of China. So many of those who are able, are showing with their behavior that they do not have much confidence in the future of the Chinese regime. The idea that the Chinese regime is better, the Chinese model is better than a democratic model, for example, is a very powerful narrative from the regime’s side. But we need to keep priorities right here. It is not a system that is better just because it delivers development, because it does that at the cost of depriving all Chinese of freedom. We know about authoritarian, totalitarian regimes previously, and that is the main characteristic of this regime. It is to the benefit of some, but it deprives everyone of liberty and freedom.

TB: Relatedly, George Orwell’s 1984 was famously regarded as a perfect dictatorship, do you think China’s “controlocracy” is equal to 1984, or is it even an advanced version of 1984? And I also used the term “technical totalitarianism” to analyze the advanced version of totalitarianism in China, with such examples as networked “stability maintenance,” big data, street cameras, facial recognition, voiceprint recognition, artificial intelligence, DNA collection, strengthening of the secret police, the Great Firewall, etc. Are we exaggerating the ability of the dictators’ use of high-tech? Aren’t high-tech and new tools a double-edged sword that can be utilized by civil society or resisters as well? 

SR: Yes, China is very much like Orwell’s warning, including in the control of language, control of history, control of the narrative. But they have moved on because they now have technologies that Orwell could not even imagine at the time. And these technologies, these modern technologies, are being used for control in a very sophisticated way by the Chinese authorities. They are in control of the Internet. It was long thought to be obvious that no dictatorship can control the Internet. But the Chinese dictatorship is in control of it. They are actively using the Internet by engineering the stories that circulate. They are using other technologies, big data systems, facial recognition. All of this in order to control what is happening in their country. I mean this is now very advanced, particularly in Xinjiang, which is a police state of the kind that has never been seen previously. In the last few years, as you well know, the security budgets in that province have doubled year by year. And the control, explicit control there, by old-fashioned means –– police and military forces –– and modern means –– electronic surveillance, is still a kind that has never been seen previously. There has never been control of this kind anywhere in any country before, like the way we see now. We now see it unrolling in China.

TB: You know I was a human rights lawyer for 14 years in mainland China. Harshly speaking, during Hu Jintao’s era, we had some space to develop our human rights movement. And we felt that the Internet-related technology were more in favor of the civil society than the government, even though we knew both the human rights communities and the rulers made use of high tech. Now it seems that we should not be that optimistic.

SR: You know better than I do. The community of human rights lawyers has suffered very badly in China in the last several years. What was at one time, you say, a movement is now really crushed, and it has become very much more difficult for your brave colleagues to continue their work in China. Many have their businesses shut down. Many have been imprisoned, persecuted in other ways, and their ability to stay in touch with each other has been reduced very strongly. So it’s a very sad story what’s happened to that brave community. This is a story you know better than I do, but it is very hard to watch from the outside. There was a vibrant, brave community of lawyers, and they have really been taken down.

TB: Yes. The 709 crackdown on rights lawyers is the worst crackdown on lawyers since the legal system was reconstructed in 1978 after the Cultural Revolution. 

TB: Most people know that China is one of the most unfree countries, but forget China is also one of the most unequal countries. How does this inequality affect the CCP’s political legitimacy? Or is it a necessity of the one-party rule of the Communist Party?

SR: Well, in my book about China, I looked at both inequality, poverty and public services. And I looked at taxes. I found that the tax burden of the Chinese people is very, very high. What is returned to the people in the form of services is minimal. Inequality has been increasing very rapidly. So now China is one of the most unequal societies in the world. And I think this is part of the reason for the dictatorship, because these are realities that could not be maintained under a democratic system ––the combination of very heavy taxes and very inferior services. It just doesn’t always look like that to observers, but that is the way it is. So the system, the political economy, extracts enormous resources from households and returns to the household sector a system of rising inequality. That is explosive in any society and is part of the reason why this regime needs to maintain such draconian controls as they do.

TB: The ideology of Marxism-Communism-Maoism has gradually declined in China. The CCP, and most Chinese people believe in money and power. How does this shift influence the CCP’s rule? Is this the reason why Xi Jinping tried to resort to a return to ideology and a cult of personality? 

SR: Yes, among the innovations of Xi Jinping is the reintroduction of ideology, but now not Marxist ideology, but a strongly nationalistic ideology. His slogan of the “China Dream” and all that is a nationalistic narrative. So here we have a regime that is very strong, very dictatorial that is giving itself guidance by an ideology of nationalism and chauvinism. These are Xi Jinping’s innovations, the heart of his relentless movements of the regime into a heavier and heavier dictatorship.

TB: You mentioned nationalism. You know when the Chinese Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China, they strongly — and successfully — utilized nationalism. Theoretically, nationalism is in conflict with Marxist theory—i.e., communism and internationalism. So, from the beginning, paradoxically, the CCP employed a mix of Marxism and nationalism, and now maybe they feel they need more nationalism. Do you agree with that? 

SR: Yes I do. I think that part of the regime’s efforts to control the narrative is that they need an ideological superstructure. They need a story of purpose for the regime, and for the nation. And that they are now finding not in Marxist internationalism but in Chinese nationalism. And that story of nationalism has been notched up very strongly and very explicitly by Xi Jinping. This is again part of the control system. This is a regime that gives itself the praise that they have the support of the people, but at the same time, it never ever trusts in the support of the people. So they never relax controls even though they say that they are governing in such a way that they have the support of the people. They do not for one moment trust that that support is genuine. So they rely on controls.

TB::Some scholars noticed the similarity between the current Xi Jinping regime and Hitler’s Third Reich. The one-party rule and the total control of society. Ideology, propaganda, brainwashing, nationalism. What happened in Xinjiang is race discrimination, mass detention and cultural elimination, secret police and the cult of personality. So in your opinion, how possible is it that China’s political system goes toward fascism in the future? 

SR: Well it’s a system that has very many characteristics of fascism in it now. Important in that statement is the use of ideology. Deng Xiaoping and his followers presented themselves as non-ideological, just pragmatists, engineers of economic progress. That is all gone, and the regime is back to ideology. So it is a dictatorship that is very hard. I now call it a totalitarian system. It is a totalitarian system that is informed by ideology and that ideology is nationalistic. These are characteristics of fascist rule. Now, I think, we should always be aware that the Chinese system is very much of its own kind. It’s very different from anything else, but it is a system that has taken very clear likenesses with the characteristics of fascism under the rule of Xi Jinping.

This regime does not present itself to the world as a bully in the way, for example, Putin’s Russia does. It is a bullying state. Ask democracy activists, who routinely get beaten up. Ask human rights lawyers, who are now pretty much forbidden from practicing. Ask the people of Xinjiang, now a horrific police state, complete with a vast network of concentration camps. Ask international corporations that are forced to humiliate themselves and pay tribute if they want to do business, or governments in smaller countries if they want collaboration. Or ask neighboring countries around the South China Sea. But it is also a state with the clout and skill to disguise its bullying side and make itself look sophisticatedly elegant. 

TB: In a recent letter, you were publicly calling for China analysts to describe China as a totalitarian, not an authoritarian state. It aroused interesting debates. In your opinion, what are the academic and non-academic reasons behind the reluctance to categorize China as totalitarian? 

SR: I think there are now very few academic reasons for not categorizing the PRC as a totalitarian regime. I go by Hannah Arendt’s pioneering work and I think the PRC under Xi now fits the bill. The final straw has been the imposition of outright terror in Xinjiang.

In the debate following that open letter, there was much support for my position, but also, as you note, reluctance. Some of that reluctance is simple self-censorship. Many China scholars have invested their careers in work that requires being in China, having access to Chinese universities, archives and so on, and they cannot risk this being refused. That is understandable and I do not find it particularly upsetting. Another reason is what I have called “China fascination.” China, with its long history and rich culture, has an uncanny ability to fascinate. I think some academics in the field really wish for the best for China and the Chinese people and are for that reason reluctant to accept so negative a label as “totalitarian.” I think this kind of reluctance is misplaced, but also understandable. Related is a view that China is unique and that it is, therefore, too crude to apply a categorization that puts the Chinese regime in the same class as various other unpalatable regimes.

I should add that when I speak about totalitarianism in China it is of course the regime I am talking about and not the country, the culture or the people.

TB: You had analyzed the Chinese state as “trivial”. How “trivial”–– in your context, it means having no purpose beyond itself ––is the Chinese state? F.A. Hayek emphasized the “purposelessness” of a state. How should we understand the difference between purposelessness and triviality?

SR: I thought that one kind of dictatorship could be called “trivial” in the sense that it is nothing but control for the sake of control. There is no mission, no idea. I do not think that applies to the Chinese system, certainly not now. There is now a mission; there is an ideology, a vision of what this is for, and that vision is for China to regain its position as the Middle Kingdom in the world. This is a very ambitious idea that gives the dictatorship a purpose that makes it–– in my terminology––more than trivial. It makes it an ideological system, a system with a strong purpose of its own definition.

TB: So you mean Deng Xiaoping had no big ideology, and his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had less ideology, and Xi Jinping has more ambition to “make China great again?” 

SR: I mean that may have been the ambition all along. Deng Xiaoping perhaps understood that it would take time before China had the economic and other powers to really accept the ambition of making itself the central power in the world. Now, they have the economic and other powers. And they are hard at work in making China the dominant power in the world.

TB: Some people argue that Xi Jinping’s personal dictatorship is a collective choice of the Communist Party, when it is facing comprehensive crises –– political, financial, and ideological crises. Do you agree? 

SR: There’s always one branch of thinking about the Chinese system that says that it is in crisis. As you know, people have been predicting that it would collapse for a long time, but that hasn’t happened. I think it’s a system with many tensions in it. And I think Xi Jinping made his first mistake from his own point of view, his first mistake, when he had the time limits on the presidency abolished earlier this year. That was a mistake, because it wasn’t necessary. It was a display of power that was demonstrative; it pulled aside the curtain for the rest of the world to see that this is a ruthless dictatorship where the top man can change the constitution by flicking his fingers, and it exposed the inner conflicts in the regime. Of course, there are disagreements and conflicts within that regime. And this step by Xi Jinping was demonstrative towards anyone who is not firmly within his camp, and he gives those others a motivation for organizing factional activity. We see some signs of that now, so I think this was a mistake on the part of Xi Jinping. He undermined, to some degree, his own position. And he let himself become the victim of the hubris of too much power.

So he committed a great mistake, in my opinion, and that mistake has followed through to some tensions within the system. Those tensions are now being stimulated by what is seen as not strong enough economic growth, and so on. So there are now visible signs of tension. That tension has been stimulated by Xi Jinping’s mistake. I think this was really the first mistake he did in his first five years. Otherwise, he has been consolidating power and cohesion within the system. And suddenly he took a step that undermined some of the “achievements” that he had made in his first years. However, I do not think this is a system on its own terms that is in any way in crisis. The control is very, very strong, and the strengthening of control that has happened under Xi Jinping is in anticipation of difficulties with economic growth, for example.

TB: Relatedly, will Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaigns hurt the dynamic or motivation of the CCP cadres? As to the totalitarian dynamic, like interest, ideology, nationalism, brainwashing, violence, or fear, will they be exhausted in China or elsewhere? 

SR: The anti-corruption campaign has had two intended results, I think. One is to make the regime look more attractive in the eyes of many Chinese people. There have been improvements in the corruption environment. So most Chinese are now less exposed to arbitrary corruption than they have been previously, or at least, they have seen improvements in that respect. The other result is that it has been a powerful weapon of power, control within the system. When everyone is corrupt, anyone who needs to be taken down can be taken down in the name of corruption. So under the auspices of the corruption campaign, Xi Jinping and the other leaders have been able to eliminate anyone within the system whom they’ve seen as not approving of them, or are seen as in anyway threatening. These “achievements,” dictatorial achievements, have been notable in the anti-corruption campaign. It has worked in both respects. It’s a remarkable system in the way it gives itself credit for liberating the people from the miseries that it, itself, has imposed on them.

TB: Some Chinese people, I think, are unhappy with the anti-corruption campaigns, even though they feel good once some corrupt government officials are arrested or sentenced, or even executed. But first, some privileged families are not affected. Most of the privileged families, those very high-level families, are not affected, like Deng Xiaoping or Li Peng’s families. And second, more and more Chinese people realize that this kind of corruption is embedded in the political system. It exists everywhere and is systematic. So what’s the next step of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign? Will the anti-corruption campaign influence Xi Jinping’s political agenda? 

SR: As I see it, I think the anti-corruption campaign has done its work. You know, we hear much less about it now than previously. I think there is less ordinary workday corruption. So it’s done its work, cleaning up a bit, in the daily lives of many people. Many potential opponents of the regime have been eliminated, so I think it’s really done its work. As I understand it, it goes on, but now it’s more of a routine. It’s not a big show anymore. I think it’s mainly had its time; it has run its course. And it does not have the prominence in the regime’s self-presentation as it did for a while. I’ve no doubt it will continue, but it is not the central instrument that it once was.

TB: Samuel Huntington distinguished performance legitimacy from procedural legitimacy; and A. John Simmons made an even clearer theoretical distinction between legitimacy and justification, arguing that recognition, through free elections, is the only source of modern legitimacy. In the context of post-Mao Chinese politics, is “performance legitimacy” enough for the regime’s political legitimacy? 

SR: Well, not in the opinion of the leaders themselves. They do not trust that they are seen as legitimate, so this is why they never relax controls. They praise themselves for the delivery to the people. They praise themselves for the gratitude that they are getting back from the people. But they never trust that they are seen genuinely to be legitimate, so they always fall back on control — never relaxing controls and always maintaining controls. No genuine trust that there is genuine legitimacy.

TB: Has the world had second thoughts about China after Xi Jinping removed the presidential term limit from the Constitution? Is the image of China changing in light of the facts of the deteriorating human rights situation, failure to abide by WTO rules and UN norms, even the CCP’s abduction of dissidents on foreign soil? You know the Gui Minhai case, a Chinese publisher with a Swedish passport who was kidnapped in Thailand and sent back to China and detained. So can we say that the presumption many people accepted, that is, that a market economy and globalization would lead China to become a democratic, open society, has been proven wrong? 

SR: Yes, I think so. It is now very difficult for anyone in the world to escape the recognition that in China there is a hard dictatorship. It’s a dictatorship that in many ways is good for business. Many people are fascinated with China and want to see the good in the system. But the development under Xi Jinping clarified to the rest of the world that this is a hard dictatorship. This is not a mild, benevolent autocracy; this is a hard dictatorship. I think the regime has brought upon itself a more difficult evaluation from the outside world.

TB: Have you seen many scholars, Beijing watchers, start to rethink the assumption that the market economy and globalization will guide China to become a liberal democracy? 

SR: I mean this was a strong theory for a while. But it is not a theory that anyone subscribes to anymore. In the long run, we do not know. In the immediate future, it’s clear that this is not a system that is on a path towards a more open society. It’s a system that, for the last five or six years under Xi Jinping, has been on a very clear road towards tighter dictatorial controls. In a way, it is moving politically in the opposite direction than was previously assumed because of its economic development. Economic progress, and political regression –– this was not thought to be possible previously. We are seeing in China that this is possible. It’s possible for the country to modernize economically and to regress politically towards an increasingly hard dictatorship. 

TB: For the past two decades or so, there has been a return to totalitarianism, the expansion of authoritarian influence, in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and, of course, China, and some countries in South America. What’s behind this phenomenon? 

SR: I think that there are, at least, some very clever dictators out there. Vladmir Putin in Russia is from his own point of view a clever operator. I think also there is a problem on the democratic side that democracies have been functioning quite poorly in many ways in recent years after the global crash. In 2007-2008, the democracies had not really managed to govern in a way that seemed to be beneficial to most people. And to be fair, I think we are seeing a revolt against what is perceived to be inadequate governance in the democratic countries, in particular, in the United States and in Britain. So that is weakening the democratic side. Why the autocratic side is strengthening, for someone like myself, that is a source of great concern and sadness in the world. And, I think, we on the democratic side really need to get our own house in order and to step up and to see that there have been real shortcomings in the way we are managing our affairs. That’s true in much of Europe and the European Union. It’s true in America. We really need to step up and do better than we have been doing.

TB: What’s your view about Francis Fukuyama’s claim (deepening a tradition of Hegel and Kojève) that liberal democracy is the end of history? 

SR: Well, the history of democracy is not a very encouraging one; it was invented 2500 years ago but we have had very little democracy since then, so it’s possible that democracy will not survive. And right now, there is, for my tastes, too much admiration of autocratic strength and not enough appreciation of democratic liberty. And what I’m, in modest ways, trying to do is to encourage the understanding of the importance for our way of life of democratic governance. I think again, we need to step up and to do better in the democratic world.

TB: When Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Chinese government tried to punish Norway with “Salmon politics.” My personal experience is that the American Bar Association rescinded my book proposal for fear of angering the Chinese government, and some universities canceled my scheduled talks to avoid the risk of infuriating Beijing. In Hong Kong, China has torn up the “one country, two systems” commitment and the Sino-British Declaration. Hong Kong’s freedom is in danger and the UK has remained silent to a great extent. From your point of view as a Norwegian scholar living in the UK, is the policy of “buying silence” successful? What should the world do to fight the growing aggressiveness of the CCP?  

SR: Yes, the policy of buying silence is successful. This is sad to say, but it’s the case. You see that in my own country, as you mentioned, in Norway, they have normalized relations with China on the condition, in writing on paper, that the Norwegian government shall do nothing to disturb the new normal relations between the two countries–– a commitment to silence. And in Britain, the authorities here want Chinese investments for various purposes. They are silent. So severe human rights abuses that occur in China, they go on without much mention in the rest of the world. What we should do, I think, is to continue to be in contact and collaboration with Chinese people and Chinese authorities. For example, in the academic world where I operate, we should continue to be in contact. But, we, and our governments, should at the same time speak, in clear language, about the Chinese regime’s transgressions against human rights and the regime’s aggression in international politics. This happens to some degree but it does not happen as clearly and straightforwardly as I think it should, given the harshness of the Chinese dictatorship. And I think the democratic countries should collaborate and find some kind of common voice against the excesses in dictatorship and aggression from the Chinese side; we should speak with clear language.

TB:  China is playing a more and more active and aggressive role on the international stage, and shapes the international order. How far will China go on the way to influencing the international order? Or how possible is it for the West to give up its appeasement policy toward China, before it is too late? 

SR: I’m very pessimistic about all of this. I think that the Chinese regime is, by and large, able to control the narrative, and they are widely regarded to be a positive influence in the world as they present themselves. This is for many reasons; partly it is for reasons of self-censorship. Many of us have interests in China, economic interests, interests in being able to do research, for example, and we exercise self-censorship. So there is no common voice from the democratic side in response to Chinese totalitarianism. 

TB: To what extent does the CCP in foreign affairs, represent the interests of China and the Chinese people, and to what extent does it represent only the Party itself, every diplomatic choice is aiming to maintain its one-party rule and the interest of the privileged? 

SR: I always start from the basic premise that the PRC is a political project. Policies, domestic and foreign, are always designed to the perpetuation of the party-state. In foreign policy, that includes making this party-state ever more influential and dominant on the world stage. Is it in the interest of the Chinese people that the party-state gains in strength? I would say no, since it is not in the interest of the Chinese people that the dictatorship becomes stronger and more invincible. However, the nationalistic narrative of “national rejuvenation” no doubt has resonance in much of the population. This dictatorship, as many others, finds nationalism a strategically useful card. 

TB: So these are my questions, do you have other comments before we wrap up?

SR: I know that many China observers always see signs that things are cracking in the Chinese regime. The economics are not performing well enough. There is disagreement within the regime, and so on. Personally, I think that the right description is to see this as a regime that is in control and that we can expect very little improvement in that respect in the foreseeable future. So I’m deeply pessimistic about any movement on the Chinese side towards a more open society, and a more collaborative profile in international relations. I think, on the contrary, it’s increasing control domestically and increasing its quest for domination internationally.

TB: Thank you very much, Professor Ringen.



Also by Teng Biao on China Change:

Politics of the Death Penalty in China, January 16, 2014.

The Confessions of a Reactionary, August 27, 2013.



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Intellectual Discourses in Post-Mao China and Today

 By Xu Youyu, published: May 24, 2014


Dear Editor,

In late 2012, on behalf of the Louis Green Lecture committee of Monash University, I invited Professor Xu Youyu, who I had never met before, to fly to Australia to deliver a public lecture. My recommendation of Prof Xu to the Committee was simply out of profound admiration for his outstanding scholarship as well as his moral integrity.

In early this month, together with several other highly respectable intellectuals, Prof Xu was “criminally detained” by the Chinese authorities for holding a private workshop in the memory of the Tiananmen Tragedy that took place 25 years ago.

It is sadly ironic that Prof Xu was arrested virtually on the same day as President Xi Jinping’s celebration of the 95th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement at Peking University, for Prof Xu and his detained colleagues are the very embodiment of the May Fourth spirit. They are the conscience and cream of Chinese intellectuals.

In light of Prof Xu’s disturbing ordeal, we wish to register our serious concern and moral support by publishing here (online for the first time) Prof Xu’s lecture, entitled “Intellectual Discourses in post-Mao China and Today”.

Sincerely yours,

Warren Sun

for the L. Green Lecture committee of Monash University, Australia: 

Professor David Garrioch, School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies

Professor Constant Mews, President, Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Professor Marko Pavlyshyn, Ukrainian Studies, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics

Professor Wallace Kirsop, Adjunct Professor in the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics


Prof Xu Youyu (right) delivering the Green Lecture in Melbourne,  20 November 2012, chaired by Prof Wallace Kirsop.

Prof Xu Youyu (right) delivering the Green Lecture in Melbourne, 20 November 2012, chaired by Prof Wallace Kirsop.

I AM a philosopher, but I am not going to talk about philosophy this evening. As a Chinese public intellectual, I should like to say something about my country. China has attracted worldwide attention in recent years because of the rapid growth of its economy. This growth has given rise to much discussion, and many wonder whether China’s tremendous economic and military capabilities spell good or bad fortune for its neighbouring countries, for the Pacific region and for the world. I do not want to dwell on this problem. In my opinion it is more important to know what the Chinese people themselves are thinking. The economy and its material goods belong to the people, and it is essential to understand what this new prosperity means to its consumers. I shall focus on the points of view of Chinese intellectuals concerning their country and its future itinerary, noting that these opinions were formed and expressed only after the death of Mao Zedong.

Thirty-six years have passed since the death of Mao Zedong, the leader of mainland China, on 9 September 1976. Mao was one of those rare figures in the history of mankind to have made a deep impression on his country, either by causing the population to live in glory and happiness or by bringing it suffering and pain. In ancient China there was a tyrant called Jie (桀) who provoked people to  call: “We would rather perish together with you!” At the time of Mao’s death TV news reports and documentary films showed ordinary people crying and wailing loudly. It was as if their grief was so great that they wished they too had died,  much as was seen after the deaths of the North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and  Kim Jong Il. What was not reported was that some Chinese rejoiced at Mao’s death and at the possibility of the restoration of normal life. On 9 September 1976 I belonged to the latter group. I had an optimistic premonition that there was hope for my life and for my motherland.

Mao’s death led to the end of the Cultural Revolution and to China’s transformation towards a market economy. Among Chinese intellectuals and philosophers there was a renewal of independent thought and intellectual discourses on history, society and culture. This latter development has made very slow progress, however. I wish I could say that there has been a great change in the history of the People’s Republic of China, but I must remember what one writer told me: Eight hundred million Chinese people had only one head during the Cultural Revolution; that meant that only Mao Zedong was allowed to think, and everyone else had to obey. As a result, anything Mao Zedong approved of was said to be right, and anything he disapproved of was said to be wrong. After Mao died, everybody realized he had a head on his shoulders and could think for himself. People also remember what Marshal Lin Biao, Mao’s assistant and successor, said during the Cultural Revolution: “Every sentence Chairman Mao says is truth, and one sentence of Chairman Mao works as ten thousand sentences.” Tens of thousands of Chinese were declared guilty, even sentenced to death, for questioning or disagreeing with what Mao said.

I call opinions on China’s modernization and future and social criticisms by Chinese intellectuals Chinese contemporary social thought —that is, non-governmental thought. The Party has monopolized theory, and thinking has been the privilege of the top leaders, for a very long time. Strictly speaking, Chinese contemporary social thought emerged in the 1990s, but our story should be narrated from the 1980s on. Although Chinese intellectual discourses or social thought did not come into being in the 1980s, they originated or bred in this period.

For Chinese intellectuals the 1980s are worth recalling. When that time is talked about we use terms like “culture fever” and “culture craze” to describe the variety and excitement of cultural activities in that decade. In my understanding “culture fever” indicates the tremendous enthusiasm demonstrated by Chinese citizens, especially university students. It may sound rather exaggerated to designate enthusiasm or interest as a “fever” or “craze”, but it is not unreasonable. For example, people lined up throughout the night outside the doors of bookstores for literary masterpieces such as Anna Karenina or Shakespeare’s works. Almost every university student loved poetry, and almost everyone wanted to be a poet in China at that time. Almost every publishing house tried its best to produce “hot” items—surprisingly enough Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Heidegger’s Being and Time. These two books reached record sales figures of over 100,000 copies within several months.

The nature or character of the cultural activities of the 1980s was nongovernmental. None of them was organized by the Party or the government. It was the first time in the history of the People’s Republic of China that all books were chosen and edited by scholars, then given to official publishing houses to be printed. Scholars and activists formally established non-governmental organizations usually called editorial boards. The five most influential ones were as follows. Firstly, the Towards the Future Editorial Board, whose core was composed of research fellows of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, young scholars good at the natural sciences who devoted their major efforts to recommending the methodology and world outlook brought about by recent scientific developments and who tried to investigate history and to predict the future with a new conception of that discipline. Secondly, the Academy of Chinese Culture, which was headed by the grand old scholars studying Chinese traditional culture. They regarded reviving this field and recommending contemporary Confucianism as their duty. Thirdly, the magazine New Enlightenment, which was edited by a group of open-minded Marxist theorists advocating an explanation of Marx based on humanitarianism. Fourthly, the Culture: China and the World Editorial Committee, whose main task was the recommendation of twentieth-century Western humanities. I was a member of this group. Finally, the 20th Century Book Editorial Board, which was engaged in translating and recommending Western social sciences such as sociology, science of law, economics, political science etc. Each group co-operated closely with certain publishing houses, helping them choose, organize, edit and publish many good books that would not have been possible otherwise.

It should be noted that people talked a lot about culture in the 1980s, but politics constituted the starting point and purpose. Everybody knew that the most important and pressing task was political, not cultural, but they had to advance by the roundabout cultural route because politics was a forbidden zone. So translation is needed in order to understand intellectual discourses in the 1980s. For example, when we criticized China’s feudalism, what we were actually referring to was the autocracy of contemporary China.

Some so-called rebellious and frightening opinions that the Party launched a campaign to criticize were in fact common sense. For example, Li Honglin (李洪林) maintained that there should be no “forbidden zone” in reading and that political problems could be discussed(i) People were surprised at such daredevil slogans, and the newspapers and magazines publishing what he said were waiting for punishment. Perhaps we are astonished that such common sense was worth discussing. However, when we think about some of the events of the past, we know that it can be life-threatening to espouse common sense in China. One example is Yu Luoke (遇罗克), who was sentenced to death as a thought criminal during the Cultural Revolution for insisting that the future of a young person should be determined by his or her performance, not by family background.

That those scholars, so-called teachers of youth or cultural heroes in the 1980s, were rather limited in their outlook and philosophy can be seen from an example. Liu Zaifu (刘再复), a respectful and enlightened teacher, was condemned as an advocate of bourgeois liberalization by the Chinese authorities in the 1980s. When he visited Claude Monet’s garden in France, he said excitedly: “Look, we failed to train and bring up any great painter like Monet under Chinese cultural policies.” He thought that he was criticizing the Chinese educational and cultural system, but at heart he was the same as the government officials. All of them thought that an Impressionist master like Monet could be trained and brought up under a certain system or policy.

The culture fever in the 1980s could also be called aesthetic fever, for the most important discipline at that time was aesthetics or literature. The most  influential theorist was Li Zehou (李泽厚), an aesthete, and another influential theorist was Liu Zaifu (刘再复), a literary critic. People were concerned with politics in general, but they read and thought about problems of aesthetics, literature and ethics. The reason for this can be sought in Chinese traditional culture. The most interesting problem for the Chinese from ancient times to the present has been the so-called issue of ultimate concern—that is, how to be a gentle and noble person. There has been very little attention in the Chinese cultural tradition to the principles guiding social and political institutions. It can be said that Chinese intellectuals were not prepared for any social movement or social transformation in the 1980s. They failed to give any practical advice or suggestions to students apart from expressions of moral support when the latter took to the streets and appealed to the authorities for democracy.

In the 1980s the basic political conflict in China was between those who favoured reform and an open-door policy and those who opposed them. The situation was not the same in the 1990s. The conservative bureaucrats who had resisted reform at first soon discovered that reforms did not threaten their positions or reduce their benefits. On the contrary, reform increased their opportunities, and these bureaucrats found they could pursue policies beneficial to themselves by flaunting the banner of reform. There is a Chinese saying, “a waterside pavilion is the first to get the moonlight”. It means that a person in a favourable position gains special advantages, and Chinese bureaucrats have been in such a position. So whereas the basic dividing line in the 1980s was “reform or no reform”, in the 1990s it changed to “Which reform do you prefer?”

There was a change in values among Chinese intellectuals at the beginning of the 1990s. In the 1980s they had generally been in favour of science, freedom, democracy, rule of law, enlightenment, rationality and so on. In the 1990s, however, some young scholars began to advocate postmodernism. They argued that the ideas mentioned above belonged to the ideology of modernity and embodied Western cultural hegemony and Eurocentrism, and that their acceptance by Chinese intellectuals was a consequence of colonization by the West. To be frank, I do not know what role postmodernism plays in its place of origin, Western society, but I am sure that it does not apply to China at present. In my debates with Chinese postmodernists I have pointed out that modernity or modernization does not need to be suppressed in China; on the contrary, it is a movement still to be accomplished.

The argument in my favour in the debate was that Western postmodernist masters, when they knew that their works had been translated into Chinese, wrote special prefaces for them, warning Chinese readers that postmodernism could not be imitated and that it belonged to a very complicated and special tradition. Douwe Fokkema, the co-editor of Approaching Postmodernism, wrote that postmodernist discourses had definite geographical and social limitations. Further, that the postmodernist experiment was based on the luxurious lives led by distinguished Western cultural personages, and postmodernism had nothing to do with people who were living in hungry and poor conditions. He added that there was no living condition related to postmodernism, hence it was beyond imagination to accept postmodernism in the People’s Republic of China.(ii)

Chinese postmodernists often found fault with the modernists for their lack of critical spirit and for yielding to the Western hegemony of the discourse of modernity. I despised them for noisily criticizing American imperialism and for not talking about human rights in Beijing. I often tell the following story in my lectures and papers. An American delegation of congressmen visited the Soviet Union and criticized the country for its lack of freedom of speech. They asked their hosts: “We can shout out the slogan ‘Down with Reagan!’ Do you dare to do the same?” A Russian replied without any hesitation, “Why not? Of course we dare to shout out ‘Down with Reagan!’ ” I tell my audience that the Chinese postmodernists displayed their courage and critical spirit by shouting out the slogan “Down with Reagan!” in Beijing.

The debates between liberalism and the New Left, which broke out in the middle of the 1990s, are phenomena that had rarely been seen among mainland Chinese intellectuals since 1949. They are large-scale, spontaneous debates without official manipulation or ideological constraint. First of all, I should point out that the meanings of “liberalism” and “New Left” in China are not the same as they are in the West, just as “liberalism” and “conservatism” have different meanings in the United Kingdom and the United States. On almost every important political, social and cultural question in contemporary China, liberals and new Leftists hold opposite positions. Their disputes, however, can be seen to focus on the following issues.

The first issue concerns the market economy as the cause of social injustice. China is now in a period of social transition in which startling problems of consumption and social injustice have greatly concerned intellectuals. Both sides agree that the social malady is serious, but make different diagnoses of the cause. The New Leftists hold that the problems come from the market economy itself and that it should therefore be criticized and boycotted. The liberals maintain that the injustice arises because the market in China has not broken free from the control of the old power system and is not mature and appropriately regulated. For them the way out is to regulate and consummate the market economy.

The second issue concerns globalization and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. New Leftists oppose China’s positive attitude towards globalization and the WTO and maintain that these developments will bring China into an unjust capitalist world system. They hold that the Western capitalist countries developed their economy by exploiting and enslaving other countries from the very beginning and that they now dominate the whole world just as they did in colonial times. One New Leftist has said that the development of the Third World in present historical conditions can only be an unjust, even suicidal development, for development means only the transference of environmental pollution from Western industrial countries to developing ones. This author concluded that the only task for developing countries was to launch a worldwide battle against capitalism. In refutation, I said: “This claim is ridiculous and dangerous. Underdeveloped countries, if they believe this, will indulge in the illusion and fantasy of ‘world revolution’ and be backward forever. As a result, the gap between rich and poor countries will grow wider and wider.”

The third issue concerns the analysis of the internal condition of China. Some representatives of the New Left have attempted to prove that Chinese society in the 1990s was a capitalist or market society and a part of the capitalist world system. Therefore, “China’s problems should be seen at the same time as problems of the capitalist world market. Our diagnosis of issues regarding China should be part of a critical diagnosis of the issues of an increasingly globalized capitalism.” Liberals responded to this thesis by holding that it originated not from the reality of China, but from misplaced theory: “Chinese New Leftists distort and excise the conditions of China in order to apply the fashionable theories of the West to China.”

The fourth issue concerns the evaluation of the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Communes and the Cultural Revolution. These political campaigns brought about tremendous disasters and pain for the Chinese; for example, the People’s Communes resulted in over 30 million people dying of hunger. These campaigns were criticized to a certain extent in the 1980s. The New Leftists were unhappy with the criticism, however, saying that the campaigns were a bold vision for an ideal society, and that the Chinese should not rashly abandon such a valuable socialist heritage. One of them appealed for China to have a Cultural Revolution every seven or eight years just as Mao Zedong had advocated. This point of view was totally rejected by liberals, who argued that praise and advocacy of the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Communes and the Cultural Revolution were based on ignorance of China’s past and its real history, confusing disasters with socialist innovations.

The fifth issue concerns the evaluation of the Mind Liberation Movement in the 1980s and the May Fourth New Culture Movement. Some New Leftists attempted to negate and belittle these two enlightenment movements, which, in their opinion, demonstrated the unconditional subordination of Chinese intellectuals to Western discourses. One of them stated: “The May Fourth culture movement only copied European enlightenment discourse. The scholars of the May Fourth generation accepted colonial discourse while accepting enlightenment discourse; their minds and outlook were semi-colonized.” Liberals defended the enlightenment, the Mind Liberation Movement in the 1980s and the May Fourth New Culture Movement. They argued that in the two movements Chinese progressive intellectuals did not mechanically follow Western discourse, but pushed forward mental liberation based on Chinese reality in order to solve China’s practical problems.

The sixth issue concerns international relations and radical nationalism. The Chinese New Left often supported the Chinese government in condemning hegemony when issues arose between China and Western countries, especially the United States. In this area, the typical opposition between liberals and the New Left concerned the relationship between human rights and state sovereignty. The New Left shared the view of the official media in charging NATO with hegemony masked by the excuse of human rights when it intervened in Kosovo. After the September 11 terrorist attack, the New Left argued that the origin of the emergence and spread of terrorism was American hegemony and its diplomatic policy in the Middle East. In contrast, liberals emphasized the importance of human rights and the need to be on guard against radical nationalism. They held that the violation of human rights by a despotic government could not be defended by excuses of state sovereignty.

After the terrorist attack of September 11, many students, graduate students, lecturers and professors in Chinese universities and colleges were exhilarated by the incident. They bought alcohol and drank madly, let off firecrackers, wrote and put up posters, even organized demonstrations on campuses, rejoicing in the extreme suffering of hundreds of people in America. Why were they so happy? The main reason was that they thought America had bombed China’s embassy in Yugoslavia and that an American warplane had shot down a Chinese fighter plane. China had been threatened and humiliated by the USA, but China was not powerful enough to confront America. For them the terrorist attack meant that braver fighters had avenged China, so they were pleased and excited.

Liberal intellectuals had a totally different position and attitude. They published a letter in the middle of September entitled “An open letter to President George W. Bush and the American people” over the names of Bao Zhunxin (包遵信) and Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), both of whom had been jailed for supporting the student prodemocratic movement in 1989. In this letter they condemned the terrorist attack and supported the American government and people. They said that the attack on America was a price the American people paid when they set up a global order of freedom. The letter ended with the sentence: “This evening we are American.” The number of signatories of the letter reached over 1000 within two weeks.

The letter was attacked indignantly by many people. Their attack focused on the last sentence “This evening we are American.” For them, to want to be American meant to not want to be Chinese. The liberals were accused of being traitors or “running dogs” of America. What their attackers did not realize was that the sentence was an allusion to what American President John F. Kennedy said in the period of the Cold War when he visited West Berlin and faced the Berlin Wall. Kennedy said, in German: “Heute ich bin ein Berliner,” that is, “Today I am a Berliner.” Obviously, President Kennedy did not mean that he wanted to be a German. The angry Chinese did not understand that it did not mean any change or choice of nationality, but that it was an expression of moral support. Nationalism rose abruptly in China at the beginning of the twenty-first century and became a remarkable social trend of thought. However, the emergence of nationalism can be traced to as early as the beginning of the 1990s when some scholars who were politically sensitive and willing to serve the party and the government suggested that patriotism and nationalism should be the main courses for the education of university students and government officials. Indeed a lesson had been drawn from the June Fourth event that political education in universities had been unsuccessful and that it was not enough just to instil Marxism into students.

The book China Can Say No published in 1996 manifested the fanaticism and irrationality of nationalist emotion. The book defines contemporary Chinese nationalism in such a way as to equate patriotism with opposition to America. The book and chapter titles reveal that the authors were expressing their anti- American feelings, for example “We don’t want most-favoured-nation treatment, and will never give it to you” and “We will never take a Boeing 777.” One of the basic points of view of the book is that American people are not only evil, but stupid. The authors assert that most Chinese high-school pupils have much more knowledge of American history and culture than American university students. That the American younger generation is on the road to degeneration and has been abandoned by human civilization is proved by their preoccupation with drugs, sex and electronic games.

The book The Chinese Road in the Shadow of Globalization, published in 1999, presented itself as an updated version of China Can Say No in response to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia by NATO. After praising the demonstration against the USA held on 8 May, the book says: “At last, on May 8, 1999, we saw the life impulse of our nation and heard the shout from the soul of our nation.” Readers may find sentences like this one: “China has tried to be a good boy for many years in international affairs, so the USA and other countries which only understand and recognize power have forgotten China’s actual strength.” The authors of the book suggested that China should become a naughty boy paying no attention to its international image.

The most dangerous topic covered by the fanatical nationalists is that of Taiwan. The authors of China Can Say No advocated attacking Taiwan with military force immediately, saying that “an ordinary attack is not as good as a general offensive, and a late attack is not as good as an early offensive”. Talking about the “liberation” of Taiwan, Professor Chen Ming (陈明), a representative of contemporary Confucianism in mainland China, said: “What is important is not military ability, but will and determination. If we fail the first time we can launch offensives for the second and third times. We call this fighting to the last drop of our blood.”

I call the nationalism held by some Chinese scholars and intellectuals cultural nationalism. Its basic idea is that Western civilization has been in crisis and that only Chinese culture can free the West from this crisis, so the twenty-first century will belong to Chinese culture. The most important advocate of this idea was Ji Xianlin (季羡林), an old and famous scholar. According to Ji, every civilization is doomed to undergo a process of rise and decline. The time when Chinese culture will take a dominant position is coming now, since Western culture has been the guiding ideology in the world for several centuries. His argument for the above thesis is as follows. The essence of Chinese philosophy is the idea that heaven and men are one. The Chinese believe that men and nature are one entity. In contrast, the core of Western thought is contained in the maxim of Francis Bacon, “Knowledge is power”, meaning that mankind should conquer nature by means of knowledge. The environmental and ecological crises in modern times come from the failure to balance the relationship between men and nature. Ji Xianlin concluded that mankind could be saved only by Chinese ethics and Chinese philosophy.

I do not agree with Professor Ji, but it is unnecessary at this moment to say what is wrong with his thesis in detail. I would like to point out only that Ji distorted the meaning of the doctrine of “heaven and earth are one”, which was a political philosophy serving imperial power and autocracy in ancient times, not a modern ecological philosophy at all. China has very serious environmental and ecological problems. China has set a bad, not a good, example for the world in this regard.

Cultural conservatism is a doctrine similar to cultural nationalism, whose concentrated expression is the so-called “Chinese national culture fever” advocating that reading and studying the classics of Confucius and Mencius should be put in the first place in education and ordinary life. This assertion was so influential in 2004 that the year was called the Chinese Cultural Conservative Year. The following important events took place at that time.

First, Jiang Qing (蒋庆), a non-governmental scholar, put forward a slogan for “reading classics” about which a heated argument broke out. The book Basic Readings of the Chinese Cultural Classics in twelve volumes edited by Jiang Qing was published in this year. It was reported that children in five million families and over sixty cities had joined the ranks of reading Confucian classics. Second, some well-known cultural conservatives held a conference entitled “The Contemporary Destiny of Confucianism” in Guiyang in the summer of 2004. The meeting was also called the “Summit of Cultural Conservatives.” The participants wanted to apply the doctrines of Confucius and Mencius to the present Chinese political system and to political life. They hoped that the Chinese government would accept their suggestion.

Third, “The Cultural Summit Forum of 2004” was held in Beijing, and “A Cultural Manifesto of 2004” was published. This was sponsored by distinguished scholars such as Xu Jialu (许嘉璐), Deputy President of the National Congress, Yang Zhengning (杨振宁), winner of a Nobel physics prize, and Wang Meng (王蒙), ex-Minister of Culture. The manifesto made the appeals that cultural tradition should be re-evaluated and re-constructed and that the kernel of value of Chinese traditional culture should be carried forward.

I support the attempt and effort to rejuvenate Chinese traditional culture. In my opinion, traditional culture should play a more important role in education, ethics and other fields in today’s China. My disagreement with the cultural conservatives, however, is as follows. First, they think that the decline of traditional culture in modern times is due to the attack from the May Fourth New Culture Movement, but I maintain that criticism from scholars is unlikely to destroy Chinese culture. Only policies from government can trample upon culture. It is not the fault of liberal intellectuals that traditional culture has been regarded as a feudal prison and eliminated completely since 1949. Second, I believe that traditional culture can play a positive role only in cultural and personal ethical aspects, not in the political system. But some conservatives maintain that the political system should be arranged in accordance with the old doctrine and that the modern democratic political principle, such as equal political and legal rights for everyone, is not acceptable. Jiang Qing asked: “Why should an unemployed young man have the same right to vote as a professor?”

There has been a problem for Chinese intellectuals in how to deal with the relationship between rulers and themselves. In Chinese tradition, it is right and proper for intellectuals to think about and judge everything from the point of view of the state, but not from their own point of view or that of the people. For all Confucian scholars, being patriotic is the same as being loyal to the sovereign. This tradition was questioned and criticized in the 1980s when an author, Bai Hua (白桦) asked in his play: “What should be done if you love your country but it doesn’t love you?” The author and his work were criticized fiercely. Many intellectuals have changed their attitudes since the beginning of the twenty-first century. They think that the train of history is going in the direction guided by the party along with the economic rise of China. They are afraid of missing this train and losing their future. Some influential intellectuals make statist discourses. They think that the so-called “Chinese model” which violates human rights and pays no attention to social justice is the hope of mankind, for the secret of its success is that the government controls all political and economic power and can do whatever it wants. In their opinion the best example is the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. Others think that China will make contributions to human civilization with a new political system whose core is a new type of democracy, according to which the agreement and the authorization of the people are not necessary for the legitimacy of government. The key point is that the government should take care of the people just as a kindly father does for his children. Others again hold that the party may place itself above the constitution, this being thought reasonable because of China’s special condition. In this view the best institutional arrangement is to make the state and the party an integral whole. It can be predicted that the statist trend will be developed further among Chinese intellectuals, and I am very worried about that.

Fortunately, that is not the whole story for Chinese intellectuals. In my opinion, the most important progress made from the 1980s to the present day is that we have affirmed constitutional democracy as the objective. Perhaps some of you will be surprised at this, since constitutional democracy is a self-evident principle of state foundation and governance in many countries. Indeed it was put forward by some intellectuals and politicians as their political programme about a hundred years ago in China. I should like to point out that the civil wars, invasions by foreign countries and the communist revolution disrupted these early efforts to realize constitutional democracy in my country.

I believe that China can be a decent country, a qualified member in the big family of human civilization, only after the accomplishment of constitutional democracy. I also believe that the Chinese people will enjoy the sympathy and support of peoples all over the world, including in Australia, in the process of striving for this goal.



* Acknowledgements. I have been in Australia three times, but this is my first visit to Melbourne. I feel greatly honoured to be invited to give the Louis Green Lecture for 2012. In particular I should like to thank my hosts, Dr Warren Sun and Professor Wallace Kirsop, who arranged the occasion.

(i) Li Honglin, “读书无禁区[No forbidden zone in reading]”, Dushu [Readings], 1979:1.

(ii) Douwe Fokkema and Hans Bertens, eds, Approaching Modernism, Amsterdam and Philadelphia,John Benjamins, 1986; Chinese edition: Beijing, Peking University Press, 1991.


“Professor Youyu Xu (徐友渔), once a visiting scholar at Harvard and Oxford Universities respectively and who served as the Olaf Palme Visiting Professor in Sweden, is a preeminent thinker and one of China’s leading spokesmen for constitutional democracy. He is author/editor of over twenty books in Chinese, from the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy and Bertrand Russell in 1994 to A Study of Contemporary Western Political Philosophy in 2008.  He translated, from the original German, Wittgenstein’s Remarks On the Foundations of Mathematics. His outspoken defence of liberalism, in works such as Discourse of Freedom (1999), Facing History (2000), and Unremitting Spiritual Pursuit (2002), has won him a wide readership in China.” (from Professor Warren Sun’s original introduction)


Defiance, by Xu Youyu

Scholars and Lawyer Disappeared after June 4th Seminar in Beijing