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Since the late 1970s China has undergone a great transformation, during which time the country has witnessed an outpouring of competing schools of thought. This book analyzes the major schools of political thought redefining China's transformation and the role Chinese thinkers are playing in the post-Mao era.



Introduction: Ideas and China’s Transformation

Introduction: Ideas and China’s Transformation

Since the late 1970s, China has undergone a dramatic process of economic and social transformation, during which the country has experienced and is still experiencing an outpouring of competing schools of thought (sichao). These schools of thought have affected the pace, scope, content, and nature of China’s reform. This book examines the role of the ideas in such a dramatic transformation and the dynamic process of discursive interactions among Chinese intellectuals over the past three decades of reforms.
He Li

Contemporary Chinese Political Thought


1. Liberalism

Liberalism has had a long history in China. Western culture and ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity began influencing China about 200 years ago and continue to have a major impact. Although poorly understood and inadequately diffused before the market-oriented reform of the late 1970s, in the past three decades liberalism has become an important school of thought among Chinese intellectual circles, and a liberal camp was established in China in the late 1990s.1
He Li

2. Neo-authoritarianism

Neo-authoritarianism is a subject of hot debate among Chinese scholars in the late 1980s and has been quietly endorsed by the CCP. Neoauthoritarianism refers to an enlightened autocracy: a strong leader adopts undemocratic measures to enforce economic development. Law and order are maintained, according to the will of the ruler, as crucial conditions for modernization. This political blueprint has been in part justified by the economic miracles of the “Four Asian Tigers,” namely Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore. Some Chinese scholars argue that neo-authoritarianism is a necessary stage as China transits from a traditional autocracy to liberal democracy.1 The discourse on neo-authoritarianism died down at the turn of the century, but has resurfaced since Xi Jinping assumed the leadership of the CCP in 2012. The first section of this chapter examines the theoretical roots of neo-authoritarianism. The second section discusses the debates among Chinese scholars on neo-authoritarianism, and then it explains the transition from neo-authoritarianism to neo-conservatism. The last section of this chapter explores relationship between neoauthoritarianism and official ideology and its impacts on political changes.
He Li

3. China’s New Left

Emerging at first as a narrow intellectual critique in the mid-1990s, the New Left soon grew wings as it merged with supporters of populism, statism, and nationalism. The “Chinese New Left” is a term used to distinguish it from the Old Left, or conservatives, who are die-hard Maoists. Wang Hui, a professor at Tsinghua University whom many see as the academic leader of China’s “New Left,” suspected the term “New Left” was just being used as a cudgel to belabor liberals.1 The New Left developed out of several major streams of radicalism such as neo-Marxism, postmodernism, dependency theory, world system theory, and postcolonialism. It has used these perspectives for its criticism of global capitalism and issues in China’s market reforms.
He Li

4. Democratic Socialism

Democratic socialism is an intellectual strand within the Marxian tradition, but it is critical of Stalinist variants of socialism and looks to the later writings of Engels as a source for socialism and democracy. The renewal of social democracy has become a focus of ideological debate in China as the concept of social democracy has gained its political and intellectual momentum worldwide. Meanwhile, social democracy has not only come to power in many countries, it has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founders.1 Chinese scholars have been exploring the Third Way, a democratic alternative to the capitalism and communism. The idea of finding a “third way” has been widely discussed since the late 1980s. Over the past 30 years, social democracy has regained public attention and has become an important component of academic discourse in China.
He Li

5. New Confucianism

In the years following the May Fourth Movement (1919), Confucianism was attacked and marginalized. After 1949, the CCP tried to stamp out the influence of Confucianism from Chinese culture, denouncing it as “feudal” and reactionary. Confucianism and Confucian studies all but disappeared from mainland China. Since the mid-1980s, mainland China has witnessed the most sustained resurgence of academic and intellectual interest in Confucianism. By the mid-1990s, this revival was sometimes referred to as “Confucian fever,” just as the “culture fever” (wenhua re) had burned a decade ago.1 Mou Zongsan and Cai Renhou, two eminent Confucians, call for a new sociopolitical and moral-cultural order based on the Confucian Orthodoxy (daotong), a democratic system (zhengtong), a scientific epistemology, and academic autonomy (xuetong).2
He Li

Intellectual Discourse on Critical Issues


6. Chinese Intellectual Discourse on Democracy

Democracy is an important component of the Chinese political discourse since the concept was introduced from the West to China in the mid- 19th century.1 A democratic movement developed in China over the past hundred years. Pioneer reformers such as Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao advocated a constitutional monarchy patterned after the British model. The later thinkers, such as Hu Shih (1891–1962), Carsun Chang (1886–1969), and Chang Tung-sun (1886–1973), were ardent supporters of democracy They opposed both the one-party dictatorship of the Guomindang and the people’s democratic dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1911, Dr. Sun Yat-sen established the Republic of China, putting an end to more than 3,000 years of political system ruled by dynasties. He tried, though unsuccessfully, to introduce the democratic system to China. The lack of democracy is a great disappointment of the Chinese intellectuals in the modern era.
He Li

7. Debating China’s Economic Reform

Dramatic transformation has occurred in China since the economic reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. It was under his leadership that China undertook the ambitious economic reforms that have transformed China’s economy from an economic backwater into the second-largest economy in the world. But with the rapid growth has come new challenges: rampant corruption, increasing social unrest, rising levels of inequalities, the yearning for democracy, and the spread of ideas foreign and inimical to the perceived interests of the communist state. Although the outcome of the political transformation in China cannot be forecasted precisely, what has hitherto occurred is already significant enough to warrant a careful analysis of its dilemmas and dynamics.
He Li

8. Debate over Legitimacy

Legitimacy is one of the most frequently used and misused concepts in political science. Legitimacy usually enters the analytical picture when it is missing or deficient.1 Legitimacy can roughly be understood as the right to govern — that one ought to have the authority to get things done. It can be considered metaphorically equivalent to a reservoir of water: as long it stays at a certain level, it can be maintained, but if it falls below a certain level, there is the risk that all will be lost.2 Max Weber believes that every such system attempts to establish and to cultivate the belief in “legitimacy.”3 In China’s case, Tong Yanqi contends that no country concerns regime legitimacy more than China does and no country has removed illegitimate regimes more times than China has.4 Elizabeth Perry and Mark Selden argue that Chinese history boasts a record of resistance and rebellion second to none.5 Guo Baogang, a Chinese American political scientist, states that the enduring question in political development in China today is no different from what was sought after throughout Chinese history, namely, the constant search for political legitimacy.6
He Li

9. Conclusion: Fragmentation and Consensus

The Chinese reform since 1978 has been ranking as one of the most extraordinary episodes of social and economic transformation in history: industrialization, marketization, urbanization, and globalization, all occurring at the same time. Chinese intellectuals used to be tiny, highly educated elites. By quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, China now produces eight million graduates a year from universities and community colleges. By the end of this decade, China expects to have nearly 195 million community college and university graduates, compared with no more than 120 million in the United States then.1 Rapid economic growth has also created a burgeoning middle class.
He Li


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