Whither China?: Intellectual Politics in Contemporary China 9780822381150

Chinese cultural and intellectual politics waned after the Tiananmen Square incident. This volume explores their revital

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Whither China?


Whither China

Intellectual Politics in Contemporary China Edited by Xudong Zhang

Duke University Press

• Durham and London • 2001

© 2001 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper  Designed by Amy Ruth Buchanan Typeset in Scala by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-inPublication Data appear on the last printed page of this book.


Preface, vii 1. The Making of the Post-Tiananmen Intellectual Field: A Critical Overview, Xudong Zhang, 1 Part I

Against the Neoliberal Dogma: Four Arguments from China 2. Debating Liberalism and Democracy in China in the 1990s, Gan Yang, 79 3. Whither China? The Discourse on Property Rights Reform in China, Zhiyuan Cui, 103 4. The Changing Role of Government in China, Shaoguang Wang, 123 5. Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity, Wang Hui, 161 Post-Tiananmen Art, 199

Part II

In the Global Context 6. King Kong in Hong Kong: Watching the ‘‘Handover’’ from the U.S.A., Rey Chow, 211 7. The Burdens of History: Lin Zexu (1959) and The Opium War (1997), Rebecca E. Karl, 229

8. Mao to the Market, Peter Hitchcock, 263 9. Chinese Consumerism and the Politics of Envy: Cargo in the 1990s?, Louisa Schein, 285 10. Nationalism, Mass Culture, and Intellectual Strategies in Post-Tiananmen China, Xudong Zhang, 315 11. Street Scenes of Subalternity: China, Globalization, and Rights, Michael Dutton, 349 Appendix In the Tiger’s Lair: Socialist Everydayness Enters the Market Economy in Post-Mao China, Harry D. Harootunian, 371 Contributors, 383 Index, 385


The evolution of this volume has paralleled the intellectual developments that it seeks to capture and analyze. At the book’s conception in 1996, Chinese intellectual life in the first half of the 1990s remained nebulous, its central contentions obscure. Scholars both inside and outside China still tended to view China in the shadow of Tiananmen and the culturalintellectual excitement of the 1980s, which that tragic event brought to an end. The renewed and intensified economic reform known as marketization (shichang hua) after 1992, and the end of the Cold War a year earlier, have redefined the historical condition for intellectual discussions and a new everyday form of life in China.Whereas the new socioeconomic reality gave rise to an explosion of mass cultural production, Chinese intellectuals, at least for a moment, seemed at a loss. Initial discussions among intellectuals primarily concerned positions, attitudes, and strategies by which to fend off or absorb excessive stimuli from the processes of social rationalization, commodification, and globalization. Yet this origin in historical rupture and social-cultural shock proved to be productive. It also called attention to an increasingly differentiated and fragmented sphere of intellectual development, with its allegorical coherence rooted in the national situation. Over the past half-dozen years or so, the Chinese intellectual field has defined its various, often conflicting positions and orientations in more articulate and assertive terms. This last development is described and analyzed in the book’s new introductory chapter, and the newly added chapters of the volume—previously published in journal form—create a context within which the original essays from the Social Text special issue can be read. The processes

viii Preface

registered here are not only those of ideological and symbolic association, but also those of political articulation and historical reflection. Accompanied by an internal drive toward self-autonomy or a properly intellectualscholarly discourse, current Chinese intellectual discussions and debates have established a range of theoretical strongholds and discursive frameworks by which to intervene extensively and aggressively in the fastchanging realities of the Chinese economy, social organization, politics, and cultural production. In other words, intellectual development in China in the 1990s was actualized in its involvement and entanglement with every significant event in the national and international economy, politics, and culture of that decade. The intellectual formulations of this development are literally produced in its encounter with concrete sociopolitical issues such as privatization, state power, political reform, social democratization, international finance capital, Taiwan, Kosovo, the World Trade Organization (wto), and postmodernity. In a holistic (and simplistic) way, one can see the contradictions of contemporary Chinese intellectual life as predicated on the difficulty for the Chinese nation (as experienced, imagined, and conceptualized by its intellectuals) to reassert itself in an enveloping new world order—now present in every domain and at every level of human activity—as the country rapidly merges with the economic system of global capitalism. Consequently, the general ideological and political battle line among Chinese intellectuals is drawn between those who seek smooth integration with a homogeneous ‘‘world civilization’’ (as it is defined by the neoliberal discourse of free-market capitalism and Western triumphalism, i.e., the rhetoric of ‘‘the end of History’’) and those who envision and strive for a pluralistic world in which differences in tradition, culture, and social-political ideals can be viewed as assets rather than burdens for the creation of better lives. This profound difference cuts across various ideological persuasions, political convictions, theoretical frameworks, and cultural identities; yet its expressivity often takes the form of particular combinations or configurations of those elements. Thus, the situation today can be described not only by how intellectual politics is defined in domestic terms, but by how Chinese intellectual life relates itself to and participates in international cultural politics. The expectation that globalization dictates that intellectuals of different national or regional backgrounds participate in, or even submit to, intellectual and academic politics in the West or the United States without the mediation of that background is naive and unwarranted. However, that qualification does not mean that the intellectual and political struggle in each and every national/regional context does not yearn for an international audience and contribute to an international critical consciousness.

As noted, the volume came into being as a special issue of Social Text (no. 55, Summer 1998). I would like to thank Bruce Robbins, then coeditor of Social Text, for skillfully enticing me to propose a special issue on China. I also thank the members of the journal’s editorial collective for their support. I want to acknowledge my professional, and by now personal, debt, to my editor at Duke University Press, Reynolds Smith, and his assistant, Sharon Torian, for working with and indulging me since I was still a graduate student at Duke. The volume in its present shape, with seven new chapters added to the original journal edition, owes its existence to its contributors. I want to thank all of them for their enthusiasm and patience and for the critical insight they bring to this volume. Fredric Jameson, Perry Anderson, and Arif Dirlik read early versions of the manuscript and offered their incisive comments and encouragement, for which I am grateful. Thanks are also due to Mr. Qian Zhijian, who assisted me in selecting the art works included in this book. Xudong Zhang June 2001

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The Making of the PostTiananmen Intellectual Field: A Critical Overview Xudong Zhang

Today, in media and academic discourses across the world, the image of China overwhelms our appetite for contradictory descriptions and frustrates our established analytical and conceptual framework. Amid dizzying change and radical uncertainty, however, an unruly and shapeless presence is confirmed, and it looms beyond doubt. The transformation of post-Mao China is widely credited as a result of its irreversible integration with the world market and its tantalizing merger with the social-cultural conventions of global capitalism. Everyone agrees that this period is transitional for China. Nobody is certain about where it is leading and what it really means, either for China or for the rest of the world. The lack of a cognitive road map for reading China results from the rapidity of change. It also stems from old assumptions and frameworks that no longer are adequate to address these problems. More productive ways to examine the Chinese situation are still hampered by ideologies and methodologies nourished in the heyday of the Cold War and by an entrenched Eurocentric worldview prevalent in both China and the West. Mechanical and superficial views still boast empirical and ideological clarity, yet they invariably depend on obsolete binary opposites—state versus society, ‘‘official’’ versus ‘‘nonofficial,’’ dictatorship versus democracy, communism versus capitalism, hard-liners versus reformers, government intervention versus a free market, etc.—opposites that still obstruct our critical knowledge of the country in seemingly countless contexts. We are experiencing an increasing and intensifying discrepancy between the perceived object called China and the lingering epistemological models rooted

2 Xudong Zhang

in the Cold War, backed by the even more time-honored machinery of ‘‘knowing the Other’’ that is integral to the long history of the global expansion of capitalism (colonialism, imperialism, etc.). As long as the old regime of knowledge and its reproduction holds sway, the emerging complexity and dynamism of the Chinese economy, society, politics, culture, and everyday life will remain concealed, distorted, and oppressed in the symbolic global terrain. This situation, however, indicates not so much an intrinsic crisis among Western scholars in the production of knowledge about China as it indicates the corruption of that knowledge-gathering by power. At its core, this process reveals the extent to which China as a subject of study is still effectively ‘‘contained’’ inside a theater of a permanent ideological warfare about global capitalism and its ‘‘subjectivities.’’ Such institutional restraints may explain why the most dynamic and productive development in Chinese studies in the United States during the past decade can be found in the integration of those studies with ‘‘disciplines’’ such as social history, and especially in works grounded in approaches and methodologies of Cultural Studies and Critical Theory (from film studies to women’s studies, from the Frankfurt School to postcolonialism). The last phenomenon is especially noteworthy, as it is genuinely cross-Pacific and shared by younger scholars in the United States, the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In terms of the generational politics and paradigmatic break that this tendency implies, its development seems radical. But in terms of the ‘‘normalization’’ of scholarly research, it suggests nothing more radical than an institutional rationalization, namely, the need to engage Chinese studies in the same manner, and hopefully with the same intellectual and theoretical sophistication, as a scholar would engage in, say, French studies or subaltern studies. Similarly, disengagement from the various state or state-sanctioned discourses in both the People’s Republic and the United States should be regarded as part of the same movement to carry the field beyond its overdetermination by the Cold War era and that period’s ideological limitations. No suggestion is being made that the historical conditions of contemporary China should be considered in the homogeneous space of capitalist or bourgeois universality, either as one more proof of sameness or as an exception that proves the rule. Rather, a move beyond the intellectual and ideological straitjacket of Cold War and Orientalist scholarship refutes the ideological homogeneity reinforced by rigidly fixing compartmentalized and instrumentalized knowledge imposed on the margins of the capitalist world system. Instead, such a movement beyond fixed positions is an attempt to reassert the internal differences of reality, which in the selfaffirmation—even celebration—of its own contradictions prefigures a new

social, political, and cultural horizon integral to a more plural, more democratic world. Ironically, the uneven development within this general tendency is more pronounced in a reluctance by the U.S. field of Chinese studies to face its own formation in and overdetermination by the Cold War enterprise and to realize the intellectual or merely scholarly need to go beyond Cold War limits. To be sure, this difficulty in moving beyond limits has more to do with the intense mythology of freedom and autonomy in so-called open society—a mythology of Enlightenment that proves to be deeply resistant to its own demystification. In so-called totalitarian societies, state repression is transparent, while possibilities are opaque. And nobody can even pretend to ignore that condition for knowledge production. In this initial chapter, I seek to provide a historical and theoretical overview of Chinese intellectual development in the 1990s, especially as that development affected socioeconomic change, politico-ideological conflict, and cultural transformations in China after Tiananmen. My intention is to keep a chronological and thematic narrative clear, but also to show how that narrative mixes with and sometimes is suspended by a closer examination of particular phenomena, issues, topics, attitudes, and discourses that mark intellectual production and ideological position-taking in China today. If sometimes I appear more concerned with the contentious discursive ‘‘framework’’ than with a pedestrian chronology, my reasons are straightforward: I think that articulating the Chinese problematic is possible only by way of working through—and on the way disrupting and reconstructing—some intellectual premises and ideological assumptions that still govern our understanding of the contemporary world. Reading the Chinese State The habit goes unchallenged—both inside and outside China—to view everything in the PRC through the imagined totality of the government and its official policies and rhetoric. It is also customary, even a knee-jerk reaction, to see anything extragovernmental as instantaneously and naturally subversive, progressive, and good. As a result, new configurations of social space often are unaccounted for, and new cultural-intellectual manifestations willfully interpreted and misread. New forms of material life, social power, and ideological legitimacy often remain invisible to the eyes searching behind the veil of systematic dogma and bigotry.Take the emerging self-assertiveness of Chinese public opinion, which often is thought by Western students to be nationalistic, anti-Western, and governmentorchestrated. A closer look, however, will show that a wide range of popu-

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lar and intellectual debates spawn from both the marketplace and statecontrolled media; it is virtually impossible and meaningless to determine the intellectual and ideological content of these debates by where they originate. Compared to the free-spirited discussions in those ‘‘independent’’ journals (all of them published by state publishing houses since no private publishing exists in China today) such as Dushu (Reading), Tianya (Frontier), Zhanlue yu guanli (Strategy and management), Gonggong luncong (Res publica), and numerous bbss, or internet forums, the mouthpieces of state propaganda per se are the most consistently and singlemindedly pro-American voices in China today, despite their occasional protest against U.S. ‘‘hegemony.’’ Not that the Chinese state as a realpolitik animal has any more faith in the ‘‘Sino-U.S. strategic partnership’’ than its U.S. counterpart. Rather, the raison d’etat of the Deng and post-Deng regimes—namely, developmentalism—sees the United States as the realization of that officially sanctioned ‘‘truth beyond dispute’’ (yingdaoli). The only thing that the Chinese government does not readily take from the American model is procedural or formal democracy. Nor does it show any sign of embarrassment when it turns to authoritarian capitalist societies in East Asia—Singapore, South Korea, and, until recently, Taiwan— for political inspiration. Indeed, the anticlimatically smooth takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 testifies not so much to the working of a ‘‘one country, two system’’ principle envisioned by Deng Xiaoping as it does to the virtual continuity of authoritarian and colonial capitalism in the former British colony. The Chinese government, despite garnering credit for presiding over rapid economic growth, seems an anomaly in the post-Cold War ‘‘new world order,’’ and, ideologically, it is put on the defensive both at home and in the international arena.1 Its undemocratic qualities require closer and more discriminate analysis. One may wonder to what extent these undemocratic positions derive from the residual system of Mao’s proletarian dictatorship and to what extent they are redefined by the new technocratic-managerial regime. Both of those causes are interrelated in the post-Mao Chinese social environment, to be sure; but they also have different socioeconomic origins and political-ideological dispositions, which produce different effects in concrete social-political terms. Where public opinions refracted through intellectual debates are conflicting and schizophrenic, what may pass as a national ideology upheld by the state media is little more than a developmentalist and culturalist apology for political underdevelopment. So politically deprived is its cultural-nationalist self-glorification that this national ideology invariably fails to inspire, as even the most unreflected cultural affirmation of one’s ‘‘way of life’’ would have at its core a

moral passion for the political ideals of a nation. By denying the people the possibility of a passionate political debate over what kind of a social system they want to build, the Chinese state, still nominally communist, becomes increasingly dependent on cynical pragmatism and opportunism as the sole sources of its legitimacy. By effectively muffling public articulation of an actually existing but internally differentiating socialism’s political vision, the new technocratic regime puts itself permanently on the ideological defensive both vis-à-vis the capitalist new world order and before its own people. This internal fracture between daily reality and its theoretical formulations is by no means accidental or something to be explained away by the incompetence of the Chinese intelligentsia. On the contrary, it is an indication of the Chinese national elite’s general disorientation and demoralization amid increasing economic disparity and class stratification. To this extent, the Chinese state—along with the conceptual space it still occupies as an empty shell—ceases to be an effective framework to critically analyze contemporary Chinese society and culture, and the state must be considered a remaining or reinvented ideological sham necessary for real power operations on both subnational and supranational levels. In other words, the uniformity of the Chinese state must now be regarded as a function or agency of the economic, social, and ideological reconfigurations driven by global and local forces and interests. The political and philosophical poverty of the Chinese state has not fully undermined its legitimacy. Such forms of poverty merely allow the state to replace its moral authority with a legalistic, administrative, and technocratic function or indispensability, a tendency in accord with the secularization and rationalization processes unfolding since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). The social acceptance of such new authority is ensured by the government’s willingness to silence public debate and exercise raw, brutal power. But this is only half the story. The oppressiveness of the Chinese state in some areas is paralleled by unprecedented freedom and anarchism in others. Even political repression in China today bears a self-righteous air, as though its acceptance by the general populace testifies to the state’s mandate to achieve wealth and order through whatever means necessary, while economic growth vindicates the government’s policies and ideologies. As long as the government’s legitimacy comes exclusively from maintaining economic growth and social stability, its official ideology will remain a meaningless signifier awaiting appropriation by the newborn economic and class interests and positions in the differentiated social sphere. In fact, state ideology is already intertwined with the forces of the capitalist global market and with the new social and class formations in the new economic situation.

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Often painted in dissident and international opinions as a political dinosaur and public enemy, the current Chinese government proves far more sophisticated, flexible, and dynamic than many of its opponents want to admit. That pliancy can be attributed in part to its unabashed pragmatism and its instinctual identification with the new urban middle class at home and the ideological mainstream abroad. The Chinese state, however, needs a new ideological coherence to better identify, claim, or fuse with the emerging social-ideological center. In this area, the state’s usual clumsiness reveals itself not so much in the rigidity of Communist ideology as in the complexity, unevenness, and diversity of Chinese socioeconomic development. This clumsiness, ironically, stems from the state’s loyalty to a more classical or modernist model of capitalist development now being replaced in advanced capitalist societies by information technologies and a new bourgeois subjectivity. While paying lip service to the socialist legacies of the People’s Republic, the government is busy disengaging from society and the everyday life it inherited from Mao’s China. After two decades of trying to relink the Chinese economy to the world system, the ruling technocratic elite seems to agree that the socialist (let alone Maoist) moral-ideological framework of the past will have to be dismantled to make room for the neoliberal theology of the free market, efficiency, competitiveness, etc., and to rationalize the state form in the new global economy. Marxism as the official philosophy of Chinese communism has played an ambivalent and dubious role in this massive ideological reorientation of the state. While state Marxism still provides theoretical justification for socialism in its historical confrontation with capitalism, in modern Chinese history it also has been the dominant discourse of modernization and modernity. The historico-materialist emphasis on developing ‘‘forces of production’’ as the basis for all revolutionary changes in the ‘‘superstructure’’ of human society is a philosophical pillar of Reformist ideology. Marxism as a state philosophy also functions as a power medium that ties Chinese social history to the world-historical framework rooted in European modernity. The universalism, historical determinism, and teleology implicit or explicit in Marxism are ingrained in the modern Chinese intellectual tradition, which, after its repudiation of Maoism in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, embraces a deeply developmentalist ideology. Under the cover of Marxist philosophy, the Chinese state—centered on a Leninist party organization—becomes a ruthless promoter of capitalist-style development and the market revolution that has prevailed in the Western world since the Reagan-Thatcher era. That Marxism’s function in concrete Chinese politicoeconomic reality has been subject to critical scrutiny by critical intellectuals in the 1990s testifies to the degree to which it has become

the standard-bearer of a modernization ideology and has lost its analytical and critical relevance vis-à-vis new social contradictions in China today.2 The making of state legitimacy in post-Tiananmen China can be summarized crudely, but effectively, in terms of its self-definition or rationalization vis-à-vis society at large. The turning point is not the military crackdown in June 1989, but, rather, what occurred in the ensuing months. During that period, as the government decided how to live with the consequences of Tiananmen and reclaim social authority, the use-value of intellectuals during the New Era was quickly replaced by a new bureaucratic and technocratic elite, which stood by the government despite the government’s loss of moral authority and respect. This new bureaucratic and technocratic elite, itself the biggest beneficiary of Reform policies, thus proved a conscious and prudent contender for state power, even though it has degenerated into a political interest group concerned solely with staying in power. By devoting its political loyalty to the regime, the bureaucratic and technocratic elite became a major stabilizing force during the legitimation crisis after Tiananmen. Such political loyalty was then rewarded— in terms of power-sharing, generous material benefits, and tolerance of corruption—in the market revolution that ensued, a shift reflecting the long-term rationality, interest, and ideology of the new ruling class. The combined effects of the 4 June 1989 military crackdown and the market upheaval since 1992 left ordinary citizens of the PRC wondering if their government had decided that its contract with the people had been terminated or had undergone substantial, though undeclared, revision. For those openly critical of current policies of Chinese reform, the Chinese Communist Party is becoming not only a ‘‘rational’’ technocratic state machine, but a giant interest group—a ccp Inc. Thus, given an undemocratic environment, the central political tension in Chinese society today is not so much the discrepancy between a Communist government and a market environment—since the two have already effected a corporate-style merger—but rather an intensifying conflict between this interest group’s rational self-interest and its unchecked power and corruption, which put it in direct confrontation with society at large. Such corrupt power not only deteriorates the social-political legacy of the People’s Republic, but it poses a direct threat to the economic growth and social stability for the very interest group that the state depends on so desperately for its political survival. What allows the current regime to ignore widespread social discontent and to suppress popular demand for political reform is, in addition to its consolidation and rationalization of the state bureaucracy, its de facto alliance with a proto-urban middle class—members of the new management, for example—whose material well-being, social privilege, and political power

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are tied to the Reform policy. However, the unfolding of intellectual debate in the 1990s betrays the disagreement between the state bureaucracy unable to curtail its corruption and a rising proto-middle class demanding more clarity and rationality in private and positive law. Moreover, the two groups both face the same dilemma over if, when, and how to convert economic power to political power, or vice versa, which is nothing more than thinking aloud about privatization as ‘‘rationalization’’ of a socialist prehistory of capitalist development. While such economic and political calculation pointedly tests the socialist commitment of the Chinese state, it also reveals the extent to which Chinese socialism is based on a mixed economy and draws from different sources for its legitimacy. Finally, Chinese intellectual polemics in the 1990s reflected the larger social tension and ideological conflict stemming from the more profound divide between this upper class as a whole and the mass majority of the Chinese population whose benefits from the earlier Reform years eroded and whose livelihoods became increasingly precarious in the 1990s. Although the Chinese state is nominally communist, its exercise of power in the process of radical marketization has generated a different set of social and political implications.3 This unique configuration of power, capital, and class structure is central to any critical examination of postsocialist society and its cultural-intellectual life. It would be simpleminded to talk about a Chinese ‘‘public sphere’’ without cautious qualification. Equally ineffective would be a reduction of the complex refigurations of social power and ideological alliance to a clean-cut division between state and civil society, or to focus exclusively for all answers on the state apparatus. The central dynamism of Chinese social and intellectual life in the 1990s was not so much the ideological confrontation between state and society as two conceptual categories in political theory; rather, it was the new social and power relationship produced by a market economy initiated and administered by the state bureaucracy. This shift of focus has brought students of China face-to-face with many new players in old robes as well as old players displaying new colors. In the economy, society, and culture of today’s PRC, global capitalism is in every sense an ‘‘internal’’ factor, not least in the sense that it is mediated and sometimes enforced by the Chinese socialist state. Similarly, the adjective in ‘‘Western theory,’’ the critical theoretical discourses vis-à-vis global capitalism, becomes a misleading marker except in self-critical terms, as Chinese intellectuals and their discursive and political struggles at home are now an integral part of a global terrain of critical thinking. In this light, the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 stands as a landmark not for the return of a totalitarian state countering the ‘‘universal current,’’ but

for the supple combination of a rationalized state form and the prevailing privatization, marketization, and commodification that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc. No conspiracy theory is being suggested here. No historical evidence implies that the Tiananmen bloodshed was the joint work of Communist Party hard-liners and liberal marketeers within the party state. What needs to be recognized, instead, is the cunning of history, which turns both a Leninist party organization and neoliberal ideology into efficient vehicles for a dialectical third—the actualization of a bureaucratic capitalism in the global context of economic, social, and political uneven development.4 An intellectual rethinking of political repression since Tiananmen would be fruitless without accounting for the market revolution since 1992; the same is true for examining the 1992 market upheaveal in the light of Tiananmen. Reading this historical process in a global context allows us to face both the open wound and the ongoing shock to the national experience; it also gives us room to resist both their conservative-liberal appropriations and their erasure or rationalization by state discourse. Chinese intellectual discourses in the 1990s were highly differentiated, but their politics were overdetermined by how they simultaneously came to terms with 1989 and 1992. These landmarks not only signify a world-historical conjuncture, but they replay the unsettled imperatives and contradictions in modern Chinese history—from the search for national wealth and strength to the pursuit of democracy; from the necessity to build a strong state to the longings for individual freedom. Mixed Economy, Divided Nation After two decades of phenomenal economic development, with an average annual growth rate around 10 percent, the quantitative goal of the Reform set forth by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s, namely, the quadrupling of Chinese per capita gdp by the end of the twentieth century, seems to have been achieved. These are not merely abstract and impersonal figures, but they translate into the palpable fact that a majority of Chinese now enjoy a substantially higher standard of living than before, that hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. This economic growth also means that the country as a whole has reached a new platform of material production and consumption, which brings the anticipated reality closer that East Asia would become another gravity center of the world economy outside Western Europe and North America. Despite striking growth, however, China remains a poor country. In dollar terms, its gnp is roughly the same as Italy’s, although its population is more than twenty times greater. Still, the renewed foundation of material

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life and the increasing exposure to a globalized economy and culture give rise to the new forms of human interaction and self-identity that underscore the tension in every aspect of contemporary Chinese society, politics, and culture. Economic growth, it should be emphasized, also creates astounding disparities in the distribution of wealth, placing China today among the most unequal nations in the world.5 The polarization between China’s richest and poorest citizens and between its richest and poorest regions is considered by economists in China and worldwide to be not only worse than that of the United States, one of the most unequal of all advanced capitalist countries, but also on a par with such oligarchic or crony-capitalist countries as Russia and Indonesia.6 This economic gulf has deepened not through the demise of a strong central government, but under the close watch and constant guidance of a socialist regime which consciously uses income disparity as a stimulant for the economy. The 1990s in particular witnessed an epidemic of corruption of power in the marketplace, or, rather, the ‘‘marketization of power’’ in the forms of local governments’ rent-seeking, insider-trading, or the theft of public property, as described by the economist-journalist He Qinglian.7 The lack of press freedom makes it difficult to mobilize social and popular forces against corruption. The rapid erosion of working people’s basic rights established under Chinese socialism leaves them powerless in the path of capital and the new managerial class. It is widely agreed that the current Chinese economy is neither clearcut socialist nor clear-cut capitalist; instead, it consists of mixed modes of production that pertain to overlapping social, political, and administrative structures, which bear a textbook example of ‘‘nonsynchronic contemporaneity’’ (Ernst Bloch). Trying to determine the extent to which the Chinese economy is still state-owned is moot, as is the question of whether the country is socialist or capitalist.8 If a statistical percentage of the state’s share of the national economy were any standard, one would never understand the ‘‘overnight’’ collapse of Soviet socialism when more than 90 percent of its economy was under absolute state control. As the state strives to learn to live by the market, nonstate economies rely deeply on it for legal protection, tax benefits, infrastructure, a supply of educated, low-cost labor, and other day-to-day operational practicalities. Thus, for advocates of thorough-going market-oriented reform, the ‘‘old system’’ still constitutes the general background of Chinese economic, social, and political reality.9 On the other hand, as long as the global environment of Chinese socialist reform is the capitalist world market, and as long as the Chinese economy is understood as but one competitor in the rat race of global capitalist com-

petition, then the entire national economic and social-political structure will be overdetermined by standards set by advanced capitalist economies. Even the most ardently socialist enterprises will have to be run in ways compatible with Western corporations. In this respect, the Chinese economy is no different from other non-Western national economies linked to the global system. The disagreement among Chinese bureaucrats and intellectuals is not about whether China should proceed with the experiment of the ‘‘socialist market economy.’’ Except for a thoroughly marginalized Old Left, nobody would want to return to the central plan model. The difference of opinion between them, rather, comes from the most effective way to achieve the best economic result with the least social cost and political risk. The extensive role that a socialist government plays in the creation and daily operation of a mixed economy has given rise to appalling corruption that prompts the call for economic and political democracy. Yet so pervasive is the state’s interest in such a mixed structure, and so compatible is it with the Chinese political structure, that both economic and political democracy are rendered unlikely. A Russian-style privatization is particularly rendered unappealing or unnecessary to the managerial class as a whole. William H. Simon explains: ‘‘despite the enthusiasm of many segments of the population for capitalist institutions, private enterprise still lacks legitimacy in many quarters. Private enterprise also lacks the legal protection it enjoys in the West. Thus, privatization is rejected not only by those who oppose it on ideological and political grounds, but also by cadres and managers who feel that they can get rich more safely at the helm of a public, rather than a private, enterprise.’’ 10 This statement incisively observes the structure of the Chinese market economy itself, and it also shows that the described interaction between the state and market creates its resonance in a key ideological-intellectual space to which I soon will turn. In today’s China, while a political-ideological consensus on ‘‘getting rich’’ by means of a mixed economy seems to exist, the story of who actually is ‘‘making it’’ presents a picture of a deeply divided nation. As new export-oriented and consumer-oriented economic structures develop in the coastal regions, and all kinds of ‘‘Made in China’’ products flood the shopping malls of American suburbia, most Chinese are either too poor or too insecure to buy such goods. Since the late 1990s, the Chinese economy has been plagued by an industrial overcapacity and a deflation of consumer prices resulting from unbalanced development and meager domestic consumption. American-trained economists work furiously to lower interest rates in order to funnel private savings—now at 8 trillion rmb, or one trillion usd—into the consumer market. While the state banking sys-

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tem imposes a 20 percent tax on individual savings, state-controlled media urge Chinese consumers to be optimistic and buy more things. Both bankers and media advocates conveniently forget that more than 80 percent of national private savings are in the hands of a tiny nouveau riche class who likely drive government-supplied cars, live in multiple, oversubsidized housing, hold foreign bank accounts, and yet, despite their lavish spending, rarely help the national economy. While money pours into real estate speculation, creating economic bubbles in Chinese urban centers, more and more urban dwellers no longer can afford health care and education for their children, not to mention rural dwellers—still comprising more than 70 percent of the Chinese population—who are left to fend for themselves. The widening cleavage in the global socioeconomic system has been internalized in Chinese society. As a result, two Chinas seem to coexist: a China already integrated with the world market, and a China still unable or unwilling to enter the playground of finance capital, global competition, and neoliberal social policies. The overlap of preexisting social divisions with the new hierarchy and the inequality established by it during the past two decades has greatly reduced popular support for economic reforms; it also has rendered the current Chinese social and political environment sensitive, unstable, and potentially explosive. Social tensions now are created not only from aspirations for greater individual and political freedom, as liberal Chinese intellectuals recognize, but increasingly from the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The last development also renders obsolete the official assessment, made in 1979 at the beginning of the Chinese Reform, of the ‘‘central contradiction’’ of a ‘‘classless socialist society,’’ which lies between ‘‘the people’s increasing material and cultural demand and the relatively underdeveloped capacity of production of a socialist economy.’’ 11 One internal dilemma of the economic reforms stems from the legal structure of a socialist state that is, for one, incompatible with a mixed mode of production and, in particular, with private property and ownership. Wu Jinglian, a senior adviser at the State Council and an authority on the Chinese economic reforms, observed two imminent risks to the Chinese reforms: the continuation of the central planning model and the pillaging of the masses in the name of the Reform. Wu, whose liberal proReform credentials won him the nickname ‘‘Mr. Market,’’ may astonish his audience by comparing the current economic Reform to the Land Reform movement after the success of the Chinese Communist revolution. For Wu, Land Reform liberated Chinese peasants from the landlord system and then formed the historical force that sustained early socialist industrialization of the People’s Republic. However, this ‘‘great liberation of

forces of production’’ was cut short by a breathless sequence of the ‘‘revolution of a system of ownership,’’ meaning the Maoist campaigns ‘‘aimed at weeding out the bourgeois element within the socialist system.’’ The Maoist idea of ‘‘permanent revolution,’’ Wu suggests, was based on the social groups that were dissatisfied with the gradual accumulation of individual wealth by ‘‘playing by the rules.’’ Instead, these groups sought to enhance their wealth and power through a nonstop revolution in ‘‘relations of production,’’ mainly ownership, and the superstructure. This time, however, Wu’s main target is not Maoism; instead, he warns against the danger—indeed, the grave reality—of a socially irresponsible right-wing revolution in economic and social policy-making. He observes that ‘‘prudent reformist regulations are now condemned as either too idealistic or too conservative. What has been praised to the sky, instead, are various forms of rentseeking of the government branches; ownership reforms aiming at swallowing public wealth; lease of public land in a manner reminiscent of the Enclosure movement in English history; and the financial tricks designed to rip off ordinary share holders.’’ 12 Wu points out the daily making of an Indonesian type of ‘‘crony capitalism’’ within Chinese socialism, which is something that ‘‘many old generation Chinese will readily recognize as ‘bureaucratic capitalism.’ ’’ Wu deplores the superficial division between ‘‘conservatists’’ and ‘‘reformers,’’ and he calls for constructing a solid, independent ‘‘middle force.’’ Wu’s assessment of Chinese socioeconomic reality is an example of the liberal ideological discourse of antiradicalism. He is certainly right in worrying about a radical right-wing movement pushing for Russian-style privatization, but his thinking fails to go beyond the neoliberal framework. His prescription for social reform ends up reiterating the neoliberal orthodoxy of ‘‘creating an economic and social force independent of the state system’’ without analyzing the politicoeconomic condition of state capitalism and the lack of the Chinese people’s political right to determine any redistribution of national wealth. The ‘‘official’’ reform ideology and the ‘‘nonofficial’’ liberal discourse converge on the need to create a propertied class that can function as the economic engine for growth and for the social foundation of the new legalpolitical codes compatible with a market economy. What Chinese developments of the 1990s have rendered transparent, however, is that such an artificial and hurried creation of a market environment relies on the bureaucratic and administrative system of the state, which works on behalf of the ‘‘invisible hand’’ of the market to accumulate economic and sociopolitical capital. What go unsaid are the social and human costs of such fast-track capitalization, as well as the function of an undemocratic sys-

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tem to guarantee the ‘‘freedom’’ of a new bureaucratic capitalist class. The ideological-intellectual space of China today is filled with the resonance not so much of the interactions between the socialist state and the capitalist market, but of the conflict within a power-manipulated process of marketization or a market-based reconfiguration of state and social power. This conflict manifests itself as the tension between the masses and the elite, between the search for economic and political democracy and an aristocratic concept of ‘‘liberty.’’ Repudiating Radicalism Popular and intellectual sentiment in China in the aftermath of 4 June 1989 was a repressed rage and a subdued antagonism toward the state. The silent opposition of humanistic intellectuals was understood as liberal and pro-Western, especially in the face of the endorsement of the government by the technocratic elite. The depth of such antagonism can be measured by the fact that the Gulf War and its interventionist principle were then seen positively and popularly by the urban population. Such a positive response would be hard to imagine for a Western tourist witnessing Chinese students smashing windows of the American embassy in Beijing in May 1999, following nato’s ‘‘accidental’’ bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. But such hostility toward the regime is by no means a sign of reformist intellectuals’ ready embrace of the neoliberal gospel of the absolute free market. One example is the nationwide debate over the ‘‘loss of the humanistic spirit’’ in the mid-1990s. Raised by liberal cultural intellectuals in Shanghai, the discussion revealed a profound anxiety about the government-orchestrated market revolution, whose horrendous social effect disgusted these intellectuals, who could, however, express their concern only in a self-pitying lamentation over the general vulgarization of society, the demise of high culture, and the withering and irrelevance of humanistic intellectuals under the monopoly of public space by the state and the commodity.13 The immediate post-Tiananmen years (1989–92) saw the collapse of the lively and multi-voiced intellectual space of the late 1980s. For those still nostalgic for the euphoric New Era, the 1990s started as depressing, bleak, and disoriented. What permeated the widespread sense of defeat, however, were the entrenched assumptions of the previous decade, which dispersed as the 1990s unfolded. These assumptions included the notions that (1) intellectuals and the bureaucratic state were natural, inseparable partners in herding the people through wholesale social change while maintaining order; (2) intellectuals were the moral conscience of

the people and had the ability and right to speak for the people’s desires and longings. (3) achieving modernity—understood as a set of unquestionable universal institutions and values—was the goal of the Chinese people, and intellectuals constituted the high priesthood for this cause. For the post-Mao Chinese intellectual elite, what was shattered by the gunfire of 4 June 1989 was more than the prospect of Western-style democracy, a discourse retrospectively projected by liberal intellectuals onto the Tiananmen movement and from a changed socioeconomic and ideological context. What was hurt most deeply by Tiananmen were the privileged and even monopolistic voices and visions of the intellectuals, whose power and feebleness came from their parasitic and symbiotic relations with the state. Historically, the Chinese state alone has endowed its intellectuals— as a crucial state organ or function—with unchallenged moral and cultural authority over society at large. This tradition, of course, goes well beyond the history of the PRC and the modern Chinese nation-state; it lies at the heart of a Confucian cultural-political order that sustained imperial China.14 Indeed, throughout the history of modern China, the fate of the modern intellectuals is intertwined with that of the nation-state; the socialpolitical content of the intellectuals’ views tends to be exhausted in the realization and self-assertion of the nation-state. Thus, the systematic creation of a market economy by the state presents a new and unprecedented situation for Chinese social life in general and intellectual life in particular. Along with the growth of a market economy within a social space largely congruent with that of the state, the intelligentsia increasingly becomes as schizophrenic as the state itself. In other words, within the imagined interiority of the state, both the state and intellectuals find themselves exposed to a social and ideological environment outside itself. Put differently, the inside becomes the outside. Their interests, desires, and ideologies are related, but no longer naturally so, and they are not always in agreement. The breaking-up of the New Era’s broad social-ideological consensus reflects a social sphere consisting of newfound material and social relations. In the initial post-Tiananmen years, under the suffocating ideological policing of the state, the first ‘‘rethinking’’ by Chinese intellectuals concerned a theoretical critique of radicalism. Many Chinese intellectuals who had encountered Western liberal and conservative discourses in the late 1980s quickly concluded that the Tiananmen ‘‘democracy’’ movement was only one more ill-fated mass action propelled by an intellectual belief in radical and total social change and lofty political ideals. For those who attempted, at least in retrospect, to set aside stormy social revolution in favor of piecemeal reform—a reform intended, eventually, to replace the Communist dictatorship with a bourgeois democracy, this effort had the effect

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of admitting that intellectuals, all along, had been thinking in revolutionary terms while struggling to put revolution to rest once and for all. Two crucial conceptual twists distort the relationship between name and substance. First, the popular social protest against an increasingly antisocialist environment plagued by high inflation, worsening income disparity, and rampant corruption of state capitalism is painted here as a popular demand by the Chinese people for more capitalism and individual liberty. Meanwhile, liberal intellectuals longing for an ‘‘enlightened despotism’’—their political bet on the ill-fated Zhao Ziyang faction of the ccp, which was expected to carry out radical privatization and marketization—turned around and blamed radicalism and revolution as such for an aborted democratic movement. The Chinese government in 1989 crushed the popular protest as a threat to ‘‘stability,’’ not as a crusade against neoliberalism. And what this stability logically ensured socially, politically, and economically became clear only in the 1990s. In this picture the ruthlessness of a rising technocratic regime was washed away in the muddy water of ‘‘Communist hard-liners,’’ whereas the unapologetic advocates of a more unequal and undemocratic China sought to invent its pre-1989 history by appropriating the liberal mainstream of the pro-Reform intellectuals of the New Era. The discursive slippage and manipulation of the discourse of democracy went on to play a central role in the so-called liberalism-New Left debate toward the end of the 1990s. It is important to point out here the radicalization of the liberal discourse in the 1990s. It went from a traditional liberalism (freedom, equality, social justice, etc.) to a neoliberal discourse corresponding to the conservative revolution of the ReaganThatcher period and the demise of the Soviet bloc from 1989 through 1991. An increasing neoliberal militancy lay at the bottom of the repudiation of radicalism—an ideological clearing of the ground effected by discrediting utopian and revolutionary impulses toward social change as humanly naive, intellectually arrogant, and philosophically wrong. Whereas traditional or social-reformist liberal values overlap with the intellectual ideals and popular longings of the Chinese Reform, the neoliberal stance demands a wholesale, systematic adoption of the ideologies and policies of the market revolution that has swept the world since the 1980s. As a result, an advocate for New Deal-style economic and social policies in China was considered to be a liberal in the late 1980s, but ‘‘New Left’’ by century’s end. Some issues raised in repudiating radicalism were leftovers from the late 1980s, when liberal discourse, at least in the realm of political theory, took the form of neoauthoritarianism. With the translation

of Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Societies in Transition (1988), such liberal discourse was associated with the hope of the pro-Reform factions of the ccp to see an ‘‘enlightened despotism.’’ Today’s liberals share with their pre-Tiananmen precursors this neoauthoritarian legacy: both groups profoundly distrust social democracy (particularly mass democracy) while searching for an efficient and radical way to establish a new social-ideological order based on the market and private ownership. They differ, however, in that the liberals of the 1980s consider themselves a reformist movement within the framework of Chinese socialism, thus concerning themselves with many issues of the early economic Reform— above all, political democratization and the maintenance of a socially just distribution of wealth. By contrast, the liberals of the 1990s, who employ an orthodox neoliberal approach, openly challenge the very existence of Chinese socialism and take issue with the notion of a Western welfare state. The 1990s’ discourse of antiradicalism and conservatism also might be considered a delayed response to a critical review of radicalism and conservatism in modern Chinese history. That is the view of Yu Yingshi, a historian of China at Princeton University who regularly publishes in Chinese. In an influential 1988 article, Yu deplored the lack of a ‘‘defensible status quo’’ throughout modern Chinese history, which resulted in the escalation of radical political and intellectual revolutions.15 In this process, the modern, bourgeois West fell from a shining ideal for the bourgeois revolutionaries of late Qing China to the embodiment of the most corrupt and reactionary forces during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. In his historical narrative, Yu pointed out that the lack of a strong middle class in China was the main reason why a reasonable social-political order could not be established or effectively defended. He also noted that the mere existence of a middle class is no guarantee for democracy, as Germany and Japan proved during the interwar years. Yu never hides his own politics, which combine a more prudent evaluation of the Chinese cultural tradition with the liberal tradition of the modern West. For this purpose, he holds, the reconstruction of the social sphere based on private property and its legal requirements must become a national priority, and the radical intellectual tradition must be repudiated. Yet in the ideological context of post-Tiananmen China, Yu’s cultural conservatism and political liberalism were taken by Chinese neoliberals as intellectual and historical license against radicalism, idealism, and utopianism, which have become code words for equality, social justice, and mass democracy. After 1992, the conservative imperative to construct a ‘‘defensible status quo’’ of a middle-class society was quickly appropriated by Chinese neoliberals

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longing for power-protected private property and its freedom in a market economy. Such power-protected private property embodied the Chinese neoliberals’ understanding of Isaiah Berlin’s notion of ‘‘negative liberty,’’ or the so-called freedom from as opposed to freedom to. In the late 1990s, the liberals’ pitching of freedom against democracy, and their categorical opposition to the ideas of equality and social revolution, addressed their socioeconomic agenda of sweeping privatization. They did not discuss the fact that in the Chinese reality the degree of thoroughness of privatization and marketization depended precisely on how much the state intervened in the transfer between power and money. What they demanded was a protected inwardness (using the novelist Thomas Mann’s satirical phrase), which guarantees the privilege of the few against the misery and helplessness of the many. Yu Yingshi’s position, which stems from a convergence between (Chinese) cultural conservatism and (universal) political liberalism, understandably maintains the necessity of a defensible social mainstream as insurance against unstoppable radicalization of national political life. In its neoliberal appropriation in the current Chinese intellectual debate, however, such a position takes on a distorted, ‘‘radicalized’’ form, as the liberalconservative repudiation of radicalism gives way to a nearly fascist demand for the implementation of a legal-political system in the service of the newly emerging upper class in a power-infested, unequal and unjust space of ‘‘efficiency’’ and ‘‘free competition.’’ As a Chinese enclave of what Richard Rorty calls an ‘‘international superclass,’’ 16 such a ‘‘middle class’’ will be barricaded in every way from the mass of the people in its own, economically underdeveloped country before it lifts them into the heaven of universal progress through a trickle-down system of distribution. The only link between these two different versions of liberal ideology is anticommunism, which still bestows legitimacy and moral righteousness on even the most neurotic and hysterical forms of antidemocratic and socially unjust proposals and practices. Yu’s earlier reconsideration of radicalism in modern Chinese history attracted criticism from Chinese intellectuals still working within the state discourse. Interestingly, the main objection to his liberal position by these advocates of state discourse is of Maoism being considered as radicalism. For ‘‘official’’ intellectuals like Jiang Yihua, a senior historian at Fudan University, Maoism, characterized by its egalitarian utopia, must be understood as a form of ‘‘conservatism,’’ which is, in his lexicon, a diplomatic way of saying feudalism.17 As a result, Jiang’s rebuttal of Yu Yingshi reads less like a critique of liberal ideology than a competing version of the same ideology that state discourse offered to legitimize the Reform. Here one gets a

glimpse into the ideological structure of the post-Mao Chinese state: Only by redefining Maoism as feudal, ‘‘conservative,’’ and precapitalist, could the post-Mao Reform ensure its legitimacy in the new ideological framework of universal progress. For liberal intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution marked the dead end of a self-fulfilling and self-destructive radical tradition. For the ideologues of discursive officialdom, the same event formed the rock bottom of a country’s modern fate; it became a psychological yardstick against which the country could be mobilized to engage in modernization and upward mobility. In this regard, the ideological difference between the defenders of the ‘‘totalitarian state’’ and its critics seems both trivial and sentimental. The Scholastic Turn This antiradical turn prepared a view that opposed theory and ‘‘grandnarrative,’’ further paving the way for a massive ‘‘dumbing-down’’ (to use a U.S. conversational term) of Chinese intellectual and cultural life in the 1990s. The immediate point of reference for such a shift was the Tiananmen military crackdown and a rethinking of the intellectual assumptions of the ‘‘new enlightenment’’ movement of the 1980s. In a larger historical context, however, this shift could be regarded as a preemptive move by intellectuals to adjust themselves to coming commodification and globalization. In other words, it was a way to address the inevitable marginalization and professionalization of Chinese intellectual life and to search for a different means to define a universal framework for a particular Chinese intellectual reorientation. It also was a way to avoid a head-on political confrontation with the government, which showed no sign of backing down from its official position on the Tiananmen Incident. Finally, it reflected a collective effort to explore new discursive mechanisms by which to recapture the relevance and legitimacy of intellectuals in the upheaval of the market economy, the rationalization of the state bureaucracy, and the incorporation into global economic and cultural institutions. By emphasizing ‘‘scholarship’’ and ‘‘academic standards,’’ intellectuals wounded in 1989 and inspired by the changing political tide in Eastern Europe sought to gain a new symbolic foothold as professionals and specialists in the heightened division and specialization of intellectual labor. Since many leading Chinese intellectual figures of the 1980s left the country after 1989, wide-ranging discussions of Western theory no longer occupied Chinese intellectual discourse in the 1990s. A new enthusiasm toward de-theorizing, positivism, and empirical research led to a new type of ‘‘Chinese Learning’’ (guoxue) that grew in this newly barren landscape.

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As a result, scholastic research on Chinese social, cultural, and intellectual history replaced discussions of the ‘‘Chinese problematic’’ with reference to Western intellectual-theoretical discourse and became the mainstay of Chinese humanities in the 1990s. ‘‘From intellectual history to the history of scholarship’’ became a self-conscious marker of intellectual groupings in the early 1990s, which revealed a deep-seated longing for normative guidance and security in building autonomous scholarly communities and academic institutions to accord with international professional codes.18 To the extent that a conscious antitheoretical stance leads to an unconscious regression to more established, depoliticized, and ‘‘time-honored’’ approaches such as positivism and philology, the scholastic turn was a form of ‘‘unthinking’’ and a mirror image of the general ideological selfdoctrination carried out by many Chinese intellectuals in the post-Cold War world. As a result, the hermeneutic quest of the 1980s was replaced by an exegetic obsession. Theoretically and politically informed criticism was replaced by philology and academic bookkeeping as proper mannerisms in the age of professionalization. ‘‘Scholarship’’ thus marked a general framework with a new set of questions, approaches, and paradigms. It also registered a new economy of intellectual production in terms of career paths, funding, international sponsorships, and state commissions (particularly in the social sciences). In this new mode of scholarly production, translations of works by American China scholars replaced Heidegger, Gadamer, or Foucault as the new platform of high academic discourse. The new symbolic capital has reinforced a social ego taking part in the heightened social division of labor and a new middle-class ideology. The implicit politics of such newfound independent—which rarely means anything other than anti-Marxist— scholarship can be detected in its formal nuance and mannerism, which then became a discursive metaphor for the international standard—the autonomous individual and his private property. Such worldly politics needed its own heroes and style. Chen Yinke, a traditional historian who lived through the early years of the Peoples’s Republic, was rediscovered as an intellectual role model for his defiance of the Communist regime and his attachment to pre-Revolutionary China. Such a moral self-image, however, becomes intellectually vacuous when the Communist state itself acts as the mover and shaker in creating a market economy.Yet the self-glorifying and self-pitying tone in the Chen Yinke literature is indicative of the Chinese ‘‘liberal’’ scholars’ search for a moral and psychological anchor as well as symbolic power in a time of socioeconomic differentiation. If the Reformist intelligentsia in the 1980s was eager to define its agenda in a cosmopolitan context of ‘‘Western Learn-

ing,’’ namely, the philosophical formulations of modernity (which itself reminds us of Hegel’s famous saying that modernity or the Age of Enlightenment ‘‘requires philosophy’’), then the self-styled liberals in the 1990s could only resort to inventing the ‘‘absolute’’ and the ‘‘universal’’ in the provincial and self-segregating field of ‘‘Chinese Learning.’’ The degeneration from philosophy to philology, from hermeneutics to exegesis, and from narrative to anecdotes attested to the disappearance of intellectual ambition and energy of the decade, as the collective social desire was sucked dry in the yearning of the intellectual discourse for institutional certainty in an international alliance of symbols and ideology. Just as the neoliberal battle cry for the free market needs the undemocratic intervention of government, the fast-track professionalization in the Chinese intellectual world needed the disciplinary closure of Western Sinology. To interrogate the ideological content of the so-called New Chinese Scholarship (xinguoxue), one finds under its empirical excess an eagerness to set up a local franchise for a real or purported international establishment, which has become a far more tangible (and bankable) substitute for ‘‘philosophy.’’ Toward the end of the 1990s, the triviality and philistinism of liberal Chinese academic production reached an epic proportion, complete with ritualized seriousness, elevated mannerism of ‘‘research,’’ and a metaphysics of ‘‘scholarly standards.’’ Despite its posing as quasi-political dissent, the new scholastic discourse operated within the safe parameters of academic professionalization and through the marketing of knowledge, both of which are along the official lines of ‘‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’’ Obviously, collecting local footnotes for newfound absolutes and eternal truths not only constituted a short-cut to the global mainstream, but it also reflected a ‘‘rationalized’’ international division of labor. The withering of intellectual and theoretical ambition and the ‘‘inward’’ turn to positivism and global ideology have produced a new version of China exceptionalism. Instead of placing China’s uniqueness and autonomy in the cultural realm only, the new exceptionalist discourse has argued that China is unique and autonomous because it so badly wants to be part of the universal. It is much the same as saying that the collective obsession with continued modernization and an eventual merger with the ‘‘mainstream of world civilization’’ have endowed the Chinese with a new national essence immune to historical contradictions of capitalism and, indeed, staying above and beyond politics and ideology altogether. This transparent—though not necessarily self-conscious—political and ideological argument explains many Chinese liberal intellectuals’ quixotic fixation with and religious loyalty to Platonic categories, and to such metaphysical notions as ‘‘essence’’ (benzhi) and ‘‘absolute truth’’ ( jue-

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dui zhenli). It also exposes the determinist and essentialist assumption behind all kinds of antiessentialist, antideterminist, anti-totality rhetoric aimed at dissolving the historical experience of the Chinese revolution and modernity into the prevailing ideology of the free market and universal consumption. As a specimen of the global ideological drive against ‘‘grand narrative’’ (a code name for the study of capitalism, modernity, and revolution), it offers in the Chinese context a metanarrative ‘‘grander than most of those it would consign to oblivion.’’ 19 To participate in a new global ideological mainstream by means of the rationalization of ‘‘local knowledge’’ also addresses the latent or explicit cultural nationalism of a developmentalist intellectual elite in China today. In this respect, Sinology functions not so much as a disciplinary shelter but as an ideological filter that can separate the ‘‘Chinese problematic’’ from its global context. Any intellectual debate that is political and theoretical in nature must then be suspended in a field that exists in the domain of nonchange and timelessness. Once again, the anti-intellectual fervor of the Chinese 1990s had its own intellectual and ideological foreground. The density of this ideological atmosphere is the reason why discussions of democracy in China today must detour through Alexis de Tocqueville or Edmund Burke; an analysis of current socioeonomic differentiations must resort to the jargon of Max Weber, Karl Polanyi, or Friedrich von Hayek; social-political arguments are tortuously articulated through the language of Heidegger or Walter Benjamin; and the study of popular culture borrows heavily from Fredric Jameson or the Birmingham school. State censorship plays a role in shaping the coded language of intellectual debate, of course. But that role should not be exaggerated now that the Chinese field of cultural production mirrors the country’s mixed modes of production and ownership. Rather, we should remember that the post-Mao Chinese ‘‘public sphere’’ is a sham whose only existence is in the realm of ideology and fantasy.20 Its imagined presence throughout the 1980s was as a parasite on the state discourse of ‘‘Reform and Opening’’ policy; its way of corresponding to everyday life was to build aesthetic enclaves and philosophical trenches as isolated allegories of agitated but underdeveloped social relations. Once the formulations through Western theory had constituted the symbolic space of the elite intellectuals of the New Era, it formed the discursive platforms on which the ideological battles of the 1990s were fought. Defined as an internalized space, theory or philosophy is not so much a bridge to global space as it is a ‘‘dwelling’’ through which to negotiate a range of historical and geographical contexts and intellectual genealogies. Thus, the intellectual tradition of the modern West becomes a contentious ground used by various ideological positions in China today

to lay claim to legitimacy. As the collective experience of modern Chinese intellectuals is coded and indexed in a translated modernity, that index serves as an allegorical warehouse for their historically new imaginings. In Chinese academia in the 1990s, the ultimate academic prestige and authority—not to mention considerable financial and career benefits— predominantly came from American universities. Through an intricate network of material and symbolic exchange, many scholars in China’s elite education and research institutions are now finding their place in an international system of the division of intellectual labor. The newly adopted habitat prompts them into a transnational, translingual enterprise of inventing a ‘‘new Chinese studies’’ based on their understanding of the global power hierarchy and professional codes. The collective empathy toward the convention, jargon, and the institutional ideologies of highly professionalized Western academia creates a formidable magnetic field that shapes the research agenda, methodological approach, and ideological thrust of elite intellectual and scholarly communities in China. In this sense, one can say that, despite its pretense about Chineseness (zhongguoxing) and ‘‘pure scholarship’’ (chun xueshu), the ‘‘new Chinese studies’’ is as much a product of globalization and the market environment as anything else in China today. While enhanced intellectual and scholarly exchanges between China and the West are always vital to the intellectual well-being of Chinese society, under the current framework of transnational Sinology it has become a distorting and restraining mechanism. The centrality of Chinese humanities studies in the scholarly exchange with the West could be taken as a sign that Chinese intellectuals in the 1990s are becoming less willing and able to engage in the study of the West as a historical totality and a defining moment of the contradictions of global modernity. In the new scholastic imagination, the West has been collapsed into a homogenous institution, a standard to meet, and a norm to observe; thoroughly territorialized and dehistoricized, it stands beyond time. As mathematically oriented and model-obsessed social sciences—above all, economics —become the standard-bearers of knowledge production, intellectual discourse in China today has resigned from its participation in the global theoretical-political framework that informs a critical examination of the Chinese situation. For more and more Chinese scholars in the 1990s, reading ‘‘Western scholarship’’ (xixue) meant reading ‘‘professionally’’ the works by Western scholars of China, often their real or potential sponsors abroad. Thus, a seemingly ‘‘inward’’ turn in Chinese knowledge and intellectual production was an anxious search outward for a new entry into a neocolonial and Orientalist system of representation and power in the

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global context. Such an ideological self-positioning today by the new Chinese scholasticism explains its obsession with the ‘‘catastrophe’’ of the Cultural Revolution and its knee-jerk resistance to critical theory, postmodernism, postcolonialism, feminism, cultural studies, environmentalism, labor issues, and anything that may threaten to disrupt the new symbolic hierarchy of the international division of labor. Chinese scholars, to be sure, have much to learn from their colleagues in Sinology and Chinese studies in the West. Indeed, as Gan Yang observes, ‘‘the phrase ‘the underdevelopment of Chinese scholarship’ usually refers to the fact that even in the area of Sinology and Chinese studies, western scholars’ works are generally better in quality than Chinese scholars.’ ’’ 21 It is also obvious, however, that such interchange cannot and should not take the place of interaction between Chinese and international intellectual worlds as a whole, let alone should it allow the Chinese intellectual and scholarly agenda to be framed and dictated by Western academic and media representations of China. Here, too, what lies behind the seemingly innocent academic taste for Western studies of China is an interest in separating critical knowledge of Chinese society from the ongoing theoretical and political debates in advanced capitalist societies. Such an interest reflects a unique combination of conservative and neoliberal tendencies to disengage from the social-political and intellectual dynamism of the contemporary world so as to collapse a Chinese exceptionalism into a Western-defined universalism. The self-limiting mortifications of many Chinese scholars in the 1990s unwittingly achieved an academic model for the tunnel vision prescribed by the state philosophy of developmentalism beyond ideology. If state advocacy of a ‘‘socialist market economy’’ still flirted with an unexamined hope for a ‘‘Chinese alternative’’ while resorting to the least desirable form of bureaucratic capitalism, then academic professionalism in the 1990s merely sought to build sheltered academic inwardness as privileged and semicolonial enclaves of ‘‘negative liberty.’’ The Neoliberal Discourse While the repudiation of radicalism prepared the ground for an antidemocratic discourse on individual freedom, the ‘‘restoration of scholarly standards’’ established the hidden institutional codes for ‘‘independent’’ intellectuals. These ‘‘liberal intellectuals’’ face the rise of the masses and their everyday culture in the ‘‘socialist market economy’’ as they seek to endorse the government policy of economic reform while posing as its critics, often by demanding legal-political freedom and protections compatible with the global capitalist system with which China is economically

but not yet politically integrated. Both, moreover, aim at a fundamental intellectual reorientation through which the Chinese problematic can be dislodged from its global context of modernity, anticolonialism, and social change throughout the twentieth century, and replanted in the posthistorical, universal order as an exception that proves the rule. Chinese liberalism in the 1990s therefore could be considered a discursive mechanism and ideological operation intended to solve a political and intellectual dilemma. Bluntly put, the centrality of the liberals’ question was how to secure the freedom of a few against the demands for equality by the many. The intellectual and ideological justification of such a position, however, unfolded between liberty and equality, universality and particularity, privatization and state control, integration and the search for alternatives. Contemporary Chinese liberalism as a self-conscious discourse came into being after the events of 4 June 1989 as a result of the hopeless disintegration of the broad social and ideological alliance of the New Era that was based on a consensus on the socialist Reforms. This disintegration should not be mistaken as indicating a radical break with or even a reversal of the Reforms policy, as the liberal reformers within the state bureaucracy have been able to carry on the post-socialist Reforms unabated. What changed was the global ideological environment after 1989, in which socialist economic and political reforms increasingly came under pressure to follow the neoliberal orthodoxy of radical privatization and deregulation. Within that ideological environment, the political legitimacy of a socialist state constantly came under assault by a Western triumphalism that combined old-fashioned right-wing hostility toward communism and a liberal discourse of universal human rights that became an integral part of the West, especially the United States in its assumption of the role of world police.22 Under the global ideological hegemony of the West, the general liberal tendency of the New Era intelligentsia became fragmented, which gave rise to a radical neoliberal discourse as well as to its critics. Whereas liberal intellectuals in the 1980s still worked within the framework of socialist economic and political reforms, the neoliberals of the 1990s openly questioned the political legitimacy of the socialist state while relying on its arbitrary power to create a ‘‘market’’ and private capital. The intellectual openness of the 1980s was marked by a hermeneutic enthusiasm to rethink the Chinese problematic—above all, the conflict between tradition and modernity and the difference between China and the West—with reference to Western theory. This was replaced in the 1990s by a neoliberal agenda for radically transforming the Chinese socioeconomic and political structure, which was inspired by the market revolution of the Reagan-Thatcher era and its intellectual justifications.23

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In hindsight, the Chinese government’s behavior in 1989 was more effective in cracking down on the democratic initiative for economic equality, social justice, and political participation by working people than in weeding out ‘‘bourgeois liberalism,’’ which surged back into the domestic mainstream in the form of neoliberal economics, and into the international current with the rhetoric of freedom and rights. For this reason, in the 1990s, as economic inequality and political corruption worsened, the neoliberal discourse could endorse capitalist development and unequal distribution—both still at the heart of social tension and popular discontent in China today—while morally capitalizing on the discourse’s championship of democracy and freedom. The centrality of intellectual debate and conflict in the 1990s came not from liberal intellectuals versus the socialist state, but from the internal fragmentation and polarization of the liberal intelligentsia. At the end of the 1990s, ‘‘liberalism’’ (ziyou zhuyi) in the Chinese context meant a militant neoliberal discourse; in opposition were several positions with populist, social-democratic, or egalitarian tendencies, generally labeled nationalist, postmodernist, and ‘‘New Leftist.’’ The increasing ideological and verbal antagonism between the two sides, then and now, should not obscure the fact that they share the same social and intellectual origin in Chinese modernism of the New Era. And the moderates on both sides should recognize their political and intellectual common ground: Chinese society needs more social-political liberalization as well as more government interventions, regulations, services, and benefits. Society needs more liberalism as a proto-middle class takes shape, and more social democracy as the people—still understood as existing within the Maoist tradition of revolution and socialism—reenter history under historically new economic, social, and cultural circumstances. Given the post-socialist fragmentation of Chinese society and the moral chaos that ensued, what was and is vital for the intellectual vocation was not carving out or reinforcing entrenched positions in academic and professional terms. What became imperative, both politically and intellectually, was engaging in the field of difference while articulating a raison d’etre for the persistence of the socialist state, which proved indispensable in constructing a new socioeconomic system and a new form of life. To this end, at the start of the twenty-first century, a new dialectic of thinking must be called into being to formulate a national political consensus, which would underscore and anchor lively debates on the country’s future. From the standpoint of critical intellectuals in China today, the crucial engagement is not securing by any means a discursive space in the larger ideological environment defined by the market and its attendant ideological hegemonies. Rather, that engagement is a systematic, totalistic rethinking of

the epochal determinations and mythologies whose internal differences, limitations, and dynamic energy make it possible for a theoretical articulation of the future. Qin Hui, a self-professed believer in liberalism, recently observed the radically uneven and polarized Chinese reality, in the face of which the liberal-‘‘New Left’’ confrontation seems all but misplaced. The real problems, Qin maintains, lie within the liberal and ‘‘New Left’’ discourses and doctrines themselves, that is, in the discrepancy between the conventional liberal or left positions and the peculiar Chinese reality that exists far beyond the parameters of those positions. For Qin, what defined the Chinese intellectual 1990s was the indulgence of Chinese intellectuals in false claims and invalid assumptions (or their inability to pull themselves out of them); in other words, the period witnessed a continued failure to negotiate between Western theory and Chinese reality. Qin’s argument serves his own ideological argument, which insists on the need to relive the classical capitalist moment in order to compensate modern China’s ‘‘unnatural’’ course and its socioeconomic and political structure. (‘‘Unnatural’’ should be understood here in terms of the intervention of the revolutionary will power culminating in Chinese socialism.) What is interesting here is not Qin’s intellectual framework, which proves profoundly problematic, but his observations on a chronic disconnection between theory and practice, between a discursive, even professional allegiance to a purportedly symbolic order and a close encounter with a reality whose internal difference defies identity and category. Qin argues that the underdevelopment of the Chinese socialist welfare system and the limits on basic rights of Chinese working people would be appalling and intolerable to archconservatives in Britain; yet Chinese liberals in economics have ‘‘gone beyond the Norzic principle, practically arguing that it is quite all right to do business even with money robbed from other people.’’ 24 For Qin, the call of the ‘‘New Left’’ for democratizing management is intended to curb the clarification of property ownership, which indicates the ‘‘New Left’’ interest in introducing public participation and public choice in the domain of ‘‘private goods.’’ Qin rejects this view on the ground that ‘‘rights, responsibility, and interest’’ should be a unity and that such a unity is crucial for economic operations in a market environment. Defending clear ownership in the ‘‘private domain,’’ he deplores Chinese liberals’ advocacy of ‘‘free trade’’ by the power holders in the domain of public goods, which opens the door to a scramble for public wealth by the so-called servants of the people. This, Qin admits, would lead to a ‘‘quite horrifying’’ scenario. He points out a ‘‘curious fact’’ that characterizes Chinese society; namely, while would-be oligarchs repudiate

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the ‘‘Norzic principle’’ in the name of economic freedom, the ‘‘New Left’’ seems more willing to challenge the Rawls principle of justice. As a result, the ‘‘weakest’’ voices are those that call for democratic choice in the domain of public goods and legal ownership in the private domain. Qin suggests that the Nozick-Rawls dispute remains a ‘‘pseudo-question’’ for Chinese reality, where ‘‘liberalism and social democracy have their basic goals overlapped’’ and where ‘‘the large area opposed by both liberalism and social democracy needs to be opposed by Chinese intellectuals as a whole.’’ 25 Shifting his focus outside what he perceives to be the pseudo‘‘theoretical’’ debate between Liberalism and the ‘‘New Left,’’ Qin proposes to ‘‘criticize Chinese [neo]liberals with classical liberalism and the New Left with Marxism.’’ In his gesture to ‘‘transcend the Left and the Right’’ as they are defined in the West, he argues for China’s need to adopt the ‘‘universal values of human civilization.’’ Such a banal slogan, to be sure, is aimed critically at the alleged postmodern mimicry of the Chinese ‘‘New Left,’’ which, in Qin’s eye, groundlessly suggests the possibility of thinking beyond the confines of the Enlightenment and modernity (in their classical European definition). Qin remarks that the Chinese ‘‘New Left’’ discourse has no ‘‘postmodern’’ background or condition at home; instead, the Chinese concern remains to ‘‘go beyond the Middle Ages.’’ Such adherence to a rigid chronological and paradigmatic order of capitalist progress has become the hallmark of liberal thinking in China. To that extent, Qin’s call for realism and nonconformist thinking ends up becoming yet another proposal for social rationalization, for an intellectual and ideological return to ‘‘things as they actually are,’’ which is inevitably an indicator of the emergence of a new ideological-symbolic network. Qin’s blurring of the boundary between liberalism and social democracy provides an answer to the question of why liberalism in China gained popularity among both elite intellectuals and the general educated population throughout the 1990s. However, as I suggested, the ideological offensive of liberalism in the 1990s stemmed not from classical liberalism per se, or the social reform/democracy tradition, but from a neoliberal doctrine mingled with homegrown neoauthoritarianism. Qin’s hope for an intellectual united front seems not to be materializing. Instead, intensified sectarian factionalism, ideological dogmatism, and intellectual narrow-mindedness were all dramatically displayed in the controversy that surrounded the first Dushu award in the summer of 2000. The neoliberal tendency to label anyone who differed from its orthodox view as ‘‘complicit with the government’’ ( yu guanfang gongmou) revealed neoliberal militancy and its impatience about imposing a new order on the entire space of ideological and intellectual contention.26 Despite its moral high

ground, ideological tenacity, and philosophical fortifications, Chinese neoliberal discourse shows a political, social, and economic agenda overlapping the official policies of the post-socialist state. Both neoliberals and the state believe economic development means capitalist development; and in a poor and egalitarian society, the process of capitalist transformation spells out the necessity for radical government protection of private property and economic inequality. Both neoliberals and the state fetishize private ownership as the essential unit—as both motivation and rationalization—for pragmatic economic behavior and spontaneous social order. Both worship the ‘‘invisible hand’’ of the market, the real supercomputer that can correct the folly and arrogance of central planning. And both neoliberals and the state are convinced that the market is the only way to happiness—there is no alternative. The two depart, however, when it comes to the political and discursive sphere. Whereas technocratic liberals as state functionaries may consider the laissez-faire approach to be the most efficient way to development under the tutelage of an authoritarian government, neoliberal intellectuals—who imagine themselves as ‘‘outside’’ the state or official system—prove to be more orthodox students of classical economics and liberal political philosophy, maintaining that the legitimacy and limit of the government should be given by a free society sustained by private economy with independent legislative and judiciary procedures.27 Advocates for radical privatization were not totally wrong when they proclaimed that the biggest event of Chinese intellectual life in the 1990s was the ‘‘emergence of the [neo-]liberal discourse.’’ 28 What needs to be looked at, though, is neoliberalism’s dual position vis-à-vis the local/global context. The socioeconomic and political reality in China today dictates that neoliberalism cannot be anything but an elitist discourse; that its demand for ‘‘negative freedom’’ means not the withdrawal of the state from the social sphere, but its political intervention in a different kind of sphere, namely, its selective and preferential protection of the ‘‘fittest’’ in the market environment. Such a hypocritical rhetoric of freedom would be rejected by most Chinese if a democratic and well-informed public debate were to take place. The rhetoric of freedom sometimes has been subject to harsh censorship and harassment by the state apparatus because the interest and ideology of the bureaucratic and technocratic elite do not always agree with the neoliberal call for radical, formal privatization and the withdrawal of the state bureaucracy from the economic sphere. The Habermasian assumption of a societal and communicative ‘‘openness’’ or publicness is idealistic and misleading in this context, where the interpenetration of the social and the state is constant and thorough, and, as a result, the state system, including the ccp party organism itself, is

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a battleground for fundamental ideological and political conflicts. Rather than indicating the backwardness of Chinese political life, the embattledness of the Chinese state is a mere reflection on the general fragmentation of a political society and its current lack of public agreement on fundamental interests of contending parties in the new political sphere, save for a symbolic national consensus implied by an abstract, opaque state form. The theoretical fallacy of Chinese liberal discourse in the 1990s resulted from substituting an analysis of the Chinese situation with a procedural parliamentary democracy historically based on bourgeois society and economic structure. Not only is liberal discourse unable to appreciate the internal contradictions or paradoxes of liberal democracy within a Western context, which Carl Schmitt’s work highlights in a provocative and penetrating way albeit from the perspective of a ‘‘conservative revolution’’ of 1920s Germany; it also fails to demonstrate a true appreciation, let alone a credible analysis, of the concrete economic, social, and political relations in China today. The subjectivism and self-pity in the arguments of contemporary Chinese liberalism suggest not so much a sociological reality but an ideo-psychological state, which, at its most articulate, constitutes a fantastic, nominalist, and unthinking embrace of existing institutions of the West—not as historical products, but as ahistorical symbols of a teleological future. Meanwhile, such neoliberal discourse also corresponds to the official ideology of modernization—that is, rationalization. Such discourse also has never hesitated to corner its intellectual opponents into giving yes-orno answers to political pop quizzes on the evils of the Cultural Revolution, the necessity of the economic Reform, or the triumph of the West. In fact, the neoliberal stand on the Cultural Revolution and its developmentalist social agenda overlaps with de facto official policy, which is authoritarian developmentalism. Differences between them often stem merely from different political priorities. Whereas the neoliberal view is based on an emphatic embrace of global ideology and a dogmatic reiteration of marketeers abroad, the government must attend to a vastly uneven Chinese reality and deal with many potentially explosive social problems—unemployment, overpopulation, environmental deterioration, and more. It may not be misleading, however, to consider the neoliberal discourse as a radical version, a sentimental intellectual supplement, or an ideological egoideal of the technocratic vision of the Reform regime. In light of William Simon’s observation that privatization, though understood as a principle of economic development, is sometimes rejected by cadres and managers ‘‘who feel that they can get rich more safely at the helm of a public, rather than a private, enterprise,’’ neoliberal discourse in the 1990s embodied a

utopian idea about the free market and its ‘‘extended social order’’ (Hayek), which brought it into conflict with the realities of both the ‘‘socialist market economy’’ and ‘‘bureaucratic capitalism.’’ The utopian and fantastic element of the neoliberal discourse, however, often contributed to its ideological aggressiveness in the field of intellectual engagement in China in the 1990s. Such aggressiveness comes not only from the epochal ideological framework of global capitalism, but it also stems from an internal source of modern Chinese intellectual history —namely, the May Fourth tradition or paradigm of ‘‘science and democracy,’’ which remains the cornerstone of Chinese intellectual modernity and one of the fundamental legitimating sources for both liberal intellectuals and the ccp. The neoliberal position, when confused with liberalism in general, tends to appeal to the educated general population. It certainly appeals to the post-Mao popular sentiment against the revolutionary asceticism and egalitarianism, and especially against the political power of the mobilized masses as demonstrated during the Cultural Revolution. Through the philosophical discourse of liberalism in general, the neoliberal discourse of the 1990s became a self-styled inheritor of the ‘‘enlightenment’’ heritage of the modern Chinese intellectual tradition (minus radicalism), and catered to the prevalent social mentality, which was modernization ideology. Moreover, by means of the rhetoric of freedom, neoliberal discourse not only shared the human rights discourse of Cold War liberalism in the West, but also appealed to the general postmodern tendency toward social freedom, individual dignity, and the desire for recognition and self-realization that underscore the postindustrial demand for social inclusion and cultural power.29 The last, to be sure, is embraced by a Chinese urban proto-middle class that forms the social foundation of liberal sentiment, which is different in its economic condition, social aspirations, and political disposition from the neoliberal program. The internal paradox of neoliberal discourse in China in the 1990s resided in its use of the rhetoric of ‘‘negative freedom,’’ that is, the freedom from political intrusion for the purpose of advocating a ‘‘positive freedom’’ it seems to be denouncing, and the freedom to political action. The narrowing of the liberal tendency in post-Mao Chinese social life to an ideological antagonism toward socialism in general led to the substitution of public debates on socialpolitical reforms for a totalistic critique of the Chinese state form. Still, the multiplicity of the neoliberal discourse’s subtext—namely, its linkage to the liberal-reformist tradition, its symbiosis with the professionalization and internationalization of intellectual life in post-Tiananmen China, and its reliance on global mainstream hegemony—made it possible to lay a false claim on the Chinese intellectual field as a whole by playing the vic-

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tim of political repression at home and the representative of the universal current to the world. It is one thing to apprehend the ideological sway and self-assuredness of the neoliberal discourse. It is quite another to analyze its intellectual relevance, which can be measured only with reference to its confrontations with other positions. To say that Chinese neoliberal discourse in the 1990s lacked any intellectual originality and substance is an understatement. In every sense it was an echo of the prevalent ideology of the postCold War world. It demonstrated a social desire to ‘‘join the mainstream of world civilization’’ to be led by the political and intellectual vanguard of a new social aristocracy by means of sweeping economic, social, and political revolution. The sociolibidinal tendentiousness of such a discourse made a lie of its philosophical pretense about negative freedom. In the Chinese context, the kind of spontaneous market and individual freedom such neoliberalism held dear inevitably spelled a right-wing despotism that could ensure the freedom of the few against the economic and political deprivation of the masses. By proclaiming the new ‘‘law of history,’’ which it represents, Chinese neoliberalism today is becoming a new dogmatism. Liberalism and Its Discontents: Chronology and Demarcations The neoliberal thrust in contemporary Chinese intellectual life pinpoints the structural discrepancies between the nominal-symbolic legitimacy of Chinese socialism and the messy and complex economic realities of a ‘‘socialist market economy,’’ between the Chinese world of life as an ongoing and unsettled social-political experiment and its global, epochal context as a system that gives meaning.What makes the presence and assumptions of liberalism in contemporary Chinese intellectual world ‘‘rational’’ is the material world’s dynamism, which liberal discourse distorts through its religious identification with the dogma and orthodoxy of a global ideological tendency. The liberal discourse is distorting because such identification proves neither capable of accounting for the social contradictions of the global situation nor prepared to examine changes in the economy, politics, everyday life, and culture taking place within advanced capitalist societies for which capitalism often seems too crude a framework of critical analysis. Such a reductionist notion of capitalism (and, logically, of socialism as well) and such a philistine alliance with the rich and powerful, once combined with the developmentalist policies of a technocratic regime, could only suffocate the initiative, creativity and innovativeness of an economic and social reform of socialist modernity. In today’s global environment, the failure of such reform can mean only chronic economic in-

equality and underdevelopment, appalling social injustice and instability, and unchecked political corruption and repression, which will, in turn, exclude nearly a quarter of humanity from meaningful debates on and searches for a better social system. Since its coming into being, neoliberal intellectual discourse in postTiananmen China has had a bumpy journey. An inventory of the socialpolitical events that may have constituted the setbacks and frustrations of the rise of neoliberal ideology will help us understand its intellectual resilience and the challenges that ran parallel to it. In 1991, while still in the shadow of 4 June 1989, Chinese intellectuals—almost all of them liberal in the pro-Reform sense—experienced their first shock watching on television the Russian parliament being bombarded by pro-Yeltsin troops. That this antidemocratic violence went on as liberal democratic world opinion remained amiably silent stood in stark contrast to the boisterous protests and sanctions against the Chinese government after Tiananmen. The intellectuals’ initial relief after the resumption and acceleration of economic reform in 1992 was soon replaced by new anxieties brought about by all-embracing marketization and commodification, which traumatized many intellectuals. Then, China’s bid to host the 2000 Olympics was defeated by Western governments led by the United States in 1994. Originally, the bid and all the state-orchestrated festivities around it were received cynically at home, particularly by intellectuals. But the ways in which Western countries joined hands to ‘‘deny China the prestige,’’ and especially the active roles that the United States and Great Britain played in undermining what many Chinese thought to be a very hopeful bid (Beijing eventually lost to Sydney in a close decision), backfired in China, notably among students and urban professionals who were sports fans and considered hosting the Olympic games an excellent opportunity for China to ‘‘march into the world.’’ For this occasion, which combined sports and politics, economics, and aspirations for recognition, nationalism found its first popular channel of expression in the 1990s. As the Jiang Zemin regime consolidated its power, and economic liberalization deepened in China, Western sanctions gradually dissipated. Over the next few years, China’s volume of international trade doubled, and domestic production forged ahead full steam. Yet as many Chinese expected the world to open its arms once again to a China committed to economic development, in 1995–96 the first Taiwan Strait crisis broke out. The visit to the United States of Lee Teng-hui, then-president of Taiwan, triggered a series of diplomatic conflicts and cross-strait tensions, which led to Chinese ‘‘testing’’ missiles in the waters near the Taiwan coast. The U.S. government quickly responded by deploying two of its aircraft carrier battle

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groups outside the strait. This crisis brought China and the United States closer to the brink of direct military confrontation than at any time since the end of the Vietnam War. At a deeper psychological level, it also reopened a profound collective wound among Chinese intellectuals and the population as a whole, who learn by heart the history of humiliations of China by Western imperialism between the Opium War in 1840 and the Japanese surrender in 1945. A belief in the American intention to divide and contain China out of both ideological difference and economic interest became a national consensus, its imperial design and the Chinese counterstrategy an open topic of discussion in Chinese media. An entire generation of Chinese students, including many who went to the United States to study, became increasingly nationalistic in the sense that a smooth integration with, if not an enthusiastic embrace by, the U.S.-dominated world system was cast in doubt. The intellectual world was deeply divided. While the government policy of pressing forward with the reform and opendoor policy, which required stable and constructive Sino-U.S. relations, remained unchanged, it was tinged with a wariness toward the United States and, at a more philosophical level, with a new anxiety over the emerging post-Cold War world order and China’s place in it. From this point on, the annual debate in the U.S. Congress over normal trade relatoins with China—until recently known misleadingly as ‘‘Most Favored Nation’’ status—became a melodrama and a regular reminder to the Chinese population of how deeply ideological the U.S. government and media were when it came to dealing with China. Human rights rhetoric also came to be viewed cynically in China as a cover for political or geopolitical concerns, of which Huntington’s ‘‘clash of civilizations’’ thesis was regarded as a straightforward proof. For many Chinese intellectuals, the naive ideological projection onto the United States of universalist liberal ideals was replaced with a more realistic reassessment of the economic, geopolitical, and cultural structures of the world today, in which old questions of imperialism and colonialism assume new forms instead of receding to the background of history. Against this background, the 1997 Hong Kong ‘‘handover’’ was experienced by many Chinese intellectuals with relative calm, even detachment, as Britain’s last-minute introduction of democracy into its colony was perceived as nothing more than a desperate move by a former colonial power to cling to its interest, whereas the festivities orchestrated by the Chinese government were perceived as nothing more than the current regime’s opportunistic grab for legitimacy and popularity. Parallel to these developments, and throughout the 1990s, Russian

economic and political liberalization was an important frame of reference through which Chinese intellectuals examined their own situations and weighed their options. The spectacular failure of ‘‘shock therapy’’ effectively set a limit to the radical advocates for neoliberal economic measures in China. And the Russian path became a living reminder of the road China must not go down. Attending to material production and political stability became the core of a new centrist ideology and the bottom line for any proposals of socioeconomic and political reform. While different parties drew different lessons from the Russian situation, a critical examination of laissez-faire capitalism and its social philosophy found an empirical foothold, and a discourse of ‘‘Chinese alternative’’ took shape in both economic and intellectual circles. Indeed, the Russian situation has been a crucial frame of reference since 1989; it constitutes part of the socialintellectual background against which ‘‘New Left’’ thinking in China takes shape, primarily by means of a critical reexamination of the assumptions of neoclassical economics that have informed policy-makers of the Reforms regime. ‘‘Drawing the Russian Lesson in Our Analysis of Chinese Situation’’ (Yi Ewei jian kan zhongguo) is the title of an article coauthored by Cui Zhiyuan and Roberto Unger.30 Cui soon after was regarded as a leading voice of the Chinese ‘‘New Left.’’ The financial meltdown that swept Latin America, Eastern Europe, and East Asia from 1995 through 1998 further proved the predatory nature of financial capital and the ruinous implications of economic deregulation. The so-called ‘‘Asian Financial Contagion’’ particularly concerned Chinese policy-makers, economists, and intellectuals, as Hong Kong, then already under Chinese sovereignty and the central government’s vow of protection, was a principal target of a deliberate attack by international hedge funds. Moreover, many of those countries hardest hit in the crisis—South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia—once had been shining models of rapid economic growth by means of their full integration into global economic circulation and their attraction of significant foreign investment. The collapse of those countries’ national currencies and the powerlessness of their national governments in the face of deliberate assault by international financial speculators contrasted with China’s ability to defend its currency amid the domino effect taking place. Thus, for China, the East Asian financial crisis gave rise to a more positive and assertive notion of the role of the nation-state in a globalized economy as well as a distrust of the conventional wisdom about financial deregulation and, indeed, about the premises, terms, and consequences of globalization itself. In China, the result of the crisis was a deepened suspicion of the neo-

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liberal orthodoxy and a renewed emphasis on the state’s singular capacity to protect the fledging national economy and to fight for just international and domestic economic and political relations. The state’s ability to protect is central in the ongoing Chinese debate over the World Trade Organization. Beneath the Chinese government’s steadfast effort to gain entry into the wto, public debates and discussions uncover deeply divided opinions. Once again, China’s integration with the world economy not only poses challenges to its existing socioeconomic (dis)orders and to its national political and cultural identity, but also makes explicit the social problems—unemployment, lack of a social security network, regionally uneven development, etc.—that already have reached crisis level. This integration with the world economy also raises fundamental questions about the general structures of an unequal and unjust world system of distribution and about the rationale of China’s further dealings with it. Meanwhile, in the intensified interchange within a globalized economy, the Chinese government has assumed a new role as a mediator between global capital and domestic labor forces; between ‘‘international standards’’ and the Chinese realities; between universal tendencies toward democracy, freedom, equality, and self-realization and the particular agenda and priorities of the Chinese nation-state. Therefore, the wto debate drives home the imperative of the nation-state in the new economy, and not the natural demise of it, even though the pressure on the Chinese government to ‘‘observe international standards’’ increases popular suspicions that the government is a sell-out agent working for the interests of multinational corporations. The war in Kosovo in 1999 marked a watershed in independent Chinese intellectuals’ tantalizing romance with Western liberal-cosmopolitan ideas, which ended with a nasty fallout. Why and how China broke with its usual detachment in international affairs and, as many pundits have observed, ‘‘unwisely’’ joined a futile international opposition to the U.S.led nato intervention are unexamined questions. And it will be a mystery for some time to come as to why the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was hit by as many as five U.S. cruise missiles on 9 May 1999, killing three Chinese journalists and destroying the building. Nobody in China accepted the infantilizing U.S. public explanation (the ‘‘old maps’’ excuse) and its reluctant apologies, and several U.S. diplomatic facilities in China were attacked by angry, stone-throwing students.The war produced an unambiguous result in contemporary Chinese intellectual life; the Western rhetoric of universal human rights was thoroughly and perhaps irreversibly discredited and perceived as a mere cover for the exercise of raw power out of sheer self-interest by an integrated West led by the United States in a world

without a military and ideological rival such as the former Soviet Union. Habermas, who commanded enormous philosophical and moral authority among Chinese intellectuals since the 1980s, was dismissed overnight as a shameless apologist for war. ‘‘Habermas and Imperialism’’ was the title of a review on his Die Zeit piece, ‘‘Humanity or Beastiality,’’ which was published in Dushu, the most influential intellectual journal in China.31 ‘‘It is ironical that the advocate for communicative rationality would support such a war. He seems to consider violence a necessary and acceptable way to a world government beyond the nation-state. His concern is confined to the building of a unified Europe, and he should get honest and drop the universal rhetoric. His philosophy might work for Europe, but it is certainly beyond what is humanly possible in this world as we know it,’’ wrote Gan Yang, in his widely read column in Hong Kong-based Ming Pao.32 Only a handful of liberal intellectuals defended the legitimacy of the Kosovo intervention on the basis of universal human rights and Western righteousness to police the world; these liberals were then perceived as opportunistic lackeys of the West rather than as independent thinkers with moral courage to brave popular fury and reductionist thinking. This condemnation is reminiscent of the pejorative ring of the term ‘‘liberalism’’ in the late 1940s when a Communist-led ‘‘New Democracy’’ prevailed over its enemies in a semicolonial China. Against the backdrop of a hectic intellectual journey through an eventful decade in the 1990s, a topological demarcation of new intellectualideological landscape becomes possible. Contrary to the conventional view on current Chinese intellectual politics, the crucial battle line here is defined, not between the ‘‘communist hard-liners’’ and reasonable reformers, or between a totalitarian state and an alienated liberal intelligentsia, but within the social-intellectual space produced by the general process of socioeconomic modernization. This space was defined by Max Weber early in the twentieth century as the growth of a national capitalist economy protected and regulated by an administrative state.33 What distinguishes the Chinese process of social rationalization from its Euro-American prototype are (1) internally, the substitution of private and positive laws with administrative decrees of the party-state; and (2) externally, the truly global network of capitalist production, the increasing mobility of capital, information, and labor, and the worldwide reach of the capitalist culture industry and mass media. The latter elements suggest that the nation-state is no longer the basic unit of capitalism and that traditional means of constructing and reinforcing the national space of common experience and imaginings will prove ineffective. The key contesting points in current Chinese intellectual debate stand between a ‘‘radical’’ (that is, dogmatic and

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wholesale) demand to legalize private property and the autonomy of the free market and a guarded faith in the state government to ensure basic social justice, political rights, and balanced economic growth by strengthening, not weakening, its legitimacy and functions. While the centrality of this profound intellectual and ideological divide lies in the domain of economics and politics, its peripheral conflicts in social and human sciences and in public media are around issues of freedom and justice, individualism and collective values, and universalism and pluralism. It is in these areas the nonofficial or ‘‘independent’’ Chinese intellectual sphere as a product of the 1980s disintegrated into warring states and factions in the late 1990s. It is crucial, therefore, for an intellectual-historical analysis to acknowledge the ‘‘liberal’’ origin of the current debates as well as their ideologico-intellectual differentiation and conflict, which call for a comprehensive rethinking of Chinese modernity as a shock-ridden construct of history. Despite the escalating exchange of moral and political accusations between different positions, the theoretical spectrum of Chinese intellectual debate in the 1990s was relatively narrow, focusing on some decidedly moderate options. The voice calling for a complete ‘‘de-linking’’ with the capitalist world system to pursue an independent, socialist alternative, if existent, is not of much relevance in current Chinese intellectual politics. Neither is the loud, populist nostalgia for Mao’s China. As a sociological truth and a lively source of utopian idealism, the nostalgia phenomenon proves hard to translate into a theoretical formulation that addresses the concrete economic, political, and cultural problems facing Chinese society as a whole. The central debate is about how to engage in the process of social modernization in a relatively efficient and just way; or, to be blunt, it is about ways to avoid a major human disaster while embarking on this journey. The most active participants in this ongoing debate, without exception, are those whose personal wealth and freedom, material or otherwise, have multiplied during the past two decades. From an impersonal sociological point of view, they comprise the group that benefited most from the ‘‘Reform and Opening’’ policy and whose political and intellectual vision are intimately linked to the future development of the Chinese economy, society, and culture. Whereas the formulations of a middle-class ideology are sometimes hijacked by a neoliberal fervor resulting in right-wing radicalism, ‘‘left-wing’’ thinking is nonetheless part of the same rationalizing academia; through academic politics, it presents itself as a particular version of the general social ideology of post-Deng China.Within the newly established academic enclaves and a shadowy ‘‘public sphere,’’ these two tendencies have been

competing for state, popular, and international support. As a result, both sides tend to make significant claims on societal forces, either by an uncritical embrace of what is perceived to be the universal (modernization), or by an unhistorical and undialectical adoption of critical stances toward modernity in general and, through such a conceptual framework, the daily reality of post-socialist China as well. Whereas the embrace of modernization speaks to the public’s desire to improve its quality of life (both economically and politically), the adoption of a critique of modernity taps the public’s profound suspicion of globalization and its sometimes explosive discontent with the economic inequalities, social chaos, and moral disorientation in China today. As those in the ‘‘liberal’’ camp see everything that the Chinese state represents—nominally and substantively—as anathema to the global neoliberal utopia and thus an obstacle to progress, they rarely acknowledge the significant overlap between the system of global capitalism and the Chinese technocratic state with the ‘‘socialist market’’ of its creation. Such overlap, however, underscores the legitimacy of liberal discourse in the social-ideological space and is crucial for its articulation and self-importance. Despite its occasional frontal assault on the power and fundamental legitimacy of the Chinese state, which invariably proves sentimental and serves no purpose other than creating a couple of high-profile exiles or selfexiles in the West, the ‘‘liberal’’ camp seems to understand its parasitic relationship of dependence on the state as the protector of the (market) economy. If ‘‘human rights’’ and ‘‘freedom of speech’’ remain two focal points of Western support to a perceived democratic cause in China, then it must be acknowledged that that cause’s liberal discourse represents only one aspect of a structural tension within Chinese society that threatens to outgrow the state but in fact still remains under the state’s tutelage. To what extent these issues (as represented by ‘‘liberal’’ intellectuals in China) capture national and international attention becomes a matter not of justice but of privilege. The privilege demanded by ‘‘liberal’’ intellectuals and their Western patrons tends to be eclipsed as a residual form of intellectual elitism by the widening social disparity in China, the worsening economic and political condition of the working class, and the rise of a consumer society and its mass culture among the incipient urban middle class. The paradox of Chinese liberalism, therefore, is illustrated by its nominal antigovernment rhetoric and its sharing of a power-dominated market orientation in economic thinking and its penchant for the social rationalization engaged in by the new technocratic elite. The notion of liberty in this ‘‘liberal’’ discourse, therefore, contains fundamental ambiguities once it comes to the real configurations of economic, political, social, and cultural power

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in China today. When the market economy is defined in concrete social relations as bureaucratic capitalism, the radical call for a proper institutionalization of the market with its full legal and political self-assertion leads—inevitably, as many suspect—to an autocratic freedom of privatization premised on robbing public wealth and suppressing popular dissent. And when socialism in the daily reality of post-Mao and post-Deng China means the minimal and only security of the working class and the only national platform—symbolic or political—on which to address old and new social and class conflict, the battle cry to scrap the infrastructure of the state manifests itself not so much as a pursuit of freedom, but as a wishful and egoistic attempt to carve out a self-enclosed bourgeois haven out of a tension-riddled reality of irreducibly uneven development. Thus, despite their desire to equalize and synchronize between the global ideological context and the Chinese intellectual-discursive space, ‘‘liberal’’ intellectuals are frustrated by China’s stubborn resistance to what they perceive as prevailing universal trends in the world today. The string of events from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the nato intervention in the Balkans to China’s imminent entry into the wto has generated a social-psychological environment detrimental to the self-declared ‘‘liberal intellectuals’’ in China. Equally troublesome to these intellectuals is the rise of what they call ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals and their foothold in the educated readership by calling for critical rethinking of the assumptions of developmentalism, modernization, linear progress, absolute market, and autonomous individuality. Whereas the ‘‘New Left’’ discourses are consciously addressing the uneven development and class differentiation of Chinese society, the ‘‘liberal intellectuals’’ blame an anachronistic socialist government for China’s failure to integrate into the new world order. They are unable or unwilling to address the intimate interaction, indeed, symbiosis between the state and the market, which is only a Chinese symptom of the global economic and power relations. Such reductive, good-or-evil division also allows them to see anything different from their own intellectualideological orthodoxy as mere ‘‘complicity with the official.’’ While the ‘‘New Left’’ label easily implies sympathy and even affiliation with the government, which is nominally communist, it works only through confusion and manipulation. Few accepted the label, understandable given the notoriety attached to anything ‘‘leftist’’ as a result of more than two decades of official effort at de-Maoification and the statesanctioned social desire to ‘‘get rich fast.’’ The issues currently engaged in by the so-called New Left intellectuals—ranging from unemployment to corruption, from popular objections to privatization and wto, to the more

theoretical effort to challenge the notions of modernity and teleology—are hardly to be favored by the state bureaucracy. Even sentiments of populism and nationalism discernible in the New Left discourse broadly conceived are deemed as heresy by the state media as well as the mainstream intellectuals. On a more theoretical level, it is interesting to observe that one of the main complaints of ‘‘liberal’’ intellectuals is the New Left intellectuals’ ‘‘un-Chinese’’ association with critical theoretical discourses in the West such as the Frankfurt School, feminism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, critical legal studies, and so forth. In this regard, the liberal versus New Left conflict, which is false in an intellectual sense but true in a socioideological sense, continues an unsettled tradition of modern Chinese intellectuals’ appropriation of Western theories. And in this crucial sense, both the uncritical embrace of the new utopia of capitalist universal and the pursuit of new critical tools by which to analyze new development of capitalist globalization prove to be heir to the modernist legacy of the Chinese New Era (the 1980s) and its prehistory in the Chinese Enlightenment. Postnationalism and Postmodernism Various intellectual and cultural topics, sentiments, and attitudes evolved in the 1990s in close connection to those concrete historical events of the neoliberal offensive.Those sentiments and attitudes constitute the broader context of Chinese intellectual dynamism in the 1990s. None of them has developed into a self-conscious discourse that offers a general framework for examining Chinese reality and the Chinese problematic. They do, however, reflect a diverse social and political reality that proves unruly for the neoliberal tendency toward simplification and dogmatism. First, a new type of nationalist fervor has taken shape in the mixed environment of Chinese economy, society, politics, and culture. I have argued elsewhere about the crucial differences between this neonationalism or postnationalism and the old types of nationalism that still dominate scholars’ historical and critical sense in this regard.34 Here my sole intent is to further differentiate the postnationalist consciousness and briefly account for its evolution along the order of its popular, consumer, cultural, economic, and political moments. Popular nationalism can be considered a spontaneous reaction by the general populace to a world brought into their everyday life by the nationstate. In China in the 1990s, popular nationalist sentiments were a product of the market reform, which revealed the uneven plane where a form of life shaped by Chinese socialism encountered its larger global context

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mediated, filtered, and sometimes blocked by the nation-state. In postTiananmen China, this popular nationalism more often than not was triggered by a sense of frustration and humiliation, which the Chinese population shared with its government when outside pressure or rejection was confronted. As more and more educated urban Chinese have gained access to the outside world, the buffer once provided by state censorship and counterpropaganda has been leveled by increasing commercial, informational, and human interactions. Ironically, the disappearance of such traditional social-cultural barriers has brought contemporary Chinese citizens face-to-face with a strange world about which they enthuse but in which they feel at sea. In short, popular nationalism in China today is a form of postnationalism in an almost literal sense; it shapes itself on an after-image of the vanishing traditional nation-state, of which the Chinese socialist state was a strong version. The necessity for repositioning individual and collective subjectivities in the international space of difference and uneven power parallels the increasing self-assertion of the Chinese proto-middle class and is supported by that class’s newfound wealth and mobility. This combination then gives rise to a pre-political and intellectually inarticulate nationalism that cuts across, but is not congruent with, the national imaginings within the boundaries of state discourse. Apart from an enhanced sense of geopolitical and economic interest and a more assertive cultural self-identity vis-à-vis the West, this popular nationalist sentiment is little more than a reflection of a renewed national confidence based on the continued growth of the Chinese economy. The energy contained in such popular nationalist sentiment is not always confident or positive. Whenever the national modernity and strength that are imagined through and projected by the success story of contemporary China go unmatched by the country’s performance in other areas or go without full recognition by foreign countries, such popular nationalism tends to surge to the fore in negative and destructive forms such as self-loathing, xenophobia, and provocative confrontations with the government. Even the residues of unreflexive—thus seemingly ‘‘traditional’’— ethnocentric, chauvinistic, and patriotic sentiments are constantly reinvented, reproduced, and modified by the new national and global relations of economy, power, and cultural dominance. Chinese consumer nationalism in the 1990s was conditioned by the rise of an urban middle class. Efforts by members of the middle class to enter, not to challenge or disrupt, the social mainstream in both Chinese and global contexts sometimes brought them face to face with their representation in Western media. Such consumer nationalism indicated the buying power and quotidian cosmopolitanism of the Chinese proto-middle class and its sense

of being frustrated, even denied, by the existing hierarchy and codes of distinction set globally—but set in a global elsewhere. In the realm of consumption and the kind of social freedom and fantasy it entails, today’s proto-middle class stumbles on the question that, in a radically different context and with greater intellectual awareness, has been theorized in Edward Said’s Orientalism and in the writings of postcolonialism, multiculturalism, and identity politics in U.S. academia. That question involves the need for a postcolonial sensibility and a politics of difference based on ethnicity and gender (but not nation or class); it also indicates the postnationalist mapping of the imagined territories of selfhood in a global space. The fundamental difference, however, lies in the fact that Chinese consumers live in a material and commodity-oriented world compatible with global capitalism; yet the imagined ‘‘plane of consistency’’ (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari) on which they operate is mediated by the particularities and complexities of a socioeconomic and cultural space defined equally by the Chinese nation-state. The Foucauldian body as a form of biopower and affirmative individuality promptly clashes with the sociopolitical and moral confines of a collectivity molded in the national space of the socialist state. In other words, the new multitude produced by real or imagined social freedom of a market environment is reshaped by the coexisting, overlapping, and ultimately superimposing state form before that state form becomes redefined by the new national space as a ‘‘civil society.’’ New forms of national imaginings thus become still another representation of the socioeconomic structure of postsocialist China, where the surviving socialist state takes the lead in the historic processes of social modernization or rationalization defined by Max Weber, and where state ideologies and functions permeate the new social space and economic relations that in classical bourgeois social development would have been mediated and ‘‘rationalized’’ by private and positive laws. Once again, the postsocialist condition should be understood as the reason why ‘‘liberal’’ Chinese intellectuals, whose discourse is nothing more than a thinly disguised call for a radical implementation of bourgeois capitalist legal codes, are instinctively and politically opposed to, indeed, disgusted by, any symbolic or expressive affirmation of existing sociopolitical relations, even though those sociopolitical relations reflect the socioeconomic relations that pertain to the reality of a capitalist mode of production. This consumer nationalism also reveals the internal paradox of liberal cosmopolitanism and its discursive illusion of ‘‘civic nationalism’’; its notion of citizenship defines the exclusive political boundaries of ‘‘universal rights’’ in a radically uneven and unequal world. The question of consumer nationalism—nationalism under the his-

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torical circumstances of a ‘‘socialist market economy’’ in the age of capitalist globalization—distinguishes itself from the kind of nationalism that constitutes the classical phase of modernity and a particular kind of cultural ethnocentrism that, under its universalist rhetoric, registers the historical conflict between the Chinese imperial or ‘‘civilizational’’ order and that of the nation-state.35 Interestingly, the world-historical spread of capitalism has not fully destroyed the elements of Chinese empire and reconfigured the Chinese world as a modern nation-state; yet capitalism’s influence is further transforming the Western capitalist nation-states into a new, integrated imperial regime of power, legitimacy, and subjectivity, which renders any heterogeneity and unevenness a double anathema. For both the practitioners of Chinese cultural nationalism and their Western commentators, the line between a Sinocentric worldview and a cultural identity to be constructed in a democratic, pluralistic world culture is often missed; hence, the unreflected confidence in or aimless diagnosis of ‘‘Sinocentrism.’’ Yet cultural nationalism is technically possible only when the productive, organizational, and class function of the modernist nationstate is taken over by the global operation of capital, technology, information, and personnel, and when such an operation makes it possible for a deterritorialized economic interest and class identity to be formed. Without this condition of possibility, the ‘‘cultural’’ aspect of nationalism is no more than a subsidiary function, a metaphor of its political vocations. In other words, cultural nationalism is a unique national political response to the formation of a cosmopolitan bourgeois culture by those who do not consider bourgeois culture to be a culture per se but as a culturally empty, indeed anticultural civilization, and by those for whom the idea of ‘‘culture’’ is simply one way to revive national politics in the face of global capital’s universal claims. For Chinese intellectuals in the 1990s, the question ‘‘what is it to be human’’ (the so-called Confucian question), which might sound like a universal one, more likely indicated a particular Chinese ideology; ‘‘what is it to be Chinese (in the age of global capital’’), which might sound provincial, became part of the general problematic of our contemporary world. In China in the 1990s, the rise of cultural nationalism—in both ‘‘low’’ and ‘‘high’’ cultures—indicated Chinese intellectuals’ increasing awareness of the structural overlap and conflict between modernity and postmodernity—that is, between modernity’s universal claim and postmodernity’s radical recontextualization of the abstract principles of reason, meaning, ‘‘History,’’ and ‘‘Progress.’’ The most publicized, sustained, and substantial discussions of nationalism in the Chinese 1990s fell into the category of economic nationalism. Within that category, the forms of nationalist sentiment cohered in a for-

mulation of government policy and intellectual program. In an interview with Far Eastern Economic Review, Wang Xiaodong and Fang Ning, two outspoken advocates for building a Chinese ‘‘national economy,’’ stated that they are not against market reform or economic globalization. What they oppose is ‘‘the naive view that you do not need a national industry in the age of globalization.’’ 36 They argue that in an ideal world of a global economic system based on a high-level division of labor and mutual dependence, globalization would be good and economic nationalism would be unnecessary. But today China still needs an independent national economy, because ‘‘we cannot count on the U.S. to sell us supercomputers.’’ 37 What can be inferred is that this ‘‘ideal world’’ of global capitalist market requires ideological, political, and economic evenness and equality as a prior condition, while the world we live in forms a sharp contrast. Economic nationalism reached a height during the Sino-U.S. negotiations on the terms of China’s entry into the wto. It became a crucial ingredient in the intellectual resistance to liberal discourse. The argument for economic nationalism also can be used to support other positions critical of the liberal mainstream, although those critical positions sometimes come from radically different political and theoretical backgrounds that would pit them in conflict in other contexts. The argument ‘‘if only we were in a neoliberal economic utopia,’’ however, falls short of coming to terms with the real social-political condition or contradiction of the age of global capitalism; that is, the contrast between the celebrated mobility of ‘‘free’’ capital and the immobility and helplessness of labor still are restrained and isolated by all kinds of local, national, and traditional or ‘‘cultural’’ regimes of control, a contrast that seems to determine the role of national and local governments in a ‘‘rational,’’ pro-capital, pro-market fashion. The solution cannot be expected from the ultimately free and happy participation of global labor in a capitalist global market, for the profit-seeking logic of capitalist economy denies such a possibility. Rather, any serious consideration of the fate of the Chinese working class and the peasantry as citizens of the nation-state facing the supranational structure of uneven capitalist development must search for a new vision of democratically reorganizing the national and international social system. Thus, in this crucial regard, the emerging discourse of Chinese nationalism makes itself available to a populist—even socialist—vision of a sound national economy combined with a sound national politics. The socialist potential of this nationalist discourse kept it a meaningful position in the Chinese intellectual field of the 1990s. Now, the ideological, political, and intellectual future of such an alliance (or lack of it) will play out in the years to come. The final stage of contemporary Chinese nationalism—namely, a

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political discourse—is filled with obscurity. Apart from Gan Yang’s call for a theoretical formulation of China as a ‘‘political nation’’ as opposed to merely an ‘‘economic nation,’’ little intellectual discussion has taken place about the political constitution of the Chinese national community and its political and cultural self-understanding. Gan’s proposal echoes Max Weber’s calculated attempt to nudge a rising Germany into the course of liberal democracy; Gan, of course, is fully aware that the Chinese case cannot be effectively solved merely in the context of a European or Western framework. Such an effort still would be viewed as nationalist, thus belonging to the ‘‘New Left,’’ whose neoliberal adherents would seek to dissolve the particularities of the Chinese situation by redefining it as a rudimentary moment in the chain of universal progress—a move whose formulaic and dogmatic rigidity rivals that of the vulgar Marxist historians’ mechanical division of Chinese history into different teleological phases that match the pattern of social evolution found in Western Europe. Whereas the ‘‘national’’ aspect of this developed nationalist discourse is rejected by liberal discourse, its ‘‘political’’ element is still suppressed by the government because that element inevitably and immanently implies a democratic reinvention of the PRC’s national identity. Chinese nationalism in the 1990s thus came full circle and became an allegory of the intellectual dilemma of that decade. If the United States as a polity can be considered a defining reference point for Chinese nationalists to elaborate their ideas of the nation, those nationalists will realize the different levels of politicization—in terms of participation, class and citizen consciousness, education, and identification with the system—at which the two national lives operate and where they encounter or miss one another. The lack of a fully developed political discourse on Chinese nationalism will ensure a prolonged, undertheorized manifestation of nationalist sentiment in all other forms. Along with the social-cultural subcurrent of postnationalism, a discourse on Chinese mass culture emerged that addresses the postsocialist logic of cultural production and national imagination. The effort at critiquing the teleological and Eurocentric notion of modernity as the ideological foundation of the New Era gave rise to a number of different discursive tendencies. One is the ephemeral, but by no means exhausted, discourse of Chinese postmodernism. Inspired by Fredric Jameson’s theory of postmodernism and Third World literature, and by discourses of feminism, postcolonialism, and cultural studies in Western academia (by Said, Spivak, Appadurai, Homi Bhabha, et al.), such a discourse of Chinese postmodernism celebrates the breaking of the foundational discourse of the ‘‘Enlightenment’’ and modernity; with varying degrees of critical reservation,

it hails the coming into being of the postsocialist masses. Represented by such literary critics as Zhang Yiwu, Dai Jinhua, Chen Xiaoming, and Wang Ning, postmodernists recognize the creativity of Chinese mass culture as a democratizing, liberating development conducive to the building of a ‘‘popular memory’’ free from elitist restraints and the division between ‘‘high’’ and ‘‘low’’ cultures. This popular memory, as they envision it, would lead to a dynamic reconstruction of Chinese everyday life and would inspire a new dialectic between individuality, based on newfound freedom in the marketplace, and community; this new dialectic would define a new culture and social ethics of the collective.38 This intellectual discourse on postsocialist Chinese mass culture offers a preliminary framework for a Chinese postmodernism, which envisages a social and cultural horizon beyond the tunnel vision of a Eurocentric concept of modernity. Promising to shuffle experience of the past with a postmodern sensibility, such discourse defines its intellectual agenda more in terms of its relationship to its immediate past—namely, the high modernism of the New Era—than in terms of its structural relationship to the global domination of capitalist modernity. It is, therefore, a postmodernism reflecting a newfound sense of freedom and self-assertion in the ‘‘socialist market economy’’ rather than a systematic critique of the institutions of modernity in terms of which the Chinese situation is but a local and internalized version of the contradictions of global capitalism. Even though the postmodernist discourse addresses the historical rise of a postsocialist mass culture and that culture’s role in shaping a new form of life, it remains vulnerable to the criticism that it takes no account of the complex relations between the everyday world and its reproduction in the media, between the culture market’s operations and the ideological manipulations of the state apparatus, and between state power and the social processes of capitalization, an interaction that permeated the making of postsocialist mass culture in the 1990s. Postnationalist and postmodernist sentiment also have given rise to a critical rethinking of modernity, with a focus on the Chinese state’s modernization ideology and with an intent toward challenging the Westerndominated, hierarchical world system. This discourse severely criticizes optimistic views on a rising Chinese mass culture. Such a critique is represented by Wang Hui and his allies in cultural and literary studies. They consider post-Tiananmen mass culture as the celebratory simulacra of a state-manipulated power-money complex, the transfiguration of an ideologically constructed social desire. In its place, they propose a more intellectually rigorous critique of modernity as an ideological paradigm whose transcendence is necessary to create a new intellectual framework through

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which to examine complex Chinese reality. In this regard, Wang and his colleagues rely more on world-system theory and Samir Amin’s arguments about dependency and delinking; they are inclined to appropriate postcolonialism as a deconstructive operation to ‘‘provincialize’’ Europe. The popularity among these intellectuals of Bernal’s Black Athena, Said’s Orientalism, and Gunder Frank’s Reorient becomes a way to distinguish them from other ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals who seem to avoid framing the Chinese problematic in terms of an ethno-cultural ‘‘decolonialization’’ from the West. Whereas the postmodernist sense of freedom and the postnationalist sense of belonging have produced an anti-hierarchical, populist thrust, as suggested by the contours of a new culture of community celebrated by Zhang Yiwu and other critics, the same social sentiment and ideology articulate themselves among intellectual circles as a rethinking of the centrality, validity, and naturalness of modernity as it is represented by a purified image of the modern West. Thus, the populist tendency in the discourse of postsocialist mass culture shows a family resemblance to the discourse of postcolonialism; to a lesser degree it is influenced by its major proponents in U.S. academia: Gayatri Spivak, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Homi Bhabha, and Rey Chow.39 Obviously, the Chinese postmodernistpostsocialist turn in mass culture and its intellectual apologists share with those postcolonial intellectuals in Western academia a theoretical imperative to decolonize and de-essentialize the mind from Western metaphysics in general and from dominant Western discourses of modernity in particular. The similarity of these views, however, goes only so far. What distinguishes the potential, untheorized Chinese discourses of postmodernism and postsocialism from the highly theoretized academic discourse on postcolonialism lies in the fact that the untheorized discourse is not intended as an alternative to a Marxist critique of the capitalist colonial system and its internal hierarchy but is poised to formulate the continuity and discontinuity of an everyday world historically formed under the conditions of socialist modernity, yet developing in a market environment. In both cases, the decolonizing rhetoric is intertwined with the recognition of an emergent national political and cultural space that is guaranteed by one of the central forces of Chinese modernity—the Chinese state form. This fundamental difference in terms of political economy and social-cultural condition is then coupled with a different subject position. Rather than assuming the rhetorical figure of a European humanist, who had a minority status and thus a different identity politics within a purportedly universal civil society, the Chinese postmodernists usually identify themselves with a native cultural community whose imagined space overlaps with those

of the state and the national market, and whose internal differences and positivity constitute its particularities and its universality. A postsocialist conception of modernity can be inferred from this subject position; that conception of modernity could pertain to the fractured totality of a lifeworld that is one and many, negative and affirmative, without succumbing to the ideological superimposition of the subject-object divide or the reductive, Eurocentric dialectic between the universal and the particular.40 The ‘‘New Left’’ The position of the so-called ‘‘New Left’’ (xinzuopai), at least as it is defined in the social-ideological space of position-taking, seems a symmetrical opposite of that of the ‘‘liberals’’ (ziyouzhuyi zhe). Limited to a way of thinking in post-Tiananmen academia, the Chinese ‘‘New Left,’’ if one is to take that dubious label as a meaningful signifier, combines resistance to and a critique of capitalist globalization in China, on the one hand, and a conscious association with an international critical discourse, embodied by critical theoretical discourses in Western academia, on the other. Here a distinction between the academic ‘‘New Left’’ and populist sentiments against ongoing marketization in the Chinese economy and eroding working-class rights is important, as the ‘‘New Leftists’’ and liberals have little in common except for their moral self-righteousness and their lack of an intellectual and political platform. The two groups form a dynamic only in the larger social context when they are joined by state discourse and the discourse of consumerism and mass culture. What complicates the picture of this ‘‘New Left’’ is not so much its crossover with labor advocates or the inspiration of the teachings of Mao; rather, its complexity is shaped by internally heterogeneous intellectual components, above all its formulations made in Western academia by overseas Chinese scholars and those devised by its domestic contingent, which came into being after 1997. The first among those who have been labeled ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals are overseas Chinese students who studied social sciences and humanities in the West, primarily in the United States. Some of them have returned to China; the rest have gone on to teach in American universities. Most of them publish regularly in both English and Chinese. A list of some of the usual suspects—Cui Zhiyuan, Wang Shaoguang, Gan Yang, Huang Ping, Kang Liu, Lydia Liu, etc.—raises the question of what intellectual criteria encompass such a politically loaded label. The background of these ‘‘New Leftists’’ is diverse. Gan Yang was trained within the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, by no means a bastion of radical leftist intellectuals. Cui Zhiyuan and Wang Shaoguang

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are political scientists trained at Chicago and Cornell, respectively; both schools offer mainstream, if ‘‘cutting edge,’’ academic training in, say, rational choice and game theories. Huang Ping, a student of Anthony Giddens, may qualify as ‘‘New Left,’’ but only in a Western sense of the word whose Blairean implications may be offensive and only to those who identify with the international right-wing ideology. The two literary scholars, Kang Liu and Lydia Liu, work along Marxist and feminist/postcolonial lines respectively, which, although commonplace in literary and cultural studies in U.S. academia, may seem to be the most ‘‘radical’’ and ‘‘leftist’’ to post-Mao Chinese intellectual conventions. But that negative reception only reveals a hidden assumption that underscores the invention of the ‘‘New Left’’ label—namely, the corruption of the Chinese intellectual mind by the privileged and frivolous Western academia. Wang Hui, who rose in recent years as a major voice for the supposedly ‘‘New Left’’ camp, was considered by his former ‘‘liberal’’ colleagues to be an acceptable scholar of Lu Xun and Chinese intellectual history until his return from a year-long visit at Harvard and the University of California, after which he seemed to have slipped irredeemably into the decadent discourse of Western left intellectuals who neither know nor care about China. Such profound suspicion and ignorance of Western academic life manifests itself in a fervent and indiscriminate attack on Western Marxism, poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, Cultural Studies, critical legal studies—anything that is perceived by such ‘‘liberal’’ Chinese intellectuals as Xu Youyu and Lei Yi as not compatible with an imagined, uniform, and homogeneous doctrine of modernity as a Western-centered universal truth. Through a critique of the Chinese ‘‘New Left,’’ ‘‘liberal’’ intellectuals completed a short-circuit that collapses the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the political events and causes of the 1960s in the West. Such a convenient equation demonstrates, more than an intellectual and historical reductionism, an ideological presumption of a posthistorical age of capitalist globalization. Like many other labels in modern Chinese intellectual and cultural history, ‘‘New Left’’ was attached to a fuzzy and diverse phenomenon by its critics with an intent to stereotype and stigmatize. Such an intention, however, unwittingly reveals the Chinese social-political overdetermination that gives rise to this phenomenon in a specific and radically contemporary context; this overdetermination runs contrary to the suggestion that the Chinese ‘‘New Left’’ is un-Chinese. Unlike contemporary Chinese nationalism, which circulates as a social sentiment without any politicaltheoretical elaboration, the ‘‘New Left’’ stands for a number of distinct but related intellectual positions and theoretical discourses correspond-

ing to the sociopolitical context of the Chinese 1990s. Its alleged problem or weakness is not its lack of theoretical sophistication, but its ‘‘unrootedness’’ in—thus its irrelevance to—an ‘‘indigenous experience.’’ This ‘‘absence of roots’’ makes such discourse guilty of importing ‘‘Western theory’’ without discrimination or any sense of ‘‘what China really needs.’’ Coined by neoliberal intellectuals, the ‘‘New Left’’ label issues a warning about a resurgence of leftist politics after two decades of state-sanctioned developmentalism, depoliticization, and integration with the global mainstream, a context that inevitably places a pejorative significance on anything that can be, however vaguely, described as ‘‘left.’’ For this reason, most intellectuals labeled ‘‘New Left’’ reject such naming and seem to guard against unintended or deliberate confusions of their positions with other leftist or revolutionary intellectual and political traditions in modern China. Neoliberal intellectuals are aware of this rejection; some of them even note that the ‘‘New’’ before ‘‘Left’’ suggests a different ideological foreground, a different intellectual genealogy, and a different set of social and ideological imperatives from, say, the Maoist orthodoxy. Still, on the whole, the neoliberal strategy is to collapse the ‘‘New Left’’ into categories that are clearly and negatively designated in the mental-ideological map of postMao China and in the post-Cold War new world order. In the last few years of the 1990s, neoliberal critics repeatedly accused ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals of rejecting (1) the idea of the free market; (2) the discourse of ‘‘classical social sciences’’; (3) the universality of liberal discourse; and (4) the universal values and institutions, such as liberal democracy, represented by the West. Therefore, in the eyes of Chinese neoliberals, even though the ‘‘New Left’’ no longer depends on absolute state power, a planned economy, and the primacy of ideology, it demonstrates ‘‘an affinity with traditional socialism; a nostalgia for Mao’s China; an affirmative attitude toward direct democracy, the centrality of politics, and public passion; a longing for a poetic and romantic idealism; and discontent with a practical-oriented social transition of contemporary China.’’ 41 If this description were accurate, however, the ‘‘New Left’’ would have posed a more immediate threat to the legitimacy of the Deng- and post-Deng Chinese state than the neoliberals and overseas dissidents thought themselves to have posed. In fact, when the ‘‘New Left offensive’’ is debated, the neoliberal position adopts the mainstream discourse of the Chinese state on modernization and universal progress. But the neoliberals’ overlap with state ideology goes only so far, since its identification with global ideology necessarily requires it paradoxically to define the Chinese state also as an anomaly or resistant to the ‘‘universal trend.’’ As a result, to their neoliberal critics, the ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals’ critique of the ideological mainstream of global capital-

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ism is understandable only in the exogenous context of Western academia, which is made available by ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals to the predominating power of the domestic totalitarian state. In other words, once ‘‘free market’’ and ‘‘liberal democracy’’ are accepted as definitive characteristics of a more advanced historical paradigm, reflections on its internal complexities and contradictions are declared unnecessary, intellectually counterproductive, and politically reactionary. Such a totalized notion of historicist time, viewed in spatial terms as the enclosed, completed frontier of modernity, underscores Chinese neoliberals’ conceptual hierarchy and the ordering of reality. According to this worldview, China is understood by Chinese neoliberals as an underscored dichotomy between the total state and a universal civil society. What is left out of this picture, or this neoliberal worldview, is the complex interactions—as coexistence and conflict at once—between the postsocialist state and global capital. This socioeconomic condition marks the possibilities for any critical intellectual discourse and cultural politics in China today. Whereas the neoliberals may consider any critique of developmentalism self-evidently wrong and politically suicidal in the post-Mao Chinese context—and thus unworthy of attention—they do seem alarmed by the backing of the New Left ‘‘by the theoretical resources gathered by the intellectual Left in the West; borrowing from multiculturalism as a form of intellectual self-assertion; and riding the tide of the national question in the age of globalization.’’ 42 Instead of engaging the New Left discourse on its own intellectual and theoretical terms, the neoliberals choose to reduce the questions raised by New Left intellectuals to a number of ideologicalpolitical fantasies that can easily be refuted by reality and ‘‘common sense.’’ The neoliberals’ critical strategy, therefore, is to show how mechanically the Chinese New Left adopt the discourse of their Western counterparts, allegedly without taking into account the profound structural differences between the socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts of the two groups. This strategy also marks a way for the neoliberals to neutralize the intellectual-theoretical ‘‘backing’’ of the Chinese New Left by sophisticated critical-intellectual discourses in Western academia. In so doing, the neoliberals turn to a reified and dogmatic version of classical liberalism and neoliberalism for help, while omitting the progressive, socialreform legacies of European social democracy and American liberalism (e.g., the New Deal). As a result, an intellectual and theoretical imbalance appears in the current ‘‘Liberalism’’ versus ‘‘New Left’’ debate. As critical intellectuals in China today embark on a systematic and open-ended questioning of both socialist and capitalist assumptions of universal modernity, partly by participating in critical-theoretical discourses in Western

academia, their ‘‘liberal’’ counterparts rely heavily on such ‘‘time-honored’’ intellectual concepts as positivism, historicism, absolute truth, and negative liberty, while ideologically embracing the continued and unreflected Cold War rhetoric of human rights, the open society, and free market reform—a rhetoric that, shared by conservatives and right-wing liberals in the United States today, still dominates the American media discourse on China. This observation, however, is not meant to reduce the current intellectual debate between ‘‘liberalism’’ and the New Left in China as a ‘‘war of proxies’’ (dailiren de zhanzheng) fighting on behalf of their Western ‘‘master-narratives,’’ as the literary critic Liu Zaifu once complained in a different context.43 Rather, my observation shows that the real intellectual and ideological conflict operates not so much within the discursive space of theory and intellect, but rather that it follows a socio-geological fault line between the prevailing global ideology and its regional resistance as well as within the global history of economy, society, politics, and critical thinking. Such an intellectual-ideological engagement falls outside the complex of state and global capital. This point is vindicated by the ambivalent silence about the debate by the Chinese media—neither seamlessly controlled by the state nor completely driven by the market—and by the government’s decision to stay out of it. The government even remained aloof during the escalating public controversy over the first national book award organized by Dushu, a magazine allegedly controlled by the New Left, which accepted considerable financial support from the Hong Kong business tycoon Lee Kai-hsing. Despite the award’s political sensitivity and the contending parties’ innuendo over their opponents being part of a corrupt regime, the debate seemed outside the immediate concerns and priorities of the technocratic state, whose pragmatic centrism seems equally guarded against the ‘‘Right’’ and the ‘‘Left.’’ Despite being shunned by both the state and the mainstream in a market-dominated everyday world, both ‘‘liberal’’ and ‘‘New Left’’ intellectuals make competing intellectual claims on the Chinese reality and on our perception of the world, and both groups are conscious inheritors of modern Chinese intellectual and political traditions reinterpreted and reinvented in radically different ways. The familiar landmarks along this fault line include the pronounced tension between economic liberty and political democracy, individual freedom and social justice, free market and state intervention, modernity and its critique. The theoretical frameworks used by the New Left to theorize Chinese reality are often dismissed by neoliberals as a ‘‘cunning of the reason’’ (lixing de jiaojie), which seems to be a misuse of Hegel’s concept to mean something cruder—the ‘‘trick of the intellect’’ or ‘‘a mask of ideology.’’ Unlike cultural intellectuals during the

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1980s, Chinese neoliberal intellectuals in the 1990s did not hesitate to attack or dismiss the Western intellectual Left as marginalized and irrelevant in a reality dominated by the free market and its mainstream ideologies; in similar ways, the New Left attacks and dismisses Hayek or Fukuyama as deplorable and uninteresting apologists for an unequal system. Thus, for neoliberal intellectuals, the Frankfurt School is considered no more than a specific response to the particular situation of interwar Germany, whose critique of the American-style ‘‘culture industry’’ constitutes a ‘‘misplaced’’ antitotalitarianism in a liberal democratic environment. And the ‘‘Cultural Left’’ from the late 1960s, particularly its ‘‘theory’’ contingent—Foucault, Althusser, Kristeva, Roland Barthes, and Fredric Jameson—is painted as a unique form of bohemian decadence and utopian fantasy inspired by the Chinese Cultural Revolution.44 Other theoretical discourses from which the Chinese New Left derives—from Wallerstein’s world system theory and Amin’s dependency theory to Analytical Marxism and Critical Legal Studies, even communitarianism as a form of ‘‘antiliberalism’’—are quickly dismissed as futile and helpless attempts to challenge the ‘‘long-term rationality’’ (changcheng helixing) of the capitalist system. The fully differentiated and politicized reality of China in the 1990s certainly penetrated the Chinese intellectual field, a field where a uniform embrace of any value system or theoretical discourse is becoming impossible. This situation was certainly a step forward from the collective euphoria of the 1980s, which still attracts nostalgic interest. Oftentimes, the neoliberal attack on the intellectual and theoretical resources of leftist thinking demonstrates a new dogmatism, determinism, and intolerance, a new theological adherence to classical liberal economics and politics. Meanwhile, some New Left counterattacks have been pushed to the extreme and threaten to collapse a complex contemporary intellectual-political agenda into a simple and embattled plea for an unmediated return to Mao’s China or an unqualified alliance with the Western academic left. Whereas neoliberal attacks indicate Chinese intellectuals’ participation in and identification with the global ideological mainstream, the New Left counterattacks reflect the increasing frustration and anxiety of social groups whose economic and political well-being are undermined, not improved, by radical market reform and the stagnation of undemocratic political-bureaucratic institutions. At its most generous, the Chinese neoliberal denouncing of the New Left grants a ‘‘reason for existence of those Leftist discourses in the West, whose utopian idealism and uncompromising critique of reality serve as a moral motivation for the perfection of social reality in the West.’’ 45 But when such marginal utopian excess in advanced capitalist societies is

transported to China to critique a ‘‘difficult transition into material prosperity and liberal democracy,’’ it loses both its utopian and practical validity. From the neoliberal perspective, the New Left concern with China, even if granted good intentions and respectable moral character, constitutes a ‘‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness.’’ 46 The blunt moral and political allegation that underscores the thinly veiled intellectual criticism of the New Left, however, is its ‘‘implicit apology for socialism and aspiration for socialism to replace capitalism.’’ 47 The impatience, even zealotry, to cut to the moral-political core of an intellectual debate reflects a triumphant self-consciousness of the historical condition giving rise to the worldwide dominance of neoliberalism. Such a condition, put by economist Arthur McEwan in his 1999 critique of neoliberalism, is underlined by the fact that the world economy today is ‘‘almost entirely capitalist,’’ and that capitalism, for the first time in its history, has become ‘‘truly global; there is no longer any substantial part of the world that is generally outside the one international economic system.’’ 48 The aggressiveness with which Chinese neoliberals attack their New Left opponents also supports McEwan’s general observation that ‘‘while the basic tenets of neo-liberalism operate in the rich countries, the policy plays its most powerful role in many of the low-income countries of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.’’ 49 By the same token, this policy also reflects the nationstate’s profound ambivalence toward, and decreasing independence from, capitalist globalization; a powerful and residually socialist national government like China’s is no exception to this ambivalence. Under these circumstances, the search for an intellectual framework beyond neoliberal dogma characterizes a loose but conscious alliance of New Left Chinese intellectuals. This alliance is what makes it simultaneously ‘‘new’’ and ‘‘left,’’ despite its liberal critics’ intent to cause its collapse by using old—and failed—political, economic, and culturalintellectual challenges to capitalism. To this extent, the very socioeconomic reality of the world today that gives the neoliberal discourse its moral and ideological certainty also bestows on its critics a valid and urgent intellectual and political agenda.50 The manifest goal of New Left Chinese intellectuals is to break the straitjacket of socialism and capitalism, seeing them as two reified and fetishized social, political, and theoretical institutions. In this light, the New Left is continuing the open-minded explorations and experimentations in Chinese humanities and social sciences of the late 1980s that centered on the question of modernity. This tendency is most pronounced and self-conscious in Cui Zhiyuan, Gan Yang, Wang Hui, and Wang Shaoguang, although their intellectual backgrounds and discursive enterprises differ. The centrality of the question of modernity,

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however, must be qualified with an account of the discontinuity of postMao Chinese intellectual and cultural history. These post-Mao discourses are marked by the sweeping changes of the Chinese and world economies, as well as by politics, culture, ideology, and a heightened critical and analytical consciousness vis-à-vis many unexamined concepts, categories, and assumptions that underscore the New Era’s modernization ideology. This complicated and problematized notion of socialism and capitalism prompts New Left intellectuals to reject their label, often by arguing that that their position is defined vis-à-vis the neoliberal, not the ‘‘liberal,’’ discourse. The liberal discourse in this particular post-Mao Chinese political and intellectual context remains an asset and an open horizon, whereas ‘‘left’’ invariably invites popular and intellectual suspicion and triggers unpleasant memories and associations. Some scholars have tried to clarify this ‘‘New Left’’ position by defining its intellectual opponent, the ‘‘New Right’’ (xin youyi) or the ‘‘Far Right’’ ( jiyou pai), not the liberal discourse. Others have attempted to rename the ‘‘New Left’’ by calling it the ‘‘Liberal Left’’ (ziyou zuopai) to highlight its link to the liberal social-democratic tradition in the West and its intellectual origin in post-Mao China. But no one has changed the habitual, media-reinforced way of referring to the central intellectual conflict in China in the 1990s as the ongoing debate between Xinzuopai (new left) and Ziyouzhuyi (liberalism). Distorting as it is, the conventional language unwittingly reveals that, in China as elsewhere, neoliberal discourse and ideology are framing the intellectual and political environment, to which adherents of other positions are compelled to respond. The State Capacity Theory Since the late 1980s, as the pressure to decentralize, marketize, and privatize increases, neoliberal economics have gained influence in policymaking communities and among independent-minded economists. After 1992, the neoliberal approach became the prevailing mode in economic thinking and virtually the official economics of a socialist state.51 A critical and constructive discourse then emerged in the early 1990s. The ‘‘state capacity’’ theory, formulated by Wang Shaoguang, then a political scientist at Yale University, and his collaborator, Hu Angang, argued for the imperative of a strong central government to regulate the market and curb its tendency toward regional protectionism and fragmentation and toward monopoly and unequal competition. More importantly, Wang and Hu’s argument maintained, a capable state should maintain a credible national defense, a socially just distribution of wealth, and the nation’s moral and political unity. The central argument of the ‘‘state capacity’’ thesis is decep-

tively technical; it hinges on the state’s need to retain a ‘‘powerful capacity in extracting tax’’ in order to fulfill its vital and indispensable role in fostering a meaningful, creative national life. Wang and Hu’s argument can be regarded as one of the first systematic considerations of the state-market interrelationship in the Chinese context and one of the early responses to the economic collapse, political failure, and social tragedy of those transitional societies in Eastern Europe, especially the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia. The imperative of taxation in this thesis was made in response to the ruinous consequences of neoliberal orthodoxy in places like Russia and with reference to the relatively primitive mechanisms of the Chinese socialist state to secure tax revenues in an emergent market environment. Their argument is not against the market. Rather, the ‘‘state capacity’’ theory that they propose consistently stresses the imperative to explore the means to an economically successful, socially just, and politically stable transition into the ‘‘socialist market economy.’’ Wang and Hu hold that the market economy which China strives to build must be based on a modern institution of enterprise, finance, and taxation, not on petty agrarian production; that the Chinese market must be a unified domestic market free of local and regional division and protectionism; that this market must operate on the principle of equal competition guaranteed by tax policies and government services; and that such a modern, equal, and unified market must be regulated and protected by a legal structure based on a social contract. Wang and Hu further argue that this unified domestic market must be open to the outside world and that it should allow the free flow of commodities, capital, technology, information, and personnel.52 The socioeconomic and political framework proposed by this ‘‘state capacity’’ thesis left room for various kinds of social and intellectual currents that surged into prominence in the late 1990s. Endorsing market reform and advocating the eventual compatibility of Chinese domestic and global markets, the ‘‘state capacity’’ thesis endorsed the main thrust of the Reform but with an emphasis on state capacity to maintain a unified domestic market and to mediate between the domestic and international markets. Its difference from the economic nationalist view, which surfaced during the debate over the wto, can be found in its political commitment to building a socialist welfare state and a ‘‘socialist market economy’’ at the same time that it seeks to lead a socialist government in national economic and political life. Its comparative frame of reference—namely, the radical privatization and disappearance of central authority from socioeconomic life in Russia—determines its position against the neoliberal doctrine, while most Chinese intellectuals were ready to embrace the Chinese

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market revolution in 1992 as a sign of Deng Xiaoping’s commitment to continued Reform. Despite its policy-oriented approach, the ‘‘state capacity’’ theory is one of the first attempts to voice an intellectual concern with the political reforms of the Chinese state. Based on its empirical judgment that the Chinese transition into a market economy ‘‘will have to be under the direction of the central government,’’ the Wang-Hu theory lays out the necessary conditions for the success of such a transition: (1) the function of central power must be transformed and reconfigured to give rise to a new, efficient macroadministrative framework; (2) the government must eradicate systematic corruption, which inevitably leads to massive social instability and places a socially just economic reform out of the question; and (3) the government must allow free debate between different opinions and make the policy-making processes more democratic. The ‘‘state capacity’’ theory stands against developmentalist ideology by stressing the social-political imperative as well as the economic rationality for a socially just distribution of wealth—wealth guaranteed by a strong but democratically operated state. This is the core content of a ‘‘politicoeconomy of unequal development’’ that addresses the inevitable income disparity and regional unevenness of market reform. Wang Shaoguang is also among the first to call for the construction of a comprehensive social security system as the Chinese economy increasingly becomes market-driven. Today the Chinese intellectual-ideological battle line still centers on these issues, and the theoretical requirements laid out by these authors are far from being met by Chinese economic and political reality. In the face of the intensified neoliberal assault on the legitimacy of the welfare state, Wang Shaoguang responded with a review-article on Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein’s The Cost of Rights. In the book the authors argue—and Wang fully agrees—that all rights, including ‘‘negative rights,’’ depend on the state and its taxation; that all rights are public goods whose protection requires the government to make socially responsible and morally satisfying choices; and that, in view of the sorry reality in ‘‘free’’ Russia, ‘‘statelessness spells rightlessness.’’ Wang points out that Chinese ‘‘liberals’’ would be considered right-wingers and libertarians in the Western social-political spectrum; and liberal economists like Holmes and Sunstein would be ‘‘sharing the same trench with the Chinese ‘New Left.’ ’’ 53 Institutional Innovation and Intellectual Liberation The ‘‘second intellectual liberation’’ and ‘‘institutional innovation’’ discourse, put forth by Cui Zhiyuan, then a political economist at mit, focuses on dismantling the fetishism of the absolute market and the absolute

state; Cui further calls for mass participation in innovating Chinese socioeconomic and political institutions. When the late Tsou Tang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, introduced Cui Zhiyuan’s writings to Chinese readers, he considered Cui’s theoretical point of departure as ‘‘the contradiction between ‘law’ and ‘liberation;’ and the antagonism between universality and particularity.’’ 54 For Tsou, what is courageous and controversial in Cui’s thinking are his reconsiderations of Maoism as an attempt to transcend the ‘‘law of natural historical progress,’’ whose philosophical and political core is found in Mao’s belief that ‘‘it is the people who create history.’’ To Cui, this belief allowed Mao to regard Chinese socioeconomic underdevelopment as ‘‘a blankness conducive to the painting of a magnificent picture’’ of human history. The same belief prompted Mao to recognize the inability of public ownership of the means of production to solve the internal contradiction of socialist society; accompanying that contradiction was the new system’s tendency to foster a new bureaucratic upper class, namely, the ‘‘bourgeois roaders within the Communist Party.’’ Mao’s solution was mass democracy; the people’s mobilization and involvement in national politics was supposed to be the institutional guarantor of Chinese socialism.55 Meanwhile, and more importantly in Tsou’s eyes, Cui argues that Mao’s notion of ‘‘bourgeois roaders within the Communist Party’’ and the critical adoption of the notion of ‘‘the bourgeois rights’’ within the socialist system reveal his limited attempt to break free from historical determinism. For instance, Cui thinks it wrong for Mao to reject elections as a way of expressing public and popular opinions; and Cui suggests that Mao ‘‘did not understand the connection between democracy and election, and did not realize that you can have election in both socialist and capitalist societies.’’ 56 Thus, Cui concludes that ‘‘the Cultural Revolution is an aborted experiment in mass democracy,’’ a clear indication of Mao’s failure to find a solution to the contradictions of modernity by means of liberation.57 In Tsou’s words, what exemplifies Cui’s notion of ‘‘intellectual liberation’’ and ‘‘institutional innovation’’ in this case is his ‘‘differentiating Mao’s thought into various components.’’ 58 That differention makes it possible for Cui to theoretically analyze the reasons for Mao’s political defeat during the Cultural Revolution, while at the same time it reconfigures the positive element of Mao’s thinking—his notion of mass democracy— into other theoretical and institutional categories, such as Roberto Unger’s notion of democratic society. Cui applies similar thinking to other categories. For instance, by defining the notion of property rights as a ‘‘bundle of rights’’ rather than a unified and mythologized entity, he shows how power, privileges, immunities, and subcategories such as the right to control residues, the right of

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residual claimant, etc., can be brought into new configurations in order to address the interests of both shareholders and stakeholders and to open new theoretical room for economic democracy under private and public ownership. In his critical analysis of the notion of the free market, Cui sheds light on Reform in the Chinese context by dispelling the myth of the ‘‘invisible hand’’ through his use of concrete cases of institutional and intellectual changes in the United States (such as the corporate law passed in twenty-nine states in the 1980s). His implicit argument is that the contemporary capitalist system as we know it results from its reaction to, compromise with, and management of the socialist challenges and working-class movements over a long period of time. Cui contends that even the U.S. economy has a socialist component much more significant than admitted by Chinese or Russian critics and admirers; and that the seemingly radical rejection of reality under the rubric of capitalism gives too much credit to the ideological concept of ‘‘capitalism,’’ putting an intellectual straitjacket on those who still want to search for an alternative. Analyzing the phenomenal growth of Chinese rural industry over the past two decades, Cui traces the origin of that growth to Mao’s failed idea of rural industrialization during the disastrous ‘‘Leap Forward’’ movement in late 1950s and its not so spectacular prehistory of infrastructure-building under the People’s Commune system. Cui also notices its relation to the Japanese mode of rural industrialization, which parallels the process of massive urbanization, and to the Chinese policy of disseminating industrial strength throughout the hinterlands during the heyday of the Cold War as a national defense strategy. The success of Chinese village and township industry after 1978 shows that ‘‘the failure of previous practice does not prevent its positive elements from being absorbed and transformed under new circumstance.’’ 59 To the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy in today’s world, Cui writes: What is interesting and thought provoking is that, while the new social elite and their intellectual spokesmen in Eastern Europe, Russia, and China regard private ownership as the new Bible, corporate law in America has undergone profound changes in the opposite direction. Private ownership has long been represented in corporate law as the following structure of corporate governance. The shareholders are owners, to whom and to whom only the management must be held accountable in its service to maximize profit. However, since the 1980s, more than half the states in the U.S. (29 in total so far) have modified their corporate law. The new law requires the management to serve not only the shareholders, but the stake-

holders as well. In other words, shareholders are now viewed as only part of stakeholders, where the rest of the last category is consisted of workers, creditors, and the community. Such reform in American corporate law breaks through the seemingly axiomatic logic of private ownership, [and] thus becomes the most significant event in recent U.S. politics and economy.60 Noticing that U.S. economists traveling across the Pacific rarely mention these changes to their overseas audiences, Cui quotes the sarcastic observation made by Joseph Stiglitz, former chairman of the economic council for President Clinton on American advice to socialist countries: ‘‘Do as we say, not as we do.’’ By his obvious counterproposal to ‘‘do as they do, not as they say,’’ Cui calls for a more critical and historical study of world capitalism whose internal contradiction propels its dynamism. Cui is also inspired by the Chinese economist Lu Changchong’s proposal for a Chinese approach to ‘‘modern institutions of enterprise’’; Lu’s proposal centers on handling the relations between three old ‘‘Huis’’ and three new ‘‘Huis.’’ The three new ‘‘Huis’’ refer to dongshihui (the board of trustees), gudong dahui (meetings of shareholders), and jianshihui (the board of supervisers), all of which were institutionalized by the Chinese corporate law of 1994. The three old ‘‘Huis,’’ on the other hand, refer to dangweihui (the party committee), zhigong daibiao dahui (the workers’ congress), and gonghui (the union). Cui shares Lu’s dissatisfaction with the Chinese corporate law, which, while seeking to observe ‘‘international convention,’’ fails to follow the progressive trend to institutionalize workers’ participation in corporate decision-making; instead, it allows workers’ representation on the boards of trustees only in state enterprises, thus cutting the ties between the workers’ congress and boards of trustees in private and joint-venture enterprises. Like Lu, Cui rejects the uniformity of obsolete ideas on the capitalist corporate system and calls for innovative explorations of a Chinese model for modern enterprise.61 What Cui means by ‘‘the second intellectual liberation’’ is a dialectical transcendence of ‘‘traditional binary opposites such as private ownership and state ownership, market economy and planned economy, Chinese substance-Western function versus wholesale Westernization, and reformism and conservatism,’’ all of which emerged during the ‘‘first intellectual liberation’’ waged in the late 1970s against the dogmatic adherence to Maoism; this action paved the way for the socialist economic reform of the 1980s. Emphasis on the second intellectual liberation is no longer ‘‘the negation of [socialist] conservatism, but the expansion of a new space for institutional innovation; instead of sticking with an either/or division, it

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searches for new opportunities for institutional innovation under the guiding principle of economic and political democracy.’’ 62 Based on a dynamic practice of dialectical thinking, which is simultaneously deconstructive and constructive, Cui examines a whole range of historical or contemporary cases from the writings of Rousseau and J. S. Mill to post-Fordist production, and from Chinese village elections to Russian ‘‘shock therapy.’’ His critique of institutional and intellectual fetishism, to be sure, points toward the prevailing ideology of the free market and an increasingly homogeneous system of capitalism’s intensified dominance of the entire world. Yet in the particular Chinese context, Cui’s analysis of contemporary capitalism as an ongoing historical dynamic calls for a continuing effort at understanding the historical complexity and the sociopolitical contradictions of capitalism in order to capture—and appropriate—the historically democratic, liberating elements that move it forward, yet are constrained, repressed, and distorted by its reified institutions and ideologies. Such a stance against the totalizing power and temporal frame of world capitalism sets the tone for a critical intellectual voice in China today, a voice based on a commitment to democracy and freedom as institutional arrangements and an intellectual utopia beyond the political horizon of the status quo or the reifications of capitalism and socialism. From Rural China to Cultural China: Toward a Political Nation Contrary to the widespread assumption that post-Mao Chinese economic development resulted from privatization, many Chinese intellectuals acknowledge that among the most important engines of robust growth over the past two decades are Chinese rural industries. These are the so-called village and township enterprises, which, since the early 1980s, rose from inconsequence to represent more than one-third of Chinese domestic output in the second half of the 1990s. Gan Yang is a veteran of the Cultural Discussions of the 1980s, a Tiananmen exile, and the general editor of the ‘‘Shehuiyu Sixiang’’ (Society and thought) book series at Oxford University Press in Hong Kong. For him, the rise of village and township enterprises is both an economic phenomenon and a modern transformation of rural China, the historic beginning of Chinese modernity defined against the Qin-Han model of the Chinese empire and the involutionary mode of preindustrial production, or what historian Philip Huang calls ‘‘growth without development.’’ The central concern of Gan’s thinking remains modernity. For him, the historic hint behind the rise of Chinese rural enterprise is a form of development different from the classical model of Western modernity. ‘‘The way by which Chinese peasants bid farewell to agrarian society is not to

swamp the city as penniless proletarians eradicated from their rural homeland, but rather to create a modern industry in the very rural community where they are rooted, and thus work in the factory without fleeing to the city (li tu bu li xiang, jin chang bu jin cheng). This is indeed a unique mode of development. It results not from the economists’ design, but from a desperate choice under the pressure of survival.’’ 63 The fate of Chinese rural industry in the face of the capitalist market’s heightened globalism remains uncertain; and the Chinese state’s intensified efforts to engage in social rationalization by ‘‘international’’ standards, i.e., privatization, bodes ill for the development of a collectively and communally based economy. But Gan Yang’s observations remain important, not as a microeconomic assessment, but as a macrosociocultural vision of an alternative model of Chinese modernity. The profound historical significance of the rise of Chinese rural industry, Gan argues, is that ‘‘it provides the Chinese industrial transformation with a dependable foundation of micro-social organization.’’ In other words, the development of Chinese rural industry is not achieved at the price of weakening, undermining, and eventually destroying rural communities, but, rather, development thrives on the basis of mutual dependence on and close ties to the rural community. Its prosperity reinforces the reconstruction of the communities of rural China. ‘‘If such historical experience proves feasible, its meaning to the continuation of a Chinese form of life will be unlimited; and its contribution to the history of civilization invaluable,’’ he observes.64 The dialogue between Gan’s idealistic picture of Chinese rural industry with Wang Shaoguang’s rethinking of the Chinese state and Cui Zhiyuan’s critique of a uniform model of development is manifold. In this light, his concept of ‘‘Cultural China’’ proves to be a notion that refers to modernity as a historical experience of industrialization, not an ahistorical speculation on the revival of Confucianism by means of its invented compatibility with global capitalism. In fact, Gan’s ‘‘Cultural China’’ should be considered a moment in the historical articulation of a socioeconomic transformation before its realization in the ‘‘political nation’’; on the basis of that transformation, he criticizes the ideology of Chinese nationalism. In other words, ‘‘Cultural China’’ prefigures the yet-to-be fulfilled sociopolitical content of Chinese modernity, which consists of ‘‘new local communities, new social organizations and networks, and new forms of everyday life.’’ Reminiscent of his call for a radical hermeneutic stance toward the tradition/modernity, East/West binaries that defined the intellectual landscape of the Chinese 1980s, Gan insists on keeping the historical process of the modern West as the frame of reference for grasping the Chinese problematic. He writes:

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All of the Western notions of property relations, structure of rights, citizenship, democratic participation, etc., are historically formed in the Western modernity, namely the transformation of Western rural societies into Western industrial societies; all of them evolved and improved as Western modernity unfolded. Thus we have reason to expect that the Chinese notions of property relations, structure of rights, citizenship, and democracy will gradually take shape as Chinese modernity ascends historically.65 This historical framework enables Gan Yang to consider such grand narratives of historical determinism as capitalism overcoming socialism, or ‘‘private ownership is the only choice and there is no alternative,’’ as nothing more than the residue of Cold War ideology that should be transcended in the post-Cold War era. Based on his rejection of the ‘‘unfeasibility of Cold War socialism’’ and the ‘‘irrationality of Cold War capitalism,’’ Gan makes a zig-zag intervention into the intellectual debates of the 1990s. For this reason, he introduced the discourse of liberalism (including Berlin’s idea of negative freedom) at the beginning of the 1990s; yet, at the end of the decade, he used the same intellectual source to attack Chinese intellectuals’ taste for antidemocratic or aristocratic notions of freedom. For Gan, the Chinese ‘‘liberal’’ intelligentsia of the 1990s was characterized by its common emphasis on private property in a state capitalist environment and by its ideological flight with the global power mainstream by means of the trope of individual freedom. By these means, Gan puts the Chinese liberals’ notion of ‘‘freedom’’ into conflict with the notion of social, political, and economic democracy. Under bureaucratic-capitalist conditions, the liberals’ position stands as a tacit endorsement of the freedom of the privileged over the rights of the deprived and of the unequal distribution of wealth in the name of the market principle.66 This stance is also the reason that Gan advocates both the modern democratic idea of ‘‘one pull, one vote’’ and a large, united, and strong constitutional republic that keeps provincial oligarchies under control.67 The fact that Gan Yang is labeled ‘‘New Left’’ by his ‘‘liberal’’ critics only shows the radically conservative dogmatism subscribed to by Chinese neoliberals. All three of these discourses—‘‘New Left,’’ ‘‘liberal,’’ and neoliberal— came to the fore as an ideological opposition and theoretical critique of prevalent neoclassical economic orthodoxy, which resulted in the myth of the market and private ownership. Wang and Hu focused on progressive government policy-making. Cui Zhiyuan sought to deconstruct problematic notions pertaining to the ideological totality of laissez-faire capitalism and to reappropriate or theoretically develop on a worldwide basis the

innovative ideas and practices in contemporary socioeconomic and political life. Gan Yang, in addition to his attentions to the social-cultural reconstruction of rural China, emphasizes the dialectic between popular democracy and social order. In many ways, the arguments of all of these scholars can be regarded as a negative response to the disastrous Russian privatization after the end of the Cold War and a positive, occasionally idealistic view of Chinese economic strategy and its democratic potential. The approaches of these scholars also represent the first attempt by Chinese intellectuals to evaluate and theorize Chinese reality in a global context, but with a particular Chinese perspective and sensibility. What Does It Mean to Talk about a Chinese Alternative Despite the wishful prediction of the doomsayers, the Chinese situation does not constitute a problem of ‘‘vanishing’’ or disintegration (of the cultural empire, of the nation-state, of socialist modernity, etc.), but it does set down new social-cultural constructions symbiotic with and yet contradictory to the post-Cold War world order. It is premature, for instance, to either celebrate or mourn the disappearance of Mao’s China, a legacy which for the observing historians and cultural critics always means a revolutionary restoration and a reorganization of an old rural civilization in the new global context rather than being merely a disruption, a ‘‘nightmare’’ (as it is so often called in writings on that period), in the continuum of Confucian or bourgeois universal history. The ‘‘Chinese way’’—officially termed the ‘‘socialist market economy’’ —has so far succeeded in neither reality nor theory and runs against the grain of the homogeneous ideological mainstream in today’s world. Yet critical intellectuals who have a stake in formulating progressive prospects for China’s social and cultural development may find it necessary to engage and appropriate this suspicious ground in order to turn it around in a battle against prevalent comformism, philistinism, and cynicism. Despite the cultural-nationalist trappings of such a discourse, a ‘‘Chinese alternative’’ is a discursive-political device by which to focus on the crucial differences between developed bourgeois socioeconomic and cultural systems and societies and forms of life that are still being transformed by them. The search for an alternative indicates a refusal to view the Eurocentric notion of modernity as modular or universal; it is an effort to analyze and break the colossal and often mythologized categories—capitalism, market, modernity, democracy, etc.—and to see them as bundles of historical contingencies that can be selected and reorganized under different historical, social, and cultural circumstances and by means of the theoretical coming-

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into-being of a critical utopian consciousness. The ‘‘alternative,’’ therefore, means nothing more than the articulation of differences in concrete institutional, everyday, and theoretical terms. And it is with recognition of a diverse and uneven world and the concrete historicities of actually existing life-worlds that the rhetoric of the universal is both embraced and rejected. It is embraced because it speaks to an interrelated world of material production and to the human interchange and self-understanding based on that world. The rhetoric of the universal is also rejected because such rhetoric is so tainted with the ideology of an unequal world’s ruling class and therefore vulnerable to the temptation to replace the faint horizon of human history with the robust, tangible cutting edge of capital. The discourse of the alternative provides an imagined position from which to question the universal claim about the neoliberal claims—that nothing matters unless it derives its meaning from a narrowly defined and fetishized ontology of capitalism. This discourse constitutes a form of ‘‘strategic essentialism’’ (a term Gayatri Spivak coined in a different but related context) vis-à-vis the unapologetic Eurocentrism and historicism one encounters in even some of the most theoretically innovative works of the Western Left, not to mention the self-complacent discourse of the neoliberal ideology.68 The slogan ‘‘there is no outside’’ (to a capitalist totality) is as abstract and reifying as the clichés about ‘‘alternatives.’’ The latter often signify a longing to be included in the capitalist social-political mainstream but that slogan (‘‘there is no outside’’) confuses a historical horizon with a dehistoricized form of capitalism. When both positions recognize capitalism as universal and modular, they have no intention of carrying the political, social, and cultural singularities and creativity of a given historical conjuncture beyond the existing system.69 Both are too ready to submit themselves to the bourgeois notion of subjectivity, which in turn overdetermines the universal claims of late capitalism. Both, in particular, see utopian phantoms of freedom and liberation in every round of capitalist self-transformation (the postindustrial, postmodern, or information age) while in fact fastening themselves ever tighter to the homogenizing, though flexible, system of control. While battering down the religious, cultural, and traditional defense mechanisms of partially assimilated communities, the universalist discourses on both Left and the Right effectively reinforce what might be called the cultural ethnocentrism of capitalist metropolises as a ‘‘body without organs’’ (Deleuze) constituted by the ontological primacy, the internal differentiation, and the self-affirmative energy of the negative spirit of Capital. In doing so, these discourses often confuse the ubiquity and flexibility of capital as new possibilities for local autonomy or a heightened degree of universalization; they also misidentify the deep-

ening of capitalist unevenness and the colonization of the subconscious as new forms of individuality. To say that a global imperial order emerges does not add much to one’s knowledge that the United States is imposing its economic, political, and cultural forms on the entire world and that a multiracial, multicultural, deterritorialized West has achieved a higher degree of internal homogeneity which allows it to confront its outside within its newly projected territorial totality. Such timeless and borderless empire, its global policing role, and its claim on humanity as a whole does not make capitalism as we know it more universal or totalistic; it merely reflects its continued and more efficient world domination, which brings it to the confrontation with a new set of contradictions. In this context, the ‘‘Chinese way’’ constitutes a crucial battle in the global economic, political, and discursive striving for open historical horizons. In its very locality and national determination, it represents a political-intellectual commitment to innovative thinking and social experiment against institutional and theoretical fetishism. If this as yet obscure and precarious platform can be taken as the basis of a loosely connected intellectual-political united front in China today, then it alone indicates the most fundamental paradigmatic shift in contemporary history of Chinese intellectual and social thought. This development, rather than basing its popular mandate on the cultural-ethnocentric notion of the nation or the ‘‘world-historical’’ inevitability of the status quo, keeps alive the suspended historic promise of bourgeois revolution and modernity, namely, the liberty, equality, and self-realization of mankind understood as many, and not one. More specifically, this means the continued effort to extend the benefits of freedom (from oppression, deprivation, and coercion) and democracy to a perpetuated national and international underclass, to ‘‘minorities’’ who in fact make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s people. On the intellectual front, even a mild version of such social idealism requires a sustained and highly conscious effort to engage in thoroughly demystifying the historic paradigm of demystification/reification, namely our moral, political, and philosophical heritage since the Enlightenment, which constantly creates its own myth and own hegemony. To this extent, any alternative vision of modernity must consider itself as engaging not in particularizing the universal, but rather, quite the contrary, in universalizing the particular. It must see its intellectual mission in constantly historicizing and contextualizing the arbitrariness of power and intellectual closures of all those circulating universal claims while keeping the future-oriented, utopian horizons of history open. Not surprisingly, in China today all of the major positions in the field of intellectual production are defined in relation to this still-underdeveloped

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discourse. The ‘‘Chinese way’’ as a mode of thinking stems not merely from a utopian notion of History, which in this particular context is easily mingled with an ahistorical utopia about the nation and its culture. Rather, the intellectual articulation of the ‘‘Chinese way’’ can be found among the most ardent Chinese students of Western philosophy, social theory, and political institutions, and above all among those who are fascinated with the political history and social dynamic of an America beneath its media headlines and ideological rhetoric. To more and more critical intellectuals writing on China in the 1990s, democracy, understood as a simultaneous combining of economics, politics, and culture, is becoming a central issue. The initial reflections of these intellectuals on the Chinese reforms have touched an ideological core, which lies in the breaking of an egalitarian system and the nurturing of a new middle class as the center of accumulation of social wealth. This course of change, to be sure, is a deliberate disengagement from the commitment of the Chinese Revolution to the masses and the participation of those masses in creating a new social system.While acknowledging the necessity of a market-oriented economic reform, critical Chinese intellectuals disagree with liberals, and sometimes among themselves, on the social-political imperatives by which to redefine the role of the government and through which to explore new ways of making the mass majority of Chinese the subject, not the object, of the Reform. The ideological conflict between a Chinese liberalism and a Chinese New Left, which came to center stage in Chinese intellectual life in the late 1990s, reflects the different social-political groundings of this transformative project. It is important to highlight the main polemics regarding the notion of democracy. Whereas liberal thinking advocates the making of an autonomous Chinese middle class—a proto-bourgeoisie to stimulate and stabilize a growth-oriented society—the New Left emphasizes that only by including the masses can the success and political-moral meaning of the Chinese Reform be assured. What inevitably follows, then, is a systematic discourse on the limit of bourgeois democracy and capitalist development. In this way, Chinese New Left thinking can be considered a continued socialist vision for the historical ascendance of the ‘‘fourth estate’’ in the context of democracy and the improvement of material and social conditions. To this end, analysis and assessment of Chinese national conditions—its demographic, environmental, socioeconomic, class, and cultural situation—once again become a priority. Unlike the ‘‘liberals,’’ the ‘‘New Left’’ sees no solution in joining ‘‘the mainstream of world civilization’’ (now a code term for an idealized Western capitalist model). Like

their revolutionary parents and grandparents in the twentieth century, however, New Left intellectuals realize that Chinese strivings must be defined in a way that speaks to other people in other parts of the world. To achieve this goal, those intellectuals will have to articulate the national dilemma in a universal problematic, and vice versa. And their success depends to a considerable degree on whether they can simultaneously transcend the mythology of a self-contained Chinese culture and the closure of historical horizons in bourgeois civilization. In China today, as power and market pervade one another, a mixed mode of production, a new regime of rule, and a new social-ideological landscape are taking shape. Under the merciless pressure of this changing situation, the broad social and intellectual consensus of the New Era (1979–89) is rapidly dissipating and is being replaced by a variety of conflicting social-ideological positions vis-à-vis an increasingly uneven Chinese society. Thus, one faces a very different task in discussing the intellectual field of the Chinese 1990s. The intellectual totality of the New Era fell apart, yet became all the more encompassing and diverse without philosophical and stylistic restraints. The ideological center of postsocialist China no longer holds, yet evolves into something more flexible and pervasive. On the rubble of the 1980s—of which the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Incident remains an unexplained turning point—there rises not only the glistening office buildings and shopping malls of Beijing and Shanghai, but also a radically different social and cultural landscape. The China imagined and ‘‘contained’’ by the high modernist discourse of the 1980s is rendered a sentimental illusion by the leveling forces of commodities and global ideological saturation. The China produced and packaged in the new cultural market of the 1990s—a China in which state propaganda, the advertising industry, the market-driven popular media, as well as semiautonomous intellectuals all act as competing agents—has created a dazzling collage of images and a cognitive vacuum to be detected by a new critical practice. Notes 1 President Clinton, during a state visit to China on the eve of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a trip that he seemed to fully enjoy, did not hesitate to tell his host in a live-broadcast public speech that ‘‘China is on the wrong side of history’’ when it comes to the human rights and political freedom of its citizens. 2 See Wang Hui, ‘‘Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity,’’ trans. Rebecca Karl, Social Text, no. 55 (summer 1998): 9–44. 3 For a courageous, though theoretically simplistic, analysis of the ‘‘marketiza-

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6 7 8


10 11 12 13

tion of power,’’ see He Qinglian, The Trap of Chinese Modernization (Zhongguo xian dai hua de xianjing) (Hong Kong: Miugjing chubanshe, 1999). For a useful discussion of the notion of bureaucratic capitalism in the Chinese context, see Maurice Meisner, The Deng Xiaoping Era (New York: Hill and Wang, 1996). Meisner does not pay enough attention to the adaptability of bureaucratic capitalism to the postmodern or global stage of capitalism, which gives rise to a new regime of flexible production, legitimation, culture, and subjectivity. In other words, bureaucratic capitalism is the mode of production which sustains an empire within the global empire. The frictions, conflicts, and interactions between the two systems, or within a dominant system and a semiautonomous subsystem, is something to be analyzed with more intellectual rigor. According to certain statistics, China’s regional and individual income disparity is worse than the ‘‘transitional societies’’ in Eastern Europe and most Latin American and Southeast Asian countries. See Wang Shaoguang and Hu Angang, Bupingdeng fazhan dezhengzhijingjixue (The political economy of unequal development) (Beijing: Jihua chubanshe, 2000), 75, 224–25. Ibid. See He Qinglian, The Trap of Chinese Modernization. According to state statistics, by the end of 1999 the state sector constituted only 28.5 percent of the national economy, the rest being communal or collective economy ( jiti jing ji, 38.5 percent), and private economy (including foreign direct investment, 33 percent) In terms of the percentage of the state sector, China seems no more socialist than France or Italy; yet when combined with communal or collective economy—township and village enterprises, urban collective cooperatives, etc., whose property ownership and management are unclear, though believed to be semiautonomous from the state system—then the nonprivate sector still represents two-thirds of the national economy. Even though the private economy in China is already larger than the state economy (in retail sales, the private economy’s proportion was 51.5 percent, whereas the state sector’s was 24.3 percent), the state maintains its monopoly in key sectors of the economy, such as energy, communication, banking, transportation, research and development, and most capital-intensive and technology-intensive areas of production. Wu Jinglian, ‘‘Zhongguo jingji gaige huigu yu zhanwang’’ (Review and prospect of Chinese economic reform), on-line at http://bbs.peopledaily.com.cn/ cgi-bbsl, 23 July 2000. William H. Simon, ‘‘The Legal Structure of the Chinese ‘Socialist Market’ Enterprise,’’ Journal of Corporation Law (winter, 1996): 270. See Resolutions of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing, 1979. Wu Jinglian and Wang Dingding, ‘‘A Dialogue on the Future of the Chinese Reform,’’ 10 August 2000, http://www.csdn.net.cn/luntan/china. For discussions related to the ‘‘loss of humanistic spirit’’ debate, see Wang



16 17


19 20

21 22 23


Xiaoming, ed., Renwen jingshen xun si lu (In search of the humanistic spirit) (Shanghai: Wenhui chubanshe, 1996). For discussions of this phenomenon in the English language, see Xudong Zhang, ‘‘Mass Culture, Nationalism, and Intellectuals,’’ Social Text, no. 55 (summer 1998): 109–40. There is also a correcting mechanism ‘‘outside of the system,’’ namely the idea of ‘‘the mandate of the heaven’’ that places the people, the ‘‘way of the heaven’’ higher than the emperor himself. This potentially subversive idea is carried within the Chinese intellectual tradition. Yu Ying-shi, ‘‘Zhongguo jindai sixiangshi shang de jijin yu baoshou’’ (Radicalism and conservatism in modern Chinese intellectual history), in Li Shitao, ed., Zhishi fenzilichang—jijin yu baoshou zhijian de dongdang (Intellectual positions: The conflict between radicalism and conservatism) (Changchun, Jilin: Shidai wenyi chubanshe, 2000), 1–29. Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Jiang Yihua, ‘‘Jijin yu baoshou: yichang wei wanjie de duihua’’ (Radicalism and conservatism: An unfinished dialogue), in Li Shitao, ed., Zhishifenzi lichang— jijin yu baoshou zhijian de dongdang, 30–36. This tendency is registered in the general topics (Chinese studies) and features (empirical, philological) of the articles published in Xueren (Scholars). In addition, Xueren published several discussions on the ‘‘history of scholarship’’ organized by the journal. See Xueren, no. 1 (Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1991): 2–48; no. 2 (1992): 377–405; and no. 5 (1994): 449–64. When Xueren suspended operations in the late 1990s, Zhongguo xueshu (China scholarship), a publication in Chinese, funded by the Harvard Yenching Institute, took its place. Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time (London: Verso, 1995), 27. Obsborne’s immediate context is a critique of Lyotard’s position against ‘‘grand-narrative.’’ The discourse on the Chinese public sphere in the early 1990s echoed discussions on the same topic, with reference to the demise of state communism in East European countries such as Poland and Czechslovakia. The literature on this topic is a telling example of how ideological assumptions, wishful thinking, and bias define seemingly objective and empirical research. See Modern China, special issue on Chinese civil society and the public sphere, with such contributors as Fredric Wakeman, and William Rowe. Gan Yang, ‘‘ ’Yangjingbangyu women’ ’’ (Who are the ‘‘we’’ in Chinese studies), Ershiyi shiji (Twenty-first century), no. 33 (December 1995): 21–28. See Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000). A recent example can be found in David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise: America’s New Upper Class and How They Got There (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000). Qin Hui, ‘‘Liberalism, Social Democracy, and the Questions of Contemporary China,’’ lecture at SunYat-sen University, http://www.tianyaclub.com/browse/.

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25 Ibid. 26 A few words about liberalism’s overlap with—and difference from—the earlier discourse of neoauthoritarianism. Both are rooted in a wholesale repudiation of revolution and radicalism as such. Both see hope in the peaceful transition of Chinese society into a capitalist market economy. The two differ on their choice of the desirable political model and value system to govern and justify such a transition. The ‘‘neoauthoritarianists,’’ or the conservatists, who once gathered around several think tanks of the Reform contingent of the Party bureaucracy before 1989, are convinced, then as now, that a strong, coercive government is best equipped, politically and culturally, to oversee massive, radical economic and social restructuring. While impatient with the rhetoric of individual freedom and social democracy, they are engaging in the same socialtransition based on the market economy. They converge on their support of an increasing unequal distribution of social wealth in favor of competition and efficiency. Where for Chinese liberals the social liberty of the new bourgeoisie class outweighs democracy, for the neoauthoritarianists it hardly matter as long as the state can maintain order which governs the spontaneous growth of the market economy. 27 Since there is no legal protection for open discussion of such political blueprints, the liberal political-philosophical discussions are carried under the cover of translations of western texts, a tradition inherited from the 1980s. The major publication venue of such discussions is Res Publica (Gonggon luncong), a quasi-journal edited by such liberal intellectuals as Liu Junning, Wang Yan, and He Weifang, and published by the prestigious Sanlian shudian, a leading publisher of Chinese translations of western intellectual works. The first issue came out in 1996. By the time of this chapter there have been at least five issues already, containing both articles and translations (of Hayek, Berlin, Rawls, and so on). 28 Zhu Xueqin, ‘‘1998: Ziyouzhuyi fuchu shuimian’’ (1998: Liberalism emerges), http://intellectual.members.easyspace.com/china/c990919a.htm. 29 Such demand is eloquently argued in William Fogel’s recent work, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 30 Cui Zhiyuan and Roberto Unger, ‘‘Yi e wei jian kan zhongguo’’ (Drawing the Russian lessons in our analysis of the Chinese situation), Ershiyi shijie (Twentyfirst century), no. 24 (August 1994): 17–28. 31 Zhang Rulun, ‘‘Habeimasi yu diguozhuyi’’ (Habermas and Imperialism) Dushu, no. 9 (1999): 34–42. The Chinese translation of Habermas’s ‘‘Humanity or Beastiality’’ is published in the same issue, pp. 43–50. 32 Gan Yang, ‘‘Ziyouzhuyi yu hongzha’’ (Liberalism and bombing), Ming Pao column, 1 September 2000. 33 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904–5), trans. Talcott Parsons (London: Routledge, 2001); for a good summary of Weber’s



36 37 38

39 40


42 43


thesis, see Habermas, ‘‘The Concept of Modernity,’’ in Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, ed. Max Pensky (Cambridge: mit Press, 2001). See Xudong Zhang, ‘‘Mass Culture, Nationalism, and Intellectual Discourse,’’ Social Text, no. 55 (summer 1998): 109–40; ‘‘Nationalism and Contemporary China,’’ East Asia: An International Quarterly 16, nos. 1–2 (spring/summer 1997): 130–46. This is the crucial tianxia (empire)/guo (nation) dichotomy described by Joseph Levenson. See Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963). Susan V. Lawrence, ‘‘The Say No Club,’’ Far East Economic Review, 13 January 2000. The U.S. government currently bans the sale of supercomputers to China, based on national security concerns. For a more detailed discussion of this attempt to theorize Chinese mass culture in the 1990s, see Xudong Zhang, ‘‘Mass Culture, Nationalism, and Intellectual Strategy.’’ The works of those writers are occasionally acknowledged in the writings of Zhang Yiwu, Wang Ning, Wang Yichuan, Dai Jinhua, and Chen Xiaoming. The postcolonial flavor of such a tendency is viewed unfavorably by people like Gan Yang and Cui Zhiyuan, who go so far as to suggest that the Chinese problematic can be defined and critically reflected only in terms of a creative engagement in, and radical innovation of, ‘‘Western learning,’’ which for them is a makeshift signifier of a world-historical intellectual conflict that involves seemingly local issues. As mass cultural production in the Chinese 1990s became increasingly commercialized and complicit with state ideology (despite the superficial disagreement between the official rhetoric of the state and the market orientation of everyday life), the postmodernist celebration of the postsocialist secularization yielded to a more critical and theoretically prepared analysis of the complex power relations that underscored the field of cultural production in the 1990s. Ren Jiantao, ‘‘Jiedu ‘xinzuopai,’ ’’ (Deciphering the ‘‘New Left’’), in Zhishifenzi lichang: ziyouzhuyi zhizhengyu zhongguo sixiang jie de fenhua (Intellectual positions: The debate on liberalism and the differentiation of Chinese intellectuals), ed. Li Shitao (Changchun: Shidai wenyi chubanshe, 2000), 193. Ibid., 192. See Liu Zaifu, ‘‘Farewell to the Gods: Contemporary Chinese Literary Theory’s Fin-de-siècle Struggle,’’ in Pang-yuan Chi and David Wang, eds., Chinese Literature in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century: A Critical Survey (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 1–13. See Guo Jian, ‘‘Jiemuxun yu wenhua da geming’’ (Jameson and the Cultural Revolution). For a critical review of the article, see Zhang Xudong, ‘‘Quanqiuhua shidai desixiang fengbizheng’’ (Intellectual closure in the age of globalization). See http://www.csdn.net.cn/page/china/shiye.

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45 46 47 48 49 50


52 53


55 56 57 58 59 60

61 62 63

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Ren Jiantao, ‘‘Jiedu ‘xinzuopai,’ ’’ 200. Ibid. Ibid. Arthur MacEwan, Neo-Liberalism or Democracy? (New York: Zed Books, 1999), 27. Ibid., 4. Fredric Jameson, in his defense of the relevance of Marxism in the face of the failure of the world communist movement, has made this argument clear. See his ‘‘Actually Existing Marxism,’’ Polygraph, no. 7 (Special issue on ‘‘Marxism Beyond Marxism?’’ 1993): 170–96. The disciplinary environment in Chinese economics today is such that Keynes is ‘‘no longer studied or even tolerated,’’ whereas Hayek can be praised ‘‘boundlessly.’’ See Guan Yiping, ‘‘Kai’ensi sixiang yanbian de guiji’’ (The intellectual trajectory of Keynes), Dushu (April 2000): 92. Merely fifteen years ago, Keynes was considered by mainstream Chinese economists as a standard-bearer of anti-Marxist, bourgeois economics. Wang Shaoguang and Hu Angang, Zhongguo guojia nengli baogao (Report on Chinese state capacity) (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1994), 159. Wang Shaoguang, ‘‘Ziyoupai? Ziyou zuopai haishi ziyou youpai?’’ (Liberalism? Liberal left or liberal right?), review of The Cost of Rights—Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, http://www.csdn618.com.cn/century/zhoukan/diyishijian/ 0010/1016abbx01.htm. Tsou Tang, ‘‘Di er ci sixiang jiefang yu zhidu chuangxin xu’’ (Introduction to ‘‘The second intellectual liberation and institutional innovation’’), in Cui Zhiyuan, Di er ci sixiang jiefang yu zhidu chuangxin (The second intellectual liberation and institutional innovation) (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1997), ix–xliv. Zhiyuan, Di er sixiang jiefang yu zhidu chuangxin, 343. Ibid., 358–63. Ibid. Ibid., xxix. Ibid., 5. Cui Zhiyuan, ‘‘Meiguo gongsifa biange de lilun beijing ji dui woguo de qifa’’ (The theoretical background of changes in American corporate law and their implications on China) ibid., 197–98. Ibid., 212–13. Zhiyuan, Di er sixiang jiefang yu zhidu chuangxin, 13. Gan Yang, ‘‘Wenhuazhongguo yu xiangtu zhongguo’’ (Cultural China and rural China), in Jiangcuo jiucuo (Self-selected essays and articles) (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 2000), 186. Ibid., 186–87. Ibid., 190. Gan Yang, ‘‘Ziyouzhuyi: Guizu de haishi pingmin de?’’ (Liberalism: Aristocratic or plebian?), in Zhishi fenzi lichang: Ziyou zhuyi zhizhengyu zhongguo si-

xiang jie de fenhua, 1–12. For an English translation, see Gan Yang, ‘‘A Critique of Chinese Conservatism in the 1990s,’’ Social Text, no. 55 (summer 1998): 45–66. 67 Gan Yang, ‘‘Gongmin geti weiben, tongyi xianzhengliguo’’ (On constitutional union based on individual citizens), in Jiangcuo jiucuo, 309–12. 68 Gayatri Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Methuen, 1987). 69 ‘‘There is no outside’’ (to global capitalism) is a proposition put forward in Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000).

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Debating Liberalism and Democracy in China in the 1990s Gan Yang Translated by Xudong Zhang

I love liberty by taste, equality by instinct and reason. —Alexis de Tocqueville, letter to J. S. Mill

The trajectory of intellectual thought in China during the 1990s begins with the critique of so-called radicalism at the end of the 1980s and advances steadily into conservatism—even ultraconservatism. This conservatism pretends to advocate liberalism by emphasizing negative freedom at the cost of democracy.1 To put it differently, it attempts to establish a kind of liberalization without democratization. From this starting point, a new, rather comprehensive ideology has developed, ready with answers to all problems. It is no exaggeration to say that Chinese intellectuals have already begun to establish a systematic discourse of conservatism that clearly has wide appeal. On the one hand, this system, as its core, has the theoretical discourse of conservatism; on the other, it is expressed concretely in historical, cultural, political, and economic discourses. We might summarize these broader fields of discourse thus: Theoretical. At the heart of the theoretical discourse of conservatism is an assessment of the experience of the West, which is divided into the English model and the French model. The English model represents gradual reform and is a worthy exemplar of modern development. The French model stands for radicalism, and consequently revolution, and is therefore completely inadequate as a model. The conservatives refer to the English model as ‘‘Anglo-American liberalism’’ and to the French as ‘‘the great French Revolution.’’ The two models also are seen as representing op-

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posing values: liberty versus equality, freedom versus democracy, negative freedom versus positive freedom, and so on. Historical. Central to this discourse is the conclusion that the path chosen by China in the twentieth century was the wrong one. Not only to her own detriment did she ignore the English way, but she actively pursued the French model and, as a consequence, transformed an entire chapter of modern Chinese history into endless revolution and escalating radicalism. Most recent historical work on the period is actually a self-critical examination of this mistake committed by the Chinese people. Why, we wonder, did we choose revolution rather than reform? Why did we proceed radically rather than gradually? Why did we treasure equality over liberty and pursue positive freedom rather than negative freedom? According to this revisionist history, the twentieth century has been a total disaster for China. To her great misfortune, China has failed to embark on the English way and instead wantonly copied the French model; thus, she turned her modern history into a mess characterized by constant revolution and escalating radicalism. Cultural. Because radical Chinese intellectuals from the beginning of the twentieth century to the 1980s are often blamed for dragging China down the radical route, it is not surprising that today’s conservative scholars are largely committed to playing down or even refuting the major intellectual figures of the May Fourth era and the intellectual tradition that they represent. Instead, scholars take as their intellectual antecedent the cultural conservatism represented by the xueheng school in the 1930s and 1940s. From this brand of cultural conservatism, today’s scholars derive a new stance against contemporary Western scholarship, arguing that Chinese intellectuals should not repeat the mistake of the May Fourth tradition by following the radical trends of the West. Theories such as postmodernism, postcolonialism, and feminism have nothing to offer the contemporary situation in China because China and the West are fundamentally different. In this view, Chinese civilization is essentially temperate and conservative, while Western civilization is aggressive and innovative. Therefore, China should follow its own natural, moderate, and conservative path of development. (This view may even evolve into a paradigm for the development and modernization of East Asian civilization more generally.) Political. Political conservatism in China is no longer clothed in neoauthoritarianism, as was fashionable in the late 1980s. Instead, it is dressed up as a liberalism that opposes democracy. The view widely shared among Chinese intellectuals is that emphasizing democracy risks unleashing

grand democracy (daminzhu) and that stressing participation may lead to mass movements (qunzhong yundong). Therefore, in Chinese circumstances, the best thing that can be done is not to talk about democracy and participation but to critique grand democracy and mass movements. While the market economy is being nurtured, these intellectuals assert, it is imperative not to promote equality but to censure it. Some would argue further that, according to Anglo-American liberalism, what matters is not so much democracy as freedom, not mass participation but the protection of the few; after all, what we want is negative freedom, not positive freedom. Indeed, in China, the term liberalism, or Anglo-American liberalism, has become a euphemism for antidemocratic positions. It seems as if less democracy means more freedom; less participation, more protection for the individual; less positive freedom, more negative freedom. Economic. This discourse is based on Western theories of laissez-faire economics, but for psychological and ideological support it relies even more on the general conservative mentality. These two aspects of support are thus mutually implicated in a tautology. For example, the meaning of antiradicalism in this context is really ‘‘Don’t talk about fairness and justice now; what we need is a market economy.’’ Within such rhetoric, so-called negative freedom turns out to be nothing more than the freedom to make money by whatever means. With a little theorizing, this rough social psychology becomes economic libertarianism, which reduces liberalism to a kind of economistic liberalism and interprets freedom as nothing more than freedom of the market. This assumes that freedom of the market will automatically bring about all liberties and that state intervention can only violate freedom. In this economistic liberalism, democracy is a luxury and equality a sin because both call for the intervention of the state. Far from cohering into a seamless theory, these aspects of 1990s Chinese conservatism do not even coordinate well with one another. Rather, they betray a social mood that relies on tacit agreement. This is precisely why conservatism has become a prevalent ideology. Not only has conservatism become the norm among Chinese intellectuals, but it also is likely to become China’s mainstream ideology in the twenty-first century. We are therefore compelled to ask whether this conservative ideology can help Chinese intellectuals come up with visionary ideas and theories now and in the future. Is this conservative ideology conducive to China as a rising power with enormous challenges to meet in the new century? I am highly skeptical. In my view, this conservatism is bound to devitalize and suffocate Chinese intellectual life, leaving it epistemologically torpid and regressive. In fact, intellectual ossification, stagnation, and

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cynicism may already have set in, as evidenced by the publication of The Last Twenty Years of Chen Yinke.2 Full of cultural narcissism and fatalism, this biography evoked widespread resonance and self-pity among Chinese intellectuals. It looks as if Chinese intellectuals have collectively reached a dead end, and all they can do is intone mournful elegies for dead masters. Indeed, this transformation from the previous mental state of selfpride to the current state of self-pity reminds me of the environment that once made Alexis de Tocqueville feel so dispirited about his motherland. As Tocqueville put it: The wary aftermath of revolutions, the weakness of passions, the miscarriage of so many generous ideas and of so many great hopes have now led us to the opposite extreme. After having felt ourselves capable of transforming ourselves, we now feel incapable of reforming ourselves; after having had excessive prides, we have now fallen into excessive self-pity; we thought we could do everything, and now we think we can do nothing; we like to think that struggle and effort are henceforth useless and that our blood, muscles, and nerves will always be stronger than our willpower and courage. This is really the great sickness of our age; it is very different from that of our parents.3 In light of Tocqueville’s comments on postrevolutionary France, the boastful declaration made by many that ‘‘conservatism demonstrates China’s maturity in the 1990s’’ betokens not so much vacuous posturing as the loss of intellectual energy and motivation for radical innovation. Increasing numbers of people are becoming content to fake intellectual depth with ideological clichés. Scarcely a sentence is uttered without ‘‘according to Anglo-American liberalism’’ being attached, and no one notes this phrase’s ironic resemblance to the outdated ‘‘according to the basic principles of Marxism and Leninism.’’ The tendency to substitute ideology for theoretical criticism has resulted in scholarly fallacies that should have been avoided. For example, those who argue that general elections are unsuitable for China assert that a call for ‘‘direct elections to the People’s Congress’’ means a call for ‘‘direct democracy’’ and thus a ‘‘deliberate neglect’’ of ‘‘representative democracy.’’ 4 These scholars should know that national direct elections are the basic institutional guarantee for modern representative democracy. If national direct elections meant direct democracy, then democracies in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and France would all be direct rather than representative. Confusion over such simple issues indicates the damage inflicted by the conservative mentality.

The Rejection of Antidemocratic Liberalism Now that the age of revolution is over, it is no longer extreme radicalism but rather extreme conservatism that Chinese intellectuals must take issue with. Today, who can imagine people giving up their negative freedom to follow a charismatic leader advocating a people’s democracy? On the contrary, we can expect to see a wave of conservatives opposing progressive social reform in the name of opposing positive freedom. The age when people would sacrifice their secular happiness for utopian ideals is gone. Now, the opposite holds true: People are willing to abandon any and all ideals in the name of realism. This is the time, therefore, for us to be wary of the tendency to swing from one extreme (radicalism) to the other (conservatism). In what follows, I seek to offer a preliminary critique of Chinese conservatism in the 1990s by way of criticizing my own previous position. Shortly before I left China in June 1989, I published two articles introducing Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay ‘‘Two Concepts of Liberty’’ into Chinese discourse.5 These articles were the first to discuss the notions of negative and positive freedom in mainland China, and they had a strong impact on Chinese intellectuals, who were reeling from the shock of the Tiananmen Square events. In 1991, I published another influential article, ‘‘Superseding ‘Democracy and Science,’ Establishing Liberty and Order.’’ 6 This article examined the tension between liberalism and democracy by comparing the Scottish and French Enlightenments, the English and French Revolutions, and others. At that moment, my purpose was to put the ideas of liberty and order at the center of political thinking and to see these ideas as the essence of what I then called ‘‘Anglo-American liberalism.’’ In many ways, that article presaged the conservative trend of the 1990s. The general tendency to downplay and even repudiate democracy in the name of liberalism, as formulated in that article, is now much in evidence in Chinese intellectual circles. A corollary of this tendency is the disparaging of the French ‘‘Great Revolution’’ of 1789 in favor of the English ‘‘Glorious Revolution’’ of 1688 or, more generally, the discrediting of positive freedom in order to credit negative freedom. I believe it is now time for us to rethink this tendency. We must reject the exclusion of democracy in the name of liberalism, reject the repudiation of the French Revolution in favor of the English Revolution, reject the disavowal of Rousseau and the endorsement of Burke, and reject, especially, the negation of modernity (in the form of the European Enlightenment and the Chinese May Fourth Movement) under the pretext of re-

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sorting to Chinese tradition. I see now that for Chinese intellectuals at the start of the twenty-first century to achieve political maturity and intellectual creativity, we must rethink, once again, fundamental questions of enlightenment, revolution, and modernity in their historical and theoretical complexity. The relationship between liberalism and democracy is at the core of this reexamination. In the end, Chinese intellectuals will have to answer what I call the Tocquevillean question: To what kind of liberalism— democratic or undemocratic or even antidemocratic—are we committed? In contrast to today’s Chinese intellectuals, who tend to negate the Chinese Revolution (and its model, the French Revolution) altogether because of the social sufferings it caused, Tocqueville never denied the legitimacy of the French Revolution, even though it spelled immediate personal agony and family tragedy for him. The Tocqueville family was in fact immersed in an irreconcilable animosity toward the French Revolution. Tocqueville’s great-grandfather was the famous aristocratic leader Malesherbes, who took a position as Louis XVI’s defense lawyer during the Revolutionary Terror. Following an unsuccessful defense, Malesherbes himself was sent to the guillotine along with his son, Tocqueville’s grandfather; Malesherbes thus became an idol for the aristocracy across Europe.Tocqueville’s parents were arrested by the revolutionary government during their honeymoon and were subsequently sentenced to death. They barely escaped with their lives; while they were awaiting execution, the Jacobins were overthrown. Tocqueville’s mother was so shaken by the experience that she suffered nervous breakdowns for the rest of her life. Thus, Tocqueville grew up in a family filled with loathing for the Revolution and nostalgia for the beheaded king.7 However, by his late teens, Tocqueville had moved beyond the conservative position prescribed by his aristocratic family and the class to which he belonged.8 Instead, he gradually came to identify with the French Revolution, a position he held to throughout his life. In his private letters he repeated sentiments such as these: ‘‘It was not personal motives that made us act, but the firm belief which is to keep our principles intact, which, finally, is only the principle of the Revolution of 1789.’’ 9 This position differentiates Tocqueville’s examination of the French Revolution from Edmund Burke’s wholesale negation of it. In his comments on Burke, Tocqueville points out that despite some local insights, the portrait that Burke presents of the French Revolution is a ‘‘false picture altogether’’ because ‘‘the general characteristics, the universality, the portents of the Revolution, then beginning, completely escape him . . . he lives, confined in England, within the old world, and does not comprehend the new and universal meaning of what is happening. He sees in the Revolution a French episode; he sees only its French characteristics.’’ 10 In

other words, what escapes Burke is the universal significance—the true essence—of the French Revolution. What places Tocqueville above Burke is his unprecedented intuition that the French Revolution marks the inauguration of an age of democracy and the stormy arrival of modernity. The conservatism of Chinese intellectuals is in fact underlined by Burke’s position; their basic views about the French and English Revolutions never go beyond his. In this way, conservatism is becoming an obstacle for Chinese intellectuals; it is making it difficult for them to grasp the complexity or feel the full profundity of democracy in the Tocquevillean sense and thus meet the challenges of modernity. Burke’s position is considered by Tocqueville to be confined by the Old World; Chinese conservatives draw their one-sided conclusions about the basic questions of liberalism and democracy from a similarly narrow perspective. This is the background against which I wrote my 1991 article. It was a reading of Tocqueville from a Burkean perspective. What I overlooked was Burke’s basic assessment of historical events from the viewpoint of Old European aristocratic liberalism. The problematic of the age of democracy and modernity is therefore beyond his horizon. Tocqueville, on the other hand, recognizes that the arrival of the age of democracy has put an end to the age of aristocratic liberalism and that in the age of democracy, liberalism will have to become democratic. Of particular importance is Tocqueville’s emphasis on democracy. Far from being merely a political notion, democracy for Tocqueville is a universal category, constitutive of all aspects of human life—from society, culture, custom, family, and marriage to our cognitive patterns, senses, and mental structure. To be precise, Tocqueville examines and analyzes democracy as the basic mode of modern life. This attitude leads him to conclude that democracy will never come to a halt before any historical stage or social terrain and that it is bound to become a perpetual process, challenging humanity and its social organization in the modern age. He asks sarcastically: ‘‘Does anyone imagine that democracy, which has destroyed the feudal system and vanquished kings, will fall back before the middle classes and the rich?’’ 11 This outlook may explain why Tocqueville, more than any classical thinker, has commanded increasing attention in the Western academy in the past decade or so. As Tocqueville tells us, an essential characteristic of democracy is its perpetual movement forward. But even in the West, this characteristic did not become conspicuous until the second half of the twentieth century. The challenges of postmodernity and feminism, among other things, actually intensified and radicalized the representation of what Tocqueville calls ‘‘the democratization of culture.’’ All these recent developments once again raise the question of whether or not ‘‘democracy has its ultimate limit,’’ a question

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that Tocqueville himself admitted to be unanswerable: ‘‘Wither, then, are we going? No one can tell.’’ 12 In the following pages I concentrate on the English and French Revolutions since the binarism of these two events is entangled with basic assumptions about liberalism and democracy held by some Chinese intellectuals. The question of why Isaiah Berlin sides with the French Revolution and lists Burke among the reactionaries will be raised in the next section. My intention is to distinguish between Burke’s wholesale negative critique of the French Revolution and the liberal position on it. In this section, I stress that opinions on the French Revolution have always been opinions on democracy, enlightenment, and modernity. The true liberal position has always been to side with the French Revolution while being critical of its errors. It has never been the liberal position to negate the French Revolution completely. The Burkean attitude toward the French Revolution adopted by Chinese intellectuals indicates a liberalism gradually turned toward conservatism. The question of why Tocqueville refutes the 1688 English Revolution as a model will be raised in the following section, in which I point out the anachronism in some Chinese intellectuals’ discarding of Tocqueville in favor of the English model of 1688. The heart of this anachronism, I hope to show, is a blind worship of the predemocratic liberalism of the English feudal aristocracy. This attitude completely ignores the crucial historical transformation through which English liberalism gradually turned into a form of democratic liberalism after the French Revolution.13 In this section I point out that underlying Tocqueville’s study of democracy in the United States (instead of liberalism in England) is his conflation of prerevolutionary English liberalism with the liberalism of a predemocratic age. For Tocqueville, this undemocratic, aristocratic liberalism is already inadequate to meet the challenge of a democratic era that ‘‘requires a new political science.’’ 14 ‘‘The question for modern liberalism,’’ Tocqueville observes, ‘‘is not a question of reconstructing an aristocratic society, but . . . to make freedom spring from that democratic society.’’ 15 In other words, the only outlet for liberalism is democratic liberalism. Tocqueville therefore identifies unreservedly with the reformist idea of the English radicals, which is ‘‘to put the majority of citizens in a fit state for governing and to make it capable of governing.’’ 16 (For China today, the more instructive period of English liberalism is not 1688 but the Gladstonian Reform of the 1870s, which was a landmark era of British democracy and of fundamental changes in British political institutions.) 17 In general, Chinese intellectuals’ reflections (and self-reflections) on revolution and radicalism have ended. Those thoughts did not deepen

any understanding of liberalism in the Chinese intellectual world. On the contrary, thinking on these questions has led to a predemocratic liberalism, in the name of which Chinese intellectuals downplay democracy and advocate conservatism—sometimes ultraconservatism. Here, I have no intention of exaggerating the social function of intellectuals. However, as Robert Dahl has reminded us, although one should not overestimate the role of intellectuals, it still matters a great deal if a nation’s intellectual mainstream considers democracy theoretically worth defending. Dahl specifically asks what would happen if national conditions were conducive to a transition to democracy but the nation’s intellectuals found democracy unjustifiable. Dahl thinks this would make the effort to bring about democracy extremely difficult and would lead to support for a nondemocratic path.18 In China today, mainstream intellectuals suffer a conspicuous deficit of identification with, and commitment to, democracy. This deficit has two results. First, it leads to political philistinism, or what Max Weber calls ‘‘short-sighted law and order philistinism.’’ 19 Ironically, this philistinism often masquerades as pseudoelitism. For Weber, a pseudoelite typically keeps surveillance over the lower levels of society, believing that all dangers come from the masses. Yet, as he points out, the risk of a transitional society does not lie in the masses, since ‘‘the key problem of social political problems is not the economic situation of the ruled but the political quality of the ruling and rising classes.’’ 20 The current fashion in Chinese intellectual society is to blow the trumpet against general democracy in connection with political reform. This only proves Weber’s observation that the backwardness of a nation’s political life applies not to the backwardness of its people but to the backwardness of its elite, and one of the sure signs of the backwardness of a national elite is its use of the cliché ‘‘the backwardness of the people.’’ Second, the lack of identification with, and commitment to, democracy gives rise to a conservative mind-set, which is reflected in the production and acquisition of knowledge. During the 1980s we were open to all kinds of ideas, not fearing any intellectual taboos. Now this openness is gone; many Chinese intellectuals have imposed self-censorship, believing that postmodernism does not fit China’s present stage of development, that feminism is unsuited to Chinese conditions, and so forth. Compared to the 1980s, known for their vibrant energy and open-mindedness, the 1990s can be characterized by a pretentious mannerism of agedness and by a false depth of self-enclosure. This intellectual conservatism indicates that Chinese intellectuals are deceptive and self-deceptive in their studious avoidance of the one ineluctable aspect of modernity, namely,

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democracy’s entry into every province of modern life (in the Tocquevillean sense). Tocqueville made a series of propositions concerning the philosophy, literature, and historical science of the democratic age; he stressed that democracy will bring profound changes to scholarship, culture, and the mode of intellectual life in general.21 The profound significance of those propositions is becoming increasingly apparent as the culture of postmodernity unfolds. The self-constraint of Chinese intellectuals indicates seclusion, not maturity. Frankly speaking, it is hard for me to congratulate Chinese intellectuals on either their political coming-of-age or their scholarly strength. In the next section, I hope to initiate some new discussions by lifting the spell cast by Burke’s incantation. ‘‘I Line Up with the Revolution’’ Isaiah Berlin, who has become a familiar figure to contemporary Chinese intellectuals, neither repudiated the French Revolution nor embraced Burke, as is evidenced in his profound reflections on positive freedom and in his formulation of negative freedom. On the contrary, in his 1990 book The Crooked Timber of Humanity, particularly in the lengthy article ‘‘Maistre and the Origins of Fascism,’’ Berlin unambiguously places Burke among the reactionaries as he examines the relationship between the conservative tradition and the intellectual origins of fascism. This treatment of Burke has provoked objections from Conor O’Brien, who is both a friend of Berlin’s and a Burke specialist.22 Yet, when asked why he refuses to refute the French Revolution and why he counts Burke as a reactionary, Berlin clearly states: ‘‘I cannot help but feel sympathy for the French Revolution, and to that extent some antipathy to the admirable Burke.’’ 23 Even if he were to remove Burke’s name from his list of reactionaries, Berlin tells us, he does not think it accidental that later reactionaries such as Maistre consider Burke their great master. Berlin points out that some of Burke’s opinions are ‘‘deeply illiberal’’ and honor ‘‘hierarchy and rule by a gentlemanly elite.’’ Hence, Berlin asks: ‘‘Should one describe a man with such views as a liberal pluralist?’’ 24 On 24 June 1991, Berlin further explained his sympathy for the French Revolution: It does seem to me that it [the French Revolution] inspired people to attack prejudice, superstition, obscurantism, cruelty, oppression, hatred of democracy, and to struggle for various liberties . . . the anti-Dreyfusard tradition, in short, which does go back to the French Revolution. In France the ideological divisions were largely pro- and

anti- the French Revolution; and the antis were genuine reactionaries—Barrès, Drumont, Demroulede, and of course Maurras and his disciples, Pound, Eliot, etc. Hence, if I have to line up, I line up with the Revolution—despite all the fallacies and the horrors.25 Berlin’s confessional self-positioning after the Cold War is refreshing and enlightening. After 1989, Chinese intellectuals simultaneously embarked on a critique of radicalism and utopianism and engaged in reexamining the tradition of the French Revolution and Rousseau. That was more than understandable; in a sense, it was necessary. Today, however, one is compelled to question the intellectual quality and ideological inclination of this reexamination, which has reached the other extreme. On the one hand, a wholesale repudiation of the legitimacy and the monumental significance of the French Revolution has occurred. On the other, this stance takes Burke’s critique of the French Revolution to be the foundation of AngloAmerican liberalism, and thus it advocates ‘‘deeply illiberal’’ ideas such as ‘‘respect for hierarchy and rule by a gentlemanly elite’’ as the intrinsic principles of liberalism. In this respect, Berlin’s criticism of Burke and his warning that ‘‘those who object to the French Revolution are real reactionaries’’ must be taken seriously by Chinese intellectuals. In European history, this rightist antiliberalism can be identified as the pan-European reactionary conservatism that emerged after the French Revolution—a conservatism that evolved into various political movements under different cultural circumstances and that eventually played a catalytic role in the surge of European fascism in the twentieth century. Mussolini claimed that his fascism carried the mission of restoring traditional European culture by eradicating the ‘‘consequences’’ of the French Revolution. That claim was reasserted by Franco and Hitler. Furthermore, the appearance of a fascist regime in France during World War II can be directly attributed to the prolonged antirepublican, counterrevolutionary practices of the French right wing.26 Berlin’s siding with the French Revolution is rooted in a unique, though often neglected, tradition of liberalism, namely, the postrevolutionary French liberal tradition inaugurated by Benjamin Constant (1767– 1830). Berlin refers to Constant as one of the two ‘‘fathers of liberalism’’ (the other being J. S. Mill).27 This choice is by no means a casual stroke of the pen. In fact, Berlin’s theory of two kinds of freedom—negative freedom and positive freedom—is derived from Constant’s notable 1819 essay ‘‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns.’’ 28 The outstanding feature of postrevolutionary French liberalism lies in the dual position of its representative figures. On the one hand, they draw pro-

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found lessons from the mistakes of the revolution; on the other, they take it as their duty to defend its principles. If Burke is announcing the illegitimacy of the revolution from the viewpoint of the ancien régime, then French liberalism affirms the legitimacy of the revolution from the viewpoint of modernity and proceeds to critically reexamine it from that vantage point.29 The uniqueness of French liberalism, one may argue, lies in its profound intuition that the true goal of the French Revolution was to signal the historical advent of modernity.30 Not surprisingly, after reading Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, published in 1790, Constant bluntly comments that in the book ‘‘there are more absurdities than lines.’’ 31 François Guizot (1787–1874), a major historian of French liberalism, introduces the notion of the ‘‘history of civilization’’ into European historiography as a mediator between the past and the present. In Guizot’s view, modernity, as characterized by the revolution, is the ‘‘legitimate inheritor’’ of the development of civilization rather than a break from it.32 By engaging in an interpretation of history through a liberal historiography, Guizot breaks the conservatives’ monopoly on interpreting the ‘‘historical past.’’ 33 A famous passage in Guizot’s rebuff of the Burkean critique of the revolution demonstrates the liberals’ emphasis on the legitimacy of the French Revolution. Despite all of the errors and crimes committed in its name, Guizot claims: ‘‘I will still say that the Revolution, brought on by the necessary development of a society in progress, founded on moral principle, undertaken with the design of the general good, was the terrible but legitimate battle of right against privilege, of legal liberty against despotism, and that to the Revolution alone belongs the task of regulating itself, of purging itself.’’ 34 In other words, a truly critical examination of the revolution is possible only when you first ‘‘side with the French Revolution.’’ Tocqueville, a student of Guizot’s, quickly turns this notion into the following proposition: A truly critical examination of democracy is possible only when you first side with democracy.35 For Tocqueville, the essence of the French Revolution is democratic revolution, and, ultimately, the question concerning the French Revolution is the one concerning democracy.36 Based on this observation, Tocqueville uses the phrase ‘‘descent of the age of democracy’’ to describe the inevitable trajectory of modernity: A great democratic revolution is taking place in our midst. . . . Therefore the gradual progress of equality is something fated. The main features of this progress are the following: it is universal and permanent, it is daily passing beyond human control, and every event and every man helps it along. . . . [Every] effort to halt democracy appears

as a fight against God Himself, and nations have no alternative but to acquiesce in the social state imposed by Providence.37

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Tocqueville: Toward Democratic Liberalism Why did Tocqueville in his examination of democracy turn from Britain to the United States? Why did he not write ‘‘Liberalism in Britain’’ instead? This question is key to understanding Tocqueville’s thinking. Simply put, Tocqueville does not believe that England’s Glorious Revolution serves as a model for postrevolutionary Europe in general or for France in particular. For this reason, he turned his attention to the United States. In his view, the aristocratic liberalism of England is a liberalism of the predemocratic era. Not only is it inadequate in inspiring liberals to meet the challenges of democracy, but its sole claim to relevance depends on whether or not it can transform itself into a democratic liberalism. As I will show, Tocqueville’s basic view of the English and French Revolutions is that the implications of the English Revolution are local, while those of the French Revolution are universal. Thus, for Tocqueville, what the future held was not how France would follow England, but when England would embark on the French way without a stormy revolution. Tocqueville’s view was extraordinary for his time. After the French Revolution, especially during the period between Napoleon’s downfall in 1814 and the publication of the first volume of Democracy in America in 1835, the overall intellectual atmosphere in France and Europe was similar to what we see in China today. It was filled with comparisons between the English and French models and with yearnings for the ideal of the 1688 Glorious Revolution. The intellectual atmosphere was dominated by Burke’s critique of the French Revolution and preoccupied with the construction of Europe according to the English model. Had Tocqueville held the same view, he would not have visited the United States and he would not have written Democracy in America.38 Yet what distinguishes Tocqueville from his contemporaries is his early suspicion of the general tendency to model after the English. His letters show that, as early as 1824, when he was only nineteen, he already distrusted that tendency, stating defiantly that he must check out ‘‘those rascally English’’ in person to make sure they were really as great as many people believed them to be.39 Four years later, at age twenty-three, he wrote the important article ‘‘Reflections on English History,’’ an overview of the historical process from the Norman Conquest to his time. As the article shows, Tocqueville made a great effort to study the English experience. More significantly, he cast the Revolution of 1640 in a positive light, while he viewed the Glorious Revolution of 1688 nega-


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tively. In his view, the Revolution of 1640, which resulted in a republic, signaled the victory of the ordinary people of England; the Revolution of 1688, on the other hand, marked the restoration of the feudal aristocracy that rendered the Revolution of 1640 moot. Therefore, Tocqueville says toward the end of his article that he is unable to see what is to be gained by the French clamoring for a Glorious Revolution of their own. Instead, his reflections on English history promote this insight: ‘‘When I see the English people change their religion four times to please their masters, and when I think that almost in our own day we have seen the French clergy en masse prefer exile, poverty and death to the mere appearance of a schism, when I see that, I am prouder to be born on this side of the channel.’’ 40 Two years later, in 1830, the July Revolution broke out in France. Most liberals, including Guizot, viewed it as the French version of 1688, and they engaged in remodeling French political institutions after those of England. In contrast, Tocqueville, not impressed with that development, was seeking to leave France, and a few months later he embarked on his journey to the United States. It was the 1830 Revolution that convinced him that ‘‘England could not be looked upon as a model.’’ 41 Nevertheless, after his visit to the United States (which took place from May 1831 to February 1832), Tocqueville decided that he could not start writing Democracy in America without a trip to England. Although he was confident of his belief in ‘‘the approaching irresistible and universal spread of democracy throughout the world,’’ 42 England still gave the impression that the institution of aristocratic liberalism could be sustained. Were that the case, his argument that ‘‘everywhere, the age of democracy will irresistibly take the place of the age of aristocracy’’ would be difficult to defend. Thus, the purpose of his trip to England (from August to September 1833) was to examine the English institution of aristocracy. The trip confirmed his premonition; England itself was, in fact, embroiled in democratic revolution. In his journals, he concludes: The century is primarily democratic. Democracy is like a rising tide; it only recoils to come back with greater force, and soon one sees that for all its fluctuations it is always gaining ground. The immediate future of European society is completely democratic; this can in no way be doubted. Thus the common people in England are beginning to get the idea that they, too, can take part in government . . . the English aristocracy will fall more slowly and less violently than the French, but I think it will fall as inevitably.43 In Tocqueville’s view, the reason that violent revolution might be avoided in England was that apart from the aristocrats in the upper

house, who opposed democracy, many other aristocrats might identify with democratic ideas or might advocate increasing popular power out of self-interest. As a result, the antagonism between the aristocracy and the people in England was not as irreconcilable as it was in France and the rest of Europe. Yet Tocqueville stressed that it was impossible for England to bypass democracy: If any fundamental change in the law, or any social transformation, or any substitution of one regulating principle for another is called a revolution, then England assuredly is in a state of revolution. For the aristocratic principle which was a vital one in the English constitution, is losing strength every day, and it is probable that in due time the democratic one will have taken its place.44 Dispelling all hesitations after the trip to England, Tocqueville threw himself into the writing of Democracy in America.45 After the publication of the first volume in 1835, he visited England again to observe the English reform and prepare for writing the second volume. This second visit allowed him to argue further that the previous English revolutions were predemocratic and thus locally English, whereas the social changes in England since the 1832 Reform Bill were part of the pan-European democratic revolution. In other words, he argues that these changes were the English extension of the French Revolution. In a letter to Beaumont he writes: The previous revolutions that the English have undergone were essentially English in substance and in form. The ideas that gave birth to them circulated only in England. . . . It is no longer so today: today it is the European revolution that is being continued among the English. . . . Now, the English have indeed taken our [French] ideas. . . . They are European in substance, English in form.46 The second volume of Democracy in America focuses on the more universal aspects of democracy. Here, I pause to observe that the standard Chinese translation of the title of this book is misleading. It is inappropriate to translate it as Meiguo de minzhu [America’s democracy]; the correct translation is Minzhu zai Meiguo [Democracy in America]. As Tocqueville emphasizes in both his introduction and preface to the twelfth edition, published during the 1848 Revolution, the book expresses ‘‘a single thought,’’ that is, ‘‘the approaching irresistible and universal spread of democracy throughout the world.’’ 47 In other words, his central concern is the arrival of democracy and the problem of democracy as ‘‘universal and permanent.’’ 48 For this reason he states over and over again that ‘‘the question I raise is of interest not to the United States only, but to the whole world; not to

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one nation, but to all mankind.’’ 49 The reason democracy in the United States interests him particularly is that the arrival of the age of democracy in Europe has as its prerequisite the destruction of the institution of aristocracy. Hence, there is no exception to the necessary stage of democratic revolution. Because of its short history, the United States is a nation without an age of aristocracy. Thus, the uniqueness of democracy there; it does not require the preconditional destruction of aristocracy and so can avoid the kind of democratic revolution taking place in Europe. Tocqueville points out that, because in Europe democracy comes in tandem with revolution, many people assume a necessary connection between democracy on the one hand and turmoil and revolution on the other. His examination of democracy in the United States is intended to show that the turmoil brought on by democracy is a momentary phenomenon of the transitional period rather than intrinsic to democracy. For Tocqueville, the true relationship between democracy and revolution is that a more developed democracy will give rise to less turmoil and revolution.50 Negative Freedom, Positive Freedom, and ‘‘the Equality of Different Conditions’’ Tocqueville did not expect democracy to solve all problems. Rather, he argued for the inevitability of democracy and the complexity of its consequences. He foresaw that his analyses of democracy could be used as both apology for, and opposition to, democracy. His goal was twofold: to steer those who are for democracy away from too beautiful a picture of it and to steer those who are against democracy from too terrible a picture. ‘‘The ones having less ardor and the others offering less resistance, society could advance more peacefully toward the necessary fulfillment of its destiny.’’ 51 A detailed discussion on Tocqueville’s theory of democracy is beyond the scope of this article, yet it is essential to realize that the opposite of what he calls democracy is not despotism but aristocracy. In fact, all of his arguments rely on a basic opposition between democracy and aristocracy. In his view, a democracy in opposition to aristocracy is the fundamental feature or problematic of modernity; democracy is a state particular to the modern. From this perspective, he does not think of the Greek city-state or the Roman republic as democracies but as aristocratic republics. In Athens, the ‘‘foremost ancient democracy,’’ citizenship was itself a badge of privilege because ‘‘there were only twenty thousand citizens in a population of over three hundred and fifty thousand. All the rest were slaves who performed most of the functions of our lower or even middle classes.’’ In the Roman case, the confrontation between the so-called patricians and ple-

beians is for Tocqueville an internal struggle of one big family ‘‘because they all belong to the aristocracy, and had an aristocratic spirit.’’ Therefore, he argues that in ancient times, the term people refers to the aristocracy and so differs radically from its modern connotation.52 According to Tocqueville, the greatest challenge of modernity is that every person demands to be regarded as an individual in his own right. This principle is inconceivable to the Greeks and Romans. Christianity recognizes this principle theoretically but is unable to fulfill it in the secular world.53 The old aristocratic liberalism does not fit in the age of democracy because it is still based on unequal freedom; thus, liberty becomes the privilege of the few rather than the right of all. Yet the fundamental quest of democracy in the age of modernity is the recognition of equal freedom for all. That means that freedom must be the freedom of each and every person, which increasingly becomes the people’s demand in every field or aspect of social life. Tocqueville therefore uses the phrase ‘‘equality of conditions’’ to characterize modern democracy.54 Throughout his life, he remained an admirer of Rousseau and said that he read a bit of Rousseau every day.55 This is by no means surprising. In fact, his thorough analysis of democracy as an ‘‘equality of conditions’’ follows closely on Rousseau’s analysis of inequality. The second volume of Democracy in America (1840), in which Tocqueville analyzes the basic characteristics of democracy, is even stylistically influenced by Rousseau’s Discours sur l’origine et les fondemens de l’inégalité parmi les hommes.56 Tocqueville’s negation of the English 1688 Revolution in favor of the 1640 Revolution in his article ‘‘Reflection on English History’’ has its basis in a characteristically Rousseauean position that ‘‘rational equality is the only state natural to man.’’ 57 One significant contribution brought by Tocqueville to the theory of democracy is that, unlike earlier theorists who viewed democracy purely as a kind of political system, he sees it as a process of profound change taking place in every aspect of life—from politics, law, and society to ideas, emotions, culture, and intellectual activity. The second volume of Democracy in America unfolds as an analysis of the impact of ‘‘equal conditions’’ on ‘‘intellectual movements,’’ ‘‘sentiments,’’ and ‘‘mores’’; it also deals with the impact of democratization on politics in all of these areas.58 Tocqueville’s central concern is the constant tension between the fundamental desire of modern humanity (or what he calls ‘‘democratic man’’) to pursue ‘‘equal conditions’’ and the institutions of democratic society.59 He characterizes this tension by claiming that ‘‘democratic institutions awaken and flatter the passion for equality without ever being able to satisfy it entirely.’’ Obviously, he goes on, however democratic a society is, it cannot achieve total equality, but ‘‘democratic institutions most successfully de-

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velop sentiments of envy in the human heart.’’ As a result, ‘‘the more equal men are, the more insatiable will be their longing for equality,’’ for ‘‘when inequality is the general rule in society, the greatest inequality attracts no attention. When everything is more or less level, the slightest variation is noticed.’’ 60 The basic paradox of modern democracy is that a ‘‘constant strife’’ between ‘‘desires inspired by equality and the means it supplies to satisfy them harasses and wearies the mind.’’ 61 Tocqueville also points out another paradox of modern democracy. As ‘‘equal conditions’’ penetrate different parts of society, democracy might come to a standstill in the political sphere. It is here that Tocqueville makes his famous proposition: in the democratic age, people love equality far more than they love freedom.We can see that freedom here means positive freedom, or what Constant calls ‘‘ancient freedom’’—the freedom of political participation. In the section on the relationship between freedom and equality in Democracy in America, Tocqueville argues that applying ‘‘equal conditions’’ to the political realm means that ‘‘all the citizens take part in the government and that each of them has an equal right to do so.’’ This condition will lead to ‘‘complete overlap between freedom and equality.’’ In this scenario, ‘‘men will be perfectly free because they are entirely equal, and they will be perfectly equal because they are entirely free. Democratic peoples are tending toward that ideal. That is the most complete, possible form for equality on this earth.’’ However, Tocqueville is quick to point out that this is only one possible trajectory of the political development of democracy. The other possibility is that ‘‘there can be established equality in civil society, though there is none in the world of politics. One can have the right to enjoy the same pleasure, to engage in the same professions, and to meet in the same place—in a word, to live in the same manner and seek wealth by the same means—without all taking part in the government.’’ 62 It is not difficult to demonstrate that this second possibility is what Chinese intellectuals advocate today. What is imperative, they argue, is not political participation but the guarantee that everyone can make money, not the demand for political or positive freedom, but the protection of negative freedom—the right to enjoy the same pleasures, do the same work, and have the same standard of housing. Such an argument, of course, is not totally unreasonable. It is based on Tocqueville’s intuition that the benefits of the right of political participation and freedom are not immediate. But its faults also are obvious. According to Tocqueville, many people do not perceive the lack of freedom of political participation as a deficiency; rather, they are nervous about political participation and are convinced that excessive political freedom destroys order and peace.63 For Tocqueville, this is the fundamental reason that in the age of democracy,

many nations favor equality in nonpolitical realms over that in the political. His view is related to Constant’s theory of two kinds of freedom. Constant points out that two kinds of risk imbue modern society: one is the overpoliticization of social life; the other is its overprivatization. More often than not, we see a metamorphosis from the overpoliticization to overprivatization. The overpoliticization during the French Revolution caused a public disgust with politics that led to overprivatization, which in turn led to Napoleon’s rise to power. For Tocqueville, the last tendency, namely, the shrinkage of political life caused by the overprivatization of democracy, is a burning issue. His call for a ‘‘new science of politics’’ is directed against this phenomenon. He addresses the fact that in the age of democracy, a natural tendency is for people to be concerned with equality in nonpolitical realms and an equally natural tendency not to be concerned with politics at all. For Tocqueville, it takes extraordinary effort to prevent the withering of political life. Half a century later, Max Weber drew an identical conclusion on the question of democratization. Weber further emphasized that an apolitical nation does not have the qualification to participate in world politics. Therefore, I end this essay by quoting the concluding passage from Weber’s ‘‘Suffrage and Democracy in Germany’’: ‘‘Democratization’’ in the sense that the structure of social estates is being leveled by the state run by officials is a fact. There are only two choices: either the mass of citizens is left without freedom or rights in a bureaucratic, ‘‘authoritarian state’’ which has only the appearance of parliamentary rule, and in which the citizens are ‘‘administered’’ like a herd of cattle; or the citizens are integrated into the state by making them its co-rulers. A nation of masters (Herrenvolk)—and only such a nation can and may engage in ‘‘world politics’’—has no choice in this matter. Democratization can certainly be obstructed—for the same moment—because powerful interests, prejudices and cowardice are allied in opposing it. But it would soon emerge that the price to be paid for this would be the entire future of Germany. All the energies of the masses would then be engaged in a struggle against a state in which they are mere objects and in which they have no share. Certain circles may have an interest in the inevitable political consequences. The Fatherland certainly does not.64 Notes 1 Isaiah Berlin first made the distinction between ‘‘negative’’ and ‘‘positive’’ freedom in his famous essay ‘‘Two Concepts of Liberty’’ (1958), reprinted in Four

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2 3 4

5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

14 15 16


Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 118–72. For Berlin, positive freedom is the freedom to do something, while negative freedom is freedom from obstacles. For a critical discussion of Berlin’s ‘‘Two Concepts of Liberty,’’ see Charles Taylor, ‘‘What’s Wrong with Negative Liberty,’’ in The Idea of Freedom, ed. Alan Ryan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 175–93. As I point out later, the current talk of negative freedom in China often means freedom from any economic regulation; however, those who advocate direct national elections and political democracy are seeking positive freedom. See Lu Jiandong, Chen Yinke de zuihou ershi nian [The last twenty years of Chen Yinke] (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 1996). Alexis de Tocqueville, The European Revolution and Correspondence with Gobineau (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1959), 231–32. See Wu Guoguang, ‘‘On the Institutional Separation of Power: A Response to Gan Yang’’ (in Chinese), Ershiyi shiji (Twenty-first century) 37 (October 1996): 123–31. Gan Yang, ‘‘The Idea of Freedom’’ (in Chinese), Dushu, no. 5 (1989): 11–19; Gan Yang, ‘‘The Enemy of Freedom’’ (in Chinese), Dushu, no. 6 (1989): 121–28. Gan Yang, ‘‘Superseding ‘Democracy and Science,’ Establishing Liberty and Order’’ (in Chinese), Ershiyi shiji 3 (February 1991): 7–10. See André Jardin, Tocqueville: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988), chaps. 1–3. See ibid., chap. 4, and G.W. Pierson, Tocqueville and Beaumont in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938), chap. 2. Alexis de Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, ed. R. Boesche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 187. Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘‘Four Notes on Burke,’’ in Tocqueville, European Revolution, 163–65. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 12. Ibid. Guido de Ruggiero’s History of European Liberalism, trans. R. G. Collingwood (Boston: Beacon, 1967), is still widely regarded as the best account of the development of liberalism in Europe. For the influence of the French Revolution on the development of English liberalism, see 93–157. See also Alexis de Tocqueville, Journeys to England and Ireland (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1988). Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 12. Ibid., 695. Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘‘Letter to J. S. Mill, June 1835,’’ in Tocqueville, Selected Letters, 100–102. For the development of English radicalism during the nineteenth century, see the classic work, Elie Halevy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism (London: Faber and Faber, 1928). The profound political change resulting from the reform of the British election system in 1867 is keenly observed by Walter Bagehot in his introduction to the second edition of The English Constitution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univer-



20 21 22 23 24 25


sity Press, 1966), 267–310. See also A. H. Birch, Representative and Responsible Government (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964); and M. Pugh, The Making of Modern British Politics, 1867–1939, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993). Robert Dahl, ‘‘Democratic Theory and Democratic Experience,’’ in Democracy and Difference, ed. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), 338. See Max Weber, ‘‘Nation-State and Economic Policy’’ (in Chinese), in Selected Writings of Max Weber, vol. 1, Nation-State and Economic Policy, ed. Gan Yang (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1996). Ibid. See Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 429–500, on democracy’s impact on intellectual movements. See Conor O’Brien, The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 612–15, 617–18. Berlin, quoted in ibid., 614. Berlin, quoted in ibid., 613. Berlin, quoted in ibid., 617–18. Maurice Barres (1862–1923) and Edoruar Drumont (1844–1917) were intellectual leaders of the European Far Right. Drumont published his La France juice in 1866. One of the most influential works advocating European anti-Semitism, the book contends that the French Revolution was a Jewish conspiracy aimed at subverting Christian Europe (the Jews were granted citizenship during the French Revolution, a first in European history). See Frederick Busi, The Pope of Antisemitism: The Career and Legacy of Drumont (Lanham, Md.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986). Charles Maurras was the godfather of the merger between European conservatism and fascism. I want to point out particularly that Maurras’s theory directly nurtured such cultural conservatives as William Babbit and T. S. Eliot, both of whom are greatly admired by some Chinese intellectuals. For the close ties between Western cultural conservatism and the cultural notions of fascism, as indicated by the relationship between Eliot, Pound and Maurras, see David Carroll, French Literary Fascism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); Michael North, The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Kenneth Asher, T. S. Eliot and Ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Anthony Julius, T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); and Robert Casillo, The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism, and the Myths of Ezra Pound (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1988). For a discussion of the relationship between conservatism and fascism, see, in addition to Berlin’s ‘‘Maistre and the Origins of Fascism,’’ Noberto Bobbio, Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995). For a historical study of this problem in the context of Western Europe, see Zeev Sternhell, Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). Many studies interro-

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27 28

29 30

31 32 33

34 35


37 38

gate the intricate connections between the antirepublican, counterrevolutionary tradition of right-wing French intellectuals and France’s subjugation by Nazi Germany. One of the most comprehensive historical studies is Robert Soucy, French Fascism, 2 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995). For an overall theoretical account of rightist antiliberalism and its contemporary variations, see Stephen Holmes, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993). Berlin, Four Essays, 161. Benjamin Constant, ‘‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns,’’ in Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 309–28. In the first letter quoted above, Berlin once again indicates the strong influence of Constant, suggesting that Constant is far more noteworthy than Burke. For an excellent study of Constant, see Stephen Holmes, Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984). See Pierre Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), 80, chaps. 7–10. The synchronic genesis of the French Revolution and modernity is the leitmotif of the intellectual commemoration of its bicentennial anniversary. See Ferenc Fehér, ed., The French Revolution and the Birth of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). Holmes, Benjamin Constant, 210. See François Guizot, History of the Origin of Representative Government (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1861), esp. chap. 1. Stanley Mellon’s Political Uses of History (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1958) provides a classic account of the battle over interpretations of history engaged in by liberal and conservative historians and their entanglement with the political struggle between liberalism and conservatism. Guizot, cited in Mellon, Political Uses, 29. Tocqueville took Guizot’s course on Europe and the history of French civilization at the Sorbonne between April 1829 and May 1830. Guizot’s lectures were later published as The Course of European Civilization. See Pierson, Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, 23. However, Tocqueville respected Guizot only as a historian; he despised him as a politician. For a detailed study of the age of democratic revolution in Europe, see R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, vols. 1 and 2 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959, 1964). Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 9–12. See Jardin, Tocqueville, chap. 6; and Seymour Drescher, Tocqueville and England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), chap. 2. Regarding Burke’s influence throughout Europe, see Frederick Beiser, Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), esp. 302–26.

39 See Pierson, Tocqueville and Beaumont, 22–25; see also Tocqueville, Selected Letters, 32. 40 Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘‘Reflections on English History,’’ in Tocqueville, Journeys, 21–41. See also Drescher, Tocqueville and England, 18–21. 41 Drescher, Tocqueville and England, 18–21. 42 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, xiii. 43 Tocqueville, Journeys, 67–68. 44 Ibid., 66. 45 Jardin, Tocqueville, 200. 46 Tocqueville, Selected Letters, 106–7. 47 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, xiii. 48 Ibid., 12. 49 Ibid., 311. 50 To understand ‘‘why the great revolution will be less and less likely,’’ see ibid., 634–45. 51 Tocqueville, Selected Letters, 106–7. 52 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 98–100. 53 Ibid., 439; Tocqueville, European Revolution, 190–94. 54 Tocqueville, Democracy in America. 55 For a study of the affinity between Tocqueville and Rousseau, see John Koritansky, Tocqueville and the New Science of Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987); see also Wilhelm Hennis, ‘‘Tocqueville’s Perspective,’’ Interpretation 16 (1988): 61–86. 56 Jardin, Tocqueville, 243–44. 57 Tocqueville, ‘‘Reflection on English History,’’ 28. Later, Tocqueville recalls that his basic idea that ‘‘the age of democracy will replace the age of aristocracy everywhere’’ was formed when he was around twenty and that his trip to the United States was to testify to this assumption. See Tocqueville, Selected Letters, 95. 58 The difference between the two volumes of Democracy in America is that while the first volume is more focused on the United States, the second concerns itself more with general democracy. 59 Jon Elster contends that the conclusion of Tocqueville’s analysis is that a balance between the democratic mentality and democratic institutions can be achieved. See Elster, Political Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), chaps. 3, 4. 60 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 198. 61 Ibid., 537–38. 62 Ibid., 503–6. 63 Ibid., 504–5. 64 Max Weber, ‘‘Suffrage and Democracy in Germany,’’ in Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

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Whither China? The Discourse on Property Rights Reform in China Zhiyuan Cui

Whither China? Until recently, this question has arguably expressed the most challenging riddle confronting Western China watchers and concerned citizens. The intellectual task required for its resolution is deemed so daunting as to elude any and all sweeping generalizations. However, with the opening of the Fifteenth Congress of the Chinese Community Party on 12 September 1997, the picture of China’s future suddenly seemed to reveal itself clearly for Western commentators of all ideological persuasions: China was definitively moving toward ‘‘capitalism,’’ with the Chinese president and party chief Jiang Zemin’s explicit endorsement of a ‘‘shareholding system’’ as a means for reforming state-owned enterprises. Many reports and news analyses hailed the ccp’s session as giving a green light to massive privatization, while some Western leftists condemned China for surrendering to the power of capitalist globalization.1 This chapter will offer some reasons for regarding the question ‘‘whither China’’ as still open, even after the most recent party congress. Arguing concisely against both the mainstream and leftist interpretations of China is no easy task.What I will try to do is highlight some themes most crucial to our quest for an understanding of China’s future possibilities. This chapter is divided into two parts. Part I describes the basic features of property rights in Chinese corporations, then focuses on theoretical issues of corporate governance in light of Chinese experience. Part II is devoted to the Chinese discourse on property rights reform. In my view, studying today’s China is like shooting at a moving target. Nothing stands still. Therefore, it seems more important to understand where people think they should go than simply to document where they have gone.

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The Unsolved Theoretical Issues of Corporate Governance in Light of the Chinese Experience Topsy-Turvy State Ownership Two stock exchanges function in today’s China, the Shanghai exchange (opened 19 December 1990) and the Shenzhen exchange (begun in July 1991). The corporations listed on these two exchanges usually offer three types of shares: state, legal-person, and individual. State shares are those held by governments (both central and local) and solely government-owned enterprises. Legal-person shares are those held by various stock companies, nonbank financial enterprises, and other social institutions. And third, individual shares are held and traded by individual citizens. They are called tradable A-shares. B-shares are offered exclusively to foreign investors. A typical Chinese corporation listed on the Shanghai or Shenzhen Stock Exchange usually has these three types of shareholders. Each group controls about 30 percent of total shares outstanding.2 At the end of July 1997, 590 companies were listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges. This figure increased to 1,129 by the end of May 2001. However, only individual shares were (and are) allowed to be traded since state and legal-person shares are barred from the exchanges. Today, in 2001, a heated policy debate is questioning whether state shares should be traded on the exchanges. People opposed to their trading usually cite ideological reasons; they think trading in state shares amounts to ‘‘privatization,’’ while those in favor of their trading argue that the large proportion of state shares in corporations cannot prevent governmental officials from arbitrarily intervening in business decisions since the state must appoint officials to sit on boards of directors. The emerging consensus seems to be that the state should act as a passive shareholder with only one foot inside the exchange; that is, it should be a beneficial ‘‘residual claimant’’ without the power to control corporations.3 I am not trying to evaluate the inherent merits of trading state shares. What should be highlighted is this basic point: if the state becomes a passive ‘‘residual claimant’’ without control rights, the conventional view of ownership as the congruence of ‘‘residual control rights’’ and ‘‘residual claim rights’’ is violated. Milgrom and Robert offer the best statement of this issue. Tying together residual returns and residual control is the key to the incentive effects of ownership. These effects are very powerful because (at least in simple cases) the decision maker bears the full fi-

nancial impact of his or her choices. Suppose a transaction involves several people supplying labor, physical inputs, and so on. If some of the parties involved receive fixed amounts of value specified by a contract and there is only one residual claimant, then maximizing the value received by the residual claimant is just the same as maximizing the total value received by all the parties. If the residual claimant also has the residual control, then just by pursuing his or her own interests and maximizing his or her own returns, the claimant will be led to make the efficient decisions.4 According to this conventional view, it is efficient to tie together residual returns (claims) and residual control. Thus, if the Chinese state is a shareholder (residual claimant), it should be granted residual control rights. However, a consensus maintains that the state should not have such rights.5 If we accept this consensus, we have to conclude that the conventional view of ownership as the efficient means of tying residual claims and residual control must be wrong. Someone might think the case of the state as shareholder is too special to offer any general theoretical insights. However, a leading American liberal thinker, Louis Hartz, has written a definitive history of ‘‘mixed corporations’’—‘‘mixed’’ in the sense of state government as one shareholder among other private shareholders—in Pennsylvania from 1776 to 1860.6 It should come as no surprise that states in the United States had to resort to shareholding as a means to finance expenditures and industrial development. (Not until February 1913 did the Sixteenth Amendment legalize the income tax (as not being against private property).7 The example of ‘‘mixed corporations’’ in U.S. history reminds us that the state as shareholder may not be exceptional. In fact, the history of state ownership around the world provides many illuminating lessons on the divergence of residual claims and residual control. For example, the UK nationalized its steel, electricity, railway and coal industries after World War II but it was only a residual controller without residual claims, for the state received no free use of its profits, since these were ‘‘offset by the payment of interest on the national debt issued to raise the compensation cost of the nationalization schemes. Thus, the state became the owner-manager but without the benefit of an increased income.’’ 8 James Meade, a Nobel Laureate in economics, proposes to reverse the U.K. nationalization process. What he calls ‘‘topsy-turvy nationalization’’ is essentially giving residual claims directly to the state as shareholder without granting control rights. Major benefits of topsy-turvy nationalization, according to Meade, are two: government use of the proceeds of its

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shareholding to finance a ‘‘social dividend,’’ which will provide flexibility to the labor markets by granting minimum income to everyone; and government separation from micromanaging business decisions for the companies that it owns in part. Some resemblance can be found between James Meade’s vision and the emerging Chinese policy consensus on the state as a passive shareholder. Even the idea of a ‘‘social dividend’’ can be partially seen in local practice. Shunda city in Guangdong province has used the sale proceeds of government shares to finance its ‘‘social security fund.’’ For this reason, I dub the prospect of passive state shares in China ‘‘topsy-turvy state ownership’’ since it raises deep theoretical questions about the divergence between residual rights of claim and residual rights of control. The Separate Market of Legal-Person Shares Though legal-person shares, like state shares, cannot be traded on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges, they can be traded through the Securities Trading Automated Quotations System (staq) and the National Electronic Trading System (net), the first founded in 1990 and the second in 1993. One interesting feature of legal-person share markets is that they are less volatile (with a price-earnings ratio of about 15) than the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges (where the price-earnings ratio is about 60, and sometimes more than 200). Given that the legal-person shareholders in China are mainly nonbank financial institutions (similar to institutional investors in the United States) and other companies, this phenomenon contrasts with the high volatility and speculation alleged to be resulting from the institutional investors’ short-termism. The relative lack of short-termism on the part of legal-person shareholders in China may partly result from the fact that the market for these shares is institutionally separated from the markets for individual shares, that is, one legal-person’s shares can only be exchanged for another’s. This restriction certainly reduces the liquidity of legal-person shares, but it also may contribute to less speculation in the staq and the net compared to Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges. Given that the Commercial Banking Law of China (passed in 1994) prohibits banks from holding corporate securities, that legal-persons shares amount to one-third of total shares outstanding, and that state shareholders will be increasingly passive, we can envision a corporate governance structure in which institutional (legal-person) holders play a prominent role. It is theoretically challenging to watch if China can reach what William Simon has hoped for: ‘‘ownership could be held in blocks

large enough to provide incentives for monitoring but small enough to impede the formation of looting or self-dealing coalitions.’’ 9

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The ‘‘Rights Issue’’ and the ‘‘Dilution of State Shares’’ The current proportion of state, legal-person, and individual shares (each about 30 percent) seems unstable if left unregulated. This can be seen clearly in the case of ‘‘rights issue’’—the issue of new common stocks to the three types of shareholders. Since the state often has no money or incentive to buy these new stocks, it fails to exercise the right. When individual shareholders and legal-person shareholders exercise the right, the proportion of the state share is diluted. Many holders of state shares (mainly local governments) sell their unexercised rights to the other two types of shareholders. However, China’s Securities Regulatory Commission decided in an emergency order of April 1994 that buyers of those unexercised rights from the state cannot resell the stocks on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges. This order is still in effect today. Obviously, this order makes the unexercised rights of state shares less attractive to other investors. The main motivation for it can be discovered only in the ideological concern of preserving a significant proportion of ‘‘public’’ ownership through state shareholding. Borrowing a phrase from Mark Roe in the American context, this situation also can be viewed as a political theory of the development of Chinese corporate governance. We see, therefore, that the current shareholding regime of Chinese corporations is anything but settled. Its evolution has been, and will continue to be, heavily influenced by theoretical and ideological debates. Three Schools of Thought on Property Rights Reform The most striking phrase from Jiang Zemin’s report to the ccp’s Fifteenth Party Congress states: ‘‘public ownership can and should be realized in many possible institutional forms.’’ Jiang expands on this point by saying that ‘‘the shareholding system cannot be considered belonging to public ownership or private ownership in general terms. It all depends on who has the controlling stakes of shares.’’ 10 Jiang’s statement on the compatibility of shareholding system and public ownership culminates a decade of discourse on property rights among Chinese intellectuals, policy advisers, and government officials. It can be viewed as a synthesis or compromise among three schools of thought. The first and most influential school argues that the key problem of China’s state-owned enterprises lies in its lack of clarity regarding property rights

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specifications. In contrast, the second school contends that state ownership is clear enough; the real issue is the lack of efficient management and an inflexible, outdated industrial structure. The third school places most emphasis on ‘‘economic democracy,’’ understood broadly as including both workplace participation and public accountability of officials in charge of state asset management. The ‘‘Clearness of Property Rights’’ Thesis The first of these three schools, that of ‘‘the clearness or clarification of property rights,’’ is by far the most influential. The 1993 ‘‘Decision of the ccp Central Committee on Some Issues Concerning the Establishment of a Socialist Market Economic System’’ describes ‘‘clearly defined property rights relations’’ as the first ‘‘basic feature’’ of a ‘‘modern enterprise system.’’ 11 What the term ‘‘clear’’ means here is itself far from clear. Two versions of the ‘‘clearness of property rights’’ thesis can plausibly be distinguished: the popular and the sophisticated. According to the popular version, public ownership by definition is unclear, since only individualized private ownership is clear.12 Although this version of property rights has had an enormous impact on some elitist intellectuals and has permeated the views of some newspapers and research journals, it has not been the driving force behind the ccp’s decision to establish ‘‘clearly defined property rights relations’’ through a ‘‘modern enterprise system.’’ The sophisticated version of the thesis stipulates that the ‘‘modern enterprise system’’ does not have to be private, but that the existing stateowned enterprises (soes) suffer from the lack of clarity in assigning rights and responsibilities to the relevant parties. A constantly recurring phrase is, ‘‘nobody represents the interest of the state as an owner in the soes.’’ This seemingly paradoxical phrase makes sense only if we understand the soe system in the 1980s. The Chinese economic reform started in 1979 by experimentally granting more autonomy in decision-making and profit retention to soes through the ‘‘contract responsibility system.’’ The ‘‘four kinds of autonomy’’ of soes were promoted under this system: (1) autonomous management, (2) autonomous budget with regard to profit and loss, (3) selfdiscipline 13 and restraint of managers, and (4) autonomous development. According to the sophisticated version of the property rights thesis, expanded enterprise autonomy was definitely helpful in China’s transition to a market economy, but it had a dark side, too; the interest of the state as an owner was not being taken care of by these ‘‘autonomous soes.’’ Too many forms of asset stripping or decapitalization occurred. Under the

‘‘contract responsibility system,’’ the soes signed a contract with a government agency specifying a fixed amount of profit turnover and retaining the rest. This system meant that managers and workers had an incentive to overstate their profits through underestimating depreciation and overlooking maintenance to increase their current compensation. Worse, many outright forms of corruption reduced the state’s share of assets. To solve the problem of asset stripping and managerial self-dealing, the ‘‘modern enterprise system’’ was proposed. Its advocates offered a three-step argument in its favor. First, the ‘‘modern enterprise system’’ required ‘‘corporatization’’; second, ‘‘corporatization’’ demanded evaluation of state assets as state-owned shares; and third, shares represented a clearly defined set of property rights that boards of directors would defend in the state’s interest against managerial self-dealing.14 Corporatization also was attractive because, according to its advocates, this system enables the state to get rid of its unlimited liability from the loss of soes. By virtue of a corporation’s modernity, its shareholders have only limited liability. So if the state becomes a shareholder by means of corporatization, it no longer pays for the loss of the soes. Moreover, in cases where the state becomes a controlling shareholder, corporatization enables it to control more social assets with fewer state assets,15 since, in addition to shares held by the state, shares are held by ‘‘legal persons’’ (i.e., institutions) and individual citizens. This discussion shows that sophisticated advocates of ‘‘property rights clearness’’ present corporatization not as a way of privatization, but as a means of strengthening state capacity in asset management by maintaining and increasing asset value. These advocates’ central argument is particularly persuasive to ccp leaders who face a fiscal crisis 16 resulting from intensified domestic and international competition. However, the sophisticated argument for clearing property rights by means of corporatization also was subjected to criticism from the second school of thought. Managerial Improvement and Structural Adjustment The second school of thought objects to the thesis of clearing property rights for the soes. Advocates of this view argue that the definition of property rights in the soes is perfectly clear; that is, the assets of soes belong to the state, which represents every Chinese citizen. The real problem with this viewpoint is not the definition of state ownership but its enforcement. An American corporate law scholar, William H. Simon, concisely summarizes the position of the second school of thought in China: ‘‘the real need is not for a better definition of property rights, but for the development of state capacity to enforce public rights and citizen remedies for official

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abuse. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that many reformers prefer to talk about property rights reform as a way of avoiding the more politically sensitive discussion of state structural reform.’’ 17 Ma Bin, a leading second school proponent, emphasizes that the issues of management—including government management of the soes and management within the soes—are much more important than the definition of property rights. Ma points out that as long as no change occurs in the mismanagement and corruption of some government officials, the shareholding system through the means of corporatization will not make the soes more efficient. Moreover, the introduction of the shareholding system will exaggerate the problem of managerial self-dealing, because managers now will have one more tool for self-enrichment.18 In fact, in 80 percent of projects of corporatization and joint ventures with foreign investors,19 state assets have not been evaluated at all by any independent accounting and auditing agency, not to mention the widespread phenomenon of undervaluation.20 Lin Yifu and his associates developed a more elaborated analysis than Ma Bin’s to support the second school of thought. They argue that privatization is neither necessary nor sufficient for making soes more efficient: not necessary, because many efficient soes exist, e.g., Korea’s Pohang Iron and Steel Company and Singapore Airlines; not sufficient, because many inefficient private enterprises operate in India and Latin America. For Lin, the crucial problem is that, as a result of a development strategy oriented to heavy industry, Chinese soes still must bear many policy-determined burdens. Specifically, Lin points out four burdens that cause competition between soes and non-soes to be unfair: (1) soes concentrate on capitalintensive heavy industries, whose lengthy periods of construction and capital return undermine any comparative advantage in today’s world market. (2) The prices of basic materials—electricity, petroleum, natural gas, chemicals, steel, etc.—are not completely decontrolled. (3) As a result of the legacy of central planning, soes have many social responsibilities, of which the most striking is their provision to their retired workers of pensions, medical expenses, and subsistence incomes from current income since no pension fund was accumulated during the central planning period. (4) soes, given the lack of a social security system, could not fire many unneeded workers. All of these obligations hurt soes in market competition. Moreover, the principal-agent problem between the state and soe managers becomes more untraceable since soes’ financial records could not reveal their actual economic performance in such an unfair competition. The solution, according to Lin Yifu, depends more on the creation of a fair environment for competition by implementing struc-

tural adjustments than would occur by establishing a ‘‘modern enterprise system.’’ 21 The second school of thought’s emphasis on management improvement (Ma Bin) and structural adjustment (Lin Yifu) also affected ccp leaders. The ninth Five-Year Plan (1996–2000) stipulated ‘‘double transitions’’ for the Chinese economy, ranging from a centrally planned economy to a market economy and from extensive to intensive modes of growth. The first transition supposedly relied on establishment of a ‘‘modern enterprise system,’’ and the second improved management and structural adjustment. Although the second school explicitly opposes the popular version of ‘‘clearness of property rights,’’ it does not necessarily stand against the sophisticated version. This difference is partly owing to the fact that advocates of the sophisticated version never present their reform proposal as privatization. More importantly, in response to the second school’s criticism, the sophisticated proponents of the property rights thesis convincingly argue that a shareholding system can facilitate structural adjustment through cross-territorial, cross-sectoral stockholding. In fact, the major economic trend after the Fifteenth Party Congress was the accelerated formation of ‘‘enterprise groups,’’ made possible by the cross-holding of stocks within each enterprise group.22 The Thesis of Economic Democracy The third school of thought is based on the thesis of economic democracy. One version of this thesis emphasizes the rights of workers to hold shares in the enterprises. Proponents of this view are mainly scholars connected with trade unions. Feng Tongqing, a professor in the School of the Chinese Trade Union Movement, took over the first school’s thesis and turned it into an argument for ‘‘labor’s property right.’’ Feng criticizes the downgrading of workers’ income and participation rights in the process of Chinese economic reform, and he advocates a system of ‘‘universal shareholding’’ (FanGuZhi). Specifically, he argues that in corporatization, ‘‘human capital’’ should be counted equally with physical capital, and workers should be given shares based on their skills and contributions of labor; they do not necessarily have to buy shares on their limited incomes.23 A more sophisticated version of the economic democracy thesis was provided by Chen Chuanming. He developed the so-called ‘‘S-type theory of the firm,’’ 24 a synthesis of three ‘‘single-logic’’ concepts of the firm into one ‘‘multi-logic’’ theory. According to Chen, the three theories comprised: (1) a concept of the firm based on the logic of capital, its typical institutional embodiments including both private ownership enterprises and soes; (2) a

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view of the firm based on the logic of labor, its typical institutional realization being Yugoslavia’s workers’ self-management; (3) the theory of the firm based on the logic of knowledge, its typical institutional expression being the managerial-controlled firm. Chen Chuanming criticizes each theory in turn. Regarding the capitallogic theory, he points out that since capital is not the only ‘‘risk factor’’ contributing to production, no reason stands forth for granting the capital givers, private or state, the sole status of ‘‘owner.’’ In terms of the labor-logic theory, he pinpoints its weakness in dealing with the issue of ‘‘past labor,’’ namely, the contribution of capital that embodied labor in the past. As for the managerial-controlled firm, Chen highlights the danger of managerial self-dealing and the repression of workplace democracy. Instead of these single-logic theories, Chen advocates his S-type theory, which ideally brings together the best elements of the single-logic theories while avoiding their respective weaknesses. Institutionally, he envisions a ‘‘capital committee’’ and a ‘‘labor committee’’ for each S-type firm. These two groupings, together with top managers, elect and form the so-called ‘‘enterprise committee,’’ which is the highest decision-making agency in the S-type firm.25 More concretely, in the design of Professor Lu Changchong of Dongbai Economic and Financial University,26 current workers’ representatives who meet in each Chinese enterprise should elect workerdirectors onto the board of directors of the joint stock corporation’s governing board, no matter whether the corporation is wholly or partly owned by the state. A mutual veto mechanism also allows workers’ meetings and stockholders’ meetings, through which each side can veto decisions by the other. Chen Chuanming explicitly talks about economic democracy, designating the ‘‘capital committee’’ as ‘‘capital democracy’’ and the ‘‘labor committee’’ as ‘‘labor democracy.’’ Lu Changzong regards the ‘‘sole interest of stockholders’’ as belonging to things past. Obviously, both advocates wish to give more voice to labor without sliding into the trap of Yugoslavia’s workers’ self-management.27 Not necessarily opposed to the first two schools of thought, they insist primarily that each version be open to the active participation of labor. This third school of thought also influenced ccp policy-making, although not as significantly as did the first two schools. So far, the Chinese Corporation Law passed in 1994 has allowed workers’ directors to sit only on the boards of directors of corporations wholly owned by the state. One goal of the advocates of economic democracy is to expand workers’ representation on boards of all kinds of corporations, especially because the

number of wholly stated-owned corporations has been reduced by crossshareholding firms.

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Globalization and Cross-Fertilization of Ideas What sense can we make of these three schools of thought on property rights in the Chinese reform context? The most striking thing about each school is its global nature. Second, however, the ideas of all three schools respond, to some extent, to related Western notions, ranging from outright coping to critical reflection and creative innovation. Perhaps this Western impact is most potent for the first school. The central thesis of the property rights school was popular in the Western universities in the 1980s, chiefly as represented by such scholars as Ronald Coase, Armen Alchian, Harold Demsetz, and Richard Posner.28 Significantly, in 1991, Demsetz was invited by the Chinese State Asset Management Bureau to lecture on this subject; he rejected the idea that workers should have the right to own stocks and be represented on corporate boards.29 In China, his view certainly had a major impact on the popular version of the thesis in regards to soes. However, it is not clear whether advocates of the sophisticated version of the thesis have been influenced by him. The thesis of management improvement and structural adjustment also has connections with Western economic thought. Both ‘‘teamwork’’ and post-Fordism have been introduced into the Chinese reform debates,30 and the thesis of economic democracy has had a significant bearing on Western discourse. I introduced the debate on ‘‘stockholder vs. stakeholder’’ in American corporate law reform into state-level discussions of the Chinese reform.31 Although Chinese discourse on property rights is interesting and sometimes sophisticated, it can benefit from greater knowledge of advanced debates in the West. For instance, Chen Chuanming’s S-type theory and Feng Tongqing’s ‘‘universal stockholding theory’’ could be argued more forcefully if they each were aware of the ideas of capital-labor partnership developed by Nobel prizewinner James Meade with Margaret Blair of the Brookings Institution. Basically, according to Meade and Blair, outside shareholders (no matter if private or public) are not the only risk-bearing group. The employee’s human capital, represented by his role in the firm where he works, is also at risk. In fact, given the rule of ‘‘limited liability’’ for shareholders, they bear less than the full cost of a firm’s actions; therefore, they cannot claim to be ‘‘full’’ risk-bearers. Moreover, outside shareholders can diversify their shareholding through a portfolio of shares from different firms, but one worker cannot work for several firms at the same

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time. In this light, it can be argued that employees’ human capital runs a greater risk because of the lack of diversification. Hence, workers should be partners with outside shareholders in sharing rights of income and control over corporate assets. Put in the Chinese context, fear of the slightest possibility of workers’ control in the popular property rights thesis is unwarranted purely on grounds of efficiency. The most important point here is that when we take full account of an employee’s firm-specific human capital, the conventional argument that the corporation should be managed solely for the benefits of outside shareholders falls apart. Exactly this kind of argument is drawn upon by Chinese proponents of economic democracy. Blair’s explanation on this point is worth noting: The first thing we have to understand is that corporate profits, as measured by standard accounting rules, provide a very incomplete measure of the total economic surplus generated by corporations. As we have seen, a large part of the total surplus is paid out to employees in the form of higher wages;32 but the employees’ share of the economic surplus, when paid out in this form, is treated as a cost of operation. . . . But when accountants record the entire package of payments to employees as a cost, shareholders see the return to employees for their firm-specific investments as something the firms should be trying to cut. [Therefore], firms that focus solely on share value will have an incentive to shut down operations that are not generating profits for shareholders even though those operations may still be generating substantial real economic rents. From the point of view of society at large, this is, obviously, inefficient. . . .33 Likewise, Meade’s program of Labor-Capital Partnership can be understood as an effort to reconcile the interests of outside stockholders and inside workers for the social benefit of ‘‘total wealth maximization,’’ which, as Blair points out, is not the same thing as maximization of shareholders’ share value. In Meade’s design, outside shareholders own capital share certificates and inside workers own labor share certificates. This arrangement is similar to the ‘‘universal shareholding system’’ envisioned by Feng Tongqing. Its operational mechanism can be roughly described as the Labor-Capital Partnership, whereby the workers and those who provide risk capital jointly manage the concern as partners. The capitalists own Capital Shares in the business, which are comparable to Ordinary Shares in a Capitalist Company. The worker partners own Labour Shares in the partnership; these Labor Shares are entitled

to the same rate of dividend as the Capital Shares, but they are attached to each individual worker partner and are cancelled when he or she leaves the partnership. If any part of the partnership’s income is not distributed in dividends but is used to develop the business, new Capital Shares, equal in value to their sacrificed dividends, are issued to all existing holders of Labour as well as of Capital Shares. These partnership arrangements greatly reduce the areas of conflict of interest between workers and capitalists, since any decision which will improve the situation of one group by raising the rate of dividend on its shares will automatically raise the rate of dividend on the shares of the other group.34 For reasons given by Blair, total wealth creation will be increased for society as a whole if the labor-capital partnership regime is adopted. Meade’s specific proposal for constituting boards of directors is close to Chen Chuanming’s ‘‘capital committee’’ and ‘‘labor committee’’ and may turn out to be useful for advocates of economic democracy in China. Outside shareholders and worker shareholders each elect the same number of members for a board of directors; these directors then appoint by agreement an additional chairman who acts as an arbitrator in cases of conflict between the two sets of directors. This discussion, which illustrates the truly global nature of ideas, shows the amazing affinity between some advanced Western theoretical debates and Chinese discourses on property rights. Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about globalization. But on deeper reflection, globalization of capital is not yet a full reality, and globalization of labor is still far away.35 What matters for an open and lively debate in China is to make sure these diverse alternative ideas on property rights in the West are available to Chinese participants in the discourse. The globalization of ideas also presents the opportunity for crossfertilization between local innovations and globalization theory reflections. In their effort to create a proper ownership form for rural enterprises, Chinese ‘‘peasants-workers’’ and their community governments designed an ingenious one: ‘‘shareholding-cooperative system’’ (scs).36 The system is similar to James Meade’s ‘‘labor-capital partnership’’ in that both systems have a labor share and a capital share.37 The Chinese scs is distinct in that capital shares are mainly collective in the sense of belonging to representatives of the community—township and village governments in this case. Thus, the scs in China’s rural industry may serve to harmonize the interests of inside workers and outside members of the same community. In one locality, Zhoucun District of Zibo (Shangdong Province), where

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I conducted preliminary field research in 1993, the scs was invented in 1982 as a response to the difficulties of dismantling the collective properties of the people’s commune. The peasants found that some collective properties (other than land) are simply indivisible, and they decided to issue shares to each ‘‘peasant-worker’’ on equal terms instead of destroying the collective property (such as trucks) in order to sell them in pieces (which happened in many regions). Soon after, they realized (or conceded) that all collective properties should not be divided into individual shares and distributed to the current work force because that would have unfairly omitted the older generation of ‘‘peasant-workers’’ who had left the enterprises and local governments that had made early investments. Thus, the peasants of Zhoucun District decided to keep some proportion of total assets as ‘‘collective shares,’’ none of which would be distributed as individual labor shares. These collective shares were designed to be held by outside corporate bodies—local governmental agencies, other firms, banks, and universities and scientific research institutions. These numbers reveal the flow of profits of scs in the district: — 10 percent to the workers’ welfare fund — After-tax profits of the scs, 30 percent to the firm development fund — 60 percent to the share fund (collective and individual shares) Clearly, scs developed from the accumulated change of Chinese rural institutions (such as the dissolution of the commune) and accidental solutions to the indivisibility of people’s commune property. The scs, thus, has created an attitude of ambiguity among Chinese practitioners and China scholars as to how the potential of this new form of property should be evaluated. As Karl Polanyi wrote, ‘‘contemporaries did not comprehend the order for which they were preparing the way.’’ 38 Hope and Danger How does this discussion of these three schools of thought on property rights answer the question ‘‘Whither China’’? I am not one who gives priority to ideas in historical explanations. But ideas, it seems, play a particularly important role in times of major social change. Major social changes imply great uncertainty, and the various actors need some ideas or theories to persuade themselves and others where their interests may lie. At this kind of historical juncture, ideas leave more imprints on the historical trajectory than they possibly could in relatively stable times. China today stands at such a historical juncture.

We have seen that the sophisticated thesis of ‘‘clearness of property rights’’ has had a significant impact on the ccp’s decision to establish ‘‘the modern enterprise system’’ via corporatization. We also have pointed out that the thesis of clearing property rights can be used for many different purposes, including the argument in favor of ‘‘labor’s property rights.’’ Immediately after the Fifteenth Party Congress, news came forth which seems to indicate that China will experiment with shareholding systems on a larger scale.39 But central leaders also cry for caution and prudence in undertaking this enlarged experiment.40 It is possible, therefore, to see the Chinese shareholding system combining the best elements of these three schools of thought. However, one great danger always lies in the background—corruption in implementing corporatization. The Russian privatization experience has shown that corporatization may degenerate into corrupt officials and managers simply misappropriating public assets. Although Chinese leaders insist that China’s corporatization is not the same as Russia’s voucher privatization, they must face similar problems of procedure in asset valuation, which easily can be misused.41 Thus, it is particularly relevant here to connect political democratization with corporatization reform. Wu Jinglian has proposed a ‘‘public assets committee’’ on each level of the People’s Congress that oversees implementation of corporatization.42 If tried, this proposal may prove critically important to the success of the Chinese shareholding system. Finally, as the Western left and right seem to be converging on this issue, can we say that today’s China is moving toward ‘‘capitalism’’? It depends on what we mean by ‘‘capitalism.’’ Deng Xiaoping once said that ‘‘we do not know what socialism is.’’ In fact, we might add, we similarly ‘‘do not know what capitalism is.’’ Fernand Braudel, in his monumental work on the history of civilization from the 1400s to the 1700s, confessed that he might have written the entire book without using the word ‘‘capitalism.’’ Indeed, ‘‘capitalism’’ seems too broad a term to be useful for analyzing China today. Should we say that the shareholding system is inherently ‘‘capitalist’’? If so, how do we make sense of J. S. Mill advocating the General Act of Incorporation (with limited liability for shareholders) to the British Parliament in 1850, an act intended to promote workers’ cooperatives? 44 After all, Marx converges with American ‘‘legal realism’’ in his insistence that ‘‘ownership’’ is not a single right, but a ‘‘bundle of rights,’’ 45 which can be disintegrated and rearranged to regulate changing social relations.46 The vocabulary of ‘‘bundle of rights’’ makes it possible to break away from the Stalinist conception of socialist ownership as having only two possible types, namely, ‘‘state ownership’’ and ‘‘collective ownership.’’ The ccp’s Fif-

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teenth Party Congress did exactly that by allowing cross-stockholding between state, legal-person, and individual shares. This permission opens up the possibility of increasing the number of stakeholders and of democrating their control of the bundle of property rights in corporations. It also leaves wide open the chance for corruption and misappropriation of public assets. Here is where both hope and danger await China. Notes 1 ‘‘We absolutely condemn the latest Chinese decisions,’’ said Ramon Mantovani, an Italian communist and member of parliament in September 1997. ‘‘They illustrate the way in which the Chinese have become one of the bulwarks of American-driven globalization, the very force that is threatening European workers.’’ Cited in New York Times, 21 September 1997. 2 The governmental regulation requires that tradable A shares should account for no less than 25 percent of a company’s initial public offering. 3 See Wen Zongyu, ‘‘Timing and Channels of Trading of State Shares’’ [in Chinese], Gaig (Reform), no. 5 (1997). 4 Paul Milgrom and John Roberts, Economics, Organization, and Management (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1992), 291. 5 This consensus is reflected in the World Bank report, China’s Management of Enterprise Assets: The State as Shareholder, August 1997. 6 Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776–1860 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948). 7 See Robert Stanley, Dimensions of Law in the Service of Order: The Origins of the Federal Income Tax, 1861–1913 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). 8 James Meade, Liberty, Equality, and Efficiency (New York: New York University Press, 1993), 95. 9 William H. Simon, ‘‘The Legal Structure of the Chinese ‘Socialist Market’ Enterprises,’’ Journal of Corporation Law 21, no. 2 (1996). 10 All translations in this article are from Chinese texts, unless otherwise stated. The full English text of Jiang’s report can be found in the fbis Daily Report on China, 22 September 1997. 11 Cited in fbis Daily Report on China, 17 November 1993, 22–23. 12 The most prolific advocate of the popular version is Zhang Weiying, a professor of economics at Beijing University. See his Qiye de Qijia—Qiyue Lilun (An Entrepreneur—Contract Theory of the Firm) (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing, 1995). 13 The words ‘‘autonomous’’ and ‘‘self ’’ can be translated into the same Chinese word zi. 14 Wu Jinglian, ‘‘Dazhoung xing Qiye Kaige he Gongxihua’’ (The large and medium-sized soes’ Reform and Corporatization), in Gouzhu Shichang JingJi De Jichu Jiegou (Constructing the infrastructure of a market economy) (Zhoong



17 18




22 23

24 25

Guo JingJi, 1997). Wu Jinglian is a senior researcher at the State Council’s Development Research Center. His view on ‘‘modern enterprise system’’ had a direct impact on the CCP’s decision in establishing a ‘‘modern enterprise system’’ to replace the troubled ‘‘contract responsibility system.’’ Personal communication. This point has been stressed in Jiang Zemin’s Report to the Fifteenth Party Congress and Vice Premier Zhu Rongji’s remarks on the shareholding system (People’s Daily, 15 September 1997). The current amount of citizens’ deposits in banks exceeds the total value of state assets. In 1995 the share of gdp that is central government revenue was only 8.1 percent. See Jingji Lianpishu 1997 (Economic blue book, 1997), ed. Liu Guoguang et al. (Beijing: Social Science Literature Publishing, 1996), 119. Simon, ‘‘The Legal Structure of the Chinese ‘Socialist Market’ Enterprises,’’ 299. Ma Bin, ‘‘Qiye Gaige he Gufen Zhi’’ (Enterprise reform and the shareholding system), vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhongguo Guoji Guangbo, 1994). In the 1950s, Ma Bin was manager-in-chief of the Anshan Steel Company, which developed the famous ‘‘Anshan Enterprise Constitution.’’ Its main point was to give more power to front-line workers in production management. Some Japanese and American scholars have credited this Maoist participatory method as having an impact on the Toyota model of industrial management. See Robert Thomas, What Machines Can’t Do (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 209. The limited experiments with establishing a ‘‘modern enterprises system’’ by means of corporatization were carried out as soon as the Chinese Corporation Law was effective after 1 July 1994. In this sense, Jiang Zemin’s Report to the Fifteenth Party Congress did not signify the practical beginning of the shareholding system; rather, it is an ideological legitimization for larger scale experiments with corporatization. This figure comes from Zhu Zhigang, deputy director of the State Asset Management Bureau. See his ‘‘Zican Quanyi and Zhidu Zhuangxin’’ (Ownership rights and institutional innovation) (Beijing: Jingji Gexue, 1996), 46. Lin Yifu et al., ‘‘Chongfen Xinxi he Goyou Qiye Gaige’’ (Sufficient information and soes’ reform) (Shanghai: Renmin, 1997). It is interesting to note that Lin Yifu, who received his Ph.D from the University of Chicago economics department, has such a balanced view on soes. A major case of enterprise group formation in the chemical industry is reported in People’s Daily, 27 September 1997. Feng Tongqing et al., Xiang Shehui Zhuyi Shi Chang Jing Ji Zhuan Bian Shiji De Gong Hui Lilun Shu Ping (The review of trade union theory in the transition to the socialist market economy) (Shanghai: Renmin, 1997), 133. Here, ‘‘S’’ indicates ‘‘synthesis.’’ Chen Chuanming, ‘‘Bijao qiye Zhidu’’ (Comparative enterprise systems) (Shanghai: Remin, 1995), 220. Interestingly, Chen is a former Ph.D student

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30 31


33 34 35 36

with Vice Premier Zhu Rongji at the school of management at Qing Hua University where Zhu is the honorary head of the school. Lu Changchong did not mention Chen Chuanming’s S-type firm theory but independently developed his own institutional design, which is similar in spirit to Chen’s theory. See Lu, ‘‘Gongxi Zhili ye Xin Lao Sanhui Guanxilun’’ (Corporate governance and the relationship between old and new three meetings), Jingji Yanjiu (Economic research), no. 11 (1994): 10–14. The widely shared perception of Yugoslavian self-management among Chinese intellectuals is that it leads to ‘‘short-termism,’’ meaning overconsumption at the expense of capital accumulation. The collection of their writings has been translated into Chinese and circulated widely among Chinese economists. See Caichan quanli he zhidu bianqian, Property Rights and Institutional Change (Shanghai: Peoples’ Publishing, 1992). See State Asset Management Bureau, ‘‘Guoyou zichan chanquan lilun tansuo’’ (Exploring the issue of property rights in soes) (Beijing: Jingji Kexue, 1992), 56. Cui Zhiyuan, ‘‘Anshan xianfa he hou fute zhuyi’’ (The Anshan constitution and post-Fordism), Dushu, no. 1 (1996). My essay on the change of U.S. corporate law in the twenty-nine states toward ‘‘stakeholders’’ (shareholders being only one part of stakeholders along with labor and community parts) has triggered significant debates among Chinese intellectuals. See Zhang Wenmin et al., eds., Zhong Guo Jing Ji Da Lun Zhan (The big debates on chinese economy), vol. 2 (Beijing: Jingji Guanli, 1997). According to University of Chicago economist Robert Topel, as much as 10 to 15 percent of total compensation of employees of large corporations in the United States is for firm-specific skills. One piece of evidence that he has for this is that when employees are laid off through no fault of their own, they take, on average, a 10 to 15 percent cut in pay when they are reemployed. Margaret Blair draws a further implication from Topel’s estimate. She realizes that 10 percent of the total compensation paid to employees by corporations from 1990 through 1993 was about $850 billion. This figure is comparable with corporate profits during those years, measured by standard accounting procedures, of about $991 billion. ‘‘In other words, what we call corporate profits measures only about half of the total economic surplus being generated by corporations. The other half is typically paid out to employees.’’ Blair, Ownership and Control: Rethinking Corporate Governance for the Twenty-first Century (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1996), 8. Ibid., 8–12. Meade, Liberty, Equality, and Efficiency, 85–86. The partial globalization of capital without globalization of labor will increase the existing international injustice. After three years of experiments in three areas in Shandong, Zhejiang, and Anhui Provinces, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture issued ‘‘The Temporary




40 41

42 43 44

Regulations for Peasant’s Shareholding-Cooperative Enterprises’’ in February 1990. This report indicates that this form of ownership will become increasingly important in Chinese rural enterprises. It is important to notice that both systems differ significantly from the esop in the United States. esop promotes ‘‘worker participation in the firm’s fortunes insofar as a part of the work’s past pay has taken the form of compulsory savings rather than the receipt of freely disposable income, whereas laborshare certificates depend directly upon the employee’s current supply of work and effort to the firm without any reference to compulsory savings.’’ Meade, Liberty, Equality, and Efficiency, 117. In an article I wrote in Chinese in 1994, I argued that the scs should be considered as an institutional innovation. This article appears to have an impact on the final decision to allow scs to spread in rural China. See Cui Zhiyuan, ‘‘Zhidu chuangxin he di er ci sixiang jiefang,’’ Beijing Qingnian Bao, 24 July 1994. After the ‘‘Decision of the ccp Central Committee on Some Issues Concerning the Establishment of a Socialist Market Economic System’’ in November 1993, the State Council selected 100 large and medium-sized soes to experiment with the shareholding system. The provincial governments also selected about 1,700 soes to take part in the same experiment. Premier Zhu Rongji emphasizes that corporatization should not be tried ‘‘as a wave’’ (guafeng). See People’s Daily, 15 September 1997. Russian privatization did not rely on accurate valuations of the assets of currently state-owned firms. No adjustment for inflation and ‘‘intangible assets’’ has been made. The Russian Privatization Minister Anatoly Chubais ‘‘simply declares that book value of the Russian companies as of July 1992, without any adjustment, would serve as the charter capital’’ (M. Boycko, A. Shlefer, and R.Vishny, Privatizing Russia (Cambridge, Mass.: mit Press 1995), 75). This decision gives tremendous benefits to the new buyers of state assets through voucher auctions, as well as the insiders of the firm who can buy up to 51 percent of shares. Not surprisingly, the end result is the extreme low asset value of Russian industry: at the end of the voucher privatization scheme in June 1994, the aggregate value of the Russian industry was under $12 billion. Even the three main advisers to Anatoly Chubais are shocked: How could it be that ‘‘the equity of all of Russian industry, including oil, gas, some transportation and most of manufacturing, was less than that of Kellogg [one American health food company]’’? (Ibid., 117). Certainly, this state of affairs cannot generate sufficient government revenues and cannot encourage broad public support for the new democratic regime in Russia. Wu Jinglian, ‘‘Dazhoung xing Qiye Kaige he Gongxihua,’’ 105. Fernand Braudel, Civilization Materielle: Economie et Capitalisme, Xve–XVIIIe, Chinese translation, vol. 2 (Beijing: Sanlian Bookstore 1993), 234. J. S. Mill reasoned as follows: when the liability of owners is unlimited, only

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rich people can afford to do business; the regime of limited liability would encourage the workers to form their own cooperatives to compete in the market on a safer footing. 45 By breaking ownership into its constituent parts, i.e., the ‘‘bundle of rights’’ into the rights of income, use, control, and transfer, the legal realism demonstrates that ownership does not imply any prepolitical, absolute or fixed set of rights. See Morton Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law 1870–1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 145–69. 46 Former Austrian president Karl Renner has written the best synthesis of Marxism and legal realism. See his Institutions of Private Law and Their Social Functions (London: Routledge, 1949).


The Changing Role of Government in China Shaoguang Wang

What role should the state play in China’s transition to a market economy? Accepting both the neoclassic assumption of the naturalness, spontaneity, and efficacy of the market and the thesis of the state put forward by public choice theorists, some Chinese economists suggest that the state’s role should be restricted to providing defense, defining property rights, enacting and implementing a system of laws, enforcing contracts, and maintaining the value of the currency.1 They believe that if the government leaves economic actors alone, unfettered competitive markets would be the best means of generating socially desirable outcomes. I will argue here that the state should play an active role in China’s transition to a market economy. This argument is built on three observations. First, even in mature market economies, state interventions are indispensable for remedying market irrationalities and for organizing efficient markets. Second, market institutions cannot be properly installed without the support of the state. Especially if China is to establish a ‘‘socialist market economy,’’ the state is obliged to mitigate the hardships and cruelties caused by transition to the market. Third, as a giant country, China faces many development challenges that cannot be settled through voluntary transactions. The Roles of the State in Mature Market Economies In the West, economists often use the theory of market failure found in welfare economics as a rationale for government activity. Market failures in this chapter refer to situations in which voluntary transactions do not re-

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sult in allocative efficiency. Standard economics textbooks recognize many sources of market failure. Among them: Public Goods Characterized by their broad use, their indivisibility, and their resistance to being excluded, ‘‘public goods’’ cannot be provided for through the market system, i.e., by transactions between individual consumers and producers. A classic example is national defense, which has to be provided by the state. Infrastructure has some properties of public good. An economy is unlikely to take off unless its infrastructure is sound. Because of the presence of indivisibility, however, private investors may find the provision of infrastructure unprofitable, at least in the short run. That is why in most countries infrastructure is financed by governments.2 Macroeconomic stabilization also may be considered a public good. Market economies have always been characterized by fluctuations in the business cycle, by periods of boom and bust. Economic stability is thus desirable, for it benefits all. But precisely for this reason, few people have incentives to contribute to its realization. The government therefore has to bear the responsibility of maintaining macroeconomic stability. Externalities Externalities occur when a divergence exists between private and social costs or benefits. Wherever externalities exist, the actions of an economic agent (an individual or a firm) impose costs on, or provide benefits to, third parties that are unlikely to receive compensation— or be charged—through markets for what they get involuntarily. The result could be either too little or too much production or consumption. Some analysts suggest that people can voluntarily get together to solve the problem of externalities. If the number of third parties is large, however, the transaction costs for all those involved in negotiating a solution tend to be prohibitively high. Moreover, externalities always exist, and at any given moment many kinds of externalities may coexist. Thus, if the state does not come to the fore to internalize them, a great deal of people’s time and resources would be wasted in endless rounds of unproductive negotiation. Increasing Returns Where economic activities are subject to increasing returns (and/or decreasing marginal costs), a free market will result in monopoly. Facing no competition, a profit-maximizing monopolist will sell a lower output and charge a higher price than would be the case under competition. The outcome thus will be inefficient. A relatively recent development in economics—the theory of ‘‘contestable markets’’—suggests that as long as potential entrants are present, the production of a good or the provision of a service by a monopolist does not necessarily signify that he will be able to exploit monopoly power.3 What are ignored in the theory are ‘‘sunk’’ costs. In modern times, most entries into industry involve sunk

costs. As a matter of fact, such costs are often unusually high. Substantial sunk costs are an effective barrier to entry. Thus, monopolists are unlikely to be disciplined by the potential entry of competitors. In other words, government antitrust policy is still necessary.4 Unemployment The competitive equilibrium model predicts full employment. However, because of the downward rigidity of interest rates and nominal wages, the signaling mechanism in capital and labor markets does not work in the ways that neoclassic economists predict. As a result, high unemployment of workers and underuse of machines have often plagued capitalist economies. Although most economists do not treat unemployment as a market failure in its own right but as a consequence of some other market failures, some economists believe that ‘‘high unemployment is the most dramatic and most convincing evidence of market failure.’’ 5 Incomplete Markets The neoclassic model maintains that competitive markets can ensure economic efficiency because the model assumes that a complete set of markets exists. But that is not the case. Private risk and future markets, for example, are far from adequate to ensure such stability. Markets do not exist for many possible future contingencies, and many of the important risks that we face are uninsurable. Incomplete risk markets may lead to inefficient levels of investment. Moreover, without a complete set of future markets, prices cannot serve the function of coordinating decisions concerning the composition of capital formation.6 In the absence of a complete set of future and risk markets, each economic agent needs a model of the whole economy in order to make futureoriented decisions (like entry and exit). Without formulating expectations about the behavior of other agents, his or her decisions can hardly be considered rational. If, however, the agent does make decisions based on such a model, he or she is in effect using as much information as would be required for a central planner. In such a conceptualization of economic behavior, as Arrow remarks, ‘‘the superiority of market over centralized planning disappears.’’ 7 Information Failure Information has two special features: Once information is produced, it cannot be destroyed; giving it to one more individual does not detract from the amount possessed by others. Efficiency requires that information be made accessible to all who want it. However, private producers of information have an interest in keeping it for their own exclusive consumption. For this reason, the private market is unlikely to provide an adequate suppy of information.8 This is true especially when information can be used to further an agent’s own welfare or where it is costly to acquire and transmit information. The government could play a part in remedying information failures. Given the asymmetric distribution of in-

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formation between the consumer and the producer, for instance, the state may use regulation to protect the consumer’s interests. In addition, the state may offset externalities in the area of information by collecting, processing, and disseminating crucial information (e.g., information about foreign markets) to those in the national economy who need it. While traditional literature assumes that markets are efficient except for some well-defined market failures, more recent studies reverse the presumption: only under exceptional circumstances are markets efficient. Greenwald and Stiglitz show that whenever markets are incomplete and information imperfect (something that is true in virtually all economies), even competitive market allocation is not constrained Pareto-efficient. In other words, schemes of government intervention almost always exist that can induce Pareto-superior outcomes, thus making everyone better off.9 Although the pervasiveness of market failures does not warrant the state’s thrusting its nose into everything, the ‘‘optimal’’ range of government interventions is definitely much wider than the traditional ‘‘market failure’’ school recognizes. Even if a competitive market might generate a Pareto-efficient allocation of resources, cases for government action still exist because an efficient allocation of resources might entail great inequality. According to the Second Theorem of Welfare Economics: for any Pareto-efficient allocation, a set of prices supports that allocation as a market equilibrium, but each set is supported with a different distribution of welfare. The problem is to decide which Pareto-efficient allocation conforms to society’s notion of distributive justice. Obviously, the market cannot make this decision. The social welfare function is simply not a market construct; it must evolve from the political process. Moreover, the Pareto principle can be pushed a step further to allow economic efficiency to encompass not just actual Pareto improvements but potential Pareto improvements. These are changes in which some people gain while others lose, but in which overall net gains occur in the sense that the gainers hypothetically could compensate the losers and still be better off. The problem is that in the ‘‘spontaneous order’’ advocated by neoclassic economists, there is no way to ensure that the gainers would compensate the losers.10 Without institutionalized mechanisms to redistribute income, market forces thus tend to expose individuals to aggregate effects that expand the fortunes of some while reducing the fortunes of others. Most people think it right to alter the distribution of income in helping the poor or in improving equity. But inequality is not just morally repul-

sive. Numerous studies have shown that economies in which wealth is very unequally distributed may cause serious incentive problems.11 Inequality often has been found associated with slower growth.12 More important, to a great extent, the survival of a market economy may depend on social equity. If asymmetric rewards and punishments generated by market forces persist, and no adjustments through redistribution take place, then the gap between those who flourish and those who stagnate would continuously widen. As a result, social conflict may become intense and violence may begin to occur. To contain the level of social disturbance below the suicidal destructiveness of national revolution, the market system must be embedded in a framework of institutions that provides for its own modification in response to social-economic pressures. Thanks to socialists’ efforts and to pressures from the working poor in the second half of the nineteenth century and a large part of the twentieth, mechanisms of sharing the benefits of growth more equally have been established to various degrees in all advanced capitalist countries, which have helped diffuse opposition to the market system. ‘‘If this lesson is not learned, if the appropriate instruments of state are not created, the preconditions of socialism will be recreated and the history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will be repeated.’’ 13 The Roles of the State in Market Transition China is in the process of transition from a command economy to a market economy. In the course of this transition, the market by definition should be established as the central mechanism of resource allocation, and the role of the state in the economy should be redefined. This redefinition involves two major changes. First, the range of state intervention should be narrowed. Microeconomic decisions, particularly, should be left to individual economic agents. Second, policy instruments need to be changed. Rather than relying on administrative commands, the government should try to affect production activity, mainly through fiscal, monetary, and regulatory policies. In the meantime, however, viewing the market merely as a negation should be avoided. Accepting Adam Smith’s thesis that the natural human propensity to ‘‘truck, barter, and exchange’’ would automatically lead to market exchange, some people believe that once the stifling state is knocked out of the economic realm, ‘‘market forces’’ would emerge, fullblown, to put human society in perfect order. For market reformers, such a blind belief in the naturalness, spontaneity, and efficacy of the market is

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probably one of the most dangerous of illusions. An effective government, in fact, is a precondition of the transition to a market economy for three reasons. First, voluntary transactions cannot take place in an institutional vacuum. A market economy cannot exist without effective legal, administrative, regulatory, and extractive institutions maintained by the state. Institutions are needed to perform, at a minimum these functions: — — — — — — — —

— — — — — —

to define property rights; to enact a system of laws; to enforce contracts; to collect taxes; to oversee banks; to supervise corporate entities; to promote and preserve competition; to supply entrepreneurs with information that reduces uncertainty, cuts transaction costs, and secures private sector confidence in making investment decisions; to dislodge and then prevent the reemergence of subnational barriers to free-factor mobility; to facilitate communication and consultation with the private sector, labor organizations, and other important interest groups; to conduct strategic planning and macroeconomic analysis; to administer the social security system; to provide the legal context within which disputes between competing economic agents are resolved; to ensure that groups capable of sabotaging the expansion of markets are not excluded from the political process.

Those institutions provide the stability, certainty, and predictability needed for facilitating efficient economic transactions. Historically, the creation of national markets coincided with the constitution and expansion of such state institutions in the West. Late developers in the Third World often failed to create functioning market systems and thereby resorted to interventionist regimes not because their governments were too ‘‘strong,’’ but because their governments were too ‘‘weak.’’ A weak state could be highly intrusive, but at the same time it could lack the capacity to construct effective legal and regulatory institutions.14 ‘‘There is evidence that under conditions of administrative weakness it is harder to create and regulate functioning national markets in goods, labor, and finance than it is for government to manage the bulk of production itself.’’ 15 In this sense, simply ‘‘shrinking the state’’ will not produce efficient market systems. To

create competitive markets, new state institutions must be established and strengthened to perform the task of indirect regulation and administration, which is much more delicate and difficult than direct control. Second, market institutions cannot spring up automatically. Some people believe that market institutions would spontaneously emerge from voluntary transactions between economic agents if the state stands aside. The state has never stood aside before, and we have no reason to believe that it is going to happen now. Market institutions, in a sense, represent the essential, irreducible minimum of ‘‘public goods’’ that must be provided if markets are going to work at all.16 Since they are public goods, people are unlikely to cooperate voluntarily with one another to provide them, just as they would not join together in providing other kinds of public goods. Of course, if the state does not provide market institutions, private economic agents would have to develop some informal rules to stem uncertainty and introduce some level of predictability into commercial transactions. In the absence of state intervention, however, these agreements are likely to evolve into pacts that neglect the interests of consumers and small producers and reflect only the preferences of those who possess economic power. Thus, as ‘‘public goods,’’ market institutions initially have to be brought about by noneconomic forces. Even after the establishment of market institutions, the state still cannot stand aside. Individuals have incentives to break market rules—to corrupt the legal basis of market exchange, to collude in anti-competitive ways, to misrepresent the nature of assets which are the subject of contracts, and so on. Enforcement costs of market-conforming behavior can be extremely high. In countries where there is already cultural and ideological support for self-restraint in maintaining the rules of the marketplace, enforcement costs of marketconforming behavior would be lower. In countries where the market economy is still in the making, however, enforcement of the rules would be more expensive, which can be performed only by a strong state.17 Third, the market transition is not a consensual but a conflictual process. The market economy is not just embedded in state institutions; it also shares the state’s ideological and moral basis, which is what economies in transition lack. Neoclassic economists’ transhistoric assumptions about human motivation may enable them to generate sophisticated models, but the simple fact, as Leiberstein points out, is that people’s behavior often has been influenced by ‘‘habits, conventions, work ethics, partial calculation, and inertia.’’ 18 When a great institutional change occurs, people often find it hard to adapt. In the case of market transition, people would not accept market values and behave according to market rules simply because the government announces that their country has adopted the model of a

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market economy. European countries laboriously struggled to develop attitudes favorable to the formation of market systems in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; since these systems violated the ‘‘moral economy’’ that preexisted the market economy, practices most consistent with market rationality caused a great deal of confusion and disturbance in those societies.19 In a sense, the state socialist system was also a moral economy characterized by what Chinese call the ‘‘iron rice bowl’’ (lifetime employment) and ‘‘everyone eating from the same pot’’ (equal income distribution regardless of effort). To create a market economy, the ‘‘moral economy’’ has to be destroyed and a new ethic has to be cultivated or imposed, which is bound to trigger protests against the logic of the market. Market development thus requires an ongoing process of ‘‘legitimization’’ supported by ideological indoctrination and even the armor of coercion. Moreover, the market transition involves not only the transformation of norms and values but also the redistribution of resources and power. The transition may provide some social groups with opportunities of upward mobility, deprive others of traditional privileges, and threaten the livelihood of still others. The transition is also likely to create inequalities in income and wealth that do not match existing patterns of entitlements, status, and power. In one word, the transition tends to dislocate groups in both the political and economic realms, which would inevitably give rise to social conflicts and political struggle.20 The creation of a market economy in England, for instance, was by not means a continuous and consensual process. Rather, it resulted from a power struggle among social groups attempting to shape exchange relations in their interests.21 As many studies have predicted, in former state socialist countries’ transitions to market economies, reforms in the short run ‘‘are likely to cause inflation, unemployment, and resource misallocation as well as to generate volatile changes of relative incomes.’’ 22 Even in the best scenario, as in China, where initially everybody benefited from reforms, the situation by the mid-1990s seemed to turn from a positive-sum game into a zero-sum game; some people gained at the expense of others. The government can always use its coercive power to impose costs on certain disadvantaged social groups. To have a relatively smooth transition, however, it is better for the state to adopt measures alleviating transition pains by establishing new safety nets and somehow compensating those whose interests are threatened by a reform. This is a very expensive undertaking. The state has to be strong enough to amass sufficient resources for redistribution. In his classic study of the rise of the market economy in England, Karl Polanyi finds that the origin of market society is not ‘‘traceable to the mere

desire of individuals to truck, barter, and exchange.’’ Instead, he believes the very idea that human beings have a natural propensity to ‘‘truck, barter, and exchange’’ was a product of market society, not the other way round. Since the market is not a natural and necessary manifestation of human nature, no one should expect the development of a market economy to be spontaneous. In the case of England, Polanyi finds that ‘‘the road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled interventionism.’’ 23 Governments also provided dynamics in transforming other European countries into market societies. If there was nothing natural or automatic about the rise of market mechanisms among early developers—if ‘‘markets,’’ as Chaudhry points out, ‘‘are conscious constructs in the same vein that command economies are deliberate arrangements’’ 24—we have good reason to believe that in every area a strong state is required to enforce the rules, norms, and institutions that are necessary for establishing a functioning market economy. The Roles of the State in Economic Development China needs not only to reform its system but also to develop its economy. In fact, development is the purpose of reform. What role should the government of a poor country play in its economic development? The market failure arguments imply that market economies are all the same and that a theoretically optimal boundary between the market and the state can be found. But this assumption appears to be wrong. Embedded in different structural situations with respect to level of development; geographic location; size of country; culture; and international environment, different economies have to deal with different kinds and degrees of market failure, which requires them to devise different institutions to overcome obstacles to their development. In other words, no common model of state intervention exists that can solve market failure problems for all countries, at all times. More specifically, markets may work less well in underdeveloped countries than in developed ones, and markets may work less well for underdeveloped countries than for developed ones. Structural rigidities are the main reason why markets may work less well in underdeveloped than in developed countries. For a market economy to function efficiently, the three components of the price mechanism—signaling, response, and mobility—all have to work properly.25 First, prices must be elastic in signaling changes in demand and supply conditions. Second, economic agents— producers, consumers, workers, and owners of factors of production— must be willing and able to respond to market signals. Third, production

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factors must be able to move readily and easily. But, in practice, those conditions of market equilibrium are often lacking in underdeveloped countries. Prices, for instance, often are distorted by monopoly. Even if we assume that prices are right, responses may be inadequate and production factors immobile. Four problems may cause inadequate responses to market signals. First, influenced by traditional values, habits, conventions, work ethics, and inertia, people in underdeveloped countries may not seek to ‘‘maximize’’ their own material well-being as neoclassic theories posit. Second, information crucial in making rational decisions often is hard to come by in underdeveloped countries. For instance, local farmers may not know of price changes occurring elsewhere in the province, in the country, or in the world. As a result, they have no way to construct complete inventories of all the available and prospective alternatives relevant to their objectives. Third, because of low levels of education, even if economic actors in underdeveloped countries are willing to respond to market signals promptly, and all relevant information is available, they may lack the ability to make rational decisions. For instance, they may not possess the cognitive and computational ability to compare alternatives, or, when facing uncertainty, they may be unable to estimate the relevant probability distributions and rate of discount. Thus, the alternatives that they select may be far less than optimum. Fourth, the downward rigidity of interest rates and nominal wages is just as strong in underdeveloped economies as in developed ones, especially in those countries where populism prevails. For those reasons, responses to market signals often are lagged, inadequate, or even perverse in underdeveloped countries. Deficient infrastructure, bottlenecks, poor management, and other structural and organizational constraints can further thwart the ‘‘spontaneity’’ of the market mechanism. Because of those characteristic features of underdevelopment, factors of production are often immobile, unable to move quickly, or able to move—but only at high cost.26 High transport costs, for instance, may make the sale of a product uneconomical. The lack of mobility of resources, or more precisely, the inability of some of the productive sectors to adjust in a timely way to changes in demand, thus makes the price mechanism less trustworthy. Leibenstein envisages the economy as a ‘‘network of nodes and pathways.’’ According to him, in this network ‘‘the nodes represent industries or households that receive inputs (or consumer goods) along the pathways and send outputs (final goods or inputs for the other commodities) to the other nodes. The perfect competition model would be represented by a net that is complete; one that has pathways that are well marked and well de-

fined, and in which each node deals with every other node on equal terms for the same commodity.’’ If the above analyses are sound, then in the underdeveloped economy net, some nodes are hypoplastic, some pathways clogged, and some portions of the economy isolated from others. This net is full of ‘‘holes’’ and ‘‘tears,’’ 27 which may justify more government actions in underdeveloped than in developed economies. Even if markets work as well in underdeveloped as in developed countries, they may still work less well for underdeveloped countries than for developed ones. According to the neoclassic economic theory, the market is good at achieving Pareto efficiency. But the notion of Pareto efficiency is essentially static, concerned about only the allocative efficiency of given resources. However, static efficiency should not be the only criterion, or even the chief criterion, for judging the performance of economic systems. From the standpoint of underdeveloped countries, for example, dynamic value creation is far more important than static value allocation. As Suhartono, an Indonesian economist, points out: The context of the problem facing the developing countries is fundamentally different from that addressed by static analysis: it is not one of merely adjusting the allocation of given resources more efficiently, but rather it is a question of how to accelerate economic and social development. . . . In economic terms, the problem involves an expansion in the production possibility frontier, not only a movement along it, through increasing productive capacities and through the productive employment of unutilized or underutilized factors of production. Since from the point of view of the developing countries the analysis for static gains addresses itself to the wrong question, it is not of particular relevance.28 Not only is allocative efficiency less relevant in developing countries, but concern with it also may stand in the way of obtaining dynamic efficiency. Joseph Schumpeter contrasts an economy that optimizes subjects to given constraints with an economy that develops its productive capabilities: Since we are dealing with a process where every element takes considerable time in revealing its true features and ultimate effects, there is no point in appraising the performance of the process ex visa of a given point of time; we must judge its performance over time, as it unfolds through decades or centuries. A system—any system, economic or other—that at every given point of time fully utilizes its possibilities to the best advantage may yet in the long run be inferior

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to a system that does so at no given point of time, because the latter’s failure to do so may be a condition for the level or speed of long-run performance.29 Long-run development involves many ‘‘big’’ industrial decisions that cannot automatically flow from decentralized, optimal decision-making in the short run.30 Since markets work only incrementally, the elasticity of supply and demand is larger in the long run than in the short run. Thus, at best, the market can provide adequate signals only for marginal changes. If large changes have to be brought about in a short time, the price mechanism cannot be relied on to induce the transfer of resources necessary for such changes. Public interventions therefore are required to invest directly in order to both break critical bottlenecks and to nourish a wholesome macroeconomic environment that encourages investment innovation from the private sector.31 To prepare for economic takeoff, underdeveloped countries first have to build up a solid infrastructure and alleviate bottlenecks that are creating disincentives to invest. Without a solid infrastructure in place, the costs of private entrepreneurial activities would be very high, which would clearly hamper industrialization. Few people dispute that, as a public good, the infrastructure must be provided by the government. (As a matter of fact, state and local governments made sizable direct investments in infrastructure projects in the early economic development of the United States.) 32 Motivated by ‘‘a passionate desire to organize and hasten the process of catching up,’’ the state should probably also play a major role in planning and financing key investments of the economy. Typically, capital in underdeveloped economies is scarce and diffused, especially in the early years of industrialization. Moreover, desiring to jump into the modern industrial sectors, those countries may want to use production technologies that require capital investments in excess of what individual investors are capable of amassing. Private entrepreneurs thus may not have the capacity to invest and innovate, even if they have the will.33 When they have the capacity, however, they may lack the will to do so for two reasons. First, the returns to some prospective, socially desirable, or necessary investments (including r&d) may be too long-term and uncertain for private firms to undertake by themselves.34 Since the markets necessary for such investments to be efficiently allocated do not exist, private firms may lack the willingness to assume the risks. Managers of private firms often face intense pressure for short-run returns. Thus, they may be myopic about the future and highly oriented to maximizing short-run profits. Frequently, private firms, ex ante, estimate private rates of return on long-run

investments as being too low, even though, ex post, private and social returns would be unusually high. As a result, investments may be socially suboptimal. Second, large investments are often externality-intensive. An investment project could create opportunities for others elsewhere. For instance, such activities may enable industries downstream to take advantage of scale economies through production expansion, or they could induce greater specialization among firms. It is commonly accepted that investments in human capital and r&d are essential to economic development. But, positive externalities arising from such investments tend to weaken private profit-making firms’ incentive to engage themselves in those areas, even though they may pay off over time, both privately and socially.35 Individual investors’ profit-and-loss calculus simply could not adequately capture such social benefits. If investment and innovation are the two wheels of development, the above analyses show that the invisible hand is not adequate in guiding an economy along those two dimensions. State interventions may be needed to help the economy to achieve its full potential. By supporting the development of education, financial systems, communications networks, and other forms of physical and institutional infrastructure, the state can help private enterprises to employ their productive resources at lower unit costs or reap higher prices for their products.36 By sponsoring basic researches or demonstration programs, the state can give reluctant private firms incentives to undertake their own r&d projects. The state also may invest in building up nationwide information networks that keep track of emerging information in various industries relevant to other industries and disseminate such information. By providing missing information linkages between industries, the state can fill information gaps that impede innovation in production.37 Of course, no government has bottomless pockets. Resources at the government’s disposal need to be used wisely. Historically, no country has embarked on modern economic growth without strategic targeting. Strategic targeting is necessary not only because capital and talent available to a government are always limited, but, more important, because evidence shows that the market alone cannot promote a correct structural composition of industries compatible with the nation’s strategic goals. By employing various policy tools to adjust the industrial structure, the state can use its limited resources to stimulate particular lines of economic endeavor and make its economy internationally competitive. Industrial intervention in the United States during the nineteenth cen-

135 The Changing Role of Government in China

136 Shaoguang Wang

tury was huge. The government then targeted railroads and farmers with land giveaways. The government also played an important role in protecting the home market to permit business organizations to develop and use their productive resources to the point where they could attain advantage in open international competition. In the United States, strong protectionism did not recede until after World War II.38 The Japanese state has gone much further. It has played an important role in preserving the home market for Japanese firms. It has sought to limit the number of enterprises competing in major manufacturing industries, thus creating incentives for existing companies to incur the high fixed costs necessary to attain competitive advantage. It has made efforts to shape the perception of producers and traders, leading them to hitherto unforeseen possibilities. It has promoted cooperative research and development among major Japanese competitors. It has ensured manufacturing corporations access to inexpensive finance. And the Japanese state also has provided industry with a highly educated labor force to fill blue-collar, white-collar, and managerial positions. Without these ‘‘disequilibrating’’ state initiatives, Japan’s transformation from a backward economy into a heavyweight player on international markets might have taken much longer, if it had been possible at all. During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, neoclassic economists often praised the East Asian Newly Industrializing Economies (nies) as models of laissez-faire. Closer analysis, however, reveals the guiding hand of a ‘‘strong state,’’ Japanese fashion, in those economies (Hong Kong being an exception). In East Asia, rather than relying on the market to shape the composition of industries, governments have played a significant role in determining which sectors or industries are more important than others for the future growth of their economies. Moreover, governments have tried to divert resources to targeted industries through complex import controls, schemes of concessional loans, and export subsidies.39 In the end, those governments have had a great influence on the course and pace of industrialization and the evolving structure of the domestic economies. Some ideologues have put the blame on active state intervention for the current crisis in East Asia. But, ‘‘the basic facts remain: no other region in the world has ever had incomes rise so dramatically and seen so many people move out of poverty in such a short time.’’ 40 The cases of the United States, Japan and the East Asian nies illustrate that industrialization does not flourish in a fully free-market regime. Their cases also show that a country’s comparative advantages are not always naturally endowed. Instead, they can be created if right industries are targeted and right policies applied to strengthen their international competi-

tiveness.41 Those lessons are vital for developing countries that are currently constructing market economies because the ‘‘market’’ to which they are ‘‘transiting’’ is truly global and dominated by mammoth multinational corporations. To make its economy internationally competitive, a late developer needs a national strategy on public resources that offers privileged access to them to those national business organizations that can best develop and use them. At the same time, however, it should prevent those organizations from turning into inefficient geriatric ‘‘rent-seeking’’ lobbies. Only a strong state, one relatively autonomous from the influences of domestic and foreign special interests, can undertake such a dual task. The Importance of State Extractive Capacity State capacity is a concept concerning the effectiveness rather than the extensiveness of government intervention. An intrusive, repressive system is not necessarily effective. A functioning market system must be supported by an effective government. For a government to be effective, however, it has to be fiscally viable. Indeed, the extraction of fiscal resources is a precondition for the state to perform any of its roles discussed above. It is selfexplanatory that public financing is required for the provision of collective goods and services, the redistribution of income, and public investment. To be operative, macroeconomic stabilization also has to be conjoined by various fiscal policies, which could be costly. For countries in the process of market transition, extra transitional costs arise. The transition to a market economy is unlikely to be smooth, and the market system that results from the transition is not likely to function in a satisfactory fashion unless the government has sufficient fiscal resources at its disposal. When we argue that state extractive capacity should be maintained and even strengthened in the course of transition, our focus is on the capacity of the central government. In an age of a growing skepticism about the efficacy of central power and central decision-making, it is not fashionable to talk about the virtues of centralization. With no intention to deny the advantages of decentralization, we nevertheless are critical of the currently widespread fetish of decentralization. Just as centralization may have an invisible ‘‘ceiling,’’ decentralization may also have a ‘‘floor.’’ If a system is decentralized to the extent that it incapacitates the central government from properly functioning in areas where centralization is unequivocally imperative, then we may say that decentralization has gone too far. Once a certain threshold is crossed, decentralization may engender serious economic and political crises; overcentralization thus may result in huge efficiency losses. Where does the bottom line lie?

137 The Changing Role of Government in China

138 Shaoguang Wang

Apparently, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly where the lower limit of decentralization lies for a specific country at a particular time because countries differ widely in size, population, culture, form of political system, stage of economic development, and level of urbanization, all of which may affect their optimal degrees of centralization. However, if we compare data from many countries over an extended period, we may establish a ‘‘normal’’ range of decentralization. Then, if the level of decentralization is found to have fallen below the normal range, we may have reasons to believe that the country has crossed the lower threshold. Statistics from twenty-seven countries for the period 1973–92 indicate: 1. The ratio of central government revenue to total revenue exceeded 60 percent in all but three countries (China, the former Yugoslavia, and Canada).42 2. The ratio of central government expenditure to total expenditure exceeded 50 percent in all but four countries (China, the former Yugoslavia, Canada, and Brazil). 3. The ratio of central government revenue to gdp exceeded 10 percent in all but four countries (China, the former Yugoslavia, Bangladesh, and Peru). 4. The ratio of central government expenditure to gdp exceeded 10 percent again in all but four countries (China, the former Yugoslavia, Bangladesh and Peru). Bangladesh fell below 10 percent only in the beginning of the 1970s, and Peru fell below 10 percent only for one year. Therefore, only China and the former Yugoslavia were the real exceptions. These four observations are based on data from many countries, all of them different in size, geographical location, culture, and stage of economic development. Some of these countries are democratic, while the others are not; some have federal systems, while the others rely on unitary approaches. Despite these differences, data suggest that in the contemporary world: (1) a country’s central revenue should not fall below 50 percent of total government revenue; (2) a country’s central expenditure should not fall below 50 percent of total government expenditure; (3) a country’s central revenue should not fall below 10 percent of gdp; (4) a country’s central expenditure should not fall below 10 percent of gdp. If all four ratios fall below the lower thresholds, then the country can be said to have definitely gone too far in its decentralization. Our analysis of data indicates that some countries were below the standards only in one or two aspects. These countries may not have really exceeded the lower limit of decentralization. However, when a country falls below all four thresh-

olds, no one doubts that it has exceeded the lower limit of decentralization. According to our data, only two countries belong to this last category: China and the former Yugoslavia. To arrest the free fall of central extractive capacity, China overhauled its fiscal system at the beginning of 1994. But, the new system has so far not been able to improve the government’s revenue buoyancy.43 Declining State Extractive Capacity and Its Consequences China clearly has gone past the lower limit of decentralization.What would happen once a system becomes excessively decentralized? Can the central government still effectively exercise its power? This section will try to answer these questions. Evidence is abundant that overdecentralization has significantly weakened the central government’s capacity to perform the functions it is supposed to perform; this incapacity gave rise to a series of economic, social, and political crises. Because my space is limited, I focus here on only selected issues. Inadequate Provision of Public Goods and Services Shortfalls in revenue makes it difficult for the Chinese central government to provide adequate national public goods and services. Most conspicuously, it cannot afford to finance the country’s armed forces. From table 1, we can see that in real terms the Chinese military budget has been continuously decreasing between 1978 and 1993, except for 1979 when a small-scale war occurred between China and Vietnam. The military budget plummeted to its nadir in 1989. Since 1990, it has increased, but did not go beyond the level reached in 1978 until 1994.44 As Ellis Joffe rightly points out, ‘‘the overriding financial fact in the development of the People’s Liberation Army (pla) throughout the Deng period has been inadequate funding.’’ 45 The shortage of funding resulted in low military morale. To compensate for the pla’s budgetary shortfalls, beginning in 1985 the government was compelled to give the pla a go-ahead to engage in various business activities. The pla is one of the few armies in the world to become so involved. However, it has become clear by now that ‘‘relying on the armed forces to feed themselves’’ was a bad idea. A military engaged in economic activities not only cannot take on the responsibility of protecting the nation and the people, but it also might use its monopoly of violence to intervene in the economy and politics. The military’s enthusiasm for money-making has gave rise to serious problems, including rising corruption, worsening civil-military relations, lax discipline, ebbing morale, falling levels of professionalism, widening gaps between coastal and in-

139 The Changing Role of Government in China


table 1

Chinese Military Budget, 1978–93 (in billions of Yuban)



Price Index =.

Nominal Expenditure

Real Expenditure

MB Index =.










. .

.  .

.  .

. .






. . . 


. .

 .  .  .

. . .


.  .

. .



. .





. . . .





. . . 


.  .  .  .  . . 

 .   . 

 .  .  . . . . . . 

. . .

. . . . . .



Source: State Statistics Bureau, Chinese Statistics Yearbook, 1997, 267.

land units, etc. Alarmed by these dangerous trends, the central leadership finally decided in July 1998 to take the military out of business.46 Deficient Infrastructure China’s general industrial infrastructure is deficient. Take railroad and highway transportation. The United States is about the same size as China, but its mileage of railway roadbed is more than five times longer than China’s; its highway mileage six times greater. If the United States arguably is not a good comparison for China because it is too advanced, take a look at India. India has reached about the same stage of development as China and has an area only one-third as great as China’s. From table 2, we can see that India’s miles of railroad and highway are much greater than China’s. This railroad and highway deficiency has become a bottleneck in

table 2

Railroad and Highway in China, India, and the United States

141 The Changing


China India US

Highway (in kilometers)

, ()

, , ()

,  ()

,, ()

,  ()

,  ,  ()

Source: CIA, The World Factbook, 1992, 22, 156, 359.

China’s economic development, admitted to by both government officials and economists. Railways and highways, local in nature, are not national public goods. Since the mid-1990s, some provincial governments have made big investments to improve local transportation. But because railroads and highways have strong externalities, local governments often try to prevent people from ‘‘free-riding’’ by setting up toll gates to collect use charges. The result is an excessive number of toll posts, which severely damage the efficient use of these roads. Although the central government has repeatedly laid injunctions on local governments to remove these toll posts, the number of them has risen. In response, the central government finds it hard to enforce its regulations because the money used to build the roads comes from local funds. Deteriorating Environment China is developing at the expense of ecological balance and the environment. According to a report by the Ecological Environmental Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Science, China’s current ecological situation was poor to start with and, except for some localized improvements, has been getting worse in recent years. The center asserts that China now faces a dangerous ecological crisis.47 The area affected by acid rain, for instance, expanded from 1.75 million km2 in 1985 to 2.8 million km2 in 1995. This growth of the acid rain coverage area not only threatens China’s economic ecology and the health of its population, but it also causes dissatisfaction and protests from such neighboring countries as Japan and Korea. At the same time that the environment has been degenerating, the fund for pollution control has not increased (see table 3). Among all kinds of pollution-control funds, probably only two, the ‘‘capital construction fund’’ and the ‘‘environmental protection subsidy fund,’’ come from the

Role of Government in China


table 3

Pollution Control Funds, 1985–93 (in billions of Yuban)



















. . 

. .



. . 

. .

. .

.  . 

. .










. .


. .  .

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

.  . .

. . .










/gnp /gnp (percentages)

Note: (1) Total; (2) ‘‘capital construction fund’’; (3) ‘‘environmental protection subsidy fund’’; (4) ‘‘technical updates and transformation fund’’; (5) ‘‘retained profits’’; (6) ‘‘loans’’; and (7) 2 + 3. Sources: State Statistics Bureau, Chinese Statistics Yearbook, 1993, 822; Chinese Statistics Yearbook, 1996, 742.

national government’s budget. ‘‘Technical updates and transformation funds’’ along with ‘‘retained profits’’ come from extrabudgetary income, and ‘‘loans’’ come from the bank. From table 3 we can see that governmental budgetary allocations on pollution control accounted for only 0.12 percent of gnp in 1985, and since then the ratio has never exceeded that level. In 1995 it fell to 0.06 percent. If the central government makes no effort to control pollution and only relies on local governments and enterprises to solve the problem, the worsening of the Chinese environment will soon bring disastrous results. Growing Inequality The decline of central extractive capacity has undermined the central government’s redistributive ability. In theory, the central government should have prime responsibility for distribution policies. In the pre-reform period, the central government did play a pivotal redistributive role in the Chinese economy, extracting large surpluses from rich provinces and making large transfers to poor provinces. The massive fiscal decentralization introduced after 1978, however, significantly reduced the central government’s extractive capacities. Under the fiscal contract system (caizheng baoganzhi) as practiced between 1980 and 1993, taxes to a great

extent were collected and expenditures undertaken on a jurisdiction-byjurisdiction basis. Consequently, the ratio of central revenue to gdp quickly shrank to a level far lower than those in most countries. Under severe fiscal strain, the central government no longer was able to redistribute resources across the country as it preferred.48 The explosive growth of funds outside central control has resulted in growing interregional, intersectoral, interunit, and thereby interpersonal inequality. Take regional disparity as an example. Table 4 reports average fiscal surplus/gdp (or fiscal deficit/gdp) for China’s thirty provinces in four periods. Suppose that those provinces that run fiscal surpluses remit all the surpluses to the central government, and that those running fiscal deficits receive central subsidies to balance their budgets. Then table 4 can tell us how fiscal transfers tailed off in the age of decentralization. In 1978–80, half of China’s provincial units had financial surpluses. Shanghai then had to turn over to the center a fiscal surplus equivalent to more than 50 percent of its gdp; other more highly developed provinces at the time, such as Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jiangsu, and Shandong, had to do the same, though to a lesser degree. Meanwhile, for the fifteen deficit provinces, subsidies from the central government could be as high as one-fifth to onequarter of their gdps. But, after 1980, as the provinces with fiscal surpluses strategically held back their collected taxes, their remittance to the central coffer rapidly dwindled. Correspondingly, for poor provinces, the relative size of central subsidies decreased sharply. By 1991–93, Shanghai, the richest provincial unit in China, submitted only about 8.5 percent of its gdp to the center. Other rich provinces were turning in even less revenue. As a new rich province, Guangdong’s contribution to the central coffers, for instance, was barely 0.4 percent of its gdp. Consequently, for most of those provinces that were running deficits in the initial 1978–80 period, the relative sizes of central subsidies in 1993 were much smaller. As surplus provinces remitted less to the center, and deficit provinces received less from the center, the center no long acted as an effective redistributive agent. As a result, the quality of life for people living in different regions differs a great deal. In this sense, the changing extractive capacity of the central government has affected the patterns of regional development in China. The regional gaps are going to persist and even widen unless the center’s ability to perform the function of distribution is rehabilitated.49 Rampant Corruption Widespread corruption contributed importantly to the social unrest in the late 1980s.Why did corruption become so prevalent? Most scholars believe that the dual-track pricing system should take the blame. Another cause of

143 The Changing Role of Government in China


table 4

Provincial Fiscal Surplus/GDP, 1978–93 (in percentages)

Shaoguang Wang
















Hebei Shanxi

. −. 

.  −.

−.  − . 

. −.

Inner Mongolia

− .

− .



Liaoning Jilin Heilongjiang

.  − . −.

.  . − .

. − . − . 

. − . −.

Shanghai Jiangsu

. . 

. .



.  . 

Zhejiang Anhui Fujian Jiangxi Shandong Henan Hubei Hunan Guangdong Guangxi Hainan Sichuan


. −.  . . . .


. −. − . . 

. . − . − .

.  . . . .  .  − . .

. −. − . − .  −. −. −. −. −. − . −. −. 


− .  −.

− . −. −. −.  −.  .  − . − . −.

Guizhou Yunnan Tibet Shaanxi

−. −. NA −. 

−. − . −. − .

−.  − . − .

− .

− .  −. −. − .

Gansu Qinghai Ningxia Xinjiang

.  NA − . − .

− .  − .  − .


− . −.  −.  −.

− .

−.  −. −.

Source: Ministry of Finance, China Public Finance Yearbook (various years).

corruption, however, has been largely ignored, that is, the legitimization of what Chinese call chuangshou (creating income) by state agencies. Facing the mounting fiscal deficit, the central government has found itself increasingly unable to fully fund state activities through budgetary income alone. With funds allocated through the budgetary process inadequate to support their routine operation, not to mention providing competitive earnings for their staff, government agencies have become desperate to explore new sources of income. Pinched by a money-tight budget, the central government was compelled to legitimatize chuangshou. Army units, police forces, courts, hospitals, public libraries, universities, neighborhood committees, tax bureaus, party schools, propaganda departments, and all sorts of party and state agencies were told ‘‘if you want more funds for your routine operation and for increasing your staff ’s bonuses, go out to find money yourselves.’’ 50 State agencies became extremely creative in ‘‘making money.’’ Basically, state agencies have three ways to make money. First, they may invest in subsidiary companies that operate just like other types of companies in the market. Second, state agencies may use their virtual monopoly of information and bureaucratic distribution networks to speculate on the difference between planned and market prices. Third, they may simply impose ad hoc charges (tanpai) on individual households and enterprises. Tanpai is not only a way for local governments to raise capital for investment but also a vehicle for state agencies at large to increase their operational funds and bonus funds. That is why tanpai has run wild in recent years. Instead of seeing furtherance of corporate goals of the state as the best means of maximizing their individual self-interests, Chinese bureaucrats are becoming increasingly dependent on ‘‘rents’’ and therefore increasingly committed to the expansion of ‘‘rental havens.’’ As a result, not just individual bureaucrats but also bureaucratic institutions are corrupted. Obviously, the third way of chuangshou has nothing to do with the dual-pricing system, and thereby it would not disappear even if the market reform completely did away with the dualtrack system. To deal with the problem of corruption, the state thus has to stop chuangshou by state agencies. To stop chuangshou, however, the state has to restrengthen its extractive capacity. Making the State More Effective For government to achieve its desired policy goals, regardless of what those goals may be, it must be able to mobilize requisite resources from society in the face of resistance by groups with competing priorities.Without such resources at its disposal, the government may not be able to survive, let

145 The Changing Role of Government in China


table 5

Uncovered Tax Revenue, 1985–96 (in billions of Yuan)

Shaoguang Wang







Sources: Xinhua News Agency, Beijing, 13 July 1993; 22 March 1995; 17 May 1996; China News Agency, Beijing, 28 May 1997.

alone fulfill, its chosen policy objectives.51 In general, it can be said that governments with strong extractive capacity are able to pursue their policy goals far more effectively than can less capable governments. For this reason, state capacity matters a great deal in terms of development. Is it possible for the Chinese government to strengthen its extractive capacity? Yes—under two conditions: the ratio of total government revenue to gdp stops falling, and the central share of that revenue begins to increase. Thanks to the 1994 fiscal reform, the central share of total government revenue has increased somewhat. However, the ratio of total government revenue to gdp remains more or less unchanged under the new fiscal system, which means that the ratio of central revenue to gdp is still very low (less than 6 percent). Why has the ratio of total government revenue to gdp continued to fall under the new fiscal system? Very simple: the government lost a huge amount of revenues. Four major ‘‘holes’’ exist in the system. The first is tax evasion. Because tax evasion was pervasive, the Chinese government conducted a nationwide tax inspection every year. Table 5 gives the figures for uncovered tax revenues during these annual inspections during the last decade. These figures, of course, represent only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that China can collect only 50 percent to 75 percent of its taxes.52 In other words, tax evasion costs China more than 200 billion Yuban a year.53 To a large extent, tax evasion was possible because local governments were not serious in enforcing certain tax laws. The collection of personal income tax is a telling example. When this tax was categorized as a shared tax under the pre-1993 system, it had grown very slowly. However, as soon as the tax was reclassified as a local tax in 1994, the revenue from this source soared (see table 6). The case of personal income taxes suggests that local governments’ tax efforts may be a key factor in understanding the pervasiveness of tax evasion. This factor also explains why in 1994 more than two-thirds of tax evasion instances involved vat, a tax from which local governments received only 30 percent of the funds collected.54 The second ‘‘hole’’ was unauthorized tax reductions and exemptions.

table 6

Growth Index of Personal Income Tax, 1993–96

147 The Changing







a. The first three months of 1996. b. The first eight months of 1996. Source: Shaoguang Wang, ‘‘China’s 1994 Fiscal Reform: An Initial Assessment.’’

In principle, under the new fiscal system, local government no longer had a right to grant tax breaks and exemptions without the approval of the central government. But some local governments continued past practices. In 1994, Wuhan Municipal Tax Bureau, for instance, circulated within the city a document called ‘‘120 Provisions,’’ which permitted local enterprises to enjoy reduced tax rates or even outright tax exemptions. If fully implemented, such local policies could result in a loss of 200 million Yuban in annual tax revenues in the city.55 Wuhan, of course, was not alone in circumventing the new rules. It was estimated that authorized and unauthorized preferential tax policies together cost the government at least 150 billion Yuban of annual revenue.56 The next ‘‘hole’’ in China’s current fiscal system involved extrabudgetary funds. Since the 1994 reform did not touch extrabudgetary funds, it remained as easy as before for local governments to convert budgetary funds into extrabudgetary funds. Extrabudgetary funds amounted to more than 389 billion Yuban by the end of 1996, double what they had been in 1994.57 In addition to extrabudgetary funds, so-called ‘‘extra-extrabudgetary funds’’ have been growing in recent years. Derived from ad hoc charges, unauthorized fees, forced ‘‘contributions,’’ and the like, such funds constitute what Chinese call ‘‘little pots of gold’’ (xiaojinku) for the various government agencies that own them. And they are subject to no budgetary control whatsoever. Consequently, no official statistics about such funds are available. By rough estimate, they amounted to 60 to 200 billion Yuban in 1996.58 These four ‘‘holes’’ were different in nature. The first two and the last one were illegal. It was against the law for individuals and enterprises to evade taxes; it also was against the law for local governments to grant tax breaks and exemptions and to levy fees and charges without authorization. Under the new fiscal system, rules about these illegal activities are unambiguous. Therefore, in order to plug these ‘‘holes,’’ the central government needs not to introduce new rules but to show resolve in enforcing exist-

Role of Government in China

148 Shaoguang Wang

ing ones. Unfortunately, the central government so far has failed to show such resolve. It is almost unheard of for violators of tax law, such as Wuhan local officials who were responsible for making the illegal ‘‘120 Provisions,’’ to be sentenced to prison. Without forceful enforcement, no matter how good the rules are in themselves, they are meaningless. The third ‘‘hole,’’ however, was a legitimate one. As long as it is legitimate for local governments to have extrabudgetary funds, it is extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, for the central government to prevent them from exploiting this loophole. Here, what the government needs to do is to incorporate extrabudgetary funds into the formal system of budgetary accounting.59 It is essential to close the four ‘‘holes,’’ for they are huge. Altogether, they drained the state of 700–1000 billion Yuban of revenues in 1996, equivalent to the size of China’s total government revenues, or about 11 percent of gdp that year. Had the government been able to plug these ‘‘holes,’’ its revenue would have instantly increased to more than 20 percent of gdp, a level close to that of many developing countries. To plug these ‘‘holes,’’ the central government has to institute rules and norms that provide local governments with incentives to increase their tax efforts rather than behaving opportunistically. Between 1980 and 1993, China fiscal system was characterized by three features: 1. Rules were in place governing financial flows between the center and provinces, but those rules were ill-defined. 2. Rules governing central-local fiscal relations had no constitutional foundations, which made it possible for the central government unilaterally to change the ‘‘rules of the game.’’ 3. Although the center held an extensive discretionary power, it did not possess an effective mechanism to enforce its fiscal policy. Institutions are supposed to reduce uncertainty in human interactions by limiting the choices set by the actors. The Chinese fiscal system, however, left too much discretionary power to both the central and local governments, which created an institutional environment conducive for opportunism to prevail. Both central and local governments hoped to reap advantages from opportunism, but each ended up with a shrinking budget (relative to gdp). The lesson to be learned from this period is that when the rules of the game are ambiguous, unbinding, and not backed by threatened sanctions, they will induce cheating, shirking, and opportunism.60 To limit the discretionary power of actors and to discourage them from acting opportunistically, China must replace its old discretion-based fiscal system with a new rule-based system, one in which the ‘‘rules of the game’’

are real rules. For ‘‘rules’’ to be real rules in guiding the future courses of actors, those real rules have to be unambiguous, binding, and strictly enforced. (1) Rules have to be unambiguous in specifying the costs and benefits of choices made by all members of the relevant group in all relevant situations. Specifically, rules should be recognizable so that members of the relevant group know what payoffs they should expect from their choices; clear so that proper interpretation is possible; general so that like cases are treated alike; inclusive so that no one may avail himself or herself of loopholes; and noncontingent so that nothing can excuse rule-breakers. A few more words about noncontingent rules may be in order. Contingent rules may provide flexibility for actors to respond to unforeseen shocks, but to distinguish reacting to a contingency from infringing the rules is difficult. Without a clear distinction, rule enforcement may become extremely costly, if not entirely impossible. (2) Rules are ex ante restrictions that bind the ex post behavior of all parties. The purpose of rules is to define the way the game is played. Therefore, no one in the game should be allowed unilaterally to change the rules after the fact. Economic and political actors’ incentives are often not timeconsistent. While these actors may have incentives to accept certain rules, their incentives after the fact are not always compatible with keeping their pledge; it would be tempting for them to revise the rules of the game. For rules to be effective, then, they have to be able to restrain the ex post behavior of all parties. (3) Rules would not be binding unless they are enforced in ways that ensure compliance. Although rules can be self-enforcing when it is in everybody’s interest to live up to them, another method to ensure compliance seems to be more important in most cases: the threat of external sanctions. The purpose of such threats is to increase the potential costs of rulebreaking actions, thus making them less attractive. To be successful, sanctions must be punitive enough to reduce the benefit of defection to the point that it is no longer the dominant and preferred strategy; also, mechanisms must be devised to detect violations, to measure the extent of violations, and to apprehend the violators. If a sanction is sufficiently large and the enforcement is sufficiently probable, actors may think twice before breaking any rules. In this sense, only with enforcement can rules be sustainable. The enforcement power behind the rule is crucial in any institutional design. China’s 1994 fiscal reform attempted to replace the old discretionbased system with a rule-based one. Now, in 2001, the rules of the game are much more comprehensive, unambiguous, and transparent; and rule en-

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forcement mechanisms are more reliable. By redefining the set of choices of both the central and subnational governments, new institutions severely limit the space within which they can maneuver. Since what used to be within their discretion has become unlawful, the costs of defection are higher. Correspondingly, cooperation looks more attractive under the new system than before. China’s fiscal reform now seems to be moving in the right direction. However, the institutional arrangements between the central and subnational governments in China are still far from optimal; rules concerning some key aspects of the relationship (e.g., expediture responsibilities) are still absent; still no constitutional constraints bind the center to follow ex post the rules made ex ante; huge loopholes continue to be a great drain on state revenue; and enforcement mechanisms rarely put teeth into laws. China still has a long way to go to perfect its central-local fiscal relations.61 Making the State More Accountable Stronger central extractive capacity by itself is no guarantee that China will achieve a higher level of human development. A strong central government is capable of enforcing all kinds of policies, including those exacerbating inequality and sacrificing the environment. In addition to enhancing state capacity, therefore, another set of changes is also imperative—reorienting state preferences. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the goal of development for Chinese policy-makers was narrowly defined. They placed top priority on rapid, aggregate growth. The prevailing concern with growth made them no longer willing to sacrifice growth for such goals as the equitable distribution of income. For the same reason, environmental protection was sidestepped, corruption tolerated, and the construction of a new social safety net delayed. Although the government paid much lip service to education and r&d, investment in those areas remained very low as a percentage of gdp. Policy-makers then seemed to believe that, as long as the economy continued to bloom, prosperity automatically would take care of everything else. China’s own experience over the past two decades shows this assumption to be fundamentally flawed. It is time for the Chinese government to discard its ‘‘growth-first’’ strategy and embrace a broader set of objectives. The expansion of gdp, of course, is an important means for achieving other objectives, but it is a means. The objective of development is to improve human welfare. The expansion of gdp may improve human welfare, but it also may not. The twentieth century witnessed many instances in which rapid economic growth

failed to translate into improvements in the lives of ordinary citizens. Apparently, no automatic link exists between economic growth and human progress. ‘‘Such a link depends on the quality and distribution of economic growth, not only on the quantity of such growth.’’ 62 If growth comes at the expense of the environment, future generations may lose any chance to enjoy our present level of environmental well-being. Thus, sustainability must become an essential component of any sensible development strategy. In terms of distribution, growth by itself cannot ensure that the fruits of economic expansion will be equitably shared. If development is to improve human welfare, then everyone should be able to enjoy its fruits, including better nutrition, more secure livelihoods, greater access to knowledge and health services, and higher living standards. Equity must become another essential component of development strategy. To make development sustainable and equitable, the Chinese government certainly must change its development strategy. However, getting the strategy right is not enough. Changing development strategy without altering the basic political structure cannot guarantee that the new strategy will be implemented or that it will not be reversed. To ensure that the new development strategy will be enacted and fully put in place, it is essential to create an institutional environment in which state policies would be free of the undue influence of special interests, especially the rich and powerful. This equitable balance cannot be achieved unless all social groups are given equal opportunities to participate in the policy-making process. Different groups have different interests. To achieve equitable development, the government should balance their conflicting claims rather than favoring any of them. Thus, in the decisionmaking process, ‘‘participation of the different groups involved in these conflicting claims is a basic necessity.’’ 63 A system of decision-making that allows broad participation can best resist pressure from the economically powerful. Moreover, when the voices of all those involved are heard in the corridors of power, the government will become more accountable and transparent, and its policies less likely will undergo sudden and precipitant change.64 Conclusion China is in transition from a command economy to a market economy. The transition, by definition, aims at gradually establishing the market as the central mechanism of resource allocation. In the course of transition, however, we should avoid what John Kenneth Galbraith calls ‘‘simplistic

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ideology,’’ 65 what Adam Przeworski calls the ‘‘neoliberal fallacy,’’ 66 or what Janos Kornai calls the ‘‘uncritical, mythical cult of the market.’’ 67 The market is not a panacea for solving all socioeconomic problems. Nor is it a neutral, natural, apolitical, and ahistorical institution. Moreover, the market is not an end in itself. Rather, it is only a means to promote social and individual welfare. For this reason, the potential role of nonmarket means, including state intervention, in improving welfare should be neither dismissed nor underestimated. This essay argues that active state engagement is indispensable for facilitating both market transition and economic development, two goals high on China’s agenda. Even if China one day becomes a mature market economy, state interventions will still be needed to correct pervasive market failures and to further promote human development. The efficient operation of the market cannot be attained without government intervention. All governments intervene in their national economics by default or by design. Contrary to neoclassical theory, in the real world, less government intervention does not always produce a higher level of welfare among the people. As many comparative studies have shown, in those countries where governments have played more active roles, economic structural adjustment has been swifter, international competitiveness stronger, growth more sustained, and distribution of income and wealth more equal.68 That potential government policies might improve economic and social welfare, of course, does not necessarily support a presumption that government intervention is always desirable. Markets fail, but so do governments. Therefore, we should not give a blanket endorsement to indiscriminate state interventions. Especially in the course of transition from a command economy to a market economy, the state’s role needs to be redefined and governance needs to be improved. This redefinition involves two changes. First, the range of state intervention should be narrowed. The state should focus on macroeconomic and human development issues while leaving microeconomic decisions to individual economic agents. Second, policy instruments need to be changed. Rather than relying on administrative commands, the government should try to influence production activity through fiscal, monetary, and regulatory policies. Governance can be improved by strengthening state capacity and increasing openness in policy-making and implementation. My purpose here is not to justify state intervention, but to argue against market utopianism. The central fallacy in market utopianism is the notion that the market and the state are necessarily separate and always antagonistic, and that market independence is benevolent while state intervention is not. We should refuse to pose the question as a simple choice be-

tween the market mechanism and state intervention. Evidence from cases of successful development suggests that when the state and market mechanism operate in tandem, when they play complementary roles, the whole is greater than the sum. Wisdom lies in pragmatically developing a mutually supportive structure of market and nonmarket institutions. Notes 1 Hong Sheng, ‘‘Tuidong Woguo Zhengzai Jingli Zhedi TiZhi Bianqian’’ [Pushing the ongoing institutional changes forward], Jingji Yanjiu [Researches in economics], no. 5 (1992); Xiaojuan Jiang, ‘‘Shichang Yunzhuan Yu Zhengfu Zhineng Zhuanhuan’’ [The operational efficiency of the market and the changes of government functions], Gaige [Reform], no. 1 (1993): 62–67; ‘‘Zhongguo Tuixing Chanye Zhengce Zhongde Gonggong Xianze Wenti’’ [Public choice issues in China’s industrial policies], Jingji Yanjiu [Researches in economics], no. 6 (1993): 3–18. 2 Anne O. Krueger, ‘‘Government Failure in Development,’’ Journal of Economic Perspectives 4, no. 3 (1990): 16–17. 3 W. J. Baumol, John Panzar, and Robert Willig, Contestable Markets and the Theory of Industry Structure (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982). 4 Joseph E. Stiglitz, ‘‘The Invisible Hand and Modern Welfare Economics,’’ nber Working Paper 3641 (1991). 5 Joseph E. Stiglitz, Economics of the Public Sector (New York: Norton, 1986). 6 Heinz W. Arndt, ‘‘ ‘Market Failure’ and Underdevelopment.’’ World Development 16, no. 2 (1988). 7 Kenneth J. Arrow, ‘‘Rationality of Self and Others in an Economic System,’’ in Robin M. Hograth and Melvin W. Reder, eds., Rational Choice: The Contrast Between Economics and Psychology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 208. 8 Stiglitz, Economics of the Public Sector. 9 Bruce Greenwald and Joseph E. Stiglitz, ‘‘Externalities in Economies with Imperfect Information and Incomplete Markets,’’ Quarterly Journal of Economics, no. 90 (1986). 10 Robin W. Boadway, ‘‘The Role of Government in a Market Economy,’’ in Warren J. Samuels, ed., Fundamentals of the Economic Role of Government (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989). 11 Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Economic Role of the State (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989). 12 World Bank, World Development Report 1991 (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1991); Alberto Alesina and Dani Rodrik, ‘‘Distribution, Political Conflict, and Economic Growth,’’ in Alex Cukierman, Zvi Hercowitz, and Leonardo Leiderman, eds., Political Economy, Growth, and Business Cycles (Cambridge, Mass.: mit Press, 1992), 23–50; Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini, ‘‘Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?’’ American Economic Review 84 (1994): 600–21; Roberto

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14 15 16

17 18 19 20 21 22

23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

Perotti, ‘‘Growth, Income Distribution, and Democracy: What the Data Say,’’ Journal of Economic Growth 1 (June 1996): 149–87; unctd (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), ‘‘Income Distribution, Capital Accumulation, and Growth,’’ Challenge 41, no. 2 (March–April 1998): 61–80. Richard H. Day, ‘‘Bounded Rationality and the Convolution of Market and State,’’ in Day, Gunnar Eliasson, and Clas Wihlborg, eds., The Markets for Innovation, Ownership, and Control (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1993). World Bank, World Development Report 1991. Kiren Aziz Chaudhry, ‘‘The Myths of the Market and the Common History of Late Developers,’’ Politics and Society 21, no. 2 (1993). Ross Garnaut, ‘‘The Market and the State in Economic Development: Applications to the International Trading System,’’ Singapore Economic Review 26, no. 2 (1991). Ibid. Arndt, ‘‘ ‘Market Failure’ and Underdevelopment.’’ E. P. Thompson, ‘‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,’’ Past and Present, no. 50 (1971). Chaudhry, ‘‘The Myths of the Market.’’ John Lie, ‘‘Visualizing the Invisible Hand: The Social Origins of ‘Market Society’ in England, 1550–1750,’’ Politics and Society 21, no. 3 (1993). Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 161. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), 157. Garnaut, ‘‘The Market and the State in Economic Development.’’ Arndt, ‘‘ ‘Market Failure’ and Underdevelopment.’’ Ibid. H. Leibenstein, General X-Efficiency Theory and Economic Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). Arndt, ‘‘ ‘Market Failure’ and Underdevelopment,’’ 228. William Lazonick, Business Organization and the Myth of the Market Economy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 7. Stiglitz, The Economic Role of the State. Helen Shapiro and Lance Taylor, ‘‘The State and Industrial Strategy,’’ World Development 18, no. 6 (1990). Carter Goodrich, ‘‘State In, State Out: A Pattern of Development Policy,’’ Journal of Economic Issues, no. 2 (1968): 365–83. Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962). Lazonick, Business Organization and the Myth of the Market Economy. Harvey Averch, Private Markets and Public Intervention: A Primer for Policy Designers (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990). Lazonick, Business Organization and the Myth of the Market Economy. Averch, Private Markets and Public Intervention.

38 Shapiro and Taylor, ‘‘The State and Industrial Strategy.’’ 39 Charles F. Sabel, ‘‘Learning by Monitoring: The Institutions of Economic Development,’’ unpublished paper, mit, 1993. 40 Joseph E. Stiglitz, ‘‘More Instruments and Broader Goals: Moving Toward the Post-Washington Consensus,’’ wider Annual Lecture, Helsinki, 7 January 1998. 41 Alice Amsden, Asia’s Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Robert Wade, Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991); Gordon White, ed., Developmental States in East Asia (London: Macmillan, 1988). 42 The ‘‘debt income’’ in Chinese budgetary data has been subtracted so that data are comparable among countries. 43 Shaoguang Wang, ‘‘China’s 1994 Fiscal Reform: An Initial Assessment,’’ Asian Survey 37, no. 9 (September 1997): 801–17. 44 Other sources of defense-related expenditures are generally beyond the direct control of the pla. For the pla, the official defense budget is the only allocation it receives from the government. 45 Ellis Joffe, ‘‘The PLA and the Economy: The Effects of Involvement,’’ a paper presented at the iiss/caps conference ‘‘Chinese Economic Reform: The Impact on Security Policy,’’ Hong Kong, 8–10 July 1994. 46 Shaoguang Wang, ‘‘The Military Expenditure of China, 1989–1998,’’ SIPRI Yearbook 1999 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 334–49. 47 Chinese Science Academy, Guoqing yu Juece [National conditions and policymaking] (Beijing: Beijing Publishing, 1990). 48 Shaoguang Wang, ‘‘The Institutional Roots of Central-Local Rivalry: China, 1980–1996,’’ in Chong-Pin Lin, ed., PRC Tomorrow: Development Under the Ninth Five-Year Plan (Taipei: National Sun Yat-sen University, 1996), 1–40. 49 Shaoguang Wang and Angang Hu, The Political Economy of Uneven Development in China (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1999). 50 Tifu An, ‘‘Guanyu zhenxing woguo caizheng di ruogan sikao,’’ Caijing yanjiu, no. 1 (1992): 8–16. 51 Margaret Levi, Of Rule and Revenue (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). 52 Si Ding, ‘‘Zhengxing caizheng shuoxianyao tongyi caizheng’’ [To boost public finance, public finance has to be unified first], Yunnan caizheng yu kuaiji [Yunnan Public Finance and Accounting], no. 11 (1996): 9–14; Zhongli Liu, ‘‘Zhenxing guojia caizheng shenhua caishui gaige’’ [Deepening fiscal reform and revitalizing public finance], Zhongguo caijing bao [Chinese public finance daily], 7 December 1995. 53 Tifu An and Peng Liang, ‘‘Dangqian zhong guo caizheng: xingshi, wenti, he duiche’’ [Contemporary Chinese public finance: The situation, problems, and solutions], Caizheng yanjiu [Studies in public finance], no. 7 (1996): 15–19. 54 Xinhua News Agency, Beijing, 22 March 1995.

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55 Stephen B. Herschler, ‘‘The 1994 Tax Reforms: The Center Strikes Back,’’ China Economic Review 6, no. 2 (1995): 239–45. 56 Tianyi Yu, ‘‘Guoyou zhichan liushi wenti fenxi’’ [An analysis of the causes of state property loss], Jing ji yu shehui [Economy and society], no. 5 (1995): 45–48; Ming Cong, ‘‘Guanyu woguo zhongchangqi zhengxing caizheng de jige wenti’’ [Issues concerning how to strengthen China’s public finance in the mediumand long-term], Caimao jing ji [Financial Economics], no. 6 (1996): 15–21. 57 Ministry of Finance, Zhongguo caizheng nianjian 1997 [China public finance yearbook 1997] (Beijing: China Public Finance Press, 1997). 58 Si Ding, ‘‘Zhengxing caizheng shuoxianyao tongyi caizheng’’; Yi Xu and Shengmin He, ‘‘Dui dangqian caizheng jingji xingshi de jidian kaifa he jianyi’’ [Comments on the current situation of public finance], Jing ji gaige yu fazhan [Economic reform and development], no. 8 (1995); Chengrui Li and Cheng Liu, ‘‘Dangqian quanshehui ziji yunxing mianning de kunjing yu chulu’’ [Problems in the circulation of total social funds and possible solutions], Jing ji yanjiu cankao [Reference materials in economic research], no. 1007 (1997): 2–19. 59 In August 1996 the central government overhauled extra-budgetary funds and thirteen major categories of them were reclassified as budgetary funds. 60 Shaoguang Wang, ‘‘The Institutional Sources of Central-Local Rivalry: 1980– 1993,’’ manuscript, Yale University, 1998. 61 Shaoguang Wang, ‘‘China’s 1994 Fiscal Reform: An Initial Assessment.’’ 62 Mahbub ul Haq, Reflections on Human Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 15. 63 Amartya Sen, ‘‘Social Commitment and Democracy: The Demands of Equity and Financial Conservatism,’’ in Paul Barker, ed., Living as Equals (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 21. 64 Joseph E. Stiglitz, ‘‘Distribution, Efficiency and Voice,’’ unpublished manuscript, World Bank, 14 July 1998. 65 John K. Galbraith, ‘‘Revolt in Our Time: The Triumph of Simplistic Ideology,’’ in Gwyn Prins, ed. Spring in Winter: The 1989 Revolutions (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990). 66 Adam Przeworski, ‘‘The Neoliberal Fallacy,’’ Journal of Democracy (1992). 67 Janos Kornai, ‘‘The Post-Socialist Transition and the State: Reflections in the Light of Hungarian Fiscal Problems,’’ American Economic Review 82, no. 2 (1992). 68 White, Developmental States in East Asia; Peter Katzenstein, ed., Between Power and Plenty (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978); Chalmers Johnson, MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925–1975 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1982); John Zysman, Government, Markets, and Growth (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983).

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. ‘‘The Invisible Hand and Modern Welfare Economics,’’ nber Working Paper 3641, 1991. . ‘‘Government, Financial Markets, and Economic Development,’’ nber Working Paper 3669, 1991. . ‘‘More Instruments and Broader Goals: Moving Toward the PostWashington Consensus,’’ the 1998 wider annual lecture, Helsinki, 7 January 1998. . ‘‘Distribution, Efficiency and Voice,’’ manuscript, World Bank, 14 July 1998. Thompson, E. P. ‘‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,’’ Past and Present, no. 50 (1971). unctd (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). ‘‘Income Distribution, Capital Accumulation, and Growth,’’ Challenge 41, no. 2 (March/April 1998): 61–80. Wade, Robert. Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991). Wang Shaoguang. ‘‘The Institutional Roots of Central-Local Rivalry: China, 1980– 1996,’’ in Chong-Pin Lin, ed., PRC Tomorrow: Development Under the Ninth FiveYear Plan (Taipei: National Sun Yat-sen University, 1996), 1–40. . ‘‘China’s 1994 Fiscal Reform: An Initial Assessment,’’ Asian Survey 37, no. 9 (September 1997): 801–17. . ‘‘The Institutional Sources of Central-Local Rivalry: 1980–1993,’’ manuscript, Yale University, 1997. . ‘‘The Military Expenditure of China, 1989–1998,’’ SIPRI Yearbook 1999 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 334–49. Wang Shaoguang and Hu Angang. The Political Economy of Uneven Development in China (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1999). White, Gordon, ed. Developmental States in East Asia (London: Macmillan, 1988). World Bank. World Development Report (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1991). Xu Yi and He Shengmin. ‘‘Dui dangqian caizheng jingji xingshi de jidian kaifa he jianyi’’ [Comments on the current situation of public finance]. Jing ji gaige yu fazhan [Economic reform and development]. no. 8 (1995). Yu Tianyi. ‘‘Guoyou zhichan liushi wenti fenxi’’ [An analysis of the causes of state property loss]. Jing ji yu shehui [Economy and society], no. 5 (1995): 45–48. Zysman, John. Government, Markets, and Growth (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983).


Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity Wang Hui Translated by Rebecca E. Karl

The End of History? The year 1989 was a historical watershed; nearly a century of socialist experimentation came to an end. Two worlds became one—a globalcapitalist world. Although China’s socialism did not collapse as did the Soviet Union’s or Eastern Europe’s, this survival was hardly a barrier to China’s quickly joining the globalizing process in its economy, production, and trade. Indeed, the Chinese government’s continued support for socialism poses no obstacle to the following conclusion: In all of its behaviors, including economic, political, and cultural—even in government behavior— China has completely conformed to the dictates of capital and the activities of the market. If we aspire to understand Chinese intellectual and cultural life over the last decade of the twentieth century, we must understand these transformations and their corresponding social manifestations. Before moving into an analysis of contemporary Chinese thought, we first must explore several premises that bear an intimate relationship to the thinking of intellectual circles in the 1990s. First, the 1989 Tiananmen Incident did not change the fundamental reform path that China has followed since the end of the 1970s; to the contrary, under state direction, the pace and extent of the reforms have been faster and greater than even the highest tide of reformism in the 1980s (by reforms, I refer primarily to adaptations to marketization and to economic and judicial structural reforms). Commercialization and its attendant consumption have thoroughly penetrated every aspect of social life. Not only have the social roles and professions of intellectuals profoundly changed, but so have the social

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and economic roles of the government at every level—by daily becoming more intimately related to capital. Second, in the 1990s, Chinese intellectual voices did not all emanate from China; rather, some of them came from abroad. The 1989 Tiananmen Incident precipitated a large westward outflow of establishment intellectuals; in addition, many scholars and others left for different reasons and then either stayed abroad or chose to live in exile. At the same time, a number of those who studied in Europe, the United States, and Japan under late-1970s state policies on overseas study have now received their degrees. Of those, some remain employed abroad, and some have returned to China. From the perspective of intellectual subjectivity, two generations of Chinese intellectuals have undergone different experiences, but both have had the opportunity to fundamentally understand Western society and its intellectual trends. Both generations of intellectuals have brought their observations on Western society to bear on their analyses of Chinese questions, thus opening up a different perspective on China from the one seen by those who stayed at home. From the perspective of learning systems in China, contemporary education and research have gradually become structurally transnational, that is, research activities and the production of knowledge have been incorporated into the globalizing process. Third, after 1989, intellectuals in China could not help but rethink their historical experiences. Under pressure from the harsh environment and through their own choices, a large majority of intellectuals engaged in the humanities and social sciences gave up their 1980s New Enlightenment style; after discussing the problem of intellectual work and taking up increasingly specialized research, intellectuals clearly turned to a more professional style. Initially, they used Weberian theories of research professionalization to justify this turn; this can be understood as a method of self-adjustment under the harsh conditions after 1989. Almost simultaneously, and especially after 1992, the process of marketization accelerated the tendency toward social stratification. This tendency seemingly was in accord with the internal professionalization of research; the progress of professionalization and institutionalization of intellectual life gradually effected a fundamental change in the role of the intellectual. Basically, 1980s intellectuals were gradually transformed into experts, scholars, and professionals. Of course, many other tendencies could be listed here; however, in general, it is possible to say that the three conditions described above produced a vastly different situation from the cultural space inhabited by 1980s intellectuals. Not only has this change profoundly altered the relationship of intellectuals to the state, but the homogeneity of intellectuals as a group

no longer exists. Chinese intellectuals have responded to these transformations in various ways. Some have turned to traditional values; some, to the promotion of humanism; some, to self-conscious professionalism; and some have appealed to a sense of the intellectuals’ mission. On the one hand, these different and contradictory efforts have allowed Chinese intellectuals to maintain their critical and moral condemnation of contemporary society; on the other hand, these very attitudes have become the basis for their own reorientation. Intellectuals in the 1980s saw themselves as cultural heroes and trend-setters. Intellectuals of the 1990s have urgently sought new ways of adapting. Facing a pervasive business culture, they have had to become painfully conscious of the fact that they no longer are contemporary cultural heroes or arbiters of value. Contemporary Chinese society has entered a complex era, and the views of intellectuals as a group have become ambiguous. In modern history, the thinking of China’s intellectuals has centered on how China can modernize and the reasons for its failure to do so. In the 1980s, intellectual critiques focused on a reevaluation of Chinese socialism, which was denounced as antimodern in its very methods. In reality, though, the clarity of this thinking came from the clarification of social questions. For intellectuals, modernization consisted of two things: a search for wealth and power along the path of establishing a modern nation-state, and the process of intellectuals reevaluating their society and tradition against the yardstick of Western society and its culture and values. Therefore, the most accepted paradigms of contemporary Chinese discourse are located within the ‘‘China/West’’ and ‘‘tradition/modernity’’ binaries. Yet, as China’s modernization increasingly converges with global capitalism, its problems become much more complex. First, the cultural and ethical crises of contemporary society no longer can be attributed to manifestations of outmoded Chinese tradition (even as others maintain that these crises result from the decline of Chinese tradition); many of the problems are produced by modernization itself. Second, China’s problems cannot be blamed on China’s socialism, since economic reforms have already led to the formation of a domestic capitalist market, and the private sector is already responsible for more than half the country’s gross national product. Third, since the disintegration of the Soviet and Eastern European socialist systems, global capitalism has become the most significant development in the contemporary world; China’s socialist reforms have already led to the complete incorporation of the country’s economic and cultural processes into this global market. In this context, China’s sociocultural problems—including the very behavior of the government—no longer can be analyzed from the position of a unitary China. In other words, in re-

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thinking Chinese society, the usual targets of criticism no longer can explain contemporary difficulties. In the rhetoric of the historical rise of ‘‘Asian capitalism,’’ tradition cannot be used as a self-evidently derogatory term; with the internationalization of production and trade in capitalism— the discourse of historical globalization—‘‘nation’’ also is no longer a selfevident unit of analysis. (This does not imply that the contemporary world has succeeded in establishing a supranational political system. On the contrary, the internationalization of production and trade has been guaranteed by the old nation form. The problem is that the nation form is less and less able to adapt itself to the process of globalized production and culture. It is in this sense that the nation system and the ability of nations to control sociopolitics are facing profound transformation.) With the complete interpenetration of the activities of capital and social life, state behavior, state power, and all state institutions have been tightly linked to capital; thus, it is insufficient to use a simple state perspective on the problem. (This view does not imply that state analyses are not significant or valuable.) 1 So what are China’s problems? What methods and language should be used to analyze them? The various theoretical stances of pluralism, relativism, and nihilism have eliminated the possibility of the resurrection of unitary parameters of value. Thus, the proponents of various alternative theories, the major characteristic of which is a critical edge, have begun to recognize in the course of their heated debates that the very idea of ‘‘critique’’ is gradually losing its vitality. It is thus necessary to first identify the premise of critique. Contemporary Chinese intellectuals have abandoned their analysis of capital (including the complex relationship among political, economic, and cultural capital); they also have abandoned research into the interpenetration and mutually conflictual relations between the market, society, and the state. Instead, they have confined their gaze to the level of morality or to the ideological frameworks of modernization. This is an especially important development. Capital is penetrating every corner of social and political life, and the processes of modernization are plunging all of us into multiple social crises such as the population explosion, environmental degradation, imbalances in the social distribution system, corruption, and the associated political conditions that are inseparable from these issues. Yet the incredible fact is that the Chinese intellectual world avoids discussion of any of them. Contemporary Chinese social and cultural problems are linked to the problem of Chinese modernity in a number of complex ways. Thus, my question: If China’s historical socialist experiment is the major character-

istic of Chinese modernity, why have the New Enlightenment intellectuals who have borrowed Weber and other theorists to critique socialism not been logically led to a critical reflection on the question of modernity itself ? In the context of contemporary global change, Chinese reforms have profoundly reorganized the basic structures of Chinese society. (The urgency with which intellectuals have proceeded to affirm themselves is itself a demonstration that they have moved from being central subjects of society and culture to being marginal ones. This alteration in the fixed positions of social classes is undoubtedly evidence that the social structure is being reorganized.) On the other hand, Chinese reforms have contributed in unknowable and unspecifiable ways to the developmental direction of global capitalism itself. (Debates on the uniqueness of the Chinese road have managed in the end only to address the question of whether or not there is a modern society in China that has become modern by deviating from the historical model of capitalism. These debates have not addressed the question of whether or not China’s modernization process has significance for the very concept of modernization.) I think that the profound questions asked above are now concealed by the obsession of contemporary intellectuals with morality. The questions themselves reveal the ambiguous historical reasons for the current state of contemporary thought. Three Versions of Marxism As an Ideology of Modernization Before any discussion occurs about the decline of critical discourse in contemporary Chinese thought, it is necessary to understand the historical relationship between Chinese Marxism and modernization. Those Western scholars who rely on modernization theory to analyze Chinese history reduce the problem of Chinese modernization to one of scientific and technological development, that is, to the transformation of an agrarian economy into an urban industrial one.2 Because modernization theory derives from the history of European capitalism and development, modernization often has been understood as the process of becoming capitalist. Marxism, too, sees modernization as a mode of capitalist production. However, China’s situation is different, not only because China’s modernization agenda was set by Marxists, but because Marxism itself is an ideology of modernization; not only was modernization the goal of the Chinese socialist movement, but the movement itself constitutes the main characteristic of Chinese modernity. Although popular understanding of modernization in China centers on the process of transforming the state, the economy, the military, and science from a condition of backwardness to an advanced con-

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dition, this concept does not merely set technological goals, and it does not point only to the formation of the nation-state and a modern bureaucracy. Rather, it also includes a teleological historical perspective and worldview. It is a type of thinking through which China’s social praxis is understood as a path to an ontological historical goal, which in turn fosters an attitude that links existential meaning to the historical period in which one finds oneself. As a result, socialist modernization is a concept that not only points to the difference between the socialist and capitalist systems, but that also implies a whole set of its own values. Thus, the modernization in Chinese discourse and the modernization in modernization theory are different. Inherent within the Chinese concept of modernization are tendencies toward socialist ideological content and values. Mao Zedong believed in irreversible historical progress and used revolution and the methods of the Great Leap Forward to push Chinese society along the modernization path. He used the socialist system of public ownership to establish a prosperous and powerful modern nation-state while at the same time he strove to eliminate the ‘‘three differences’’—between workers and peasants, between town and country, and between mental and manual labor. Through the movement to nationalize the economy, and particularly through the establishment of People’s Communes, Mao Zedong realized his goal of transforming peasant agriculture into the primary agent of national mobilization; he thus successfully subsumed society under state goals. Internally, this change resolved the tax collection problems that were a legacy of the late-Qing and Republican periods; resources for urban industrialization were now to be secured by exploiting the countryside, which was organized according to socialist principles. In this sense, public ownership in the countryside was premised on the inequality between urban and the rural sectors.3 The subsumption of society under the state enabled China’s backward society to coalesce into a united force that would complete the unfinished task of nationalism. Mao Zedong often said that his socialist revolutionary project was the heir to and the development of Sun Zhongshan’s (Sun Yat-sen’s) national revolution; in reality, Mao saw his revolution as the final resolution to the whole first half-century of China’s modernization and as its inevitable culmination.4 Mao’s socialism is both an ideology of modernization and a critique of Euro-American capitalist modernization. But this critique is not one of modernization itself. Quite the contrary—it is a standpoint based on a revolutionary ideology and nationalism that produced a critique of the capitalist form or stage of modernization. For this reason, on the level of

values and history, Mao Zedong’s socialism is a type of modern anticapitalist modernization theory. From the perspective of its impact on the state, Mao’s elimination of the ‘‘three differences’’ in actual social praxis eliminated the possible existence of the autonomous categories of the individual and the state, from which rose an unprecedentedly hegemonic bureaucratic state. This ‘‘antimodern theory of modernization’’ is a characteristic not just of Mao Zedong thought, however; it is one of the major characteristics of Chinese thought from the late-Qing onward. The discourse on China’s search for modernity was shaped in the historical context of imperialist expansion and a crisis in capitalism. Thus, those intellectuals and state officials who promoted modernization in China could not help but consider how China’s modernization could avoid the multiple problems of Western capitalist modernity. Kang Youwei’s one-world utopia (datong), Zhang Taiyan’s egalitarianism, Sun Zhongshan’s principle of the people’s livelihood (minsheng zhuyi), and the various socialist critiques of capitalism all went hand in hand with programs and plans for the construction of a modern state, economy, military, and culture. It is even possible to say that the basic characteristic of Chinese thought on modernity is doubt. As a result, a huge paradox stands at the heart of the search for Chinese modernity in Chinese thinking and in some of China’s most important intellectuals. Modern Chinese thought embodies a critique and a reconceptualization of modernity. Yet in the search for modernization, within this particular discourse, profound ideas and antimodern social praxes and utopianisms have risen: fear of a bureaucratic state, contempt for the formalization of legal structures, an emphasis on absolute egalitarianism, and more. Indeed, in China’s historical context, modernization and the rejection of rationalization have proceeded together, and this step forward has produced profound historical contradictions. For example, Mao Zedong centralized power to establish a modern state system; yet he also launched the Cultural Revolution to destroy that system. He used People’s Communes and collectives to promote China’s economic development; yet he designed the social distribution system to avoid the severe social inequalities of capitalist modernization. He used the nationalization of the economy to subsume society under the state goal of modernization, in the process stripping individuals of all political autonomy; yet he was horrified and pained at the use of state mechanisms to suppress the autonomy of ‘‘the masses.’’ In sum, inherent in China’s socialist modernization experience is a historical antimodernity. This paradox has cultural roots, yet it is infinitely more important to search for an explanation in the two-sided histori-

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cal discourse from which Chinese modernization emerged (namely, the search for modernization and reflections on the devastating consequences of Western modernization). The end of the Cultural Revolution marked the end of a Maoist socialism characterized by perpetual revolution and the critique of capitalism. In 1978, the socialist reform movement began and has lasted up to now. On the level of ideology, the criticism of Mao focused first on his idealistic system of public ownership and his egalitarianism, both of which led to a decrease in efficiency, and second on his dictatorial methods, which led to a political breakdown throughout the country. At the same time that the evaluation and historical summing-up were proceeding, the Chinese socialist reforms, with improved efficiency as their central focus, were launched. They began with the disbanding of the agricultural communes and their replacement by the responsibility system in the countryside. Gradually, the responsibility and shareholding systems were extended into the urban industrial sectors. In addition, in the course of opening up, China’s privatization process was gradually absorbed into the global capitalist market.5 Contemporary reforms have abandoned Mao’s idealistic modernization methods while continuing with modernization’s goals; the socialist ideology of the contemporary reforms is a type of modernizationist as well as a functionalist Marxism. Different from Mao’s modernization, the most important characteristics of the socialist reforms that China is now implementing are marketization in economics and the convergence of China’s economy, society, and culture with the contemporary capitalist system. In contrast to Mao’s socialism, contemporary socialism is a type of Marxism as an ideology of modernization, although it has already basically been stripped of the antimodern character of Mao’s socialism. The reformers are convinced that through economic development, China’s socialist reforms have moved the country one more step toward completing the unfinished nationalist project of the modern period; at the same time, along with the development of science and technology, the transition to a capitalist commodity economy represents great historical progress. China’s socialist reformers clearly consider that the policy to ‘‘allow some people to get rich first’’ is a contingent measure that bears neither on fundamental changes in the relations of production nor on the equal distribution of social resources. Yet, in fact, in urban areas the process of market reform and privatization that has redistributed social wealth (particularly stateowned assets) has not been carried out on the principle of a level playing field where ownership is assigned to the original owner, but rather on a de facto basis that grants it to the last owner.6 What is often neglected is the fact that the pragmatism that focuses solely on efficiency has created the

conditions for social inequality and also has posed obstacles to political democratization. Had the redistribution of social wealth been implemented openly or with some degree of popular supervision, the characteristically extreme partitioning of national assets could not have proceeded so unequally. Since 1978, many debates on reform have occurred. The heart of these debates has not been whether to modernize; rather, it has been what methods of modernization should be employed. It is a struggle between Marxism as an antimodern ideology of modernization and Marxism as an ideology of modernization. A third kind of Marxist modernization ideology is that of utopian socialism. By this term, I mean what has been called ‘‘authentic socialism’’ by some Marxist intellectuals in the ccp. Its major characteristic is the use of humanism to reform Marxism. Such a ‘‘humanistic Marxism’’ was mobilized as a critique of Mao’s antimodern ideology of modernization and could have become the theoretical foundation for the contemporary socialist reform movement. This trend was part of the ‘‘Thought Liberation Movement’’ in China. On the one hand, humanistic Marxism criticized Mao’s disregard for the Marxian ideals of individual freedom and liberation, a disregard that was responsible for the cruelties of social dictatorship that arose under the aegis of ‘‘the democratic dictatorship of the people.’’ On the other hand, humanistic Marxism directly contradicted socialist reform thinking. This contradiction can be said to be a conflict between utopian socialism and the pragmatism of mainstream socialist reformism. The core of China’s humanistic Marxism is Marx’s theory of alienation, as outlined in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. The early Marx took this concept of alienation from Feuerbach and other Western humanist philosophers and used it to analyze the problem of labor in capitalist production. He specifically pointed to the problem of the alienation of laborers in capitalist relations of production. Chinese humanist Marxists wrested this concept from the historical context in which Marx used it to critique capitalism and turned it into a tool for the critique of Mao’s socialism. This trend of thought specifically critiqued Mao’s theories of dictatorship as the historical legacies of tradition and feudalism; it also engaged the problem of alienation in socialism. However, Chinese humanist Marxists offered no critical reflection on the question of modernity itself. Just as with the Western humanist attack on religion after the Enlightenment, China’s humanistic Marxist critique of Mao’s socialism has accelerated the ‘‘secularization’’ of society—the development of capitalist commodification. In certain contexts, Marx’s critique of Western capitalist modernization has been transformed into a type of Marxist ideology of modernization. Moreover, it has become an important part of contempo-

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rary Chinese New Enlightenment thinking. Thus, the major task of China’s humanistic Marxism has been to analyze and critique the historical experience of Mao’s antimodern modernization. Yet in the context of the capitalist opening in China’s socialist reforms, abstract theories of human freedom and individual liberation in the end have become the very definition of the values of modernity. In other words, humanistic Marxism itself has become a Marxist ideology of modernization. For this reason, it cannot possibly launch either an appropriate analysis or a critique of the multiple social crises that have resulted from modernization and the capitalist market. In a context in which economic formation is increasingly dominating society, the type of socialism that primarily targets the socialist historical experience in its critique is already obsolete.7 Enlightenment As an Ideology of Modernization The most dynamic intellectual current of the 1980s was the New Enlightenment Movement. Initially, it proceeded under the banner of humanistic Marxism, but after the Spiritual Pollution Campaign of the early 1980s that was aimed against humanistic Marxism, the New Englightenment Movement gradually was transformed into an intellectual movement with radical demands for social reform that increasingly took on an oppositional, antiorthodox, and antiestablishment pro-Western tendency. The New Enlightenment Movement is by no means unitary; its literary, philosophical, and political aspects have no direct relationship to one another. However, I must emphasize that to regard China’s New Enlightenment thought as simply an oppositional intellectual trend, and China’s New Enlightenment intellectuals as simply political dissidents, makes it impossible to explain the basic sequence and logic of Chinese thought in the New Era. Despite the fact that the history of the New Enlightenment Movement is confusing and complex and that serious divisions had emerged by the end of the decade, it is nevertheless clear, in historical perspective, that China’s New Enlightenment thought has served as the foundational ideology of the reforms. Indeed, the split between the New Enlightenment intellectuals and the state establishment emerged gradually from their earlier intimate relationship. The intellectual fountainhead of New Enlightenment thought derives from Western (especially Western liberal) economics, political science, and legal theory. All of these elements are poised in opposition to orthodox Marxist ideology and are directly attributable to the fact that the Chinese reforms articulated the process of commodification to global capitalism. In this respect, it is impossible to explain the split between New Enlight-

enment intellectuals and the state establishment simply as an opposition of civil society to the state. To the contrary, from an overall perspective, the efforts of the intellectuals and state goals were completely compatible. Intellectuals active in both the intellectual and cultural spheres in China in the 1980s (some of whom went into exile after 1989) occupied leading positions in state institutions, including universities. In the 1990s, some of them have become leading officials in the state’s legislative bodies.8 A more complicated aspect of the problem is that the process of reform has transformed not only society but the state. It has created cracks in the internal structure of the state and deepened factionalism among the ruling elites. The apparent opposition of some intellectuals to the state essentially reflects these internal structural divisions. This complexity was concealed by the post-1989 political situation and the transformed position of exiled intellectuals. Actually, precisely this conscious or subconscious concealment of the internal divisions within the state and their complex relationship to the activities of New Enlightenment intellectuals has already become a huge obstacle to the overall analysis of the 1980s Chinese intellectual situation. The theoretical fountainhead of the Chinese New Enlightenment Movement was not socialism but early French Enlightenment thinking and Anglo-American liberalism. Its critical stance toward Chinese socialism was subsumed under a critique of tradition and feudalism. Consciously or unconsciously, New Enlightenment thinking pursued Western capitalist modernity. In other words, the New Enlightenment critique of politics (and of the state) was couched in an allegorical critique of Chinese socialism as feudal tradition; it thus avoided discussing the modern content of this historical experience. The result of this allegorical strategy is that reflections on China’s modernity (whose major characteristic is socialism) are subsumed under the tradition/modernity dichotomy, where modernity is completely reaffirmed. In the Thought Liberalization Movement of the 1980s, intellectual reflections on socialism were undertaken under the slogan of antifeudalism, thereby avoiding any discussion of how the difficulties of socialism were part of a ‘‘crisis of modernity.’’ In many respects, particularly in its desire to incorporate China into the global capitalist economic system, China’s New Enlightenment has many points in common with the socialist reforms. Painting Mao’s socialism as a relic of feudal tradition was not merely a tactic on the part of the New Enlightenment intellectuals; it was also a means of self-identification. It allowed them to identify themselves with the antichurch and antiaristocratic European bourgeois social movement. However, such a selfunderstanding obscures the fact that both the New Enlightenment Move-

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ment and Marxism, as ideologies of modernization, have many common values and common modes of historical understanding: belief in progress, belief in the promise of modernization, belief in nationalism as a historical teleology, and particularly, belief in the ideals of freedom, equality, and universal harmony. These last three ideals are linked to individual struggle and the existential significance of the individual—both hallmarks of the modern attitude that understands the present moment as the temporal transition to a better future. China’s New Enlightenment Movement, unlike Marxism, is by no means a coherent or unitary intellectual system. In reality, it is a far-flung and jumbled social trend that comprises various and sometimes incompatible elements. These elements were initially united by their shared critique of orthodox socialism, a unity forged in the process of their common support for the goals of ‘‘reform.’’ Nevertheless, we can risk some generalizations about the basic features of this social trend because the mutually exclusive yet mutually linked trends of thought by which it is constituted take as their basic task the advocacy and establishment of a Chinese modernity. The core of their modernization project lies in their supporting the establishment of autonomy and freedom in the economic, political, legal, and cultural spheres. In the economic sphere, through its condemnation of Mao’s socialist planned economy, the New Enlightenment Movement reaffirmed what it considered the rightful position of the market economy and its associated law of value in commodity exchange; it upheld the market (understood as the free market) and private ownership of property as elements in a universal modern economic mode; and it sought thereby to integrate the Chinese economy with the world capitalist market.9 In the political sphere, the movement demanded the reestablishment of formal legal frameworks and a modern civilian bureaucracy; it also demanded the gradual establishment of human rights and a parliamentary system to limit the power of the rulers through the expansion of freedom of press and speech (this was understood as political freedom).10 In the cultural sphere, some scholars have used the scientific spirit or scientism to adopt Western modernization as the yardstick for the reconstruction of world and Chinese history, thereby linking their critique of Mao’s socialism to a total critique of Chinese feudal history and the social structure.11 Other scholars, by contrast, have used philosophy and literary criticism to raise the question of subjectivity to call for personal freedom and liberation while trying to establish social norms and values based on such freedoms (this was understood as individual freedom). In this context, subjectivity means both individual subjectivity and the subjectivity of the human species, where individual subjectivity is counterposed to the

dictatorial state and its ideology and subjectivity of the species is counterposed to the natural world. Such a theory is suffused with the optimism of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European Enlightenment and is couched in the binary framework of subjectivity/objectivity.12 It is worth noting that in the quest for individual autonomy and subjectivity, New Enlightenment thinkers have derived inspiration not only from Western Reformation thinking and classical philosophers (particularly Kant) but also from Nietzsche and Sartre. Yet in the Chinese appropriation of Nietzsche and Sartre, Sartre’s critique of modernity has been conspicuously ignored, and both philosophers are seen simply as representatives of individual autonomy opposed to a powerful state.13 Thus, the internal conflict in Chinese New Enlightenment thinking is often reflected in a split between classical liberalism and radical individualism. Regardless of the magnitude of the internal conflicts and contradictions within the New Enlightenment Movement, and regardless of what degree of consciousness the proponents of the New Enlightenment Movement have about its social effects, Chinese New Enlightenment thinking is without a doubt the most influential of all ideologies of modernization, and it is the pioneering voice for contemporary Chinese capitalism. In the second half of the 1980s, because of the real decrease in social controls, divisions within the New Enlightenment Movement gradually came to the surface. After the worldwide changes of 1989, the essential unity of the movement could not be restored. Because the New Enlightenment Movement socialist reforms had many points in common, the conservative wing of the movement was absorbed by the reform faction of the state to serve as technocrats or theorists of neoconservatism, the official ideology of modernization. The radical wing gradually formed again into a political opposition, focusing on promoting the liberal idea of human rights and pushing for political reform in the direction of Western democracy. Culturally, the radical faction of the New Enlightenment Movement (here, ‘‘radical’’ indicates a cultural attitude toward tradition) began to become conscious of the possibility that the social goal of modernization could become (or could already be) a crisis in values, yet their apprehension of the crisis in modernity went beyond the antitraditionalism of the May Fourth Movement. They used Christian ethics to highlight crises in morality and belief in modern Chinese society.14 With efficiency as the catchword, China’s modernization movement had indeed begun to face the twin issues of value and faith. The derivation of this question clearly came from the transmission into Chinese intellectual circles of Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The book’s most important message (for Chinese intellectuals): If the spirit of capitalism arises from the Protestant ethic, then the

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process of modernization in China must undertake some fundamental cultural transformations. In general, while the New Enlightenment intellectuals of the 1980s wholeheartedly believed in a Western-style path to modernization, their hopes were built on an idealistic individualism or subjectivity and based on universalism.Yet the impulse to raise these questions from the perspective of Christianity indicated that China’s intellectuals were still enmeshed in a Eurocentric universalism, particularly in regard to the concept of abstract and universal man. The major thrust of New Enlightenment thought was thus established on the basis of this type of abstraction and universalism. Only in the course of the movement split did doubts about universalism crop up. Its first manifestation was in the emergence of relativism. By relativism, I mean that some of the early New Enlightenment scholars resorted to traditional values, particularly to Confucianism, to question whether the Western model of development had any particular applicability to Chinese society and culture. This trend of thought had been strongly encouraged and inspired by the experiences of Japan and the so-called Four Small Asian Dragons—Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong—whose successful modernization had been called a victory for ‘‘Confucian capitalism.’’ This concept of Confucian capitalism conceals the cultural and historical differences among the societies encompassed by it; for example, if Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and China all belong to the ‘‘Confucian cultural sphere,’’ why have their historical paths diverged so widely? In the articulation of Confucianism to capitalism, Confucianism is no longer regarded as an obstacle to modernization but rather as a key motivating factor for its realization. In other words, this nostalgia for Confucianism has nothing to do with traditionalism, nor is it a barrier to the cultural force of capitalism. Indeed, in the eyes of these scholars, Confucianism plays the same role as that assigned by Weber to Protestantism in the development of Western capitalist modernity. Clearly, Confucian capitalism is an ideology of modernization. In its rejection of Western values, Confucian capitalism enables exponents to embrace the capitalist mode of production and the global capitalist system—phenomena born of Western historical specificity—while adding a layer of cultural nationalism on top. In this context, Confucian capitalism and contemporary Chinese socialist reforms are simply two sides of the same coin. A derivative of Confucian capitalism is the theory put forth by some scholars that emphasizes the role played by lineage organizations and localism in Chinese economic life. These theorists argue that rural enterprises based on various types of social collectives are leading China along a unique path of modernization that is neither capitalist nor socialist.15 To be sure,

this theory of rural-enterprise-led modernization has an important empirical base, and these types of local and particularistic collective formations have indeed wrought economic miracles in many places.Yet revisionist Chinese New Enlightenment thinkers want to render rural industry as a unique model of modernization to avoid a theoretical discussion of the confrontation between capitalism and socialism and to find within the discourse of global capitalism a non-Western path to modernization. From 1993 through 1995, some Chinese social scientists undertook fullscale research programs and came up with surprising results. The basic questions these scholars asked were: After the dismantling of the People’s Communes, did the peasants become autonomous and unorganized social actors? Is relying on the collective to reach prosperity the same as recollectivization? Is the private entrepreneurial economy tantamount to the beginning of privatization? In the wake of the development of a market economy, do there still exist organizational forms akin to the People’s Communes’ ‘‘three-in-one’’ structure? What changes have there been in these? Is there essential order or disorder in the articulation of various rural social organizations? What is the general characteristic of village social organization? The researchers analyzed and described in detail the changing relations between the collective and the individual after the dismantling of the People’s Communes, the relationship between individual peasant activities and socialized rural production, and the transformation of rural organizations and networks. They mapped out the trends in rural social organization and localization, from which they derived the concept of ‘‘new collectivism.’’ In their view, the organizational methods of new collectivism reflect the principles of competition in the modern market economy and are entirely compatible with the current social system and its efforts toward shared prosperity. Moreover, as a continuation of the quintessence of traditional lineage culture, they reflect the essence of China’s ‘‘collective society’’ and the unique characteristics of China’s current path of social development.16 According to the theory of new collectivism, the modernization of China’s rural areas (or, at least, some regions) is not proceeding toward privatization or a system of private property; instead, it is incorporating a completely new social consciousness that relates models to their organizational constitutions, with ‘‘public ownership’’ and the goal of shared prosperity as the basis. This approach rejects the absolute validity of American and European modernization models. The theories of social thought and historical experience that have been severely attacked and criticized in contemporary Chinese thought are vitiated and receive a different explana-

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tion in the theory of new collectivism. ‘‘New collectivism is a type of social consciousness; as such, it manifests itself in a cooperative spirit, a type of unity, a consciousness of social guarantees, and a type of perspective that sees the possibility of social ownership as dependent upon the larger ‘family.’ ’’ 17 Theoretically, this type of expression is extremely simple. But researchers hasten to use concrete examples and approaches to provide evidence for their theoretical conclusions; their goal is to reject the view that individualism is the sole cultural foundation of modernization and to mount a critique of the ideology of New Enlightenment thinking. According to its proponents, ‘‘the core concept of new collectivism is cooperation, and the cultural foundation of cooperative thinking derives from the extension of the lineage concept’s ‘pan-familialism.’ ’’ 18 The social organizations built on the cultural foundations of this type of ‘‘large-family’’ consciousness bear the traces of lineage culture. At the same time, even though China’s village-level socialist experiments were widely condemned as ‘‘failures,’’ contemporary rural organizations cannot help but bear the traces of this historical experience. For this reason: looking at it from the perspective of the actually existing conditions of rural society, the concept of new collectivism is related to decades of forced ideological education; it is also related therefore to several decades of the reliance of the individual on the administrative functions of the collective forged in the system of the People’s Communes. Leaving aside the collective (nonlineage) functions peripheral to administration and looking at the relationship between individuals and the land as reflected in the collectives . . . there is little difference to speak of between the old collective concept and the new collectivism.19 Neither the theory of modernization led by rural enterprise nor the concept of new collectivism has neglected the historical lessons of the era of People’s Communes, and their delineation of ‘‘collective’’ is rigorously differentiated from the collectivism of China’s socialist period. The most important difference is in the emphasis given to ‘‘individual interests’’; indeed, the ‘‘new collectives’’ are founded on the premise that they are the product of a voluntary cooperation among individuals based upon their individual interests. The collective and the individual are linked by shared interests and local village conditions; the goal of cooperation is to adapt to the conditions of the market economy, and the new collectives are capable of attaining good economic results. The emergence of the theory of modernization led by rural enterprise and the theory of new collectivism has implications for theoretical

and systemic innovations amid the historical conditions of global capitalism. The revived use of such concepts as ‘‘collective,’’ ‘‘cooperation,’’ ‘‘localism,’’ ‘‘village conditions,’’ and so forth clearly emphasizes the problems of ‘‘equality’’ and ‘‘egalitarianism’’ in social production and distribution. Under new collectivism, Chinese peasants, seemingly through the revival of traditional forms, are for the first time moving out of their centuriesold isolation and rapidly developing rural industries. They have developed markets and promoted urbanization (not goaded by the state but created by the locality) and have become in the process an important motivator of, and stable basis for, the expansion of China’s economic reforms to the urban industrial sector. This marks the first time that the Chinese countryside has led in economic reform and has been the primary motive force for the nation’s modernization.20 Yet new collectivism and the theory of rural-enterprise-led modernization both have clear tendencies to generalize and create idealized conditions out of particular situations. Because these theories urgently wanted to promote ‘‘non-Western paths of modernization,’’ they both suffer from the same problem as modernization theory itself, that is, they treat modernization as a neutral indicator of technology. They thereby evade a central problem, namely, the relationship between rural enterprises and the international and domestic capitalist market, as well as their relationship to the state goal of marketization. From the perspective of technology, both theories want to see in village enterprises a unique modernity in their mode of production and social organization, and they ignore the different modes of development that such enterprises have taken in different regions of China; they also seriously overlook the environmental degradation and the neglect of labor protection that have come in the wake of their pursuit of efficiency first.21 Through its idealized description of and disregard for the serious internal contradictions in the production relations of rural industries, the theory of rural-enterprise-led modernization has selectively provided support for New Enlightenment thinking’s critique of traditional social relations as well as for the idea that capitalist privatization is not necessarily the only alternative to socialist public ownership. The theory of modernization led by rural enterprise has seemingly opened the possibility for a third road to modernization. Yet because this theory does not take into account the fact that China’s economy is already a highly active part of the global capitalist market, and because it takes modernity as a neutral indicator of technology, it has been unable to make appropriate diagnoses about either modernity or modernization. We cannot help but ask this question: Have rural industries, for all their uniqueness as a social model, behaved in unique ways after joining the marketplace? The internal uniqueness of

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rural industries does have the understandable intellectual attraction of rejecting global capitalism’s predictions; this rejection can then be mobilized along with culture and other social details to explain China’s unique path to modernization. However, the inventors of this theory have forgotten that the very uniqueness of this path (I am not denying the existence of uniqueness, just as I would never deny that China, Japan, the United States, and England are all unique in their own ways) is today made possible only because of its relation to global capitalism. A ‘‘theory of modernization with Chinese characteristics’’ can have meaning only where the notion of modernization is teleologically assumed. In the past several years of social development, the rural industries in many regions, including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong, have gone through profound transformations; one of these is their transformation into joint ventures. A new economic system is being forged in collaboration with multinationals. It remains to be seen whether rural industries are a transitional avenue to modernization or whether they constitute a new model of modernization. Moreover, the rural industries that have led Chinese modernization have trodden a path markedly different from the industrialization paths of Western and other countries. To use this difference—as does the theory of rural-industry-led modernization—as the basis for a critique of the Eurocentrist insistence on only one model of modernization has great theoretical value and significance. But this theory still uses efficiency as its only yardstick; it is silent on the questions of whether the system of production and distribution in the rural enterprises promotes the expansion of economic democracy, whether their culture is conducive to political democratization, whether their mode of production can protect the environment, whether their organizational methods are conducive to political participation, and whether, in the context of global capitalism, they are capable of setting the systemic and ethical foundations of economic equality. In short, this theory has failed to identify targets of criticism in the economic and political processes of modern society. New Enlightenment thinking has dominated and still dominates intellectual discourse in China. But in the rapidly changing historical context, what once was China’s most vigorous intellectual discource has increasingly descended into equivocation; it has gradually lost not only its ability to critique but also its ability to diagnose problems in contemporary Chinese society. Nevertheless, it has great historical significance because one of its critical targets—political dictatorship—still exists and because its initial intellectual vigor had a powerful liberating force. But China’s New Enlightenment Movement now faces a fully capitalized society. The market economy is increasingly the dominant economic formation, and socialist

economic reforms have already brought China completely into the global capitalist mode and relations of production. This process has created its own spokespeople. New Enlightenment intellectuals, as the definers of values, face a profound challenge. More important, New Enlightenment intellectuals, while deploring commodification, moral bankruptcy, and social disorder, cannot help admitting that they are in the middle of the very process of modernization that they have longed for. As a cultural ideology and harbinger of China’s modernization, New Enlightenment thinking can only be ineffectual now. The abstract concept of human subjectivity and the concept of man’s freedom and liberation, which were useful in the critique of Mao’s socialist experiment, lack vigor in the face of the social crises encountered in the process of capitalist marketization and modernization. Some intellectuals have attributed the crisis to a ‘‘decline of the spirit of humanism.’’ 22 They have gone back to Western and Chinese classical philosophy to seek moral norms and final answers; in the end, they reduce the problem to one of the moral foundation of selfhood. At this historical juncture, New Enlightenment thought has seemingly become an empty moral gesture (whereas formerly it vehemently condemned moralism). It is unable to critically examine ubiquitous capitalist activities and actual economic relations; it also has lost its ability to diagnose and criticize the problems of a Chinese modernity that already are part and parcel of a global capitalist system. But what is this spirit of humanism, and how has it been lost, if it has? In the West, according to Jürgen Habermas, the spiritual influence of the classics first disintegrated in French Enlightenment idealism. One major characteristic of modernity, by the same token, is the division of religious and metaphysical authority into three arenas: science, morality, and art. In other words, the collapse of the religious and metaphysical worldview was intimately linked with modern thought, particularly Enlightenment thought. Since that time, problems that were the legacy of the old worldview were reordered in a new structure of validities. These new validities can be seen as the problem of knowledge, the problem of truth, the problem of morals, and the problem of aesthetics. The wild hopes that Chinese New Enlightenment intellectuals harbored about this process of ‘‘reason’’—that it would lead to the control of nature, to the formation and freedom of human subjectivity, to the progress of morality and justice, and to the happiness of human beings—are now being dashed on shoals of doubt. China’s problems are not the same as the problems of the West, even though globalization is now impossible to avoid. I write here of Western modernity for one reason: If we wish to explore the loss of the humanistic spirit, we must first understand the historical relationship between

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that loss and the efforts of the New Enlightenment intellectuals during the modernization movement. Discussions on the humanistic spirit began in 1994 and lasted for more than a year. Although many scholars participated, they did not even touch on the problem of explaining the collapse of the category ‘‘intellectual.’’ If this so-called humanistic spirit is directly linked to the intellectual activity of the 1980s, how have the dramatic social changes since 1989 undermined this category? Changes in the social position of the intellectual in China include a higher degree of division of labor and a concomitant professionalism, increased stratification within corporations and enterprises, greater involvement of technocrats in state machinery, and changes in many of society’s value perceptions. Intellectuals are not a homogeneous group; they are divided into experts, scholars, managers, and technocrats and are subjected to the same relentless process of stratification as everyone else in Chinese society.23 Ascribing changes among intellectuals to a loss of spirit and their silence to social conditions that lead to stratification can be attributed to the fact that New Enlightenment intellectuals have an extremely contradictory and equivocal attitude toward these social processes. China’s ‘‘postmodernists’’ have exploited this ambiguity in their deployment of Western postmodernism as a tool for the critique of New Enlightenment thinking, even though China’s postmodernism is more ambiguous than its Western counterpart. Postmodernism in China has emerged under the influence of Western, and particularly U.S., postmodernism, but Chinese postmodernism’s theoretical intentions and historical contents are greatly different from the West’s. I consider Chinese postmodernism to be a supplement to the ideology of modernization, despite its theoretical ambiguity. The major sources for Chinese postmodernism are deconstruction, postcolonialism, and Third World theory.Yet Chinese postmodernism has never carried out a full-fledged historical analysis of Chinese modernity, nor have I ever seen serious historical analysis applied to a single Chinese postmodernist’s belief in the relationship between Chinese modernization and Western modernization. In the field of literature, the historical target of postmodern deconstruction and that of the New Enlightenment thinkers is the same, that is, the target is China’s modern revolution and its historical roots. But postmodernists sneer at the New Enlightenment concept of subjectivity without taking into account the historical context of this concept’s emergence. They say that the New Enlightenment attitude is outmoded in a postmodern society dominated by the mass media and consumerism. In this regard, postcolonialism can be seen as the cultural self-criticism of the West (particularly in the United States), a critique launched by peripheral

cultures against the Eurocentrism of white people. It reveals the extent to which colonialism is implicated in culture and thought, and it also indicates the confused process through which colonized peoples used Western theories to resist their colonizers. In Chinese postmodernism, postcolonial theory is often synonymous with a discourse on nationalism, which reinforces the China/West paradigm. For example, not a single Chinese postcolonial critique of Han centrism from the standpoint of peripheral culture has been voiced. What is particularly amusing is that Chinese postmodernists turn the postmodernist critique of Eurocentricism on its head to argue for Chineseness and to search for the prospects of China repositioning itself at the center of the world. In this typical metanarrative of modernism (even though it proceeds under the banner of postmodernism), the vision of Chineseness says nothing about the relationship between this centrally located China and its own traditional culture, not does it say anything about its relationship to modern Western history. Indeed, not surprisingly, the Chinese postmodernists’ vision replicates that of the traditionalists.24 One of the most salient features of Chinese postmodernism is that in its treatment of popular culture, it misrepresents the production and reproduction of desire as peoples’ ‘‘needs,’’ and it interprets the marketized social mode as a neutral and ideology-free ‘‘new mode’’ (xin zhuang-tai).25 In this type of analysis, there is neither differentiation between levels and aspects of popular culture, nor any attempt to undertake a hermeneutic and critical appraisal of the ideology of consumerism and commercialism. Rather, postmodernism appears as the champion of the people and popular culture and as the defender of their neutral desires and their ‘‘unmediated state.’’ It is used to attack other intellectuals and as a legitimation of market ideology and consumerism. At the same time that it deconstructs all values, postmodernism jeers at the serious sociopolitical critical intent of the New Enlightenment intellectuals while ignoring the formative role of capitalist activity in modern life and neglecting consideration of the relationship between this capitalist activity and China’s socialist reforms. In constantly pitting popular culture against official culture, the postmodernists fail to see that the complex relationship developed by the two cultures through the mediation of capital is one of the main features of contemporary Chinese society and culture. Actually, the hopes of the postmodernists ride on commercialism: ‘‘ ‘Marketization’ means the weakening of anxieties over ‘Othering’ and the possibility for the confirmation of the self through national culture. . . . The result of marketization is the inevitable transcendence of the imbalance produced by the old metanarrative and the possibility that the shocks produced by these imbalances and by

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cultural decline can be realigned. . . . It also offers the possibility of new choices, a new path towards self-confirmation through nationality and selfdiscovery.’’ 26 In the post-1989 Chinese context, the rise of consumerist culture is no longer merely an economic event, it is also a political event because the penetration of such culture into people’s daily lives is carrying out the task of reproducing hegemonic ideology. In this process, the interaction between popular and official culture is the main feature of contemporary Chinese ideological hegemony, and what is being excluded and ridiculed is the critical ideology of elites. The academicism of some intellectual critiques conceals their cultural strategy of embracing popular culture (as the defender of neutral desire and the commercialization of culture) to effect the conquest of the cultural center stage. Center stage in this case is none other than the socialist market with Chinese characteristics. Some postmodernist critics have effectively participated in the establishment on the Chinese mainland of a unique market ideology. In contemporary China, the responses to these problems in intellectual circles are offered without vigor. Some Western-trained mainland Chinese scholars in conjunction with their mainland collaborators have been exploring new theoretical approaches to these problems. These young scholars have not necessarily found their own theoretical categories, and their understanding of modern Chinese conditions leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, their consciousness of these problems has poignant relevance, and their mode of thinking has transcended to some extent the West/China binary that remains the focal point of New Enlightenment thought. Intimately linked to the end of the Cold War, their point of departure is that old concepts and categories born of the Cold War era are no longer sufficient to accommodate the realities of post-Cold War China or the world. A new world situation demands new theories. A number of these scholars want to apply insights gained from ‘‘neoevolutionism,’’ analytical Marxism, and critical legal studies to China’s situation by building on the foundation of new systems and structures within China that then nourish their theoretical innovations. So-called neoevolutionism seeks to transcend the traditional dichotomy of capitalism/socialism to introduce theories that can explain the institutional innovations, such as rural enterprises, in the legacy of the socialist economic system. Analytical Marxism, a theory promoted by U.S. scholars such as John Roemer and Adam Przeworski, has been imported to China with the goal of rigorously explicating Marxist positions on the possibilities for the realization of the all-round liberation of human beings and the development of human society in current world conditions. Its core theory is that the historical emphasis of socialist ideals has promoted the

expansion of mass economic democracy in opposition to economic benefit for the few and as a way to prevent the monopolization of social resources by a political elite. Clearly, this theory stems from opposition to the largescale privatization of state property that already has been completed in Russia and is well under way in China. Analytical Marxists believe that political democracy is necessary so that the few can be prevented from becoming the exclusive beneficiaries of privatization; if ‘‘capitalist democracy’’ is a compromise between capitalism and democracy, then socialism is synonymous with political and economic democracy. As for critical legal studies, neoevolutionism’s major theoretical contribution lies in its discovery that the basis of Western civil law since the end of the eighteenth century—that is, the concept of absolute property rights, or the exclusive right of disposal by the ‘‘final owner’’ of a property—has collapsed. In the Chinese context, the significance of this theory is once again connected to the expansion of economic democracy and restraint of the privatization movement. It seeks to transcend the private/public ownership dichotomy and to focus on ‘‘the separation and reconstitution of the cluster of powers over property’’ in order to expand economic democracy and to give priority to the right to life and freedom over the right to property in the constitution. In sum, Chinese scholars subscribing to neoevolutionism, analytical Marxism, and critical legal studies strive to transcend the either/or binary theoretical model and to highlight the interdependence of economic and political democracy as the guiding principle for institutional innovation.27 Whether one uses concepts from socialism or from capitalism is not important. The current situation in China does not easily lend itself to either. The main questions are whether the social problems now faced by China will be confronted and whether careful analysis can be made of the concrete situation. The emergence of neo-Marxism in China is part of a trend toward the revival of Marxism in economics, sociology, and legal studies in U.S. universities. This can be seen as an example of ‘‘traveling theory’’ in the new conditions of globalization. However, a shortcoming of Chinese neo-Marxism, apart from its simplistic borrowing of Western theory not grounded in empirical study of Chinese history and contemporary reality, is its exclusive focus on the economy with little reference to culture.28 If one can say that Chinese neo-Marxism has already brought attention to the problem of economic democracy, it still has not begun a discussion of the problem of cultural democracy. In the present market conditions, however, the possession of cultural capital is an important part of social activity. Control of cultural capital and of the media determines the general orientation of culture and mainstream ideology. For example, the most important arm of the media today is television;

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in addition to state control of the media, the production of TV programming is becoming marketized. In the space between popular culture and state-controlled programming, might we be able to offer as an internal systemic possibility the democratization of culture? Many Chinese intellectuals optimistically, but naively, assume that marketization will naturally lead to the resolution of the problems of social democracy in China. Today, when the interpenetration of popular culture and the media is already extensive, and especially when cultural production is already fully linked to international and domestic capital, to abandon an analysis of cultural production and cultural capital is to completely miss the opportunity to understand the complexity of contemporary Chinese society and culture. Neo-Marxism focuses almost exclusively on economic democracy and rarely if ever touches on the problem of cultural democracy; this is to some extent a reflection of the lingering influence of China’s goal-oriented modernization theory. In the present context, the complex interpenetration of state machinery and the capitalist market means, on the one hand, that the state is completely involved in cultural production and, on the other, that cultural production is part of the activity of both capital and the market. Clearly, in the present circumstances, cultural production is part of social reproduction. Therefore, cultural studies must transcend the Marxist base/superstructure dichotomy to treat culture as an organic part of social production and consumption. In other words, for Chinese scholars, cultural criticism must be thoroughly integrated with political and economic analysis, and this integration must be sought in methodological practices. In this respect, there are few scholars who have developed systemic theories to deal with the problem, for this type of theory requires large amounts of empirical information and historical research, both of which are still lacking. In the Chinese social context, discussions of economic democracy inevitably must involve discussions of the system of social distribution and production; as such, they cannot but include discussions of political democracy as well. Discussions of economic and cultural democracy can provide the substance for discussions of political democracy. Since 1989, a clear decline has occurred in discourse on political democracy.This decline is not only because political democracy remains a taboo topic, but also because in the post-Cold War context, it is both the goal of social praxis and the topic of cultural reflection. The interpretation of political democracy is greatly determined by culture; it also is influenced by the intimate relationship between politics and economics in the international sphere. Chinese capitalism (or should we call it socialism?) is unique; no way can be found

to separate the problems of political, economic, and cultural democracy. Indeed, in the 1990s, the question of democracy has new social content. The debates on Chinese democracy have concentrated on how to guarantee individual autonomy and individual political participation. Chinese intellectuals have approached the problem from two angles. The first uses economic liberalism. Privatization, the development of rural enterprises, and the presence of multinational corporations have made the Chinese economy unprecedentedly complex. Yet many scholars still believe that as a ‘‘natural process,’’ market activity alone is sufficient to lead to the emergence of democracy. They argue that because ‘‘the logic of the market is a free exchange of individual rights’’ and ‘‘the state represents the coercive implementation of public rights,’’ and because ‘‘the former is premised on the assertion and protection of individual freedom and rights, while the latter is founded on the result of public choice,’’ the development of the market itself constitutes a guarantee of individual freedom and rights.29 In this discourse of economic liberalism, individual rights are guaranteed by the logic of the market, and even though the market and the state have a complicated relationship, the market nevertheless puts certain restrictions on the excessive expansion of state power. The state not only is seen as completely exterior to the market but as the direct antithesis of the individual. The second angle used by Chinese intellectuals proceeds along the lines of the discourses on civil society and the public sphere. More and more people have recognized that the market is not exterior to the state and that between the market and the state is ‘‘society.’’ As a middle force, society can maintain the balance of power between state and market. Under the influence of Jürgen Habermas, many people have turned their attention to civil society and the public sphere. They believe that a Westernstyle civil society is emerging in China, or at least they call for its emergence as a defender of the civil rights and freedoms of the individual against the excessive interference of the state. But market reforms in China were initiated by a strong state from the very beginning; it is doubtful that a state-sponsored civil society could provide an effective counterbalance to the state in this state/civil society dichotomy.30 For example, members of the political elite or their families directly participate in economic activity and have become agents for large corporations and industries. Can we call them representatives of civil society? In China, political and economic elites have been completely conflated, and they participate in international economic activity. The worst scandals in the economic sphere exposed thus far have all involved top-level bureaucrats and their dependents.

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Other scholars have turned their attention to the sphere of cultural production. Several ‘‘civilian’’ or ‘‘independent’’ journals emerged after 1989. The first was Xueren [The scholar], followed by Zhongguo shehui kexue jikan [Chinese social science quarterly], Yuandao [Inquiry into the way], and Gonggong luncong [Public forum].31 A number of semiofficial publications such as Zhanlue yu guanli [Strategy and management] and Dongfang [The orient] also appeared.32 In addition, state-owned China Central Television (cctv) began broadcasting the program Dongfang shikong [Oriental time and space], which was made by freelance producers. All this activity has changed the cultural scene considerably. But two things should be noted about ‘‘unofficial’’ publications. First, they are published by state-owned publishing houses (in the absence of nonstate publishing houses), and second, their legal status is ambiguous since they have no proper isbn identification. Significantly, these journals are usually more cautious about printing critical material than are official publications because of the ‘‘unofficial’’ publications’ greater vulnerability and lack of systemic protection. Thus, the public sphere in China is not a mediating space between state and society; rather, it is the result of the penetration of society into a certain space in the state. Dushu [Reading] is a case in point. Generally seen as the standard-bearer of free thinking, this journal is by no means an unofficial publication; it is published by a state publishing house and administered by the Bureau of Journalism and Publications. It therefore has no real power to resist state intervention. The TV program Dongfang shikong is also pertinent here. To be sure, because of the participation of freelance producers, it is markedly different from the monotonous and superficial state news programs in its use of imagery, language, style of presentation, and content. Nevertheless, it is under strict state control and must meet the requirement of creating and promoting state ideology. After 1989, many scholars from the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China have imported Habermas’s concept of civil society into China. In the West, civil society and the public sphere may indeed be intimately linked and may function as the critical supervisor of the state, but in mainland China the public sphere emerged before a mature civil society, and it exists very much within the state apparatus. Its existence in this position is facilitated by the assistance offered by international and domestic financial aid and by the needs of the state and the internal splits within the ruling elite. The position of the media in the social structure forcefully points to the vast differences between China’s public sphere and the public sphere in Europe, of which Habermas speaks. It is important to do more research into the complex relations between society and the state; it is also important to recognize that, within this complexity, neither the market nor

society is a ‘‘natural’’ deterrent to state power. This recognition highlights the fact that economic and cultural democracy are inseparable from political democracy; it also demonstrates that the hope of the market somehow automatically leading to equity, justice, and democracy—whether internationally or domestically—is just another kind of utopianism.33 The decline of the New Enlightenment Movement marks the end of the most recent phase of Chinese thought. Yet we also can say that this decline has come about because of the arrival of the modernization that the New Enlightenment Movement pushed for. Its decline is its triumph. These mutually conflicting yet mutually supportive two aspects have produced a rationalization and a legitimization of China’s modernization and have illuminated the path for a Chinese society facing global capitalist marketization reforms. In this era of multinational capitalism, the New Enlightenment Movement was able only to produce a critique internal to the nation-state and particular to state behavior. It was unable to turn its critique of state dictatorship toward a critique and an analysis of the changing relationship between state and society and the conditions of changing state behavior in a market economy. It also was unable to come to an understanding of the fact that China’s problems are already deeply embroiled in world capitalism and that any diagnosis of those problems will have to come to terms with the steadily increasing problems produced by capitalist globalization. Finally, the movement was unable to recognize the futility of using the West as a yardstick in its critique of China. The discourse of the Chinese New Enlightenment Movement is built on the basic goal of modernizing the nation-state, whose origins are in Europe and have by now become the global prescription of the capitalist process. New Enlightenment thinking has been unable to transcend these goals to formulate a critique of the problem of China’s modernity in the era of global capitalism. In the wake of declining New Enlightenment thought, what we see are its remnants; on these ruins sits the capitalist market that crosses all national boundaries. Even dictatorial state behavior that was the primary target of New Enlightenment thinking has been constrained by this huge market. Thus, at the end of the twentieth century, there were those who already had announced an end to history. Facing the Twenty-First Century: Critical Thoughts on the Era of Global Capitalism The two most important events of the end of the twentieth century are the collapse of Eastern European socialism and the reorientation of China toward capitalism through its ‘‘socialist reforms.’’ They bring to a close the

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Cold War conflict between two opposing ideologies. At this crossroads of history, all sorts of prophecies about the twenty-first century have been proposed: it will be the era of a new industrial revolution; it will be the century in which population problems and problems of living standards will be resolved; it will be the era of cultural and religious renaissance; it will be the Pacific era. Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard University in his 1993 essay ‘‘The Clash of Civilizations?’’ said that the major arena of conflict between peoples in the contemporary world is no longer ideology or economics, but civilization. In world affairs, the nation-state is still the major actor, but the major conflict in global politics will occur between peoples and states from different civilizations. Conflict between civilizations will thus dominate world politics.34 I do not intend to discuss these predictions here (others have already touched on questions such as whether, in the context of world politics, it is possible for states to put cultural and civilizational values above economic and political interests). I simply want to raise a question. In the postCold War era, China and other (former) socialist countries have become an important, or even the most dynamic, component of the world capitalist market. Indeed, East Asia could be turning its accustomed peripheral position in the former world capitalist system into the economic center of the new world capitalist order. Under such circumstances, what are we to make of the internal contradictions of the capitalist mode of production in the twenty-first century? For example, in the course of marketization in China, what will the relationship be between state, private, and foreign capital? What will the relationship be between new classes and social groups? What of the relationship between peasants and urban populations? Between the developed coastal regions and the backward hinterland? All of these relationships must be placed within the context of capitalist relations of production and particularly in their relationship to the market. The fundamental question is: How will changes in these relations impinge on Chinese society and the world capitalist market? In the era of multinational capitalism, do these ‘‘internal relations’’ matter any more? I am reminded here of the warning of that giant of liberal theory, Max Weber, who said that the rationality of modern capitalism would inevitably lead to a system in which some people rule over others; in this context, nothing, he said, would be able to root out faith in and hope for socialism. Is there still any relevance to these words, now that the global socialist movement seems to have ended in failure? The problem, though, is even more complex. As both a method and an embodiment of China’s modernization, Chinese socialism has led to an even harsher form of state domination over society and people than ever

existed under capitalism. Weber’s and Marx’s critiques of modernity were based on their observations and understandings of capitalism. Today, we must link our critique of the history of Chinese socialism to a critique of modernity and to the fact that the problem of modernity was first raised as an issue of European capitalism. The modern socialist movement was brought about by an analysis of the internal contradictions of capitalism and by the aspiration to overcome these contradictions, but the practice of socialism not only failed to complete the task of this aspiration, but it ended by being absorbed into global capitalism. At the same time, the self-criticism of capitalism derived from socialist opportunities for reform; today, it is impossible to carry out a critique of socialism or capitalism on the basis of the autonomous unit of the nation-state. In this regard, because we are still at the stage where modernization is the historical goal, a rethinking of Chinese socialism, in both its past experience and as a contemporary and future prediction, is imperative. Traditional socialism is unable to resolve the internal crisis of modernity, and both Marxism and New Enlightenment thinking, as ideologies of modernization, are devoid of force and unable to formulate appropriate approaches to contemporary world developments. Here is where the imperative to rethink the China question is located. Chinese intellectuals are now engaged in discussions of the question of globalization. Most of them, however, understand globalization within the context of the Confucian ideal of universal harmony. In my opinion, this type of universalism is nothing more than another version of the centurylong modernist dream of ‘‘meeting the world’’ (really, ‘‘meeting the West’’). Some scholars regard globalization as a new world order, forgetting that this order has been long in the making; as a process set in motion by the rise of capitalism, it has passed through several stages. Before the Industrial Revolution and the rise of commercialism (1500–1800), commercial capital occupied the Atlantic, turning parts of it into European peripheries (e.g., the Americas); during its classical period (1800–1945), Asia (excluding Japan), Africa, and Latin America came to occupy the periphery of Western capitalism and were integrated into the global division of labor through agriculture and mining industries. During this period an industrial sector began to develop within each bourgeois nation-state, and national liberation movements simultaneously arose in the peripheral countries. The dominant ideology of these movements was their singleminded pursuit of modernization and the establishment of a wealthy and strong nation-state; they took ‘‘catching up’’ as synonomous with progress and equated industrialization with liberation. From the end of World War II until today, the peripheral states have undertaken industrializa-

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tion under globally disadvantageous and unequal conditions. China, along with many other Asian, African, and Latin American countries, did indeed achieve political independence, yet in the process of the globalization of capitalism, the self-sufficiency of national industries collapsed. These countries all found themselves being reorganized into a unified world system of production and trade.35 Globalization cannot resolve the multiple social problems we now face. From the perspective of the development of the modern world, the globalization of production and trade has not produced new political and social institutions capable of transcending the new organizational forms of state and society within nation-states, nor has it been able to address the political and economic problems of the peripheral regions of Asia and Latin America. It has been even less able to bridge the so-called north-south gap. Further, it is clear that globalization has weakened the nation-state, but it has not changed nation-states’ political, economic, and military domination over their own societies. As for China, the interpenetration of and mutual conflict between international and state control of capital that has resulted from China’s increasingly deep involvement in globalized production and trade has led to increased complexity in the domestic economy and to inevitable systemic corruption. (Recall that in China, as in other Third-World countries, those who control domestic capital are in fact the same as those who control political power.) This corruption has seeped into the political, economic, and moral spheres, giving rise to serious social inequities at every level. Even from the standpoint of pure efficiency, if institutional innovations are unable to stop the disintegration of society, such systemic corruption will constitute a major obstacle to economic development and will encourage a destructive consumerism that will rapidly drain national and social resources. The upshot: The teleology of modernization that has dominated Chinese thinking for the past century must now be challenged. We must reconsider our old familiar patterns of thought. Even though no one theory can explain the complex and often mutually contradictory problems that we now face, it nevertheless behooves Chinese intellectuals to break their dependence on time-honored binary paradigms, such as China/West and tradition/modernity, and to reconsider China’s search for modernity and its historical conditions by placing these questions in the context of globalization. This is an urgent theoretical problem. Socialist historical practice is part of the past; the future designs of global capitalism, by the same token, do not promise to overcome the crisis of modernity that Weber

wrote about. The modern era, as a historical phase, continues. This provides the impetus for the continued existence and development of critical thought; it may prove for Chinese intellectuals to be a historic opportunity for theoretical and institutional innovation. Notes


2 3



The translator consulted a translation by Sylvia Chan of a shorter version of this essay. For example, in the Sino-American debates and negotiations over human rights, it is important to analyze whether these in the end are to be understood as economic or political rights. For example, see Gilbert Rozman, ed., The Modernization of China (in Chinese) (Nanjing: Jiangsu Renmin Chubanshe, 1988). The problem of the urban-rural relationship and its place in China’s modernization process through the 1950s is also related to the decision by the Chinese Communist Party to abandon New Democracy and move directly into socialism. On this question, see Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, Kaifangzhong de bianqian: Zailun Zhongguo shehui chaowending jiegou [Changes in the course of opening: A further discussion of the superstable structure of Chinese society] (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 1993), 411–60. See Mao Zedong, ‘‘The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party,’’ in Mao Zedong’s Selected Works (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1996), 610–50. The significance of the post-1979 rural reforms must be understood in the historical context of the 1950s, when it seemed that the collective model seemingly could avoid the motivational problems of capitalism at the same time that it transformed a small peasant economy into a modern one. Yet, once collectivization reached a certain point, with no encouragement for mechanization, it led to a decrease in efficiency. (See Lin Yifu, Zhidu, jishu yu Zhongguo nongye fazhan [Systems and technology in China’s rural development] (Shanghai: Sanlian Shudian, 1992], 16–43.) More important still, according to Gao Shouxian: ‘‘[this situation] obstructed the expansion of employment opportunities outside the agricultural sector. Although the government made industrialization a primary goal, in the villages, they strenuously limited the opportunities for employment outside agriculture. Because the government . . . exerted unprecedented control over the countryside, these restrictions were particularly effective. In contrast to what had gone on previously, during collectivization the degree of individual freedom of choice not only did not increase, it contracted severely. This radically restricted the development of the rural economy.’’ In Gao’s opinion, the post-1979 rural reforms ‘‘offered a relatively free ‘structure of opportunity’ and gave local collectivities and individual peasants both autonomy and the freedom to experiment. In this way, they could

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more flexibly search for and find different paths to economic development and other employment opportunities’’ (Gao Shouxian, ‘‘Zhidu chuangxian yu Ming Qing yilai de nongcun jingji fazhan’’ [Institutional innovation and rural development since the Ming and Qing dynasties], Dushu, no. 194 (May 1995): 123–29). Philip Huang points out that the changes since the reforms are ‘‘not, as many people think, a dramatic breakthrough produced by free marketization and the high degree of rural family stimulation; rather, they are the product of the diversification of the rural economy and of the redirection of excess rural labor power to nonagricultural employment.’’ He adds: ‘‘in China’s reforms of the 1980s, the most significant and enduring change in the rural sector is that in the wake of the rural economy’s diversification there is a growing overdensity of activity; it is not, as is popularly believed, the marketization of rural production. . . . After the introduction in the 1980s of the rural family responsibility system, agricultural production has stopped increasing; a very tiny number of peasants have become wealthy by following either the ‘static electricity’ model or the mechanically predicted model of bureaucratic rhetoric. On average, the 1980s marketization of the rural sector is not performing any better in the production of commodities than it did in the 600 years between 1350 and 1950, or even than it did in the thirty years of collectivization.’’ Huang continues: ‘‘For example, the problem of Sanjiaozhou Village on the Yangzi River has never been and is not now either the marketization or the collectivization of rural production; it is not socialism or capitalism; it is rather overdensity and the necessity to continue developing’’ (Philip Huang, The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta [in Chinese] (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1992), 16–17. 6 See Su Wen, ‘‘Shanzhongshui fuying you lu: Qian Su Dong guojia zhuanqu guocheng zaipinglun’’ [There must be a way in this complicated landscape: A further discussion of perestroika in the former Soviet Union and the East], Dongfang, no. 1 (January 1996): 37–41. 7 Although the debates on Marxist humanism were not started by Zhou Yang, the report he gave at the conference in commemoration of the centennial of Marx’s death attracted a lot of criticism. The revised and edited version of his report was published in the 16 March 1983 People’s Daily, but the original text, distributed to conference delegates, was confiscated. The report’s original title was ‘‘An Exploration of Several Theoretical Problems in Marxism.’’ The most trenchant criticism came from then-party theorist Hu Qiaomu, who, in a speech to the Central Party School, took Zhou Yang’s and others’ perspectives on Marxism to task without naming them. His speech was first published in the Central Party School’s Theory Monthly, and it was followed by a pamphlet published under the title On Humanism and Alienation (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1984). Actually, this issue had attracted the attention of several theorists in 1978, and the People’s Publishing House had put out an anthology in 1981, Ren shi Makesizhuyi de chufadian: Renxing, rendaozhuyi wenti lunji [Man

is the starting point of Marxism: A collection of articles on human nature and humanism], which included essays by Wang Ruoshui, Li Pengcheng, and Gao Ertai, among others. In those discussions, man and human nature were the bases of the debates on humanism. Deism and bestialism (shoudao zhuyi) are the two terms most often used as opposites of humanism. Deism indicates the tyranny of religion, and in Chinese discourse it is a metaphor for the Cultural Revolution’s ‘‘contemporary superstition.’’ Bestialism indicates feudal dictatorship or fascism, and in Chinese discourse it is a metaphor for the ‘‘complete dictatorship’’ of the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps because of the influence of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Chinese Marxist humanism considers the reconceiving of man to be the primary problem of Marxism; it points out that Stalin’s Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism paid insufficient attention to this problem. In addition, Chinese Marxist humanists point out that Lenin was not familiar with Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (which was not published until 1932). Wang Ruoshui’s ‘‘Man Is the Starting Point of Marxism’’ mentions that Mao in 1964 supported the concept of alienation and thought that it had made a comeback. All of those points make clear that China’s Marxist humanism was launched as a critique of China’s socialist historical experience, using either an allegorical strategy to subsume China’s socialism under feudalism or deploying the concepts of humanism and alienation in popularized forms. Both humanism and alienation conceal an affirmation of the values of modernity and particularly the values of the New Enlightenment Movement. In this explanatory model, socialism was never an anticapitalist modernization formation; on the contrary, the socialist historical experience was a complete affirmation of the values of European modernity. 8 The history of the formation of the New Enlightenment Movement in the 1980s is exceedingly complex.One might point to a 1979 conference on theory, attended mostly by CCP theorists, as an originary event. Previously, Nanjing University professor Hu Fuming had circulated a draft of the article ‘‘Practice Is the Sole Criterion of Truth,’’ which was revised by Sun Changjiang, Wang Qianghua, and Ma Peiwen and published in the 11 May 1978 Guangming Daily. This article provided the theoretical justification for the Thought Liberalization Movement. The revision and publication of the article were both supported by the then-leaders of state. (For an account, see Hu Fuming, ‘‘Zhenli biaozhun dataolun de xuqu: Tan shijian biaozhun yiwen de xiezuo, zenggai he fabiao guocheng’’ [Prelude to the large debates on the criterion of truth: A discussion of writing, revising, and publication of the practice criterion essay], Kaifang shidai [Guangzhou], nos. 1–2 [1996]: 1–25.) From the memoirs of Li Chunguang and other protagonists in the event, it is clear that the Thought Liberalization Movement was closely tied to top-level leaders, even though some protagonists for various reasons have gone abroad since 1989 or have become recluses. Others, however, have become top-level officials themselves (e.g., Wang Qishan, who is vice-director of the Chinese People’s Bank and the

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director of the China Development Bank). Even the Zouxiang Weilai (Toward the Future) Group is representative of this trend. Although a good number of them have gone abroad since 1989, some still hold important posts in China. Beijing University professor Li Yining, who, in the 1980s, was for a time infamous for introducing Western economic thought into the classroom, is now a vice-director in the legal department of the Chinese People’s Consultative Congress. In contrast to that group, there also are literary and social science groups, such as the early 1980s Jintian [Today] faction and the mid-1980s Culture: China and the World editorial board. These groups were basically apolitical. It is worth noting that even though Jintian’s representative voice, Bei Dao, was implicated in the then-political Misty Poetry Movement, he is a strong supporter of literary autonomy. The Culture: China and the World Group also did not get directly involved in political questions. Both groups’ relatively apolitical stances had political consequences, of course, yet they also helped forge social spaces for autonomous intellectual activity and values. Initial discussions of the law of value and a commodity economy were conducted within the framework of a Marxist political economy. The most influential contributions were those of Sun Yefang. But more recent scholarship has revealed that Gu Zhun first raised the issue and discussed it with Sun. These discussions of the law of value are representative of major developments in Chinese thought in the 1980s. These rethinkings of basic categories of Marxism served as the theoretical foundation for the implementation of the market reforms. The calls for legal reform were connected to the reevaluations of the Cultural Revolution and were initially undertaken under the aegis of the popular postCultural Revolution proposition that ‘‘everyone is equal before the law,’’ put forward by the former chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Peng Zhen. But the theoretical foundations for these ideas derived from older and younger scholars. Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng’s Xingsheng yu weiji [Booms and crises] (Changsha: Hunan People’s Publishers, 1984) was the first book to argue that the structure of China’s feudal society was ‘‘superstable’’ compared to the dynamic structure of modern Western civilization. Underlying their thesis is the question of why China did not succeed in achieving Western-style modernization. This thesis continues to inform their most recent book, Kaifangzhong de bianqian [Change in the course of opening up] (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 1993). The problem of subjectivity was first put forward by Li Zehou in his work on Kantian philosophy; he later published several essays on the question. See Li Zehou, Pipan zhexue de pipan [A critique of critical philosophy], rev. ed. (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1984). This theory was made known to a wider audience through its enormous influence on Liu Zaifu. In ‘‘Lun wenxue de jutixing’’ [On subjectivity in literature] and other essays, Liu turned a metaphysical problem into the banner for a literary and intellectual movement. See





17 18 19 20 21

Liu Zaifu, ‘‘Lun wenxue de jutixing,’’ pts. 1 and 2, Wenxue pinglun, no. 6 (1985): 11–26; no. 1 (1986): 3–15. Contemporary Chinese intellectuals’ understanding of Nietzsche is far less profound than that of the early-twentieth-century Lu Xun. While today’s intellectuals take both Nietzsche and Sartre as representatives of individual autonomy, Lu Xun as early as 1907 noted the antimodern strain in Nietzsche and other thinkers of his time. Liu Xiaofeng, Cheng jiu yu xiaoyao [Salvation and leisure] (Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe, 1988) was the first book to raise this issue, which fostered much debate among intellectuals. Liu himself has gradually moved from German philosophy to the study of Christianity. Gan Yang, ‘‘Xiangtu Zhongguo chongjian yu Zhongguo wenhua qianjing’’ [The reconstruction of rural China and the prospects for Chinese culture], Ershiyi shiji, April 1993, 4, 7. For a critical view of Gan Yang, see Qin Hui, ‘‘Litu bu lixiang: Zhongguo xiandaihua de dute moshi?’’ [Leaving the land without leaving the village: Is this a unique Chinese model of modernization?], Dongfang, no. 1 (1994): 6–10. On rural industries, see Yang Mu, ‘‘Zhongguo xiangzhen qiji de qishi: Sanshige xiangzhen qiye diaocha de zonghe fenxi’’ [The miracle of China’s rural industries: A general analysis of investigations into thirty rural industries]; Wang Hansheng, ‘‘Gaige yilai zhongguo nongcun de gongyehua yu nongcun jingying goucheng de bianhua’’ [Transformations enabled by rural industrialization and village elites since the reforms in China]; and Sun Binglin, ‘‘Xiangzhen shetuan yu zhongguo jicheng shehui’’ [Villagelevel collectives and Chinese grassroots society], Zhongguo shehui kexue jikan, no. 9 (Fall 1996): 5–17, 18–24, 25–36. See Wang Ying, Xin jitizhuyi: Xiangcun shehui de zaizhuzhi [New collectivism: The reorganization of rural society] (Beijing: Jingji Guanli Chubanshe, 1996); and Wang Ying, She Xiaoye, and Sun Binglin, Shehui zhongjiancheng: Gaige yu Zhongguo de shetuan zuzhi [The middle stratas of society: Reform and China’s social organization] (Beijing: Zhongguo Fazhan Chubanshe, 1993). These books analyze Chinese society in detail after the reforms, particularly rural organization and industrialization. Both volumes are invaluable for the study of contemporary Chinese development. Wang, Xin jitizhuyi, 197. Ibid. Ibid., 198. Ibid., 204. In Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and other regions, village enterprises have developed with stunning success; however, according to research done by Huang Ping and others under the aegis of the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, these enterprises have been undergoing great transformations since 1992. One particularly telling change is that many rural industries, including many successful ones, are linking up with foreign investors and are being transformed into jointly owned industries. In 1990, I

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23 24


26 27



lived in the Shangluo District of the Shaanxi Province for the better part of a year; the rural industries in that region were markedly different from the ones just described. Because of limitations in culture, technology, and transportation, the industries in that region were less successful. More important, those regions where rural industries are the most successful have not undertaken any measures for the protection of the environment. Severe environmental degradation has resulted. In 1992, I had the opportunity to go on a research trip to Daqiuzhuang, Hebei Province, where rural industries and collectivized development are nationally famous. But obscured by the productivity and the prosperous lifestyle were serious instances of environmental pollution, the degradation of the environment around production sites, and serious illegalities.Clearly, concrete analysis needs to be done on rural industries.On changes in contemporary Chinese villages, see Guo Yuhua, Shi Ran, Wang Ying, and Huang Ping ‘‘Xiangtu Zhongguo de dangdai tujing’’ [Views on the contemporary Chinese countryside], Dushu, no. 10 (October 1996): 48–70. Discussions on ‘‘the spirit of humanism’’ began in the magazine Dushu (Beijing) and spread to many other journals. For the first mention of the subject, see Zhang Rulun,Wang Xiaoming, Zhu Xueqin, and Chen Sihe, ‘‘Renwen jingshen xunsilu zhiyi’’ [Looking for the spirit of humanism, pt. 1], Dushu, no. 3 (March 1994): 3–13. Later, Dushu (nos. 4–7 [1994]) published a series of responses sent by young scholars in Shanghai. Li Tuo is now researching this problem of stratification. I am indebted to him for my understanding of this issue. See Zhang Fa, Zhang Yiwu,Wang Yiquan, ‘‘Cong ‘xiandaixing’ dao ‘Zhonghuaxing’ ’’ [From ‘‘modernism’’ to ‘‘Chineseness’’], Wenyi zhengming, no. 2 (1994): 10–20. The new mode is seen by some contemporary literary critics as a major feature of contemporary Chinese literature. It indicates an ideology-free, ‘‘pristine’’ condition. Zhang, Zhang, and Wang, ‘‘Cong ‘xiandaixing’ dao ‘Zhonghuaxing,’ ’’ 15. See Cui Zhiyuan, ‘‘Zhidu chuangxin yu dierci sixiang jiefang’’ [Institutional innovation and the second liberation of thought], Ershiyi shiji, no. 8 (August 1994): 5–16. For a critical view, see Ji Weidong, ‘‘Dierci sixiang jiefang haishi wutuobang?’’ [A second liberation of thought or utopia?], Ershiyi shiji, no. 10 (October 1994): 4–10. Cui Zhiyuan’s treatment of contemporary China has precipitated a debate. For example, the major theoretical target of Su, ‘‘Shanzhongshui’’ (see n. 6 above,) is Cui Zhiyuan’s perspective on China’s privatization process. The debate has occurred because Cui’s analysis is based on a comparison of the Chinese reforms with those of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In the foreseeable future, the success or failure of Soviet and Eastern European reforms will undoubtedly influence Chinese discussions about reform. See Zhang Shuguang, ‘‘Geren quanli he guojia quanli’’ [Individual rights and state power], Gonggong luncong, no. 1 (1995).

30 Philip Huang, in his discussion of the mobilization of civil society/public sphere discourse among American China scholars, has pointed out that ‘‘in using the twin concepts of ‘the bourgeois public sphere’ and ‘civil society’ in China, often there is an opposition set up between the state and society. . . . I believe that this state/society dichotomy has been abstracted from modern Western history, and is not necessarily applicable to China’’ (Philip C. C. Huang, ‘‘Public Sphere/Civil Society in China? The Third Realm Between State and Society,’’ Modern China 2 [April 1993]: 216–40). Although Huang’s discussion is specifically aimed at China’s situation at an earlier juncture, it is also appropriate for discussions of contemporary China. 31 Xueren is edited by Chen Pingyuan, Wang Shouchang, and Wang Hui, funded by the Japan International Academic Friendship Foundation, and published by Jiangsu Wenyi Chubanshe. Zhongguo shehui kexue jikan is edited by Deng Zhenlai and registered in Hong Kong. Yuandao is edited by Chen Ming and was initially funded by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Press; when that organization encountered financial difficulty, the journal was picked up by Tuanjie Chubanshe. Gonggong luncong is edited by Liu Junning, Wang Yan, and He Weifang. It receives financial assistance from the Ford Foundation and is published by Sanlian Shudian. 32 Zhanlue yu guanli is edited by Qin Chaoying, with Yang Ping and Li Shulei as managing editors. It is run by the official Chinese Association for the Study of Strategy and Management. Dongfang is edited by Zhong Peizhang, with Zhu Zhengling as vice-editor. It is run by the Chinese Association for the Study of Oriental Culture. 33 Under the influence of Eastern European and Euro-American scholars, Chinese scholars began discussing civil society in 1990. Invoking the society/state dichotomy, Western scholars have ascribed the rise of Poland’s Solidarity movement to the collapse of central state power in Eastern Europe as a consequence of the maturation of civil society. Scholars of modern Chinese history in the United States have been deeply influenced by Habermas’s Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and have used the concept of the public sphere to reexamine modern Chinese historical change, thereby producing many valuable studies. However, in their discussions of civil society in contemporary China, idealistic dreams clearly persist about the natural connection between marketization and democratization. While China’s market reforms have produced new social stratifications, it is unclear whether these stratifications can provide the motivating force for political democratization. I have mentioned that in the course of the Chinese reforms, a conflation of political and economic elites has occurred. Together with the intimate relationship between political corruption and marketization, this development demonstrates that neither marketization nor new social strata can possibly guarantee the emergence of political democracy. More important, under today’s conditions in China, it is impossible to separate the problem of democracy from that of the economy, and the problem is particularly inseparable from the question

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of social distribution. With respect to discussions on civil society, the belief of many Chinese intellectuals that ‘‘opening’’ in and of itself will result in China drawing closer to the West, thereby resolving the problem of democracy, is false. The problem is that one of the biggest motive forces for political corruption in China today is linked to the integration of Chinese economic activity with international capital. This fact demonstrates that the simplistic idea that opening will lead to democracy has no basis in reality. I bring this up not to reject a discussion of civil society and even less to suggest that China should move back into isolation; my intention is merely to point out that we must develop more complex paradigms for the study of contemporary Chinese social questions. See Deng Zhenglai and Jin Yuejin, ‘‘Jiankou Zhongguo de shimin shehui’’ [Constructing Chinese civil society], Zhongguo shehui kexue jikan, no. 1 (1992): 58–68; Xia Weizhong, ‘‘Shimin shehui: Zhongguo jinqi nanyuan de meng’’ [Civil society: A dream not to be realized in the near future], ibid., no. 5 (1995): 176–82; Arif Dirlik, ‘‘Xiandai Zhongguo de shimin shehui yu gonggong Rongjian’’ [Civil society and public sphere in modern China], ibid., no. 4 (1994): 10–22; Xiao Gongqin, ‘‘Shimin shehui yu Zhongguo xiandaihua de sanzhong zhang’ai’’ [Civil society and three barriers to China’s modernization], ibid., no. 4 (1994): 183–88; Zhu Ying, ‘‘Guanyu Zhongguo shimin shehui de jidian shangque jijian’’ [Several contentious points concerning civil society in China], ibid., no. 7 (1996): 108–14; Shi Zuehua, ‘‘Xiandaihua yu Zhongguo shemin shehui’’ [Modernization and Chinese civil society], ibid., no. 7 (1996): 115– 20; and Lu Pinyue, ‘‘Zhongguo lishi jincheng yu shimin shehui zhi jian’gou’’ [China’s historical process and the construction of civil society], ibid., no. 8 (1996): 175–78. 34 Samuel P. Huntington, ‘‘The Clash of Civilizations?’’ Foreign Affairs (1993): 1– 20. 35 On the problem of globalization, see Wang Hui, ‘‘Zhixu haishi shixu?—A Ming yu ta dui quanqiuhua de kanfa’’ [Order or disorder?—Samir Amin and his view on globalization], Dushu, no. 7 (July 1985): 106–12.

Post-Tiananmen Art

Zhang Xiaogang Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3, oil on canvas, 1995 previous: Fang Lijun Series 2 No. 5, oil on canvas, 199.5 × 199.5 cm, 1991–92

Qiu Zhijie Writing ‘‘The Orchid Pavilion Preface’’ One Thousand Times, part of sequential view of ink-on-paper calligraphy, 1986–97

Hong Hao Selected Scriptures (one of six panels), silkscreen on paper, 55 × 76 cm, 1995 Zhu Fadong Looking for a Missing Person, collage posters on street poles installation and performance, Kunming, 1993

Yin Xiuzhen Ruined City, installation of furniture and cement, 1995 Lin Tianmiao The Proliferation of Thread-Winding, installation of thread and needles, 1995

Wang Gongxin Magic Powder No. 1, video installation, 1997

Zhan Wang Imperial Garden, stainless steel and glass, 1996

Zhang Huan and others Adding One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, performance, Beijing, 1995

opposite: Zhang Huan 12m2, performance in a public village toilet, Beijing, 1994

Ma Liuming Fishchild, performance, Beijing, 1997


King Kong in Hong Kong: Watching the ‘‘Handover’’ from the U.S.A. Rey Chow

In the weeks before 1 July 1997, I kept receiving invitations from the media in Hong Kong and the United States to discuss, orally or in writing, the historic handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. Judging by the enthusiasm of journalistic circles, it was obvious that the entire world was fascinated with the occasion. This was another spectacular moment for China-watching, like the Tiananmen Massacre of 4 June 1989—even though the mood was decidedly different, at least for Chinese populations in different parts of the world. But behind the craze to focus on China and Hong Kong, we see once again the persistence of all-too-familiar ideological tendencies in the West. For anyone who wishes to discuss the current situation of China and Hong Kong with a sense of justice and fairness, the task is daunting: one must write, it seems, not only against the biases readily apparent in the many reports generated within a relatively short period but also against the weight of opinion and tradition that sustains such biases. Ever since China ‘‘turned red’’ in 1949, the predominant mainstream attitude in the United States has been one of simple anxiety. Communist China has been seen by U.S. politicians as a symbol of the U.S. loss of guardianship over the most populous area of Asia. Unlike the fascistic (Kuomintang) regime under the military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek from the late 1920s to the late 1940s, the People’s Republic of China has never succumbed to the manipulation of Big Brother Uncle Sam. U.S. realization of custodial loss has led to increasing apprehension at China’s rise to the status of world power, especially after the dissolution of the Soviet

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Union. Twin feelings of sadness and fear continue to characterize the U.S. media’s portrayal of China today, most often by way of a set of binary oppositions, which tend to represent China as opposed to all the positive values embraced by the United States. This deliberate process of othering continued from the 1950s and 1960s through the resumption of relations with China after Richard Nixon’s visit there in 1972, reaching a new climax in 1989, when Chinese authorities ordered tanks to crush civilians demonstrating for democracy at Tiananmen Square. In the later 1990s, with allegations that the Clinton administration accepted sizable donations from ‘‘foreigners’’ spearheaded by overseas Chinese lobbying groups, suspicious, resentful, and often blatantly racist insinuations about Asian and particularly Chinese intermediaries are evident in national network news reports. In addition, the proximate release of such China-bashing films as Seven Years in Tibet, Red Corner, and Kundun seemed to form part of a concerted effort by the U.S. media to attack China in the name of human rights—even and especially while the president of the PRC, Jiang Zemin, toured the United States at the U.S. government’s invitation in the fall of 1997. Despite the virtual disappearance of the actual political configurations of the Cold War, the Cold War narrative never quite dies. Every time a major event occurs in China, this narrative returns with a vengeance.1 Typically, by posing as defenders of democracy and liberty, the U.S. media portray Chinese events as crises that require not only vigilance but intervention. Typically, such portrayals are dramatized—staged in palpably demonizing terms so that audiences in the West are obliged to identify with an invisible but adamant moralistic perspective in which the United States is seen as superior. In discussing the U.S. media’s treatment of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, I have compared it with the film King Kong and used the term ‘‘King Kong syndrome’’ to refer to this structure of cross-cultural, cross-racial representation aimed at producing ‘‘China’’ as a spectacular primitive monster whose despotism necessitates the salvation of its people by outsiders.2 It is important to remember that although many countries lack ‘‘democracy’’ and ‘‘liberty,’’ it is China that, simply because it is not an ideological ally of the United States, regularly bears the brunt of this process of palpable demonization (along with countries such as Iraq and Iran, as well as Islamic political groups in general). For many in the United States, China is, first and foremost, that ‘‘other country’’ where violence erupts.3 Most reports on the Hong Kong handover have not departed from this King Kong syndrome. Several examples can be cited of the kind of militant

goading in the name of democracy that has come from public personalities such as U.S. tv network newscasters Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. On 1 July 1997, after Hong Kong officially became Chinese territory again, Chinese military forces moved, according to schedule, into Hong Kong proper, paying the necessary toll to drive through Hong Kong’s toll tunnels and heading toward barracks that had been vacated by British troops. However, this entirely legal move was sensationally reported by many Western journalists as a disaster: ‘‘Truckloads of People’s Liberation Army soldiers rumbled into Hong Kong.’’ 4 Hong Kong’s outgoing British governor, Christopher Patten, took the lead in condemning the peaceful Chinese troop transfer and was quickly supported in this outburst by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.5 Even though it has been common for troops to enter civilian spaces after a major national victory—one is reminded of how troops paraded through European city streets at the end of World War II, for instance—Britain and the United States clearly did not want to recognize the Chinese resumption of sovereignty in Hong Kong in these terms and instead voiced their criticisms as if China were some foreign invader. Then, reports followed about how China was introducing ‘‘harsh new laws’’ designed to put the clamps on Hong Kong’s democracy. Among them were laws prohibiting foreign contributions to local political candidates. Such contributions are, of course, also prohibited in the United States. Westerners’ misconceptions about the level of danger in Hong Kong can be demonstrated by many other, less-well-known examples. Wayne Wang, who was directing the film Chinese Box in Hong Kong at the time of the handover, reported an incident involving Jeremy Irons, who played one of the leading characters in Wang’s film, and who, at the same time, was cast in another film in Paris. The financial backers for this other film suddenly objected to the plan for Irons to return to Hong Kong for an extra two days of shooting; they demanded that Wang insure Irons for $400,000 in case he should be injured in a crackdown by China in Hong Kong on 1 July.6 A film critic, capitalizing on the King Kong syndrome, introduced his discussion of the Hong Kong cinema by announcing, authoritatively, the passing of a golden age: ‘‘Now that Hong Kong has officially been reunited with—or recolonized by—mainland China, a great, tumultuous movie era has passed.’’ 7 A journalist wrote in the pages of the New Republic that Hong Kong is ‘‘doomed’’ and in worse shape than we think because, as his investigative report urgently reveals, ‘‘China bonds with Hong Kong’s underworld.’’ 8 This journalist has obviously forgotten or is naively unaware of the fact that such bonding between the government and the underworld is

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a feature of all societies in the world—and that it existed under the former British administration in Hong Kong and exists in the United States as much as it exists in Hong Kong under China. In habitually stereotyping China as a violent monster, deserving of exposure, discipline, and punishment, the U.S. media—the major national television networks, news journals, and newspapers—seldom if ever discuss in detail the most important event in the complex historical background of Hong Kong’s handover to China—the First Opium War of 1839–1842.9 To that extent, the media also consistently fail to capture and comprehend the strong emotions that accompany what Chinese populations call, in a manner contrary to the bureaucratic terminology of ‘‘handover,’’ Hong Kong’s huigui (return). The originating event of the First Opium War may be briefly recapitulated. Noticing the significantly high outflow of silver from Britain created by the import of Chinese goods such as silk and tea, British politicians began, around the late eighteenth century, to correct the imbalance by exporting large quantities of opium (produced at that time in British India and in Iran) to China. When the Chinese government, seeing the massive harm produced by the so-called foreign mud, made the opium traffic illegal, British officials resorted to what historians refer to as ‘‘gunboat diplomacy’’ and sought excuses for war. Sterling Seagrave succinctly summarizes these events: While Great Britain was approaching the zenith of its power at the midpoint of the nineteenth century, China had sunk to its weakest point since the Manchu took control in 1644. Corruption was epidemic, and Emperor Tao Kuang’s reluctance to act ruthlessly was seen as weakness, inviting more abuses. In the south, Western traders at Canton and Macao flouted the law, smuggling in massive quantities of cheap Indian opium, driving a spike into the heartwood. Opium became a symbol of China’s sovereignty and whether foreigners could violate that sovereignty at whim; the fact that corrupt Chinese and Manchu officials participated in the trade did not make the issue less real. It became a game among Westerners to provoke the Chinese at every turn and, when the Chinese struck back, to demand concessions from local mandarins. If concessions were not forthcoming, gunboats were called in; China found herself at war over issues that were trumped up and incidents that were greatly exaggerated or entirely imaginary. Many Westerners built successful careers out of bullying the Chinese. . . . In the politics of collision, rude surprises were grasped as great opportunities, and armed force was used to guarantee the out-

come, while the public at home was led to believe it was all part of a grand design.10 Against Britain’s role in the First Opium War, Britain’s own William Gladstone protested in Parliament: ‘‘A war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do not know and have not read of. . . . The British flag is hoisted to protect an infamous traffic; . . . we should recoil from its sight with horror.’’ 11 Britain thus successfully bombarded its way into China by forcing China to accept the Treaty of Nanking, the first in a series of what the Chinese call bu pingdeng tiaoyue (unequal treaties). Apart from stipulating heavy reparations to be paid by the Chinese, this treaty led to the ceding of Hong Kong Island to Britain and the opening of five Chinese coastal cities—henceforth known as ‘‘treaty ports’’—to British trade. Subsequently, with more military invasions and the signing of more unequal treaties, Britain obtained part of the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 and a 99-year lease on the New Territories in 1898. These three major areas—Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories—and some outlying islands then made up what became known as the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong.12 To Chinese people all over the world, 1 July 1997 signified the vindication of this originating series of events. Regardless of differences in political loyalties and regardless of pronounced ambivalence toward the current regime in Beijing, it was the symbolic closure of the historic British aggression against China, which accounted for the unprecedented expression of jubilation throughout the Chinese-speaking world at the lowering of the British flag in Hong Kong. The predominantly celebratory mood meant that, despite a century and a half of British hegemony, the Chinese never emotionally consented to British colonialism. For 155 years, they had refused to forget that Hong Kong was a Chinese city. In spite of this well-documented history, in spite of the United States’ own history of colonization by Britain, and, even more ironically, in spite of the current national campaigns in the United States against the use of drugs, the U.S. media habitually ignores the Opium Wars. Instead of following the lead of the descendants of those who were invaded, the U.S. media choose to follow the lead of someone such as Christopher Patten, who, together with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, presents Hong Kong’s social stability and economic prosperity as the laudable results of British administration. In the preface to the 1997 Annual Report on Hong Kong, Patten implicitly called the Chinese government to task for having turned history into an ideological tool in an attempt to revise historical facts that had already taken place.13 In thus distorting and

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effacing the facts of history, he proved himself to be, despite his carefully crafted democratic facade,14 merely another loyal flack of the queen’s vanishing empire. While Patten’s loyalty to his rulers does not require elaboration (since, in the British tradition, loyalty may take the form of loyal opposition), what remains at issue is the double standard continually adopted by Britain and the United States when dealing with a country such as the PRC. For instance, the very ‘‘social stability’’ and ‘‘economic prosperity’’ that are emphasized by Patten and Thatcher as being the accomplishments of British rule in Hong Kong are, we hear repeatedly, precisely the objectives emphasized for Hong Kong by the current leaders in Beijing. Rather than acknowledging that the PRC and Britain have much in common in their ambitions as the successive rulers of Hong Kong, however, Patten, whenever he was faced with the world’s media, typically presented the Chinese authorities as untrustworthy—as the opposite of the benign, indeed benevolent, model set by Britain—and never subjected Britain’s own historical objectives in keeping Hong Kong stable and prosperous to any similarly harsh judgment. What does having a double standard mean in this situation? It does not refer simply to use of two different sets of criteria for judging the same kind of action—a use that may be attributed to arbitrariness, lack of consistency, or mere arrogance. More pragmatically, it refers to a practice of systematically granting one party more liberties by exempting it from judgments that are, nonetheless, applied with dogged vehemence against another. Historically, such exemptions from what should be a common set of criteria were an essential part of the West’s gunboat diplomacy during an era when military territorial aggression against China was accompanied by demands for what was known as extraterritoriality. This legal fiction deemed that the premises of a diplomatic mission (and by extension, its people) were not within the territory of the state in which they stood but rather in the territory of the sender state, and that such premises and people were therefore excluded from the jurisdiction of the receiving state. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, through an interlocking network of unequal treaties imposed on China by various foreign powers (including Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and the United States), extraterritoriality ensured that foreign diplomats, troops, merchants, and missionaries living in China were not subject to the same laws (Chinese laws) to which Chinese people were subject—even if they committed crimes on Chinese soil against Chinese citizens. Extraterritoriality also meant, in effect, that the Chinese government itself was never fully sovereign within Chinese territory.

Serving to legitimize (by force) the double standard that allowed the West to act in China without being subject to Chinese jurisdiction, but without giving the Chinese complementary rights, extraterritoriality thus gave Westerners the privilege of having to submit exclusively to their own jurisdiction—that is, the privilege of being (judged) outside China even when they were acting in China. This privilege was henceforth internalized in Western attitudes toward China and Chinese people as an unexamined, because naturalized, assumption. And, even when Western actions directly affected, subjugated, or injured Chinese citizens within the territory that was supposedly theirs, the West remained in essence not only the agent but also the sole, patronizing arbiter of such actions. China to this day continues to be placed in the position of a lowly, uncivilized other on whom the West can act and pass judgment without having to worry about being acted on or judged itself. The reverse, of course, is not the case.When China acts, even within the bounds of its own territory, it is always subject to the value-laden arbitration of the West. The lingering effects of this one-way legal and moral structure of extraterritoriality are, I think, what underlie the Anglo-American representation of the Hong Kong handover. All criticisms of the PRC are made from the vantage point of an inherited, well-seasoned, condescending perspective that exempts itself from judgment and which, moreover, refuses to acknowledge China’s sovereignty, even when it has been officially reestablished over Chinese soil. Instead, sovereignty—and with it, proprietorship (over judgment as well as political actions)—continues to be imagined and handled as exclusively Western. Sovereignty and proprietorship here are not only about the ownership of land or rule but also about ideological self-ownership—that is, about the legitimating terms that allow a people to exist. It is within this persistently discriminatory process of extraterritorial value production that the proclamations of democracy by the likes of Patten and Thatcher should be understood. Needless to say, Great Britain and the United States are themselves far from having achieved the progressive, democratic ideals on which they so freely expound when they judge others. The situation in Northern Ireland and the ongoing struggles of African Americans are but two outstanding examples of the reality of these two major powers’ double standards, let alone the historical devastation wrought by both countries’ practices of colonialism and neocolonialism. But specifically, what does the frequent, rhetorical invocation of democracy by both countries against the PRC achieve? For the United States, the answer is simple. The concept of democracy serves the function of uniting the U.S. Right and Left in such a man-

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ner as to facilitate the ongoing myth of a single, undivided American culture. Between practical groups that think of China as a market that must not be passed up, even though it is, alas, inconvenienced by communism and idealistic groups that think of the Chinese as victims of totalitarianism (thus needing liberal salvation), China stands as that external something—an enemy and an obstacle—against which the otherwise irreconcilable interests of the U.S. Right and the Left can effectively coalesce and collaborate. For Great Britain, the picture is more complicated because of Britain’s long presence in Hong Kong. Here, it is necessary to focus as much on the image as on the material realities that Britain sought to leave behind. That image, in the hands of a Patten, is none other than democracy—a memento of colonialism at its hypocritical climax. Contrary to what is being presented to the world by Patten and Thatcher, British rule in Hong Kong was, for most of its 155 years, not at all democratic. Instead, as scholars have repeatedly pointed out, British rule was characterized by brute military force, the continuous monopolization of trading privileges by British companies, the monopolization of the highest levels of the civil service by British administrators, strict class stratification between British and non-British residents (with the Chinese at the very bottom of most social ladders), significant episodes of corruption by British officials, and the sustained channeling of Hong Kong’s considerable revenues toward Britain.15 And even though Hong Kong was originally on the list that the UN’s Special Committee on Colonialism prepared of colonies scheduled to be decolonized—that is, granted independent nationhood—the British government under Edward Heath made no objection in 1972 to Hong Kong’s removal from that list. Its excuse was that China, on being voted into the UN in 1971, had requested the removal of Hong Kong and Macao from the list; the fact remains that this crucial decision, which resulted in Hong Kong’s loss of the right to selfdetermination—a decision about which Hong Kong people were never consulted—was made under British rule by British officials.16 This decision sealed Hong Kong’s fate. Only as a parting gesture was a semblance of democracy introduced, and only in the final few years of colonial rule did Hong Kong begin to have direct elections that resulted in a legislature which the PRC dismantled on 1 July and replaced with its own appointed provisional legislature. This appointed legislature was judged by the Hong Kong High Court at the end of July 1997 to be legal. Although the PRC’s disrespect for Hong Kong’s established legal process certainly deserves to be criticized, the Chinese officials’ continuing rhetorical challenge to the British has a real point. If the British

were such staunch defenders of democracy in Hong Kong, why did they fabricate this appearance of it only in the last instant, as a Parthian shot? As Mark Roberti writes: ‘‘It was not until Britain had formally agreed to return Hong Kong to China that the Hong Kong government began introducing democratic reforms. China had every right to feel tricked. Democracy, it seemed, was good for Hong Kong only when the British were no longer running it.’’ Patten’s proposals for political reform, Roberti argues, were ‘‘a smoke screen put up so the British could avoid feeling guilty about turning six million people over to a brutal regime.’’ 17 While Britain’s motives will always remain a matter of interpretation, from the perspective of colonialist strategy the eleventh-hour appearance of democratic procedures in Hong Kong served a concrete function. This virtual democracy—hastily planted and left behind in the ‘‘decolonized’’ territory like a land mine, no longer part of Britain’s responsibility once the hms Britannia steamed out of Hong Kong’s harbor—created a political situation that was guaranteed to be a permanent source of irreconcilable conflict among the supposedly decolonized natives.18 We need hardly mention that histories of the aftermath of British colonialism all over the world have provided ample evidence of the systematic nature of such a decolonizing strategy. Whereas in the Middle East, for instance, the departure of the colonial powers left behind a perpetual crisis in the form of an unequal distribution of resources between populations, in Hong Kong the most likely area for dispute is clearly Western-style ‘‘democracy,’’ especially because the leaders of the mother country have long announced that for historical and cultural reasons, China is not yet ready for it. What better way to leave than by implanting the rudimentary structures of democratic elections that would hereafter provide potent grounds for disaffection and dissent against the regime in power? What better way to ensure that the ‘‘decolonized’’ natives would themselves acquiesce in this fraud and nostalgically give their consent to the virtues of British rule precisely when that rule was supposedly over? What better way to give British values and judgments, once again, extraterritorial legitimacy? From this perspective, the autocratic reactions displayed time and again by the PRC toward the West become understandable, even when they are not—as I believe they are not—defensible. For Chinese authorities, the democracy that the West insists on making China accept is not in essence different from the opium imposed by Britain in the nineteenth century. During that earlier period of manipulation, Britain did not actually desire that the Chinese smoke opium. What it desired was that China give Britain not only its silk and tea but its silver as well. Opium—that magical substance supposedly craved by the Chinese themselves—was only a means

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to this end, a puff of smoke, a substitute satisfaction. Similarly, during the current period of manipulation, the British and the Americans do not actually desire that the Chinese practice democracy. What they desire is that in China’s economy, things be done in Western ways. Democracy—that magical substance supposedly craved by the Chinese themselves—is only a means to this end, another puff of smoke, another substitute satisfaction. Democracy in the late twentieth century can be seen, in other words, as the imposition of a set of values that China does not want, with implications that recall, precisely, Westerners’ demands for trading rights, missionary privileges, and extraterritoriality, which challenged Chinese sovereignty in the nineteenth century. In both cases, Westerners want cash, and the Chinese people get smoke. In this light, China’s frequent objections to the West’s ‘‘meddling in Chinese internal affairs’’—an excuse that the PRC has notoriously used to justify all kinds of repressive political practices—must be seen as logical. This logic is the hysteric’s logic of a historical memory, a symptomatic resistance to the West, based, as it were, on an inability to forget.19 For these reasons, the ideology of democracy will most probably continue to be contentious, controversial, and indeed treacherous in Hong Kong’s future. Fighters for democracy such as Martin Lee, Szeto Wah, Cheung Man-kwong, Lee Cheuk-yan, Emily Lau, and their fellow workers have been put in a precarious position, less because of their outspokenness than because of the historical complexities that constitute their political situation. In this situation, their personal intentions notwithstanding, they will be perceived, in effect, as ‘‘troublemaking’’ agents who have been systematically planted and left behind by British colonialism. I say this in anguish as someone who wholeheartedly supports this movement for democracy. So far, three major narratives have been invoked: U.S. imperialism and with it a persistent Cold War perspective on China; British colonialism and its decolonizing strategies; and China’s knee-jerk official position of resisting everything and anything that seems to be imposed by the West. With the West and Hong Kong insisting on the continuation of the status quo in the former British colony, China’s creative solution has been to institute ‘‘one country, two systems,’’ an unprecedented idea for political management whose long-term validity and efficacy remain to be seen.20 However, as the world’s China watchers bet on whether Hong Kong will change China or China will change Hong Kong, a new, unpredictable narrative—that of global capital—is rapidly gathering momentum. What does it mean to ask whether Hong Kong will change China or China will change Hong Kong? Almost without exception, discussions

of this question focus on Hong Kong’s thriving capitalism and the social forces that have helped sustain it.21 Conventionally, analysts have always attributed Hong Kong’s economic prosperity to British colonialism—to the fact that, because colonialism did not allow political choices to be made, Hong Kong people had to channel their energies into the economic sphere. Hong Kong’s economic prosperity, in other words, has always been construed negatively in relation to political awareness—as a (morally degenerate) compensation for the lack of political possibilities and as what is at best an illusory (because overly materialistic) accomplishment.22 As Hong Kong’s return to China grabbed the world’s attention, however, a different line of argument emerged. Most of those who argued for Hong Kong’s democracy now seem to think that, on the contrary, it is actually economic prosperity—hitherto always judged pejoratively to be the result of the lack of political opportunities—that makes it possible for people to want political change or democracy in the first place.Thus, in a manner opposed to the conventional pronouncements about Hong Kong, economic prosperity is linked positively to political awareness, which is now said to be an outcome of it. When these two seemingly contradictory arguments about politics and economism are juxtaposed, we find a coherent, rationalist argument that progresses as follows: colonialism leads to economism; economism leads to democracy. What has remained unarticulated, then, in the confusing arguments about democracy (which is invariably invoked opposite ‘‘totalitarianism’’) is that the democratic Hong Kong of the 1990s was the result not of economic forces alone but rather of the combined forces of colonialism and capitalism—of a colonialism, moreover, that, even when it granted no political choice, adopted a laissez-faire economic policy that allowed capitalist forces to flourish with the least amount of government interference.23 If it is indeed Hong Kong’s economic prosperity that has led to its current democracy, this democracy is itself a byproduct of colonialism—of a form of government not at all democratic. Even when coming from the best-intentioned people, therefore, arguments for maintaining Hong Kong’s democracy in the post-British period tend, inevitably, to be trapped in a certain ideological impasse. In spite of strong ethnic sentiments against historical foreign exploitation, Hong Kong people find themselves obligated by their unique circumstances to acquiesce in the ‘‘merits’’ of capitalism (since capitalism is what is believed to have led to democracy in the first place) and thus ironically, by implication, to acquiesce in the merits of colonialism as well (since colonialism was what fostered capitalism in Hong Kong). This impasse underlies the collective wish that Hong Kong ‘‘remain the same’’ after being returned to

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China. This wish, which China has honored by promising ‘‘one country, two systems,’’ is predicated on the assumption that any change from Hong Kong’s present system can mean one thing and one thing only—a doomed regression toward being like (not-yet-fully-capitalist) China. As Madeleine Albright proclaimed: ‘‘We will be watching to see that the Hong Kong of tomorrow is like the Hong Kong of today.’’ 24 But what kind of wish, promise, and threat was the former U.S. secretary of state making? It is a strange notion—a curse even—to want any place to remain the same for fifty years.25 Since Hong Kong has only the beginnings of a democratic system, do Albright’s words mean that even though it is officially no longer a colony, it need not advance any further politically so that it can remain ‘‘the same’’ as it was in 1997? Despite its moralistic overtones, the new narrative of global capital —the narrative that, to all appearances, wants to defend Hong Kong’s democratic present against the encroachment of an absolutist China—is really interested only in the trajectory of Hong Kong’s continual monetary growth, itself always said to be the (more or less beneficial) result of British colonialism. With this patent economism comes this important question: If economic prosperity takes precedence over everything else, and if democracy (despite the West’s promoting it as an indispensable part of social progress) has already been discursively constructed as a byproduct (as what follows economic prosperity but not vice versa), doesn’t that mean that, in fact, democracy can be sacrificed when necessary—for instance, if Hong Kong fails to sustain its economic prosperity? Conversely, since Hong Kong already thrived economically under British colonial rule when there was little democracy to speak of, doesn’t that mean that democracy is really no prerequisite for Hong Kong’s continued financial growth? Ironically, this new narrative of global capital with its revealing ambiguities about democracy is the place where the otherwise ideologically competing—and seemingly incompatible—forces of U.S. imperialism, British colonialism, and Chinese nationalism coincide. Like Britain and the United States, with their considerable trade interests in the Far East, the PRC, too, in spite of its overt ideological ‘‘difference,’’ is now a giant investor in Hong Kong businesses. Likewise, within the PRC itself, the economy is being drastically reorganized from one based on state ownership to one based on ‘‘shareholding’’ (a description consciously adopted by PRC officials, who shun the word ‘‘privatization’’). While the PRC may not openly acknowledge it, the government’s tolerance for, and enthusiastic embrace of, capitalist ventures and practices mean that China has, in fact, gone capitalist.26 And yet, such capitalist ventures and practices are, traditionally, precisely what provide anchorage for Western imperialism

and colonialism. As we learn from the most elementary reading of Marx, the relationship between capitalism and colonialism/imperialism is that of an infrastructure, with its state apparatuses and legal institutions, and a superstructure, with its function of inculcating civilians with the attitudes and behaviors necessary for perpetuating and reproducing the existing system. As Wang Zhangwei and Luo Jinyi write: ‘‘At present, the PRC historical discourse is critical of British colonialism, but the PRC officials are staunch defenders of the problematic capitalist strategies brought by the colonists. They are thus breaking up the twin-like character of imperialism and capitalism. Can this work?’’ 27 By foregrounding the apparent ideological chaos triggered by the PRC’s current economic ‘‘openness,’’ Wang and Luo have pinpointed the most intriguing theoretical issue in the Hong Kong handover. In their commitment, undoubtedly proclaimed with sincerity and goodwill, to keeping Hong Kong prosperous and stable, Chinese leaders seemingly must stray further and further from the orthodox teachings of Marx, Lenin, and Mao—teachings they nonetheless continue to affirm even when the credibility of their own reputations as administrators is now linked, as one writer puts it, to Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index.28 Clearly, just as there are now ‘‘red-chip stocks’’ (stocks issued by nongovernment-owned PRC companies) exclusively available in the Hong Kong stock market, so, too, China has scrambled Marx’s fundamental schema of a mutually supportive capitalism and imperialism/colonialism to the point of unrecognizability. While the long-term implications of this scrambling have yet to be understood, it is possible to make some preliminary observations. In Hong Kong, China’s ideological chaos has so far enabled business tycoons to continue exploiting the working classes for maximum commercial benefit in the name of an anticolonialist ethnic unity.29 Since such exploitation of the labor force is likely to intensify in the decades to come (precisely as China tries to look good by honoring its commitment to keeping Hong Kong economically prosperous), the gap between rich and poor, already huge, will probably widen to an unprecedented degree. Should this happen, Hong Kong’s economic prosperity will have to be recognized not as bringing about democracy, with its principle of equality among citizens, but rather as bringing about its absence. In the ongoing frenzy to generate capital and to privilege money as the paramount goal, is not the PRC itself sponsoring a kind of opium (as Marx’s analysis of capital suggests) that turns people into addicts, deprived of their freedoms and rights and ultimately of their ability to think? If its objective in Hong Kong is simply to keep Hong Kong economically prosperous without those freedoms and rights, how will the PRC be able to distinguish its own rule from British colonial rule? (Does it matter?) Mean-

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while, how will countries such as Great Britain and the United States, the self-appointed guardians of the world’s moral values, ‘‘help’’ Hong Kong continue its progress toward democracy when—their avowed promises not to forget Hong Kong notwithstanding 30—they actually share with the PRC the objective of keeping Hong Kong as it is, that is, as (nothing less but nothing more than) the capital of freewheeling capital? With the emergence of global capital, the older narratives of British colonialism, U.S. imperialism, and Chinese nationalism no longer suffice to account for what is operating as a fluid, transnational, collaborationist structure of financial interests that, despite the ideological divergences of the parties involved, have as their mutually self-serving goal the prosperity and stability of the ‘‘Pearl of the Orient.’’ In all likelihood, the struggle for democracy will always remain subordinate to this new, fluid global structure. And it is in that subordinated state, which requires them to plot their tactics forever against a perfidious hegemonic situation created jointly by Hong Kong’s current and former colonizers, that Hong Kong’s democracy fighters will have to chart their arduous future course. Notes A short and preliminary version of this essay, ‘‘Yao minzhu haishi yao yapian? Cong Meiguo kan Xianggang huigui Zhongguo,’’ was published in Xin bao [Hong Kong Economic Journal], July 1997, 15–16. I am indebted to Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse for their enthusiasm and encouragement and for the valuable insights they offered long distance during the period of Hong Kong’s return to China. Austin Meredith was, as usual, the indispensable interlocutor at home.Without the contributions of these people, this essay would not and could not have been written. John Frow came up with the essay’s main title—to him and to the responsive audiences in Sydney and Brisbane, where an early version of the essay was presented in public for the first time in August 1997, my heartfelt thanks. 1 The resilience of the Cold War narrative and its accompanying attitudes are reflected in Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro, The Coming Conflict with China (New York: Knopf, 1997). 2 See Rey Chow, ‘‘Violence in the Other Country: Preliminary Remarks on the China Crisis, June 1989,’’ Radical America 22 (July–August 1988): 23–32 (published in September 1989). A much expanded version of this essay, ‘‘Violence in the Other Country: China as Crisis, Spectacle, and Woman,’’ can be found in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, ed. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 81–100. 3 Sterling Seagrave has demonstrated that the Western demonization of China

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had already begun by the late nineteenth century and had reached a sensational point by the first decade of the twentieth century with the depictions (by some English pornographers) of the Empress Cixi (Tz’u Hsi). See Seagrave’s riveting accounts in Dragon Lady (New York: Vintage, 1992). Maynard Parker, ‘‘The City on a Hill,’’ Newsweek, 14 July 1997, 46. ‘‘I do not think this is the best way to start off, and I think we have to watch this very carefully,’’ Albright said in regard to Chinese troops moving into Hong Kong (Steven Erlanger, ‘‘Uncle Sam’s New Role: Hong Kong’s Advocate,’’ New York Times, 2 July 1997, A8). Patten reportedly asked Albright to ‘‘keep watch’’ over Hong Kong (Melinda Liu, ‘‘Beijing’s New Babysitter,’’ Newsweek, 14 July 1997, 50). Seth Faison, ‘‘Casting Hong Kong as a Drama-Filled City,’’ New York Times, 1 July 1997, B1. Howard Hampton, ‘‘Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong: Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung,’’ Film Comment, July-August 1997, 16–19, 24–27. Fredric Dannen, ‘‘Partners in Crime,’’ New Republic, 14–21 July 1997, 18–26. An exception is Paul Theroux, ‘‘Letter from Hong Kong: Ghost Stories,’’ New Yorker, 12 May 1997, 54–65. Theroux writes: ‘‘Understanding imperial British drug dealings, which led to the First Opium War, is essential to understanding Hong Kong’’ (55). Seagrave, Dragon Lady, 42–43; my emphasis. Contrast Seagrave’s passage with the following neutral-sounding but in fact pro-British description: ‘‘In 1839 China clamped down on the hugely profitable trade in Indian opium, conducted largely in British ships. But the subsequent opium war of 1839–42 was about more than opium. China had a deep suspicion of all outside ‘barbarians’; it insisted that trade with the outside world be conducted only through Canton (modern-day Guangzhou) and only on its own capricious terms. Britain thought it had a right to trade freely, and a God-given right to pummel with cannon any nation that thought otherwise. A clash between the West’s traders, led by Britain, and an inward-looking Qing dynasty was inevitable. When it came, China’s forces were humbled’’ (‘‘1898 and All That—A Brief History of Hong Kong,’’ Economist, 28 June 1997, 20; emphasis in the original). Shen Wei-tai, China’s Foreign Policy, 1839–1860 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), 87–88; quoted in Seagrave, Dragon Lady, 46. This well-recorded fact continues to be misrepresented in publications that seek to capitalize on the global attention which Hong Kong is currently receiving. Carol A. Breckenridge, for instance, writes of ‘‘this fragile transitional moment, when the island city of Hong Kong will move from being a colony of the British Empire into the orbit of the People’s Republic of China’’ (‘‘Editor’s Note,’’ Public Culture 9 [Spring 1997]: v; my emphasis). Annual Report on Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Government, 1997), preface. Patten’s words were widely cited in the Chinese media. This facade included taking regular walks in Hong Kong’s most crowded dis-

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16 17 18


20 21


tricts, participating in question-and-answer sessions at Legislative Council meetings, and hosting radio phone-in programs. See Ming K. Chan, interviewed in Xin bao (Hong Kong Economic Journal), U.S. ed., 21 June 1997, 6. Chan warns that distrust of the PRC government should not make Hong Kong people unconditionally accept colonialism or believe that British rule in the past was benign. Chan is the editor of the book series Hong Kong Becoming China: The Transition to 1997, published by M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, N.Y. See Mark Roberti, The Fall of Hong Kong: China’s Triumph and Britain’s Betrayal (New York: Wiley, 1996), 10–11. Ibid., 305, my emphasis; 299. When using the word ‘‘decolonized’’ to describe post-British Hong Kong, I am referring primarily to Britain’s departure from its former colony rather than to Hong Kong’s gaining independence in the technical sense of decolonization. As mentioned, because of Britain’s 1972 decision not to oppose Hong Kong’s being taken off the UN list of colonies slated for decolonization, Hong Kong was technically precluded from ever having a chance to be decolonized/ independent. It was, properly speaking, never decolonized but simply transferred from one governing power to another. Younger generations of Chinese intellectuals have been capitalizing on this logic to promote a chauvinistic brand of Chinese nationalism. The most prominent examples are two books, by Song Qiang, Zhang Zangzang, and Qiao Bian, Zhongguo keyi shuo bu [China can say no] and Song Qiang et al., Zhongguo haishi keyi shuo bu [China can still say no] (Hong Kong: Ming Pao, 1996). For a related discussion, see my comments in ‘‘Can One Say No to China?’’ New Literary History 28 (Winter 1997): 147–51. Elsewhere, I have substantially criticized the tradition of cultural essentialism that is implicit in the Chinese government’s defensive and dismissive attitude toward foreigners ‘‘meddling in Chinese internal affairs’’; see, for instance, ‘‘We Endure, Therefore We Are: Survival, Governance, and Zhang Yimou’s To Live,’’ South Atlantic Quarterly 95 (Fall 1996): 1039–64. According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, ‘‘Hong Kong’s current capitalist system and lifestyle will remain unchanged for fifty years.’’ See, for example, Parker, ‘‘City on a Hill,’’ 49; and Fareed Zakaria, ‘‘Who Will Change Whom?’’ Newsweek, 7 July 1997, 46. See also the more nuanced accounts ‘‘How Hong Kong Can Change China’’ and ‘‘The Hong Kong Handover: All Eyes on China,’’ Economist, 28 June 1997, 13–14, 19–22. The cover picture of the Economist gives the gist of these typical readings: A PRC tank is face to face with the lone figure of a man, reminding us of the world-famous picture of the brave resister halting a tank during the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, but this time the ‘‘resister’’ is holding up a bag of money in one hand and a pair of scales (signifying the rule of law) in the other. The caption reads: ‘‘How Hong Kong Can Change China.’’ See my discussion of the masculinist implications of this type of argument in


24 25



28 29


‘‘Things, Common/Places, Passages of the Port City: On Hong Kong and Hong Kong Author Leung Ping-kwan,’’ differences 5 (fall 1993): 179–204. Roberti describes this situation succinctly: ‘‘Like the United States government in the nineteenth century, the colonial administration maintained a strict laissez-faire economic policy. It kept taxes low, bureaucratic red tape to a minimum, and often one eye closed to counterfeiting of foreign products and other unscrupulous practices. It provided only the most basic social services and emphasized job creation. Land was provided and infrastructure built to enable private enterprise to expand. The policy worked because standards of living rose steadily and because the predominantly Chinese population relied on family, rather than government, for support’’ (The Fall of Hong Kong, 12). Erlanger, ‘‘Uncle Sam’s New Role,’’ A8. ‘‘ ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong,’ in the end, will actually mean a few very rich people ruling Hong Kong. This system is not at all dissimilar to colonial rule at the time the Joint Declaration was signed. The trouble, though, is that Hong Kong has developed a popular political will since then, and China’s 1984 promise that Hong Kong’s political system would remain ‘unchanged’ for half a century now looks more like a curse than a blessing’’ (‘‘The Hong Kong Handover,’’ 21–22). A joke that circulated around Beijing sums up the situation: ‘‘Presidents Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin are each driving down a road and their three cars approach an intersection. Mr. Clinton turns right without signaling. So does Mr. Yeltsin. But Mr. Jiang hesitates and asks his passenger, Deng Xiaoping, which way to go. ‘Signal left and turn right,’ Deng replies’’ (Seth Faison, ‘‘A Great Tiptoe Forward: Beijing Talks of More Private Enterprise but Seems Unlikely to Stay Out of Its Way,’’ New York Times, 17 September 1997, A1). Wang Zhangwei and Luo Jinyi, ‘‘Xunzhao disanzhong jiaodu de Xiang-gang lishi shuxie’’ [In search of a third perspective for writing Hong Kong history], Ming Pao Monthly, June 1997, 21; my translation. Thomas L. Friedman, ‘‘Hang Seng Salvation,’’ New York Times, 3 July 1997, A15. Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s chief executive, appealed to this ethnic unity in his inaugural speech: ‘‘After 156 years of separation, Hong Kong and China are whole again. This is a solemn, stately and proud moment. We are here today to announce to the world, in our language, that Hong Kong has entered a new era’’ (Maggie Farley and Rone Tempest, ‘‘New Era Rises in Hong Kong,’’ Los Angeles Times, 1 July 1997, A12). In his speech before the flag ceremony, Prince Charles of Great Britain concluded: ‘‘We shall not forget you, and we shall watch with the closest interest as you embark on this new era of your remarkable history’’ (ibid.).

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The Burdens of History: Lin Zexu (1959) and The Opium War (1997) Rebecca E. Karl

One of the most startling things to strike a viewer of the two post-1949 historical films on the Opium War 1—Lin Zexu (directed by Zheng Junli, 1959) and The Opium War (directed by Xie Jin, 1997; hereafter OW)—is their respective endings. Let me thus begin this essay at the end. The last scenes of Lin Zexu begin with a well-lighted shot of the newly deposed Lin Zexu riding on horseback to exile in Ili. As he looks back to the Guangzhou that he is leaving behind and that has been changed irrevocably because of his presence, the camera follows his gaze, establishing a direct link between him and the final stages of the Sanyuanli uprising against the British invaders, which he witnesses: the fisherfolk of the village—men and women—pour over a hill, passing a faltering British flag and disoriented British soldiers; armed with crude weapons and dressed in generic peasant clothing, they bear aloft a torn banner with the red characters ‘‘People’s Militia’’ emblazoned upon it. A voice-over narration, accompanied by the sounds of the rousing gongs and cymbals of local opera music, proclaims: ‘‘The opium Westerners forced on China did not numb the Chinese people. To the contrary, it aroused them. The people’s struggle against imperialism and feudalism began from this day.’’ 2 Xie Jin’s Opium War also concludes with two linked scenes, although the scenes are connected less directly. The penultimate scene reveals the written text of the Nanjing Treaty of 1842, captured on film just as the imperial red seal is being affixed to it. Accompanied by generic movie music of portentous solemnity (haunting flute tones are prominent), a running textual commentary (no voice-overs here) explains that, despite heroic fighting by ‘‘the Chinese army and the Chinese people,’’ the battle

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against Britain ‘‘failed due to a corrupt government and military inferiority.’’ After a last, lingering look at the treaty text, the film’s final sequence begins with an extended camera shot that, over the wailing sounds of a man crying, looks down on the kneeling figures of the imperial court from the perspective of a dimly glimpsed portrait gallery, which includes paintings of all the Qing Dynasty’s emperors. Arriving and stopping at the current Emperor Daoguang, who is shrouded in shadows sobbing, the camera suddenly shifts to gaze in closeup and from his perspective at the portraits of his predecessors (helpfully labeled with their names and reign years); each stares sternly, and immobile back at us (him). Retreating, the camera again views Emperor Daoguang, whose continued sobbing is now accompanied by that solemn movie music as he shields his face in shame against the scrutiny and judgment of the ancestors (history), whom he has betrayed. A reverse shot shows us the portrait gallery, and another quick reverse shows us the imperial court members bowing to the portraits, with the camera moving down the genuflecting line and ending its passage at a young sleeping child motionlessly draped across a pillow. Everything is dark, other than a slim shaft of light that barely illumines the scene. The solemn music swells as the camera shifts us to the outdoors, where a driving rainstorm washes over a stone lion, which, red eyes ablaze in the accumulated darkness, guards the Forbidden City and promises revenge. The screen fades to all-black; white characters (no English subtitles) appear: ‘‘On July 1, 1997 the Chinese government recovered sovereignty over Hong Kong. It has been 157 years since the Opium War . . . .’’ 3 These two very different endings—neither of which can be considered particularly historically accurate—conclude two markedly different versions of the history and consequences of the Qing clash with the British in the First Opium War (1839–42). The cinematic choices of light and dark, of interiors and exteriors, of stasis or movement, of public and private responsibility, of sociopolitical genealogies and connections, all of these elements, fully present in the final scenes, efficiently unite to sum up the respective films’ treatments of their subject, that is, what is conventionally known as the beginning of modern China’s historical trajectory. On a superficial level, in Lin Zexu this beginning is presented as an unprecedented and open-ended historical opportunity; in The Opium War, China’s modern history is presented as an unmitigated tragedy, albeit one safely contained in the past and transcended in the present through the state recovery of sovereignty over Hong Kong. These issues will be discussed in more detail. First, though, some preliminary observations. It should come as no surprise that the Lin Zexu version of the consequences of the Opium War has, since the 1980s, been

roundly repudiated, with its social revolutionary message of popular mobilization and emancipation largely dismissed in the past two decades’ rush from the revolutionary cinematic and historiographical traditions of its making. Indeed, the film’s message of popular struggle, today regarded as so much Party-centered ideological dross, is often now seen to represent one (if not the) major reason for the unbearable weight of the historical burden with which post-Mao China has had to contend—that is, the burden of unruly mass participation in politics. In this environment, then, it is perhaps equally unsurprising that the more recent OW version of the state fulfillment of China’s deferred modern history has been hailed by Chinese film critics and historians alike as a major achievement for director Xie Jin (who, ironically, is best-known in contemporary cinema circles for his perfection of the Maoist-era revolutionary filmic discourse, and thus as the type of director successfully superseded by ‘‘Fifth Generation’’ filmmakers).4 For in Xie’s OW not only is China’s modern history presented as a tragedy squarely placed within the enclosed realm of the state, but it is also that realm—the state—that is charged with the historical task of finding the true resolution to this history (which it has evidently accomplished by atoning for its historical shame/burden through the contemporary recovery of Hong Kong). What to make of this, other than something obvious and mundane about the changing uses/interpretations of history for changing times? Below, I engage this question by placing my discussion in the time-space of a contemporary Chinese cinematic and historical imaginary, particularly by opening a discussion on the problem of ‘‘historical burdens’’ or ‘‘burdens of history’’ as a central topos of Chinese discourse on modern history. I then take up two intertwined moments of the films that help constitute this ‘‘burdens of history’’ topos. They are the proposed constitutive relationship between imperialism and Chinese politics and the proposed constitutive relationship between markets and the modern, or modernity. I conclude with some reflections about the relationship between modernization and Hong Kong. Historical Burdens and Burdens of History It is worth noting at the outset that the accolades for Xie’s OW are generally suffused with enthusiasm about the film’s sheer scopic and technological audacity. As numerous reviewers remark, OW cost more than $12 million (U.S.) to make (an enormous amount by previous standards of Chinese filmmaking); it employed a cast of tens of thousands, including 3,000 (real) foreign actors; and it mobilized in its making a transnational group

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of historians, set designers, and costume designers, along with the world’s most advanced cinema technology and equipment.5 The startling fact that 37 percent of all movie tickets sold in China for the initial months of OW ’s release (June/July 1997) were for this film not only seems to prove the market value of such scopic audacity,6 but also to validate its historico-aesthetic worth. As one commentator matter-of-factly summed up: Xie Jin’s success is not merely that he once again demonstrates his superior ability to suit the art of film to political realities; his success also resides in the fact that he embodies the very ability to navigate the mined road of the market that has enabled Chinese films to accomplish great things in the realms of funding and technological artistry. The 1.4 million tickets sold in Shanghai, and the 700,000 tickets sold in Jiangsu are the best indicators of Xie Jin’s successful foray into the market.7 Here, the market is almost literally the political reality to which Xie suits his film. Indeed, while a number of Chinese film critics were apparently caught off guard by the market popularity of the film, this very popularity seems to have forced them to take the film seriously as mass entertainment, if not also as a breakthrough historico-aesthetic experience.8 In this celebratory mode (which of course overlapped with the celebration of the return of Hong Kong), Xie Jin’s film is triumphally praised for demonstrating the ability of Chinese filmmakers to autonomously— that is, outside of Party/state control—appeal to Chinese film audiences, thus to effectively compete as a cultural product in the vibrant Chinese mass cultural marketplace. Here, the commentaries on Xie Jin precisely echo the contradictory commonplace in Chinese film criticism of recent years, both inside and outside the PRC, that China’s film industry of the New Era (post-Mao) 9 has needed to shed its crushing historical burden of dominance by the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) so as to emerge into its current ‘‘post-political’’ guise as an autonomous art form, as a glowing cinematic presence in the global cultural sphere, and, increasingly, as an attractive commodity for mass consumption in China itself.10 The contradiction in this commonplace is effectively revealed by Xudong Zhang, who has pointed out that the very autonomy sought in New Era cultural production contains within it ‘‘a crystallization of a socio-historical conjuncture,’’ that, among other things, tends to confound cultural autonomy with markets in a delicate dialectic of complicity and dissent from official political discourse.11 Ironic as praise for Xie might be in the general context of contemporary Chinese film criticism’s repudiation of him and in the search for cultural autonomy from the state (Xie’s film and other such epics are

grouped under the rubric guochan pian [national films], even though their funding was not exclusively provided by the Chinese state),12 nevertheless, the celebratory attitude is symptomatic of how the mass cultural entertainment value of film in general, and of Xie’s film in particular, and the judgments about the historico-aesthetic worth of films converge almost completely on market success. (It is much less clear with regard to Xie’s film, and Chinese commentaries generally fail to mention how popular the film was for one of its primary intended audiences: the Hong Kong public.) 13 However, I raise the ‘‘burden of history’’ argument for the film industry’s particular relationship to the ccp and its purported relationship to the current status of film as cultural commodity not to point out ironies/ contradictions in that argument per se, but rather because it suggests the ‘‘burden’’ argument’s more generalized invocation in contemporary scholarship on modern China. Indeed, it is by noting the ubiquity and convergence of diverse ‘‘burden’’ sentiments that some ground on which to compare the two films about the Opium War can be established without resorting to mere historical functionalism. For neither Lin Zexu nor OW does an especially good job of conveying the complex and particular historical conjuncture of the arrival of the problem of modernity in China or of its restructuring of China with regard to a newly emerging world system in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.14 Nevertheless, if a comparison between Lin Zexu (made at a high tide of the ccp’s dominance over the PRC film industry [1959] and at the high tide of revolutionary filmic and historiographical discourses more generally) and The Opium War (made at a low ebb of ccp dominance over the filmic world [1997] and at a high tide of the grip of modernization as orientation and discourse of both the Party and intellectuals in general) can avoid being merely a prosaic and utilitarian recounting of different versions of history in different eras, it can achieve such an avoidance only if the whole question of burdens—as topos—is interrogated. In this context, what is most intriguing in Chinese reviewers’ comments about Xie’s film is not necessarily their incessant invocation of ‘‘the market’’ as the final arbiter of the film’s worth as a historico-cultural product, but rather the combination of ‘‘the market’’ with the oft-repeated pronouncements about the film’s lack of historical ‘‘bias.’’ 15 This is surprising, because the film creates its ‘‘bias’’ rather more totalistically, and thus effectively, I would argue, than did the earlier Lin Zexu, the more apparently ‘‘ideological’’ or ‘‘biased’’ of the two films. Here, the confusion of supposed historical objectivity with actual mass marketability seems to confirm what critic Wang Desheng notes as being a strong trend in Chinese historical

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films and among Chinese cinema audiences of the 1990s: that is, a trend toward the taming and abandonment of a conflictual notion of history in favor of an ‘‘affirmation of contemporary benefit and experience’’—a trend, Wang laments, that has led to a ‘‘neglect and indifference towards longrange cultural values and ideals.’’ 16 Suggestive as this observation is, however, Wang does not spell out either the contemporary experience or the long-range ideals to which his statement points. It thus remains to be determined what is being affirmed and what neglected, or even if these two sides of a supposed antinomy (affirmation/neglect) are actually opposed to one another at all. On first glance, it is clear that in the current sociointellectual environment in China, Wang’s lament can hardly be seen as a nostalgic call for a return to the idealisms or long-range cultural values of the Maoist era; it is precisely these—and the conflictual notion of history and practice therein contained—that are being rejected. What sort of conflictual history could it be that Wang is calling for, then? It would seem that both the affirmation and the lamented neglect to which Wang refers point to two sides of the current liberal elite’s desire to produce and normalize a particular social structure of feeling that converges on some formulation of the marketpolitical reality equation, albeit in a way that tends to recolonize Chinese history with the promise of an alternative mode of ‘‘liberation’’: a universal history of sameness rather than a claim to an alternative universalism of socialist difference. That is, while China’s initial period of ‘‘colonization’’ was only partial (Mao Zedong called it semicolonization), the contemporary ‘‘recolonization’’ of Chinese history through the lens of the inevitability of global capitalism promises to be considerably more complete. Or, put another way, while China’s initial period of ‘‘semicolonization’’ could be negated in Mao’s practice through the spinning of a history of difference (from the global capitalist norm), the contemporary ‘‘recolonization’’ of Chinese history attempts to forcefully place China back into a history of sameness that is fully convergent with a capitalist norm. Indeed, this recolonizing move strives to mask the consequences of the contemporary moment of social change and upheaval—glossed in the celebration of market forces in general, as a Chinese and global tendency—by dissolving it into a celebration of mass consumption—or, the market as a sovereign and autonomous arbiter. At the same time, this move also needs to contain its celebration of mass consumption and market forces by dissolving it into a past that is viewed as a particular type of historical burden. The historical burden is, then, not one marked by ‘‘feudalism’’ and ‘‘imperialism,’’ the old designations for the historical consequences of the convergence of world markets and local forces (shortened into Mao’s

well-known phrase, semifeudalism and semicolonialism), for which mass mobilization and struggle was the Maoist revolutionary answer and for which Lin Zexu is an iconic expression. Rather, the current sense of historical burden is one wholly contained within a state-centered notion of China, where the burden appears as the state’s misrecognition of its historical role, which then devolves into a benign form of historical recognition that takes the guise of a neutral marketplace, whose present rejuvenation, conjoined to the state and the world, provides the answer to the past. Hence, modern Chinese history seems to be ‘‘nostalgically’’ recalled in this film and in much of today’s historiographical revisionisms to celebrate the inauguration of a state-market-world linkage, albeit to lament that this linkage in the past was misrecognized—as a local revolutionary pretext rather than as a world Historical context for China’s rise. The past is thus reconfigured as a missed opportunity, or a burden, that is erased in the present through the realization of a new state-sponsored global market inscription of power. Clearly, however, we are then speaking of a different type of nostalgia from the kind noted by Fredric Jameson in postmodern Western filmmaking; where the Western form of nostalgia might be said to be one of utopian cultural desire based on a proper recognition of history (and thus of proper historical space), the Chinese form can only be said to be one of deferred cultural sublation based on a fundamental misrecognition of History (and thus a misrecognition of China’s proper historical space).17 Here, the proper recognition constitutes History as global space; and its opposite, misrecognition, constitutes history as merely local space. It is here, then, that the widely held sentiment that the present conjuncture of state-market-culture-world (signaled by Hong Kong) constitutes a transcendence of the past’s historical misrecognition and gains its nearhegemonic truth-value, from which a formulation of the historical problem of modernity emerges through the rearticulation (1980s–1990s) of what modern and contemporary China is said to suffer from. While it is notable that such an understanding of historical suffering seems socially persuasive because of the close intertwining of politics and aesthetic experience in China’s long twentieth century, as Ban Wang has noted in a different context,18 it is also notable that such social persuasiveness appears at precisely the moment during which one notes a massive shift toward and convergence of elite sociopolitical-cultural desire upon what Xudong Zhang calls a ‘‘conservative utopia’’; that is, the desire to wish into being a China marching toward full membership in universal history, understood as a bourgeois-capitalist history of ‘‘normalcy.’’ 19 It would appear, then, that one aspect of this wishful pursuit of and

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desire for historical ‘‘normalcy’’ revolves precisely around nostalgic sublation. By that term I mean two things: the ex post facto denial of the potentially alternative mass cultural and political imaginings and experiences of History, of China’s particular history, or of the present (a denial effected by dissolving these into benign market and commodity fantasies), and, on the other hand, the denial of the contradictions between such historical ‘‘normalcy’’ and the very conditions (capitalist expansionism and imperialism) that surely made such ‘‘normalcy’’ impossible for the whole nineteenth century and most of the twentieth. This nostalgic sublation in its dual form (that is, as affirmation of ‘‘normalcy’’ and neglect of history) thus seems to demand of contemporary elite cultural production a strategy of intellectual containment and a seemingly natural construction and cultural reinforcement of the state-market-culture-global nexus that ahistorically reaches back in time and projects the present back into the past. Moreover, this is an urgent demand for containment that must be secured if the contemporary mass culture of mass consumption is not to turn into the scary prospect or reality of the mass production of a new era of mass ‘‘disorder,’’ or a potential assault on the very premises of the ‘‘conservative utopia’’ itself. Here, the (equally fantastic, to be sure) history of utopian longings linked to a mass struggle and a mass desire proclaimed by revolutionary discourse to be unconnected to markets and consumerism (the Maoist version) are reimagined not only as thoroughly dystopic, but, more accurately, as not even really present in the past. Indeed, this very historical struggle (the revolution) over the meaning of the imperialist marketplace is presented as fully decipherable today only by associating such past social dystopia with a now repudiated, ideologically motivated, and totalistic Party-centered discourse. In this conjoining and historical erasure, the ideology/discourse of Party-centeredness and wrong historical turns (misrecognitions) can be dispersed through an apparently more impersonal, nonideological market logic, whose center is seemingly nowhere at all and yet whose origin is traced back to the same event: the Opium War. Never mind that this apparent dispersal—of the present into the past, of the ideological Party into the nonideological market, both figured in the originary event of the Opium War—yields a much more state-centered history of modern ‘‘China’’ than previous Party-centered accounts. More pointedly, though: is it not ironic that markets are celebrated in and through the originary event of the Opium War—as filmic cultural product and as advertisement for market-state-culture-global convergence—for was it not the ‘‘success’’ of the opium market itself that kicked off the whole ‘‘humiliating’’ chapter of modern Chinese history? It is precisely in the convergence of celebration and condemnation of

markets (markets are history’s trajectory; markets are also destructive if they allow opium to be sold) that the contradictory nature of the whole market-culture-state-global enterprise is laid bare. For what drops out of all the discussions—particularly the contemporary focus on consumption —is precisely the history of global commodities in China—here, opium— that brought modernity and its related crises to China to begin with. Indeed, while the arrival and spread of opium-as-drug is clearly figured as a central precipitator of crisis in Xie’s OW, it is a moment figured wholly as the inability of the Qing state to deal with this potent narcotic rather than as a crisis of opium as commodity form, or, opium as the marker of global capitalism in its imperialist and colonizing form. In this sense, John King Fairbank’s almost flippant remark many decades ago that it mattered not whether Britain was peddling molasses or opium to China, for the results of China’s encounter with the West in the nineteenth century would have been the same, perversely points in the right direction. Of course, Fairbank’s intention at the time was to bolster his argument about China’s supposed culturalist isolationism, for which the arrival of the West was altogether salutary, according to him (and now many Chinese historians). And yet it is well to recall Karl Marx’s attempt in the 1850s through his discussion of the opium/China/Britain/India nexus to open a critical inquiry into the nature of the commodity form (for which commodities are indeed interchangeable) and its linked global capitalist system as it then appeared in its imperialist and colonial guise.20 (It is in the above sense as well that the Opium War can be assimilated into contemporary [U.S.] discourses on the ‘‘War on Drugs,’’ without ever having to confront a fundamental understanding of the very commodity form that renders such narcotics completely analogous to any other commodity on the world market.) 21 In short, as long as the commodity form, as a historical form, remains concealed in an easy assimilation of consumptionism/consumerism into discourses on markets, globalization, and the attendant designation of commodification as a natural historical tendency, the dual sublation noted above can only appear as a recolonization of Chinese history. If only the Qing had recognized the inevitability of global markets and commodities, it could have waged a battle on Historical (global) grounds so as to join History properly, rather than waging a losing battle on historical (local) grounds, and thus to be left behind by history! Reflecting this latter idiom or lament, one of the most notable recent revisions to established histories is the reevaluations of the Nationalist Period, or the Nanjing Decade (1927–37). No longer seen as a dark time of betrayal and violence, or as a period shaped by the two-party competition (between the ccp and the Guomindang [gmd]) that gave the ccp and

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the masses it led their heroic historical opportunity, the Nanjing Decade is now seen as a promising period of bourgeois beginnings and flourishings centered in urban areas (often Shanghai and its extended hinterland, the Jiangnan region), with commodification and markets, bourgeois lifestyles, and middle-class or higher economic aspirations as central markers and definers of the era.22 These are beginnings that were, of course, cut short by the Japanese invasion, the subsequent civil war, and the unremitting revolutionism of the Maoist era. Nevertheless, in this revisionist historiography—fully supported by unapologetic modernizationist historians in the United States—the Nanjing Decade and its urban culture has been reimagined as the historical urban bourgeois-capitalist precursor to its ‘‘natural’’ continuation in contemporary times, the bourgeois-capitalist Chinese 1980s and 1990s.23 It is notable that in this configuration, one prominent strand of lateQing (1895–1911) reformist thought (previously condemned in the historiography as ‘‘bourgeois reformist’’) has been revived, albeit rephrased and updated into 1930s culturalist/modernization language, and consolidated through the now-current phrase luohuo jiu aida [backwardness invites domination].24 Here, it matters not whether the burdened modern suffering is particularly pinned on the ccp and what is often implied or stated to be the period of revolutionary aberration (1949–78, or 1949–89), nor does it matter if it is pinned on some world historical generality such as the hoary notion of the unquestioned benefits of modernization. For, the consequences of modern suffering are basically the same: a China left eternally ‘‘catching up’’ to the West and thus a China whose past struggle for social change through revolution is now more usefully (‘‘accurately’’) sublated into consumptionist market satiation. Both versions—the revolutionary as well as the market version—are perhaps equally fantastic, but these days the market version is the only one considered plausible as historical explanation. On this view, modern China is now principally seen not to have been the pitiful object of capitalist expansion in the form of Western imperialism, and even less the heroic national subject of popular or Party liberation; rather, it is seen to have suffered, avant la lèttre, as it were, under the triple historical burdens of insufficient modernization, incomplete modernity, and/or aborted modernism.25 It is in this multiple, positivistic, and contradictory sense that the topos of modern China’s historical burdens, or the burdens of modern Chinese history, underlies and informs—primarily as contemporary social anxiety—many of the historiographical and historical filmic revisionisms of the past two decades in China. In sum, it may be well to recall an essay Hayden White published more

than three decades ago, ‘‘The Burden of History’’ (1966), in which he noted (prematurely, as it turns out) that historians ‘‘must be prepared to entertain the notion that history . . . is a kind of historical accident, a product of a specific historical situation, and that, with the passing of the misunderstandings that produced that situation, history itself may lose its status as an autonomous and self-authenticating mode of thought.’’ 26 The target of White’s critique was the discipline of history as it had emerged in nineteenth-century Europe in tandem with the ‘‘accidental’’ rise of a particular form of industrial capitalism and its restructuring of social life. White specifically targets the pretense to objectivity and scientificity of an historical practice that actually worked to normalize the social disruptiveness of a new capitalist commodity economy and wage-labor mode of production, a pretense that was then (and in many quarters, still is) elaborately defended by historians who assert that history occupies a neutral middle ground between science and art.27 While White hoped that history could shed the burden of its accidental birth, it is apparently this ‘‘accident’’ of history—as temporalspatial conjuncture, disciplinary practice, and normalizing discourse— that appears to have reconsolidated its position in China in the new statemarket-culture-globe nexus. This is so, even despite the discipline’s widely acknowledged and now self-critiqued past association with ccp-dictated narratives of the Chinese past. Indeed, in the 1980s the discipline’s apparent release from the Maoist revolution-centered and the Party-centered paradigm of modern history has made it seem among historians—and has made the claim seem almost plausible—that the extended Partydominated moment of history-as-ideology has passed, yielding in its wake a new moment of objectivity and freedom of inquiry.28 The flood of reevaluations and re-thinkings of modern Chinese history (a period that generally extends from the Opium War to either 1949 or the present, incorporating either jindai or jindai-xiandai periodizations) beginning in the late-1980s in China—which include a number of valuable studies of formerly neglected topics—surely testifies to this new sense of freedom. Yet, as Arif Dirlik has suggested—and the suggestion is fully borne out by even the most cursory perusal of recent issues of the leading journal of modern Chinese history in China (Jindaishi yanjiu), among other academic publications—the repudiation of a revolution-centered and Party-centered history of modern China, as limited and limiting as that paradigm was, has yielded not freedom from the state, but rather an overwhelmingly modernizationcentered history of modern China that is more fully than ever convergent with state goals and discourses on the historical inevitability of global markets.29 What is most disturbing about this trend are the oft-encountered

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pronouncements among historians that this new center of Chinese history is neutral, precisely because it serves China’s present need and long-lasting desire to join so-called universal History so well. Imperialism, Politics, Markets, and Modernity In Lin Zexu, the Nanjing treaty ending the Opium War (1842)—the first of a number of unequal treaties forced upon China—and the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain (provided for in this treaty) are barely mentioned. Indeed, territorial partition—or, nation as bounded territory—and ‘‘backwardness’’—or, lamented lack of capitalism—are hardly the major points presented in this film: this is not a film that construes History, or history, as nostalgic, sublated desire. As is established almost at the very beginning of Lin Zexu, it is the disrupted everydayness of peoples’ lives—their ability to carry on with their normal activities of trade, fishing, community, dancing, eating, living— that is the most important aspect of the breakdown (and eventual reconstitution) of the Chinese peasant self as a collective national self, an everydayness that appears then as the most important mechanism through which politics is reinvented in modern China as a popular everyday politics of recognition. It is in this everyday sphere that the nexus among imperialism (world), markets, politics (state), and modernity as a local experience of History is established. This is illustrated in an indicative sequence toward the beginning of the film. As Lin Zexu arrives in Guangzhou from Beijing to take up his new post as Commissioner for opium suppression on behalf of the Qing, and just as he is embarking on a boat-tour of the immediate area under his new jurisdiction, the camera pauses on an overview of Guangzhou harbor. A large number of foreign ships are entering and exiting, while a good number of peasant junks are moving to and fro, sharing the harbor space. All of this activity is accompanied by soothing music that creates and reinforces a sense of the everyday normality of this bustling activity. The camera pans, from Lin’s perspective, to the foreign merchant’s area, lined with buildings in imposing nineteenth-century British colonial architectural style, that houses the seasonal foreign merchant community. The woman rowing Lin’s boat chats easily to her passenger, and speculates aloud that he is just another merchant arriving from afar to participate in the region’s booming trade. Her easy manner and her breezy speculation again create a sense of normality, while Lin’s reaction to her failure to recognize him is taken in stride and even appreciated as a opportunity to understand more about local conditions.

The scene shifts to the shoreline of the foreign merchants’ area, where we witness vigorous market transactions being conducted between petty Chinese traders and foreigners, each and all going about their business peacefully and cooperatively. We learn (from the peasant woman rowing the boat) that Eliot—the leader of the foreign merchants—has arrived back in town; we then see Eliot standing proprietarily and arrogantly in the doorway of one of the foreign merchant houses. The visual clue introduces an ominous note, one that is immediately reinforced when the peasant woman informs Lin (whom she still takes to be a merchant) that Eliot was now forcing peasant junks to carry opium from the Western ships, and that her father, having refused to do so, had been shot. This extended sequence establishes a number of the themes that are developed throughout the film and that are summed up in the conclusion cited above: it centers ‘‘the people’’—here, in the form of a self-possessed peasant-fisherfolk woman, who is simple, but whose personal experience of life has lent her strength and wisdom; it centers this ‘‘people’’ as Lin’s best source of local information and best potential cadre for opium suppression because of their lived experiences of the region and its current disruptive changes; it introduces us to two central characters: other than Lin and Eliot, the peasant woman and her husband (also on Lin’s boat), who turn out to be major actors in the unfolding drama of the confrontation with the British, a drama that is then simultaneously a personal story of vengeance (avenging the dead father), a community story of disrupted and distorted lives, and a potentially national story of local redemption. In addition, it centers through these multiple and overlapping narratives, an active female character, who is neither fetishized as a victimized object/subject in need of (masculine/state) saving nor, as is the case in OW, presented as the embodiement of an essentialized ancient Chinese culture or of Chinese effeminancy on offer as appeasement/enticement to foreigners. It also demonstrates Lin’s ability to interact with and be close to the people, crucial to the establishment of him as defender of the will of the people [renmin] (not, as it turns out, of the fickleness of the imperial state [guojia]). The well-lighted sequence also establishes the primary location of the film’s major dramatic action, that is, not in the enclosed spaces where a ‘‘proper’’ politics of state proceeds (as is true of the OW), but rather outside, in visible and public places, where a politics of the people, or politics as a public enactment and performance unfolds. In contrast, then, to OW, where we first encounter ‘‘the people’’ after more than half an hour, and then very briefly as local (‘‘color’’) performers within an urban setting (as Denton’s crew are walking from their reception at the merchant’s house)

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who never autonomously gain voices of their own, in Lin Zexu ‘‘the people’’ are at the heart of what the drama and the intersection between imperialism, politics, and the market is all about. (Recall that the final scene of Lin Zexu is all about the renmin [people] whereas the final textual message of OW mentions only the zhongguo zhengfu [Chinese government]). Beyond all this, the sequence also points (rather illusively/allusively, to be sure) to the changes that opium-as-commodity-form introduces into the everydayness of people’s lives. That is, the labor of transporting opium (as a British-owned commodity-form) robs them of their self-realized individual and communal labor. In other words, opium is not understood here merely as a destructive narcotic on the market, in that most banal understanding of commodities as consumption and drugs as destructive, but as a commodity-form, or, as a particular historical form in which value is congealed, concealed and realized through exchange, and extended globally through imperialist force and colonizing power.30 And while the subsequent sequence showing Lin’s attempts to close down the opium dens in Guangzhou returns us to the Qing’s/Lin’s strategy for opium suppression, it is the tension between the suppression of consumption and the altered meaning of the market itself that informs the film’s understanding of the historical process. Indeed, Zheng Junli neither condemns trade nor markets as normal everyday activity—even though the film was being made in the context of the Great Leap Forward (1959–62), when there was already in full swing a nationwide assault on private trade, wherein all exchange outside of state-approved markets was confounded with and condemned as capitalism. Nor even does he condemn trade with foreigners, as such—again, even though the film was made at the high tide of what is known as the PRC’s autarchic economic policies. To the contrary, the problem, as Zheng presents it in the film, is how the quantitative increase in trade (established in the previous sequence, which details the outflow of silver from China that accompanied the expanded opium imports and tangentially mentions India’s place in all this) leads to a qualitative transformation in the meaning of trade and markets. In short, Zheng presents a local recognition that the transformation of trade (markets as everyday activity) into the commodity-form of trade (that form that systemically links the state, the world, and the market into a tight nexus) is the crucial disruptive historical assault presented by ‘‘opium’’ in China. While this disruptive assault soon gets regathered into the very real story of naked aggression and violence, nevertheless, its historical understanding produces precisely that conflictual notion of history lamented as missing in contemporary films. In contrast to the insistent exterior location of Zheng Junli’s film (the

publicness of the enactments of history and politics), and in contrast to Zheng’s presentation of the meaning of opium as residing in its appearance as a commodity form rather than merely a disruptive drug in an otherwise benign marketplace, Xie’s OW is much more concerned with politics and history as private enactements, literally figured by the exclusionary enclosure of politics/history to its supposed ‘‘proper place’’ among bureaucrats and officials of government, even while that ‘‘proper place’’—the court and the local yamen—is critiqued in its dynastic (and contemporary) specificity as lacking, for example, in morality because of corruption.31 It is also more concerned with opium as a social disruptor of families than it is with opium as a sign of the historical commodity form. Xie’s almost obsessive concern with interiors that construct the proper place of politics as an enclosed endeavor (or, with keeping politics in its proper place, albeit hopefully transformed into a more efficient and moral enactment of it) and his equally insistent depiction of opium consumption as destructive of family life renders the understanding of imperialism, politics, and the market in OW much more nativistic and culturalist, almost a throwback to (nostalgia for?) an earlier Eurocentric version of the Western-China encounter figured as a culture clash between ‘‘The West’’ and ‘‘China.’’ Indeed, the closing scene cited above, where opium is understood to have literally rent asunder Emperor Daoguang’s filial obligations to his family (Qing ancestors as encapsulating the dynasty and thus the nation) efficiently sums up this nexus. Indicative of this dual orientation—politics as enclosed; opium as a ‘‘family’’ problem—are a number of other scenes and extended sequences. Most immediately notable in creating the interior atmosphere for politics/history is the fact that for the first half-hour or more of the film, and for most of the major dramatic scenes, the almost exclusive arena of action is indoors (the major exception, of course, being the opium-burning scene, magnificent in its pageantry, even as this very pageantry produces a sense of distanced awe rather than intimate connection).32 In general, there are only brief forays outside, an exterior that only serves to link similar interiors rather than constituting a historical or dramatic space or place in its own right. Indeed, the very possibility of the outdoors being a political space is foreclosed. In contrast to Lin Zexu’s natural-light and musical brightness, the lighting in OW is insistently dim, at best, and the film’s musical score is solemn, portentious, and dominated by hauntingly confining flute and reedy wind instrumentation. Further, the dialogue in the first half-hour or more, with only a few brief exceptions, is self-referential, generally concerned with the individuals who are speaking—with their individual situations—or with the situations of their im-

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mediate colleagues and kin. Indeed, it is through these individuals—all of whom are within the political machinery—and their ‘‘family’’ connections that the empire/nation is conceptually affiliated; they are the only ones, other than merchants, empowered to speak. Merchants, too, play notably major roles in OW (in contrast to Lin Zexu where the co-hong merchants are virtually silent). All of these elements combine to mount an exclusivity to the politics and social constituency served by such a political order. And while the poor efficiency and often questionable morality of this particular enactment of politics is critiqued, the view of politics as having a proper place within the state machinery and the primary social constituency of politics as being merchants is left intact and, indeed, reinforced. The view of history/politics thereby produced is one that creates the impression that the increased efficiency and morality of the relationship between the two— the political state and the merchants—is the key not only to understanding the past, but to the transcendence in the present of that past.Whatever, then, the superior accuracy of the depiction of imperial politics, particularly in contrast to the rather historically implausible populist politics depicted in Lin Zexu, accuracy is clearly not the issue. Rather, it is the representation of the containment of politics to its proper place within the state, narrowly conceived, and the designation of society’s major constituency as merchants, that is of most ideological and dramatic import. The depiction of opium as primarily a family-state issue reinforces and is reinforced by this notion of an exclusionary, interior politics. In OW we are introduced to opium textually and as a problem of consumption: that is, as Emperor Daoguang, awaiting the arrival of Lin Zexu from the provinces, sits in Beijing and writes his contradictory thoughts on the opium evil, thoughts that are almost completely concerned with its consumption, not with its status as a commodity in a troubled and transforming trade nexus that results in the outflow of silver. Our next encounter with opium in the film is at the house of Lin’s former teacher: as the teacher is informed of Lin’s arrival en route to Beijing, he quickly snuffs out the opium pipe he has guiltily been smoking. After a brief, formulaic exchange between the two that functions to introduce the two sides of the Qing debate about opium suppression (tolerant regulation vs. suppression), we next encounter opium at the end of Lin’s conference with the Emperor, when the doors to the dim room open to reveal Lin’s teacher, in chains, having been deposed from his post for opium smoking and transported to the capital for punishment. Lin is now confronted with a choice: he can defend his teacher out of a traditional teacher-student loyalty (akin to a family bond), even despite his (Lin’s) personal abhorrence of opium and convic-

tion that it needs to be suppressed entirely, or Lin can silently witness his teacher being sentenced by the Emperor to execution for his crimes. Lin defends his teacher on family loyalty grounds, although the teacher is sentenced equally on the grounds of family betrayal (his betrayal, that is, of his Confucian obligation as an official to his Emperor in the family-dynasty connection). Here, then, opium is figured as disruptor of the ‘‘natural’’ bonds of family and loyalty (and in this guise alone, as a social problem), where the two hierarchical relationships of teacher-student and emperorofficial in proper Confucian fashion express the idea of the family state that is the imperial state, and the close ideal nexus between teacher and student (although anachronistically—or, inaccurately?—the English subtitles persistently translate guojia as ‘‘nation’’ rather than the more proper ‘‘imperial state’’). The tension introduced by opium here is that in order to preserve the imperial family, the teacher-student family must be broken, even though the former preservation can only be temporary at best, since, as we’ve seen, by the end of the film, the Emperor/empire has betrayed his/its family—his ancestors/the nation as family genealogy. In short, opium becomes the disruptor of the ‘‘natural’’ social bonds of the empire, figured completely as internal to the family.33 In OW this insistently interior or internally contained notion of politics and of opium is offered as the historical text and context of the Qing/ Chinese clash with the British. In other words, it is not offered as critique of capitalist expansionism in the form of British imperialism or of the altered meaning of markets at this historical moment, but as a way of denoting the nature of imperialism as the clash of two systems of politics and consumption rather than as the mutual restructurings of global and local economies and ways of knowing. Indeed, while British politics, like Chinese politics, is principally enacted in the film by state officials and merchants (there are no ‘‘people’’ in Britain, just as there is none to speak of in China), the British officials and merchants, unlike their Chinese counterparts, move easily between outside and inside, fusing the two spaces into a unitary whole. Even the indoor debates carried on by the British merchants in Guangzhou and by the Parliament in London are bright and well-lighted, while the Chinese machinery of state is left in literal as well as metaphorical darkness. And while the Chinese merchant’s son in OW, who had ostensibly disappeared at sea and who reemerges on board Denton’s Tuna, seems to provide a model for the transversing of internal/external space, that transversing is reinforced only as the merchant’s son becomes the object of a strongly repressed sexual desire by Denton’s daughter (a sexual or ‘‘family’’ liaison whose impossible suggestion must be suppressed, even while it emerges at every turn). However, the son’s very ‘‘hybridity’’ (as it might be zoologi-

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cally called today) must be recontained within the family (state-merchantmarket) nexus and thus neutralized. Most exemplary for indicating the contours of the imperialism-politicsmarket-modernity nexus is the scene toward the middle of the film depicting Queen Victoria. We first encounter the Queen from across a wide grassy plain fronting on a moated, trestled castle. Stereotypically and quintessentially ‘‘British,’’ this establishing shot allows us to appreciate both the freedom of the Queen, as she canters on her white steed across the plain, and the solidity of the castle as seen in its exterior totality (by contrast, the emperor is always trapped indoors and the Forbidden City never seen as a totality but only in its parts). Young, beautiful, insouciant, the Queen as a monarch provides an immediate visual and visceral contrast to the Emperor Daoguang, the other monarch. Despite the endearing humanizing touches Xie has added to the normally distant and distanced representation of Chinese emperors (as when Daoguang implausibly takes Lin’s pulse during their initial conference), Daoguang’s humanity, nevertheless, is strained and trapped in rituals and can never be as natural or unstudied as Victoria’s free-floating and easy manner with her subordinates. After following her on her horse, we finally see Victoria in full frontal portrait as she reins in her mount, leaps from her saddle in the bloom of health, and casually inquires of her men: ‘‘So, what have you brought me, my dear friends? Budget, deficit, or war in India?’’ Clearly, she bears her power and responsibilities as absolute monarch lightly (again, in contrast to the heavily burdened Daoguang), although, as soon becomes evident, this lightness is not the result of her femininity or youth, but because she embodies—and she knows that she embodies—Historical Truth. The waiting men off-handedly mention the opening of a new rail line, to which the Queen is invited for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting (frivolous the request may be, but the equating of the railroad with British modernization/modernity can hardly be missed). As the Queen agrees to the invitation and turns to leave, the Foreign Office Secretary, Lord Palmerston, quickly interjects that in fact, there is another ‘‘important matter,’’ this concerning China, that requires the Queen’s attention. For there, Palmerston reports: ‘‘Lin Zexu has destroyed eight million pounds of our goods, and is driving all of our British residents out of Guangzhou.’’ Asked for her instructions, the Queen knowingly replies: ‘‘But I hear that you are already assembling marine forces’’ to take care of the issue. Turning on her heel, she walks toward the castle (which we again see in its totality), indifferently swishing her riding crop at her side. Just as the juxtaposition of railroads and China in the ministers’ requests is not coincidental, nor is the exaggerated image of the Queen’s

vigor and youth incidental to the accumulating binarisms being constructed through the film. These pose the old, tired, burdened Daoguang (symbol of the old, tired, burdened Chinese civilizational order) against the youthful, energetic Victoria (symbol of the youthful, energetic British empire). Curiously, perhaps, there is no doubt where human sympathies are supposed to lie here, even though the presumed natural attraction to Victoria’s femininity, beauty, youth, and energy must be in tense contradiction with the knowledge that the Victorian era constituted the high tide of the consolidation of capitalist expansionism and British imperialism around the world, a tide soon to peak, according to the film, in the seizing/ceding of Hong Kong. Rather than confront this contradiction, or somehow explain it, Xie shies away from it altogether by conjoining the image of Victoria and the words she speaks to a ‘‘natural’’ quasi-religious transcendence, that appears as Historical Truth. Indeed, the entire following sequence—in which we see Victoria cut the rail-line ribbon and then discuss with Palmerston policy options in China—resolves itself into a pronouncement on universal Historical and even God-given Truth that is so naturalized, so transcendently commonsensical, that contradictions are washed away in a sigh of complicitous contemporary understanding. To wit: Victoria speaks for sending British forces to China as she sits virginlike in a white dress surrounded by men seated below her. Any number of standard Virgin Mary tableaux are suggested by this positioning. Her words are pronounced with clarity, directness, humanity, and apparently unimpeachable Historical logic: If I were in Lin Zexu’s position, I would also burn all the opium. . . [Camera cuts to faces of consternation on the men.] But now it is not the opium issue, nor the issue of the lives and property of a few merchants. It is not even a matter of the dignity of our British flag and royalty. [Camera cuts again to heightened anxiety found on the faces of the men, all of whom shift uneasily in their seats.] If all nations follow China’s example and reject free trade, the British empire will no longer exist within a year. [Faces relax, postures ease.] This is the reason for us to use force! [Approving nods all around.] We must teach them a lesson on free trade! [Longish pause.] Gentlemen, Britain has the responsibility to open up this last and largest territory in the East; I hope you won’t tell me one day that this has been done by other countries. [Knowing smiles all around; Victoria, staring into an Historical infinitude somewhere beyond her audience]: The fact is, whoever gets hold of China will have the entire East, the nineteenth century. [Immediate cut to China.]

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Finally, Xie Jin seems to imply, the Truth can be both spoken and heard in China. Indeed, the parliamentary debate that takes place a bit later in the film and that demonstrates the real contestation within the British ruling class of sending forces to China (after all, the opposition to the war was only two votes short of winning), is, on one level, actually irrelevant in the film, since the Truth has been spoken and the historical die already cast. On another level, of course, as a mode of politics, the performance of the ritual of democratic consensus-building in the parliamentary debate lends the historical narrative its verissimilitude, even while its specific historical role is radically qualified by Truth. Nevertheless, the visual acting out of the dictum that China is a weak nation, albeit a great civilization, which is cinematically effected in the parade of objets d’art brought to the house that are in turn smashed before the parliamentarians’ eyes, gives credence to the unambiguous historical mandate that civilizations must become nations in the modern period, or perish. For, as material artifacts of civilizational greatness, these objets d’art could more properly be in museums (just as Victoria hopes that Lin Zexu’s likeness will find its way to Mme. Tussaud’s wax museum [which, of course, it does]). And yet, as material exemplars of China’s weakness as a nation, these objets are physically destroyed, in the name of newer, more urgent historical trends. Recalling, perhaps, that the eighteenth century’s chinoiserie craze, during which Chinese objects such as the vases and bronzes and jades had helped consolidate an internal bourgeois-aristocratic style of luxury and opulence but had failed to secure China for Britain (or anyone else), the destruction of the illusion of greatness as embodied in civilizational/cultural artifacts is now the necessary corollary to Britain’s nineteenth-century claims on China. Shorn of past civilizational greatness, what are we left with, then, to define the nation, other than markets and the state? Finally, as a mode of politics and in contrast to what happens in the Beijing court, where Emperor Daoguang is swayed this way and that by different advisors and thus seems to possess no Historical Truth whatsoever (only local truths about dynastic politics and families), Victoria is firm in her conviction, and can speak Truth in full voice and openly. In China, the Guangzhou official (Viceroy Deng Tingzhao) waiting for Lin Zexu’s arrival announces as he completes a calligraphic inscription while blindfolded: ‘‘Writing calligraphy is like handling matters of state,’’ while in Britain, Victoria is open-eyed and powerful, even in her virginal femininity and girlishness. The very humanizing touches given Victoria in the film (that are often mentioned approvingly by reviewers, who appreciate the view of ‘‘the other side’’ previously glossed in most accounts as an undifferentiated

force of evil) only serve to underscore the unpleasant fact that History’s trajectory can sometimes be violent and unpleasant, but that its basic consequences—here, the global market—are inevitable; and its Truth can be even delivered by a woman.We thus trade inevitability embodied by impersonal evil forces of imperialism for inevitability embodied in humanized historical actors on behalf of the market. In this sense, the historical conjuncture enacted in and through Britain—where markets (known as ‘‘free trade’’), politics, imperialism, and modernity are fully convergent with one another—is posed against the divergence of these balancing elements from one another in China. This leads ultimately to the relegation of the Emperor and his officials to shamefacedness vis-à-vis their own history (towards the ancestors) and vis-à-vis History itself. And clearly, the only possible historical recuperative gesture is to bring these elements back into balance. It is precisely this that is achieved in Hong Kong’s recovery, at least according to Xie’s OW. Hong Kong and Modernizationism Xie Jin’s OW begins with the textual inscription: ‘‘It is only after a people [minzu] has really stood up, that this people can directly face and reflect upon her previous history of humiliation.’’ 34 Notable here is not only Xie’s echoing of Mao Zedong’s speech at the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949, but also the emphasis on the minzu [the ethnos, albeit here best understood as the ethnos encapsulated in the state] in contrast to Zheng Junli’s emphasis on the renmin [the people, understood as the masses]. It is this minzu, as fully enclosed by the state-market nexus, that is indeed being wished into being in the film. A decade before Xie’s OW, the path to this type of historical recognition was already established, when the move into market-state convergence was construed as the shedding of China’s historical burden of backwardness and its potential joining of universal History as full-blown explanatory paradigm in the contentious six-part series He Shang (River elegy). First broadcast on Chinese television in June 1988, one of the series’ seemingly unmistakable points was that the burden of China’s past—depicted as a stagnant (yellow) river—needed to be jettisoned for the (blue oceanic) future to come into view. Although, many commentaries later, it is clear that such a completely deracinated view of China’s future was never so clearly encoded by the producers of the series as viewers and critics might have believed, the desired future’s image is prefigured in the past retold by He Shang, albeit not through the then still standard codes of revolution but through the now standard codes of liberal intellectual-elite enlight-

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enment and market power combined in enlightened state leadership.35 Nevertheless, even as the extremism of He Shang was denounced, its articulation and figuration of the triple burden of Chinese history has become the point of departure around which modern Chinese history is reconfigured today.36 In this reconfiguration of Chinese history around capitalist modernizationism led by a strong, enlightened (scientific) intellectual-elite dominated (technocratic) state, the accumulated absence of this fortuitous configuration appears as the central burden of modern Chinese history. And in this figuration, the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty has become, for many Chinese commentators, the most visible and surest demonstration of the ultimate efficacy of China’s past two decades of reform and opening—or, for the convergence of markets and politics into national and global power. Indeed, while the language of and anxiety over a resurgent state-led and/or popular Chinese nationalism has been the focus in much U.S. and British coverage of the reversion, it is the point about modernization that has been made most repeatedly in the Chinese press and among academics.37 The two—nationalism and modernization—are not unrelated, but it is the specific (albeit unarticulated) connection being made between modernization and the particular form of nationalist expression that now contains it that is of interest. During a roundtable discussion in mid-1997 on the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China, a group of Chinese historians involved in the journal Jindaishi yanjiu [Modern history research] gathered to celebrate its onehundredth issue; Liu Danian, the journal’s eminence grise, commented on the significance of the then-impending events: To achieve the return of Hong Kong, the Chinese people have struggled long and hard; indeed, Britain’s leaders . . . would never have thought of giving up Hong Kong. So, why is Hong Kong being returned to us now? The answer resides in China, in China’s modernization. And, China’s modernization cannot be separated from the reform and opening policies [of the 1980s and 1990s]. . . . This is the most important historical lesson that Hong Kong’s return offers us today.38 In a similar vein, film critic Xu Qian, in the course of defending himself against the attacks of a (‘‘leftist’’) critic of his review of Xie Jin’s film (an attack that objected to Xu’s almost unqualified praise for the film) wrote: ‘‘ ‘The Opium War’ reflects upon the bitter historical lesson that backwardness does lead to victimization [luohou jiu aida]; this precisely suits our contemporary needs. It is thus mysterious to me why there are those who

are still unhappy, who willfully distort the facts, and who still want to object [to the film, and to Xu’s lauditory review].’’ 39 These remarks—and many others like them—turn our attention toward not only the almost desperate and thus wishful affirmation of a telelological and primordial destiny for China and for China’s convergence with History, but also to the specific desired mode of that convergence: the achievement of control by the ‘‘nation’’—understood as embodied exclusively by the state and its supporters—over the reterritorialization (in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense) 40 over production, labor, and capital. While this mastery must remain in the realm of fantasy—particularly in today’s globalized economies, in which China participates fully and which is indeed the condition of possibility for the current articulation of the very notion of deterritorialization by the Chinese state—nevertheless, it is precisely this fantasy that, rather than merely affirm an already existing reality, attempts to produce a new reality, by containing a wished-for present and future through the depiction of a particular version of the failed past. In this context, it is worth noting that the linkage between modernizationist nationalism—as recovery of territoriality and as state mastery over the reterritorialization of labor and capital and the domesticating, as it were, of the commodity form—and Hong Kong’s return to China is relatively new. It is only this linkage that has facilitated the rise of Hong Kong to its current position as the central symbol of modern Chinese history’s burdens, now overcome. For, it is surely of interest to note that the ceding of Hong Kong as a historical event only came to metonymically stand in for the historical burden of China’s ‘‘century of humiliation’’ (1842–1943) in the 1980s. In other words, before the 1980s, while Hong Kong certainly rose from time to time as a vital problem for China (in the general strike and the Guangzhou uprising of 1927, and during the Cultural Revolution, to cite some examples),41 Hong Kong was nevertheless not dominantly construed as the central symbol of China’s pre-1943 humiliation until the 1980s. An impressionistic review indicates that, in post-1895 (late-Qing) intellectual discourse and debate about the problem of guafen (territorial partitioning)—surely one of the most discussed and lamented issues of the time—aside from nodding references to Hong Kong, little suggests that this British colony was crucial to the late-Qing intellectuals’ future imaginary of the constitution of a proper Chinese sovereignty or a fully realized Chinese territorial nationalism or Chinese modernity (even while all sorts of anti-Qing activists and activities took refuge in Hong Kong).42 Through the May Fourth period and the Nanjing Decade, while the foreign concessions [zujie]—Shanghai, Tianjin, etc.—were clearly of much concern

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to Chinese nationalists—whether of ccp, gmd, or other varieties—Hong Kong does not seem to have occupied a prominent position in the desired nullifying of China’s unequal treaties. In the Nanjing Treaty itself (1842), the ceding of Hong Kong comes as the third article, after the opening of the five treaty ports and the reparations to be paid by the Qing to the British. Through the next century and a half, it was these first two articles (which included the establishment via the first of judicial extraterritoriality), along with others on duties/tariffs and most-favored nation status, that were recognized and lamented as most damaging to Qing dynastic/Republican Chinese sovereignty. When the unequal treaties were finally renounced by the Western powers in January 1943—in the midst of the Pacific War—Jiang Jieshi [Chiang Kai-shek] proclaimed in his book China’s Destiny almost total victory for the Chinese people and the Chinese nation in the struggle for judicial autonomy and potential territorial sovereignty (the major remaining tasks, according to Jiang, being to defeat the Japanese and the Communists). While Jiang does mention in China’s Destiny that the matter of Kowloon remained to be resolved, he also wrote that ‘‘what we must recognize is that there exists a definite geographical interdependence between Hong Kong and Kowloon,’’ while expressing confidence that this ‘‘tiny plot of land’’ would not hinder the ‘‘enduring friendship between China and England.’’ 43 Perhaps Hong Kong’s relative invisibility in the Chinese intellectualpolitical imaginary is partially due to the fact that it only became the center of Asian laissez-faire capitalism in the 1950s, not, as is often claimed, from the inception of British rule in the 1840s. Whatever the case, the elevation of Hong Kong to its current centrality in the ‘‘completion’’ of the Chinese nation, indeed, as central confirmation of China’s modernization and modernity, and as the foremost of achievements among the transcended historical burdens of modern Chinese history, only occurred in the early 1980s. This may not be surprising, on the one hand, since Governor Patten by then was busy setting the Hong Kong British colonial administration on a firm course of confrontation with China, precipitating the escalating ill-will between himself and the Chinese authorities that lasted until he left office; at the same time, and not unrelated, of course, the problem of the impending end of the 99-year lease on Kowloon was forced onto the diplomatic agenda. Yet while these two issues served to reintroduce a certain strident rhetoric of anti-imperialism into Chinese political discourse (a rhetoric that had for the most part disappeared since 1980), this rhetoric was substantially contained within the question of sovereignty in Hong Kong’s international/national status as British colony and the current suitability of China as a sovereign power. The rhetoric was as little concerned

with the internal Hong Kong socio-political structurings that had resulted from this status 44—the realities of Hong Kong’s internal relations—as it was with reviving any wide-ranging debate or consideration of ‘‘imperialism’’ itself. Indeed, Hong Kong’s significance was dissolved into a flattened concept of ‘‘imperialism’’ and ‘‘colonialism’’ as territorial occupation and denial of the rightful national (state) sovereignty over the territory by China and its recovery figured as the proper and full realignment of the state/market forces so necessary to modernization endeavors. It is at this 1980s conjuncture, and with only rhetorical bows to British imperialism, that Hong Kong came to be reconfigured as the central symbol of China’s modern historical burden, and, hence, as the most ideal site for staging the successful convergence of the market-state diadic desire noted above. For, indeed, Hong Kong was a burden now imminently to be overcome with China’s new state-modernization musculature. In this sense, the facile-seeming linkages of Hong Kong’s return as proof of China’s modernization appear as absolutely unmediated reflections of contemporary political-economic-historical thought.45 Yet, at a different level, if the proof of the historical efficacy of the ideology and practice of modernization is the lesson for China (and the world) of Hong Kong’s return, as well as being the (partial) fulfillment of contemporary China’s long-awaited modernizing destiny, a destiny now rejoined after a period of revolutionary aberration, as it were, this can only be so if a particular inevitable relationship between territoriality (national space), capitalist modernization (modern global synchronicity), history (China’s trajectory), and History (global diachrony) is assumed. As must be clear by now, the language through which this ‘‘natural’’ relationship is generally expressed is the ritualized and normalizing invocations of markets and of China’s triumphal joining of the global capitalist world. In the present context, then, China’s historical burden turns out to be neither the ccp’s undemocratic dominance of Chinese society for the past fifty years (nor the current undemocratic stances of either the ccp or liberal intellectuals); nor is it fatal flaws in China’s historical civilizational order. Rather, the failure of earlier Chinese leaders to fully recognize the essential Truth and historical nature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is figured as the state’s stubborn unwillingness to marshal the strength of China’s market to join the capitalist world rather than to thwart it. Here, we truly enter the world of forgetful fantasy. For, as is well-known, but apparently just as often forgotten, in the nineteenth century the assault came in the form of the attempted consolidation by Britain, through the incorporation of China, of a new Asian and world order for global capitalism under the sign of the commodity and in the form of imperialist

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colonization, best-epitomized in the nineteenth century by the establishment of opium as a commodity form that linked China, India, and Britain in a global imperial endeavor.46 This consolidation was achieved by turning the balance of trade between Britain and China in favor of the former, which ‘‘enabl[ed] India to increase its consumption of British manufacture and contribut[ed] directly to support British dominion in the East.’’ 47 In this configuration, opium was not about China per se, it was (at least in large part) about the commodity-form and the consolidation of this form in the China market. In the Maoist part of the twentieth century, as is wellknown and often remembered, this consolidation through China of the commodity form as global imperialist domination was resisted and contested in and through the socialist revolutionary project. In today’s late twentieth century, as is well-known and also often remembered, the consolidation is being achieved anew by the Chinese state’s brilliant seizing of the West’s persistent fantasy of the China market and the turning of that fantasy to Chinese modernizing advantage. It is, in short, precisely in not repeating the so-called ‘‘failure’’ of the Qing emperors, nor the historical choice (seen as historical ‘‘failure’’) of Mao Zedong and his revolutionary order, that is today’s triumphal achievement. Today, it is the final embracing of the commodity-form and the recolonization of Chinese history by this History of sameness that constitutes the modern historical burden finally overcome and transcended. It is this point about ‘‘historical burdens’’ that is most highly illumined by Xie Jin’s revisionist Opium War in a comparison with Zheng Junli’s Lin Zexu, and it is the tracing of that difference that allows us to note how thoroughly modern Chinese history is being recolonized. Notes I want to thank Xudong Zhang for asking me to write this essay after many hours of discussing the issues it deals with. I am grateful to Marilyn Young for her thorough reading and critique of the essay. A fortuitously timed dissertation proposal submitted by Kristin Bayer helped me think through some of my points; and long discussions about general theoretical and contemporary issues with Moss Roberts, Harry Harootunian, and Ken Kawashima have been invaluable. Needless to say, all of the above are absolved from responsibility for the final form in which their assistance appears in this essay. 1 A 1943 film about the Opium War, made in wartime Shanghai under the Japanese-sponsored government, Wanshi liufang [Eternity], can be read to conflate Lin Zexu’s resistance to imperialism with Japanese-Chinese cooperation against ‘‘white’’ imperialism in the Pacific war. For a brief description, see

Luo Yijun, ‘‘ ‘Yapian zhanzheng’ suixiang’’ [Thoughts on ‘‘The Opium War’’], Dangdai dianying [Contemporary cinema] 4 (1997): 94; for another perspective of the film, as viewed through a consideration of its most important female actress, see Shelley Stephenson, ‘‘ ‘Her Traces Are Found Everywhere’: Shanghai, Li Xianglan, and the Greater East Asia Film Sphere,’’ in Yingjin Zhang, ed., Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922–1943 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999), 222–45. 2 For a description of the Sanyuanli incident and a critique of its ‘‘exaggerated importance’’ in PRC scholarship on the Opium War, see Frederic Wakeman, Strangers at the Gate: Social Disorder in South China, 1839–1861 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pt. 1. For a different view, see Hu Sheng, Cong yapian zhanzheng dao wusi yundong [From the Opium War to the May Fourth Movement] (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1983), vol. 1, 52–58. 3 The full screenplay of Xie Jin’s film can be found in Dangdai dianying 1 (1998): 100–128. 4 The evaluation of Xie Jin’s ‘‘balanced’’ view comes from Hong Kong, Chinese, and British critics. In Hong Kong, while some critics clearly chafed at the use of Hong Kong to highlight China’s ‘‘national shame’’ (Bono Lee), most of them were surprised at what was called the film’s lack of ‘‘unbearable sensationalism and hysterical patriotic propaganda’’ (Li Cheuk-to). See http://filmcritics.org.hk/opiumwar/reviewT.html, a site sponsored by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. Among British reactions, it was acknowledged that ‘‘fears that Beijing would rush to impose a comic-book communist clarity on the muddle left by historians have . . . largely faded’’ (Andrew Higgins, Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1997). In China, the Wenyi bao [Art and literature news] held a forum for discussion of the film on 9 September 1997, in which a vitriolic exchange occurred. For a summary of the exchange and a defense by one of the critics attacked, see Xu Qian, ‘‘Pingjia shenma ye yao zheng le yan kan: Guanyu yingpian ‘Yapian zhanzheng’ de pingjia wenti’’ [One must evaluate with open eyes: On evaluating the film ‘The Opium War’], Dangdai dianying 2 (1998): 75–78. On Xie Jin’s centrality to revolutionary-era film, see Li Yimin, ‘‘Xie Jin dianying zai Zhongguo dianying shi shang de diwei’’ [Xie Jin’s films in the history of Chinese cinema], Dianying yishu (Cinema Art) 2 (1990); Zhu Dake, ‘‘The Drawback of Xie Jin’s Model,’’ and Li Jie, ‘‘Xie Jin’s Era Should End,’’ both in George S. Semsel et al., eds., Chinese Film Theory: A Guide to the New Era (New York, Praeger, 1990), 144–46, 147–48. See also Chen Xiaoming, ‘‘The Mysterious Other: Postpolitics in Chinese Film,’’ boundary 2, Special Issue (Postmodernism and China, coed. Arif Dirlik and Xudong Zhang): 123–42, where it is noted that Xie Jin epitomizes revolutionary-era films as a master of the visual representation of orthodox historical discourse and ideological functionality (124); and Ma Ning, ‘‘Spatiality and Subjectivity in Xie Jin’s Film Melodrama of the New Period,’’ in Nick Browne et al., eds., New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 15–39.

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5 The breathless review of the film’s debut in the officially sponsored Englishlanguage magazine Beijing Review lists these among other facts and figures about the film’s making and screening. The review also praises Xie’s decision to process and postproduce part of the film in Tokyo, so as ‘‘to guarantee the best effect.’’ See ‘‘The Opium War Debut Applauded,’’ Beijing Review (4–10 August 1997): 30. Many of the commentaries in China, as well as one in the New York Times, include a similar catalog of eye-popping numbers. See, e.g., Zhongguo yingmu [China’s screen] (July-August 1996): 20; New York Times, 1 December 1996, H1 and H6; Shu Ke, ‘‘1997 nian Zhongguo yinmu junzhu chenfu’’ [Brief comments on the sinkers and swimmers of the 1997 Chinese screen], Dianying yishu 3 (1998): 6–9. 6 The 37 percent figure is cited by Gao Jun, ‘‘Jujiao yi jiu jiu qi: Beijing shichang ‘jiu qi guochanpian nian’ shuping’’ [A focus on 1997: An explanatory critique of national films of ’97 in the Beijing market], Dangdai dianying 1 (1998): 45. 7 Shu Ke, ‘‘1997 nian Zhongguo yinmu junzhu chenfu,’’ 6. 8 Many of the review-essays, particularly those published in Dangdai dianying [Contemporary cinema], understand the popularity of the film among the ‘‘masses’’ [dazhong] in terms of how history in the 1990s has been turned into entertainment rather than rigid formula. See, e.g., Wang Desheng, ‘‘Yulehua de lishi: 90 niandai zhongguo dianyingzhong de ‘lishi’ wenti’’ [History as entertainment: The problem of ‘‘history’’ in 1990s Chinese films], Dangdai dianying 1 (1998): 58–64; Zhang Yiwu, ‘‘90 niandai zhongguo dianying de kongjian xiangxiang’’ [The spatial imaginary in ’90s Chinese films], Dangdai dianying 2 (1998): 16–23; Shao Ruigang, ‘‘Zhimian lishi kongjian: Lishi yingpian ‘Yapian zhanzheng’ meishu sheji’’ [Confronting the space of history: Art design in the historical film ‘‘The Opium War’’], Dangdai dianying 6 (1997): 92–95; Hu Ke, ‘‘Zhuanxingqi dianying zoushi: Ping 1996–1997 nian zhongguo dianying’’ [The momentum of transitional film models: A critique of Chinese films of 1996–1997], Dangdai dianying 1 (1998): 11–22. Shao Ruigang’s essay in particular lauds the film’s contributions to state-sponsored filmmaking, which, in his estimation, can now join the ranks of international films in grandeur and sophistication (‘‘Zhimian lishi kongjian,’’ 92). 9 Or 1978–92. Some scholars are calling for a new period label for the 1990s: the post-New Era (hou xinshiqi). For essays on this ‘‘post-New Era,’’ see Xie Mian and Zhang Yiwu, eds., Da zhuanxing—hou xinshiqi wenhua yanjiu [The great transition: Research into the culture of the post-New Era] (Harbin: Heilongjiang jiaoyu chubanshe, 1995). 10 For various iterations of this theme, see the essays in New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics, ed. Browne et al.; Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender, ed. Sheldon Hsiao-peng Lu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997); Chinese Film Theory, ed. Semsel et al. Yet, as is rarely acknowledged, it was precisely under this ‘‘burden’’ that film itself was popularized as a form of mass entertainment in the post-1949 period. (Paul Clark points out that the Chinese public first had to be educated in the ways of ‘‘see-

11 12




ing’’ that could make film a plausible form of entertainment to a mass audience unaccustomed to viewing motion pictures, and while this project was started in urban areas throughout the 1920s and 1930s, only in the Maoist period was film brought to a wider, more rural audience. See Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987], chap. 3.) The term ‘‘postpolitical’’ appears in Chen Xiaoming, ‘‘The Mysterious Other: Postpolitics in Chinese Film,’’ where ‘‘postpolitics’’ is defined as the ‘‘manipulation of political codes . . . where everything is political and nothing is political at one and the same time’’ (124). As critics have begun to note, the number of Chinese viewers attracted to cinemas for Chinese-made films is growing exponentially. See the impressive figures cited by Zhang Yiwu, ‘‘90 niandai zhongguo dianying de kongjian xiangxiang’’ [The spatial imaginary in 1990s Chinese films], Dangdai dianying 2 (1998): 18–20. Xudong Zhang, Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reforms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), 24. Indeed, the issue of guochan (nationally produced) becomes particularly problematic in the 1990s, for until this decade, nothing but guochan films were made because funding came directly and exclusively from the state-sponsored film studios. In the 1990s, the tendency has been for epic-style films to collect funding from multiple sources abroad, thus attaching the ‘‘nationally produced’’ label to the nationality or ethnicity of the primary director/producer, not to the site or funding source of the film’s production, even while, from the opposite end of the spectrum, micro-funded independents that are truly ‘‘nationally produced’’—such as the emergent ‘‘sixth-generation’’ films—are never incorporated into the guochan rubric. As Bono Lee, a Hong Kong film critic, wrote of the film: ‘‘The rush of patriotic fervour is appetizing for those who identify with such nationalistic passion, but for the Hong Kong audience, it leaves a totally different taste in the mouth. It’s not just the tell-tale aesthetic difference (from language to character, everything is too Mainland and too mask-like) but also the local view that the Opium War, having made Hong Kong what it is, is not necessarily a national shame. The difference in reactions to this film between Chinese and Hong Kong audiences is testimony to the difference in thought patterns and value systems of the two lands.’’ See http://filmcritics.org.hk/opiumwar/reviewT.html. I could find no figures for Hong Kong attendance at the film. For example, by exploring the intricate transitions in early-nineteenth-century capitalism and its formative links in the British colonization of India, the establishment of the British imperium in the East, and China’s relationship to that history. Predictably, Western commentators on the film have focused on its revisionist historical narrative, which is functionally attached to the Communist Party’s need to get the Hong Kong public on the same page as their new ccp rulers. These comments reflect great skepticism about the film, implying that previous British versions of this history as encoded in Hong Kong textbooks

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were somehow ‘‘true,’’ while the current version is mere ideology. See Andrew Higgins, who writes with a high degree of anxiety that the textbooks issued by Everyman Book Company, the leading educational publisher in Hong Kong, are being revised by the ccp. He notes that the old (British-sponsored) textbooks noted that ‘‘Qing dynasty restrictions on trade in the 19th century ‘naturally aroused the dissatisfaction of foreign traders . . .’ It [the textbook] said Britain always embraced the notion of ‘freedom and equality’ among countries, and asked ‘How could [it] accept to be treated with such disrespect by the Chinese government?’ ’’ By contrast, the new version apparently emphasizes ‘‘ ‘Britain’s disregard for justice and its desire to flood China with large amounts of high-priced opium in search of profit’ ’’ (Higgins, Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1997). Wang Desheng, ‘‘Yulehua de lishi,’’ 59. For the ‘‘nostalgia’’ film as a dominant mode of the postmodern Western filmic form of recounting history, see Fredric Jameson, ‘‘Remapping Taipei,’’ in Browne et al., eds., New Chinese Cinemas, 121. Ban Wang, The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in TwentiethCentury China (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), 6. For a general discussion on this point, see Xudong Zhang, Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reform. The phrase ‘‘conservative utopia’’ is included in Zhang’s ‘‘Nostalgic Utopia: The City of Shanghai in Zhang Ailing and Wang Anyi,’’ a paper delivered at New York University, 22 January 1999. Also see Zhang’s contribution to the present volume, ‘‘Nationalism, Mass Culture, and Intellectual Strategies in Post-Tiananmen China.’’ Fairbank’s comments come in his foreword to Hsin-pao Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964). Marx’s comments on China and the opium trade, written from 1853 to 1858, were part of his contributions to the New York Tribune, accessible through the Marx/Engels www Archive: http://csf.colorado.edu/psn/marx. This is the missed opportunity of such relatively recent histories of opium that trace it in every way other than its commodity form. For a different perspective, see Carl A. Trocki, Opium, Empire, and the Global Political Economy: A Study of the Asian Opium Trade, 1750–1950 (New York: Routledge, 1999). These markers of urbanization and commercialization can be traced back into late imperial times, to the Ming Dynasty, and thus proclaimed to have existed incipiently for many centuries, serving the cause of erasing imperialism and colonialism as ruptured markers of a new era in China in favor of a continuity thesis of Chinese history. For indications about the tremendous revival of the 1930s and of that decade’s figuration as ‘‘natural’’ precursor to the Chinese 1990s—with the revolutionary period totally excised—see Gan Yang’s essay in this volume, ‘‘Debating Liberalism and Democracy in China in the 1990s.’’ In the late Qing, this phrase did not exist, although similar ones about wangguo min [people of a lost country]; wangguo nu [slaves of a lost country]; wang-

guo miezhong [perishing of state, destruction of race/people], and so on, were all prevalent. Indeed, it is not surprising that in the opening scenes of Xie Jin’s OW, the Emperor Daoguang intones the fear that without some drastic action to proscribe opium use, ‘‘the treasury will be depleted, and the country left defenseless,’’ to which Lin Zexu ominously and improbably replies: wangguo miezhong. This usage in the sense being ascribed to the phrase— loss of nation and destruction of the people/race—is most unlikely for midnineteenth-century China. 25 This theme is particularly noticeable as well in post-Mao Chinese scholarship on China’s early modernization ( jindaihua), whether that development is dated from the late-Qing’s ziqiang (self-strengthening) movement (that arose after the twin blows of the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion) or from the 1898 reform movement (wuxu bianfa), or the May Fourth period. Wholesale reevaluations of Western missionaries, chambers of commerce, the ‘‘conservative reformers’’ of 1898, etc., have become the new mainstream of Chinese historical scholarship, much of which attempts to reverse the Mao era’s complete condemnation of these capitalist-type, reformist, and/or imperialist-led efforts by now affirming that they contributed positively to China’s early modernization. It should be noted that the very designation jindaihua became current only in the late 1980s and the 1990s. For representative works in this vein, see, Wang Lixin, Meiguo chuanjiaoshi yu wanqing zhongguo xiandaihua [American missionaries and modernization of China in the late Qing dynasty] (Tianjin, China: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 1997); Zhong Xiangcai, Zhongguo jindai minzu qiyejia jing ji sixiangshi [A history of economic thought among China’s modern national industrialists] (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe, 1992); Sang Xianzhi, Wanqing zhengzhi yu wenhua [Late-Qing politics and culture] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1996); and Li Wenhai, Shiji zhi jiao de wanqing shehui [Late-Qing society at the turn of the century] (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 1995). In U.S. scholarship, the argument over the burden of modern Chinese history has received one iteration by Prasenjit Duara, who, unlike his Chinese counterparts, is less concerned with modernization per se (although his argument is not inimical to it) and more interested in the supposed burdensome tyranny of nation-centered narratives of history, which are blamed for all sorts of problems in Chinese historiography and, improbably, in Chinese history as well. Another expression of this burden argument is most noticeable in the post-1989 obligatory inclusion of addenda to any work on modern China that deplores the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, as if all of Chinese political culture from the nineteenth century onward pointed inevitably toward this event. For a reevaluation of Chinese radical cinema in the 1930s—previously understood as one of the crowning accomplishments of Chinese film history— see Ma Ning, ‘‘The Textual and Critical Difference of Being Radical: Reconstructing Chinese Leftist Films of the 1930s,’’ Wide Angle 11, no. 2 (1989): 22– 31.

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26 Hayden White, ‘‘The Burden of History,’’ Tropics of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978): 27–50; cite on 29. 27 The neutral ground of history argument in the modern Chinese history field has most recently received a thorough defense in the United States in the special issue of Modern China 24, no. 4 (April 1998), which proposes itself as a ‘‘self-reflection’’ on ‘‘the uses of theory in Modern Chinese History Research.’’ This issue laments the incursions of an undefined ‘‘postmodernism’’ into China studies and calls for a return to what editor Philip Huang calls ‘‘actual history writing,’’ which he describes as the ‘‘problematic of mediating between fact and concept’’ as opposed to the ‘‘postmodern’’ ‘‘obsession’’ with ‘‘extreme subjectivist tendencies’’ (Huang, ‘‘Introduction,’’ 101, 104). The defense of ‘‘history’’ here bears more than a little resemblance to the early 1980s campaign in China to defend society against a corrosive ‘‘spiritual pollution’’ emanating from an amorphously conceived ‘‘outside.’’ 28 At an elemental level, this change is what was conveyed by Li Zehou in his posing of the problem of modern Chinese history as an (ultimately unequal) oscillation between jiuwang [saving the nation] and qimeng [enlightenment], in which enlightenment since May Fourth consistently lost out to the urgency of nation-saving. See Li Zehou, ‘‘Qimeng yu jiuwang de shuangzhong bianzou’’ [The two themes of englightenment and saving], in Zhongguo xiandai sixiangshi lun [Essays on China’s modern intellectual history] (Beijing: Dongfang chubanshe, 1987): 7–49. For this argument’s apotheosis, also see Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu, Gaobie geming [Say goodbye to revolution] (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu youxian gongsi [Cosmos Books], 1995). 29 Arif Dirlik, ‘‘Reversals, Ironies, Hegemonies: Notes on the Contemporary Historiography of Modern China,’’ Modern China 22 (July 1996): 243–84. Also see Liu Kang, ‘‘Is There an Alternative to (Capitalist) Globalization? The Debate About Modernity in China,’’ boundary 2 23, no. 3 (1996): 193–218. 30 For the commodity form, see Karl Marx, Capital, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage, 1977), vol. 1, chap. 1, ‘‘The Commodity.’’ 31 Chinese commentators publicly make no point about the rampant corruption depicted in the film, nor about the specific scene in which Lin burns the list of corrupted officials on the opium trader’s record of accounts. As the list burns, Lin says that it would be impossible to prosecute all corrupt officials, since that would lead to the whole system’s collapse. On anecdotal evidence, audiences in China recognized the problems of corruption attributed to the Qing system as commentary on the contemporary problem of corruption in the ccp, while they also laughingly recognized the impossibility of rooting out corruption for fear that the whole edifice of government would fall apart. They thus identified with Lin’s compromised position and with the logic set up in the film corruptstate/national weakness/territorial partition, even though the threatened contemporary partition cannot be attributed to externally imposed imperialism, but to internally condoned globalization.

32 Indeed, the difference in sensibilities created in the opium-burning scenes of Lin Zexu and OW is worth noting. In Lin Zexu the scene focuses much more closely on the peasant couple, whose participation in the burning lends that event a poignant and intimate significance which cannot even be suggested by the epic quality of the event as depicted in OW. 33 Many other examples of this figurative mode can be cited: for example, the scene where Lin confronts the Guangzhou officials with their own opium use by shutting them indoors for hours so that they start to tremble and suffer from withdrawal; again, it is the consumption of opium and its role in the disruption of the proper functioning of politics that is at issue. 34 ‘‘Zhiyou dang yige minzu jenzheng zhanqilai de shihou, cai neng zhengshi he fansi ta zeng jing quru de lishi.’’ 35 For commentary on He Shang in the United States, see the collection of essays in Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 23, no. 3 (1991); see also Chen Xiaomei, Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), chap. 1. For reactions in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, see the anthology of essays Longnian de beichuang: ‘‘He Shang’’— Zhengming yu huiying [The tragedy of the dragon year: ‘‘He Shang’’—contentions and reactions] (Hong Kong: Sanlian shudian, 1989). 36 Here, we witness the great convergence of American China historiography— whose capitalist modernizationist tendencies were barely concealed even in the moments of revolution-centered historiographies of the 1970s—and Chinese China historiography, a convergence noticeable at the material level in the increased number of translations and the currency in China of certain American historians of China, new joint publishing efforts (e.g., Ford Foundation grants, Harvard-Yenching-Sanlian agreements, etc.), and the flourishing of academic cooperation between Chinese and American scholars on issues of modernization, missionaries, and more. 37 For a critical discussion of U.S. and British reactions to Hong Kong reversion, see Rey Chow’s contribution to this volume, ‘‘King Kong in Hong Kong: Watching the ‘Handover’ from the U.S.A.’’ The most widely known hysterical U.S. versions of resurgent Chinese nationalism have come in the form of spooky documentations of China’s growing military muscle. Yet what underlies this anxiety about militant nationalism is a deep anxiety about what China’s breakneck speed of modernization and growth might herald for Asia and for the American-centered world. While the rhetoric of what seemed a short while back to be the inevitable coming of a Pacific Century has been muted by Japan’s and most of Asia’s financial crises, the fact that China’s economy still has not collapsed in the face of all this pressure only adds weight to the sinister tones in which resurgent ‘‘Chinese nationalism’’ is seen. Even the outbursts in China over the bombing of the embassy in Kosovo mostly provoked not sympathy but anxiety. 38 ‘‘Xiqing xianggang huigui ji ‘Jindaishi yanjiu’ chuangkan baiqi zuotanhui ji-

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39 40

41 42






yao’’ [Record of roundtable discussion to celebrate the return of Hong Kong and the hundredth issue of ‘‘Research on Modern History’’], Jindaishi yanjiu 5 (1997): 1–12; cite on 2. Xu Qian, ‘‘Pingjia shenma ye yao zheng le yan kan,’’ 78. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaux: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987): 448–60. See Jung-Fang Tsai, Hong Kong in Chinese History: Community and Social Unrest in the British Colony, 1842–1913 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993). During Queen Victoria’s silver and diamond jubilee in 1897, the Hong Kong Chinese contributed large sums to the celebrations, provoking Sun Zhongshan to lament that Hong Kong Chinese seemed much more concerned with Victoria than with the Qing’s recent defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi), China’s Destiny, trans. Philip Jaffe (New York: Roy, 1947), 154. China’s Destiny was initially published in Chinese in March 1943. Aside from the passage cited, Hong Kong is only glancingly mentioned in the chapter on China’s humiliations since the first Opium War; indeed, Jiang’s focus in the chapter on the ‘‘sources of revolution’’ (that is, the 1911 anti-Qing revolution) is on the foreign concessions (zujie), extraterritoriality, and the lack of tariff and judicial autonomy. In fact, in the passage cited above, the only thing that makes Hong Kong an issue is Kowloon, not Hong Kong per se (and Kowloon’s lease is, of course, the only reason that Hong Kong island had to be returned to China in 1997 by the British). The point is that Hong Kong/Kowloon are treated completely apart from the issue of the concessions and apart from the notion of the recovery of Chinese territorial sovereignty. As Esther Yau comments with regard to Hong Kong films about the mainland (comments that are generally pertinent to this discussion): ‘‘Historical representation thus provides an allegorical space for contemporary sentiments to be conveyed without presenting the 1997 question on a realistic plane’’ (‘‘Border Crossing: Mainland China’s Presence in Hong Kong Cinema,’’ in Browne, et al., eds., New Chinese Cinemas, 181.) These linkages were made by Liu Danian and Xu Qian, among others. Actual negotiations on Hong Kong/Kowloon’s return began in earnest in 1982; by 1983, Deng Xiaoping was proclaiming that he foresaw agreement in principle between China and Great Britain by 1985. See ‘‘Deng Xiaoping’s Latest Statement on Hong Kong’s Future,’’ Mingbao (10 July 1983); in fbis-China, 18 July 1983, W3. A fetishistic form that took on new life as opium became a form of money in China’s economy. See Linda Cooke Johnson, Shanghai: From Market Town to Treaty Port, 1074–1858 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995). Michael Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979 [Oxford University Press, 1951]), 106.


Mao to the Market Peter Hitchcock

Imagine the shock of Western democrats when a reproduction in 1991 of the famous revolutionary ode to Mao Zedong ‘‘The Red Sun’’ broke the record of a single videotape sale—5,800,000. Yes, Mao Zedong is back! He is a new deity, or a commodity, or a symbol of nationalism. —Jing Wang, High Culture Fever The first emperors of Tang and Song Somehow needed cultivation. Counting every genius The best of all still live in modern times. —Mao Zedong, ‘‘Snow’’

With its recent reemergence within capitalist social relations, a specter is haunting China—the specter of communism—an apparition signaled in the absent presence of Mao (Mao as signifier, Mao as icon, Mao as image, and the Mao of the imaginary). This contradictory specter lacks the revolutionary impulse of the Communist Manifesto, expressing instead the aura of the Eighteenth Brumaire. Obviously, such a precious formulation will have to be qualified and elaborated in a number of ways for it to have any significant bearing on the discursive and economic realities of China. That China is at a critical juncture, not only in its national development but in its role in global affairs, has become a commonplace in critical debate. The invocation of Mao, or the ‘‘persistence of Mao,’’ underlines that this moment has a somewhat longer history than the mirrored monstrosities of real estate that have risen in the Pudong district of Shanghai. Briefly, Mao’s develop-

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ment as a revolutionary was dependent on his perception and experience of colonization and imperialist invasion coupled with a sense that these humiliations were inextricably linked to a corrupt and banalized Chinese imperial order. That imperial order seemed to choke on the inertia of feudalism and Confucianism that previously had provided security but could no longer come to terms with the economic and social relations restructuring the globe. For Mao and the Chinese Communist Party the path was clear; the ideological thrust of their populism would be based on nationalism, anti-imperialism, antifeudalism, anti-Confucianism, and, since capitalism offered a new round of exploitation of the Chinese peasantry, anticapitalism. (Note how the positive valence in the first term is bound to the negative valence in the terms that follow. It forms a classic narrative of the irruptions of modernity in decolonization and socialist statehood.) Certainly this populist thrust did not unify China or the Chinese in any formulaic way—the republican period alone must stand as a vital lesson on the conflictual nature of the modern Chinese nation—but it does mark a profound break in China’s relationship to its own history. Derisory and dismissive comments about communism itself fail to understand the profound implications of China’s transformation into the People’s Republic. Mao, then, is shorthand for the paths of China’s redefinition through much of the twentieth century. But, of course, Mao is also the label for that which has passed, and here that label becomes something of an unstable signifier. The trauma associated with the Cultural Revolution alone would suggest that what is past is also what is suppressed in Chinese identity. How could the great leader of the Chinese revolution, he of the Long March and the war against Japan, possibly have produced the conditions of the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward? And if Mao envisaged the People’s Liberation Army as a defender of the nation and of the revolution, where did that sneaking suspicion come from that somehow what was being liberated was also connected to forms of authoritarianism? One might understand authoritarianism as a necessary evil in producing the moment of revolution, but, even then, how could it be justified after liberation? Does Mao as signifier mean the freedom to be ruled under authoritarianism? Or is this a case of Mao now metonymically standing in for a virulent anticommunism that must, at all costs, separate the idea of egalitarian social relations from a system that appeared diametrically opposed to certain other world orders? Yuejin Wang has suggested that ‘‘the death of Mao marked the end of the age of icon,’’ but it certainly did not end the life of Mao as signifier.1 What I will discuss here is connected to the persistence of meaning for Mao in intellectual politics and popular culture, however contradictory

and anachronistic that meaning might seem today. The market, then, has not fully extinguished the life of Mao; indeed, as some examples will indicate, Mao has, in fact, been assured by the general commodification of Chinese life under the Four Modernizations. ‘‘Mao to the Market’’ indicates first a supplementary, and yet perhaps more significant, hiatus in China’s twentieth-century history. However we now read critical moments like the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 or the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949, the transition to a capitalist economy under Dengism registers another moment, one that is profoundly ‘‘after Mao.’’ Under the ‘‘open door’’ policy Mao has been let out in all sorts of interesting ways, many of which are related to what has been let in. What is surprising to many Western commentators is how much of Mao’s Communist Party apparatus remains intact after Mao. And yet China’s new economic relations need this version of Mao more than ever. As other Asian economies have proved, an authoritarian governmental regime is not necessarily unsuited to rapid capitalist expansion. However much Europeans and Americans in particular wring their hands over the lack of human rights and democracy in China, their corporations have been busily contracting and subcontracting with a China that provides some of the cheapest labor and highest profit margins in the world. This Chinese market, clearly, is also a world market, and it is imperative to understand the new China within the larger forces of global capitalism (rather than stubborn old communism) in order to gauge the life of Mao as signifier in a Chinese imaginary. These comments are general and would have to be substantially tempered to make significant sense. Let me, however, provide some guidelines that indicate the trajectories of ‘‘Mao to the Market.’’ First, such a project is not about what China is—about an essential identity that one might cross-reference against any and all manifestations of Chinese characteristics. The problem of Chinese identity certainly provides an intense arena of discussion, and it would be naive to believe that it does not bear crucially on the imaginary. Yet the parameters of identitarian debate, particularly if drawn by or through the West, too quickly invoke an essence or set of prescriptive features that then conveniently provide a solution to a crisis that in fact exceeds the limits of the debate. The nation-state identity provided by the Chinese government has its own ideological shortcuts of course, and it is also better understood as a symptom of an impasse rather than its sublation (I am thinking here of guocui, or national essence, which is readily invoked to enforce stability in the face of turmoil—dongluan—or let us say, opposition to the government). One could historicize formations of national identity—according to dynastic periodization, for instance—but we should maintain a certain irresolution to the question

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of Being as a theoretical construct, if only to underline that identity is not the only way to undo hegemony, particularly those forms of identity of the politicoeconomic variety. In fact, ‘‘Mao to the Market’’ grew out of a very basic question of what happens to the representation of labor in the largest national labor force in the world when that labor is subjected to global capitalism? The tricky word here is ‘‘representation,’’ for in analyzing an economic structure, I have explored its symptoms within cultural components.2 For materialists, this representation conjures another familiar, although always disturbing, specter—culturalism. Interestingly, culturalist approaches to the new China far outweigh solid economic and political analysis in what gets translated from Chinese, partly because such approaches feed the inclusionary zeal of multiculturalism, or global capitalism by other means.3 The question about labor and representation is part of another project on globalization, but here the form of my response is a materialist interruption of the circuit of desire that culturalism provides. The representation of labor would require another revolution, as the labor of representation conditionally reveals. So, while what follows may focus on the signifying effects of Mao, the other agenda belongs to the Other in China’s imbrication in global capitalism: the fate of the Chinese worker. If culture and globalization seem to mystify one another in contemporary criticism, this confusion is no less true in discussions of China where intellectuals, particularly of the culturalist persuasion, seem to fall over themselves in announcing what is next in China that is given to the world. One could spend a great deal of time analyzing the intricate twists and turns of the intellectuals’ relationship to the state within China, the persistence of Orientalism in China-watching, and the increasing perception that such announcements are key to comprehending the great Id that is forming in global consciousness and goes by the name of China. From this point of view, the question of ‘‘Mao to the Market’’ has a second implication that builds on the fate of the Chinese worker under global capitalism. Is there a coherent critical discourse that could possibly understand the contradictions of representation inherent in the relationship of culture and globalization? For some Chinese scholars and Asian Studies specialists the quick answer seems to be ‘‘postmodernism’’—a reply that might surprise some 750 million Chinese peasants for whom a tractor rather than pastiche might give substance to their lives. The array of Chinese modernities do not lend themselves well to postmodern critique, but, again, the specific situation of the urban intellectual vis-à-vis the state and the international community has made the most capital out of this cultural formation. Post-

modern theory (and to some extent, the aura of postmodernism, in general) sheds light on many key components of contemporary Chinese culture, especially those elements in which the popular and the commodified have become so obviously enmeshed. But I hope to point to some of what remains in excess of this devoutly wished embrace, some part of the imaginary that remains not only resistant to postmodern largesse, but also to the modes of globalization that accompany its central tenets. The contradictions of Mao in the market describe the conceptual limits of globalization in both understanding China and understanding the globe. The rule of globalization—and its limits—derive from the economic, yet through less than strategic catachresis this derivation is continually elaborated in terms of the philosophical, the ontological, or the epistemological. What we may call the philosophical fallacy at the root of Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach will never undo the logic of the economic, but it does make for some profound disruptions in what might otherwise be a global analytic. Both the world and China are far too complex for the knee-jerk typologies of development provided for them, and both, in different ways, spell the end of a certain narrative of capitalist triumphalism. The question is not what the world will do with a capitalist communist state of China, but what will it do when that communist state disintegrates? Will bourgeois democracy ensure the smooth flow of capital accumulation in Asia? The fruition of globalization as an economic logic also assures that capitalism’s contradictions can no longer be displaced. Chinese capitalism is capitalism at the edge; ironically, it is a communist party that is holding it in place. I have invoked an imaginary—an ideological and a cultural/psychological construct of some import. The aim is not a Chinese imaginary as such, but what happens to Chinese images and imaging when globalization participates in a reorganization of the logic of the eye in Chinese culture.4 We might describe this reorganization as setting the conditions of a Chinese imaginary affect in the visualization of symbolic forms. Again, a danger of reductionism and generalization looms here, so these notes are observations on observation rather than a codification of visual logic in a Chinese context. Globalization places special demands on visualization, which has hybridized Chinese culture in some provocative ways in the recent past. The weaknesses of globalization’s visual paradigm are exacerbated by the specific conditions of China’s culture industry. If a progressive politics could ever emerge out of these contradictions, then China is its test case because the current commodification of its visual culture in particular is one of its most glaring fields of contestation. The ccp always kept a close watch on the forms (and content) of visual culture because of its ability to communicate an easily consumed set of images of what the

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state represents, e.g., the worker, the peasant, the nation, etc. Now, its involvement in the expansion of image markets follows this logic alongside and within the codes of capitalist globalization. Commercials and propaganda have the same basic ideological narratives, so the expansion of the television industry in particular has broadened the base for either correct thinking or correct images in lieu of independent thought. But this is only part of the story. For instance, the life of an artist in the People’s Republic was always sandwiched between two impulses: an obeisance to a traditional language of the image bequeathed from calligraphy and the main trajectories of inkand-wash drawing and a kind of state-mandated iconography that featured either the immortals of the revolution, Mao, Zhou, Zhu, Liu, or symbols of Communist Party designation—the peasants, the workers, the army. Western scholarship looks on this severely limited aesthetic as a criminal reining-in of artistic creativity; to the extent that the Ministry of Culture could control art exhibitions—much like the way the government controlled (controls) film distribution—this criticism is not unwarranted. Yet the Chinese artist did experience a freedom of sorts: first, because the artist was supported by the state (no waiting tables or part-time carpentry here); second, because the artist’s relationship to art as commodity was more ambivalent than in the modern Western paradigm. One could argue that systems of imperial patronage up to 1911 were no better or worse than state sponsorship under the ccp (style, content, and ideological markers—particularly in imperial portraits—governed what got collected and owned). But whatever the parallels between the early modern and modern periods, the impact of commodification has picked away at the social function of the image between the artist and the state. And the tension in this process of rapid transformation has spawned an intensely agonistic art. Artists still are often connected to units that provide them with their first line of subsistence—and order. Many independent artist colonies today, however, are revered precisely because they survive without government handouts. (One outside Beijing reached the state of a tourist site; in other words, it got too big, too noticeable, and was closed for ‘‘health reasons.’’) In addition, informal collectives exist that use group status itself as a mark of community and protection; whatever they stand for, it is unlikely to be reducible to the style of an individual artist. In one group that I interviewed, Twenty Plus One from Shanghai, a much more conventional relationship can be seen between art and commodification (the group is sponsored by Sony, ‘‘the one and only’’), yet this connection has developed unevenly so that the group aesthetic is ambivalent toward both the state and what Western individualism might represent (that ‘‘identity’’ fix

again). What is provocative is the abstraction and alienation of their work, with its spiritual and yet sometimes aimless inclinations. One thing is certain: Mao is not seen in their art at any price.5 Yet the most famous contemporary art from China in the international image markets, of course, is heavily adorned with Mao and Maoist iconography (the ‘‘Inside Out’’ exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in New York included many examples in this vein). This iconography simultaneously connects to both the cult of Mao (including the period of what is now called ‘‘Mao Zedong Fever’’) within China and the thirst for something recognizably Chinese (the commodity as art with Chinese characteristics). The parodies, pastiche, and carnivalization of Mao in Chinese art are highly significant both in terms of what they say about commodification, state ideology, and market desire, and with regard to the more complex psychological symptoms that the imaging of Mao seems to represent. The era of Mao radiates an aura of Mao that is difficult to reconcile with post-Mao, or post-Tiananmen, communist-bashing. On one level, irony is everything for the Party, whose image of Mao in Tiananmen Square once symbolized the triumph of socialism over feudalism and capitalism but now marks a more uneasy mythology of nationhood. Recall that Deng’s eulogizing of Shenzhen in 1992 stands as the canonization of capitalism, and this is the same Deng who was purged by Mao for reactionary tendencies. One cannot forget that Deng is also the same leader who ordered the crackdown in the Beijing spring of 1989. Yet Dengism remains the darling of international capital markets. Without preempting the specific argument of my project on the iconography of Mao in Chinese art, let me suggest that while much of the ridicule heaped on Mao in images is an entirely understandable catharsis, particularly for those who were victimized in the Cultural Revolution, its playful exuberance is not out of step with current state ideology, which is mightily confused about how to represent Mao as anything other than the banal equivalent of Ronald McDonald (which, by the way, can be seen just off the other end of Tiananmen Square). In this respect, Mao is the agon of Chinese capitalism, the image about which globalization struggles to rationalize the inequities of the market to a fifth of the world’s population. That this struggle is occurring in images does not mean that it is purely a function of the image. Capital’s saturation of the world reveals itself as a set of relations (sometimes discontinuous) that defy the orders of representation. It is not a thing, but it projects a system of thingness over its ‘‘beneficiaries.’’ ‘‘Mao to the market,’’ then, is a symptomatic discourse that reflects and refracts a certain base/superstructure configuration that does not ultimately resolve itself in a culturalist paradigm, as an image of con-

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templation, particularly one for a Western scholar or institution. Instead, ‘‘Mao to the market’’ lays out a series of cultural contradictions for which culturalism cannot be the solution except as an idealistic projection. The real aim of this discourse is the elaboration of a specific material contradiction in China’s meaning for capitalism. The deconstructor inside me might term this a mise en abyme, but the materialist in me will attempt to understand this as a little more than a crisis in signification for globalization; it is a crisis about the real foundations of its existence, one that is threatened, ironically, by the promise of a vast consumer market that would give it sustained longevity—China. One mythology that has accompanied the rapid rise of China as a ‘‘dragon’’ economy is the distinctiveness of its model of capitalism as Chinese. True, important elements of familial ties exist (in and outside China): guanxi (the unofficial but vital system of connections that facilitates bribery, corruption, and Party hegemony) and a work ethic (often ascribed to Confucian values) have undoubtedly contributed to staggering economic growth over the past dozen years or so. The model of Chinese capitalism serves many functions. First, it links capitalism to an ethnicist paradigm which divides a world that, for global capitalism, does not divide so easily. Second, it separates the paths of Chinese capitalism from the nature of foreign investment that has provided huge amounts of capital for China’s economic transformation. (For instance, for the 60,000 building projects currently under way in Shanghai, the city has needed 14 percent of the world’s cranes and billions of dollars in foreign funding—indeed, capital projects in China make the infrastructural retooling of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall seem small.) Third, ideologically the concept of Chinese capitalism supports a diversionary ‘‘Chinese’’ interest from a Communist Party burying whatever communism might mean, while it also feeds some basic racist and ethnicist assumptions usually associated with Orientalism. In general, I agree with Arif Dirlik’s argument in ‘‘Critical Reflections on ‘Chinese Capitalism’ as Paradigm’’ that the use of Chineseness obfuscates some key forces at work in China and the world order.6 Dirlik notes that the model is fed by both the Chinese of China and the Chinese of the Chinese diaspora (the diaspora include Chinese Taiwanese who, whatever the disagreements over the status of the ROC, have provided massive capital funding—and trade—for the Mainland) and by Western experts who suppress the role that globalization has played in the ‘‘miracles’’ of the East Asian economies. As the more than $20 billion (and counting) bailout of the Thai economy underlines, the ‘‘miracle’’ is often precariously balanced on when the international capital markets call in their debts.

It is too soon to make summary judgments on the economic crisis in Asia, but two components are worth mentioning at this juncture. China shares many of the same structural weaknesses as those of their Asian neighbors that already have succumbed to capital flight and currency volatility. The real estate boom, for instance, contains a speculative bubble that, if it has not burst already, is leaking at an alarming rate. The financial sector encompasses a feeble banking system that makes Japan’s recessionary economy look healthy. All eyes continue to be on the Chinese yuan, which, fortunately for the Chinese government, is not openly traded and thus far has been protected from the likes of George Soros and transnational speculation. Common wisdom has it that the government will not let the yuan devalue, but one could argue that the U.S. government is keeping the yuan where it is, since the United States fears even greater dumping of cheap Asian goods and the specter of U.S. unemployment. Another more disturbing development in the crisis is the targeting of diasporic Chinese as symbolic of what is wrong with contemporary Asian capitalism. This focus has a particular valence in Indonesia, where the ruling orders often have used Chinese entrepreneurs as an economic buttress against Indonesia’s peasants and working class. Incidences of the rape and murder of Chinese women during the turmoil in Indonesia underline not the accuracy of the ethnicist model of economic critique, but the horrible outcome of deploying it as a social norm. Without negating the Chinese factor, one must account for the fact that China is being reconstructed as a competition. China did not simply decide to become capitalist, as a glance at the fate of the USSR would indicate (by which I mean that systemic problems in Russia precluded precisely this kind of development, not least of which was a state bankrupted by the enormous deficit spending of the Cold War). Many characteristics of the Chinese economy readily lend themselves to capitalist globalization. As several commentators point out, transnationalism requires flexible accumulation which is best achieved in small to medium-sized companies that can contract or subcontract according to fluctuations in the international business cycle. The Chinese unit system, particularly in port cities or in special economic zones along the coast (e.g., Shenzhen), is highly amenable to this kind of development. Factor in the loose interpretation of labor law, large quantities of excess cheap labor, lax tax collection, and liberal contract terms, and one begins to understand that China’s integration into global capitalism was not exactly a revelation of ethnicity. (This is not to downplay questions of family kinship or guanxi, but we need to contextualize these catalysts.) Dirlik is absolutely right to link the network of subcontracting within East Asia to already established forms of capital mo-

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bility. Sometimes this networking does follow ethnic lines, but more often than not the decisive point is the cost of production, not whether the client is Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Thai, or Indonesian. The most important aspect of Dirlik’s argument is its focus on the role of culturalism in representing China to the world within global capitalism. In this respect, Chineseness provides an identitarian formula that appears less contradictory and malevolent than do the economic forces transforming China.7 The government’s position, particularly toward the peasantry, is that ‘‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’’ (let us say, capitalism) is good for the nation (and the revolution) because it provides economic stability and staves off all that social discontent associated with want (which includes 1989). The trading practices that it encourages (and participates in—every major government institution in China has companies on the side, including the People’s Liberation Army, which at one point was the country’s largest producer of tvs) are an extension of what is seen as an inherent Chinese business acumen which will ensure that no repeats of what happened before 1949 will occur. Just as the privatization of land and the free market policy toward agricultural produce have brought wealth to some sections of the peasantry, so the special policies governing the economic zones of the coastland are revitalizing the main urban centers, whose healthy trade will no doubt trickle down to the country as a whole. This possibility, however, is a promissory note that many peasants clearly do not believe. Cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing are surrounded by massive, recently arrived communities of peasants who are seeking all the modern accoutrements that many of their urban counterparts already receive. Since 1996, the Public Security Ministry has been trying to reinforce the hukou (residency) permit system to force peasants back to the countryside. Global capital, of course, requires labor mobility, and the relaxed policies on movement around the country did assure that a vast pool of underemployed or unemployed labor was within close proximity of the centers of flexi-local production. The problem for the government is the extent of unemployment: up to 110 million in the countryside, with rates of at least 15 percent in urban centers. (Figures remain difficult to verify because of statistical massage—a function of the state that is, by the way, neither Chinese nor Asian.) The demonstrations and unrest that have resulted from unemployment receive little attention in the international media, although overcapacity in manufacturing has foreign governments worried. Not surprisingly, culture is part of the process by which claims of ‘‘actually existing socialism’’ are somehow meshed with the glaring inequalities of the world system. Thus, I am not out to dismiss the cultural imperative, but I want to read that

imperative into the actual economic conditions that inform the Chinese paradigm. Obviously, culture must be differentiated to have a significant purchase on the kinds of changes being envisaged in China. Culture is not ideology pure and simple, but clearly Chinese culture is being motivated ideologically in at least some of its formations. In a country that until the 1990s boasted minimal product advertising, China’s billboard and neon sign industries have mushroomed so that Party policy boards are nearly swamped by goods and services on display. Streets in Guangzhou and Shanghai already look like streets in Taibei, where the profusion of ads and company signs produce a vertiginous quality of information overload. Even in parks, ‘‘Don’t walk on the grass’’ signs are sponsored by Pepsi, as if the sale of carbonated sugary water naturally guarantees the possibilities of photosynthesis. In fact, state policy is not being obscured by the explosion of advertising; rather, advertising promotes what is state policy, i.e., that the mass consumption of capitalist goods is fine. The imaging of capitalism must be naturalized, even with the danger of contradiction that this process represents. Yet culture, just like economic processes themselves, charts change of this kind in discontinuous and overlapping ways. If indeed a Chineseness exists, then, it is in the specific constellations of the culture at this juncture as those constellations are refracted through the normative discourses of capitalism emerging throughout the economy. Along these lines, Dirlik suggests that Chinese capitalism is thus an invention of global capitalism; it is intrinsic to its operations and symptomatic of its expansion. Chineseness is the space of negotiation within the terms of the Four Modernizations rather than a defining characteristic of capital in China per se. Certainly configurations of national capital are present, but in general ethnicist economics mask the real relations of the economic to its subjects. The main problem for Chinese capitalism is not inventing its roots, but reconciling itself with China’s history in the twentieth century. Attempts already have been made to rewrite that history—as if the yearning for communist revolution were an aberration brought on by the education of ccp members in other parts of the world; as if a proportion of the Chinese population did not believe that a socioeconomic transformation of China was necessary and that communism was its name; as if change in Chinese society were some crapshoot and that purely luck of the dice allowed the Communists to beat the Japanese and then the kmt. The vibrancy of Chinese culture at this moment flows precisely from the conflictual nature of its parameters. Whatever the horrors endured after 1949, wasn’t there a collective belief exceeding government representation that China indeed

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could build an egalitarian society based on economic justice? And, even if this goal were not real, even if what bonded society together was a delusion of massive proportions, what are Chinese to make of the new alternative, the new mode of economic practice, foretold from 1979, that to get rich is glorious (Deng) when that specific conjuncture of state power with capitalism has already produced the brave new world of Tiananmen, 1989? Was Tiananmen the nightmarish afterglow of communist zeal for authoritarianism, or was it a prescribed compatibility seen in many an economic miracle in the developing world? A new class of petty and urban bourgeois Chinese are consuming as they never have before (and many of them are cadres or have family relations within the Party), but many more, particularly away from the East coast, simply have not been a part of the new wealth. For all sections of society, I believe, the developments of the last decade and more have produced a nagging anxiety. It is possible to sublimate this nervous condition in a variety of ways (consumption itself being the handy alternative for some), but it has yet to be allayed inside or outside the Communist Party. What about the history we made called the People’s Republic of China? This is the contradiction of Chinese capitalism and its existence as a cultural enigma. And nothing is more enigmatic or symptomatic of the difficulty in answering this question than Mao. The subject of the Mao craze or Mao Zedong Fever has occupied East Asian scholars for some years. This ‘‘cultural Mao Zedong,’’ as Dai Jinhua calls it, is a kinder, gentler Mao than the one who stood for an economic and political system.8 Just like the culturalist paradigm applied to Chinese capitalism, Mao has been subjected to a plethora of cultural critique that seeks to explain the persistence of Mao in the Chinese imaginary as an eminently cultural phenomenon. Geremie Barmé, in an otherwise overblown example of China reportage, succinctly states the reason for the revival of interest in Mao from the late 1980s on: ‘‘a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and a yearning for the moral power and leadership of the long-dead Chairman.’’ 9 If this is indeed the case, within a couple of pages Barmé qualifies his reading in two significant ways: first, whatever the yearning of the Chinese in his statement, he adds that the Chinese have been ‘‘beguiled’’ by Mao’s ‘‘self assertiveness and egomania’’; second, the Mao revival is bifurcated into the ‘‘propagandistic’’ (because government-sanctioned) ‘‘MaoCraze’’ (Maore) and the spontaneous ‘‘Mao Cult’’ of the populace, which waned in direct proportion to the official ‘‘MaoCraze’’ associated with the 1993 centennial of Mao’s birth. The binary here is certainly justifiable, and no one should underestimate the power of the Party to marshal specific icons in shoring up its hegemony. Yet its significant weakness resides in the way that it separates the populist

sentiment from the main currents of Chinese political life, including the original ‘‘personality cult’’ of Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Barmé suggests that the Mao Cult was ‘‘divested nearly entirely of its original class, ethical, and political dimensions’’ (5). So much for that ‘‘yearning’’ (of which more below). Like Barmé, Dai claims a split in Mao Zedong Fever with the politically conscious government indulging in ‘‘deapotheosization’’ (a bizarre demythification that simultaneously eulogizes and buries Mao to clear the ground ideologically for capitalism) while the people revel in a ‘‘political unconscious’’—the narrative of Mao here a socially symbolic act of consumerism. Dai asserts that overseas commentators have overlooked the consumerist tendency, but it is difficult to read Barmé’s Shades of Mao without thinking that this is precisely the focus of his otherwise journalistic and anecdotal ‘‘survey.’’ This is dangerous ground, for I touch on the question of inside/outside knowledge that is, for instance, rapidly reshaping East Asian Studies in the United States. What I say here might justifiably be construed as being redolent with that ‘‘asymmetrical ignorance’’ (as Dipesh Chakrabarty has termed it) that lives on in systemic Orientalism. I will not recount the politics-of-positioning argument, but it is ironic that Dai’s use of the inside/outside stratagem appears in a journal called Positions, and Dai deploys a subtle reaccentuation of Fredric Jameson’s theory of the political unconscious to do it. Again, the culturalism that Dirlik identifies also lingers in ethnicist perspicacity. This aside notwithstanding, Dai’s argument makes the case that the humanizing tendencies of Mao Zedong Fever, the presentation of the quotidian Mao beyond the divine Mao, effectively consumed or used up the last vestiges of the heroic or mythical Mao even as it allowed for understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. No doubt the marketing of Mao—the badges, the busts, the pocket edition of the Collected Works, the infamous Little Red Book, the taxicab talismans, the cassettes, the T-shirts, the Mao exposés, the tv series, the epic films—functioned to deconsecrate Mao Zedong, to finally and irrevocably push Mao Zedong off the altar (to borrow from the title of Li Yinqiao’s memoirs as commander of Mao’s bodyguard). Yet one is left with the irksome feeling that the long wave of history implied is still much too close for this summary adjudication and that Barmé’s pithy ‘‘Mao more than ever’’ has some greater purchase on the disjunction being lived within the elaboration of actually existing capitalism. Dai concludes: If we say that ‘‘ruined temples are still shrines, toppled idols are still divinities,’’ then the heat wave of ‘‘Mao Zedong fever,’’ which

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consumed prohibitions, memory, and ideology, also eliminated the canyon between ‘‘the loftiness of the palace’’ and ‘‘the vastness of the realm,’’ between the transcendence of the divine and the mundane world of the urban residents. Perhaps it could be said that this is something special to mainland China—sunset and dawn overlapping each other, the conclusion and the beginning of yet another age. (133– 34) Or perhaps not. The commodification of a divinity does not destroy it. The Buddhist temples of China abound with kitsch of every description, but one would be hard-pressed to believe that those lurid plastic Buddhas have buried Buddha for the Chinese imaginary. Totemism lives on in the commodity form, and this fetishism is every bit as available to religiosity as it is to Pizza Hut. The problem, of course, is that Mao was neither a god nor a pizza but a revolutionary within Chinese history. His relationship to commodity fetishism is very real (and this is a crucial economic integer), but his iconography is complicated by his historical significance, which has a political bearing, not just a cultural one, on the new China. Mao is not simply a function of intention: the malevolent machination of a dastardly and hopelessly anachronistic regime, the pathetic nostalgia of an older generation rapidly marginalized by the new game in town, the irreverent parodying of authority by youth who have no memory of the fat guy from Shaoshan. No. The political unconscious is precisely a displacement of the intentional fallacy. It is a sense of the political struggling to find a form in a conjuncture that banalizes or suppresses the function of the political as ‘‘struggle in opposition.’’ Mao is Chinese, but his interruption of a narrative shaping or codification of global capitalism does not ultimately reside in the lyrical Chinese overlap of sunset with dawn. How, then, might we pursue the rational kernel despite the culturalist pull toward the mystical shell? It is easy to see how Mao might function within an economy of commodity fetishism (‘‘Mao, one dollar, Mao, one dollar’’ was how the trader lured me with an ‘‘original’’ glow-in-the-dark Mao badge from the Cultural Revolution). But the simplicity of Mao’s commodity status belies a complex problem. For instance, if Mao was a consumer item during Mao Zedong Fever, what was he during the Cultural Revolution, a period in Chinese history not well-known for consumerist ideology? Barmé claims that during the Cultural Revolution 40 billion volumes of Mao’s works were printed and distributed. The state bank had provided huge interest-free loans for such book production, but by 1979 it was clear that the government would have to eat the bitterness of huge losses on the unsold inven-

tory. Overproduction is a familiar risk in the promulgation of commodity desire, but surely no suggestion is being offered that the healthy sales during the Cultural Revolution were purely a function of taste and savvy marketing vis-à-vis the competition? There are commodities under socialism and fetishism under socialism, but was the fate of Mao’s works purely the function of commodity fetishism in the Chinese market? The suggestion being made here is that the story of Mao as book commodity underlines that the relationship of Mao to the market had indeed changed after the Four Modernizations, and that this, in turn, is intimately tied to the function of the state and economic relations in the reform period. As commentators have pointed out, for the Chinese Communist Party, Mao was both Lenin and Stalin, so a process of de-Stalinization could not take place the way it did in the Soviet Union without seriously undermining the integrity of Party rule. But however much the Communist Party tinkered with the prevailing view of Mao after the Cultural Revolution (by, for instance, banning the sale of the Little Red Book itself at one point), it has increasingly found itself bound by the logic of commodity culture rather than the dictates of the Party congresses. This does not mean that Mao was enjoying more commercial than ideological significance (as if the status of a commodity would allow it to empty itself of ideological content or positioning), but rather that the laws of capital themselves were beginning to exceed the confines of state mandate. And this, of course, is not out of step with the general logic of global capitalism. Barmé places the emergence of Mao the consumer item to around 1986 (the tenth anniversary of his death) when outrageous disco versions of Beijing Model Revolutionary Opera songs received airplay and trendy artists started wearing Mao suits (Zhongshan zhuang or Maoshi fuzhuang). Regarding the suits, keep in mind that the overwhelming proportion of the population (the peasants) still dressed this way so that artists may have unintentionally announced an old Maoist identification from the Cultural Revolution—‘‘educated youth re-educated by the peasantry’’! In addition, some urban artists wanted to distinguish themselves from their liumang (or ‘‘hooligan’’) counterparts whose rebellious couture included long hair, jeans, and T-shirts. The Mao suit fashion must have been short-lived (and, let’s face it, it was the Party’s de rigeur outfit until the Beijing Massacre) because for the Beijing artists whom I interviewed back in 1988 the rockand-roll aesthetic reigned supreme. The important point is not in affixing an exact date to these developments, but to underline the fact that these sentiments were now feasible. The public sphere was opening up in an outpouring of popular expressions, and, although it was still possible to be arrested for such expression because of the shifting winds of government

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campaigns (‘‘antispiritual pollution,’’ etc.), the increase in disposable income was feeding cultural display of various kinds. And the fact that radio stations could play a disco pastiche of revolutionary songs suggests that new spaces were opening up for expression, with or without government approval. This aspect of the Open Door Policy could not be reversed as long as economic prerogatives remained in place. Style and fashion compose not simply the new language of discontent, but they also are a function of consumer choice enabled by the market (keeping in mind that this display is simultaneously a mark of economic power). Clearly, the preponderance of Mao paraphernalia cannot be explained purely as a outgrowth of productive capacity within the new economic order; nevertheless, it is a vital stimulus. ‘‘Mao to the market’’ is marked by the specificity of his relationship to history, the reform movement’s relationship to Mao, the logic of commodification and consumption, and the Chinese people’s relationship to all three. If the iconography of Mao had been produced as a fetish object during the Cultural Revolution, this is not the same as its status as a commodity fetish under capital. Why not? To the extent that fetishism represents a psychic overinvestment in the object as an integer of desire, an obvious overlap is present with the operations of the commodity. The imaginative status of the commodity, however, is overdetermined by a different aura, the conditions of ownership and consumption. The desire for Mao resides elsewhere than it did under Party dictate; the desire for Mao lies in the psychic process of the commodity form itself. Stripped of intention and with a strong propensity for presentism (the time of the commodity is always now), desire instead invests the object with a signifying ambivalence. Thanks to Baudrillard, we have become accustomed to reading this ambivalence as constitutive of the sign and not of the productive process of the commodity that is its possibility. Note the poststructuralist trendiness of Barmé as he assesses the transition of Mao as icon to Mao as merchandise: ‘‘Gradually, the image of Mao, long since freed from his stifling holy aura and the odium of his destructive policies, became a ‘floating sign,’ a vehicle for nostalgic reinterpretation, unstated opposition to the status quo, and even satire’’ (16). That Barmé’s first example of this floating signification is a painting by Wang Guangyi is important to my larger argument about the function of the image in commodity culture. In Barmé’s discussion, however, the actual material conditions of the Reform Era have dropped out, so that the sign itself is the genesis of its own reproduction. This is precisely how commodity fetishism works, by offering itself as a ‘‘vehicle’’ for a desire located elsewhere, neither purely in the object, nor purely in the consumer, but in the logic of the object as consumable. Two dangers arise with such floating significa-

tion: first, the object may be recoded in opposition to its desired circulation (whether this meaning stands for profit or more complex edification); second, the law of the commodity is excess desire—anything less means less demand and trouble for capital (as we have noted, the problem of overcapacity is systemic in China’s capitalist formations at this juncture). Fortunately, excess desire also means trouble for capital, without which there could be no contradictions in reproducing the capital relation. The crisis of Mao as image becomes linked to the crisis guaranteed to the object by capital. What Marx called the ‘‘metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties’’ of the commodity obviously work very well with a certain deification in commodification, or what Georg Lukács analyzed as ‘‘reification’’ in terms of the subject of capital. To add to my opening formulation, there is a ghostly presence in every commodity under capitalism, irrespective of whether it refers to a real human or historical figure. This process is born of the equivalent value capitalism seeks, founded on the labor effaced in the commodity production. It is arguable whether the Chinese revolution liberated labor from this relationship in the commodity form, but the attempt, at least, was to break the link from the requisites of surplus value stamped by the necessities of capital accumulation. When the Chinese reach back for a historical ground in the image of Mao, they not only are conjuring a symbol of their attachment to a history (and man) that may have victimized them (the masochism of the fetish is simultaneously a mark of displaced attachment), but they also are invoking a troubled spirit symbolic of the new regimes of commodification possible. Undeniably, the ghostly aura of Mao is congruent with a folkloric religiosity, forms of faith that predate both Mao and global capitalism (the taxicab talisman once more), but if the revolutionary period attempted to use this folklore within its own mythology, we should be little surprised that this aura of Mao might now be recirculated as a consumer item. As Mao has become larger than life (a prerogative of ghosts) so, paradoxically, he has become more human, more earthy for his carnivalesque predilections (Li Zhisui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao details Mao’s sexual prowess with both women and men). This omnipresent and omnivorous Mao, what Barmé calls Mao the ‘‘EveryMao,’’ means that it would be incautious to assign a kind of essential Mao in his commodification, yet I do believe it is necessary to connect more forcefully the ‘‘shades’’ of Mao with what is living and what is dead in the People’s Republic of China. Again, the point is to see images of Mao within a broader field of social, political, and economic contestation rather than as a set of quirky details that make pertinent but limited culturalist narratives.

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The uses of ‘‘Mao in the market’’ are provocative indications of some fairly crucial splits in the normative discourses of Chinese identity. If Mao is celebrated as a national hero, did he not fight against a deleterious dependence on foreign presence, a space where his commodity fetish now sits uncomfortably with the adoration heaped on luxury import items? And what of the temple to Mao that briefly flourished in Leiyang, Hunan Province, a shrine that in 1994–95 hosted 40,000 to 50,000 worshippers a day? If the state has been de-Maoified for capital, it is strange that those who have accumulated some capital would spend it to visit a Mao temple. Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that in life Mao was the embodiment of China itself, its history, its fate, its aspirations, even its geography, and this too is a source of contradiction—he who is everything is nothing; he who is everyone is no one. The ghost, like the commodity, is ethereal. Oddly, the overcoding of Mao may achieve the desire of de-Maoification, for as every late capitalist image-maker knows, the more you use the image the more that it is used up, although it may enjoy the occasional afterlife as a nostalgic rerun, as the curious memory of something that had not been in the presentist unconscious. The permanence and value of Mao as referent is actually a remark on the evisceration of those qualities (its contradictory embodiment is Mao’s body in the mausoleum of Tiananmen Square), for all that is solid in Mao must melt into air under the sign of commodification. To underline this point on deification and reification one might recall both Wang Keping’s sculpture of Mao as Buddha (Buddha, 1980) and Wang Jin’s sculptural monument Ice: Central China 1996 (1996). Buddha, an early pastiche of the honors bestowed on Mao, still retains a sense of worship. Ice: Central China 1996 was commissioned by the Zhengzhou City government to herald the opening of a shopping mall. The piece consisted of a thirty-meter wall of solid ice filled with consumer items like cell phones, jewelry, cosmetics, toys (the same year, Wang had proposed a ‘‘Great Wall’’ made out of Coca-Cola containers frozen in ice). Not long after the exhibit opened, the viewers began to chip away at the ice to get at the consumer goods. Desire overcame contemplation, and the wall was destroyed by consumer frenzy before it could melt. Both works, less than being allegories, demonstrate the actual conditions of commodity culture from within the very texture of its lived experience. If the fetish binds two conflictual fields of inquiry under the same sign, the sensate and the psychic, then in commodity form it also mystifies them in terms of consumption. According to this principle, nothing is particularly surprising about Mao as object—it merely replicates what might otherwise be said of a table, a cup of coffee, or an athletic shoe. Yet whatever the structural relations of the commodity fetish, my ambient point

has been that these basic components are overdetermined by the integration of China into global capitalism. This point is not the conceptual key to the meaning of Chinese capitalism at this juncture, but as a way of reading it can bring together several necessarily incompatible features in the cause of imaging the unimaginable, a global imaginary itself. To my mind, we should emphasize the commodity as the scene of capitalist culture and not just as the symptom of the commodification of culture. This would tend to accentuate the actual process of commodity production (which still seems to require labor) rather than its realistic commodities representation or the critical process used to describe it. One could analyze in a number of ways. Barmé, for instance, refers to the revived fortunes of the Shaoshan Mao Badge Factory, which, before the Mao Cult, had languished by producing ‘‘a line of undistinguished and nonrevolutionary chotchky’’; then, however, it was retooled to feed the image consumption of the curious, the collectors, the tourists, and the converted. The different interpretations of Mao memorabilia provided by the consumers could be analyzed as a measure of the sharply contrasting and contradictory manifestations of Mao to the market. And one could analyze whether Mao could possibly encapsulate the nonvisual systemic causes that occur across the uneven developments of the commodity culture that prevails in China today. About that commodity culture, Mao is a condition of impossibility, of intractability in critique, while he also is a symptom of the unrecuperative—a Mao who cannot ‘‘be’’ when being itself is represented in a reified relation. The allegorical reading so often ascribed to Fredric Jameson dissolves in the absence of an imagination adequate to its desire. This inscrutability is not the product of the critic’s blindness or Orientalism vis-à-vis China, nor indeed the cultural confusion of one Chinese to another, but it is the ghost, as it were, of an impasse produced by the ruse of globalism, which wants to make visible on a world scale that which conditionally remains unimaged or underimaged—global difference, or worlds of difference. Flexible production or post-Fordist regimes of capital never managed to rid themselves of a compulsive will to homogeneity, for economies of scale forbid the production of absolute difference. The fantasy of difference is not the privilege of the producer but the consumer. If every Mao were different, no Mao would exist. If every product differed, the mode of production could not be capitalist. Only the appearance of difference is permissible, which is why the commodification of Mao in China proceeds apace today. A difference is present, of course, when the commodity is Mao, and it would be foolish to think that the importance of Mao’s image simply could be separated from the thingness of the commodity. What keeps coming

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back in his spectrality, however, is the sense of a desire that subverts the thingness of the object now embodied in Chinese capitalism. Not because Mao stands for revolution, but because the Mao-ness (likeness?) of the image interrupts the mode of objectification now busily liberating China from its attempt to delink from the world system of capitalism. The simple fact that the fetishism of Mao is his disavowal does not explain the nuance of the commodity relation, although it does draw attention to certain masculinist ideologies that secret themselves in the apparently gender-blind prescriptions of capitalism. The disavowal is also a suspension, a vacillation about the meaning of Mao and what he stood for. No unitary image of communism exists to which Mao might be attached or reattached. This is not just a recognition of the ambivalence or being-yet-to-be of communism, but a remark on a constitutive failure in the Chinese model wrought by its figuration in a monolithic statist model. The only way this failure is prevented from precipitating its deserved demise is by more of the same— rigid definitions of the political by and for the state emanating from the Chinese Communist Party. As I have offered, a crass obliviousness must be added to its implications for transnational capital that adores a firm state hand over labor. For capital, the suppression of an organized resistance from those whose social character enables value is nirvana, whether the government calls itself communist, democratic, or republican. Under these circumstances, the invocation and disavowal of Mao takes on a more complex burden of history. And that is why it is neither imprudent nor impudent to ponder the meanings of Mao. I began by invoking a specter of Mao, and I want to close with another note on what this might mean for intellectual politics. I have been reading Mao here more as a marker than as a man, but also more as a symptom of the economic than as a cultural condition with an absolutely autonomous logic. Wang Guangyi’s triptych of Mao painted in 1988, Mao, No. 1, demonstrates the incongruous logic of Mao iconography. Mao’s face is behind bars, or more specifically a grid that both fragments and orders his visage. The effect is ambivalent; it is fun to look at the Great Helmsman as if he were imprisoned, but there is something in his deadening and detached air that suggests the viewer herself/himself is looking out, not in. (This Mao was shown in the New York exhibition ‘‘Inside Out,’’ a space in which Mao takes on another dialogic valence.) Mao is becoming detachable in a different way, even when the touchstone is the Mao of the Cultural Revolution. Similarly, ‘‘Mao to the Market’’ is in the spirit of Li Shan’s desacralizing images of Mao, a Mao who, festooned with rouge, lipstick, and a prominent beauty spot, is seen to be worthy of both love and laughter. And a Mao who can still be sold in the international image markets as recogniz-

ably Chinese. (In another argument I have compared this approach to the marketing of Gong Li, although these ‘‘portraits’’ are in the service of different ideologies.) Mao, then, is simultaneously the mirror of production and a mask for real foundations. For Mainland Chinese intellectuals, the ebb and flow of political/cultural movements during the age of Mao could be dangerous—one’s commitment to a line could later provide a line of attack. The ambivalence of Mao now produces a similar frenzy, but one with a markedly different political trajectory; so again, his face at one end of Tiananmen Square reminds intellectuals of their historical centrality, whereas the face of Ronald McDonald just off the other end augurs the receding significance of intellectuals under the sign of capital. Mao is a common denominator, but this image has none of the heroism or romanticism of the Long March; rather, Mao now is a sign that politics is rapidly being redrawn, not by conventional intellectual debate in the People’s Republic, but by the juggernaut of the economic itself. And even the commodified eyes of Mao seem to understand it. Notes 1 See Yuejing Wang, ‘‘Anxiety of Portraiture: Quest for/Questioning Ancestral Icons in Post-Mao China,’’ in Liu Kang and Xiaobing Tang, eds., Politics, Ideology, and Literary Discourse in Modern China (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993), 245. 2 This question of labor is part of a book-length project called ‘‘Worker of the World(s)’’ in which I explore several mutations of cultural representation intensified by, among other things, the collapse of ‘‘actually existing socialism’’ and the globalization of conditions of proletarianization. 3 This representation also is linked to the visibility of Chinese culturalists in transnational critical debate, many of whom have been trained in Western institutions that are not exactly stunned by culturalist discourse. 4 This invocation lacks the elaboration that would give it greater substance. In a longer version of this essay, I devote considerable attention to the impact of commodification on contemporary Chinese painting, a cultural form in which the specter of Mao is both pronounced and exceedingly contradictory. Interestingly, Mao is conspicuously absent from most Chinese films destined for the international image markets. This is connected to specific logics within Chinese transnational cinemas, for which my argument must wait another occasion. 5 What you do see is a subtly nuanced articulation of modernism, especially Abstract Expressionism, with the main currents of the Chinese calligraphic tradition. The link, of course, is in the nature of abstraction itself and a deep distrust of normative realism in the representation of reality.

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6 See Arif Dirlik, ‘‘Critical Reflections on ‘Chinese Capitalism’ as Paradigm,’’ Identities 3 (January 1997): 303–30. In polemical fashion Dirlik lays out the case against Chineseness in capitalism. Along the way his article also provides a useful survey of the main currents in this branch of capitalist ethnicism. Aihwa Ong’s article in the same issue, ‘‘ ‘A Momentary Glow of Fraternity’: Narratives of Chinese Nationalism and Capitalism’’ (331–66), is also extremely important in this regard; in addition, it touches on a vital concept for the present project—namely, the function of the imaginary in the production of China as nation and as culture. 7 Of course, Dirlik is not the only one analyzing this particular problematic. A recent issue of New Literary History 28 (winter 1997), subtitled ‘‘Cultural Studies: China and the West,’’ takes up this question and also devotes many pages to the subject of postmodernism (Terry Eagleton, in his contribution, investigates the bridge between culturalism and postmodernism in sterling, materialist fashion). For a less nuanced but more provocative intervention, see Allen Chun, ‘‘Fuck Chineseness: On the Ambiguities of Ethnicity as Culture as Identity,’’ boundary 2 23 (summer 1996): 111–38. 8 Dai Jinhua, ‘‘Redemption and Consumption: Depicting Culture in the 1990s,’’ positions 4, no. 1 (1996): 127–43. 9 Geremie Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (London: M. E. Sharpe, 1996), 3. All references in the following discussion of Barmé will be noted in the text by page number.


Chinese Consumerism and the Politics of Envy: Cargo in the 1990s? Louisa Schein

Andrea Koppel of cnn perches above Beijing in the midst of the muchanticipated 1997 summit visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin to key landmarks of state, history, and capitalism in the United States.1 Koppel is reporting on the Chinese economy with a familiar and always-only-thinlymasked emphasis on market prospects for Americans. The camera surveys sumptuous goods displayed in sparkling Beijing department stores as she comments that here you can have ‘‘almost anything your heart desires.’’ As the viewer is shown washing machines and fashionable clothes, each article expensive enough to be enclosed in plastic, she exclaims: ‘‘What’s remarkable is the number of people who have money to spend!’’ More Than a Billion Consumers, But Who’s Buying? But how many people are we talking about? A careful eye notices that most ‘‘customers’’ in these shops are pictured browsing through luxury goods, not handing over their meager earnings at the cash registers. Indeed, what strikes the visitor to department stores in China’s shiny urban hubs is the proportion of people who can be seen enjoying the commodity space of these temples to consumerism without ever purchasing anything. With the much-touted decline of Asian economic fortunes in December 1997, the U.S. press struck a note of alarm: Asians were failing to live up to their reputation as the world’s most promising consumers (New York Times, 14 December 1997, 12). Calculations were made about the potential impact on the American economy, and astonishment was registered that buyers

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were failing to meet the grand expectations set out for them upon their being meshed into the global economy. How can we make sense of a rich culture of consumerism not commensurable with the exchange practices of acquiring commodities for money? My starting point here is the presence of an acute commodity desire in contemporary China, one that goes unfulfilled because would-be consumers cannot afford the goods offered them by the global market. In an article on Chinese consumerism, Bin Zhao and Graham Murdock proclaim that during the 1980s, and following Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of economic liberalization, ‘‘purchasing power in urban areas more or less tripled . . . and a mass consumer system began to emerge alongside the system of mass production.’’ 2 To be sure, there is ample evidence of a sharp rise in the number of nouveaux purchasers, and it is their assumption of their proper role in consuming the best-advertised, most fashionable products of the global market that makes transnational corporations continue to thirst for more access to Chinese purchasing power. ‘‘Children are very knowledgeable about Beijing’s modern shopping malls and the commodities available there,’’ reports one Beijing ethnographer; two-thirds of a thousand informants in a Japanese survey of Beijing youth had more than 500 yuan to spend per month.3 Much of it, as Virginia Cornue describes, was to be lavished on newfangled domesticities. In the thirteen new gleaming department stores, which opened in Beijing during my fieldwork period, women’s cosmetics and home appliances occupied an increasing amount of floor space. Blenders and humidifiers, pancake griddles, clothes irons, glossy red vacuum cleaners, Johnson and Johnson floor wax, cd players, video cameras, telephones, collar cleaner, washers with matching dryers, stoves with ovens and large-size white shiny refrigerators with big freezer compartments drew crowds throughout the week. Fuxingmen Avenue near the headquarters of the Bank of China bulged with home decorating do-it-yourself shops proliferating in 1994–1995. These privately owned shops offered for sale marble and tile flooring, Greek motif molding, polyester damask drapes, multicolor plastic miniblinds, polyester pink or blue satin bed quilts. The open faces of new multistoried freestanding department stores . . . created by huge picture windows . . . invited shoppers on the street to visually ingest images of the new consuming metropolitic.4 Yet this depiction is only a fragment of the whole picture. One analyst estimated that fewer than 25 percent of Chinese were participating in the ‘‘con-

sumer revolution,’’ and these participants were concentrated in and near the coastal region. ‘‘The policy to encourage some people to get rich quick has not yet come to terms with the fact that, increasingly in China, a small but rapidly expanding stratum is already in the market for luxury goods, while most of the population is barely in the market for essentials.’’ 5 As Zhao and Murdock conclude: ‘‘This frustrated revolution of rising expectations is generating reservoirs of envy, reinforced by the highly conspicuous consumption of the new rich.’’ 6 A craze for children’s transformer toys that swept China’s affluent cities in 1989 vividly illustrates the dilemmas posed by desires that exceed the means of new consumers.7 Captivated by a Hasbro cartoon series telecast during New Year’s and Chinese Spring Festival in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, urban children developed a wild craving to possess the featured transformer character toys regardless of the financial resources of their parents. Alarmed stories of parental anguish accumulated as debates emerged in the Chinese press about this latest form of commodity enslavement. A boy of four or five was rolling about on the ground, shouting ‘‘I want it, I want it.’’ The father tried to drag him up, saying ‘‘that thing costs a hundred yuan or more, buy it and we won’t eat this month.’’ . . . All rushed to the toy counter. Some took out the money and paid. Others hesitated because of the high prices. But children refused to leave accusing their parents of being liars. . . . Can those who cannot afford them get away with it? ‘‘No.’’ The ‘‘little master,’’ who is too young to be considerate, sees classmates playing [with Transformers] and cannot help but ask for them. . . . Those who don’t have Transformers will easily develop a sense of inferiority.8 For those whose skinny wallets have excluded them from acquiring newfangled commodities, envy and frustration arise, perhaps heralding the rise of a newly demarcated class system within China. The comparison between schoolmates, the sense of inferiority, and the pressure experienced by parents chronicled during the transformer craze, all point to the emergence of ever-finer calibrations of social stratification indexed through key objects or styles of consumption. But in the interior—for instance, in the southwest of China where I did fieldwork—another form of exclusion occurs. The majority of goods promoted in the slick—and often erotically charged—advertising barrages that penetrate mountains and deserts through television, radio, and print are simply not distributed there.

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Material Longing Without Goods: China’s Interior We call those objects valuable that resist our desire to possess them. —Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money

The members of the Miao minority with whom I worked in a community in Guizhou province have entered global consumption culture through a different trajectory, one commensurate with their growing ‘‘immiseration’’ in the Chinese national economy. The Miao are scattered mostly in highland regions across Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, and other provinces in China’s southwest.9 Numbering 7.5 million in 1990, the vast majority of them are peasants whose agricultural modes changed little through the upheavals of the twentieth century except for the reorganization of production through collectivization (the mid-1950s to the late 1970s) and decollectivization (1979 to the present). Long subject to relations of internal colonialism that prevailed in the border regions of the expanding Chinese empire, they lived in tension with the imperial center for centuries, migrating ever southward because of increasing land pressure and competition for resources with northern Chinese migrants.10 The Miao can be considered paradigmatic of the current classlike relations between the coastal regions that are undergoing radical economic transformations and the interior that is suffering impoverishment and stagnation as a consequence of market reforms and the state’s dramatically uneven development policies. While decollectivization and marketization began in 1978, it was only in the late 1980s and 1990s that the impact of ongoing structural changes began to be felt as a profound transformation of social and cultural life. During this more recent period, internal and labor migration, privatization of the economy, decentralization of social services, and a host of other structural changes have resulted in a stark spatial differentiation within China, a reversal of the redistributive policies that strove to equalize disparate regions under Maoism. Specifically, the political-economic landscape has come to be partitioned, both materially and conceptually, into categories of the disadvantaged interior (neidi) and the relatively prosperous coast ( yanhai).11 Increasingly, the interior is asymmetrically linked to the coastal areas as a supplier of materials, energy, and cheap labor.12 Connected to the rest of China through newspapers, radios, a growing number of tv sets, and a trickle of travel and labor migration, Miao and other peasants whom I encountered in the interior were keenly aware of the sharp disparity between their material lives and those in China’s boom regions. They were acutely conscious of the newfangled commodities that

their region lacked. I became familiar with the frustrations of neophyte Miao consumerism while doing fieldwork in Xijiang, a hub community at the base of Leigong Mountain in Southeast Guizhou. At the periodic market to which vendors came from the towns in the region, Miao locals scanned the tables for knockoffs of foreign brands. Occasionally, they took the bus to the nearest city to browse in shops that, by the 1990s, displayed a sampling of the coastal and foreign exotica that had become objects of envious fascination. And, clustered around the scarce television sets that had been hooked up with unreliable electric current over the course of the 1980s, they watched ads and a growing proportion of imported programming. By 1993, two venues had been set up by local entrepreneurs where those with cash for a ticket could watch video cassettes brought in from the nearest city. Martial arts features from Hong Kong were by far the most popular fare, with other action films in urban settings the second choice. Meanwhile, because of policies of structural reform—in which many government functions were downsized or eliminated, and the responsibility for distribution of goods was increasingly privatized—room had opened up for the establishment of private ventures in the spaces vacated by government offices. At the same time, policy shifts made it possible and even encouraged those who could garner some start-up capital to undertake commercial ventures. On the main street of Xijiang, shops had sprung up in the spaces opened by economic reform. These ‘‘spaces’’ were both literal and figurative, precipitated by the contraction of the state in both physical occupation of the economic landscape and governance of the economy. What, then, could Xijiang inhabitants buy if they could muster the cash? Offerings were decidedly mundane, sharply disjunctive with the luxury glitz of the metropolis where, by the early 1990s, monied consumers quested after vcrs, beepers, bodybuilding machines, or even apartments. The majority of shops featured a sampling of useful household items along with a few edible dry goods. While staple foods were culled directly from the fields and prepared in the home, the stores offered such supplements as instant milk powder, peanuts, sunflower seeds, noodles, sweetened biscuits, beer, and cooking oil. Everyday household goods included washcloths, mosquito repellent, soaps and detergents, flashlights, batteries, cooking pots and utensils, basins, fabric, clothing, shoes, thread, needles, thimbles, safety pins, baskets, bicycle pumps, hinges, lightbulbs, light switches, wire, firewood, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, combs, cigarettes, matches, lighters, padlocks, envelopes, pens and pencils, ‘‘sanitary paper’’ for menstruation, vegetable seeds, mats for drying rice, and handkerchiefs. Luxury items, on the other hand, according to local clas-

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sifications of value, included: Ping-Pong balls, Pepsi, balloons, film, hair oils, playing cards, beads, earrings and bracelets, scarves, makeup, hand mirrors, stockings, perfume, and bras. In the burgeoning category of luxury goods, women’s beauty enhancements predominated. Among all of the newfangled commodities glutting the Chinese market, these were desired enough that, despite being classed by locals as luxurious, they would sell in Xijiang. I take up this gendering of commodities later, but first I want to turn to the issue at hand—what people are not buying in Xijiang and where they are not going. One chill autumn night when peasants in Xijiang huddled close inside their homes to avoid the cold, I called on a family that had recently acquired a tv set. A rare program was being telecast, and they were riveted to the fuzzy black-and-white screen for the showing of a full-length Western feature film. That evening the choice was Crocodile Dundee (1986), dubbed in Mandarin. We watched in fascination. After many months of fieldwork, I found myself as captivated as they were by images of a goofy Australian outback guide discovering and humorously mastering the complexities of New York City life. The comical narrative of his wide-eyed encounters with the quintessence of metropolitan sophistication, mediated by an affluent, urban, very blonde American woman, invited Chinese viewers into a fantasy of travel and self-transformation. Tacitly, we projected ourselves into the film in our disparate roles, imagining what it would be like were I to introduce them to the Big Apple. It was with resignation, however, that we admitted to ourselves that the television offered us nothing more than the thickest materials for exploring fantasy, for the hopes for these villagers of traveling abroad were nothing more than pipe dreams. Scattered through the primary and middle schools and in the remaining state offices situated in Xijiang were a collection of urban-educated Miao young people who routinely lamented their having been dispatched back to the countryside to work after a few sweet years of metropolitan privilege. One of them, whom I shall call Chang, struggled to teach rudimentary English to local students who were themselves, as native speakers of Miao, struggling with mastering just Mandarin Chinese. For Chang, learning English in the city had meant learning about the ways of the West, coming to crave its affluence as emblematized by its modes of femininity. She had access to this world through the medium of Chinese pop magazines that were stacked high on a large bookshelf in her room. Among these periodicals were Jiating (Household) and Jiating Yisheng (Family Doctor), which included an article in the psychology section on knowing the inner secrets of one’s spouse’s heart. Fashion magazines abounded in her collection, including Shizhuang (Clothing of the Times), Shanghai Fu-

zhuang (Shanghai Fashion), and Jindai (Golden Age). All of these magazines were replete with images of Western women. Chang also had added to her collection an American catalog of an earring discounter given to her by a Japanese photographer passing through town. Knowing that Chang was an accomplished seamstress, I asked her to show me the clothing that she had made for herself. Reluctantly, she pulled garments from her wardrobe, including a red suit with a skirt and a navy one with a miniskirt. But she dismissed all of these, explaining that she had not been able to make the stylish set (tao) that she wanted for teaching. Although she was welcome to borrow her aunt’s sewing machine anytime, she could not produce her dream outfit until she could obtain the color of fabric she preferred. She had searched at the local market, in the county seat, even in the little metropolis of Kaili where she had done her teacher training. One would have thought that anything could be purchased in the city of Kaili, but not that longed-after, elusive hue. I asked what color it was that she was holding out for, and she briskly pulled a well-worn style magazine off the shelf. Flipping through the pages effortlessly, she located the object of her frustrated desire. A coiffed and groomed woman strode across the page in a trim business suit of radiant coral pink, exuding femininity, and inspiring envy through every finely tailored seam of her lushly styled ensemble. Consigned to her spectator’s role of yearning, Chang could only imagine places far away where women, whether Chinese or foreign, could realize their personal fashion dreams. Chang’s desire hauntingly echoes the structure of feeling so eloquently evoked by Carolyn Steedman writing of her inculcation by her mother into the gendered working-class subjectivity of 1960s Britain. Steedman’s account bespeaks the role of promotional media in generating tactics for dealing with persistent deprivation: ‘‘What we learned . . . through the magazines and anecdotes [that mother] brought home, was how the goods of that world of privilege might be appropriated, with the cut and fall of a skirt, a good winter coat, with leather shoes, a certain voice, but above all with clothes, the best boundary between you and a cold world.’’ 13 Likewise for Xijiangers, the fragments of grooming that had become affordable in the 1990s were swiftly adopted into local beauty aesthetics, despite the trepidations of some older guardians of cultural continuity. By 1993, young women dared to carry water in short shorts, or to let their hair down rather than bind it up in the regional topknot—an elaborate twist with multiple ornaments referred to as jiujiu. A beauty parlor had opened on Xijiang’s main strip that purveyed hair style alternatives for men and women through glossy posters of the latest supermodel looks. That these calculations of style were but fragments within an overall

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consumerist zeitgeist from which Xijiang Miao recognized their exclusion is my main point. The appropriation of fragments is critical, though, for it suggests the suturing of consumption practices to the hopes of social mobility. In 1990s China, much of what was at stake in the reorganization of social-economic life was the contest over whether one’s consumer persona could be a vehicle for getting ahead. And relatedly, did conspicuous display indicate a social position of any substance? What Steedman offered was an unblinking analysis, in a Britain already massively industrialized and permeated with mass media, of the contours and palpability of working-class envy. What China demands is a complication of the class axis with the other dimensions of difference that constitute exclusions. Global and regional asymmetries also figure centrally, especially because issues of class mobility here overlap with those of the physical mobility of persons and goods.Wang Hui (in this volume) lays out the complexity of interlocking multiple scales. In the post-Cold War era, China and other (former) socialist countries have become an important, or even the most dynamic, component of the world capitalist market . . . in the course of marketization in China, what will the relationship be between state, private, and foreign capital? What will the relationship be between new classes and social groups? What of the relationship between peasants and urban populations? Between the developed coastal regions and the backward hinterland? . . . In the era of multinational capitalism, do these ‘‘internal relations’’ matter any more? (188) I will argue that not only are ‘‘internal’’ differences inextricable from transnational ones, but that jumping between scales reveals a crisis in the solidity of those national boundaries that putatively demarcate the internal and external. This argument is not ‘‘postnational,’’ and it is certainly not celebratory in that regard; rather, it is a bricolage of ethnographic observations that suggest on-the-ground reworkings of the notion of the nation as a primary unit of distinction. These fictive border transgressions have everything to do with the conjunction between material inequality and physical immobility. In order to probe the productive character of exclusions, and to keep my lens trained on the importance of material goods, I want to theorize the frustrations of Chinese consumerism against another moment of acute transnational commodity desire—that of the cargo cults famed in anthropology. Comparing these two instances reveals similarities in the logics by which consumption desire is incited by economic disparities and by the association of the foreign with prestige. But profound disjunctures also

emerge from the particularities of historical situatedness and the role of the state in the rise of global mediation.

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Cargo Desire as a Register of Inequality Appearing primarily in islands of the Pacific (especially New Guinea) from about 1910 through the 1950s—and by some accounts in other places and up to the present—cargo cults have been characterized as comprising the desire for wealth, some sort of collective behavior, and the use of supernatural means to achieve collective ends.14 These cults regularly referenced wealth in the abstract as well as in specific objects of use and symbolic value that were absent or in short supply in their societies, except among whites, who were seen as monopolizing goods and wealth with flagrant selfishness. Dramatic displays of colonizing European technologies, unusual foodstuffs, and other rarities were a central means of performing superiority in the first moments of ‘‘contact’’ and in ensuing crises in the legitimacy of white control. Not all of the goods displayed by whites were powerful because of their capabilities for violence; white possessions were also desired for their utility and attractiveness in trade. One New Guinea highlander recalled the effects of the calculated showcasing of dazzlingly useful items: When the white man came here the people were really afraid of him. He put some salt in his hands and put it on their tongues. They tasted it and said, ‘‘This is good,’’ and jumped about making noises like this, ‘‘Sssss! Sssss!’’ Then they came forward and held on to the white man’s legs, saying, ‘‘This is a good thing.’’ Our way of making fire was by pulling hard on a strip of bamboo. The white man got a matchbox and stroked it. He gave them the matchbox and they too stroked it, and the fire flared out. They held the box to their hearts and they were filled with joy. Then the white man got out the tambu shells and tomahawks. . . .15 While these initial moments illustrate the almost intoxicating power associated with these goods, they do little to intimate the acute sense of deprivation that would ensue after years of ‘‘contact’’ and of colonial labor subordination by Europeans with only minimal transfer of the desired objects. From the mid-1850s to the mid-1950s the islands of the Pacific had been variously—and sometimes successively—colonized by Dutch, French, British, Germans, Japanese, and later Australians and Indonesians. Plantations and mines drew increasing numbers of native men into wage labor and away from the subsistence activities on which their com-

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munities relied. Instead of being enriched by the growth of the cash economy, natives felt impoverished and incredulous that so little of the ‘‘cargo’’ that whites flaunted ever trickled down to them. From this indignant longing, cults rose around the quest for ‘‘cargo,’’ defined as that to which indigenous people were entitled but which whites were withholding in morally consequential ways. Typically, a charismatic leader would emerge, distinguished by his visions of magical means by which the desired cargo would be obtained. His followers gave him their loyalty on the basis of his prescribing rituals and social practices that would effect material gains. It is critical to stress that this cultic and ritual activity not only emerged out of the recognition of a relatively static wealth differential between indigenous peoples and whites, but that an ongoing process of labor subordination and marketization of the economy was being reacted against. In other words, the crucial point was not just that those who governed, employed, and converted indigenous peoples had it all, but that these external agents were transforming indigenous economies into forms that even further highlighted the irrationality of decidedly unequal modes of production and distribution.16 Goods as Useful, Goods as Meaningful Vicarious consumerism in China holds in common with the Pacific cargo cults a pained recognition of disparity with those most prosperous, most mobile, and most technologically elaborated members of the world capitalist system. This recognition goes hand in hand with a new form of valuing objects from afar, something that Georg Simmel was concerned to schematize at the dawn of the twentieth century: . . . We desire objects only if they are not immediately given to us for our use and enjoyment; that is, to the extent that they resist our desire . . . value does not originate from the unbroken unity of the moment of enjoyment, but from the separation between the subject and the content of enjoyment as an object that stands opposed to the subject as something desired and only to be attained by the conquest of distance, obstacles and difficulties.17 One thing that cargo cults and Chinese consumerism share is that the ‘‘distance’’ which Simmel describes has such a strong transnational or interracial character. What some in this context have called a concomitant— and, I would add, racialized ‘‘sense of inferiority’’—becomes, in both cases, transmuted into a politics of acquisition by other means, that is, by means

that circumvent the existing limitations of wealth.18 In some analyses, cargo cults have been thought of as attempts to redress the injurious effects wrought by this recognition of disparities of wealth and power. In both instances, there is a refusal of exclusion, an attempt to forge alternative modes of participation in that global system which is otherwise materially out of reach. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon described the gaze of the colonized native upon the highly partitioned settler’s town in terms of a chainlike fantasy of possession: ‘‘The look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession—all manner of possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible.’’ 19 Neither cargo cults nor Chinese consumption desires, then, are defined solely by the goods on which they seem to fasten themselves. The goods targeted in cargo could never have been inert and meaningless, situated as they were at the juncture between European power and indigenous desire. But at the same time, these objects were not without their use values, and these values also were indices of a broader condition of material disparity. More likely, the goods that cargo cults focused on were always both materially and symbolically significant. Likewise with Chinese consumerism; the sought-after objects are distributed widely across the divide between utility and status significance, and almost always they pertain to both. As we saw with the transformer craze, acquiring them had tremendous ramifications in terms of immediate considerations of social status. But I will argue that acquisition also signifies a reconfiguring of the relations of Chinese and outsiders, an adjustment of a social order in which the outside retained a monopoly on prestige goods. This impulse threads through multiple accounts of cargo and of contemporary China’s opening of the door. Imagined Cosmopolitanism In August 1994, the first McDonald’s ‘‘theme restaurant’’ was opened, inspired by famous theme parks such as Disneyland. The interior of the restaurant was decorated like a large ship, and staff members wore blue-and-white sailor uniforms instead of traditional McDonald’s uniforms. The restaurant has developed a program called Uncle McDonald’s Adventure, which encourages children to imagine that they are traveling around the world on a big ship guided by Uncle McDonald. The basic idea, according to the manager, is to increase children’s knowledge of world geography and encourage them to create an imagined world by and for themselves.20

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Having sketched some commonalities between cargo cults and Chinese commodity envy, I want to highlight some differences. Cargo cults, it seems, were mostly about internalizing the wealth and power of the white man, about acquiring it for local improvement or for particular social interests. Chinese consumerism, on the other hand, seems more an impulse of movement outward toward the world, in keeping with the slogan zou xiang shijie (marching toward the world). The moment in which even Chinese who cannot afford to travel or purchase foreign goods are striving for membership in global consumption culture is one that emerges from the presence of global mediation and satellite broadcasting and of the mobility of meanings that circulate through these channels. In cargo, desire arose from ‘‘contact,’’ from direct experiences of colonization and labor exploitation. The possessors of the desired cargo were in effect localized in the figure of the white man, and that white man was coterminous with the governing state. In China’s reform moment, by contrast, the West may still be a potent signifier of modernity, but the locus of prosperity and power is for the most part depersonalized and deterritorialized, neither state nor a site beyond. Consumer culture saturates the globe and is as much in evidence in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan as it is in the West. The current quest, then, is for entry into it in all of its everywhereness. Despatialized yearnings have everything to do with the sudden explosion of television and other media in China’s post-Mao period. The technologies themselves have undergone swift proliferation. By 1986 the number of newspapers published in China had increased to 2,200; national and provincial papers were in the hands of one of five Chinese, a threefold growth in eight years. In 1978, only 8 percent of Chinese homes had radios; by 1982 the figure was 18.2 percent nationally and 32.3 percent in urban areas; by the early 1990s, nearly every urban home was equipped with radio, and some 800 fm and am stations were in operation, in contrast to the monovocal Central People’s Broadcast System that had monopolized the airwaves during high Maoism. Only a half-million television sets were sold annually by 1978, meaning that only a tiny proportion of the population had them. By contrast, in 1990 one in eight people owned sets, and with the advent of satellite broadcasting three quarters of the population could watch programs on the national television station. Some 400 other television stations operated, too, 100 of them producing original programming.21 By 1994, twelve tv channels were transmitted by satellite, reaching 81.3 percent of the population.22 With the flow of foreign culture into China, cinemas, cassette players, vcrs, and karaoke also have been critical. As Yang points out, these are key media technologies through which appetites for consuming foreign entertainment products are sated.23

In some ways, though, access to media technologies per se has transformed the structures of desire less than has the availability of media products and programming from abroad. State policy changes regarding the dissemination of imported media are responsible for this shift. Not only has censorship relaxed, but customs inspections have loosened, allowing many more illegal cassettes, videos, cds, etc., to cross the borders. A ban on private satellite dishes was issued in 1992 but has been largely unenforceable; the reason behind the ban may have had more to do with the state’s need to proclaim that protection was being offered to intellectual property from overseas.24 Private ownership of satellite dishes has continued to burgeon, although estimates of how many dishes operate illegally are difficult to make. Meanwhile, the state has granted permission for select neighborhoods, townships, or villages to install a dish, and local entities, in turn, have installed cable to many households.25 At the same time as signals are coming into China from abroad, a metaphorical border crossing in the other direction is often what is sought in the reception of these materials. Of this recent Chinese impulse it could be said that it is about overcoming spatial constraint, about acquiring worldliness through varying kinds of engagement with the world’s goods and lifestyles. When this engagement is independent of the actual acquisition of goods, when it is effected instead through engagement with promotional media and transnational cultural meanings, I refer to it as ‘‘imagined cosmopolitanism.’’ Following Benedict Anderson, I mobilize the notion of imagining to point to the fact that participants in this cosmopolitanism do not meet face to face, and yet the community that their imagining produces is no less genuine because of the fact of spatial separation.26 I also draw from Anderson a notion of community that is defined by its sense of ‘‘horizontal comradeship.’’ 27 What drives the imagining of cosmopolitan space as being one with community, I maintain, is a longing to efface the differentials of power and wealth that otherwise constitute exclusion.28 The comparison with cargo cults focuses on the critical importance in imagined cosmopolitanism of ameliorating space. Cargo cults can be seen as far more concerned with indigenization, with bringing what Europeans had home; by contrast, the Chinese imagining of cosmopolitanism is about surmounting the spatial constraint of locality, about entering onto the global stage by means that circumvent geographic mobility. This discussion has returned us to another critical difference between the cargo moment and the contemporary Chinese one—the exceptional power of the electronic media. Anderson argued that the rise of print capitalism and national print languages precipitated the formation of national consciousness. He also maintained that in situations of limited literacy

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among workers and peasants, the radio ‘‘made it possible to bypass print and summon into being an aural representation of the imagined community where the printed page scarcely penetrated.’’ 29 Can we push this further to suggest that it is the presence of visual and aural global media— television, cable, satellites, as well as pirated videocassettes, karaoke, and cds—traveling through compressed time-space 30 that makes conceivable an imagined community on the scale of the globe? This perspective has been adopted by a range of critics who concern themselves with globalization and the media. Describing transformations in the political economy of media production, Morley and Robins suggest: ‘‘We are seeing the emergence of truly global decentered corporations in which diverse media products . . . are being combined into overarching communications empires . . . these megacorporations are shaping a global space of image flows.’’ 31 This space, Shohat and Stam assert, is one in which identities are refashioned: ‘‘In a transnational world typified by the global circulation of images and sounds, goods and populations, media spectatorship impacts complexly on national identity, political affiliation, and communal belonging. By facilitating a mediated engagement with ‘distant’ peoples, the media ‘deterritorialize’ the process of imagining communities.’’ 32 Appadurai pushes the notion of imagining further in his discussion of the role of fantasy precipitated by the presence of media in peoples’ lives: ‘‘More persons throughout the world see their lives through the prisms of the possible lives offered by mass media in all their forms. That is, fantasy is now a social practice; it enters, in a host of ways, into the fabrication of social lives for many people in many societies.’’ 33 I suggest here that not only do people imagine themselves transposed into ‘‘other’’ lives—those displayed through the images of media but only lived elsewhere—but they also fashion, in their longing, a shared cosmopolitan life that is no longer defined by the contours of difference. My suggestion presumes no actual diminishment of difference among media consumers around the world, but rather its disavowal as an effect of the consumption of global media. In an article on the consumption of transnational media in Shanghai, Mayfair Yang has argued that with the availability of images of cosmopolitan lives overseas, Chinese viewers in mainland China are imagining themselves in a larger community of co-ethnics, full of alternative Chinese modalities, especially those of capitalist entrepreneurship and opulent consumption. ‘‘In China in the 1980s and 1990s, the media increasingly enable national subjects to inhabit trans-spatial and trans-temporal imaginaries that dissolve the fixity and boundedness of historical nationhood and state territorial imperatives.’’ 34 Yang emphasizes the subversive effects of this transnational imagining in contesting state-defined versions

of Chineseness bound within the territorial confines of the mainland. What she finds instead is ‘‘internalization of another kind of Chinese culture not so tied in with a statist imaginary,’’ 35 ‘‘the longing to be reunited with or merged with the Chinese Other outside the borders of the Chinese state,’’ 36 and the emergence of a transnational (read trans-state) Chineselanguage imagined community in the next century.37 In contrast to Yang, I have argued that—in the cosmopolitan sensibility fostered by the consumption of global media on the Chinese mainland— what is being envisioned exceeds not only the confines of the state but also any form of deterritorialized national community. Indeed, much of what is desired in imagined cosmopolitanism is the transgression or dissolution of the kind of difference by which distinct cultural communities such as that of ‘‘the Chinese’’ are defined: ‘‘with the tantalizing dance of foreign goods and cultural products across television screens and on store shelves, even those who can’t afford them are imagining themselves as participants in a world of consumption. This . . . coincides with a diminishing enunciation of a unitary and oppositional Chinese identity.’’ 38 One thing that Chinese consumers yearn for, in other words, is to be of the world, to surpass any form of Chinese parochialism. Like cargoists before them, they quest to occupy the same sites of prestige, wealth, and power as privileged Westerners and Asians. While for cargoists, however, striving for this parity was to be achieved in part by the acquisition of goods, for Chinese consumers, attaining a kind of worldliness becomes an end in itself, replacing the material measure that cargoists sought. Those who fashion themselves as cosmopolitans in China make themselves part of the world precisely through browsing the store shelves and imbibing and becoming fluent in signs of foreignness, whether in films, music, print media, or other forms of communication.39 Since the vast majority of them will have no opportunity to physically travel, this cosmopolitanism becomes the means to a worldly savvy, a metaphoric travel that transports them both symbolically past state borders and through the ‘‘open door’’ of the post-Mao reform period, while resisting confinement to a discrete category of Chineseness. This kind of subjectivity refuses the politics of difference, of disparate communities, that is seen as historically positioning them in inferior ranked positions in a global order. For those in the interior, such crossing of boundaries has the added valences of transgressing the spatial partitions that rank regions within China while appearing to collapse the class barriers that are otherwise so forbidding.

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Media Sex We are no longer a part of the drama of alienation; we live in the ecstasy of communication. And this ecstasy is obscene. —Jean Baudrillard, ‘‘The Ecstasy of Communication’’

It must be emphasized that Chinese commodity envy is highly conditioned not simply by media but more specifically by advertising. After enforcing a ban on product advertising that began in the mid-1960s and continued throughout the Cultural Revolution into the late 1970s, the Chinese government began permitting radio and television ads in 1979. In 1982, Central Chinese Television gave cbs Productions 320 minutes (five hours, twenty minutes) of airtime for commercials in exchange for sixty hours of U.S. television programming—a move that opened the floodgates for the visibility of foreign products.40 The advertising industry expanded from less than 10 state-run agencies in 1980 to almost 7,000 mostly nonstate agencies in 1987.41 ‘‘By 1987, China’s 81,000 ad industry employees were doing business with 966 Chinese newspapers, 1,788 magazines, 300 radio stations, and 360 television stations, which the Chinese Ministry of Radio, Film and Television estimated reached more than 68 percent of China’s billion-plus population. These were the kind of mass market statistics that ad men could only dream of in the outside world.’’ 42 Receiving the commercials, of course, is one thing; buying the advertised products is quite another. Aware that much of what ads proffer is economically out of reach for most Chinese audiences, authorities frame the function of advertising instead as ‘‘educational and informational.’’ 43 In a manner so resoundingly critiqued by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the West, this fledgling culture industry tutors Chinese consumers-in-training to live in the space of ever-renewed desire.44 It is a space that, in the late twentieth century, occupies more and more of the globe, and this saturation is one of the chief features that distinguishes the current historical moment from that of cargo. Guy Debord aptly described the practice of watching commodities: The spectacle corresponds to the historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life. It is not just that the relationship to commodities is now plain to see—commodities are now all there is to see; the world we see is the world of the commodity. The growth of the dictatorship of modern economic production is both extensive and intensive in character. In the least industrialized regions its presence is already felt in the form of imperialist

domination by those areas that lead the world in productivity. In these advanced sectors themselves, social space is continually being blanketed by stratum after stratum of commodities.45 In keeping with the logic of Western commodity fetishization and gendered advertising, sex—in the Chinese case, as in global capitalist modernity almost everywhere—has been displaced into the commodity. As Haug put it, following Marx: ‘‘a whole range of commodities can be seen casting flirtatious glances at the buyers, in an exact imitation of or even surpassing the buyers’ own glances, which they use in courting their human objects of affection . . . powerful aesthetic stimulation, exchange-value and libido cling to one another. . . .’’ 46 This relocation of sex in the commodity has been thought of as a constitutive feature of the rise of European capitalism and goes hand in hand with the gendering of consumption. As the rise of industrial production untethered the space of the home from that of production, the domestic became emblematic of nonwork. In the bourgeois norm that became the hegemonically desirable form, the home space was one of leisure, one peopled with women whose private lives were filled with consuming the products that industrial capital was generating.47 These norms, visible still in the codes of western commodity culture and advertising, have been imported, with a certain awkwardness, to the Chinese cultural scene. Chroniclers of the print and electronic media in post-Mao China have noted over and over again the increasing deployment of sexual imagery for marketing agendas.48 Zha Jianying recounts the strategic overhaul of the official news publication of the Chinese Ministry of Culture for marketing purposes. The editor, under pressure to start turning a profit with the weekend edition, adopted what had become the most effective avenue to garnering sales: On January 1, 1993, China Culture Gazette (CCG), the official organ of China’s Ministry of Culture, was transformed. For years CCG had been an infamous stronghold of the hard-line apparatchiks, choking with dull, harsh tirades of Communist Party propaganda. With a new issue of its weekend edition—the Cultural Weekend—the paper changed color overnight: from red to yellow. The nude pictures did the trick. The four-page Cultural Weekend on that day displayed so many photographs of nude and seminude women (most of whom were busty Westerners), that it instantly became known as ‘‘the coolest paper in Beijing.’’ It also ran a front-page interview on the subject of nudity with Liu Xiaoqing, China’s brash movie queen. The issue sold like hotcakes.49

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Almost overnight, the pretty, maternal, or sexy woman’s body has been fused with the objects being marketed. Sexual impulse is now incited and then disciplined to direct itself toward longing and the promise of eventual purchase. Beth Notar analyzed the preponderance of women in television ads in 1992–93, noting that representations of women bifurcated into roles of ‘‘sexy young thing’’ and ‘‘good wife, wise mother.’’ 50 The abundance of the sexy young version of womanhood is particularly striking since it had been almost entirely absent from public culture in the Maoist period. But both maternal and sexy roles, however, operate to feminize the space of consumption, linking it to women’s activities and bodies.Whereas domestic and maternal images operate pedagogically—training women to pursue a scripted and commodity-assisted form of domesticity—the image of the ‘‘Sexy Young Thing’’ trains women as consuming and desiring individuals, but ones at the same time who are denied their personhood by being deployed as vehicles for sale. In some instances, they appear in nothing more than fragments—legs, wind-swept hair, giant painted lips. The overarching logic of this regime of representation is to insure that sexuality is ever more tightly harnessed to the objects and lifestyles offered for purchase. By 1993, after this process of melding had been under way for more than a decade, a proprietor in a Sichuan shop selling glossy wall calendars explained to me that stripped down images of seminude women were no longer in as much demand as they had been in the earlier years of reform. Instead his customers wanted to see women lavishly adorned and groomed—textbooks for fashion codes. Or they wanted glamorous women set among furnishings, interior decoration, buildings, foreign cityscapes, or other desirable objects.51 The wall calendar, of course, is aptly paradigmatic for the system of viewership that appears to be supplanting the straightforward acquisition of objects. The calendars described by the shopkeeper were without doubt showcases for commodities, but they also were commodities themselves— ones intended to be gazed at over sustained periods without being consumed in any other way. Pleasure was to be derived from viewing alone. This logic of sensuous spectacle echoes what Baudrillard described in the West as the ‘‘ecstasy of communication’’: today there is a whole pornography of information and communication, that is to say, circuits and networks, a pornography of all functions and objects in their readability, their fluidity, their availability, their regulation, in their forced signification, in their performativity, in their branching, in their polyvalence, in their free expression . . . It is no longer then the traditional obscenity of what is hidden, re-

pressed, forbidden or obscure; on the contrary, it is the obscenity of the visible, of the all-too-visible, of the more-visible-than-the-visible. It is the obscenity of what no longer has any secret, of what dissolves completely in information and communication.52 What media, communications, and the promiscuous circulation of signs of sexy goods effect is a system that has been described in terms of desire for desire itself. If desire and eroticism are increasingly entangled with the commodity form, then sex, when harnessed to the out-of-reach commodity, becomes the unfulfilled, the ceaseless yearning. And in the inevitability of failed fulfillment lies another kind of sensual pleasure—that of a delicious longing that replicates itself over and over. This state of resigned longing is coupled with enjoyable spectatorship; indeed the pleasure of watching is the condition for the maintenance of the unsated state of desire. It is the replacement of organized movements directed at acquisition by the quest for the flaneur-like 53 experiences of gazing on sexualized goods that makes cargo different from contemporary Chinese consumer envy. And this difference, I argue, is the outcome of a shift in the late twentieth century that is profoundly driven by the reach of media. Lamont Lindstrom, surveying the abundant appearance of the notion of cargo in literature, the arts, and academic writings in the West, explains its popularity as a motif in terms of the appeal of the theme of desire: Cargo cult keeps returning . . . we are motivated to use the term, and use it widely, because it palpates and animates our own diffuse but powerful discourses of desire and love, particularly the melancholy of unrequited love. The cargo cult is an allegory of desire. And desire itself, as an emotion, an interest, a future, another self, an unending problem, is desirable. Stories of desire have emotional and intellectual currency, and cargo cult pays with interest.54 What Lindstrom describes, however, is cargo as a sign, a signifier of a structure of feeling that desiring consumers of eroticized and mediated messages, whether in arts or ads, relate to in many corners of the globe. It would be an injustice to project this structure of feeling onto the early cargoists, who were urgently trying to come to terms with the realities of their material deprivation and political domination. That the acquisition of goods went unfulfilled for them had a different valence, I suspect, not one in which they might have reveled in the emotional contours of cult belief, but one in which their frustrated exclusion focused them on modes of religio-political organization that could symbolize opposition and the goal of equalization, even if those goals were virtually unattainable.

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What’s Postsocialism Got to Do with It? Chinese commodity desire, then, unlike cargo, bears the deep imprint of the globally hegemonic mode in which commodities are sexualized, gendered feminine, rendered into spectacles, and associated with the space of leisure and affluent consumption. Facilitated by the global mobility of media signs, this mode is a diagnostic of the late twentieth century—an era dominated by transnationalism and specular sensibilities. But China’s history has produced distinct idioms in which the logic of commodity/eros is expressed. It is critical that China is emerging from a socialism that valorized work as its own end, flattened gender difference, criticized sex as a diversion from politics, and closed the door to foreign cultural products. Barmé has suggested that: ‘‘To an extent, the most egregious form of ‘dissent’ in the Chinese media today is that of consumer discourse.’’ 55 When Chinese television advertising began, in the 1980s, to replace the utilitarian work objects of cargo-type desirability (such as machinery for sale to state workunits), with luxurious products for the home (such as dishwashers, toys, and cosmetics), a pointed renunciation of the Maoist work ethic and a celebration of newly privatized domestic space came into play. When Chinese consumers sought to reclaim their femininity and masculinity from the state, they did it using an abundance of commodities, and the state condoned the process as invigorating to the market. Likewise with sexuality, which exploded in public in the 1980s, oppositional norms of individualist self-determination and pleasure-seeking were at work; the state, however, could not but embrace the shift since it was both favorable to the economy and conducive to promoting the nonprocreative sexual subjectivities needed for stringent birth planning initiatives.56 Finally, when global media and commodities gushed into China with the reform era’s gradual lifting of restrictions, the passion to consume them derived in part from the fact that they had been prohibited for so many decades. This leads me to my concluding point about imagined cosmopolitanism. One of the ways that the Chinese reform period is different from classical cargo cults is that whereas in cargo the commodities at issue were always part of a direct and often deliberate display of superiority by colonizing Europeans, in China the state’s closing of the door had itself been precisely about resisting any form of cultural or political colonization. When these barriers were lifted with the relaxing of state controls under reform, the commodities and lifestyles emblematized by foreigners were still admired at a considerable distance. Moreover, the medium of their display, the media messages beamed in from afar, were treasured simply for their presence. This, I think, is one of the reasons that unsat-

isfied commodity desire has such resiliency in China: because even the image of commodities and consumerism was forbidden during the austere years of the cultural revolution, the images have a greater propensity to be consumed as ends in themselves. To even gaze at objects sealed in glass cases, or to peruse fashions arranged artfully on Madonna’s mtvenhanced body; to know that, given sufficient funds, one might have no other obstacle to buying a car or a pirated pornographic videocassette, was a highly significant form of access in and of itself. For Chinese to be in the midst of consumption culture, casting flirtatious glances back and forth with so many formerly prohibited objects, soaking up the seductive imagings of what was to had, signified participation in a world that had been expressly denied in Maoist years. In Caroline Humphrey’s view, writing on Moscow, what postsocialism has engendered is not only the replacement of the state as agent of deprivation by global price structures or distribution mechanisms, but also a reaction to this deprivation that resists its imposed inequities.57 Nonetheless, the resistance is still structured by a system of disparities that would-be consumers in Moscow, Beijing, or Guizhou must define themselves with or against. Imagined cosmopolitanism is sustained, then, in its own right, despite the myriad material exclusions on which it remains premised. Fashionable Selves Critics of globalized consumer culture have emphasized its tendency to cultivate individualism, to create an aura of individuality by offering a tantalizing array of objects and media products to be manipulated in the production of selves. Ian Angus describes the current situation as simulating ‘‘the individual’’ [through] uncoerced and unrelated choices from a plethora of industrially produced commodities. It is not so much goods that are for sale nowadays as lifestyles. And here, it may well be, the inner logic of industrialism reaches its apogee: not goods for individuals, but ‘‘individuals’’ produced through the staging of goods. Cultural identities produced industrially and exchanged at will. The earlier cultural homogeneity due to the uniformity of production methods has been displaced by a diversity of cultural identities focused on consumer choice.58 As Marilyn Strathern put it, Euro-American consumerism is premised on the person ‘‘as a potentially free-standing and whole entity’’ who ‘‘draws from an impersonal domain, such as the market, goods that, in being

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turned into expressions of self-identity, become personalized.’’ 59 The consumer is free and uncompelled, strolling—like Benjamin’s intoxicated flaneur—through the proverbial shopping mall of window displays and fashioning the self through idiosyncratic appropriations of products.60 Tang Xiaobing, describing urban China’s 1990s consumerism, shows the transmutation of this individualist ideology in the post-Mao, post1980s culture of concrete surfaces, of Baudrillardian signs. Gone are the utopian, humanist moments of the 1980s, when the romanticized subject was consolidated as an oppositional presence to Maoist conformity, replaced by a commodified sense of the interior epitomized by the craze for personalizing space through home decorating. If interiority, for the humanist discourse of the 1980s, was a global concept with which to protest and resist political repression and homogenization, then, in the consumer culture of the 1990s, all inner yearnings and visions are increasingly channeled to their external expression in concrete sign-objects. . . . It is therefore hardly ‘‘an age without interiority,’’ but a time when people’s lives will have to be systematically interiorized and interiority imaginatively engineered and expanded so as to create more fantasies and more needs.61 For Tang, then, the market has replaced a ‘‘spiritual or psychic structure of depth’’ with a notion of the cozy, personalized space, outfitted with all the most fashionable and most modern objects, a space that comes to provide privileged Chinese urbanites with their sense of subjective selves. It is not, however, only distinct and interiorized selves that are produced through acts of consumption, but selves as parts of discrete culturally defined communities—ethnic, regional, national, etc.This process has long been noted by theorists such as Jonathan Friedman, and has been chronicled ethnographically for sites all over the world.62 In postsocialist settings, analysts have emphasized the antistate character of consumerist orientations in terms of how the implicit individualism of consumer choice contravenes more collectivist visions and more straightforward subjection to homogenizing regimes.63 For Yang, the counterstate individualism implied in consumerism is also about breaking out of the specific definitions of Chineseness offered by the socialist motherland in favor of a border-crossing, self-determining, albeit desiring, self. ‘‘Along with the strengthening of the desiring ‘I,’ what comes into being is not only a culture of individualism but also a culture of desiring, consuming individuals yearning to be fulfilled.’’ 64 These readings of consumerism, in the tradition of Bourdieu’s Distinction, have in common an emphasis on the production of differences, even if

they amount to only simulated or, what Angus calls, ‘‘staged’’ differences.65 What I mean to interrogate here is the underlying assumption that consumers are always questing after these differences, that they are seeking (or have been induced to seek) to produce particularized selves or distinctive cultural communities. The implication in all these arguments is that the multiplication of ever-proliferating modalities of the self is somehow an inevitable outcome of the late-century consumerist order. The case of Chinese consumerism—and of cargo cults as its unlikely antecedent— contravene this scenario in critical and divergent ways. Cargo cults were driven, at least in part, by colonized peoples recognizing that inconceivably wide material gaps separated them from those who governed, employed, and Christianized them. Their quest was to acquire not only what whites had, but also to occupy the place of white men, ‘‘to exchange their black skins for white ones,’’ 66 whether in whites’ more comfortable lifestyles, their positions of power, or in bed with their women.67 For Chinese emerging from Maoism, much of the impetus, again, for the institution of reform policies in the first place was an awareness that socialist economic organization had not yielded the prosperities that were evident in more capitalist sites. Both cargoists and post-Mao Chinese deployed modes of mystical imagining in their (frustrated) attempts to redress this inequality. But whereas in cargo we could say that forms of magic were practiced within cult communities, in the moment of contemporary Chinese consumerism, the magic had been relocated into the commodities themselves.68 This migration of magic from communities to products, of course, is fostered by the capacity of media to induce sensuous states of desire—states that are themselves desirable. By corralling and disciplining sexual energies, mediated consumerism merges the pleasure of commodities with the longing for them as two indistinguishable states of incitement. Conclusion Assuming a state of generalized yearning, however, does not presume that all who desire goods are equally driven to produce distinct selves through acquisition. Just as the structures of feeling around transnational commodity desire differ in each historical moment, so too is the politicaleconomic context for these desires highly divergent. Part of what motivates the project of this article is an attempt to put inequalities back into the picture as constitutive of the desires that propelled cargo cults and Chinese consumerism alike. Such a project demands that we read past the chimera of evenhandedness and homogeneity that the mass consumer order

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manufactures to interrogate the structural and historical disparities that it elides.69 For those at the distant margins of capitalism’s ‘‘spoils,’’ the encounter with the goods that signify affluence is indelibly marked by their unattainability.70 Producing one’s individuality through consumption, then, reveals itself as a practice highly conditioned by accessibility or inaccessibility of the prized products. When transnational mediation is at play another process is set into motion. Accessing goods from the global market comes to include the aural and specular consumption of foreign media products, including ads, without any further purchase of goods. What is effected in these types of practices is not so much the cultivation of individualized selves or differentiated communities, but the phantasmatic amelioration of the disparities that position would-be consumers asymmetrically. Several larger agendas related to studies of transnationalism, then, are also at play here. The essay contributes to attempts to think class at a transnational scale and to interrogate the relationship between mobility and immobility. By ‘‘mobility’’ I mean both the movement of people, capital, goods and meanings across space, and also class, racial and gender mobilities—or the lack thereof. One of the purposes of the account given here, then, is to suggest one way that transnational processes involve those who experience none of these mobilities. Relatedly, I want to assert that the social practice of imagining on the part of those who do not move, excluded as it so often is from traversals of space and from exhilarating forms of exchange, is nonetheless never separable from materiality. Imagined cosmopolitanism, then, is about conceiving a tauntingly chimeric world of spatial, class, gender, and race mobility, where state borders and economic exclusions cease to be intransigent constraints. It is about registering the materiality of envy, even as envy is displaced by mobility dreaming. It is about the sensuous recasting of the world as promiscuous in its cultural systems, its logics of style, and its myriad lifestyles. All indications to the contrary, it is about fantasizing a community on a worldwide scale where geohistorical and political relations no longer determine one’s chances for participation and membership, for pleasure, leisure, and connectedness. The falsity or genuineness of this fantasy is beside the point; it is, I argue, simply what media consumers in China are doing when they engage with the panorama of the world’s goods. Yet at the same time, it is fundamentally about the perdurance of immobility.



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This essay was first presented as a paper at the panel ‘‘Embodying Anthropology: Gender/Sexuality, History, Political Economy’’ at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, 22 November 1997. I am immensely grateful to the following colleagues for their invaluable suggestions and for their critiques of drafts of this text: Tad Ballew, Juchen Chen, Debra Curtis, Micaela diLeonardo, Caren Kaplan, Inderpal Grewal, Lamont Lindstrom, Purnima Mankekar, Aihwa Ong, Peggy Swain, Zhang Xudong. The description here is a synopsis of a segment of ‘‘The Toughest Summit,’’ aired on cnn on 28 October 1997, during the visit to the United States of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Bin Zhao and Graham Murdock, ‘‘Young Pioneers: Children and the Making of Chinese Consumerism.’’ Cultural Studies 10, no. 2 (1996): 203. Yunxiang Yan, ‘‘McDonald’s in Beijing: The Localization of Americana,’’ in Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia, ed. James L. Watson (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), 69–70. Virginia Cornue, ‘‘Reorganizing Women: Gender, Non-Governmental Organizations and Contemporary Change in China.’’ Ph.d. diss. Rutgers University, 2001. Leslie Sklair, Sociology of the Global System (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 201–2. Ibid., 216. The following account is based on the discussion in ibid. Quoted in ibid., 211. The provinces are Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Guangdong, and Hainan Island. There also are smaller numbers in Hubei province as well as in Beijing and other major cities where they have moved as laborers, students, soldiers, or internal migrants. On internal colonialism, see especially J. E. Spencer, ‘‘Kueichou: An Internal Chinese Colony,’’ Pacific Affairs 13, no. 2 (1940): 162–72; also Terry Cannon, ‘‘National Minorities and the Internal Frontier,’’ in China’s Regional Development, ed. David S. G. Goodman (London: Routledge, 1989); Tim Oakes, Tourism and Modernity in China (London: Routledge, 1998), 82–130. In terms of actual spatial differentiations, the situation is in fact slightly more complex since special development areas are located throughout the interior as are sites that have prospered from tourism. I am grateful to Peggy Swain for emphasizing this point. Nonetheless, the partition prevails in conceptually dividing China’s regions. Martin Lockett, ‘‘Foreign Trade,’’ in China’s Regional Development, 72. Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 38. The time period of cargo cult activity is, of course, intimately dependent on

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19 20 21 22 23

how the designation ‘‘cargo cult’’ is applied. For accounts of related cult-type occurrences as early as the 1850s, see Peter Worsley, ‘‘Cargo Cults,’’ in Anthropology: Contemporary Perspectives, 3rd ed., ed. David E. K. Hunter and Phillip Whitten (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982 [1959]). On cargo-type cults in vastly different regions of the world, see Lamont Lindstrom, Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire from Melanesia and Beyond (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 184–87. Critiques of the unitary designation ‘‘cargo cult’’ as, among other things, an Orientalist reduction or a projection of Western commodity fetishism, are reviewed by Lindstrom, ibid., 6–10. Carl Loeliger and Garry Trompf in New Religious Movements in Melanesia (Suva: University of the South Pacific and the University of Papua New Guinea, 1985) discuss problems of classification in a collection on new religious movements in Melanesia; the book covers the last two centuries and chronicles many non-cargo types of religion. My comparative undertaking here has required me to stabilize the phenomenon of cargo cults more than critics might find justified. I do so, however, to draw out both their kinship with and their divergences from a later moment of consumerism. For this reason, I foreground the cults that revolve around ‘‘the miraculous acquisition of Western-style goods’’ (ibid., xii). Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, First Contact (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987), 52. In this light, objections may be raised that my use of the phrase ‘‘transnational commodity desire’’ for the cargo moment is inappropriate since it would appear that what cargoists wanted was useful goods without an economic system structured by the exchange of labor power and commodities. Nonetheless, I think it is fruitful to retain the phrase precisely to point to the historical context in which these goods were encountered. One of the frustrations for cargoists, of course, was that the goods rarely were available outside the context of capitalist commodity culture. Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978 [1907]). On the racial politics of cargo cults, see Kenelm Burridge, Mambu: A Melanesian Millennium (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960); Lindstrom, Cargo Cult. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1979), 29–30. Yan, ‘‘McDonald’s in Beijing,’’ 64. The figures on new media technology were taken from James Lull, China Turned On: Television, Reform and Resistance (London: Routledge, 1991), 19–24. Junhao Hong, ‘‘The Evolution of China’s Satellite Policy,’’ Telecommunications Policy 19, no. 2 (1995): 128. Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, ‘‘Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis,’’ in Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, ed. Aihwa Ong and Donald Nonini (New York: Routledge 1997), 294–95.

24 On the satellite ban, see Yu-li Liu, ‘‘The Growth of Cable Television in China: Tensions Between Local and Central Government,’’ Telecommunications Policy 18, no. 3 (1994): 224. On intellectual property, see Lincoln Kaye, ‘‘Shooting Star,’’ Far Eastern Economic Review (October 1993). 25 Tad Ballew, personal communication, 11 January 1998. 26 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 6. 27 Ibid., 7. 28 This sense of cosmopolitanism—as an outcome of imagining that strives to overcome or circumvent global inequalities—in some ways mediates debates on the deployment of the notion of cosmopolitanism in social analysis. These debates usually divide into (1) the critique that cosmopolitanism is an overly homogenizing concept versus (2) the critique that cosmopolitanism cannot but be aligned with and therefore implicitly celebrate the mobility of elite privilege and capital. For more on these debates, see Bruce Robbins, ‘‘Comparative Cosmopolitanisms,’’ in Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (London: Verso, 1993), 180–211, and many of the essays in the volume by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, eds., Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). 29 Anderson, Imagined Communities, 54. 30 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989). 31 David Morley and Kevin Robins, Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries (London: Routledge, 1995), 32. 32 Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, ‘‘From the Imperial Family to the Transnational Imaginary: Media Spectatorship in the Age of Globalization,’’ in Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, ed. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996), 145. 33 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 54. Note that Appadurai distinguishes between imagination and fantasy, emphasizing that imagination, especially if collective, can be a staging ground for action, while fantasy simply dissipates (ibid., 7). 34 Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, ‘‘Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity,’’ 288. 35 Ibid., 301. 36 Ibid., 302. 37 Ibid., 309–310. 38 Louisa Schein, ‘‘The Consumption of Color and the Politics of White Skin in Post-Mao China,’’ Social Text 41 (1994): 156. 39 Another kind of consumption, distinct from that of media and of more durable goods, needs to be taken into account here. That is the consumption of ephemeral commodities such as foods. Here the imagining of cosmopolitanism works in related ways but with slightly different particulars. A Beijing mother who was routinely taking her daughter to McDonald’s saw it as a program in skills acquisition ‘‘to expose her daughter to American culture. In other words,

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40 41 42 43 44

45 46



49 50 51



she wants her daughter to learn . . . to eat modern food so she will grow up to be a successful person who knows how to enjoy a modern way of life’’ (Yan, ‘‘McDonald’s in Beijing,’’ 65). Sklair, Sociology of the Global System, 200. Orville Schell, Discos and Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform (New York: Anchor, 1989), 344. Ibid. Ibid., 201. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, ‘‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception,’’ in The Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum, 1972 [1944]), 120–67. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1995 [1967]), 29. W. F. Haug, Critique of Commodity Aesthetics: Appearance, Sexuality and Advertising in Capitalist Society (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 19. Judith Williamson, ‘‘Woman Is an Island: Femininity and Colonization,’’ in Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, ed. Tania Modleski (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1986), 99–118. Geremie Barmé, ‘‘Soft Porn, Packaged Dissent, and Nationalism: Notes on Chinese Culture in the 1990s,’’ Current History (September 1994): 270–75; Orville Schell, ‘‘To Get Rich is Glorious,’’ New Yorker, 25 July 1994, 26–35. Jianying Zha, China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture (New York: New Press 1995), 105. Beth Notar, ‘‘Of Labor and Liberation: Images of Women in Current Chinese Television Advertising,’’ Visual Anthropology Review 10, no. 2 (1994): 29–44. See also the discussion of such calendars in Xiaobing Tang, ‘‘Decorating Culture: Notes on Interior Design, Interiority, and Interiorization,’’ Public Culture 10, no. 3 (1998): 543. Jean Baudrillard, ‘‘The Ecstasy of Communication,’’ in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Port Townsend, Wash.: Bay Press 1983), 130–31. In a well-known essay ‘‘The Flaneur,’’ Walter Benjamin elaborated the sensibility of the urbanite, strolling on foot through an anonymous crowd, encountering commodities with the same impersonality as the metropolitan strangers’ indifference: ‘‘The flaneur is someone abandoned in the crowd. In this he shares the situation of the commodity. He is not aware of this special situation, but this does not diminish its effect on him and it permeates him blissfully like a narcotic that can compensate him for many humiliations. The intoxication to which the flaneur surrenders is the intoxication of the commodity around which surges the stream of customers. . . . Empathy is the nature of the intoxication to which the flaneur abandons himself in the crowd . . . [but] the commodity whispers to a poor wretch who passes a shopwindow containing beautiful and expensive things. These objects are not inter-

54 55 56 57


59 60 61 62


64 65 66 67

ested in this person; they do not empathize with him.’’ In Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism (London: Verso, 1969), 55. Lindstrom, Cargo Cult, 183–84. Barmé, ‘‘Soft Porn,’’ 272. Louisa Schein, ‘‘The Other Goes to Market: The Nation, the State and Unruliness in Contemporary China,’’ Identities 2, no. 3 (1996): 197–222. Caroline Humphrey, ‘‘Creating a Culture of Disillusionment: Consumption in Moscow, A Chronicle of Changing Times,’’ in Worlds Apart: Modernity Through the Prism of the Local, ed. Daniel Miller (London: Routledge, 1995), 43–68. Ian H. Angus, ‘‘Circumscribing Postmodern Culture,’’ in Cultural Politics in Contemporary America, ed. Ian Angus and Sut Jhally (New York: Routledge, 1989), 100–101. Angus derives this position out of reading beyond Walter Benjamin’s watershed work, ‘‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’’ in Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1969 [1955]), 217–51) and the cultural criticism of Theodor Adorno. Angus suggests that Benjamin emphasized mechanical reproduction and the loss of ‘‘aura’’ as bringing about a transformation in how the audience received cultural products. Adorno pushed beyond this position to stress not mechanical reproduction of culture per se, but a form of massification in which all cultural products were subsumed in a logic of commodity exchange that saturated society to such an extent that all culture was homogenized. Angus’s project is to move beyond this Adornian critique of the homogenization of mass culture. Marilyn Strathern, ‘‘Partners and Consumers: Making Relations Visible,’’ New Literary History 22 (1991): 596. Miller, ed., Worlds Apart. Tang, ‘‘Decorating Culture,’’ 544. Jonathan Friedman, ‘‘Being in the World: Globalization and Localization,’’ in Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, ed. Mike Featherstone (London: Sage, 1990), 311–28. Gabriel Bar-Haim, ‘‘The Meaning of Western Commercial Artifacts for Eastern European Youth,’’ Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 16, no. 2 (1987): 205–26; Barmé, ‘‘Soft Porn’’; Humphrey, ‘‘Creating a Culture’’; Katherine Verdery, What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press 1996). Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, ‘‘Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity,’’ 303. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984); Angus, Cultural Politics, 101. Worsley, ‘‘Cargo Cults,’’ 241. The notion of exchanging skins in a context of highly marked racial difference is very significant here, as this corporal transformation in effect reinstantiates binaries of race. Elsewhere (Schein, ‘‘Consumption of Color,’’ 148), I have analyzed the contemporary Chinese fondness for cosmetic surgery to effect actual corporal transformations in the form of heightened noses, widened eyes, and enlarged breasts (see Schell, Discos and Democracy, 80–85). I suggest that in

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the context of the imagining of cosmopolitanism, these practices defy the common reading of them as modes of iterating the superiority of corporeal whiteness. Rather, unlike the cargoists’ total exchange of skins, these alterations produce hybrid bodies that transgress the impermeability of racial boundaries through a kind of creolizing artifice (see Kobena Mercer, ‘‘Black Hair/Style Politics,’’ in Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Culture, ed. Russell Ferguson et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: mit Press, 1990), 247–64. 68 This passage, of course, is intended to evoke Marx’s original treatment of commodity fetishism in Capital, Vol. 1 (see Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 215–25. 69 This discussion of homogeneity should not be confused with an earlier discussion of the homogenizing effects of global capitalism and culture versus production of difference and individuality through local consumption styles. This discussion, especially in anthropology, inspired by notions of productive consumption (see Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984]) and distinction (Bourdieu, Distinction), has firmly established the need to attend to processes of localizing and indigenizing of globally mobile cultural and economic forms (see Friedman, ‘‘Being in the World,’’ and the collections by Featherstone, ed., Global Culture, and Miller, Worlds Apart; for a review of the issues, see the introduction in Miller, Worlds Apart). What I am proposing here goes a step beyond this debate. I am suggesting that we scrutinize our own analytical practice as potentially producing the homogenizing formula which assumes that all consumption practice tends toward individuation of persons or groups. 70 By no means do I intend to imply that the margins are spatially defined, nonurban, or non-Western in character. Indeed, as Steedman showed us, the encounter with unattainable commodities is also acutely felt by those at the economic margins in metropolitan centers of capital accumulation such as Western cities or Hong Kong.


Nationalism, Mass Culture, and Intellectual Strategies in Post-Tiananmen China Xudong Zhang

The post-Cold War frenzy of China-bashing in the U.S. media has stirred nationalistic rhetoric in China to counter a United States that is perceived as aggressive, arrogant, and obsessed with imagining a new rival in the ‘‘new world order.’’ High-pitched clashes between the First World ‘‘free press’’ and state-controlled ideological apparatuses such as China’s are hardly anything new. But this time, the ‘‘master China demonizers’’—as Kenneth Rosenthal and Richard Bernstein, among others, have been referred to in a 1996 book published in China 1—confront a different set of protesters—not mandarins in Mao suits, but an energetic urban protomiddle class wearing blue jeans or business suits who grew up in the semimarket environment of the past fifteen years.2 Although it lacks the political freedom to challenge the government, this proto-middle class has been forming a semiautonomous social and cultural space of its own. As a result, a new generation of Chinese nationalists is emerging in and alongside a nascent Chinese public sphere; that sphere is the vast discursive space created by a thriving, omnipresent market and a retreating, decentralized state power.3 The emergence of this ambiguous area between the absolute state and the classical ‘‘civil society’’—neither of them effective frameworks to begin with—has dramatically changed the rules of the game in describing and analyzing China’s economy, politics, and cultural life. It adds a crucial variant to the notions of nationalism and intellectual discourse in the Chinese context and changes the historical and ideological implications of these notions in China today. For two reasons this essay proposes to investi-

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gate the post-Tiananmen intellectual field from the vantage points of rising mass culture and popular nationalism. (1) The 1990s have witnessed a dual process. On the one hand, the universalistic high culture of humanism and modernism has fallen, the philosophical discourses of modernity have died out, and the intellectual elite in the human sciences that formed during the 1980s—the New Era (Xinshiqi)—has virtually collapsed. On the other hand, burgeoning social (as opposed to immediately political) spaces have appeared alongside a rising consumer culture and renewed popular nationalist sentiment. (2) Since the mid-1980s, and most conspicuously since 1992, an increasingly diversified, multicentered, and export-oriented Chinese economy and an increasingly differentiated social sphere have made visible a new terrain outside the institutions of the state. This terrain redefines the intellectual field by changing its interaction with the realm of daily life as well as its relationship to the state. The emerging social space also allows us to rethink Chinese nationalism in socioeconomic terms and to contemplate its more profound—rather than immediate and narrow—political significance in forging a new sense of equality, democracy, individualism, and community. Facing the bustling secular world of consumption, the hegemony of mass culture, and a popular nationalist sentiment, the ‘‘high culture’’ of the intellectual elite is experiencing dramatic internal transformations and differentiations. This process, in its own evasive and ambivalent terms, may dialectically—that is, through its own self-critique—set up a platform for a critical engagement with mass culture, nationalism, and social change. Secularization and the Limits of Civic Nationalism As an indication of the popular, or market, origins of recent Chinese nationalist sentiment, all coauthors of The China That Can Say No, the first in a string of defiant rebuttals to ‘‘American imperialism,’’ are collegeeducated, and most are self-employed (a freelancer, a fruit-stand owner, a poet, and two journalists working in the partly market-driven field of Chinese newspapers, periodicals, and television stations).4 Hastily put together, the book consists of crude journalistic writing. Its genuine rage over what the authors see as an American containment policy toward China is narrated with a bitter sense of disillusionment, for this generation once blindly loved the United States. Once, they took for granted that a ‘‘more open and outward-going China’’ would be embraced with international enthusiasm. The book came out during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a touchy time for many Chinese urban dwellers. They remem-

bered China’s frustrated bid for the 2000 Beijing Olympics and opened their eyes to the unapologetic patriotism and egocentrism of the United States, a United States that was still admired by many as the land of free individuals. This timing has rich allegorical implications. For urban dwellers in post-Mao China, watching televised sports is a quintessentially apolitical (except for being nationalistic) and cosmopolitan pastime (most programs are foreign and are recorded or transmitted by satellite). Several memorable eruptions of popular nationalism in the past two decades have had much to do with sports, a connection that suggests the secular birthplace of this nationalism. The book became an instant best-seller in spite of silence from the official media and overwhelmingly negative remarks from intellectuals. It never entered the official production, distribution, and review network; instead, it was commercially circulated through nongovernment outlets constituted by the countless private bookstores and vendors who now control most of the book market in China. The book was given dazzling media exposure mainly by evening and weekend newspapers, readers’ digests, and leisure and consumer magazines. An avalanche of reviews by the Western media certainly, if unwittingly, boosted its status at home. Its most conspicuous selling point—prominently displayed on the cover of later editions—was the fact that the book captured the attention of the West to an unprecedented degree.5 The deliberately unorthodox authorial self-portrait, the prevalent use of contemporary slang, the intended provocativeness, and the short production cycle, all betrayed a penchant for market sensation and an instinctual grasp of where to find the most sympathetic reader. If the authors’ wake-up call for a keener national consciousness can be exploited by the state’s rhetoric, the verbal and experiential features of The China That Can Say No clearly reveal a realm of social existence decidedly outside the state that is striving for its own expression. To this end, properly defined nationalism serves as a natural and necessary step. Because of the structural differentiation in the social sphere suggested above, a discerned overlap between the state and the mass cultural reinvention of the nation indicates a broader and more complicated space for national imaginings than that which is sanctioned by state discourse. This basis is economic in nature and political in a different sense. This proto-individualistic and proto-civic nationalism requires new considerations and new perspectives. Worrisome as the mounting verbal conflict might sound to those concerned about a healthy U.S.-China relationship, a sense of relaxation and irony is not totally inappropriate. The media war is now being enacted largely in the two nations’ public spheres, while both governments stand

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above the fray, content with letting public opinion do the dirty work as long as it does not interfere with policy priorities. The modern economy (now globalized, consumer-driven, and information-based) is an equalizer in the Gellnerian sense that it is creating a Chinese domestic market and everyday culture that is more level and homogeneous than that of Mao’s China.6 Despite its egalitarian yearnings and commitments, Maoism could neither fully overcome nor transcend its own historical condition, which was characterized by material shortages, a low literacy rate and low productivity, a rigidity of the class line, uneven regional development, and the immobility of the vast majority of the Chinese population. Post-Mao China, as the inheritor of the communist period of primitive accumulation and as a newcomer in the world market, is giving rise to a nationalism that is new in the historical sense but which is creating a sense of déjà vu theoretically. As modern transportation and communications reach the majority of the Chinese population, a modern, secular notion of the nation becomes possible for the first time in a land where it has historically been the political state, not the ‘‘natural’’ socioeconomic relations of a community, that gives form and voice to the nation. In 1990s China, the basically free flow of labor, goods, and capital, and the boom in information and cultural signs and images, undoubtedly presented the nation in vivid terms for the first time to the majority of the Chinese people. Until this moment, their sense of the nation had remained abstract and impersonal because the state took national affairs exclusively into its own hands. When the state engineered a new round of economic liberalization in 1992, it was itself by far the biggest shareholder, stakeholder, and employer in an already diversified mixed economy. Today, the state controls the key elements of the infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, telecommunications, finance, and foreign trade; state enterprises still represent close to 50 percent of the gnp, with more than 100 million people on the government payroll. All this, combined with a modernizing socialist bureaucracy, allows the state to be an integral, indeed omnipresent, part of the new image of the nation. This does not mean, however, that nationalism in the social sphere always necessarily agrees with the nationalism of the state. The popular discourse of nationalism, which is fundamentally different from the state rhetoric of patriotism, indicates a voluntary, rather than a coerced, overlap between the nation and the state. Even though the popular nationalist discourse may have the blessing of the state, this blessing has been extremely cautious, inconsistent, and highly selective, especially since nationalism now assumes the existence and legitimacy of both the nation-state and individual and civic liberties. Popular nationalism also encompasses a populist impulse—long

tightly controlled by the government—regarding disputes with Japan over war compensation and Diaoyu Island. At the same time that these developments have occurred, the integration of the Chinese economy with the global market has had compound effects on Chinese social life. On the one hand, it had exposed the Chinese market and the realm of daily life to global capital and to international fashions and ideologies. This has created the impression that cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen, whose cityscapes are now punctuated by McDonald’s golden arches and giant Panasonic advertisements, are nothing more than the Chinese enclaves of a global consumer society. On the other hand, China’s massive entry into, and penetration by, the world market also has enabled Chinese consumers to encounter a world of difference, often delineated in terms of nation-state borders. In this world, Chinese are reminded of their ‘‘fatalistic’’ (Gellner’s word) location in and their belonging to a particular community identified by geography, economy, language, politics, a common history, and ‘‘culture.’’ The experience generated by such a heightened degree of international exchange separated the blatant realism of the 1990s from the naive and fantastic cosmopolitanism of the 1980s. As a result, geopolitics, the national interest, and sometimes cultural conflict have become handy frames of reference for the average Chinese urban dweller, who, with the help of the ever more sensitive, active, and informed popular media, interprets the constant U.S. pressure on China over human rights, nuclear proliferation, the trade deficit, and Taiwan as nothing more than the expression of U.S. self-interest and power diplomacy. More often than not, the ideological intensity and unrelenting national consciousness that inform many American writings on China are shocking to a people busy forgetting politics and ideology. For the moment, the postrevolutionary masses in China seem to have slipped comfortably into the ideology-free world of a market economy with Chinese characteristics. However, much still can be learned from the capitalist West. The equalizer of global capitalism effectively determines the boundaries, the unevenness, the hierarchy, and the raw power relations of the world today. How ironic it must seem that the ‘‘children of Mao’’ are now suspiciously and reluctantly refamiliarizing themselves with the once all-too-familiar vocabularies of neocolonialism, neoimperialism, ideology, politics, and even class struggle as they explore the brave new world that, for people like Francis Fukuyama, has transcended the history of ideologies.7 In short, nineteenth-century European industrialization and social mobility described by Gellner resonated in China at the start of the twentyfirst century. In the capitalist global system, postrevolutionary China may

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find its situation similar to that of Gellner’s imagined Ruritania. Surrounded by the modern, dynamic Empire of Megalomania, the local, agrarian, and dialect-ridden Ruritanians find the will not only to modernize—that is, to join the ‘‘universal high culture’’ of industrialization—but also to form a nation. Gellner explains the emergence of a new national identity this way: When labor migration and bureaucratic employment became prominent features within their social horizon, they soon learned the difference between dealing with a co-national, one understanding and sympathizing with their culture, and [someone] hostile to it. This very concrete experience taught them to be aware of their culture, and to love it (or, indeed, to wish to be rid of it) without any conscious calculation of advantages and prospects of social mobility. In stable, selfcontained communities culture is often quite invisible, but when mobility and context-free communication come to be of the essence of social life, the culture in which one has been taught to communicate becomes the core of one’s identity.8 Several modifications have to be added, of course. One is that for China, unlike Gellner’s Ruritania, assimilation by more developed communities and cultures is not a realistic option. To the contrary, China has by far the longest and strongest continuous state tradition in documented history and an uncompromising pride associated with its regional hegemony and long cultural and political genealogy. These characteristics, combined with the memory of China’s near disintegration in the early twentieth century, and of the founding principles of the People’s Republic, make popular sovereignty (one of the ‘‘twin core principles of nationalism’’ for Liah Greenfeld) 9 a paramount concern. Second, in more general terms, the kind of universal high culture that levels differences now has a radically different meaning. As a consumer culture, it functions in a way that is both more technocratic or ‘‘professional’’ and also more mundane and pleasurecentered. In this respect, the sweeping modernization achieved by the socialist state in its early years paves the way for a connecting link, or jiegui (literally, a joining of railway tracks), with the cultural norms of postFordist production and postmodernism. In light of the persistence of the nation-state and its overlap with global capitalism and global capitalism’s cultural-ideological systems, Gellner’s observations on the modern media retain their acute relevance: The media do not transmit an idea which happens to have been fed into them. It matters precious little what has been fed into them: it is

the media themselves, the pervasiveness and importance of abstract, centralized, standardized, one to many communications, which itself automatically engenders the core idea of nationalism, quite irrespective of what in particular is being put into the specific messages transmitted. The most important and persistent message is generated by the medium itself, by the role which such media have acquired in modern life. That core message is that the language and style of the transmissions is important, that only he who can understand them, or can acquire such comprehension, is included in a moral and economic community, and that he who does not and cannot, is excluded.10 In this sense, it is no exaggeration to say that the media is the contact zone between Chinese and American nationalisms nowadays; it also is a proving ground for the mass production of discourses such as the ‘‘China threat’’ and the ‘‘American conspiracy.’’ A new nationalist sentiment emerged in China when the postrevolutionary masses encountered Western images of China and discourses on it; increasingly, these images and discourses portray the masses themselves, both as consumers and citizens through their own nascent, market-based media. This new image of the nation is significantly different from the traditional, ethnocentric, and culturalist view of China as tianxia (the land under heaven). Tianxia is a prenationalist or protonationalist notion of an empire, a civilization, and a universe all rolled into one; as such, it runs counter to the ideology of modern nationalism, which emphasizes individual rights and change. Joseph Levenson rightly points out that in their century-long struggle to make China great again, Chinese intellectuals experienced a fundamental transformation when they shifted their loyalty and identity from the cultural codes of Confucianism to those of the modern nation-state. This indicates a rational exchange intended, in Levenson’s useful phrase, to ‘‘snatch a victory as guo (nation-state)’’ from the ‘‘Chinese defeat of tianxia.’’ 11 The rhetoric of ‘‘Greater China’’ or ‘‘Cultural China’’ proliferating nowadays cannot blur the distinction between notions of the nation based on culturalist ethnocentrism and those based on modern, if not postmodern, economic rationalism. As many postmodern theoreticians have stated, economic rationalism has the distinct characteristic of incorporating culture within capitalist global strategies. Greater China and ‘‘Industrial East Asia’’ are but two among the many new discursive inventions that respond to the socioeconomic forces driving new market and capital configurations across the Asia Pacific region. The current secular, postrevolutionary image of the nation also differs

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radically from the kind of traumatic experience of nationalism formed in modern China’s long, arduous quest for survival, change, and revolution in the age of colonialism and imperialism. That experience is yielding to an undivided loyalty to, and collective sacrifice for, the cause of the nation. If Chinese communism is the culminating form of this century-long ideology of national imperatives, then the general depoliticization of postcommunist China also dismantles the ideological and discursive infrastructure of the orthodox notion of nationalism in modern China. In its place rises the quiet, yet aggressive, construction of a new nationalism.While the political economy of this ideology is inconceivable without the background of global capitalism, nonetheless, it often expresses itself through resistance, not submission, to the practice of secular nationalism by advanced nation-states in the West. This mode of interaction bears a historical echo to the rise of nationalism in Europe during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars as described by Lord Acton: The nationalist sentiment was not developed directly out of the revolution in which it was involved, but was exhibited first in resistance to it, when the attempt to emancipate had been absorbed in the desire to subjugate, and the republic had been succeeded by the empire. Napoleon called a new power into existence by attacking nationality in Russia, by delivering it in Italy, by governing in defiance of it in Germany and Spain.12 This observation also provides the historical context in which to examine the somewhat puzzling relationship between this proto-civic nationalism and the arbitrary boundaries and powers of the state. In China today, for those whose individual livelihood cannot be separated from this community, real or imagined, the state is not always an oppressive, beastly regime (as painted by journals such as the Economist). Rather, it is first and foremost an essential protector of opportunity, order, rights, service, and justice in what has rightly been described as a highly competitive, risky, chaotic, often unfair, and outright ruthless scrambling in an emergent national market. More economic liberty and social liberty by themselves do not accommodate the incipient yet basic political aspirations for justice, equality, and participation. Rather, the political awareness of a depoliticized population (a main achievement of the Deng era) must come from its imagination of the nation-state. In its own logic, this imagination borders on the conception of equality and participation, a conception that still maintains its legitimacy within the state and is valorized by the nostalgia for the egalitarian past called Mao’s China. When the liberal media of the United States joined the ultraconser-

vatives in complaining about the ineffectiveness of the Clinton administration’s ‘‘engagement’’ policy in bringing down the Chinese regime, they also, paraphrasing Lord Acton, ‘‘called a new power into existence’’ by attacking a nationality that is incipient and ancient, nebulous and selfevident, all at once. Here the liberal claim to a moral high ground and the expectation that economic liberalization will bring an end to ideological differences generate either a theoretical displacement or political wishful thinking. As Liah Greenfeld points out, in the age of the nation-state, existing liberal egalitarianism is a matter of ‘‘the fundamental equality of those defined as members of the nation.’’ 13 In Jeffrey Friedman’s words, this means: only one’s fellow nationals are thought to be entitled to the nationstate’s protection of equal rights. Citizenship—the guarantor of equal entitlement to protection against rights violations; to the receipt of government health, educational, and welfare benefits; to the freedom to live and work within a nation-state’s borders, and to a voice in its governance—turns out to be an entitlement not of all human beings, but only of those born within a nation-state’s borders, and to the same numbers who manage to negotiate its naturalization procedures.14 This view is supported by Bernard Yack when he suggests that the liberal-individualist ‘‘transcendence’’ of the nation is readily available only to those who take their citizenship (and the civic rights implied therein) in the fully developed First World nation-state for granted. Drawing on Judith Shklar’s comparative study of the trials of Themistocles and Dreyfus, Yack further argues that the modern nation-state tends to ask for a great deal more, not less, political loyalty and ideological commitment from its citizens than Greek polities ever did.15 These critical reflections on the limits of liberal assumptions of ‘‘civic nationalism’’ are conducive to our reexamining nationalism in the present context. If the liberal notion of individual rights is in reality confined to members of the nation-state, so the case will be with its moral and ideological claims and demands; at least that is the kind of ‘‘nationalist’’ picture presented to people outside the protection of this particular nation-state. In today’s international community, the United States is probably the only nation to believe, or to act as if, it has the right and the moral obligation to impose its own standards on other nations while at the same time fiercely promoting its own national interests, often under the same banner of American exceptionalism and supremacy. This approach is bound to backfire, regardless of the ideology, culture, or political system of the targeted country; one can see evidence of this rejection in instances such as tiny Singapore defying American displeasure over its

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caning of a graffiti-scrawling American teenager and the recent enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, which penalizes countries trading with Cuba, drawing blunt criticism from the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. The tension between universal principles and national boundaries is by no means unique to liberalism, to be sure. For all practical purposes, the Sino-Soviet conflict of the early 1960s was not only a dispute over Marxist principles and communist ideology but ultimately a national conflict. It was Benedict Anderson’s intuition into the unsolved—and probably unsolvable—national questions within and among socialist states that led to his historical foreseeing of the fall of the Soviet Union and its division into separate republics.16 In this sense, the inauguration of the Chinese reforms in 1979 can be considered, from a different angle, as China’s declaration of independence from the so-called strategic triangle, defined in ideological terms. During the Cultural Revolution, China was deeply politicized, yet in a sense China was also the first to depoliticize itself from the Cold War ideology by embracing the secular principles of the nation-state as defined by late-twentieth-century global economic, cultural, and geopolitical relations. This drive toward normalcy underlined the Deng period’s determined—indeed, desperate—disengagement from Mao’s revolutionary utopia.17 It helps to explain the Chinese people’s collective disgust at any attempt at repoliticizing the image of China in the Western media, as well as the public indifference, suspicion, and occasional hostility toward political readings of culture and everyday life (such as those readings associated with critical, feminist, and postcolonial theories). Here, the post-Mao experience of secularization, with its peculiar intensity and obsessions, lays the groundwork for a nationalist discourse while decidedly excluding other modes of ideology and political thinking. The prevailing ‘‘culture’’ that has risen in response to the new perception and imperative of the nation in the 1990s originates in mass culture or consumer culture; the previous cultural norms held by elite intellectuals, ‘‘high’’ as they might still be, have ceased to be ‘‘universal.’’ What is missing in this alliance between economic sphere and mass culture is a theoretically articulate political philosophy and cultural vision. The rise of nationalism discloses this political and intellectual vacuum in the socalled fastest growing market in the world. While nationalism in contemporary China encompasses a spontaneous popular longing for equality and democracy, it also indicates the limits of its own political realization.While resisting Western-style democracy, the reform bureaucracy is on permanent alert against any attempt at redeeming or appropriating the Maoist notion of mass democracy and participation.18 Yet without the grounding of the nation-state in a fully developed and institutionalized democ-

racy and without political participation, the reform project will continue to be a lame duck and the emergent discourse on Chinese nationalism and mass culture will not be able to achieve its ultimate historical and political meaning.19

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Mass Culture and Intellectual Discourses The rising nationalist sentiment in the social sphere lacks any politicalintellectual formulation at the national level. One reason for this is the tension between mass culture and high culture (i.e., the domain of the intellectuals). In the new dynamics between the state (as the central power holder), the West (as a superimposed universal norm), and the as-yet-tobe-defined Chinese everyday world, the post-Tiananmen intellectual is a conspicuously nebulous figure. Despite the tidal wave of mass culture bringing with it its own ‘‘organic intellectuals’’ (Gramsci’s phrase), the semi-paralyzed condition of the elite intellectuals has combined with the ambiguity of state ideological doctrines to present obstacles to addressing the post-1989 complex of social relations and ideological conflicts, particularly since 1992. Without the full participation of high culture, the newly emerging social experience is hampered by a lack of cultural vision, ideological assertiveness, and political legitimacy; it is forced into a probational state of namelessness and wordlessness. The subordination of the immediate daily realm is a matter of political urgency, given the fact that the Chinese social sphere is being rapidly opened up, regulated, and institutionalized by both the modernizing nation-state and the global ideologies of capitalism (which are already an integral part of the Chinese context). Both sides of this disjointed relationship between intellectual discourse and the everyday sphere have an immediate, negative impact on the notions of nationalism and mass culture that circulate in the social and discursive realms in China today. A deliberate disengagement, or boycott, valorized by a wholesale intellectual transgression toward positivism and Hayekian conservatism, is currently the badge of a self-styled ‘‘liberal intellectual’’ in China. Constituted mostly by middle-aged veterans of ‘‘cultural fever’’ who spent their youth introducing Western ideas and discourses, liberal intellectuals still command considerable prestige in postTiananmen Chinese society. This prestige is enhanced by China’s renewed membership in the global ideology of market capitalism since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such liberal position taking reinforces the gap between high culture and mass culture and prevents a much-needed critical intervention into the everyday sphere. It affects even the most engaging cultural critics, who have maintained a keen interest in theory and who have evolved

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in recent years to meet the challenge of secularization, globalization, and mass culture. The new critics are put on the defensive not only by their connection to the theoretical discourses of the Western Left but also by their resistance to a nativized, triumphant discourse of the new world order. Yet the populist tendency and the discursive dependence on theory of these intellectuals weaken their often thought-provoking descriptions and their analyses of the new social-cultural space. As a result, they sometimes fall short of a qualified, nuanced treatment of such topics as globalization, the market, and commodities; instead, they rush toward theoretical generalizations about ‘‘the desire of the people.’’ The point of departure for intellectual-political differentiations, however, must be traced back to the shared assumptions of the postrevolutionary intelligentsia and to this intelligentsia’s changing collective situation vis-à-vis consumerism and popular nationalism in the 1990s. It is no accident that the powerless, disoriented, and sometimes alienated mainstream elite intellectuals waged their counteroffensive from within the discourses of the Enlightenment and humanism—these became the two foundational discourses of New Era intellectuals. Although intellectuals have been the vanguard of social change and the engineers of new social systems throughout the course of modern Chinese history, today they seem to be a marginalized group; they have trouble understanding themselves and their public role in the booming market and the sphere of everyday life. Between 1993 and 1995, almost immediately after the unleashing of market forces by Deng’s last push for continued economic reform, lamentations over ‘‘the loss of the humanistic spirit’’ (renwen jingshen de shiluo) by a few literary scholars and philosophers in Shanghai triggered the first—and for many, also the last—nationwide intellectual debate of the 1990s. Starting with a series of panel discussions published in Shanghai Literature and especially in Dushu,20 concerns about the crisis in literature as a serious enterprise soon evolved into an overall reproach of commodification, mass culture, the vulgarization of public taste, and the degradation of national culture. Before long, an apocalyptic, heavily ontological contemplation on ‘‘the situation of being’’ (shengcun jingyu) set the moral and intellectual tone for a discussion of the human spirit. Along the way, the discussion drew spirited supporters and bitter critics and developed into a wholesale evaluation of the history and culture of Chinese intellectuals and a critique of contemporary Chinese culture.21 In a panel discussion originally published in Dushu in 1994, Cai Xiang offered an overall view of the humanism problematic, but in a somewhat less self-important (or self-pitying) fashion.22 For Cai, an essential feature of the 1980s, the first decade of post-Mao reforms, was the pioneering role

of ideas in the process of social change. Propagating the ideas of Enlightenment humanism, the intelligentsia addressed social desire by imagining a future weltanschauung in terms of its own intellectual tradition and knowledge system. The unchallenged moral authority of intellectuals, Cai suggested, was based on this deeply utopian imagination. Things were different in the 1990s, however. According to Cai: Once the market is motivated, it creates a realm of its own. The ensuing market economy, instead of accommodating the utopian imaginations of intellectuals, once again subverts the discursive power of intellectuals by inclining toward commodification and consumption. Slogans such as ‘‘Freedom, equality, justice,’’ once endowed by intellectuals with an idealist passion, now acquire their secular interpretations from the Bürger class (shimin jieji). In those interpretations, the most primitive forms of money worship are reactivated or manufactured anew, selfish individualism is all but encouraged, body and soul become separable, and the cruel law of competition is reinstated in social and personal relationships. Whereas prosaic if not vulgar taste and value orientation are quietly being established, the spiritual ( jingshen) is subject to repudiation and ridicule. An age of vulgarization has descended.23 Anachronistic as they may sound, such clichéd laments over the separation of body and soul, the loss of the spiritual, and the age of vulgarization suggest a radical, indeed violent, historical overlap and rupture. Despite his distanced viewpoint, Cai’s observations are nevertheless directed at the up-to-the-minute situation of Chinese intellectuals as perceived by the humanists. What is more interesting in this perception is not its image of the masses in the marketplace but the way in which the particular crisis of the intellectuals is framed. According to Cai: If an intellectual movement fails to transform itself into universal social praxis, its worldly significance is cast in doubt. Yet once it leads to a vulgarized social praxis, we face a bitter, sour fruit. In reality, the intellectuals’ romantic imaginations of society and the individual are completely distorted. Today, the masses are manipulated by their spontaneous economic interests. Pursuing sensual pleasure, they turn their backs on the preaching of intellectuals. The bell is ringing; class is over. The intellectuals’ identity as ‘‘adviser’’ (daoshi) has already undergone its own deconstruction (xiaojie).24 Gellner tells us that Marxists like to think that the spirit of history is intended for classes but was delivered to nations by mistake.25 For

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many liberal-humanist intellectuals, Cai’s ‘‘bitter, sour fruit’’ is the result— taking Gellner’s ‘‘wrong-address theory’’ out of context—of a mischievous postal error. During the 1980s, liberal-humanist intellectuals believed that history had a message for them to deliver to the Chinese nation, but the 1990s made it clear that the message was instead delivered by the marketplace. It would not be surprising if the intellectual elites, as losers, had expressed displeasure at the unwanted competition. Instead, they seem to blame the customer for receiving the package in the wrong place and from the wrong person. They cannot openly criticize the government. Not only does that involve real risk; more importantly, it contradicts intellectuals’ wholehearted participation in the national project of modernization. The flip side of their verbal obsession with ‘‘civil society’’ is their tacit recognition that without this civil society, national interest is virtually inseparable from state interest. They cannot blame global capitalism, either. Their universal claims and ideals rely heavily on their association with, and loyalty to, the symbolic and ideological institutions of the West. And from the beginning of post-Mao China, an anticipated integration with the contemporary world system has been the real, perhaps the only, social-political content of the Enlightenment discourse of the New Era. Therefore, for Cui Yiming, a line can be drawn between the ‘‘mature consumer culture of the West,’’ whose sole purpose is to make a profit, and the ‘‘immature consumer culture’’ (in China today) that meddles with and poisons the spiritual condition of a society by offering phony guidance.26 Li Tiangang further argues that conspicuous consumption, an evil that he calls unique to Chinese consumer culture, comes primarily from the ‘‘old habits’’ of Taiwan and Hong Kong ‘‘where governments and laws do not protect private ownership.’’ 27 This curious observation is particularly revealing in its determination to separate irregularities from the ‘‘universal validity’’ of liberal-humanist teleology. This humanist stance draws criticism primarily from two directions, both of which are dissatisfied with its negative assessment of the market and rising mass culture, and both of which are impatient with its elitist, ontological posture of resistance and transcendence. The first critique, interestingly, comes from the old liberal-humanist establishment of the New Era, which finds its spokesman in Wang Meng, one of the most accomplished contemporary Chinese writers, who was the PRC minister of culture before 1989. In his 1994 article ‘‘Random Thoughts on Questions Concerning the Humanistic Spirit,’’ published in the liberal intellectual journal Orient [Dongfang], Wang Meng undercut the discourse of ‘‘the loss of the humanistic spirit’’ by questioning its use of the term ‘‘loss,’’ which implies an urgency for restoration. Appropriating the liberal-humanist de-

nunciation of the Maoist utopia (for Wang a ‘‘pseudo-humanist spirit’’), Wang’s reformist argument is that the present moment is the most open, liberal, and human episode in the economic, social, and cultural history of modern China. Referring to the freedom and the options now available in the marketplace, he relates the development of humanity to the development of the market economy. Mixing sarcastic mockery and commonsense reasoning, Wang deplores the elitist, philosophical ‘‘antihumanism’’ displayed by the champions of high humanism, who tend to paint consumer crowds in subhuman terms, and who demonstrate an antagonistic absolutism toward, and an intolerance of, difference, pluralism, and diversity. In a relaxed, optimistic, and realistic tone, Wang calls for intellectual respect for ‘‘the reasonable albeit prosaic need of the majority.’’ The market and its culture that Wang endorses here are ones in which ‘‘ideologues experience an unprecedented sense of loss.’’ He disdains a strong ‘‘spiritual civilization’’ as threatening to ‘‘get a few people so excited that they will go back to the obsolete political labels and charges and rekindle their passion for prosecution.’’ 28 Wang may sound like an apologist for the status quo, but that similarity suggests only an intricate relationship between liberal-humanist intellectuals (Wang resigned from office after Tiananmen) and the reform bureaucracy; it reveals the material interests and the kind of politics of depoliticization shared by both. Wang’s last remarks are intended to remind us of lingering ‘‘communist hard-liners.’’ Driven from power and from most intellectual-ideological debates, this monstrous image is invoked from time to time to serve different political or cultural-political purposes. Its existence, in reality or in the liberalhumanist imagination, is still a potent historical landmark by which ‘‘independent’’ intellectuals define themselves as supporters of reform and critics of authority and repression. The other critical direction comes from a younger generation of literary and cultural critics who came into prominence by engaging mass culture and ‘‘deconstructing’’ the aesthetic-philosophical discourse of the high modernism of the 1980s. For critics such as Zhang Yiwu, the ‘‘humanistic spirit’’ is nothing more than ‘‘the last mythology’’ of the New Era. Adopting a postmodern sensibility for heterogeneity, Zhang repudiates the effort by advocates of the humanistic spirit to raise themselves into the realm of universal humanity, from which they can ‘‘observe human suffering and explore human destiny.’’ From a postcolonial perspective, he declares that the discursive setup of this humanistic spirit is such that its purported loss in the native Chinese context only reaffirms the supremacy of universal norms of humanity coded in ‘‘Western discourse.’’ Zhang argues that the humanist discourse effectively reinvents a subordinate ‘‘China,’’ which it

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resubmits as a temporally lagging Other to the hegemonic hierarchy and teleology of the present world.29 Many insightful comments notwithstanding, the main thrust of Zhang’s criticism lies in its assertion of the legitimacy and significance of the present, of the process of secularization, and of the people. This position allows him to view humanists as seeking to regain their lost subject position at the expense of the rich meaning of the present and the productivity of millions of living men and women. According to this viewpoint, humanists cling to the universal discourse of humanism to maintain their authority and privilege as the enlighteners, or teachers, of the Chinese people. Zhang writes that the discussion of the humanistic spirit ‘‘never provides a solid analysis of current culture. Instead, it turns itself into a metaphysical and theological flight from a multiple global transformation. This flight is bound to become a negative element in China’s historical situation in the global context.’’ 30 In crude terms and often in a hasty fashion, the advocates of the humanistic spirit and their critics have drawn a clear battle line that cuts through intellectual and ideological positions. This posture objectively brings some clarity to an extremely uncertain and fluid situation; the convergence and discrepancy between the state and the nation find their preliminary expressions in the conflicts between high culture and mass culture, between intellectual discourses and the everyday sphere, and between universal projects and the local imaginations and productions of this present ‘‘now.’’ From his position opposing universal claims of liberal humanism and high modernism (two pillars of the discursive New Era), Zhang Yiwu goes on to define what he calls a ‘‘new state of affairs’’ (xinzhuangtai) in contemporary Chinese cultural life. Among the possibilities of this new state of affairs, Zhang lists ‘‘the end of the grand narrative of Chinese modernity’’ and ‘‘the crisis of the mythological construction of knowledge based on the idea of Enlightenment.’’ Both possibilities, he tells us, are brought about by the progress of marketization, commodification, and consumption in Chinese society. The intellectual promise of individuality, diversity, pluralism, and the expansion of cultural life are being fulfilled in the market; in Zhang’s words, ‘‘the poetic aspiration for a ‘civilization’ and a ‘life of abundance’ designed by the discourse of modernity have now become a realistic choice in the everyday sphere itself.’’ This leads to a changed logic of cultural imagination and representation, which Zhang characterizes as a ‘‘postallegorical’’ mode of writing. Alluding (albeit idiosyncratically) to the Jamesonian notion of ‘‘national allegory,’’ Zhang criticizes the kind of Third World cultural strategy that seeks to incorporate the global symbolic order by creatively identifying China with the Other. Contrary to the

effort to exoticize and aestheticize China so as to insert the cultural spectacle of a ‘‘backward’’ society into the chain of universal progress, ‘‘postallegorical’’ writings intend to deconstruct this hierarchy by repositioning themselves in close contact with the immediate conditions of the everyday sphere. Zhang illustrates this new state of affairs by citing two recent cultural developments. One is the rise of tv soap operas (in contrast to the films of Chinese auteurs such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, which have achieved international praise and success); the other is the recent stylistic transformation of Chinese fiction from Experimental literature to Neorealist literature to New State of Affairs literature.31 Zhang applauds the mass-media boom of recent years in general—and tv soap operas in particular—and argues that a new, locally based, and community-oriented space of signification is being created. In his view, tv soap operas not only have been the most successful form to project and capture the new state of affairs in Chinese social life, but they also have proved to be a sophisticated way ‘‘to adapt to the cultural and value orientation of an emerging popular society (minjian shehui) and to attract native audiences by understanding and managing the ‘state’ of their immediate life, their concerns, and their hidden longings so as to provide them with an imaginary solution.’’ In tv hits such as Kewang [Aspiration], Bianjibu de gushi [Stories from the editorial bureau], and Beijingren zai Niuyue [A Beijing native in New York],32 Zhang sees a representation of daily life, a reaffirmation of the language and living conditions of ordinary Chinese, and an attempt to ‘‘capture the mass imagination of China’s own social conditions and cut into its unconscious.’’ All this, Zhang acknowledges, means the commodification of present conditions. Nevertheless, he stresses the emancipatory significance of mass culture’s subversion of the ‘‘allegorical mode’’ of representation.33 By tracing the metamorphosis of recent Chinese fiction from Experimental to New State of Affairs literature, Zhang notes that many writers try to mix experience (in its Freudian-Benjaminian sense of Erlebnis) with an objective, that is, they try to achieve a juxtaposition between the ‘‘individualized imagination and the collective experience of ‘China’ in the present moment’’ (in this sense, Zhang returns to the original meaning of Jameson’s ‘‘national allegory’’). In He Dun’s story ‘‘Shenghuo wuzui’’ [Living is not a crime], Zhang observes that the subjectivist, modernist ambition to present a unified world of meaning is replaced by a ‘‘constant shift and slippage of viewpoint that incorporates fragments of reality into the text: There is no redemption or transcendence, only a depiction of the ‘state of affairs.’ ’’ 34 For Zhang, the appearance of a ‘‘nonsubjectivist individuality’’ prefigures a new mode of writing. In this new mode of writing,

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language is not only the medium of aesthetic artifact but more importantly the ‘‘native tone’’ (muyu) that constitutes a vital link between the individual and the larger community sustained by ‘‘the memory of the people’’ (renmin jiyi).35 Obviously, this critical affirmation of mass culture draws its theoretical inspirations from Western—particularly American—theoretical discourses such as postmodernism, postcolonialism, critical theory, and cultural studies. In fact, Zhang Yiwu and his comrades seem to have little choice but to rely heavily on Western theoretical discourses to describe and legitimize an emerging field whose cultural, ideological, and historical significance is supposed to come from the immediate circumstances of everyday life in China. This reliance poses two challenging requisites: The first is the need for a theoretical qualification of globalization, or global capitalism, as a Chinese experience, together with a close analysis of its relationship to the state as well as to the everyday sphere. Fulfilling this need sets up the social and political platform for critical engagement. The second is the need for a self-reflexive use of theory, which contains its own historicization in the application of theory. That self-reflexive use would stabilize the position of Zhang Yiwu and his comrades in an intensely antitheoretical and increasingly conservative intellectual environment. However, in meeting these challenges Zhang Yiwu and his comrades are often put on the defensive by their liberal and conservative opponents. This confrontation is partly the result of their almost total absorption in charting an exciting, and indeed explosive, new cultural space. As pioneers exploring a puzzling new cultural space emerging from the socialist market economy, Zhang Yiwu and his comrades are busy building advance posts rather than refining their discursive emblems. In doing so, they need to use eye-catching terminologies from Western cultural studies as markers in a nameless terrain—sometimes even as temporary shelters in a theoretical wilderness. These new critics are also troubled by a structural separation between critics on the front line of cultural studies (and cultural journalism) and theoreticians in the traditional disciplines of philosophy, aesthetics, and literary theory, a pattern formed during the 1980s when theory enjoyed unchallenged authority in developing a semiautonomous intellectual discourse vis-à-vis the state apparatus of ideology. Last but not least, the theoretical discourse of mass culture has yet to clarify its stand in a differentiated social and intellectual sphere in some fundamental ideological terms. Not surprisingly, liberals used these weak spots to mount their attack on the new critical discourse, which they playfully and somewhat contemptuously labeled ‘‘postism’’ or ‘‘postology’’ (houxue), that is, ‘‘theories with

the prefix post.’’ (The Chinese term can also mean ‘‘postscholarship’’ or ‘‘late-born learning.’’) In an often-quoted article published in Dushu, Lei Yi accuses the postist critics of confusing First World problematics with Third World situations and of universalizing the theoretical discourses of postmodernism without subjecting them to a much-needed process of nativization. The general validity of Lei Yi’s point on a superficial level is obvious. However, his call for ‘‘a study of the Chinese context’’ bears a pointed political implication that reveals what is truly at stake in this debate. By praising the courage of Foucault and Edward Said in confronting the epistemological hegemony of the West, Lei Yi is in fact deploring the Chinese postist critics’ lack of such courage in facing the hegemony and power in their own Chinese environment.36 This position and this strategy are shared by other liberals. In an article published in Hong Kong, Henry Y. H. Zhao, who teaches Chinese literature in Great Britain, discerns an unholy alliance between Chinese postmodernism and mass culture that aims to ‘‘destroy elite culture.’’ Positioning elite intellectuals as a critical priesthood on the margins of modern society, Zhao defines the rise of mass culture and its theoretical discourse as ‘‘neoconservatism.’’ For him, a short circuit seems to exist between a ‘‘conscious challenge to the global victory of late capitalism’’ and ‘‘an apology for the degradation of contemporary culture.’’ 37 Xu Ben, who teaches comparative literature in the United States, argues along the same lines that a premodern/modern distinction is more crucial than an East/West opposition and that the ‘‘chief form of oppression’’ in China is not the imperial or postcolonial West but the totalitarian regime at home. Xu Ben rightly argues that the centrality of postcolonial criticism in the West is a resistance to hegemony rather than a self-assertion of indigenousness. Yet this assertion leads him to an unmediated speculation that the Chinese discourse of postcolonialism is centered on a celebration of indigenousness, not critical resistance—or at least, that its resistance is directed to the ‘‘discursive oppression from the First World.’’ Thus, in Xu’s writings, the postist discourse evolving from a study of the explosive postrevolutionary everyday sphere (as a culturally rich and politically ambivalent realm) is immediately subject to a trial of ideological-political identity, or loyalty between the Chinese regime and the universal West. The verdict is by no means unpredictable. Attacking the Chinese discourse of postcolonialism, Xu Ben writes that Chinese postmodernism is out of touch with Chinese reality. By elevating the discursive oppression from the First World into the chief form of oppression experienced in China today, it distances itself—unwittingly or not—

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from the violence and oppression that exist in native social reality. Although Third World criticism from China takes pains to keep a distance from the official discourse of nationalism, it nonetheless avoids any critical analysis of it. Its antagonism has only an international edge but no domestic pointedness. Therefore, not only can this discourse coexist peacefully with the official discourse of nationalism, it can accommodate the interests of the latter. By ignoring immediate oppression at home and criticizing global oppression at a distance, it has developed a phony mode of resistance-criticism in the humanities that is extremely conducive to the state’s ideological control and appropriation.38 Toward a Critical Democratic Notion of National Culture By placing the Chinese debate regarding theory, mass culture, and nationalism against the global background of capitalist euphoria and its ideological homogeneity, liberal criticism has had the final word even before its opponents have had a chance to respond. In a complicit political environment where the simple mention of an alternative is subject to suspicion and ridicule, any argument for the possible cultural and political meanings of a new social sphere will not be welcomed, even if that argument is without theoretical shortcomings. The deliberate link between such an argument and that notorious thing called the ‘‘official ideology of the Chinese regime’’ therefore seems to be political overkill. In Xu Ben’s writings, liberal criticism reaches a political judgment on such matters without ever bothering to encounter the everyday sphere, which constitutes the very historical and theoretical problematic of its object of criticism. For Xu Ben, as for other Chinese liberal intellectuals, the West (the First World) and China (the Third World, in this context) have different rankings in universal history, and these are taken as the sole standard for ideological evaluation. But the target of liberal criticism responded by attacking the universal hierarchy to which the Other (that is, China) was being submitted as well as by advocating a political mode of reading to meet the political aggressiveness of the liberal rhetoric of depoliticization. However, in this ideological (and sometimes ‘‘merely’’ cultural-political) dogfight, some deeper social, political, and cultural issues remain to be explored. The ideological stake that the liberal critique has in Chinese mass culture and postmodernism can be illuminated by its examination of Chinese nationalism. Not surprisingly, nationalism, as currently used in the Chinese intellectual lexicon, is uniformly associated with ethnocentrism, xenophobia, nativism, parochialism, antiprogressivism, anti-Westernism,

self-enclosure, and even fascism. This list of pejoratives also can be found in the most superficial reporting in the Western media on non-Western nationalism. The fierce resistance that postcolonial theory is experiencing in China in no small part is derived from its perceived origin in national liberation and nativist movements (rather than from its intimate participation in First World academia, as some would suspect). Postmodernism invites open hostility from some Chinese intellectuals, not because it presents a world more modern than modern and, to paraphrase a Toyota commercial, more American than American, but because it implicitly encourages a devious assertion of localities, difference, relativism, and a ‘‘deconstructive’’ mode of thinking. For liberal intellectuals, anything less than full participation in the mainstream discourse of universal modernity is unacceptable. Mindful of the harm that nationalism could inflict on a modernizing, residually socialist Third World country, liberal intellectuals are skeptical if not dismissive when discussing the historical, theoretical, cultural, and ideological implications of an emergent nationalist discourse. If mainstream liberal intellectuals interact with the issue of nationalism at all, they do it from an entrenched position protected by the universal discourse of modernity. It would be unfair to say that liberal intellectuals always refuse to see things in nationalistic terms, since so much about nationalism is now economically determined, and increased social productivity and mobility only make previously dormant national boundaries more explicit and perceivable. In Qin Hui’s view, nationalism is based on an identity of interest; therefore, it does not preclude conflict between different national interests. But for Qin, battles over national interest do not invalidate universal principles and institutions such as the free market; indeed, such struggles become sustainable and lawful precisely on the basis of those principles and institutions. Qin is absolutely right when he suggests that a reasonable nationalism must base itself on civil rights because the national subject must be first a subject of his or her own self-interest. He rightly rejects the kind of nationalism that Lu Xun satirized more than a halfcentury ago, which propagates the idea that ‘‘since it is no good to be the slaves of foreigners, let us become the slaves of our fellow countrymen.’’ 39 Based on his belief in individual rights and liberal institutions, Qin Hui moves on to place universalism ( pushizhuyi) above nationalism. For him, universal freedom (e.g., free trade), not nationalism (e.g., protectionism), will ‘‘swiftly close the economic gap between rich and poor nations in the world by means of the invisible hand of the free market.’’ Moreover, for Qin, this prescription for global economic equality also indicates ‘‘a new, supranational and supracultural moral idealism, a prospect of universal

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freedom and fair competition, and a new ideal of ‘universal harmony’ (datong) not based on equal distribution of wealth but on equal opportunity.’’ 40 A less intoxicated footnote to this euphoric vision of the future appears in an article by Beijing University sociologist Sun Liping, ‘‘Join the Mainstream of World Civilization: Three Questions Regarding Nationalism.’’ Sun identifies nationalism, particularly postindependence nationalism, as one of the major obstacles to integration with global capitalism. ‘‘In some countries, nationalist sentiment becomes the reason for self-enclosure and thus an obstruction to social development. Look around the world. The most ardently nationalist countries are often those that are most resistant to the mainstream culture of modernization, and some of them are, simply put, the poorest countries in the world.’’ Unlike Qin, Sun contends that nationalism is founded on deep-seated emotion and is therefore beyond rationalization. By defining Third World nationalism as the radical opposite of ‘‘the accumulated values, institutional arrangements, and operational rules of civilization,’’ Sun repudiates the longing for a ‘‘third way’’ by calling it ‘‘a nationalist utopia no different from the kind of ideological utopia we used to have.’’ 41 Note again that the main concern of liberal intellectuals in China today is to achieve a continued, undisturbed engagement in universal modernization and a fuller integration into the global system. For this purpose, the rise of popular nationalism in the social sphere, the making of a new ‘‘form of life’’ in the everyday sphere, cultural self-assertion, and the protopolitical imagination of a new community, all will have to be pushed into the background. Here, interestingly, the liberal rhetoric of civil rights, democracy, and resistance to the regime is in an awkward position because its discourse of universal modernization finds its most enthusiastic, if not its intended, listeners within the technocratic state. This rhetoric provides a different perspective on the liberal ‘‘resistance’’ to the political state as the alleged patron of nationalism, mass culture, and ‘‘Chinese postmodernism.’’ In the everyday sphere, the state acquires a dramatically different image. Instead of being a ‘‘neoauthoritarian’’ state engineering an economic takeoff, it now exists to hinder the universal progress of humanity. Since it is logical to assume that universal progress is poised to penetrate the nation-state, any criticism or resistance that bypasses the regime is considered a compromise. Thus, the postcolonial critique of Western cultural hegemony is nothing less than an explicit endorsement of the regime. Yet in this context, a situational analysis is more productive than moralizing accusations. The fact that both mass culture and the postist critics are not waging a frontal assault on the repressive state attests to the exist-

ing and emerging spaces, opportunities, and freedom that individuals in China enjoy today; also recognized is the state’s capacity to cope with, and even to appropriate, this situation. In other words, the current intellectual crisis reflects the new dynamic between the state and the nation, a dynamic that is being redefined as the Chinese market and the consumer masses surge onto the center stage of history. Nowadays, most Chinese liberal intellectuals still consider the nation in terms of the state. Their statist vision is rooted in their ideological participation in the state project of modernization, in their elitist attitude toward the society sanctioned by the reform bureaucracy, and in their fundamental lack of any serious commitment to democracy. The liberal identity in political discourse is limited to an aristocratic enthusiasm for the so-called institutional separation of power between central and local governments.Wu Guoguang, one of the most visible spokesmen of this liberal school, is featured in Carma Hinton’s documentary film Tiananmen. Wu confesses in front of the camera that his political ambition is ‘‘to transform the party from within,’’ that is, to make the political bureaucracy a useful apparatus for capitalism.42 For this vision of bureaucratic capitalism, a politically conscious nationalism and a politically articulate mass culture are both much worse than corruption, unemployment, and disparity of wealth because they quietly push for the realization of freedom, equality, justice, and mass participation.Yet freedom, equality, justice, and mass participation must be seen as ingredients of the new popular culture, a new Lebenswelt, that has its ideals as well as its social and ideological limits. So far the liberal intellectuals have paid only sporadic lip service to civil rights. For them, it seems only too natural that a new authoritarianism wielded by a new ruling class—constituted by technocrats in the central government; regional or provincial powers and interest groups; the emerging managerial class; and the intellectual elite—can realize China’s incorporation into ‘‘the mainstream of world civilization.’’ Even the postmodernists remain inadequately prepared for a critical, democratic discourse of contemporary Chinese nationalism and mass culture. The challenge of the present is to search for a new way of imagining the nation and formulating its culture under new socioeconomic and cultural circumstances. This discourse would be based on a renewed utopian expectation that these circumstances, unprecedented in human history, bring with them a political message, if not an implicit political form. For all practical purposes, the postrevolutionary secularization is not only tearing down the rituals and taboos of a semiagrarian society and a semiStalinist regime, it is also putting the time-honored institutions and ideologies of ‘‘civil society’’ to a historical test. It disdains traditional poli-

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tics and pursues a new, socioeconomically defined selfhood. In its restless and mundane activities of production, consumption, association, experimentation, and imagination, it also creates a new social-cultural landscape in which to imagine a national community. This imagination, I have argued, may create new possibilities for political participation and democracy within the residual socialist framework. In rural China the demand for a higher degree of specialization of labor that has been created by economic development is encountering the residual or persistent infrastructures of collectivization that were dominant during Mao’s China. Thus, vibrant community-building is taking place in semi-industrialized rural China. Sociologist Wang Ying has called this tendency ‘‘neocollectivism’’ (xinjiti zhuyi). She tells us that instead of returning to the Maoist People’s Communes, Chinese peasants in many rural areas are reorganizing themselves into new economic and social units. As a result, a new relationship has developed between individuals and the collective, a relationship that is based on the new market environment as much as on the given village topologies of tens of thousands of Chinese villages.43 In the industrial sector, the technological conditions created by post-Fordist (flexible) production coincide with the idea of worker participation in management (an idea formulated by Chinese workers in the Anshan Steel Corporation [Angang] in the late 1950s, which received Mao’s enthusiastic support).44 This kind of participation stands in sharp contrast to the labor conflicts in some jointventure enterprises, where authoritative, sometimes abusive management causes discontent and provokes occasional strikes. In the sphere of cultural studies and the critique of ideology, liberal intellectuals often refuse to face the fact that the modernization they subscribe to is an integral part of the state. Throughout the post-Mao era, the liberal intelligentsia has always been an ideological ally of reform bureaucracy, with which they share the same economic, social, and ideological privileges. It is widely acknowledged in both the West and China (particularly since the death of Deng in February 1997) that the oppressiveness of the current regime comes from its determination to ensure social stability as a necessary precondition for economic modernization. This oppressiveness causes the liberal rhetoric of resistance to be deprived of its political relevance because the liberal intelligentsia fully supports and participates in the state project. In this context, the liberal insight that a secret connection exists between theoretical reaffirmations of mass culture (popular nationalism) and apologies for the political violence of the state is either a narcissistic fantasy (as suggested by Zhao’s perception of a conspiracy to destroy ‘‘elite culture’’) or a sentimental gesture toward the prevalent global ideology of capitalism. In both cases, the rise of the masses is the source

of a profound intellectual uneasiness. Instead of analyzing the ideological complexities of mass culture in China today, many Chinese intellectuals choose to scorn it for not being a high culture. Rather than creatively accommodating democratic longings in a postrevolutionary, protoconsumer Lebenswelt, they have decided to pledge their loyalty to the time-honored institutions of bourgeois society. The emerging discourse of Chinese nationalism and mass culture in the 1990s happened with neither the endorsement of the state nor the participation of intellectuals. It has been a social phenomenon that has unfolded primarily in the everyday sphere and through the medium of popular culture. Aristocratic in its class orientation and universalistic in its cultural outlook, the intellectual elite is ever wary of a tacit agreement between the state and the masses. Evolving from a postrevolutionary rationalization, ‘‘independent’’ or ‘‘liberal’’ intellectuals—the mainstream of the surviving cultural elite of the 1980s—instinctively denounced the rise of nationalism and the secular cultural sphere. The suspicion of an ideological collusion between absolute state power and the masses has its roots in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), when Mao’s utopian vision and willpower fused with the homogeneous population of socialist China. The force unleashed by popular participation in national politics, or mass democracy (da minzhu), devastated the intellectual elite and its cultural institutions. The fear of this collusion also might have its roots in the mandarin class’s long-standing fear of any shortcut between the emperor (who holds the ‘‘mandate of heaven’’) and the nameless, voiceless people. In contrast to this elitist distance from the everyday sphere, Dai Jinhua, a leading Beijing critic in feminist theory and cultural studies, presents a dazzling picture of what she terms a ‘‘shared space’’ or a ‘‘protopublic space’’—one constituted by an intricate relationship between the state, the domestic market, and global capitalism. Commenting on the popular cult of Mao Zedong at the beginning of the 1990s, as well as the mass cultural production and consumption of the history of the Chinese revolution, contemporary Chinese history, and the history of the Cultural Revolution, Dai writes: As instances of an overdetermined, satirical consumption of (state) ideology, political taboos, and collective memory, these phenomena mark the first massive, successful manufacturing of cultural fashions by the cultural market; they herald an incipient cultural industry in mainland China. Attaching itself to the state institutions and apparatuses of cultural production (often by becoming a branch of them), this production process greatly promotes an independent cul-

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tural system . . . that includes a great variety of cultural companies that specialize in recordings or advertisements, book dealers, private book vendors, numerous weekend editions of official newspapers, newly launched scholarly journals or leisure magazines, the contracting out of state television programs (in an independent producer system), independent filmmakers, consumer-oriented studios, workshops named after the artists themselves, freelancers, and so forth. Semi-independent as it is, this burgeoning system, or market, overlaps with the state ideological apparatus. By expanding the gaps within the power structure, it provides an awkward yet vibrant ‘‘shared space’’ or ‘‘protopublic sphere.’’ The entry of global capital into the Chinese cultural market, because of its powerful operational mechanism and financial strength, reinforces the consumption of ideology, memories, and taboos, which were a unique cultural resource in China. At the same time, the presence of global capital also reveals the Chinese dilemmas of getting caught between preindustrial reality and postmodern culture, between state nationalism and postcolonial discourse, and between ideological control and the selfassertion of consumption.45 The massive invasion of the everyday sphere, or ‘‘social capital,’’ into the state system is accompanied by the radical commodification and capitalizing of state apparatuses and institutions. After Deng’s tour of the south in 1992, Dai tells us, a frenetic merger between the market and the state took place. Amid political constraints, market demands, and the structural discontinuities among the existing system and a market economy, many state publishing houses, tv stations, and film studios started leasing their licenses and trademarks in exchange for cash—a necessary strategy for the economic survival of their employees. ‘‘On the one hand, mainstream ideology strengthened its control; on the other hand, the cultural market and industry increasingly shared the power of the apparatuses of classical ideology and constantly transformed this power into capital.’’ 46 The detailed observations that Dai provides make possible a more critical and nuanced analysis of a complex relationship. In the newly emerging social sphere, the state and its ideological apparatuses are fully participating in the making of a consumer culture; in addition, they are further penetrating its unconsciousness and exist in its innermost landscape as capital. A closer look at this unconsciousness and its political economy also may lead to a more constructive criticism of Chinese postmodernism. In this regard, Wang Hui’s observations are suggestive. In an article on Chinese cultural studies and criticism, he points out that while it de-

constructs all kinds of value systems in contemporary China, Chinese postmodernism ‘‘fails to analyze the activity of capital and account for its relationship to the Chinese reform movement.’’ For Wang Hui, this relationship constitutes a major aspect of contemporary Chinese social life. Wang further points out that some Chinese postmodernists tend to ‘‘identify the production and reproduction of desire as ‘demands of the people’ in the name of mass culture.’’ This, in his view, is ‘‘fiction,’’ for it interprets the social relations determined by capital in the process of marketization as constituting a neutral, ideology-free ‘‘new state of affairs.’’ The Marxist approach advocated by Wang seems sound. On the other hand, Wang does not seem to go beyond the conventional liberal-elitist position when he accuses Chinese postmodernism of promoting nationalism and ethnocentrism and especially when he suspects a collaboration with official ideology to ‘‘drive out the critical ideologies of [Enlightenment] intellectuals.’’ But this much is right: ‘‘In the historical context of post-1989 China, the rise of consumerism is not merely an economic event, but a political event as well.’’ 47 If Wang’s suspicion is rooted in the perceived lack of critical political consciousness in the postmodern celebration of mass culture, then his suspicion is well-grounded. In light of critical political engagement in the field of cultural production, the current discursive space of mass culture and nationalism is characterized by a general disengagement. That leaves the task of imagining the nation to be appropriated either by state discourse, as an official ideology, or by popular sentiment, as a social desire. Thus, nationalism becomes a theoretical taboo for intellectuals mindful of this ‘‘independent,’’ ‘‘cosmopolitan’’ (imagistic and discursive) position. Meanwhile, most positive writings on nationalism cannot be separated from the clichés of the official rhetoric of patriotism or the culturalist, ethnonationalist praise of tradition. Pre-theoretical in approach, they make a very limited contribution to the critical discourse of Chinese nationalism. Before I conclude, a historical account of the making of the intellectual field in post-Tiananmen China is appropriate. The determinedly apolitical features of secular nationalism, and the intellectual reluctance to make it an issue, are entangled with the political ruptures that have occurred since the end of the 1980s. The bloodshed in Tiananmen was widely thought to have put an end to the legitimacy of the current regime. However, the crisis of legitimacy, far from preventing the state from responding to outside pressure and internal change, instead supplied it with a new and urgent motivation to broaden the basis of its rule. The invention of a ‘‘socialist market economy’’ in the early 1990s successfully offset the moral appeal of liberal thinking by exploiting the real need for material improvement.

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As the frozen political relationship between state and society finds its own theory in Dengism, the Chinese state, still more than nominally socialist, stands to win back popular approval with rapid economic growth and state intervention in redistributing wealth. It stands to cash in on what Bourdieu calls ‘‘the ontological compromise’’ of a population recognizing the existing codes of a social habitus.48 This sociological notion sheds light on the unsentimental aspect of nationalism, with which intellectuals are least comfortable for both class and symbolic reasons. In the 1980s, the intellectual and moral authority of liberal or independent intellectuals had three sources, namely, their semiautonomy from the state; their simultaneous deep loyalty and commitment to the project of the reforms (they often were critical but constructive partners of the state and constituted a pressure group, so to speak, within the Party); and their access to, and incorporation within, the cultural-discursive institutions of the capitalist global system. Throughout the New Era, these elements united in a modernizing euphoria without activating their profoundly different ideological and political assumptions. The unrelenting intervention by the state in 1989 rendered that union impossible. The tighter state control of ideology forced liberal intellectuals into a state of perpetual, although silent, dissent. However, this division between the state and the intellectuals by no means invalidates their sharing of fundamental assumptions about the development of Chinese society. In light of the emergence of an economically based nationalism, one may agree that 1992, not 1989, is the true watershed year in post-Mao Chinese history. After Deng toured the southern provinces to give his reform programs a final push, the state took the lead in an all-out embrace of market and global capital. That embrace finalized and consolidated the mode of socioeconomic change since 1979 and legitimized an irreversible separation between the political and social spheres. While the change allows more balance and flexibility within the organs of state power and more economic, social, and personal freedom outside it, what has been effectively suspended is the socialist commitment to the people as a whole as well as the will to create a new kind of democracy, freedom, and equality that supersedes the bourgeois model. As a result, both state and society can now afford to pursue and formulate their interests and ideologies separately, as long as the tensions or disagreements between them remain manageable. This delinking of the state from society, and vice versa, makes a new conception of the nation possible. It allows the realm of socioeconomic activities to show its topologies and limits and, through its attendant mechanism of communication and cultural production, to project those activities and exchanges as a ‘‘form of life,’’ or an imagination of a

‘‘community of destiny.’’ However necessary for the survival of the state and however appealing to the average consumer, this delinking between political and socioeconomic spheres prefigures the fundamental limits of Chinese nationalism in the 1990s. It deprives the nation of its political foundation in popular participation, and it deprives material well-being and personal freedom of their social meaning; it also blocks the interaction between ‘‘high’’ and mass cultures. In this respect, what may be lost is not the elitist ‘‘human spirit’’ but a collective passion for political and cultural democracy. Critical intellectuals, while acknowledging the significant step toward further liberation of the forces of production and increased social liberty, also face the same challenge (although in their own way) experienced by those in different positions. The social desire to which the state appeals is oblivious to the political ideals that have endowed the reform project with a historical horizon. As the decidedly postrevolutionary masses rush toward xiaokang, the Chinese version of middle-class society, intellectuals as a social group are experiencing an unprecedented internal differentiation in social, ideological, and political terms. While some stand on the sidelines, overwhelmed by a sense of alienation, others are busy navigating the new social space in search of new class affiliations. Still recovering from the blow of 1989, intellectuals now face the ever more ruthless forces of the market, forces that are for many ordinary people—but certainly not all—liberating and empowering. It is not the people who are to blame, of course. That they are becoming consumers en masse does not mean that they have had any choice, although the fact that they have never had any choice does not mean that they would not have wanted to become consumers, either. But elite intellectuals may have a very real sense of irony and helplessness now that both the people and the state seem to have figured out their ultimate purpose of life—to stay in power and become rich fast (two Deng legacies that will last for some time to come)—and nobody bothers to listen to the intellectuals anymore. They may have read lots of Hegel, yet they never seem to pay attention to his dim prophecy about the inevitable coming of modernity and its immanent process of ‘‘vulgarization’’ (now amplified and somewhat caricatured in postmodernity). Worse, unlike their First World colleagues, Chinese intellectuals do not have a fully institutionalized professional world to fall back on when caught in furious marketization, privatization, disparity of wealth, inflation, and commodification. With the economic extravaganza, the rise of secular nationalism, and the domination of consumer culture in the early and mid-1990s, Deng’s China finally and logically completed its ideological break from the Mao-

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ist utopia, although this moment is also the one when a genuine continuity between the two eras has never been clearer. As many scholars have pointed out, the People’s Republic is in swift mutation toward yet another kind of nation-state, and this tendency comes with the blessing of a homogenizing global ideology that presides over the withering of meaningful political life everywhere. The demise of the lofty humanist-modernist rhetoric of the New Era intelligentsia put an end to high philosophy as a paradigm in national cultural discourse. Without the culturalist dominance of the national elite, the everyday world surged into the cultural mainstream, offering itself as the chief mode of representing social life. This process, much as Gellner describes it, gives rise to a new perception and a new experience of the nation. To attribute the socioeconomic basis of the new nationalist outlook solely to the ideological need of the state to cling to power reflects only the habitual thinking of those China specialists who trained themselves to see everything through the prism of an absolute state. This mode of thinking also helps explain why intellectuals have been so reluctant to shift their attention and position to the social sphere, where the real action is taking place. The commitment to a universal program—be it the value of Chinese culture (Confucianism), the forces of production (Marxism), or the realization of individual freedom (liberalism)—enables elite intellectuals to put the particular, pluralistic, ephemeral, and mundane aspects of the everyday sphere on hold in anticipation of some grander drama of ideas and history. In the age of economic liberalization and social relaxation, a political urgency heightens to formulate a new national culture that will serve the popular struggle for a more just distribution of the national wealth (which used to belong to all of the Chinese people and which is now subject to the scrambling of the privileged). In this respect, Gan Yang’s vision of a political nation coming out of an economic one (and his profound worry about this process going awry) bears a striking resemblance to that of his latenineteenth-century German mentor, Max Weber. In this sense, the discursive debates among intellectuals are by no means inconsequential. On the contrary, in a social space where mass culture and the new imaginings of community are taking shape in the everyday sphere, such intellectual discourses or ‘‘high culture’’ matter because they are charged with a political as well as a cultural task. Democracy can only be anticipated through the imaginings of a new nation and a new culture.

Notes 1 Li Xiguang, Liu Kang, Xiong Lei, Zhu Weiyi, Han Song, Wu Jianping, Shi Anbin, and Wang Minjuan, Yaomohua Zhongguo de beihou [The background of demonizing China] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui Rexue Chubanshe, 1996). Rosenthal and Bernstein both write on China for the New York Times. 2 The Chinese rural reform officially started in 1979, the year that marks the beginning of the New Era. Urban—industrial and political—reforms were introduced in 1984. The first Special Economic Zone (sez) was established in Shenzhen in 1980. Now, private and communal enterprises represent about half of the Chinese gnp, and more than a dozen sezs are playing a major role in expanding China’s share in international trade. China’s current mode of production is officially designated a ‘‘socialist market economy.’’ 3 Dushu, perhaps the most influential intellectual journal in China today, is widely regarded as a semiautonomous forum for intellectual issues, even though it is officially a branch of the state-owned Joint Publishing Company (Sanlian Shudian), whose reputation in post-Mao China largely came from its massive publication of translated twentieth-century Western philosophical and cultural works. China Central Television (cctv), a stronghold of the state media, is now dependent on the so-called independent producer system for many of its increasingly popular tv magazine shows and cultural programs. Glamorous as the title may sound, those independent producers are basically the same kind of people who were referred to as ‘‘cultural hustlers’’ in the chaotic cultural market of the 1980s, which had its own vicissitudes outside state regulations. Now, they are functioning in roughly the same way as their colleagues in Hollywood, spotting hot topics and packaging the best professionals. These scriptwriters, cameramen, reporters, and other staff members tend to be freelancers working several jobs at the same time for such employers as cbs, cctv, or nhk, a shady advertising agency in Shenzhen. These freelancers’ daily operations involve dealing with state or local bureaucracies and their byzantine regulations and rhetorical idiosyncrasies. To the extent that they become an integral part of the operations of the state media, the official institutions of cultural production have incorporated themselves into the market. Beyond this semiautonomous circle lies a wilderness: privately owned bookstores and distribution networks, coffee shops, teahouses, music and karaoke bars, rock bands, showrooms for pirated cds and computer software, and countless legal, semilegal, or illegal publications of an amazing variety, from tabloid newspapers to soft-porn books to tai chi chuan magazines to toefl preparation materials. 4 Song Qiang, Zhang Zangzang, and Qiao Bian, Zhongguo keyi shuo bu [The China that can say no] (Beijing: Zhongguo gong shanglian Chubanshe, 1996). 5 The different responses to the book by Chinese and the American governments are noteworthy.While the American embassy rushed to invite the popular writers to a dinner and reportedly offered them a tour of the United States

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6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17




(an offer they reportedly declined), the Chinese government, after a brief period of hesitation, put a virtual ban on any discussion of the book in the official media. Defying this official displeasure, China Still Can Say No [Zhongguo haishi keyi shuo bu], a follow-up to China Can Say No, was published six months later in 1996. After a few weeks of robust sales, the government reportedly ordered the confiscation of all copies still in stock. See Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983). See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992). Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, 61. See Liah Greenfeld, ‘‘The Modern Religion?’’ Critical Review 10 (spring 1996): 169–91. Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, 127. Joseph Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: A Trilogy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965), 100. Lord Acton, ‘‘Nationality,’’ in Mapping the Nation, ed. Gopal Balakrishnan (London: Verso, 1996), 25. Greenfeld, ‘‘The Modern Religion?’’ 177. Jeffrey Friedman, ‘‘Nationalism in Theory and Reality,’’ Critical Review 10 (spring 1996): 156. See Bernard Yack, ‘‘The Myth of the Civic Nation,’’ Critical Review 10 (spring 1996): 193–211. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 1991), xi. However, if we consider 1972 (marked by Richard Nixon’s visit to China) as the beginning of this process, then Mao himself seems to be a visionary of the nationalist worldview. The so-called Four Modernizations, China’s state project to modernize its economy and defense, were laid out in 1974 under Mao’s auspices. This is particularly so in the realm of political discourse, in which antidemocratic measures are reinforced by the so-called liberal intellectuals’ continued critique of the Cultural Revolution and mass democracy and by their tacit endorsement of technocratic rule. However, at the local level in rural China, democracy is steadily gaining ground. Today, more than 10,000 Chinese villages have held direct elections by secret ballot. According to the spokesperson at the Carter Center, the Chinese government has invited staff members of the center to observe and monitor Chinese elections at the village level. The most eloquent argument for the relationship between the political stability of the nation and its commitment to democracy in the Chinese context is Gan Yang, ‘‘Gongmin geti wei ben, tongyi xianzheng li guo’’ [Individual citizens as the foundation of a constitutional union], Ershiyi shiji [Twenty-first century] 35 (June 1996): 4–14. Gan draws heavily from the early American Federalists to make his case. Panel discussions, the transcripts of which are intended for publication, are a



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conspicuous strategy in the 1990s for raising public issues, setting theoretical agendas, and forming group identities. Favored by many intellectuals, they have become a new genre in areas such as cultural studies, film criticism, and cultural theory. This sharply contrasts with the kind of iconoclastic individual heroism and religious passion for authorship prevalent during the Great Cultural Discussion and various other modernist movements in the 1980s. For a selection of essays from this debate, see Wang Xiaoming, ed., Renwen jingshen xunsilu [In search of the humanist spirit] (Shanghai: Wenhui Chubanshe, 1996). The panel discussion titled ‘‘Daotong, xuetong yu zhengtong’’ [Moral tradition, scholarly tradition, and political tradition] was originally published in Dushu, no. 5 (1994): 46–55, and is quoted in Wang, Renwen jingshen xunsilu, 46–58. The other three panelists were Xu Jilin, Chen Sihe, and Gao Yuanbao. Cai Xiang, ‘‘Daotong, xuetong yu zhengtong,’’ in Wang, Renwen jingshen xunsilu, 48. Ibid., 49. See Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, 129. Cui Yiming, ‘‘Kuang ye shang de feixu’’ [Rubble in the wilderness], a panel discussion among Wang Xiaoming, Zhang Hong, Xu Lin, Zhang Ning, and Cui Yiming. Quoted in Wang, Renwen jingshen xunsilu, 15. Li Tiangang, ‘‘Renwen jingshen xunzong’’ [In search of the humanistic spirit], a panel discussion among Gao Ruiquan, Yuan Jin, Zhang Rulun, and Li Tiangang. Quoted in Wang, Renwen jingshen xunsilu, 44. Wang Meng, ‘‘Renwen jingshen wenti ougan’’ [Random thoughts on questions concerning the humanistic spirit], in Wang, Renwen jingshen xunsilu, 115, 118, 119. Zhang Yiwu, ‘‘Zuihou de shenhua’’ [The last mythology], in Wang, Renwen jingshen xunsilu, 137–41. Ibid., 140–41. See Zhang Yiwu, ‘‘Xinzhuangtai de jueqi: Zhongguo xiaoshuo de xinde kenengxing’’ [The emergence of ‘‘the new state of affairs’’: New possibilities of Chinese fiction], Zhongshan [Nanjing] 92 (1994): 115–17. Geremie Barmé, an Australian cultural journalist, portrays the television series A Beijing Native in New York as an ugly show of Chinese nationalism, chauvinism, and xenophobia. See Barmé, ‘‘To Screw Foreigners Is Patriotic,’’ in Chinese Nationalism, ed. Jonathan Unger (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1996), 183–208. Some Chinese critics of nationalism and mass culture disagreed. For a rebuttal of Barmé’s view, see Zhang Xiaogang, ‘‘Shiji Zhijiao de Zhongguo minzuzhyyi’’ [Chinese nationalism in the turn of the century], Zhanlüe yu guanli [Strategy and management] 1 (1996): 23–26. Zhang, ‘‘Xinzhuangtai de jueqi,’’ 117. Ibid., 118. Zhang Yiwu, ‘‘Renmin jiyi yu wenhua de mingyun’’ [Popular memory and the destiny of culture], in Zai bianyuanchu zhuisuo: Disanshijie wenhua yu

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348 Xudong Zhang

36 37


39 40 41

42 43 44


46 47


dangdai Zhongguo wenxue [The pursuit on the margins: Third world culture and contemporary Chinese literature] (Changchun: Shidai Weinyi Chubanshe, 1993), 82. See Lei Yi, ‘‘Beijing yu cuowei’’ [Background and dislocation], Dushu (April 1995): 16–19. Henry Y. H. Zhao (Zhao Yiheng), ‘‘Houxue yu Zhongguo xin–baoshouzhuyi’’ [‘‘Post-ism’’ and the neoconservatism of China], Ershiyi shiji 27 (February 1995): 11. Xu Ben, ‘‘ ‘Disan shijie piping’ zai dangjin Zhongguo de chujing’’ [The situation of ‘‘Third World criticism’’ in current China], Ershiyi shiji (February 1995): 17. See Qin Hui, ‘‘Ziyouzhuyi yu minzuzhuyi de qihedian zai nali?’’ [Where do liberalism and nationalism overlap?], Dongfang [Orient], no. 3 (fall 1996): 47. Ibid. Sun Liping, ‘‘Huiru shijie wenming zhuliu: minzuzhuyi santi’’ [Join the mainstream of world civilization: Three questions regarding nationalism], Dongfang, no. 1 (1996): 19. Tiananmen, 35 mm, approximately 90 min. (New York: Long Bow Group, 1996). Produced and directed by Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon. Wang Ying, Xinjitizhuyi [Neocollectivism: The reorganization of rural society] (Beijing: Jingji Guanli Chubanshe, 1996). The so-called Angang Constitution stipulates that (1) managers will take part in production, and workers will take part in management; (2) unreasonable regulations and systems will be reformed; and (3) technical specialists, managers, and workers will interact with one another in the process of production and technological innovation. For a theoretical discussion on this topic, see Cui Zhiyuan Di’erci sixiang jiefang yu zhidu chuangxin [The second intellectual liberation and institutional innovation] (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1997): 143–56. Dai Jinhua, ‘‘Tuwei biaoyan jiushi niandai Zhongguo wenhua gaiguan’’ [A performance of breaking the siege: A survey of Chinese culture in the 1990s, pt. 1], Zhongshan 97 (1994): 99. Ibid., 101. Wang Hui, ‘‘Jiushi niandai Zhongguo dalu de wenhua yanjiu yu wenhua piping’’ [Cultural studies and cultural criticism in China in the 1990s], Dianying yishu [Film art], no. 1 (January 1995): 16. Pierre Bourdieu, ‘‘Structures, Habits, Practices,’’ in The Logic of Practice (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990), 52–65.


Street Scenes of Subalternity: China, Globalization, and Rights Michael Dutton

In the opening pages of his book, Lost Dimension, Paul Virilio records the words of the mayor of Philadelphia who, in the 1960s, watched as his city burned. ‘‘From here on in,’’ he nervously proclaimed, ‘‘the frontiers of the State pass to the interior of the cities.’’ As Virilio notes, this mayor was prescient, for the burning of American cities presaged even greater global troubles that lay just beyond the horizon.1 All around the world, it seemed, the dreamy utopian promise of yesteryear that the city had represented was turning into the nightmare of today as city after city ‘‘bunkered down’’ for what looked like a bleak tomorrow. From Beirut to Berlin and on to Belfast, race, religion, class, color, and politics seemed to be rending cities asunder. Many reasons have been put forward for this turmoil. At least one had it that by the 1960s the city had become hostage to its own past propaganda. Rising expectations of jobs and the good life could never hope to keep pace with the messages of wealth and luxury promoted by advertisers. For the long-time resident, let alone the starry-eyed migrant and immigrant, everything advertised as being within reach seemed palpably beyond one’s grasp, and those things that were accessible simply were not worth having. Much to the satisfaction of the political Left, capitalism seemed on the brink of devouring itself. The disenchantment with the capitalist promise of a materially affluent tomorrow fueled calls for a materialist revolution today. As migrant populations entered the cities of the world in unprecedented numbers, it appeared, albeit briefly, as though Lin Biao’s prophecy—that the revolution was nigh because the cities of the world

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were being surrounded by the countryside of the world—might well turn out to be true. In the end, it was Lennon—‘‘and if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow’’—not Lin who turned out to be sagacious. A calm despondency settled on Western cities as revolution ended up enveloping, and finally blowing away, all those who had once promoted the urban idea. ‘‘Back in the USSR’’ was no longer a geographical location; it was history! Meanwhile, back in the PRC, things were different. Once the chairman shuffled off this mortal coil, the curtain lifted on a new party performance called economic reform. In sharp contrast to previous party efforts, economic reform unleashed market forces, opened China to the outside world, and introduced the benefits and vices of globalization to the Chinese people. For this development, the reform program received widespread applause. But as the clapping dies away, one begins to wonder whether reform has bought off or merely postponed the same kind of crisis that turned ‘‘Big Brother’’ Russia into a very poor cousin. Indeed, as Rupert Murdoch’s Star tv beams in 1960s’ reruns to an ever-eager Chinese audience who are ordered not to watch, one is left wondering whether other types of 1960s’ reruns are also about to be aired. Maybe the 1960s’ show that sent shivers down the spine of the mayor of Philadelphia is about to be relayed to China. The streets of China aren’t burning . . . yet. But the endless caravans of rural migrants heading for the cities in search of work and wealth may well have their own plotlines to add. In conditions reminiscent of those outlined by Marx in his description of the formation of the European working class, tens of millions of would-be proletarians are now streaming into the cities of China in search of employment.2 As they reach their destination, some find jobs, but most find their lives increasingly circumscribed by ever-tightening laws against vagrancy, prostitution, and hooliganism. Under these circumstances, the odor of the backstreet begins to reek of social unrest. For the Marxist, the smell rises from the backyard furnaces of revolution. For me, I guess, the whiff reminds me of a different form of sedition. While Marxists look to the macro-level story, sifting through the tea leaves of change to discern the beginnings of a revolutionary class, more localized street-level divination suggests something else. That ‘‘something else’’ tells of more intimate and private rebellions. It is a story line straight from Brecht, for it is not about revolutionary heroes but antiheroes. It is in the lives of these often ‘‘resourceful, humorous nobodies’’ that one begins

to recognize a form of backstreet biopower that leads to a kind of resistance very different from that imagined in Marxist dreams.3

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Strategy and Tactics Biopower is an interesting expression.4 It forces us away from grand homologies and makes us attend to the seemingly insignificant. It introduces a new concern for the interstices of government that turns, in so many ways, on micro-level ‘‘ways of doing things’’ that produce calculable outcomes for government. From social security to public security, government, it seems, is about the disciplining of the everyday. Moreover, under the Maoist-inspired mass-line local security systems, such disciplinary forms appeared to operate everywhere. Indeed, the picture being presented would be a perfect image of totalitarianism but for the fact that it is less than ‘‘total.’’ As we shall see, ordinary people have their own forms of ‘‘disciplinary technologies’’ that can, and do, run counter to those of government. In other words, just as there can be no display of power without resistance, so can there be no deployment of biotechnology without a struggle.5 An entirely different picture of the art of struggle in this era of global maneuver emerges in these diminutive and modest forms of resistance, which belie the Marxist message of revolution. Indeed, the artful subversions of the sly dominate and work to ensure that government is not the only thing generating ‘‘calculable outcomes.’’ Here, one discovers a form of ‘‘sly civility,’’ 6 to steal a line from Homi K. Bhabha, that reveals through its shadowy forms Michel de Certeau’s ‘‘art of the weak.’’ 7 ‘‘Sly as a fox and twice as quick, there are countless ways of making do,’’ proclaims de Certeau as he lists innumerable examples of the heterogeneous tactical plays on life by the antiheroes of this more modest form of rebellion. From a stealer of the word to a stealer of wallets, these are the petty thieves of the everyday whose actions crouch just below the threshold of ‘‘rebellion.’’ My concern, then, is not with the political dissident whose words we all too readily know and whose voice we hear so clearly. Rather, my worry is with those whose words are whispered or whose contempt is articulated just out of earshot. Their words are mere murmurs, for should they be otherwise, it would be an open declaration of war on a ‘‘strategic field’’ that could only result in failure. A guerrilla war of the everyday is going on just below the surface, requiring, it seems, far more subtle forms of maneuver and resistance. ‘‘A society,’’ writes de Certeau, ‘‘is composed of certain foregrounded

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practices organizing its normative institutions and of innumerable other practices that remain minor.’’ The foregrounded practices he labels strategies, while minor practices he names tactics. While a strategic field of government emerges out of ‘‘monotheistic’’ panoptic power, de Certeau quickly adds that ‘‘a polytheism of scattered practices survives, dominated but not erased by the triumphal success of one of their number.’’ 8 The ‘‘tactics of the weak’’ come into play through these ‘‘subjugated’’ forms of power, or even through the ‘‘exchanges’’ opened up between them and triumphant power. If power trades time for space, then resistant tactics will always attempt to turn the tables and trade it back again. Thus, the prisoner in the cell has all the time in the world to map the cracks in the wall that offer the opportunity to escape, for, as Catherine Ingraham notes, even panoptic power must blink.9 If power moves either to extend or deepen its reach, such strategic realignments always raise the specter of resistant practices dissipating its efforts. Thus, as the Chinese government attempted to secure a market for ‘‘its Mao’’ on his hundredth birthday in 1993, the skies rained down other more ‘‘tactical’’ deployments of his tale. These would parasitically grow on the back of the official description; and while the official Mao was never entirely swallowed up by these dubious understudies, he was, in part, disfigured by them. These other Maos were the Maos of the many. Mao as youth market icon was brought back to life neither by God nor country but by the searing guitar rhythms of punk rock heroes like Cui Jian, who would sing of the fading red flags of China and of the colorless party cadres who now seem too tired to care. Mao also would be revived by the screeching of car brakes. Superstitious taxi drivers adopted him as their talisman to ward off traffic accidents after strange stories of survival by southern drivers who hung his image in their cabs percolated north. As strange as that tale may be, even stranger stories accompanied this revival of Mao. ‘‘Why did you decide to turn your house into a Mao badge museum?’’ I asked ‘‘Badge Master’’ Wang, whose entire living space was given over to an image of the chairman. For an espoused materialist, Wang’s reply was novel, to say the least: ‘‘About five years ago I had a vision and in that vision Mao came to me. ‘Old Wang, old Wang,’ said Mao, ‘you have had my badges locked up in these boxes now for quite some time. Let them out and let the world see my face again for I fear I am being forgotten.’ ’’ 10 If the eccentric Wang first had a vision of the chairman that spoke of social forgetfulness, the following day he would have a revelation about how to best remember: ‘‘On the very next day, I read a newspaper report from Shanghai [where] a private person organized an exhibition of precious stones.

From that, I decided that it was in this way that I could honor my promise to Chairman Mao.’’ 11 Wang’s promise grew into a museum project that transformed his tiny house into a shrine. Much to the chagrin of local party officials, the ‘‘very small museum’’ (xiao xiao bowuguan) was a success; it led to the founding of a magazine (aptly named Contemporary Cultural Relic) and to the formation of an international communist alliance. Like the rhetoric of Polus that Socrates so sarcastically labeled his ‘‘museum of ornaments,’’ Wang’s museum was a ‘‘turning of the tables’’ on the official Mao. It resurrected a Mao obsessed with cultural revolution, a Mao as excessive as the badges that are pinned to the chest and tell the Mao story. Wang’s efforts spike the drinks of the teetotaling, homogeneous party accounts of Mao by mixing a more potent radical otherness into the cocktail. This is champagne Mao, one we readily recognize, for it is on the surface of every badge ever made in his image. It is a Mao who trades on the sacred, the erotic, and the excessive. It is this other Mao who, by accident really, reveals the scandal of both the chairman and the party’s selective history of him. The party, it seems, may set the strategic field, but the procedures within that field always leave room for tactical maneuvers that can undermine it. Yet de Certeau’s account of tactics is remiss in at least one respect. It fails to adequately recognize that the government of the strong plays its own tactical games.12 In other words, tactics are not ‘‘of the weak,’’ but are ‘‘anybody’s.’’ Indeed, it is their very promiscuity that gives them protean life. While Wang burrows away with his own form of backstreet resistance, telling the life of Mao through the badge, the party blasts forward with endless rewrites of the Mao story that refocus attention on party good times. Repeated so often and with such gusto, the gray Mao of the party advertising machine always wins out over the mad Mao of Wang. In the end, Mao is a party member. In retelling their Mao story endlessly and always in the same way, the party’s tactic is to transform ‘‘the uncertainties of history’’ into ‘‘readable spaces’’ that promote not his image but theirs. So, while the badges of the Cultural Revolution will tell the story of the revolution under the sun-god image, Mao, more recent party re-creations promote the same story under the party label rather than the chairman’s. This is pure tactics. Nowhere is this subtle rewrite more graphically demonstrated than in the theme park of revolution constructed in Mao’s home village of Shaoshan. On a hill overlooking the home of his birth, party entrepreneurs have put their money where Mao’s mouth once was and built a U.S. $6 million Mao Zedong Memorial Park. Yet, despite the title, the ‘‘theme’’ of the park is less Mao than one might expect. What one discovers is that it is constructed around the theme of the liberation of China by the party rather

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than by Mao. It is history reenacted as theme park, whereby park space is transformed into revolutionary time. For the price of an entry ticket, one can walk the highlights of the communist Long March and then toddle on to victory without having to cross the 6,000 miles of terrain, the eighteen mountain ranges, twenty-seven rivers, or fight the two wars that the Red Army did. Part ‘‘stations of the cross,’’ part sideshow, the park, so the advertising brochure claims, is a ‘‘history book without words.’’ ‘‘Through visiting the park, people can both learn and play. They are likely to experience the revolutionary process in China for themselves by walking down this revolutionary road.’’ This revolutionary road, rebuilt as tourist journey, is, if anything, a homage to the power of economic reform. Less Orwellian than Saatchi and Saatchi, this park constitutes a fine example of the transformative power, not of the party, but of commodification. As economic reform makes way for global commodification, the Maoist mass line ends up strangely resembling an advertising jingle. In this respect, economic reform has forced both party and opposition onto a strategic field that neither of them can fully control. While the Party clearly has the upper hand, this leverage is, in some crucial ways, being transformed into merely a tactical advantage. And, like everything else in posteconomic-reform China, such an advantage means little if the people do not buy the image. Mao becomes their Nike, and selling his image is one way of getting the populace to buy theirs. Yet, as the heterogeneity of the marketed Mao shows, the party has its share of problems with pirated copies that would not only steal their thunder but also their logo. That, however, is not the end of their problem. So quickly and completely has this moment of commodification struck down the Chinese city that it has rendered virtually everything either for sale or open to negotiation. An Adornesque moment appears on the horizon as everything is commodified. Yet in that transformation process, and despite the limits that the process imposes, not everything is consumer betrayal.13 The always-the-same nature of the commodity that Adorno focuses on ignores the never-the-same quality of the politics of sale. Reform in China has put a monetary price on everything, and oncetaboo items now become the most valued of all. From sex to secrets, added value can always be squeezed from the forbidden fruits of the past, especially when it involves the party’s past. As a result, party secrets now find their way into novel marketable forms, both literally and figuratively. When the party boss of Beijing, Chen Xitong, was arrested on corruption charges, a pulp fiction version of the whole affair was quickly released, which changed the names of those accused, but contained accurate and

specific details of the whole affair that were leaked straight from party central.14 When the party launched a campaign against pornography, countless street vendors joined in with alacrity, selling salaciously detailed accounts of the ‘‘evils’’ of vice. In the China of economic reform, banned books become under-the-counter best-sellers forcing even the ‘‘official’’ publishing houses to vie for semi-dissident works in order to make a profit. In music, too, the market favors dissent. When Sid Vicious stumbled down the stairs and went straight into a rendition of ‘‘My Way,’’ he probably never imagined he would spawn a punk ‘‘cover’’ industry. Chinese punks imagined it, though, and, in a classic album of punk covers called ‘‘Red Rock,’’ a motley collection of singers cut and slashed their way through such communist revolutionary classics as ‘‘Socialism Is Good.’’ The way they sing it, however, you just know they think it ain’t.15 According to them, it is like living in the dustbin of history.16 The market arrives in China in what appears to be an Adornesque moment where everything is rendered ‘‘for sale.’’ Yet what one quickly discovers is that saleability has chiseled away the certainty of meanings on which party propaganda relied. The party is forced to learn new tricks. Market discipline, however, is not the only thing the party learns about. As large numbers of peasant migrants move into the cities, those who cannot find work employ their own ‘‘tactics’’ of survival, leading the party to institute a bit of disciplining of their own against vagrants, hooligans, and prostitutes. In examining these ‘‘hooligan’’ forms of dissent that occasion a sporadic but often draconian response from the party, we move into yet another suburb of subversion opened up by reform. Defacing Words ‘‘Let the use of words show you their meaning,’’ writes Ludwig Wittgenstein.17 But what meaning do we take as given from the examples that flow from the latter-day ‘‘museum of ornaments’’ of the Chinese migrant underclasses? Their use of words is a veritable dictionary of dissent. Honorifics are transformed into terms of abuse, the actions of their enemies sardonically mimicked, the heroes of myth appropriated as their own. Here are some of the endless ways that the subalterns in China both ‘‘make do’’ and ‘‘make out.’’ When the party launches a campaign against pickpocketing, thieves respond with mimetic wit, calling their own actions ‘‘campaigns to steal from the top pocket’’ (lihuai yundong). When people are targeted for theft, their bodies become gridlike maps of treasures and tribulations to be had by nimble fingers. Such body maps also reveal qualifications to action based

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on time and location (position of the body). An unguarded wallet in the back pocket may be known as a ‘‘free gift’’ (baigei hr) when it proves to be an easy mark, but with a slight change of bodily position the opportunity passes and the free gift is turned into ‘‘hell’’ (didong). Likewise, an unguarded top pocket is referred to as ‘‘eating from heaven’s window’’ (chi tianchuang). Nevertheless, once the guard of the target is up, even that becomes Shanggan mountain (Shanggan liang), a place virtually impossible to get to.18 In this way, language is transformed into a variable code for the marking of different bodies, times, and positions. The dexterity and speed of re-marking the body illustrates the nature of the tactical lives that these people live. But flexibility of meaning is not always to be found in a quick turn of phrase. It is also about re-marking the landscape to highlight one’s own values and aspirations.19 While thieves marked the body, it was always the party that marked the ground on which these bodies walked. Indeed, when it came to the social landscape, the Communist Party proved itself to be the all-time master of renaming and remapping. After the revolution and, especially, during the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party played this card in an attempt to force a change of consciousness. During the Cultural Revolution, in particular, one could not think of going home or going out without ‘‘going red,’’ for virtually every street name demanded it. Red Guard Alleyways, Young Red Militia Lanes, and The East Is Red Streets abounded. In Beijing alone, during the Cultural Revolution, some 475 streets were renamed to include the word revolution. Between the ‘‘Red Sun’’ Roads and Study Chairman Mao Alleys, one could not help but think revolution when thinking about where to go. But renamings sometimes had more immediate and obvious political goals. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, the street on which the Soviet embassy stood was renamed, and the embassy was given a new number. Their new address: 1 Oppose Revisionism Road, Beijing. Who said Maoism had no sense of humor? Such humor also finds voice in the renaming practices of criminal dissidents. Detention centers and prisons are recoded as the homes of heroes. In one instance from Guiyang, inmates renamed their center Liang Mountain. Drawn from the classic novel The Water Margin, Liang Mountain was where 108 righteous rebels fled the unjust rule of a tyrannical government. The analogy is obvious. Other terms also have obvious meanings offering open and bitter critiques of the penal conditions under which inmates have suffered. Caves of bitterness (kuyao), caves of depression (menyao), cellar caves (diyao), or zoo cages (langzi) are just some of the expressions used by inmates to rename and therefore describe their prisons. Police and prison guards fare little better. Traffic cops are called the ‘‘dogs that watch the

street’’ (kanjiegou), while the armed police who guard buildings are known as the ‘‘dogs that watch the entrance’’ (kanmengou). Mostly, however, it is the inversion of family honorifics that enable the hoodlums of China to play their language games. Male police are called erge or laoge. This translates as a polite expression for the second eldest brother in majority society. In the hands of the hoodlum, however, it means ‘‘cock.’’ Similarly, female officers are called eryi, which is again a family honorific, but one that in the slang of the hoodlum translates as ‘‘cunt.’’ Like most slang, terms for females usually involve references to sex. In the case of China, it also combines with another delicacy, food. Thus, to fondle breasts is referred to as ‘‘eating meat dumplings’’ (chi roubao), while fellatio is called ‘‘licking the plate’’ (tian panzi). To chase women is often called ‘‘eating bean curd’’ (chi doufu), and female sex organs are described as ‘‘dumpling skin’’ (hezipi). This recoding of bodies is not restricted to language. Indeed, bodily markings and tattoos offer another way of ‘‘listening’’ to the murmurs of these other voices.What is significant about bodily marking in China, however, is that it operates under the continued shadow of familialism that proscribes bodily defacement. Thus, the body marked is the body outcast. The dynastic Chinese state recognized this onus from very early times and employed the tattoo for its own ends. The body, it is commonly said, is a temple. In traditional China, it was thought to be an unmarkable altar to family and lineage descent. To mark the body was to mark the family out. Employing this taboo for their own ends, successive dynastic governments used the ‘‘ink punishment’’ (moxing) to stigmatize both criminal and family. It was a punishment that transcended life itself for, in the afterlife, even one’s ancestors may have difficulty recognizing a body that was marked. To mark the body, therefore, was a serious social transgression, one that was to be inverted by gangs and triads who began to use such markings as a badge of membership. This kind of mimetic inversion recognizes the stigmatizing code of bodily marking but celebrates it; it is how the gang forges an identity by marking itself outside society. Such tattoos constitute telltale signs of entry into the gang and out of majority society.20 Within this underworld of the tattoo, however, more private forms of marking and rebelling can be found. To tattoo the character ‘‘endure’’ or ‘‘avenge’’ on one’s body, or to mark oneself with a pictograph of a knife or sword, is to indicate a desire for revenge, while a tattoo of a heart with many arrows through it boasts of innumerable romantic conquests.21 Here is an underworld of meaning that the government has little tolerance for and little tactical interest in. Here is a language of dissent signaling practices that have to be repressed, for they are unmarketable. And here, in dealing

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with these people that no society wants, the tale becomes a story of human rights abuse. It is the migrant and criminal for whom state repression proves to be both the most arbitrary and the harshest.22 Yet this is not the Chinese human rights story that one hears of in the West. Our accounts of Chinese human rights abuse are frozen by loftier and more overtly political images of dissent. Our ideas of Chinese human rights adhere to an agenda set by an altogether different image of the man and the tank. In this image, the anonymity and individuality of the hero standing up to the weapons of the strong forms a binary account of power that we, in the West, all too readily understand and accept as morally clear. It is an image that feeds into certain understandings of human rights that freeze out the migrant, the poor, and the criminal. The Flow of Rights ‘‘No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs to the Unknown Soldier,’’ says Benedict Anderson. The anonymity of the soldier enables the cenotaph to be ‘‘filled with ghostly national imaginings.’’ 23 On 5 June 1989, the West found its own unknown soldier of democracy on the main street of Beijing, and, with a single click of a camera, the image of this man before the tanks was transformed into iconography. The binary opposition so central to the power of this image reproduced, in contemporary terms, the antithesis of good and evil so central to Western theology and philosophy. Here was the binary of life and death: Montesquieu’s Oriental Despot reawoken in mechanical form, locked in an eternal battle with the unknown soldier of democracy. The back streets speak of different conflicts and less clear battle lines. Backstreet conflicts are aimed at survival, not the articulation of principles. They are ways of ‘‘making do,’’ not seizing power. Taken together, such actions form the basis of the everyday wars of maneuver that shape the nature of streetlife China and are of particular importance to anyone who is outside majority society. Our antiheroes are no pristine harbingers of any future civil society, any more than the despotic state or Communist Party is the single source of their oppression. Our antiheroes are the ‘‘collateral damage’’ suffered in the globalization processes that we have come to call economic reform. Rights are always about the Other, just as rights abuse is all about Otherness. Western liberal accounts of rights abuse in China, however, tend to restrict this discourse of Otherness to the domain of the political. The principal focus of Western human rights concerns is the abused Other

of the Communist Party. These are political dissidents whose Otherness manifests itself as being outside the Party. It is this outsider-otherness that I would like to focus on because it needs to be understood far more broadly than Western liberal accounts allow. Outsider-otherness is condemned in China for political as well as cultural reasons. When the political and the cultural bump into one another to produce the migrating foot soldiers of economic reform, they become the potential bearers of a different and far more damning kind of Otherness to that experienced by the overt political dissident. Theirs is the Otherness of the stranger. They are the migrants who populate the cities but for whom the city will always be a foreign place. They are despised as uncultivated or uneducated tramps, or as morally unworthy streetwalkers. They are marked out not only by overt signs of difference, such as the tattoo, but by a series of less visible birthmarks. The way they dress, their speech patterns, their dialects and customs, all mark them out from city people. With one designation, one Chinese character, they are marked as the eternal undesirable. That character is liu, and it means ‘‘to float.’’ In combination with other characters, liu marks out the social lepers of Chinese society. Together with the character mang (common people), the compound word liumang is formed, meaning hoodlum, hooligan, or criminal.24 Together with another character that is also pronounced mang, but which means blindness, another pejorative compound word is formed. This time it is mangliu, which means, literally, ‘‘to float around blindly.’’ All Chinese who hear these words immediately think of unruly and dangerous outsiders. More than anything else, these people of liu stand for all that is foreign to majority society. They are the rootless characters of the everyday who form the opposite of the respectable and sedentary citizens of the city. These are the footloose forces most feared by China. Indeed, if there is to be a binary of abuse in China, it is less about the man and the tank and more about this distinction. Chinese, claims Yi Zhongtian, have traditionally been obsessed with stability and place. So obsessed have they been that stability came to constitute an important consideration even in the afterlife. In dynastic times, Yi notes, it was not uncommon to find a brightly colored coffin on display in the homes of the aged and venerable. For Yi, this form of display is telling. Superficially, this is unimaginably strange but, on closer inspection, there are some important reasons for this. While it is admittedly true that the fear of death was great, Chinese people are even more scared of ‘‘dying and being without a place of burial.’’ Should this happen, they would be nothing more than ‘‘orphan ghosts and strange ghosts.’’

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Therefore, to place the coffin in the house is a glorious and auspicious thing to do. In fact, one does not even call the coffin a coffin (guancai) but refers to it as the ‘‘wood of good fortune and long life’’ (shoumu). . . . In summary, then, no matter whether it is in life or death, everybody wants a place that they can rely on. They want a place to settle down, and if they don’t get this it can very easily lead to a strong sense of loss and feeling that they are like homeless dogs.25 This dream of a stable place runs deep in China. But as Freud notes, dreams always refer to yesterday.26 Working through the Maoist yesterday of China, one comes to understand how this dream of ‘‘stability’’ and suspicion of the rootless supplied Chinese conceptions of socialism with certain unconscious understandings of what is proper that now feed into the problems of human rights abuse today. The Stable Streets of Socialism ‘‘The Chinese people have stood up,’’ said Chairman Mao in 1949, as he proclaimed the new China. Having stood up, however, the people quickly realized they had nowhere to go. Two separate and unrelated acts of government ensured this stilling of city populations. The first act symbolized the type of mobile city life that was to be left behind, while the second flagged the stable, static, socialist life to come. Both acts were designed to halt the movement of people and things and to set in place a regime of perfect calculation. Act one of this two-part performance began at ten o’clock on the morning of 10 June 1949 when the head of the newly formed Shanghai Public Security Bureau led a team of 400 police and garrison troops down to the Shanghai stock exchange. After surrounding the building and calling on the occupants to come out, the police immediately arrested 238 of them as speculators and registered the rest as suspects before sending them home.27 The chaotic and fluid world of shares and speculation came crashing down. A registered, stable life, not the floating world of the share, would, in the future, determine one’s fortune and fate. A new equity came to displace old (in)equities! This alternative vision of the future was unveiled a few months later. This second act began in September when the Social Section of the Central Committee of the Communist Party passed an edict instructing all workplaces to establish personnel security sections to monitor, survey, and register all staff and workers.28 This was the final brick in a wall that surrounded a social arrangement known as the work-unit system. The pan-

optic quest of the work-unit security forces could only succeed, however, if these units supplied what Mauss, in a very different context and with a slightly different meaning, referred to as a system of ‘‘total services.’’ 29 Local work-unit-level party committees, therefore, developed a system to provide for virtually all of life’s material needs. As a consequence, the concept of the main street, of shopping precincts, and of city life as we know it began to fade into memory, and as these things waned the work unit spread into most areas of life. So it was that hidden behind compound walls that designated their jurisdiction, work units set about establishing a labyrinth of small institutions to provide for life’s needs, if not its pleasures. Shops, hospitals, schools, workers’ apartments, and places of entertainment appeared behind the compound walls. Workers had little need to leave their work units and, with the labor market abolished and a system of job allocation introduced, they had precious few means to do so. A tight policing of migration through the household register, which ensured little movement anywhere, further reinforced stability.30 From the perspective of socialist planners, this form of stability was ideal, for China stilled was China made calculable. An inventory of registered bodies joined the calculation of inanimate resources to offer the communists the basic ‘‘stock lists’’ of socialist planning.31 ‘‘The revolution,’’ says He Xinghan, ‘‘was pregnant with the expectation of the work unit.’’ Through this institution, the once-fluid world of stocks, shares, and labor markets was drained of life.32 Work units became the foundation stone in a new and elaborate mechanistic and collectivist dream of society and the future. That dream imagined an ‘‘algebraic society’’ of registers (of workers) and (work) units that would make everything visible and measurable. The dream of a mathematically calculable socialism seemed but a few sums away. It was as though Mao’s China was set to outdo even the arithmetic of Lenin, for while Lenin would boast that Soviet power + electrification = communism,33 Mao’s China seemed to proclaim that the sum total of all (work) units = the sprouts of communism. Yet the closer this form of calculation came to fruition, the more it unraveled. The absence of a money economy to allocate scarce resources meant that unit members traded with various kinds of symbolic capital. As a result, the ‘‘total services’’ designed to stabilize a calculable work force took on a more Maussian hue.34 Units were dominated not by the plan but by a private economy of ‘‘favors’’ that Marcel Mauss would no doubt describe as giftlike. By trading in obligations, connections, and reciprocity, work units began to both cohere as tiny societies and live up to the pro-

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duction demands of party planners.35 In other words, these ‘‘socialist new things’’ that were supposed to bring forth an absolutely calculable, transparent China produced the very opposite. Opacity reigned where clarity should have prevailed. Yet the very demands of planners produced this outcome. In the absence of monetary incentives, the production quotas of the planners could not be achieved without an emotive appeal to collective comradely relations. While ‘‘working hard for socialism’’ may have been the advertised slogan of the spin doctors of socialism, work units, for the most part, when they worked, did so to satisfy demands much closer to home. Thus, far from being mechanisms of capital production that would ensure clear calculability, units were driven by this flow of symbolic capital that was, by definition, always opaque. In hindsight, this hardly seems surprising. After all, consciously or otherwise, the Communist Party had always traded on such localized emotive bonds. The lengthy period of apprenticeship in rural China made communists believe such emotionally charged relations were ‘‘natural’’ and a precursive form of socialism. Indeed, in the Yan’an way, the collectivism of the countryside became the model for all future social relations.36 The collectivist dynamics that emerged within the work units, then, tended to replicate those existent in rural China.37 While communists radically reworked village collectives to ensure that they were socialist rather than patriarchal, the Party tended to break with the ‘‘content’’ of patriarchal village life but maintained its ‘‘form.’’ 38 As a consequence, work units became the ‘‘urban plots’’ of socialism, reproducing a new kind of hybridic rural socialist consciousness among city dwellers. From these ‘‘urban plots’’ would grow a very new China, which was, in many ways, very old. The language of revolution that enveloped the cities began to reflect this new-old, urban-rural quality as cityspeak developed a rural and ‘‘revolutionary’’ inflection. Young communist cadres were referred to as ‘‘straight-rooted red seedlings’’ (gengzheng miaohong), while cadres carrying out training or dispensing advice were said to be ‘‘irrigation channels’’ ( jiaoguan).39 In effect, with the socialist revolution, the country came to the city; and in the name of socialism, work units enforced a style of life that had been the basis of the communist rural collectivist lifestyle. Consciously or otherwise, the built environment of the work unit reinforced this style of life. Work units were built along the lines of the basic compound household forms of rural and northern China. As with social relations, the architecture of the work unit played with the ‘‘content’’ of the architectonic while maintaining its form. Only by altering the content, it was thought, could the obvious patriarchal nature of this traditional structure be overcome.

The architectonics of the traditional compound house reinforced patriarchy by ensuring an internal economy based on the hierarchical ordering of family members. The ordering of rooms in the house hierarchizes bodies, privileging the central gaze and guidance of the patriarch. At the same time, its closed nature reinforces the powerful bonds of interdependence between family members. A floor plan of the compound house is, in this way, a map of the ethical and moral order of the Confucian world. Space, symbolically coded and hierarchized in this manner, makes every home a temple to the family and a ‘‘machine’’ to train bodies in the art of Confucian comportment. It was as ‘‘transforming machine’’ rather than as temple that the communists would mimetically recast the architecture of the compound. In reworking the symbolic code of patriarchy, socialist architects maintained the wall but put party space into the space of the patriarch. Under conditions where the relations of emotion are simply replayed to a different tune, however, it is hardly surprising that economic production ended up reproducing everything on the basis of oeconomic relations under a new party patriarch.40 The mimetic processes employed by the revolution to bring forth its victory were, it seems, to have their revenge. ‘‘The work unit is like one’s parents and one’s family,’’ says Yi Zhongtian. ‘‘It is the place where one is no longer friendless or wretched,’’ adds He Xinghan. ‘‘It is a place that has developed into a clan-like organization,’’ concludes Lu Feng.41 Work units, it seems, became like home, and, like all homes, they relied on a complex set of emotional and symbolic ties to internally order ‘‘family’’ members. In other words, the ‘‘algebraic society,’’ with its clear, calculable resources, grew utterly and increasingly dependent on its opaque, giftlike underside to give the appearance of working. The more it insisted that it was successfully producing, the more it relied on the slavelike, giftlike relation of dependence that was building up between local party organs and the people.42 This economy of gift relations gave rise to what Yang Dongping has called the ‘‘walled culture’’ of China.43 This is a culture of dependence on work-unit comrades that reinforces suspicion of all those outside it. Those who are not tied into such networks of social relations are always on the outside, and limits are placed on their action. They are the people to fear and the ones who remain huddled under the character liu. ‘‘From the perspective of traditional Chinese society,’’ says Yi Zhongtian, ‘‘the day when every single person has a place that will secure their fate and enable them to have a roof over their head is the day when there will truly be great harmony under heaven.’’ The opposite of this harmony, he continues, ‘‘is a state of great confusion.’’ 44 If work units represented

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stability, the people of liu are its opposite. Outside any compound wall, they signal danger to a society unused to movement. After all, as Yi goes on to note, ‘‘floating or drifting is a form of movement and movement leads to chaos.’’ Under the sign of erasure (chai), economic reform is tearing down the certainty of work-unit socialism. Under the character liu emerges the specter of a new social constellation that one day may well break the hold of this dreamy state of stability. Until it does, however, liu will always stand as the central character in human rights concerns in China, whether the West recognizes it or not. Siegfried Kracauer once wrote that the street was not only the ‘‘arena of fleeting impressions and chance encounters’’ but also the ‘‘place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself.’’ 45 In China, it is generally in the back streets that one finds scrawled on the walls of decrepit, socialist-built buildings evidence of Kracauer’s point. Perversely, this evidence is gathered under the sign of death, chai. Chai literally means to tear down, but on the buildings of the Chinese city it is like tombstone engravings in the cemetery of the Maoist environment. From house to meeting hall, from work unit to department store, chai marks out those sites where the old revolutionary forms are to be buried beneath the avalanche of commodification and alienation that economic reform has brought. In tearing down the old, chai stands as a sign of things to come. Once, in the era of socialism and under the red flag of proletarian productivity, there was the work unit. Now, under the sign of chai, the bulldozer’s blade clears this space to make way for new living and working arrangements. The utopian space of China is no longer the work space. Indeed, the redness of the Mao era, with its once blinding promises of utopianism in a productive life, now pales before this power of commodification. Here, life reasserts itself, and, as it does, the revolution itself is commodified. From Mao-themed restaurants to theme parks of the revolution, the insatiable appetite to commodify everything transforms even the most revolutionary and sacred sites into tourist traps. For Chinese socialism, the bitter twist of fate must surely be that it is only through such a process of mimetic reinvention that the revolution stands any chance of being remembered. Yet while the youth of today learn in this way of the revolution of yesteryear at a conscious level, what they learn at an unconscious level is a particular ‘‘art’’ of desire that is invested in the commodity form. To steal a line from Lenin, this ‘‘art’’ is being reproduced ‘‘continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously and on a mass scale’’ in the streets and alleyways of contemporary China.46 As the political materialism of communism is replaced by a new and very different form of materialism, what Benjamin would have called the ‘‘aura’’ of communism—an ‘‘aura’’ held together by

the unique figure of Mao, who personified its spiritual power—is dead. Commodification has killed it off and in the process has transformed the nation. But like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) a dual story is told about this process of social transformation. Aboveground, the neon lights and bright window displays dazzle us. Beneath the surface, live the people of liu. The ‘‘people of liu’’ are the Chinese subaltern. They are the floating outcasts of a society that is organized to ensure that everyone has a place. They signal a challenge to this stable society in a way that fundamentally threatens the Chinese sense of community and self. If chai is the mark of destruction of the old, then liu flags a fear of what the future might bring. If chai signals a physical reorganization of the city-space to promote a consumer-based future, liu signals the underside to this new, more mobile, and more class-based society. Economic reform has left the people of liu—the internal migrants, the poor, the destitute, the criminal, and the undesirable—more vulnerable than at any time since the 1949 revolution. Without connections, money, or position, these people are vulnerable to police harassment and arrest and to popular local resentment. Theirs is the human rights story all too often ignored in the West, for it is a tale that seriously challenges the Western approach to the question of rights. Economic reform, so the Western mantra goes, is not only ‘‘rational’’ but leads to political reform, which, in turn, solves the human rights problem. In economic reform, the West sees itself in a Chinese mirror. Here is the story of its own history and trajectory written with ‘‘Chinese characteristics.’’ Here is yet another version of a Western trope that rereads Third World history as a precursive form where difference emerges only as ‘‘lack,’’ and where the end of history emerges in the full flowering of the modernization process.47 The existence of the people of liu throws this universalizing logic into doubt. Certainly, in crucial respects, their tale is universal. The ambiguous logic of economic reform forces them from their homes and into the city. Here, they are ‘‘disciplined’’ by state legislation against hoodlums, transients, and criminals. At the same time, their story is narrowly local, for they are caught on the horns of a cultural prejudice that treats outsiders of this type with great suspicion. As a result, the people of liu end up as one of the most abused groups in Chinese society. One understands why they cannot be seen as mere ‘‘stand-ins’’ for a general category of the universally oppressed worker. Cultural differences mark them out. Benjamin suggested that the proletariat and the migrant share a similar experience of the metropolis.48 Yet in the metropolises of China, Benjamin’s migrant, when she appears, is tied just as tightly to the character liu and to the notion of criminality.49 Etymologically linked into a

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signifying chain that threads through the world of the criminal or miscreant, this unconscious sense of migrancy remains a potent factor in popular assessment of outsiders. Migrant as miscreant, as criminal, as whore, here is the new class marker that unconsciously relies on the prejudices of the past. It is a prejudice that the bright lights and show windows of the reform process try to hide. Perhaps inadvertently, Western human rights advocates seem inattentive to the plight of this character as well. Perhaps it is time to ask questions about the unconscious politics of such selective blindness. Notes

1 2

3 4

5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

This essay is based on arguments rehearsed and translations excerpted in my book Streetlife China. Paul Virilio, Lost Dimension (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), 9–10. For an elaboration of this argument suggesting a family resemblance between developments in China today and Marx’s analysis of capitalism’s yesteryear, see my Streetlife China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 11–14; hereafter cited as SLC. Stanley Mitchell, introduction to Understanding Brecht, by Walter Benjamin (London: New Left Books, 19