Unique spiritual engineers: the infighting among Chinese intellectuals.

Author:Liu Binyan
Position:Contemporary China: The Consequences of Change

In China, there is a widespread and long-held belief that all intellectuals suffer persecution under the Communist regime, support reform and hope for the democratization of the country. But this has actually never been true. While the scholars who colluded with the Gang of Four have been, thoroughly discredited as extreme leftists, those who cooperated with the conservatives in the 1980s included not only leftist scholars, but also liberals. However, it was only in the 1990s, after the failure of the Tiananmen movement, that this actual state of affairs gradually came to light.

Recently Du Shu (Readings) magazine has published a series of discussions (June, July and August 1995) with the noted authors Wang Meng, Chen Jiangong and literary editor and biographer, Li Hui. The title of their dialogue is "Why Not Collectively Build a Spiritual Homeland?"

The "Red Guard spirit" of the Cultural Revolution made up a significant portion of the talk's content. As noted in the discussion, the Red Guards "held ideals which were inherently deficient and, in the very least, rather childish. Eventually, these ideals became distorted and escalated into madness, producing a terrifying result." Taking the past as a lesson, a Chinese person of today, according to the authors, "can not use the ideals 6f that era like scissors to cut reality and to cut off one's neighbor. One cannot hold the belief that everyone must conform to the ideals that one establishes as an eighteen, or even sixteen, year old and bitterly condemn all those who do not conform." The discussion continues, "As a spiritual result of the Red Guard movement, Chinese individuals came to believe that `anyone is able to shock the world and astonish convention. Anyone can play a leading role in politics and ideological culture. Only I am correct. Only I am revolutionary I can conquer all.' This influenced the generation of academic style that followed the 1980s. [Literary critic] Liu Xiaobo is a prime example. His attitude is `Take [aesthetics philosopher] Li Zehou, take [writer] Wang Meng, take [novelist] Cong Weixin: have conquered them all!"

Criticism against philosopher Li Zehou and novelist Cong Weixin, however, is a matter of ten years ago. Now writer Wang Meng is the main focus of criticism. Critics include literary commentators Wang Binbin and a group of writers, commentators and professors, all of whom are of an age that just barely matches that of the Red Guards. In the discussion, writer Chen Jiangong proceeds to criticize literary critic Liu Xiaobo (of course also directing this criticism towards critic Wang Binbin and his supporters), saying that "there is no tolerance whatsoever for an inclusively designed spiritual homeland. The root of this problem is still the Cultural Revolution; it is still the Red Guard mentality. This is also why I insist that we can not blindly believe the idealism of the Red Guards."

Criticism against Wane Meng had already begun in 1993 as the result of discussions regarding the loss of Chinese humanism. Discussion first centered around the decline of the humanist discipline and the degeneration...

To continue reading