This is my second translation instalment of an article by Zhang Qianfan (张千帆) of Beida Law School and of the university’s Constitutional and Administrative Law Research Center, published by Caijing on Thursday.
Part 1 of my translation is here.
In the thirteen scholars’ joint statement, this problem is highlighted particularly clearly – almost every point they make contains arbitrary and authoritarian [or despotic, again - JR] language. The first point says that “erecting a Confucius statue corresponds with the wishes of the Chinese people, is in line with the epochal tides”, and even “corresponds with the Chinese people of the world’s wishes and the tide of cultural development”.
If I’m allowed a common-sense question: how do you know that? How do you define an epochal tide? What constitutes an epochal tide or even a new tide of cultural development? May I asked if an opinion poll was conducted before the Confucius statue was erected? If not, how did you obtain information about what the Chinese people’s, and even “the Chinese people of the world’s wishes” are?
“Some views” isn’t only consistent with the Confucian habit of talking to themselves (自说自话), without anything new, but makes several practical mistakes, too. One is to get people mixed up, to believe that China’s current social chaos was to blame on a lack of faith among the common people, who therefore needed to get saved by Confucianism and Confucius. Then the fourth point of the “views”, which believes that “a lack of culture had led to a lack in trustworthiness in society, neglect of virtues, confusion on values, etc., which started to threaten sustainable economic development”. But as understanding people know, it isn’t the common people who are lacking virtue. What is missing is the systematic implementation of freedom of belief (religion). Let’s not get into unnecessary details again. Give them freedom of belief, and all those “problems” will vanish soon. And otherwise, even if you want to forcibly move them towards belief, they still won’t believe.
The second is simple self-confidence, wrongly believing that culture or faith could be passed on by infusion, and that with the more strength it were applied, the better the results would be, and that, since the power of the state was greatest, the state would be best at promoting and specifying ideological culture or faith structures – so that the state should come forward and promote Confucianism. The third “view” elevates the erection of the Confucius statue to being “a new light and logo” in the adjustment of cultural strategy, promoting the Chinese culture, building a spiritual home and other constructive actions, “all since the beginning of the reform and opening”. Although the main body behind all the “adjustment”, “promotion”, “construction” etc. isn’t clearly explained, it is evident that this refers to the state, and certainly to the state as the leading backstage. It should be easy to see that where the state tried to promote a culture of virtue over the past few decades, through state power, the reverse was actually achieved. The erection of the Confucius statue in itself illustrates it: people had no particular opinions about Confucius, then they put this statue here, now all kinds of critics are struggling, and now our scholars come running out, “to fight the fire”.
Thirdly, there is the subconscious, groundless fear*) that Confucian culture can only be saved by state power, and would otherwise go the way of precious endangered species. I believe myself that Confucianism has its advantages, but exactly because of its advantages, there’s no need for alarmism.
Confucianism didn’t need to fear free competition, writes Zhang, just as true gold doesn’t need to fear to be refined by the goldsmith (真金不怕烈火炼). And if the people turned out to be idiots after all, not knowing the value of the good, how should state protection then help, anyway?
The state was there to protect the truly vulnerable – elderly and handicapped people, for example, writes Zhang. He points out how Confucian orthodoxy hadn’t done Confucian thought any good while it was a state doctrine.
He then sums his case up – that the National Museum is the place for sculptures of all thinkers, or for none. While Voltaire said that he was, even though in disagreement with his interlocutor’s opinion, prepared to fight with his life for his interlocutor’s opinion, Zhang would turn Voltaire’s line around:
“Even if I agree with what you say, I’ll fight with my life to stop you from monopolizing the discourse.” (我即便同意你说的每一句话，也要誓死反对你垄断话语的权力。)
*) 杞人忧天qǐ rén yōu tiān, imaginary or groundless fears. “The man of Chi worried that the sky might fall down.”
… and a Not-so-Welcome Statue, Beijing Time Machine, January 2011