Lee Teng-hui’s new Central Plains: “The Rising Winds and Scudding Clouds of Modern Thought”

The following is a quotation from “Taiwan’s Position”  (台湾的主张), a book written by former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), first published on June 11, 1999, pages 36 – 38.

The book was sold in Hong Kong and in many places outside China, and somewhat surprisingly, Hong Kong bookshops had copies with simplified characters (简体字) on offer – the way they are usually written in China (minus Hong Kong and Macau, where traditional characters prevail), and in Singapore. Traditional characters are standard in Taiwan.

Links and highlighting within the following blockquote added during translation – JR.

Although I received Japanese education from an early age and loved Japanese culture, I did a lot of desultory reading of Chinese literature, too. The May 4th movement in particular, and the rising winds and scudding clouds of modern thought, left a deep impression on me.


Chinese people have always been proud of their long history. But it is hard to deny that under its long-lasting feudal system, traditional culture was twisted, and produced chronic social ills.


In 1928, Hu Shih published “Virtue” [or Norm, 名教 – JR] in the New Moon Magazine, a painful criticism of China’s blind worship for catch phrases and slogans. He pointed out that Chinese people didn’t believe in religion, but held a superstitious belief in their own singularity, in having a long tradition of virtue, and that they correspondingly “idolized everything that had been written”. Therefore, they paid no attention to reality and sought for inner fulfillment through slogans, with the result that not only problems remained unsolved, but that values became confused, too. So he urged those in power : Government isn’t about catch phrases and slogans – once something needs to be done, go and do it.1)

一九二八年,胡适在《新月杂志》上发表的〈名教〉,就对中国社会迷信标语、口号的现象痛加批判。他指出,中国人不信仰宗教,却迷信自己独有、且具有悠久传 统的“名教”,即“崇拜所写文字的宗教”。因此,做事不重实际,只以口号、标语来求心理的满足,结果不但没能解决问题,反而造成价值的颠倒错乱。他因而奉劝当时的主政者:“治国不在口号标语,顾力行何如耳”。

Lu Xun‘s “True Story of Ah Q” and other of his stories, in a taunting way, ridiculed the Chinese culture of loving face, and struck a chord with many people. He believed that whenever a thing crops up, and Chinese people can’t think  of a way to solve the problem, they only seek to placate themselves and to save face – that had made Chinese society come to a standstill and was the main reason for its inability to make headway.


In his research of ancient history, Guo Moruo criticized the harm that stemmed from the feudalist system, and encouraged young people to rise to reforms. In his “Book of Ten Criticisms”, “Bronze Age”, and other books, by assessing pre-Qin personalities and thoughts, he praised early Confucian [scholar] Mencius and the importance Mencius attached to people-oriented thought. He denounced Han Fei’s “legalist”, “monarch-oriented” views and and Qin Shi-huang’s “totalitarianism”2), etc., advocated the idea of “the people as the foundation”3), believing that only if China freed itself of tradition’s constraints, reason to hope for development would be there.

而郭沫若以考古及历史研究的角度,批判封建制度之害,更鼓励了许多年轻人,起而改革。他的《十批判书》与《青铜时代》等书,借着对先秦人物与思想的评论, 如推崇早期儒家孔孟的重视民本思想,贬斥韩非的“法术”、“君主本位”,和秦始皇的“极权主义”等,宣扬“以民为本”的思想,认为中国只有摆脱传统的束 缚,才有发展的希望。

These theorists, who criticized the social ills of Chinese tradition, had a resounding effect among knowledgeable young people. I was only 29 years old at the time, but I had also read these books carefully, and explored the issues of Chinese culture. I believe that China’s greatest problem is that its feudal system brought development to a halt. It really looks like the soy vat referred to by Bo Yang, distorting peoples’ words and deeds.


Up until today, I admire these thinkers’ views. It’s a pity that China’s social development still hasn’t reached a mature stage. Therefore, even as the Chinese thoroughly criticize the society and the system, they haven’t been able to produce feasible methods to solve problems. Even if young people generally hold revolutionary ideals, they are still unable to grasp a direction or method with certainty.


From this perspective, it can be said that Taiwan’s successes stem from the actual implementation of these reformist currents of thought. Over the years, on the foundation of stable economic and social development, we have gradually freed ourselves from the shackles of tradition, set out anew, and concerning political reform and social transformation, we have been very successful. Obviously, to reach the ideal status may require still more efforts. But we believe that the direction we have taken is correct. What we have done has also brought new hope for the restructuring of Chinese culture.

就此一角度而言,今天台湾所缔造的成就,也可以说是当年这些改革思潮具体实践的成果。这些年来,我们在经济和社会稳定发展的基础上,逐渐摆脱传统的束缚, 重新出发,在政治改革和社会改造方面,都取得了很大的成就。当然,要达到理想的境界,可能还需要更多的努力。但是,我相信,我们的方向是正确的。而我们所 做的这一切,也都为中国文化的再造,带来了新的希望。

My active advocacy for  the “reform of heart and soul” in recent years is based on my hope to make society leave the old framework, applying new thought, face a new era, stir new vigor, from a transformation of peoples’ hearts. This goes deeper than political reform, and it is a more difficult transformation project, but we are confident that we will, based on the existing foundations of freedom and openness, achieve the building of a new Central Plain.4

近年来,我积极倡导“心灵改革”,就是希望从人心的改造做起,让我们的社会走出旧有的框架,用新的思维,面对新的时代,并激发出新的活力。这是一个比政治 改革更加深入、也更为艰巨的改造工程,但是我们有信心,可以在社会自由开放的既有基础上,完成建立“文化新中原”的目标。

A trial is scheduled to begin at Taipei District Court on Friday. Lee is accused of embezzling state funds. The charges reportedly date back to a period around 1994.

Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui

“Taiwan’s Position”, page 226: 李登辉是从《蒋经国学校》学会如何当一名政治家的 (“Lee Teng-hui learned from the “Chiang Ching-kuo school” how to be a politician”).



1)In full: 為政者不在多言,顧力行何如耳, or 为治者不在多言,顾力行何如耳. Once something needs to be done, go and do it isn’t a very faithful translation.

2) I’m not sure if “totalitarianism” is the adequate translation of 极权主义 – it may also be something like “despotism”. However, totalitarianism seems to be the term most frequently offered by dictionaries.

3 or “the people at the center”, “people-oriented”

4 Zhongyuan (中原, the central plains) is a term charged with a Chinese sense of mission and civilization – in that context, it may appear surprising that Lee, a “splittist element”, would use the term at all. The way Henan party secretary Xu Guangchun (徐光春) referred to the central plains may give you an idea: The history of Henan Province constitutes half of the Chinese history. Two years earlier, Xu had apparently given a talk in Hong Kong, with a similar message.  But this wasn’t necessarily what Lee had on mind, in 1996.
From “Taiwanisation – Its Origin and Politics”, George Tsai Woei, Peter Yu Kien-hong, Singapore, 2001, page 19 – 20 (footnotes omitted):

Another anecdote should also be mentioned here. In 1996, Lee Teng-hui declared his ambition to “manage the great Taiwan, and to construct a new Central Plain”. As is known, Central Plain (zhong-yuan) was, and still is, a term usually reserved to describe cultural China. To “manage the big Taiwan” is something easily understood, but to construct a new “Central Plain” is very controversial, to say the least. Some argued that Lee’s aim was to help rebuild China as a “new” central plain, but with his foot firmly on Taiwan. But others rebutted that what really was in Lee’s minds was to build Taiwan as a new Central Plain so that there was no need to unify, or have connections, with the “old” central plain, China.



» Who’s afraid of an ICAC, July 2, 2011
» Taiwan’s Unbelievable Justice, September 12, 2009
» “Always in My Heart”, Olin Lecture, June 9, 1995
» Audio archive: CBS coverage on Olin lecture, June 9, 1995
Soundfile removed for upload space reasons – if you are interested in the file, contact me and I will make it available online for a limited period – JR
» “Guo Moruo worships Confucius”, A Glossary, HK, 1995, p. 346
» Lee Teng-hui, Wikipedia


9 Responses to “Lee Teng-hui’s new Central Plains: “The Rising Winds and Scudding Clouds of Modern Thought””

  1. Very well done sir. Impressive blog, forgive me for only visiting it now. You cover a lot of ground with a great deal of neutrality, a style I admire.


  2. Thanks for commenting, A-gu! Can you help me with a translation of this – 為政者不在多言,顧力行何如耳, or 为治者不在多言,顾力行何如耳? Seems to be from a classical book.


  3. While I’m a Taiwan and Chinese literature moron, enjoyed reading this JR.
    How about a longer piece on the role of slogans in sino-pol culture.
    While I have a particular dislike for a slogan fixated culture, I wouldn’t mind some background so I could put my dislike within a context.

    Also have the feeling that many of us wouldn’t jeer at the Sino political establishment so much, if they did away with all slogan speak altogether.


  4. How about a longer piece on the role of slogans in sino-pol culture.

    I guess one could speculate about their role in promoting unreflected “learning”, or how blind submission or personal loyalty pushed this way of “creating facts”, Or I could write a history of slogans… But I don’t think I’m much of a historian. Maybe I’ll take my oldest and biggest dictionary and start a serial of short-posts, though.

    I’m sure there’s a relationship between slogan speak and the way the Chinese political establishment and much of Chinese society is. Just not sure what it looks like.



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