Archive for April 17th, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Weeks before June 4, 1989

Wu Renhua (吴仁华) is a former China University of Political Science and Law professor with classical literature as a major. According to a VoA article of May 30, 2010, he belonged to one of the last groups who left Tian An Men Square, in 1989. He first went to Hong Kong during the 6-4 aftermath, and then into American exile. He is the author of two books on the Tian An Men crackdown. From April 15 to June 9, 2011, he kept kind of a “today-in-history” diary  on his Twitter microblog, recording once again the run-up to the massacre on June 4. Later, he turned the single posts into one document.

June 4 isn’t too much of a topic in Western media these days. Obviously, every year when the anniversary approaches, arrives, and passes, there will be some coverage on commemorative sessions planned in mainland China (usually, the state security and censorship make sure that they either don’t happen, or don’t become public), and on events like the annual candellight vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. But the stories told among Chinese people in their own language, among dissidents, relatives of those killed or injured on June 4, those who take a general interest in the past, and among Chinese people outside mainland China, go beyond Western news articles.

At the same time, the June-4 massacre as remembered on such occasions is only one narrative among many. If there is an official side of the story at all, i. e. one authored by the Chinese Communist Party, it is one mainly for foreigners’ consumption, published by state-controlled media like the English-language “Global Times” edition, or a narrative advocated by Chinese or non-Chinese people who view the massacre as an essential atrocity “to keep China stable”. As C. A. Yeung, a blogger and activist, put it in an interview in October last year:

[T]the so-called pro-democracy faction among overseas Chinese community worldwide has been more or less discredited. The world is now more eager to see a stable China than before the 2008 financial meltdown, to the extent that many world leaders are willing to overlook some rather obvious human rights violations that are happening in China.

Differences with other emerging schools don’t seem to have discouraged June-4 veterans like Wu. According to a Human Rights in China quote from him in 2009, June 4 wasn’t only a major event in Chinese history, but also caused the turn of events in the Soviet Union  and its satellite states, and in all of humankind’s 20th-century history.

If this holds water in a historian’s view isn’t for JR to decide. For sure, the June-4 1989 events preceded similar events in a number of Central and Eastern Europe, later that same year.

Diane Gatterdam has started a series of posts on Under the Jacaranda, about  the weeks leading up to June 4, in 1989. Her posts can be accessed in a row under this tag. I’ll keep reading there and posting here, in a complementary way, to quite an extent, but not necessarily exclusively, translating from Wu Renhua’s recollections.

The approach may not satisfy a historian’s standards, but I am no historian, and one has to start with something. The most important thing is that June 4 and those who hoped until that day, and lost during that night – their hopes, their health, or their lives – are remembered, until historians can freely get to work in China.

Continued here »



» Cultural Revolutions Great and Small, April 1, 2012


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confucianism and Soft Power: Internationally Inclusive and Exclusive Concepts

Oskar Weggel, a German sinologist, once suggested that many Chinese people found questions about their religious affiliation similarly strange as Europeans would find questions about their blood type.1) That’s not to say that there are no committed Buddhists, Confucians, or Taoists in China.

When it comes to Wang Zhicheng (王志成), a Humanities professor at Zhejiang University,  I believe that he is a Confucian – but I may be wrong. He may just be very familiar with Confucianism. While Wang apparently sees China’s role in an international philosophical dialogue (or a second axial age) based on Confucianism, and be it only for its – former – fundamental role in state control over society, his blog in general suggests that his interest goes far beyond Confucianism.

On the other hand, Kang Xiaoguang (康晓光), of Beijing’s People’s University (Renmin University), is a Confucian, or a New Confucian (新儒家). I’m not using the term Neo-Confucian here, because that would refer to a much older concept.2) Even “New Confucianism” has been around since the Republican days, according to Wikipedia – but maybe the Confucian revival struggles of these days can be seen as a stage within the same process. And while classical Confucian influence certainly went beyond statecraft (Taoist and Confucian views of what makes a good painting are different from each other, for example), Kang Xiaoguang’s interest in Confucianism stems from his search for a concept or an ideology which can rule China. (In English here, if it is an accurate source.)3)

Kang isn’t a metaphysical thinker. In fact, he is more of an economist. But he either tried, or is still trying, to think up a comprehensive state doctrine.

There seems to be a totalitarian temptation in these ways of thoughts. Hegel was pretty comprehensive believer in state power. But that was long ago, and Hegel described what he saw in an existing state, rather than drafting a state on his own.

In terms of internationally effective soft power – but that may be a concept Kang may not be too interested in, anyway4) -, his concept doesn’t look convincing either. Quite differently, Wang Zhicheng is putting his view of Confucianism – or Confucianness – in a global context.

To me, Wang’s approach looks more promising, in the light of international relations. It doesn’t belittle China’s potentially leading global ideational role. Of course, it doesn’t solve the country’s civil-society issues (which Kang describes in pretty gloomy terms) either. But Wang’s approach seems to contribute to solving both China’s domestic, and international issues.



1) Oskar Weggel, “China”, Munich, 2002 (1981), page 202


Emerging around 1100 CE, this movement was in many ways backward-looking. It sought to recover a “purer” form of Confucianism to replace the mixture of Buddhist and Taoist elements that had crept in over the centuries (mostly from “foreign” sources in India).
In contrast to Buddhists and Taoists, neo-Confucians did not believe in dual universe – the touchable word of “matter” and the spiritual world beyond. For this reason, Neo-Confucians usually rejected ideas associated with such mystical notions as reincarnation and karma.

“World History”, Fred N. Grayson and contributing authors, 2006, Hoboken, NJ, page 146.

3) I can’t warrant for the accuracy of either the Chinese, or the English source, but Kang published a book about Benevolent Government (仁政) with a huge preface, which seems to be based on the Chinese source linked in the post above. Kang had been criticized for rejecting democracy for China, in an interview with Singapore’s United Morning News (Lianhe Zaobao). The publication of the interview, in November 2004, and roughly quoted by Kang by his own memory, had carried the headline “Scholar Kang Xiaoguang: Chinese democratization is a choice that would bring calamity upon China”  (学者康晓光: 中国民主化祸国殃民,唯一选择), and, in his view, a rather truncated account of what he had said. Kang found himself criticized for his points in the interview, and what he wrote and said soon after, still in 2004, about Confucianization as a political alternative, was  a reaction to his critics.


[..] Chinese discourse, unlike Nye’s exclusive focus on the efficacy of soft power in achieving foreign policy goals, frequently refers to a domestic context, evincing a mission for domestic purposes, although the domestic context is not the primary focus of Chinese interlocutors,

Li Minjiang wrote in an article for the Chinese Journal of International Politics, first published online on October 28, 2008.

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