Weekender: how Chen Guangcheng is Unharmonious, and why he was Freed Anyway

Harmony promoters in China, ideally, ridicule non-conformistic behavior, to the degree a situation appears to demand. A child won’t be argued with, and won’t be refuted. Rather, it will be told that “you must not be that way”. If need be, a mischief will be shamed.

But maintenance or restauration of harmony can also be a fight to the finish. That’s true for many families, every triad, every brotherhood, and it’s true within the CCP.

The way the CCP “educates the masses” (or “public”) is also a process with many different options. Huanqiu Shibao, a governent mouthpiece for a (comparatively) angry readership, is diverse. Once in a while, readers will be encouraged to believe in the partyline or the party’s correct leadership, with stuff like this:

There is no contradiction between emancipation of mind and trust in the party’s central committee. Without emancipation of minds, trust in the central committee would be mere slavish conformism. It is exactly for the diversity we have, for having other options, that we truly discover that trusting the party’s central committee, implementing the party’s road map, is more reliable than any other method other people may teach us, and more able to create the conditions that make the country and the individual develop.

Which seems to come pretty close to philosophy, theology, or a simplified way of advocating a second naivete (after the era of the Great Helmsman who butchered the country until 1976). If there are parallels between religion and socialism with Chinese characteristics, this is one of them.

And on other occasions, after a lively anti-Japan campaign for example, some reconciliatory words appear to be in order, as an indication to the crowd that even virtuous “patriotism” shouldn’t come without occasional restraint.

And again, once in a while, one might quote from a – basically suitable – foreign article to say things that one doesn’t want say in ones own role as a propagandist (or kindergarten teacher), but which is deemed an article worthy to be communicated to the target readership, so as to encourage a somewhat relaxed or more objective attitude.

It’s only a fight to the finish once all other means haven’t achieved their goal. This certainly owes to some ethics, and it’s practical, too (weighing the costs and effects of an approach). Shock and awe – at least “ideally” – is an exception.

In any case, nowhere is there a principle which is right in all circumstances, or an action that is wrong in all circumstances. The method we used yesterday we may discard today and use again in future, there are no fixed right and wrong to decide whether we use it or not,

That’s how the Liezi appears to choices like these. If a Chinese official were prepared to discuss the authorities’ handling of dissidents publicly, he might quote this one. If American consular officials understood their Chinese counterparts correctly, back in May this year, there were “no remaining legal issues directed at” Chen Guangcheng. To get rid of the embarrassing case, and to make the end to Chen’s (illegal) house arrest plausible, the obvious had to be stated.

As my view of the Chinese classics is at least as simplified as Huanqiu Shibao’s view of Paul Recoeur‘s second naivete, issues of no rights or wrongs in all circumstances – in my view – may help to explain why Chen wasn’t jailed again. And they may help to explain why the CCP can – however unconvincingly – preach a concept of “a country under law”, but act – however convincingly – as if there was no law.

When it comes to harmony, the Huainanzi has / have this to say:

When the lute-tuner strikes the kung (gong) note (on one instrument), the kung note (on the other instrument) responds (ying). (…) This results from having corresponding musical notes in mutual harmony.

Before he was jailed, and later placed under house arrest, Chen, as a self-taught legal activist, had brought his own instruments and tunes to the courtroom, as he defended victims of state transgressions. But he didn’t play along with the usual script, and as the CCP continued to confuse a courtroom with a concert hall, he was kicked out of there, and jailed when he continued to “stir trouble”.

The authorities reckoned that Chen might continue to act “disgracefully” after his release from jail – that he would continue to endanger the “harmony”. But to state this openly was impossible, because the disgrace was on the bureaucracy, not on Chen.

Snowwhite: the Queen's Mirror

I’m beautiful. I’m beautiful. I’m beautiful, it’s true (click picture for source).

That’s also why propaganda can’t simply “shame” dissidents publicly, even if this should be the first choice to restore harmony.

Concerning Chen Guangcheng, tries to shame him or his supporters were certainly made, but an apparent experiment by Shan Renping – also at Huanqiu Shibao – to this end went rather wrong, judging by the comments that followed.

To shame dissidents, one would need to have public debates with them – and to refute them. And even if the CCP believed it had a chance to gain from such an approach, the question who would gain or lose in that kind of process isn’t only too important to leave that to chances – just as China wouldn’t take disputes with south-eastern neighbors to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. You just won’t argue with “children”.

It’s not that China would mind a more harmonious global tune. It’s just that, globally and at home, the CCP wants to be the composer, the conductor, and the artistic director.

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