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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

China's intellectual life « Previous | |Next »
April 3, 2008

Mark Leonard has an interesting article in Prospect on intellectual life in China. He says that he had imagined that China's intellectual life consisted of a few unbending ideologues in the back rooms of the Communist party or the country's top universities. Instead, he stumbled on a hidden world of intellectuals, think-tankers and activists, all engaged in intense debate about the future of their country.

Inside China—in party forums, but also in universities, in semi-independent think tanks, in journals and on the internet—debate rages about the direction of the country: "new left" economists argue with the "new right" about inequality; political theorists argue about the relative importance of elections and the rule of law; and in the foreign policy realm, China's neocons argue with liberal internationalists about grand strategy. Chinese thinkers are trying to reconcile competing goals, exploring how they can enjoy the benefits of global markets while protecting China from the creative destruction they could unleash in its political and economic system. Some others are trying to challenge the flat world of US globalisation with a "walled world" Chinese version.

He says that paradoxically, the power of the Chinese intellectual is amplified by China's repressive political system, where there are no opposition parties, no independent trade unions, no public disagreements between politicians and a media that exists to underpin social control rather than promote political accountability. Intellectual debate in this world can become a surrogate for politics—if only because it is more personal, aggressive and emotive than anything that formal politics can muster.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:27 AM | | Comments (6)


interesting to read about the "new right" in China. The group of economic liberals who think that China will not be free until the public sector is dismantled and the state has shrivelled into a residual body designed mainly to protect property rights. For thirty years they had the best of the argument with ideas imported from the west.

Their ideas about the market are being challenged by a new left, which advocates a gentler form of capitalism. This group is "new" because, unlike the "old left," it supports market reforms. It is left because, since it accepts that t the market is driving economic growth, and so they ask what should be done with the wealth.

So there is a battle of ideas pits the state against market; coasts against inland provinces; towns against countryside; rich against poor.

Leonard's figures are amazing.

Britain's entire think tank community is numbered in the hundreds, Europe's in the low thousands; even the think-tank heaven of the US cannot have more than 10,000. But here in China, a single institution—and there are another dozen or so think tanks in Beijing alone—had 4,000 researchers

What would Australia's think tank community be--less than a hundred? And China is not an intellectually open society.

I must say, I think very few give China the credit it is due. How many of you can remember when we heard very little about China and actually travelling there was like going to the moon? I can remember it being like that in 1990!

The pace of China's liberalisation is quite breathtaking. I would wager the most rapid in human history. It provides a fascinating contrast with the former Soviet Union's attempts to travel down a similar path.

I really hope I live long enough to watch China's influence on humanity.

May we all rive in intellesting times! :)

the Chinese state is still imprisoning people for writing articles criticising the way it governs. Dissent is seen as subversion.


That is true. But again things have improved remarkably even since 1990. I think we sometimes fail to appreciate just how bloody difficult it would be trying to keep a state of 1.2 billion functioning and prospering without collapsing into anarchy! Again compare the path taken by the former Soviet union.

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