Americans (and I use the term quite broadly) have cultivated a somewhat sophisticated love-hate relationship with ideology. Americans tend to use it as a pejorative, as a system of thinking about things that may be artificial, or better put, brittle. It is rarely a match for the more profound normative systems offered by natural law, or religion, or those ancient systems of ethics and morals that produce our laws, norms, social and economic structures. These are natural--in their the scientific or religious sense--and thus more robust than "mere" ideology, now understood as a self conscious construct. They are not constructs of the devious mind seeking to build systems the way Dr. Frankenstein built his monster. In a sense, there is an undercurrent in thinking about ideology that would see in it an exercise in an inversion of failure--ideology produces facts from truth.
There is a little of that in much American engagement with (mere) ideology. And that ideological substructure (if I am permitted a little word play here) is all too apparent when Americans tend to view the normative structures of Chinese societal or political organization. The cultivation of this perspective is important and may be deeply culturally embedded, especially within our intellectual classes. But it does serve to provide a necessary orientation when Americans engage in the project of comparison, generally, but especially of assessment, of systems that are quite formally distinct. To consider an ideology--say Chinese ideology--is to consider the instrumental political platforms of factions playing out against a broader, and implicitly more legitimate, normative system which is either ignored, resisted or masked by the ideological games of elites, whose legitimacy is weakened thereby.
It is with this in mind that Flora Sapio, Jean Mittelstaedt, Shaoming Zhou, and I thought it would be useful to consider these issues through the lens of a recently published essay that nicely raises some of these themes. Taisu Zhang, "China’s Coming Ideological Wars: In the reform era, economic growth reigned supreme. But now, a revival of competing beliefs has polarized Chinese society," Foreign Policy March 1, 2016.
Our thoughts may be accessed here:
Part I: Flora Sapio
Part II: Jean Christopher Mittelstaedt
Part III: Larry Catá Backer
Part IV: Shaoming Zhou