Yet the old discourse retains a strong and alluring power over even the most sophisticated intellectuals of contemporary times. The best of them seek to bend old insights to new situations. They seek to reinterpret and apply old learning--still powerful--to the tensions and contradictions of the contemporary age. This is an important exercise of intellectual discourse in the West. It is refreshing, then, to see it emerge, as well in Chinese discourse.
It is with this in mind that Flora Sapio, Shaoming Zhou, and I thought it would be useful to consider these issues through the lens of a recently published interview that nicely raises some of these themes: Contradiction, Systemic Crisis and the Direction for Change: An Interview with Wang Hui.
Our thought may be accessed here.
Larry Catá Backer
This post includes Shaoming Zhu's essay, "Commentary on Professor Wang Hui’s 'Contradiction, Systemic Crisis and the Direction for Change: An Interview with Wang Hui'".
Commentary on Professor Wang Hui’s “Contradiction, Systemic Crisis and the Direction for Change: An Interview with Wang Hui”
Professor Wang Hui is considered the foremost representative of the Chinese New Left, though he has been hesitant to employ this term in the Chinese context himself. His talks are generally the subject of much attention. This interview, which was conducted in 2011, was recently translated and published in English. Although it has been almost five years, I believe the topics addressed in this interview – China’s development model and China’s position in the global order – are still worth debate.
The essential questions in this interview are how to have a deep insight into China’s social progress and challenge, and how to connect China’s process with the global changes. He believes that there is a systemic crisis in China and that the globalization is not beneficial to China. I would like to comment on this interview from the following aspects.
1. The Internal
Professor Wang points out that there is a systemic crisis in China. And this crisis won’t be resolved by technical or strategic adjustments. China has to rethink the current development model and the fundamental direction of development. The ascent of the economy, the industrial transfer and upgrading, the continuing urbanization and industrialization will cause greater tension and social contradictions. However, he believes that this crisis is happening not only in China, but also in the global community. And he disagrees with the prediction of the coming collapse of China and believes that China’s economy will continue ascending. The current development model in China results in that the stability of the society highly depends on the continuing growth of the economy. Even though there is still some room for adjustment in the social tension and there is still a chance to self-direct and reform autonomously, he still believes that there has to be an urgent change to ensure that when the economic growth pattern, speed, or any other relevant element changes, the social conflicts can still be controlled.
From a global view of the path to modernization, the path China is taking today is substantially the same as the western countries about a hundred years ago. Quick economic growth causing fierce social contradictions is not a solo case in China, but also happened in the 19th century and the early half of the 20th century in Europe. For example, there were many problems, such as labor conflicts and environmental pollution during the British industrial revolution. There were two major schools of thought regarding solutions. One of them believed that the contradictions of capitalism could be resolved by the innovation of the capitalist system. The other one believed that the conflicts were caused by the capitalist system itself. The solution should be to break the internal structure of the system. Karl Marx believed that the reason for all social contradictions is the inequality in the possession of means of production. The contradictions can only be resolved by the equal distribution of means of production. However, in my opinion, property equality does not make significant sense without a complete social order.
I agree that some social disorder existed along with the booming of China’s economy over the past decade. On the one hand, the traditional social structure is disintegrating while a new one has not formed yet. The upper lever is getting compacted and solidified and the middle and lower class disintegrating. On the other hand, the launch of an economic reform is beneficial to the general public. But social reform is a recombination of the benefits and it requires mobilizing the whole society. The more the social forces the reform needs, the more power the government requires. However, this leads to even more unbalance and disorder for the society. The fundamental tool to mobilize social resources and support the government to promote reform should be social organizations. Systematization is one of the most important features of a modern society. The key to managing the society is not the governmental power but how the government can help a society to achieve self-management and make full use of the forces from the society itself. A community with self-discipline and self-governance is more creative. For example, according to Professor Robert D. Potnam’s study on Italy, the South has more resources, but the economy is better in the North. The reason is that there is more support from social organizations in the North. With the development of social organizations, the social environment is more trusted and collaborative, the cost of doing business is lower and the government is more efficient. Currently, there are many social problems in the rural-urban fringe areas in China. I believe that the participation of social organizations as a third party can greatly improve the social governance. The growth of social organizations will be major positive indicator for both economic and political order in China.
2. The External
There is always the debate whether China is seeking to overturn or displace the postwar Western order or striving to obtain prestige and authority within this international order. Professor Wang believes that China should not pursue its way into the group of advanced capitalist countries. Instead, China’s goal should be to change the unequal mode of global development. What more, China does not have similar political and social system and order with these countries, which is an enormous barrier to joining the club. Another important viewpoint Professor Wang expresses in this interview is that China’s economy is less reliant on the global market, so China would be less impacted by a global economic collapse. Meanwhile, the global industrialization is less beneficial to China because China, the world’s factory, has taken many social contradictions from the developed countries.
I believe that China and many developing countries have acquired the ability to shape or influence policies and norms that govern the international relationships, both economically and politically. The relatively free market and principles of openness and nondiscrimination have created the opportunities for China to assert international leadership. Regardless of the ideological differences, the global community has been evolving into a mutual future, where cooperation with international patterns is inevitable. In the context of globalization, the mutually agreed goals and collective visions will be realized over time through conflicts and negotiations. It might be true, as Professor Wang implies, that China is not in an autonomous position, at least not a strong one, to develop an independent international strategy. But, pragmatically speaking, who is completely autonomous and independent in this stage? It is important to see the tension. It is also important to know that there is no absolute independence.
3. The Theory
Professor Wang likes to apply Mao Zedong Theory in his work. In this interview, Professor Wang used Mao Zedong’s “on contradiction” and “on protracted war” to analyze China’s internal development and external situation. Mao Zedong Thought is a pragmatic development of Marxist Leninism in China. Mao Zedong’s concepts of “the two world outlooks,” “the universality of contradiction,” and “people’s democracy” played significant roles in guiding China’s democratic revolution and national liberation war. I believe that one can use these theories to analyze and explain the rules of development, historical evolution, social problems, and international tension. However, they do not offer solutions to the problems and tension. This is an obvious flaw of the new leftism. In thinking about the future of China, no theories can offer - once and for all - direction and options for China. That is why the CCP has been continuing to develop the Party theories and seek truth from facts. Yet, no theories can be claimed absolute - once and for all – true. History is all about experience.