Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fracture, Translation or Substitution in Knowledge Production: 19th Century European Ethnic Nationalism With 21th Century Chinese Characteristics

Over the past several years, Hong Kong Baptist University has offered a number of excellent programs.  A recent program sponsored by its Department of Government and International Studies provides some insightful food for thought.  A recently announced program puts a spotlight on an interesting development in the scientific development of the reality structure within which ideas are produced and then used to manage populations and the institutions through which they are organized.   Dr. Cheung Chi Kin, a post doctoral fellow, International policies of China in the Politics Department of the British Inter-University China Centre of the University of Manchester (U.K.), presented the substance of his doctoral studies (Chinese Nationalism:  a critical understanding of  Chinese identity in a transnational context) in a program entitled "Away From Socialism: Towards Chinese Characteristics-Chinese Nationalism in the 21st Century.  

Dr. Cheung makes an argument for the significance of a foundational change in the normative approach of Chinese scholars (and others) to knowledge,  He suggests that China's economic ascendancy has produced an equally strong drive toward an ascendancy in the normative construction of organization of knowledge.   Describing it as an assertion of "standard and value", Dr. Cheung argues that 
this cultural shift  established Chinese perspective as the new source of legitimacy in China's development.  The result of this emphasis of indigenous voice in many aspects of China's endeavors, including the recent developments in China's academia of establishing the Chinese perspective of social sciences, as well as the reinvention of traditional Chinese culture in the society t large.  In particular, with strong state   sponsorship, Confucianism is being revived as the new nationalism discourse.  Apart from being an important source of China's soft power, Confucianism is replacing the fading socialist ideology, and providing new discursive resources for the continued authoritarian rule in Mainland China.  (Presentation Announcement poster (reproduced above)).
It might be useful to consider Dr. Cheung's excellent point as touching on three distinct points that exist in some substantial tension to each other.

First, fracture.  One might consider recent Chinese efforts to re-frame the basis of the organization and coherence of knowledge as a perhaps far too late reactionary mimicry of similar efforts by tribal elements in Europe in the 19th century.  European tribalism, of course, produced marvelous innovation--the creation of language and culture long subsumed under those of the imperial machinery of the larger states that had grown in the preceding  age. But it also was tainted with the poison of its very being--the ethnocentric egoism, that produced the varieties of nationalism that continue to bedevil Europe gave birth to the political idea--embedded in art, culture, politics and social organization that the essence of ethnic identity was a unique understanding and expression of everything from the mundane--dress, food, folkways--to more consequential activities--political organization, social organization, and the ordering of the social, economic and political sciences.  This is a habit of thought that produced differences severe enough to produce an entire legal science devoted to communication among ethnically divided communities--the "science" of comparative law, the finest product of which were those destructive forces that produced nearly a half century of war in Europe and required a long process to undo the excesses of the mania for ethno-political  organization of knowledge, morals and ethics.  Chinese efforts understood this way would seem both pathetic and reactionary, though not implausible.  Much of  Chinese cultural propaganda over the last  century has emphasized the efforts to overcome the  cultural over lordship of those powers who has asserted political control within Chinese territory.  Economic and political victory is unsatisfying if the Chinese remain subject to the knowledge structure of former overlords.   Chinese efforts, in this perspective, serve a psycho-cultural purpose.  But the price paid for a rush to satisfy a primal narcissistic urge could be counter productive to China's objective--to assume a role as a global power in all aspects of human endeavors.   It would serve to isolate from rather than integrate China more closely to its global consumers and trade partners.  

Second, translation.  One might consider these Chinese efforts as an expression of the Chinese desire to translate global normative structures of knowledge into Chinese terms.  The assimilation of knowledge, then, does not reflect a desire to segregate and reconfigure its structures in accordance with some sort of self absorbed volkish world order.  This view reflects another pattern now also about a century and a half old--the efforts by non-European states to assess what is of value elsewhere and assimilate knowledge and knowledge structures in an effective way.  Japan serves as the most successful model fo this sort of pattern.  What may be described is the salutary efforts to integrate current developments in Chinese political theory with the language of academia and the social and natural sciences for the purpose of  developing structures for  state development.  What Dr. Cheung may be describing is the first real evidence of the success of the project began by Deng Xiaoping with the campaign to recast socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Since the defeat of the Gang of Four and the convocation of the Third Plenary Session of the Party's Eleventh Central Committee, we have formulated correct ideological, political and organizational lines and a series of principles and policies. What is the ideological line? To adhere to Marxism and to integrate it with Chinese realities -- in other words, to seek truth from facts, as advocated by Comrade Mao Zedong, and to uphold his basic ideas. . . . Since the defeat of the Gang of Four and the convocation of the Third Plenary Session of the Party's Eleventh Central Committee, we have formulated correct ideological, political and organizational lines and a series of principles and policies. What is the ideological line? To adhere to Marxism and to integrate it with Chinese realities -- in other words, to seek truth from facts, as advocated by Comrade Mao Zedong, and to uphold his basic ideas.(Deng Xiaoping, Build Socialism With Chinese Characteristics, Excerpt from a talk with the Japanese delegation to the second session of the Council of Sino-Japanese Non-Governmental Persons, June 30, 1984).
The framework outlined by Deng was elaborated over the next twenty years and found deeper expression in the concepts of three represents (三个代表), scientific development ( 科学发展观) and harmonious society (三个代表).  For three represents see, Larry Catá Backer,  The Rule of Law, the Chinese Communist Party, and Ideological Campaigns: Sange Daibiao (the 'Three Represents'), Socialist Rule of Law, and Modern Chinese Constitutionalism. Journal of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2006.  For scientific development, see, Lartry Catñá Backier,  Studying the "Higher Law" of Scientific Development (科学发展观) in Chinese State-Party Constitutionalism, Law at the End of the Day, July 5, 2010.   The possible connections between scientific development and Confucian principles has been noted by scholars. Daniel A. Bell, China's New Confucianism (Princeton University Preess, 20089.  That connection is not direct nor complete and reflects a modification but not a complete repudiation of prior thinking.  Cf. Li Chun, "Struggle Between Confucian and Legalist Schools and Scientific and Technological Development in Ancient China," Scientia Sinica XVII(6):709-716 (1974).  Rather than fracture knowledge, then, what Dr. Cheung describes may be  an effort to integrate global knowledge in ways that can be most easily understood.

Third, substitution.  Perhaps most interesting way to understand current Chinese efforts is not by looking back but by looking forward:  the phenomenon that Dr, Cheung is describing may be the beginning of an ambitious effort to reconstitute the foundational perspectives of knowledge and knowledge structures from those universalized from Western foundations, to those grounded in what will be constituted as Chinese perspectives.  In effect, what appears to be backwards looking--the creation of a Chinese framework for knowledge--may in fact be the basis of a forward looking: the substitution of a Chinese normative knowledge and social organization structure for that developed in the West and now the basis for the organization of the international community and the structuring of knowledge. In this perspective, the objective is substantially more ambitious.  The West developed over several centuries a dominant global position by integrating political philosophy, moral and ethical systems and the organization of knowledge into a unified system that permeated all human activity. Its rules for the organization of states became the basis for international law; its normative determinations of appropriate conduct became the basis of the rules of war and the global complex of judgements and values that are now understood as global human rights.   The internal organization of Western states became the yardstick by which the legitimacy of states could be measured.  And the organization and deployment of knowledge became the basis for the social and natural sciences and its discipline based elaboration.  Cf.  Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations:  The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1860 (Cambridge Univfersity Press, 2001); Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law  (Cambridge University Press, 2004); Lewis Pyenson and Susan Sheets-Pyenson, Servants of Nature:  A History o Scientific Institutions, Enterprises and Sensibilities (W.W. Norton, 1999).  At a minimum, China seeks entry into the inner circle of states whose elites can participate in the further elaboration of that global system, becoming an active rather than a passive member of the norm making community.  At its most ambitious, China might well seek to substitute its o¡wn normative basis for organizing organizational and knowledge realities for that imposed a global standards through global institutions created for that purpose. 

Themes of fracture, translation and substitution suggest themselves as Chinese elites deepen their engagement with a global order in which hey find themselves playing a more prominent role. It is likely that  all three themes have adherents within Chinese economic, political and academic circles.  The way the three themes play themselves out in the development of Chinese elite culture will have a significant effect on both the way China engages in global economic, political and knowledge production regimes,  and on the normative structure of those enterprises.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is there anymore information you can give on this subject. It answers a lot of my questions but there is still more info I need. I will drop you an email if I can find it. Never mind I will just use the contact form. Hopefully you can help me further.

- Robson