Control of the cultural, social, legal and institutional narrative of political societies has emerged as the great issue for national vanguards in the early part of the 21st Century. In the United States, national vanguards have been deeply divided since the start of the great American cultural wars that appears in retrospect to have been started after 1945 and whose manifestations as cultural politics took their current form from the 1960s. Its most spectacular manifestations have been the great battles over the control of the national narrative in the education of the young in the great textbook wars that have engrossed its intellectual and political elites for a generation (see here
, and here
), and lately, in the ability to develop the veiled language necessary to control discussion in the university to suit that portion of the vanguard in control of specific institution and the foundation of those discussions in the highly ambiguous context of inclusion and exclusion with political dimension (e.g., here
, and here
). The vanguard in the United States tend to be driven by malleable private coalitions of intellectuals and factional political leaders drawn from various societal sectors.
In China, in contrast, the Communist Party serves as the official vanguard. It has been charged to ensure the development and protection of a national narrative that conforms to its Basic Line; and to ensure as well that this Basic line conforms to the political and economic model from which it derives its authority and legitimacy. Since the start of the leadership of Xi Jinping, the CPC appears to have been paying increasing attention to the development of the social and cultural forces of China, as past generations had paid to the development of its economic forces. That development, in part, has centered on the role of the vanguard in shaping and protecting the nation's economic and political model through the development of its societal and cultural model. To tat end, the role of education has again moved to center stage, and the relationship of intellectuals (as producers of knowledge dissemination tools) increasingly subject to discipline to ensure that the mechanics of knowledge dissemination conform to the ideological premises of the political and economic model.
To that point, the roles leadership elites in both the United States and China are remarkably similar in function. Where the substantial differences arise is in the allocation of authority for the assertion of social and cultural leadership, and the disciplining of intellectuals and their followers who are perceived to seek to undermine leadership guidance in matters of political, social, economic, and cultural narrative through which children (and the society in general) will be appropriately socialized. More importantly, the differences in disciplining intellectuals, while undertaken through social networks a few steps separated from the apparatus of formal politics, in China the relationship s direct, both formal and informal.
Recently, the issue of the control of the narrative in law--and especially in the teaching of constitutional law--in China burst onto the public consciousness when the state began what appeared to be a comprehensive review of textbooks in January 2019.
At the start of January, the office of the National Teaching Material Committee issued the “Notice Concerning the Launch of Comprehensive Fact-finding Work on University Constitutional Law Teaching Materials.” The notice required all colleges and universities to thoroughly explore the constitutional law material they were currently using and submit their findings to the Ministry of Education Textbook Office by January 15. . . . Meanwhile, there have been rumors that University of Political Science and Law Professor Ke Huaqing denounced several constitutional law scholars for participating in compiling a constitutional law textbook that “adulated the West.” . . . The teaching material denounced online included “Introduction to Constitutional Law: Theory and Application” compiled and edited by Peking University Law professor and constitutional law scholar Zhang Qianfan. . . . The National Textbook Committee’s notice led to a heated debate. (From China Digital Times Translation).
The resulting controversy has brought to foreground critical points of potential change in the way in which constitutional narratives are constructed, and thus constructed, taught to rising generations of Chinese leaders. It suggests as well changes in the relationship between the political vanguard and its intellectuals, and the increasingly important role of knowledge narrative in the construction and operation of the (post)modern state through its vanguards.
Recently, Tong Zhiwei, one of the most eminent constitutional law experts in China, provided his views on the issues raised by the controversy over the state of Chinese constitutional textbooks. These viewed were presented in the form of an interview on the fundamental issues of the need both to rigorously produce knowledge and to disseminate it within the constraints of the meta narrative of the political system with respect to which deference is necessary. The conversation is subtle and brimming with those issues that are central to the Chinese conversation but also quite relevant to the societal practices of American vanguards in the control and protection of their own narratives and the disciplining of those who deviate from the American elite party line.
The text of that interview (中文 with crude English translation)
along with background reporting from Reuters (English), follows. Also useful is an interview with Professor Zhang Qianfan, in which he defends a broader study of constitutional law "as an essential endeavor for the betterment of Chinese society" (English
). For a taste of Zhang Qianfan's work in English see here