Monday, July 06, 2020

Settling Accounts After the Autumn Harvest: Tentative Reflection on the Detention of Xu Zhangrun 许章润

Pix Credit: 许章润再发文 斥当局强拆艺术区、垄断思想

Xu Zhangrun, who has been under house arrest, was taken away from his Beijing home on Monday, friends said. The law professor has previously spoken out against the Mao-like cult of personality which has returned under China's current leader, Xi Jinping. Police have not commented publicly on the arrest, and it is unclear what charges Mr Xu faces. One friend told news agency AFP that Mr Xu's wife had received a call telling her he was accused of soliciting prostitution while in the city of Chengdu with other liberal academics. (Xu Zhangrun: Outspoken professor detained in China).

That Professor Xu has been detained ought to come as no surprise.  Professor Xu effectively dared the CPC apparatus to do just that.  That he did it on the basis of the most (personally) principled of motives may matter less than that that act was pubic and by Chinese standards ostentatious. The timing of the institutional response was also interesting--within days of the passage and the start of "all around" enforcement of the Hong Kong National Security Law.

That Professor Xu was ostensibly detained on charges of soliciting prostitution is both traditional, and a pity. To some it might evidence a curious lack of political confidence in a vanguard  now at the height of its internal authority. Certainly it may be worth an exercise in democratic centralism within the vanguard to consider (out of the  limelight) whether it also touches on the integrity of the vanguards own working style. The Socialist principle of integrity might be considered in the means by which the vanguard seeks vigorously to protect itself against what it has already clearly described as threat (whatever foreigners and opponents might agree or disagree with that judgment).

That the old feudal pattern of requiring an alignment of moral with political corruption is regrettable but a pattern of behavior well ingrained in the politics of moral governance orders (Emasculated Men, Effeminate Law in the UnitedStates, Zimbabwe and Malaysia). Surely in the New Era it is no longer necessary to embrace the discursive patterns  of traditional and liberal democratic societies if one is engaged in the project of advancing toward the establishment of a communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party. Perhaps that is something that ought to be on the agenda for October.  But that is best left to those who bear the responsibility for protecting the integrity and scientific forward movement of the vanguard--and subject to the consequences of error (in this case right error).

That detention, of course, opens the question: is Xu Zhangrun a good communist?  The apparatus of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection will decide that in due course in accordance with the interpretation of the CPC Line (as set out in the General Program of its Constitution, its regulations, and other relevant instruments--the cage of regulation within which the CPC nurtures its legitimacy and the coherence of its political-moral system).  For outsiders, however, it may be a useful exercise to consider the question from an external perspective, one that takes as a given the self-reflexive moral-political system within which these questions must be decided.  We have quite tentatively engaged the issue:

白轲评 许章润:我们当下的恐惧与期待/ Larry Catá Backer, Thoughts on Xu Zhangrun: Our current fears and expectations

孙晓义评许章润:我们当下的恐惧与期待/ Flora Sapio, Thoughts on Xu Zhangrun: Our current fears and expectations 

No.200 许章润 |先天不足,后天失调 (No. 200 Xu Zhang Run "congenitally deficient, acquired disorders")

But that may not be the question with respect to which Professor Xu may be condemned.  Rather, while the focus may be on his commitment to Marxism as developed within China through New Era ideology, judgment will likely be based on whether Professor Xu is a good Leninist--that is on his loyalty to the Party and the rules with respect to which the Party apparatus operates. Perhaps an article published in June,  许章润:践踏斯文 必驱致一邪魅人间, was one provocation too many on the core principles of Leninist state organization (and its premises for politics internalized within the CPC). Xu's "The Six Chapters of Wuxu" would be all evidence necessary, teh collection of the earlier published essays; blocked n Hong Kong, the book was recently published in New York. "In late June, Bouden House 博登書屋, a New York-based Chinese-language publishing house, produced the volume under the title《戊戌六章. . . .  It is rumoured that the appearance of that volume, along with the fact that Xu Zhangrun had repeatedly stated that he would continue to write and publish his views undaunted, led to the decision to silence him." (無可奈何 — So It Goes)

It is with respect to that, perhaps, that accounts will be settled now well after the autumn harvest. Whether that signals a broader rectification of the intellectual class is not yet clear.  And lastly, whether the rectification will focus on normative error (the substance of the CPC Line--its Marxism) or on institutional error (fidelity to core Leninist principles), or distinguish between left and right error, remains to be seen. 

POST SCRIPT: Less than a week after his detention, Professor Xu was released.
Despite some people fearing the academic might be held for more than a week, Zhang Ming, a political-science professor at Renmin University and friend, said he was always confident Xu would be freed. “I predicted Xu would be released within a week, because the community of intellectuals no longer poses a threat [to Beijing],” he said. “The ones who can do the most harm are the princelings, like Ren Zhiqiang.”(Chinese Communist Party critic Xu Zhangrun released after week in detention, sources say).
But release from detention does not necessarily mean the end of punishment: Professor Xu is said to remain "under surveillance and was not free to speak publicly about what happened, one of his friends, who declined to be identified, told Reuters." (Xu Zhangrun, prominent critic of Xi Jinping, released from detention).

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