A nicely written profile of Chinese "New Left" theorist Wang Hui in the IHT:
In the last few years, Wang has reflected eloquently and often on what outsiders see as the central paradox of contemporary China: an authoritarian state fostering a free market economy while espousing socialism. On this first afternoon, he described how the Communist Party, though officially dedicated to egalitarianism, had opened its membership to rich businesspeople.
Many of its local officials, he said, used their arbitrary power to become successful entrepreneurs at the expense of the rural populations they were meant to serve, and had joined up with real estate speculators to seize collectively owned land from peasants. (According to Chinese officials, 60 percent of land acquisitions are illegal.) The result has been an alliance of elite political and commercial interests, Wang said, that recalls similar alliances in the United States and many East Asian countries.
He is obviously on to something, as many China watchers would agree that systemic corruption - use of political power to gain personal wealth - is exacerbating economic and social inequalities. In searching for solutions he works within a Marxist framework (not too surprising, given the ideological constraints of the PRC). Ironically, it was during a compulsory "re-education" exile to a poor inland province - punishment for his participation in the massive 1989 Tiananmen Square protests - that he came to see more clearly the failings of the PRC's authoritarian capitalism, and to articulate a more pointed leftist critique of government policy.
Wang is also looking for culturally and historically specific answers to China's contemporary problems. He talks of building a "Chinese alternative" to global neo-liberal capitalism. "Chinese" here, I believe, is meant to imply an alternative drawn from the experience of Chinese socialism. But he also seems willing to look beyond socialism:
"It was during that year," [of "re-education"] Wang said, "that I realized how important a welfare system and cooperative network remained for many people in China. This is not a socialist idea. Even the imperial dynasties that ruled China kept a balance between rich and poor areas through taxes and almsgiving.
For me, this implies Mencius. As I have cited before, Mencius is very much concerned about providing a certain minimum material existence for all people - described in terms of the key indicators of a good life in his own times: mulberry trees in the garden and meat for dinner. He advocates a low tax policy and encourages the rich to give to the poor.
It would appear to be a rather easy for Wang Hui to invoke Mencius as a Chinese basis upon which to build a program of social justice.
Wang has written a lot. I have read some of it, but not with an eye for whether he has already invoked Mencius or not. I suspect he would be a bit hesitant: coming from a leftist perspective he would likely be sympathetic of the standard May 4th rejection of Confucian philosophy and practice. But things change. Perhaps we can look toward a Mencian turn by the Chinese New Left - if it has not already happened.
One last thing. I am a bit leery of Wang's politics. While he calls our attention to the growing inequalities that plague contemporary China, he also puts forth a critique of liberal democracy as a means to address those problems (see Merle Goldman's discussion, pp. 121-122). I do not believe that Chinese politics ought to become just like American electoral democracy. But, it is hard to see a way in which systematic abuses of centralized power are going to be solved without empowering individuals to defend their rights. That is how we might get closer to the Mencian ideal.
UPDATE: The Granite Studio is covering this story as well, with some good comments. And the NYT Magazine ran a (longer?) piece on Wang Hui by the same author, Pankaj Mishra. No direct connections to Confucius or Mencius in the expanded piece. But we do get a nice picture of Wang:
By the way, I emailed an acquaintance, who I could say is a leading intellectual historian of Chinese socialism, and he reminded me that Chinese liberals, too, are heirs of May 4th and thus skeptical of revisions of Confucian tradtions.