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« Walter Benjamin and the Task of Translating Confucianism | Main | Speaking of Chinese Philosophy »

July 19, 2013


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Do you just invent things? This whole piece sounds like it was written by someone who expected to see what he saw and didn't disappoint himself.

Chinese neo-conservatives? There's no such thing. What do Wolfowitz and Irving Kristol have to do with it?

I am glad that you saw ordinary middle class Chinese and their aspirations. Life in China doesn't revolve around dissidents and their the system is collapsing world view. Even Paul Krugman of NYT started sprouting hard landing and economic collapse theme. China will continue the urbanization trend and pull 250 million more people into urban and middle class in the near future. Some older generation of intellectuals might worry the penetration of Western values, but I doubt modernity and its values are inimical to traditional Chinese values and will produce a hybrid superior one.

Always interesting to hear other's travels in China and the changes there.

I differ on some of your points, however.

1) "While materially advantaged, they were behaviorally rough. They did not feign a false female modesty but draped their feet on the small seat trays in front of them and schemed to get better seats. Their sharp and direct Wuxi language, unintelligible to a Mandarin speaker, did not suggest the refinement of the traditional elite. They are nouveaux-riches"

This smacks of condescension. Who are you to judge them as culturally baser and less refined? And for speaking their own dialect? If they have worked hard to get what they have, they should show and display it however they want. Me judging them speaks more to my own narcissism and false sense of superiority.

2) You imply the CCP has a narrow definition of "chineseness". This is simply not true. The last 30 years have shown that the CCP is very open to outside ideas, interacting with the world, and even changing itself and the people they govern. The emphasis on learning english, sending party members to learn and study outside, special programs to promote international exchange, etc, are all examples. China's progress the last 30 years would not nearly be so dramatic if the CCP was so narrowly set in their ways. Many of the top CCP officials know English. And if they know english, they've certainly been exposed enough to foreign ideas and perspectives. Can you say the same for other countries in reverse?

3) You imply that the CCP is somehow bribing the chinese with economic gain for political influence. I think this wrong on many levels. First, if you've studied philosophy, no one wants pick their leaders - for fear of picking the wrong leader. Bush II ring a bell? What everyone wants is a benevolent competent dictator. That's why people believe in a god. So god can make their decisions. They don't want to make decisions for themselves. See, the CCP is actually as close as you're going to get to this. Honestly, who wouldn't want this? And before you answer, let me say a more proper and honest answer would come from a citizen of comparably poor developing nation. For the last 30 years, the CCP have been remarkably competent. Can they keep it up? I don't know, but it sure is exciting to see what they can do next.
Second, the CCP is democratic in it's own way and has been adaptable enough to continue forward and negate it's flaws. There are chinese who hate the CCP, sure, but this is the same as americans who hate the US government. This isn't anything special, and remember, there is widespread genuine support by the chinese for the CCP. If china does go to hell and the CCP is toppled, it won't be due to anything special about the CCP - it's just a nature of calamities everywhere.

The problem with most western viewers of China is that they are trapped in a bubble of shallow media and political narratives and agendas that are completely divorced from reality.

Before you write off as a wumao, just take my word that I am a product of one of the most liberal american cities and education institutions, and am a social liberal. It's just that I realized the narratives by the powers that be simply do not make sense once you dig a little deeper, and that these narratives serve their own agendas. These agenda's neither benefit the common chinese or american.

Not sure where some of this visceral negativity is coming from; these seem like sound (and debatable) observations about an ever-changing society.

Specific responses to certain points:
@let there be light:
I think the CPC's willingness to have it's Party-members learn from abroad is very different from how it chooses to define "Chinese-ness". You can take the attitude of "learning the barbarians skills to use them against them" without wanting the deeper (and more mundane) cultural hybridization that Professor Crane is talking about.
The CPC has taken a very active role in promoting certain ideas about what it means to be Chinese, and that's often a relatively narrow definition. For flashy examples see the Olympic opening ceremony or any 春节晚会.
That's not to say they absolutely exclude other interpretations, but it's one side of a debate going on in China. As I read it, Professor Crane is saying that many middle class Chinese come down firmly on one side of that debate.

Really? I think it's clear to anyone reading this that "neo-conservative" as used by the writer is not the neo-conservativism of the Bush years. If you didn't get that the first time, look at the conclusion where he uses "conservative intellectuals" to describe people who are trying to prop up a certain vision of Chinese culture. Neo-conservative = new conservatives.

Thanks for the piece, professor.

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