Posted by Jeremy Goldkorn on Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 4:55 PM
The Nanfang Daily Newspaper Group publishes a magazine called Southern People Weekly (nanfang renwu zhoukan. The November 17 issue features Beijing's mayor on the cover, with the coverline: 'Wang Qishan: from SARS to the Olympics'. Like many 'weeklies' in China, the magazine is actually fortnightly.
The pictured cover on the left is Southern People Weekly's September 22 issue: '50 public intellectuals who influence China'. The list of intellectuals is broad, and includes exiled poet Bei Dao, rock musician Cui Jian, Gao Yaojie who first drew public attention to the Henan AIDS epidemic caused by dodgy blood transfusions, Caijing magazine editor in chief Hu Shuli, and architectural preservation activist Hua Xingming.
Pretty cool eh?
Well, of course the Party's old fart brigade got annoyed.
On November 23, an editorial appeared in the retrogressive Liberation Daily (jiefang ribao) condemning the whole notion of public intellectuals. The essay was reprinted in the People's Daily on November 25. The article makes heavy use of quote marks, in the old commie rhetorical style.
Thanks to Travis Klingberg for the links and for alerting Danwei to the story. There is a rough translation of the old farts' fulminations below:
A foreign loan word -- public intellectuals -- has become the subject of a hubbub in recent period. The word first appeared in certain publications, then on websites and then in newspapers. Because a British magazine called "Prospect" compiled a list of "100 most influential public intellectuals", our magazines did a laughable imitation, presenting to the public a list of China's "50 public intellectuals", causing public opinion to seethe.
Proposing the notion of "public intellectuals" is in fact just a way to drive a wedge between intellectuals, the Party and the broad masses. According to a beautiful way of putting it, so-called public intellectuals have a scholarly background and specialized knowledge. They are idealists who offer advice and participate in public affairs, with morality and a critical spirit. But in sunstance, the people promoting the concept of "public intellectuals" advocate that public intellectuals should be independent and critical, and not belong to any collective or social class and should be independent opinion leaders.
But for "public" to be determined by "independent", this kind of "independence" has never existed. Intellectuals are a part of the proletariat, members of the brod mass of the people, a group under the leadership of the Party. The economic bases determines the superstructure. The "opinions" of intellectuals are always determined by their socio-economic interests. The value of intellectuals is determined by socialism and service to the masses. A part of modern Chinese history shows that only when intellectuals follow the Communist Party and become a part of the proletariat, and integrate themselves with the people, only then can they manifest their talent and attain a lofty position in history and society.
In history and in recent times, there have been seemingly "independent" "public intellectuals". But if you carefully analyze them, there are invariably interest groups behind them, and they in fact not at all "independent" nor "critical". This a something that everyone knows; there is no need to expose them one by one.
The promotors of the "public intellectual" concept depict "public intellectuals" as "custodians of public consciousness and public good", "guardians of the morals and conscience of the times", and "the voice of the silent majority". At the same time, they say our society is muzzled, they say the masses cannot speak and are mere like helpless lambs, and that they are the only sober ones in a world of drunkards, and that they will only speak on behalf of those that beg them. This is not only an erroneous judgement on situation of the democratic progress of Chinese society and public opinion, it is also a kind of elitist view of history that totally negates the dominant historical role of the masses. It is an attempt by the "public intellectuals" to create a "hegemony of speech" and give themselves the last word and make a situation where only what they say goes.
They advocate intellectuals departing from their own fields of specialization and loudly proclaiming about "public affairs" and becoming the opinion leaders of the masses. Consequently, "public intellectuals" become "all-purpose intellectuals", intellectuals who are specialized in one field run the whole show and barge their way about in fields in which they have no expertise or knowledge. Others can't stand being out of the limelight, disdain scholarly research, and become TV stars and media personalities. Thus "public intellectuals become "stage intellectuals", fashionable types who stand together with movie stars, pop stars and sports celebrities. It is obvious that this type of "public intellectual" wants to lead intellectuals down the road of debauchery.
Such concepts of "public intellectual" are just noise and annoyance and will certainly not influence the mainstream of society and public opinion. But we also cannot lower our guard: we are facing a many-faceted situation; the key is to remain clear-headed and unwavering in our pursuit of Marxist guidance and avoid losing ourselves in the vagaries of ideological fashions.
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.