New on the site this month, Ge Zhaoguang on “Imagining 'All Under Heaven:' the Political, Intellectual and Academic Background of a New Utopia,” a follow-up to the longer piece on tianxia by Liang Zhiping that we published in February. Liang in fact cites Ge as a prominent critic of tianxia thought and theorists, and Ge’s article is of a piece with his scathing takedown of Mainland New Confucians published somewhat later. Both texts argue that neither tianxia nor the New Confucian program has any genuine grounding in history. Both are instead political projects masquerading as cultural conservatism.
I was wondering whether to translate Ge’s piece on tianxia when I discovered that it had already been translated by Michael and Josephine Chiu-Duke of the University of British Columbia. Our warm thanks to them for letting us publish it here.
New on the site this month, the final and complete version of Liang Zhiping’s “Imagining ‘Tianxia’: Building Ideology in Contemporary China.” Unlike those who preach the virtue of tianxia, Liang’s goal is to examine the role of the concept in the ideological reconstruction underway in China, the merging of Xi Jinping’s Socialism with Chinese Characteristics with the glories of traditional Chinese civilization. Because his essay was published on Taiwan (another shout out to Sixiang and its wonderful editor, Qian Yongxiang), Liang was free(r) to discuss the role of Xi and the CCP in the process. Among the authors discussed: Zhao Tingyang, Jiang Qing, Sheng Hong, Yao Zhongqiu, Chen Yun, Wang Hui, Zhang Weiwei, Daniel A. Bell, Jiang Shigong, Gan Yang, Ge Zhaoguang, Xu Jilin, Chan Koonchung, Salvadore Babones, Shi Jian, Wu Jiaxiang, Wang Mingming...The piece is long but definitely worth reading, as it is up to date, objective, and fairly comprehensive, and provides a very useful framework for understanding tianxia discussions.
New on the site this month, Beida sociologist Ma Rong on “The Historical Evolution of China’s System of Autonomous Ethnic Regions.” We chose this text because of current interest in ethnic tensions and government policies in China, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet. Unsurprisingly, Ma does not address the questions that are of primary concern to us, but it is often useful nonetheless to be reminded of the framework within which Chinese establishment intellectuals address hot-button Chinese issues. Like Hu Lianhe and Hu An’gang, Ma argues that it is high time to accelerate the integration of China’s ethnic minorities into the larger “Chinese ethnicity,” which will hasten the move away from the old system of autonomous ethnic regions inherited from the defunct Soviet Union. Ma’s text is a bit plodding and sloganistic, and he makes no mention of what system China’s ethnic groups might prefer, but it is nonetheless interesting to watch him grapple with the issues.
New on the site, part 3 of Liang Zhiping's "Imagining 'Tianxia': Building Ideology in Contemporary China," in which Liang broadens his discussion even further to consider the writings of Xu Jilin, Salvatore Balbones, and Wang Mingming, among others. For new subscribers, or for those who lost the thread over the holidays, my introduction to Liang's piece is here. There are 20-25 pages left to translate, so I should be able to post the entire text in the coming weeks.
New on the site, Cao Jinqing, "A Centennial Revival: The Historical Narrative and Mission of the Chinese Communist Party." Like Zhang Yongle's piece on "The Harm of Studying Abroad" published just before Christmas, Cao's text is relatively short, but interesting nonetheless. I happened across Cao while translating Liang Zhiping's “Imagining Tianxia,” where he is briefly discussed as contributing to the ongoing contemporary construction of an ideology built on tianxia and other ideas drawn from traditional Chinese political philosophy. The text is particularly interesting because while being predictably New Left and statist, it also appropriates traditional discourse to criticize certain shortcomings of the CCP.
New on the site, Zhang Yongle, “The Harm of Studying Abroad.” Zhang is a colleague of Jiang Shigong at Beijing University’s School of Law and, like Jiang, a prominent member of the New Left. The text translated here is neither formal nor academic, but instead a brief reflection Zhang posted on the web a few years back in which he criticizes the near universal ambition of Chinese students to study abroad. Why? Because it makes you lazy, harms your ability to communicate in Chinese, and takes you away from where contemporary history is being made—China. Much of Zhang’s argument is tongue-in-cheek, but his attitude is still representative of the arrogance China’s rise has inspired among some intellectuals.
Enjoy Zhang’s text as a stocking-stuffer for the busy end-of-term/holiday season! More of Liang Zhiping and “Imagining Tianxia” in the coming weeks.
New on the site, part 2 of Liang Zhiping’s “Imagining ‘Tianxia’: Building Ideology in Contemporary China.” In this installment, Liang broadens his discussion to include not only the defenders and champions of tianxia, but also other nationalist-statist figures (Jiang Shigong, Gan Yang) who apply tianxia concepts in other ways, as well as fierce critics of the idea (Ge Zhaoguang, Chan Koonchong). In Part 3, to be posted some time during the Christmas holidays, Liang turns to liberal reappropriations of tianxia, particularly the work of Xu Jilin.
New on the site, well-known legal scholar Liang Zhiping on “Imagining ‘Tianxia’: Building Ideology in Contemporary China.” Like the Qin Hui piece on China and South Africa, Liang's text is very long, and I will publish it in installments over the next few months. When finished, we will have a comprehensive overview of the use and abuse of the tianxia concept by contemporary Chinese intellectuals.
New this month on the site, Jiang Shigong’s “The Internal Logic of Super-Sized Political Entities: ‘Empire’ and World Order.” Jiang is Professor of Law at Beijing University and a prominent member of the New Left and proponent of state power. His defense of Xi Jinping Thought, “Philosophy and History: Interpreting the ‘Xi Jinping Era’ through Xi’s Report to the Nineteenth National Congress of the CCP,” was arguably one of the most important political essays published in China in 2018. Jiang’s essay on empire is of a piece with “Philosophy and History,” in that he suggests that China will fill the vacuum created by the failure of the American and Soviet empires. The argument is audacious in its Schmittian embrace of power politics (“empire is forever; get over it”) and for its casting of “the ideology of the sovereign nation-state” as something that must be “transcended.”
A housekeeping issue. We are proud to note that Columbia University Press will shortly publish our edited volume, Voices from the Chinese Century, which includes several translations currently available on our site. You can purchase the volume here (paperback edition only 30$ US, an inexpensive Christmas stocking stuffer for those hard-to-buy-for relatives).
Consequently, in the next few days most of the essays published in the volume will be reduced to teasers on the website to help the press achieve its sales objectives. We will make the full texts available again on the site in 12-18 months. If you need any of these texts for research purposes during the interim, send me a message and I will accommodate.
Yuan Ling, "Outside Beijing’s Sixth Ring Road: The Vagrant Life of a Family with Five Off-Plan Children"
New on the site this month, Yuan Ling, "Outside Beijing’s Sixth Ring Road: The Vagrant Life of a Family with Five Off-Plan Children." Yuan Ling (b. 1973), is a journalist and non-fiction writer. The text translated here is drawn from his recently published book, Silent Children 寂静的孩子 (2019), in which he describes, in ethnographic detail, the lives of poor and underprivileged children in many parts of China. This excerpt, the subject of which is a family of seven migrant workers struggling in the far Beijing suburbs, complements Qin Hui's study of China and South Africa by illustrating how constant urban renewal projects make the lives of migrant workers unbearable.
About this site
This web site is devoted to the subject of intellectual life in contemporary China, and more particularly to the writings of establishment intellectuals. What you will find here are essentially translations of Chinese texts that we consider important, together with discussions of related issues and a number of reference tools that can help those interested to navigate the project.
This materials on this website are open-access and are published under a Creative Commons 3.0 Unported licence. We encourage the widespread circulation of these materials. All content may be used and copied, provided that you credit the Reading and Writing the China Dream Project and provide a link to readingthechinadream.com.