Worrying about China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry
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What can we do about China? This question, couched in pessimism, is often raised in the West but it is nothing new to the Chinese, who have long worried about themselves. In the last two decades since the “opening” of China, Chinese intellectuals have been carrying on in their own ancient tradition of “patriotic worrying.” As an intellectual mandate, “worrying about China” carries with it the moral obligation of identifying and solving perceived “Chinese problems”―social, political, cultural, historical, or economic―in order to achieve national perfection. In Worrying about China, Gloria Davies pursues this inquiry through a wide range of contemporary topics, including the changing fortunes of radicalism, the peculiarities of Chinese postmodernism, shifts within official discourse, attempts to revive Confucianism for present-day China, and the historically problematic engagement of Chinese intellectuals with Western ideas. Davies explores the way perfectionism permeates and ultimately propels Chinese intellectual talk to the point that the drive for perfection has created a moralism that condemns those who do not contribute to improving China. Inside the heart of the New China persists ancient moralistic attitudes that remain decidedly nonmodern. And inside the postmodernism of thousands of Chinese scholars and intellectuals dwells a decidedly anti-postmodern quest for absolute certainty.
concern is that state-engineered positive representations of “market growth” in the discourses of the Party, media, and the academy obscure the range of social, economic, political, and cultural injustices that the reintroduction and rapid expansion of the capitalist mode of production in China has produced. Liberals are equally critical of the disastrous consequences of official corruption that have accompanied China’s economic reform under authoritarian rule.61 Despite consensus on this issue,
of justice as both “initial-state and end-state equality,” preventing equality from assuming the dangerous proportions of a metaphysical and totalizing truth. Wang observes that the New Left focus on equality also and conversely serves to remind liberals of the dangers of overreliance on legislated formal principles of freedom (such as the notion of “equality before the law”), to the extent that “if freedom is emphasized without regard for equality, then the majority of the masses will be ‘free
in the early to mid-1990s, that is, before the influence of print journals was significantly diluted by the rapid proliferation of Sinophone Internet fora and e-journals. Although Twenty-first Century has never been readily available in mainland China, this did not prevent its articles from being circulated among mainland Chinese intellectuals. Indeed, precisely because the journal is based in Hong Kong, it became, at its height during the 1990s, both an international forum for and a key shaper
unhappiness, for instance, by opposing the capitalist Other through an identification with the name of “the workers,” in order to rationalize its actions as righteous reaction to what the Other has forced upon it. In doing so, however, the subject is also exposed to the identical flaws in its own understanding of the Other. The subject must first negate a situation (for instance, capitalism) on the basis of what it assumes to be 184 • Worrying about China true (the freedom that would come of
development, the knowledge of which would “liberate” the knowing subject from its subjugation to the imposition of any false “inevitability.” However, when Shan states his preference for “(the) understanding” over “reason,” he is also “bidding farewell” to the Hegelian vocabulary of Party theory with the intention of ushering in a new vocabulary that would allow Hegel’s prose to resonate with “the spirit of science” and “political democracy”—a vocabulary that orients Hegel toward conversing with