Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, the Chinese people of all nationalities will continue to adhere to the people's democratic dictatorship and follow the socialist road. Preface to the Chinese State Constitution
The state strengthens the building of socialist spiritual civilization through spreading education in high ideals and morality, general education and education in discipline and the legal system, and through promoting the formulation and observance of rules of conduct and common pledges by different sections of the people in urban and rural areas. The state advocates the civic virtues of love for the motherland, for the people, for labor, for science and for socialism; it educates the people in patriotism, collectivism, internationalism and communism and in dialectical and historical materialism; it combats the decadent ideas of capitalism and feudalism and other decadent ideas. Article 24 of the Chinese State Constitution
Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion or engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to foreign domination. Article 36 of the Chinese State Constitution
In discussing Chinese beliefs and values, as with all other realms of Chinese culture, we must constantly keep in mind variations that exist by virtue of differences in region, class, educational level, age and gender. Especially large and significant differences exist between the city and the countryside. It is also important to remember the distinction between official and non-official versions of "reality"--the gap between how things are and how the Chinese government represents them to be. The People's Republic continues to promote a powerful vision of political unity and intellectual orthodoxy, but its unitary vision is constantly challenged by China's extraordinary diversity, not to mention the torrent of new ideas and practices pouring into the country from outside of China's borders.
Like all regimes, the PRC has a sense of how its future should look. Since 1978, China's political leaders have consistently sought to "modernize" their culture without unduly Westernizing it; to open it up without sacrificing entirely its traditional political and social purposes. A May 1988 article in the official Beijing Review underscores the problem: "For China to achieve modernization of culture it is necessary to look to the global situation and to adapt to the requirements of the times and at the same time ensure that traditional culture loses none of its unique characteristics. The comparison of Chinese and foreign cultures . . . involves rethinking our traditions, absorbing new ideas from abroad, and developing Chinese culture." Several months later, in the same publication, two spokespersons for the state argued: "In inheriting traditional culture and its theoretical concepts, we must neither absorb it all uncritically nor nihilistically set out to eradicate it." [ . . .] Today, the tide of reform and opening to the outside world that has swept across the country has created a sound environment for integrating international themes into our national culture."
But what exactly should be absorbed and what should be rejected? How are "international themes" to be integrated into Chinese culture? And who should make these choices? Traditionally, Chinese intellectuals have viewed themselves as the caretakers of culture--moral and spiritual leaders whose task it was to defend orthodox beliefs and practices. But today's cultural leaders include not only academics and artists, but also advertising agents, entrepreneurs, and even rock singers. Moreover, the orthodoxies that exerted a dominant influence in the past--whether Confucian or Marxist-Leninist--no longer operate with the same sort of political power. Commercialism has undermined Communism to a significant degree, and the search for intellectual consensus has given way to increasing conflict. Government-sponsored Marxism has neither the intellectual appeal nor the political muscle to command unwavering nationwide obedience. Nonetheless, the state continues to promote the orthodox idea of "socialist spiritual civilization," teaching Chinese Marxism in its schools and study groups, and initiating periodic nationwide campaigns designed to "encourage the healthy, support the beneficial, permit the harmless, boycott the harmful, and ban the illegal."
As indicated in the current Chinese State Constitution (1982), the official ideology of the People's Republic is "Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought." The basic features of this world view can be briefly summarized. First, dialectical materialism. According to Karl Marx (1818-1883), material factors (i.e., economics) determine one's class outlook:
In the social production of their means of existence men enter into definite, necessary relations which are independent of their will, productive relationships which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. [. . .] The modes of production of the material means of existence conditions the whole process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, it is their social existence that determines their consciousness.
On other words, Marx argued (contrary to Hegel) that ideas and ethics have no independent existence. They are all a product of material factors, relations of production. From a Marxian standpoint, any given political, legal, economic, social, religious or educational system reflects and supports the interests of the dominant class in that society.
The motive force behind history, according to Marx, is class struggle, expressed in terms of the dialectic--a process by which one state of affairs or condition (the thesis) goes too far and creates its opposite, or "contradiction," known as the antithesis. The conflict between the thesis and antithesis eventually resolves itself in the form of a synthesis, which becomes a new thesis and so on. Marx thus described all of human experience as "the history of class struggles."
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed . . . stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted . . . fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
According to Marx, human history, at least to his own time, consisted of four stages, each with different relations of production: (1) primitive communism (in which there was no social differentiation or class antagonism); (2) slave society (the initial stage of differentiation and exploitation); (3) feudalism; and (4) capitalism. Each stage was built on the highest level of development of the preceding stage, and Marx assumed that these four stages would be followed inevitably by socialism and eventually communism.
Marx argued that in the Europe of his day, the industrial workers (the proletariat) who were mercilessly exploited by the capitalists (the bourgeoisie) would inevitably rise up and overthrow their oppressors. He described the capitalist society he saw in the following way:
"Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. [. . .] The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his 'natural superiors', and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom--Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
He went on to assert:
The unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, make the livelihood (of the proletariat) more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. [. . .] The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.
In Marx's famous formulation:
expropriation is brought about by the operation of the immanent laws of capitalist production, by the centralization of capital. [. . .] The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labor reach a point where they prove incompatible with their capitalist husk. This husk bursts asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.
Marx had relatively little to say about the stages of development that he predicted would follow the victory of the proletariat--socialism and communism; they were still, after all, in the future. Socialism, he believed, would operate on the principle: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work." In this environment, pay was variable, contingent on labor: "He who does not work, neither shall he eat."
The basic features of Marxist socialism included: the centralization of the means of production in the hands of the state; the abolition of private property; the centralization of banking, communication and transport; the establishment of industrial and agricultural "armies;" and so forth. Marx felt that socialism, crafted and overseen by an enlightened proletariat, would naturally and inevitably produce democratic government, and that eventually the socialist state would simply wither away. At this point, true communism would prevail:
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. [. . .] In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."
Under this new, "classless society," the new formula for production would be: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
Of course socialism did not prevail in Europe as Marx predicted it would. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) explained why. According to him, Marx was unable to see that the capitalism he had observed in Europe during his own time was not at its highest stage; therefore socialist revolution was impossible. In Lenin's view, imperialism represented the highest stage of capitalism. Socialist revolution thus required the sponsorship of "national bourgeois revolution" in colonized areas as a prelude to socialist revolution in Europe. In other words, capitalism had to be undermined abroad before it could be overthrown at home.
Lenin's other major contribution to socialist theory and practice was his concept of a revolutionary party based on tight organization and the principle of democratic centralism; that is, a hierarchical structure of party organs called "cells" which received "democratic" input from lower levels, worked this information into a coherent "party line" at the top level (the Central Committee), and then transmitted it back through the cells to the masses as policy, requiring absolute, unwavering obedience. In other words, the process was "democratic" going up and "centralized coming down." In short, Lenin never acquired Marx's faith in the revolutionary self-activity of the proletariat. Instead he believed that a disciplined party had to impose "socialist consciousness" on the masses, serving as the "vanguard of the proletariat." He was far more activist than Marx, unwilling to let the stages of history unfold at their own pace.
Lenin's successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 inspired and later provided organizational support for Mao Zedong in his revolutionary career. Just as Lenin adopted and adapted Marxism, Mao, a peasant, did the same with Lenin. Even more "voluntarist" than Lenin, with a far greater faith in the revolutionary potential of the rural masses, Mao developed an ideology that dutifully employed conventional Marxist-Leninist terms and categories; but it was in certain respects far removed from the thought of either Marx or Lenin. His idealistic belief in the transformative power of the human mind, not to mention his demonstrated willingness to attack his own party structure, mark him as a Marxist-Leninist maverick. Nonetheless, he brought the CCP to power in 1949, and he continues to occupy a position of considerable prestige in China, despite the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Now, the prevailing ideology in China is that of the recently deceased "core-leader," Deng Xiaoping. According to an amendment to the Chinese Communist Party Constitution, approved by the National Party Congress on September 18, 1997, the CCP now officially "takes Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping Theory as its guide to action." Deng has thus obtained a special place within the Chinese Marxist pantheon. His ideas have become part of the official "orthodoxy."
The watchword of Deng's approach since 1978 has been "socialism with Chinese characteristics," which he defined rather vaguely as "a Marxism that is integrated with Chinese conditions"--the contemporary equivalent of Mao's "Sinification of Marxism." Like Mao's Selected Works, the Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, first published in 1984, employ standard Marxist rhetoric. But just as Mao's works betray an unmistakable idealism, Deng's reveal his characteristic pragmatism. Deng's most often famous and revealing phrase is undoubtedly: "It doesn't matter if the cat is white or black; if it catches mice it's a good cat."
Far more Leninist than Mao in his view of party organization and political order, Deng seems never to have had much faith in the spontaneous revolutionary activity of the Chinese masses, at whose hands he suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution. His basic viewpoint is reflected clearly in a speech given at the Central Working Conference for the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CCP in December, 1978, titled "Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future." Acknowledging the need to be "guided" by Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, and criticizing Lin Biao and the Gang of Four for preaching "blind faith to confine people's minds within the framework of their phoney Marxism," Deng went on to say:
One important condition for getting people to emancipate their minds and use their heads is genuine practice of the proletarian system of democratic centralism. We need unified and centralized leadership, but centralism can be correct only when there is a full measure of democracy. At present, we must lay particular stress on democracy, because for a long time democratic centralism was not genuinely practiced. [. . .] In political life within the Party and among the people we must use democratic means and not resort to coercion or attack.
Further, Deng told his colleagues:
As it is only natural that some opinions expressed by the masses should be correct and others not, we should examine them analytically. The Party leadership should be good at synthesizing the correct opinions and explaining why the others are incorrect. In dealing with ideological problems we must never use coercion but should genuinely carry out the policy of "letting a hundred flowers bloom, [and letting] a hundred schools of thought contend.
In practice, however, Deng's willingness to tolerate dissent has always had certain limits, which were unambiguously evident in the so-called Tiananmen Incident of 1989.
Dissent, Democracy, and Discussions of Modernity
The events that led to the massacre of hundreds of Chinese citizens in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and other parts of the city in the spring of 1989 have been described and analyzed many times. At the risk of oversimplifying a very complex phenomenon, we may say that the movement began in the Square on April 17 with a spontaneous student demonstration in support of the recently deceased former Party head, Hu Yaobang, who had been dismissed in early 1987 for supporting a student movement in Shanghai the previous year. This demonstration initially included sit-ins in front of the Great Hall of the People and Party headquarters. On April 26, 1989 an editorial in the People's Daily attacked the students for their apparent criticism of Hu's dismissal ("a planned conspiracy," the paper said), prompting the largest demonstration in the history of the PRC.
For the next several weeks, the students, joined in waves by several other sectors of Beijing society, and outsiders as well, occupied Tiananmen Square, more than a million strong. They staged a hunger strike, criticizing Chinese leaders by name and calling for better university conditions, governmental reforms (including an end to nepotism, privilege and other forms of institutionalized corruption), the release of political prisoners, and more "democratic" participation in decision-making processes. Wall posters and placards, some of them highly personal and extremely derogatory, castigated individuals such as Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng, accusing them of being reactionaries or fascists. One large poster showed Li with a swastika on his forehead; another depicted Deng in the clothing of the corrupt and self-interested Empress Dowager Cixi of the late Qing period, with an inscription identifying him as "Empress Dowager Deng."
In response to the criticisms and the chaos, Deng Xiaoping ordered PLA troops to clear the Square on the evening of June 3 and the early morning of June 4. Hundreds of Chinese were killed in this operation and thousands more were wounded. On June 9, Deng gave a speech to party leaders and army officers in which he denounced the demonstrators for their "counter-revolutionary rebellion," although he tried to make a distinction between the perpetrators of the "rebellion"--whom he called "the dregs of society"--and the "young students," the "masses," and the "onlookers."
According to Deng, any effort to discredit the CCP leadership or the authority of "Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought" had to be resolutely quashed, along with any attempt to introduce what he called "the American system of the separation of the three powers." In Deng's mind, the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square were not only a product of "evil influences from the West," but also a reprise of the Cultural Revolution. As Deng remarked in a secret speech as early as April: "This is not an ordinary student movement. It is turmoil [luan]. [. . .] What they [the students] are doing now is altogether the same stuff. . . [that] the rebels did during the Cultural Revolution. All they want is to create chaos under the heavens."
Although foreign journalists at the time, and some student leaders as well, referred to the mass demonstrations at Tiananmen Square as a "democracy movement," one might argue that the protests were more about freedom from tyranny and corruption than about the establishment of democratic institutions. At least one banner displayed prominently at Tiananmen Square stated: "Give me democracy or give me death"--a revealing distortion of Patrick Henry's famous revolutionary declaration. The naming of the "Goddess of Democracy" (Minzhu nüshen, in Chinese), a thirty-foot high plaster and styrofoam version of the Statue of Liberty, brought to the Square just before the military crackdown, suggests a similar confusion of categories. Few, if any, of the leading figures in the "democracy movement" had in mind enfranchising China's peasant masses, and most seemed quite comfortable in an environment that in some ways replicated the very authoritarian structures then under attack.
It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss Chinese calls for democracy as merely misrepresentations of their desire for freedom. Although many of the students massed in Tiananmen Square may have had an incomplete understanding of Western-style democracy, sophisticated discussions of the concept had been circulating for quite some time in China.
One of the most powerful early documents linking modernization with democracy was Wei Jingsheng's famous tract, "The Fifth Modernization," written as a wall poster in Beijing on December 5, 1978. Wei, an electrician and a former PLA soldier, courageously wrote that the Four Modernizations would be "merely another promise" without a fifth modernization--democracy--which he defined as "the holding of power by the laboring masses." Describing Mao as an "autocratic tyrant," and urging his comrades not to trust the current regime's "talk about 'stability and unity,'" Wei openly criticized the Chinese Communist Party and challenged Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, observing that democracy was not simply the result of the impersonal laws of social and economic development, it was actually a precondition for advancement.
In subsequent published works during late 1978 and early 1979, Wei developed his arguments further, criticizing Deng Xiaoping by name, and pointing out that it was no accident that "socialist" countries like China were among the world's poorest. Why? Because they allowed "no room for the independent existence of individualism." As a reward for his candor, and in the midst of a general "anti-democracy" crackdown, Wei was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for "publishing counter-revolutionary statements" and "betraying state secrets." Released in early 1993, he quickly resumed writing and agitating for democracy--and was promptly jailed again. On December 13, 1995, he received a fourteen-year sentence for "conspiring to overthrow the government." He was, however, released from prison for medical treatment in the United States in mid-November of 1997, and within two weeks accepted an appointment as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.
Despite periodic campaigns to suppress outspoken dissidents like Wei, discussions of democracy continued, largely unabated, during the 1980s and 90s. Not surprisingly, they often involved debates over the relationship between Chinese and Western culture. Many of these debates took place within newly-established, semi-independent "think tanks," such as the Academy of Chinese Culture, the Youth Forum, and the Twenty-First Century Research Institute. Divergent viewpoints were expressed in a host of new newspapers, periodicals and book series, with titles such as "Reading," "China Youth News," "The New Observer," "Toward the Future," "Culture: China and the World," and "The New Enlightenment." An official editorial in the December 7, 1984 edition of the People's Daily provided encouragement by declaring that "we cannot ask the writings of Marx and Lenin to solve all our current problems."
On the whole, debates over Chinese and Western values in recent years have been similar to those that occurred during the New Culture Movement (c. 1915-1925)--although the political context perhaps bears a closer relationship to the Nationalist era (1928-1949) or to the period of the Hundred Flowers (1956-57) in the PRC. The significant point is that from the inauguration of the Open Policy onward, the Chinese have had unprecedented access to a wide range of Western ideas--the product of new educational opportunities (including two-way exchanges) and new Western materials in translation. Jing Wang's High Culture Fever (1996) and Xudong Zhang's Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reforms (1997) abundantly document the profound influence of Western writings, and the cultural debates that they either engendered or fueled in the 1980s.
At the risk of oversimplification, these debates have involved three main groups of intellectuals. One consists of those who advocate a total break with the political, economic and ideological systems that still seem to dominate much of Chinese life. Among the names prominently associated with this viewpoint are Liu Xiaobo, Fang Lizhi, Wang Ruowang, and Hu Ping. On the opposite side are thinkers such as He Jinzhi, Chen Yong, Xiong Fu, Xiao Qian, and Yao Xueyin, whose goals have been to stabilize the existing social and political order. Occupying a vast middle ground are individuals such as Yu Guangyin, Su Shaozhi, Yan Jiaqi, Liu Binyan, and Li Zehou, who represent a reformist "mainstream," trying to find a proper balance between the two more extreme positions.
Li Zehou, a senior research fellow in the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has probably been the most influential Marxist "moderate." In fact, his ideas have provided, in a sense, the philosophical underpinning of Deng Xiaoping's modernization program. Sometimes criticized and sometimes applauded by the state authorities, Li has challenged the established orthodoxy by advocating the liberalization of Chinese thought and the need for a "new enlightenment;" yet he has not rejected the existing ideology completely. His ultimate aim, as with many other intellectuals of his generation, is to modify the existing ideology to make it more "open" and "dynamic."
The fundamental theme of Li's thought is compromise: between the "subjective voluntarism" (idealism) of Mao and the "objective materialism" (pragmatism) of Deng; between what he calls the "little self" (the individual) and the "big self" (the collective; society); and between Chinese tradition and the West. Extremely well grounded in both Chinese and Western philosophy, Li has argued for a reversal of the modernizing formula of Zhang Zhidong and other reformers in the 19th century. That is, he emphasizes Western "substance" over Chinese "function." By Western substance he means patterns of production, science and technology, and patterns of both daily life and "awareness." Chinese tradition, he argues, can serve as a means to this end. For instance, modern Western "mechanical rationality," which is the foundation for economic productivity, can be enhanced by contact and interaction with the moral and even "intuitive" qualities of traditional Chinese thought.
The one event that seems to have crystallized the debate over China and the West was the airing of a six-part television documentary titled "River Elegy" (Heshang) in 1988. Seen by an estimated several hundred million viewers, this series--emotional, preachy, patriotic and factually flawed--announced the death of the Yellow River (implying the demise of both China's traditional culture and modern Chinese socialism), and urged its viewers to embrace the "Blue Ocean (i.e., the non-Marxist West). Organized thematically, the film tried to document and account for the "decline" of Chinese civilization and its dramatic eclipse by the West. According to the authors of the script, China has been a "yellow" culture--agricultural, continental, inward-looking and defensive, while the West has been a "blue" one--industrial, seafaring, outward-looking and aggressive.
Such characterizations are, of course, misleading in a variety of ways. China was certainly not always inward looking and defensive, nor was the West always industrially advanced and aggressive. The facts in the film are sometimes simply wrong. Moreover, the simplicity of the East-West contrast in the film is exaggerated by editing, which shows jerky black-and-white scenes of Chinese poverty and political struggle juxtaposed to color scenes of an affluent, scientifically advanced Western world, with no evidence of the West's political, social or economic problems.
For a number of months after its initial airing, "River Elegy" became the focus of intense debates, not only in the PRC, but also in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and in overseas Chinese communities. In part because it touched on sensitive contemporary issues, including poverty, corruption, and dissent, most of the CCP authorities publicly condemned the series--even though the film implicitly supported the Open Policy and Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms. This official condemnation was particularly acute after the events at Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989, since many of the people directly involved in the controversial television series were also active participants in the "democracy movement," and strong supporters of the students. Li Zehou also came under attack during this time for "initiating and supporting the unrest and turmoil."
In the aftermath of Tiananmen, the Chinese government has naturally been especially resistent to any "bourgeois" notions of democracy. Consistently it has emphasized instead the idea of a CCP-directed "democratic centralism," designed to "guide" the population in what the state considers to be the proper direction (see below). Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin put the matter this way in his speech to the 15th Communist Party Congress on September 12, 1997: "As a ruling party, the Communist Party leads and supports the people in exercising the power of running the state, holding democratic elections, [and] making policy decisions in a democratic manner.'' He went on to say: "[It is] imperative that we should uphold and improve this fundamental political system, instead of copying any Western models.''
Traditional Beliefs and Practices
Rather than looking outward for political and cultural inspiration, the Chinese government has begun to look within, to China's pre-Communist past. When President Jiang Zemin gave a speech at Harvard University on November 1, 1997, he did not speak of Marxism and revolution; rather, he emphasized China's "5,000 year long history," and its great cultural advances and achievements in science and technology. It is this rekindled appreciation of China's past that has prompted the government to sponsor the establishment of societies for "National Studies," designed to promote patriotism by celebrating China's "special characteristics."
In part, the state's support for Chinese "tradition" can be explained by its desire to draw upon the wellsprings of national pride at a time of political uncertainty, and to distance itself from both the radical iconoclasm of the Maoist era and the more recent critiques of Chinese civilization leveled by intellectuals such as the authors of "River Elegy." Another factor is a growing sense that a return to traditional virtues might help China in its time of "spiritual crisis," when market-inspired greed and corruption appear to be rampant throughout the land. Viewed more narrowly, from the standpoint of national tourism, a focus on the impressive historical monuments of China's past, from religious temples and the terracotta warriors of the First Emperor to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, is good for business.
Perhaps the most important reason for the state's "inward search" is a belated recognition that Chinese "tradition" and Western-inspired "modernization" may be much better suited to each other than either Mao or the authors of "River Elegy" would care to admit. As is well-known, a number of scholars and political pundits, both East and West, have ascribed the economic success of Japan and the "Four Mini-Dragons" of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore to their "Confucian" heritage, at least in part. A vast body of literature supports this general conclusion.
Jiang Zemin himself has openly championed "traditional" Chinese virtues, and identified the Confucian-tinged "soft authoritarianism" of Singapore as a model for both economic development and social stability in the PRC. In 1989, Jiang called Confucius "one of China's great thinkers," insisting that the Chinese people "must thoroughly study his fine ideals and carry them into the future." Other officials and scholars quickly joined the chorus. The historian Zhang Dainian, for instance, praised Confucianism for providing a "positive and optimistic spirit," and for paying high attention to moral values." Confucianism, he claims, should be viewed as "a guide for the future." In September of 1994 the People's Daily co-sponsored a conference on "The Thought of Confucius and the Twenty-First Century," designed to show the compatibility between Confucian values such as diligent study, industriousness, loyalty, good faith, and ritually correct behavior, and the present regime's political and cultural agenda.
Among the most vocal advocates of the "Confucianization of Marxism-Leninism" have been scholars such as Jin Guantao, Bao Zunxin, and Gan Yang. In their view, a reconstructed Confucianism, emphasizing "benevolence," "family ethics," the "rule of rites," and "humane government," is best suited to what Jin calls the "deep structure" of Chinese society. It is true that Jin blames the "ethical centeredness" of Confucianism for impeding the development of modern science in China, but he argues vehemently that once the Chinese recognize "the cultural value of modern science,) and once they have incorporated this scientific spirit into China's long-standing cultural quest for unity and harmony, "then undoubtedly, a new culture that will represent the future of humankind will dawn on the horizon."
Other Chinese scholars, such as Chen Min, have noted that Confucian values such as respect for hierarchy and age, a "group orientation, a concern with public prestige or "face," and an emphasis on personalistic relationships (guanxi; see below) are fully consistent with, and extremely useful in, the development of an efffective Chinese management-style. Tu Wei-ming, a Harvard-based scholar, whose writings have been extremely influential in the PRC, believes that a "new Confucianism," supplemented with certain ethical precepts from the Judeo-Christian tradition, can offer China the spiritual sustenance it presently lacks. According to Tu, Confucianism can be "creatively transformed" into a new ethos that can serve as the ideological foundation for Chinese modernization.
At a popular level, too, Confucianism seems to have struck a responsive cord in contemporary China. Bookstores carry numerous copies of the Analects, as well as other well-known "Confucian" works, including various editions of the Three Character Classic, a primer for children that dates back to the Song dynasty, a thousand years or so ago. Other traditional Chinese works, including Laozi's The Way and Its Power, are also popular. The Classic of Changes has proved to be wildly popular, not only as a book of divination (see below) but also as a work that, according to a number of contemporary writers, is the precursor of modern binary theory in mathematics, not to mention modern relativity and field theory in physics. In 1990 alone there were more than ninety books published on this ancient text, in issues ranging from 100,000 copies to one million copies.
One the most dramatic instances of the revival of "tradition" in China is the embrace of Buddhism and other forms of native Chinese religion by literally hundreds of millions of people. Although the PRC is officially an atheistic state, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief to all citizens; and in the spiritual vacuum created by a profound loss of popular faith in the Communist Party--stemming from both the Cultural Revolution and the more recent Tiananmen tragedy--many Chinese have begun to look to Buddhism as a way to fill the void.
The most popular form of Buddhism in the PRC, as in most of the rests of East Asia, is the so-called Pure Land School. It focuses on the idea of salvation through faith and good works. The tangible reward for believers is rebirth in the Western Paradise, also known as the World of Supreme Bliss, presided over by the "Buddha of Immeasurable Radiance." Descriptions of this beautiful and enchanting land are as enticing as the descriptions of the bureaucratic purgatory known as the Ten Courts of Judgment are terrifying. Religious Daoism is far less popular than Buddhism on the Mainland, perhaps because it is more closely associated with occult practices. (There are only about 250 Taoist temples open to the public, as opposed to at least 9,000 Buddhist temples.) Rather than emphasizing rebirth and eventual "enlightenment," Religious Daoism focuses on the quest for health, longevity and even immortality. Significantly, both Buddhism and Religious Daoism reflect heavy Confucian influence, including an esteem for the virtues of loyalty, faithfulness, integrity, duty, and filial piety.
On the whole, state policy toward Buddhism and Religious Daoism has been relatively tolerant since 1978. In fact, booklets and handbooks designed for ideological work have gone so far as to look to traditional Chinese religion as a means of producing ethical behavior. One such handbook states:
After the harm done during the Cultural Revolution [lit., the ten years of chaos] to the social atmosphere and the Party's prestige, religious tenets and discipline had a beneficial influence when practiced by their adherents. Among a number of cadres and [common] people, those who were religious followers did not hit or curse others; they did not smoke, drink, or fight with family members or neighbors; they did not steal or pilfer, but were relatively honest. Production team leaders would often send them to watch over fields and storage bins. Religious followers were noted as good people doing good deeds.
In Tibet, however, where Buddhist beliefs and practices are closely tied to the politics of separatism, the state's attitude has been far less accommodating. For instance, dissident monks have been jailed, beaten and reportedly executed. Martial law has been declared at various times, and there is always a substantial Chinese military presence in the area. For similar political reasons, the government has tried hard to maintain control over worshipers of Islam in the outlying regions of Northwest China, where religious schools and "reactionary religious broadcasts from abroad" are strictly forbidden. Chinese Christians, although not concentrated geographically in the same way, have likewise come under suspicion because of their assumed links with foreigners and their devotion to "external" sources of religious authority. At various times a number of religious organizations in different countries been accused of subversive activities. In Iran, for instance, Shi'ite's have allegedly tried to expand their "Islamic revolution" among China's Sunni Muslims, and South Korea reportedly encourages China's Korean Christians to devote their loyalty to the Republic of Korea.
At a different level the Chinese state also fears the revival of what it describes as "feudal superstitions." These beliefs and practices are sharply distinguished from the "normal religious activities" protected by the Chinese Constitution. According to official pronouncements, religion is "an attitude of mind far removed from the material world," which has specific institutions, rituals, beliefs and moral principles. "Superstition, by contrast, involves "praying for blessings, fortune-telling, expelling demons and curing sickness." This distinction, although arbitrary and quite artificial, makes it possible for the Chinese authorities to suppress any spiritually oriented activities that they find to be threatening or objectionable.
Despite persistent criticism and occasional campaigns of suppression, "feudal superstitions" exist in every part of China, especially the South. An article in the Wall Street Journal, dated August 10, 1992, for example, describes the situation in Fujian province:
Scattered at the edge of farm fields across the province are little temples to Tudi Gong, the land god. There's hardly a street without shops selling joss sticks and spirit money for use in appeasing ghosts. There are magnificent temples dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu . . . [and] nearly every home has an ancestor altar just inside the door, where offerings of food liquor, incense and fake money are aimed at keeping the ghosts of vengeful ancestors free of vengeful notions against those left behind.
From the late 1980s onwards, the Chinese press has continued to carry numerous accounts of "superstitious" activities in every corner of the country, including autonomous regions, prefectures and counties.
These activities include not only the relatively benign forms of popular worship mentioned above, but also black magic, exorcism, divination (press reports refer to a "fortune-telling fever," suanming re), and qigong--the last involving techniques of cultivating and projecting one's "vital energy" (qi). Great numbers of books on these subjects can be found in Chinese bookstores, yet another measure of their popularity.
From the standpoint of the state, "superstitious" indulgences such as these are foolish, wasteful, and potentially unsettling. Large gatherings of qigong devotees pose a perceived threat to public order; the predictions of diviners can cause unrest; and the activities of magicians can harm or even kill people. In one rural township in Hunan, a report released in March 1991 revealed that in the previous three years, 56 households had been "disrupted" after being cheated by fortunetellers, 21 couples had given up the idea of marrying "for superstitious reasons," 9 people had fallen seriously ill and 4 had died after trusting to spirits to cure them, and 90 percent of the township's households had held expensive Religious Daoist rites on the death of an elderly family member.
Perhaps the most pervasive and powerful form of "feudal superstition" in China is the practice known as fengshui--"siting," or, more commonly, "geomancy." As with all of the activities mentioned above, geomancy is largely a rural phenomenon. Its basic goal is to locate auspicious locations for tombs, houses and other structures by means of both physical observation and cosmological calculation. In many areas of China, geomancers also undertake other social functions, including divination, providing charms for protection from evil spirits, conducting rituals of exorcism, and attending to medical problems. Long denounced by the Chinese authorities as a "fraudulent" economic activity, geomancy has resurfaced in South China with a vengeance, given latitude by the "Open Policy" and impetus not only by China's spiritual crisis but also by the forces of privatization and marketization. Like the revival of other forms of traditional belief, the resurgence of geomancy reflects greater disposable wealth and rising insecurity in the countryside, where rural health care and other services have broken down.
Since the inauguration of the Open Policy, the spread of both "feudal" and "bourgeois" ideas and practices has compelled the Chinese central government to undertake a series of campaigns to rectify Chinese thought and behavior. Although none of these campaigns has approached the Cultural Revolution in terms of either scope or intensity, together they indicate that the state is not about to abdicate its role as the guardian of public morality and proper conduct.
The first major rectification campaign, proposed in 1981, was known as the "Civilization and Courtesy Educational Movement"--or, more succinctly in Chinese, the "Five Stresses and Four Beautifications." The Five Stresses referred to an emphasis on "civilization", good manners, hygiene, discipline, and morality, while the Four Beautifications denoted the beautification of the mind, language, behavior, and the environment.
From the standpoint of CCP officials, the former five were considered the means by which to achieve the latter four.
Beautification of language aimed at the cultivation of correct thought and moral integrity; support of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system; patriotism, uprightness and honesty; the preservation of personal and national dignity; and the avoidance of either fraud or personal profit at the expense of others. Beautification of language meant courtesy in speech, with kind, gentle and modest words rather than rude ones, and no forced arguments or slander. Beautification of behavior entailed beneficial service to the people and society; diligence, friendliness and self-discipline; the avoidance of damage to either collective interests or public property; and an effort not to disturb the social order. Beautification of the environment required personal and public hygiene (with specific admonitions not to spit or litter); cleanliness and orderliness; and an attempt to plant trees and other greenery everywhere.
According to an official circular issued in February 1981 by five key ministries of the State Council (Propaganda, Education, Culture, Public Health and Public Security), the Five Stresses campaign was designed to "improve relationships among the Chinese people," "uphold stability and unity," and develop a positive "social atmosphere" nationwide--all of which had been fundamentally undermined, the circular claimed, by the chaotic excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Unstated, but obviously of growing concern to the authorities, was the fact that China's newly declared "Open Policy," together with Deng's recent economic reforms, had invited "decadent bourgeois ideology" with all of its "bad influences." Even the countryside had become seriously threatened by "the destruction of community implicit in capitalist development."
In early 1982, exactly one year after this circular had been issued, Premier Zhao Ziyang declared on national television that the month of March would be designated "Civilization and Courtesy Month." His speech, like the official circular a year earlier, made specific mention of China's ancient and "celebrated" status as "the land of ritual and righteousness." It also indicated explicitly that "spiritual civilization" was important in the development of "material civilization," and therefore essential to the achievement of the "Four Modernizations." As Zhao and other prominent Chinese leaders saw it, the aim of this Civilization and Courtesy Movement was to combine China's modern "revolutionary tradition" with the best elements of the nation's "fine [old cultural] tradition," in order to create a dynamic new synthesis--one that would add luster to China's national spirit.
In 1983 that the Propaganda Department of the Communist Youth League produced an official handbook for the Five Stresses and Four Beautifications campaign. This 336-page volume, laid out in exquisite detail the kinds of behavior the authorities deemed appropriate for all levels of Chinese society. Divided into ten sections, and distributed without cost to all work units, the handbook delineated the general principles of the movement, its "form and content," its ideological underpinnings, and, of course, its prescriptions for proper behavior. These fell under the following general categories: "socialist public morality," "occupational morality and standards of behavior," "the morality of marriage and family life," "paying attention to civilized speech," and "courteous treatment of others." The Handbook also included large sections devoted to "individual and environmental hygiene," and "greening the motherland and beautifying the environment."
In several respects the general admonitions in the handbook differed little from those of previous PRC campaigns. Citizens were encouraged to work hard, obey the law and protect public property, as well as to oppose gambling, "feudal superstition" and other harmful practices. The handbook also gave considerable attention to ideological indoctrination through "small group" rituals, stressing not only communist theory (and practice) but also "the spirit of patriotism." Citizens were advised to observe proper hygiene and to present a positive public image. They were to get haircuts and bathe often, and told not to pick their teeth, sneeze, or dig into their nose with their finger--at least not in front of other people. Naturally they were not to spit, throw trash, or relieve themselves anywhere they wished. They were also advised against the dangers of smoking and drinking, warned about poisons and disease-bearing animals and insects, and even advised on how to recognize spoiled food and other hazardous products.
In its focus on spirituality and ethics, and its emphasis on external behavior as both a measure and a means of self-cultivation, the Civilization and Propriety Movement naturally invited comparisons with the New Life Movement of Chiang Kai-shek in the 1930s. Of course the CCP denied any affinities. In fact, in March of 1983 the People's Daily published an article on the history of the New Life Movement, intended precisely to distinguish the on-going wujiang simei campaign from its Nationalist counterpart in terms of inspiration, class character, and ultimate aims. But Chinese commentators outside the Mainland quickly saw the striking parallels. With a few minor editorial changes, such as replacing the name Chiang Kai-shek with that of Deng Xiaoping, and substituting the phrase "the privileged class of Chinese Communist bureaucrats" for "landlords and the bourgeoisie," the People's Daily article on the New Life Movement had described the Five Stresses movement almost perfectly.
At about this time the Party launched a vigorous campaign in support of "socialist spiritual civilization" and directed against various forms of "spiritual pollution," such as pornography, "money worship," and decadent fashions--the unfortunate by-products, in the eyes of the CCP, of the Open Policy and recent economic developments. By this time the central government authorities had added the "Three Ardent Loves"--that is, love of the Motherland, Socialism, and the Chinese Communist Party--to the Five Stresses and Four Beautifications, presumably in order tap the well-springs of Chinese nationalism and to bolster a faltering faith in the Party. Signs and posters appeared throughout the country proclaiming that "Without the Communist Party there would be no New China."
The campaign against spiritual pollution lasted only about a year, but it had important political implications. Like Chiang Kai-shek's effort to enhance Guomindang control in the cities and to attack his enemies in the midst of the New Life Movement, Deng Xiaoping used the pretext of "cultural pollution" to curb urban disorder and to undermine a number of his opponents during the Civilization and Courtesy Movement. In less than twelve months, Deng managed to crack down on rising crime with a draconian sweep (there were an estimated 6,000 executions in the second half of 1983 alone), and to put in place, at least for the next several years, "trustworthy pragmatic successors." In the process, the CCP launched a systematic attack on any writings or speeches that ran counter to the country's social system, on "decadent bourgeois ideology" (especially in the form of liberalism or individualism), on misguided popular beliefs (including those of minority peoples) and on all artifacts and fashions that were deemed vulgar, obscene, barbarous or reactionary. At the same time, however, the party took pains to emphasize that another Cultural Revolution was definitely not in the works.
In 1985-1986 central government authorities initiated a rather perfunctory drive to combat "unhealthy tendencies," such as vulgarity in the arts, corruption in the economy, and extravagance and waste in public life. A more concerted movement, directed against "bourgeois liberalization," began in 1987. It reiterated the themes of morality and spirituality that had characterized earlier movements in the 1980s and declared as its aim the "raising of the quality of the [entire Chinese] people." At the end of 1988, the Central Committee of the CCP issued a circular entitled "The Reform and Strengthening of Moral Educational Work in Primary and Secondary Schools," designed to inculcate in Chinese youths the so-called "four possessions:" ideals, morality, culture and discipline."
The campaign against "bourgeois liberalization" was directed primarily against Chinese intellectuals--targeting in particular the outspoken astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and the well-known writers Liu Binyan and Wang Ruowang, all three of whom were purged from the Party. It placed special emphasis on the corrosive influence of Western values, and denounced in the strongest possible terms the concept of "wholesale Westernization." In the winter of 1987, an editorial in the People's Daily stated that "No Chinese with pride, confidence, and respect for history and fact will ever endorse this idea." Somewhat later, a commentary in the Economic Daily went so far as to equate the idea of "bourgeois liberalization" with the AIDS virus--undoubtedly because the Chinese term for AIDS, aizi bing, provided a convenient homophone for "the illness of loving capitalism." This "infectious disease," the commentary asserted, makes people believe that "if something is called capitalism, everything will be good; that commodities from foreign countries are good; that white skin is smarter than yellow skin; and that individualism that ignores national interest should be called freedom and human rights."
The Tiananmen demonstrations in the spring of 1989 provoked yet another virulent campaign against "bourgeois liberalization." The "turmoil" of the time was, at least in the minds of Deng Xiaoping and other senior Chinese leaders, a symptom of the Party's inadequate attention to ideological work. According to a speech by General Yang Shangkun to the Central Military Commission in May of 1989, the demonstrations were directly related to the CCP's "failure to completely oppose [bourgeois] liberalization and spiritual pollution." Yang went on to remark that Deng Xiaoping himself had identified the Party's "biggest failure" in the last ten years to be inadequate attention to education and "spiritual cultivation." The result was once again a concerted state-sponsored effort to promote "socialist spiritual civilization," coupled with various draconian measures designed to stifle dissent.
During the 1990s, the emphasis in Chinese propaganda campaigns has been more on national pride than on socialist morality. One reason is that, as in the past, Chinese nationalism proved to be an extremely effective device for providing a sense of solidarity in times of social unrest and political uncertainty. In 1994, the Chinese government initiated a "Campaign for Patriotic Education" designed to link cultural pride (e.g. restoration of the Great Wall and sponsorship of rituals honoring Confucius) with Chinese nationalism (e.g. the production of new "patriotic textbooks" emphasizing the evils of imperialism). An editorial in the People's Daily, dated September 22, 1995, reveals the antiforeign thrust of this campaign. Launching a powerful attack on the "unhealthy tendency" of "worshiping foreign things" (including the use of foreign names for stores and other enterprises), the editorial warns against an encroaching "cultural colonialism" that undermines China's "moral integrity and national dignity." "We are not inferior to anyone," the author goes on to emphasize.
This stridently patriotic point of view has also been expressed in a number of recently published books, such as the runaway bestseller, China Can Say "No" (1996), which has inspired several spinoffs and provoked a great deal of debate both within and outside of China. The basic theme of this hastily written, vitriolic and inelegant work is that China should stand up to pressure from the United States and other foreign countries, that it should be strong enough militarily and economically to be treated with respect. The authors, five young journalists and writers, admit that in their college days, during the period of "cultural fever" in the 1980s, they, like many other young intellectuals of the time, openly denounced Chinese culture and blindly worshipped the United States. Now, however, they have a new sense of national pride and national purpose.
From their perspective, the United States, with its arrogant sense of moral superiority and its great power status, has consistently treated China disrespectfully, and encouraged the forces of dissent, disunity and outright separatism in the PRC. Like many nationalistic Chinese, they blame the United States for bullying China, for encouraging independence movements in Taiwan and Tibet, and even for thwarting China's bid in 1993 to host the Olympics during the year 2000. Chinese policymakers, for their part, view matters similarly. They accuse the U.S. of fomenting unrest during the Tiananmen demonstrations of 1989, and see America as the self-conscious architect of the destruction of socialism--first in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and now in China. From the standpoint of Chinese nationalists, the United States seems to be trying to divide China territorially, subvert it politically, contain it strategically, and frustrate it economically.
Such patriotic sentiments fit the mood of China's year-long celebration of Hong Kong's "return to the motherland" during 1996-1997. A gigantic clock in front of the Museum of Chinese History in Beijing marked the countdown to this event, ticking off the days until the handover on July 1, 1997, counting time down to the second. Throughout the country, auspicious red billboards and banners conveyed patriotic messages in balanced couplets: "Joyously Celebrate the Return of Hong Kong; Sing in Unison of the Prosperous Era of Our Spiritual Land;" "Wash Away a Hundred Years of National Shame; Joyously Welcome the Return of Hong Kong;" and "Wash Away a Hundred Years of National Shame; Arouse Our Invincible Military Might." Television specials, radio shows, magazines and newspapers regularly added their voices to the anti-imperialist chorus.
It is important to remember, however, that Chinese nationalism is not simply an abstract concept to be cynically manipulated by the state authorities. It is also a genuine value--the product of Chinese national pride and an expression of the nearly universal Chinese desire for national strength and national unity. Thus, even intellectuals who openly deplore China's harsh treatment of the Tibetan people (a symbol for many of the suppression of dissent closer to home) tend to defend China's territorial claim of sovereignty over Tibet--if only because to do otherwise would be to suggest a lack of unity and to invite further regional fragmentation along ethnic lines.
We should also keep in mind that Chinese nationalism is a two-edged sword. Although it can can be used to rally support for the central government, it can also be employed as a weapon against the state. Consider, for example, how students and others repeatedly described the so-called Beijing Spring of 1989 as a "patriotic" movement. Here, grass-roots patriotism was at odds with state-sponsored anti-foreign nationalism: "We love our country but we hate our government." From the standpoint of most students and intellectuals, the West was not the enemy; the villain was corrupt and inefficient domestic rule. The Chinese government thus finds itself in the awkward position of encouraging certain types of nationalism for its own political purposes and at the same time discouraging "patriotic" sentiments that take a threatening political form. This helps to explain why the PRC authorities have tried so hard to maintain the integrity of China's "socialist spiritual civilization" against the inroads of Western "bourgeois" influence.
Chinese Social Values: The Evidence from Polls
What, then can be said about Chinese social values in the "era of reform?" What effect have the state's periodic rectification campaigns had on the way ordinary Chinese think and operate day to day? Anecdotal evidence suggests not much. To be sure, citizens of the PRC know how to go through the motions under such circumstances; but appeals to uphold "socialist morality," and to strive for "socialist spiritual civilization," have largely fallen on deaf ears. Conversations with a number of Chinese who endured various campaigns of the sort outlined above suggest that they were never taken very seriously, except by the state and party authorities and certain prominent intellectuals who suffered personally from purges and persecution.
Evidence from public opinion polls suggests that socialist self-sacrifice has surrendered to self-advancement in the new market-oriented economy. A comprehensive Gallup poll taken in China during 1994 indicates that when asked to select a "personal philosophy" from seven options, more than two-thirds (68%) of all Chinese citizens responded: "to work hard and get rich." Of these, peasants were the most attracted to this philosophy (74%) compared to less than half (47%) of all urban residents. In Beijing, only thirty-five percent of the citizens voiced this preference. About one eighth of Chinese nationwide (12%) chose the philosophy "live each day as it comes, cheerfully and without worrying;" and about the same number chose "don't think about money or fame, just live life as it suits your taste." Only four percent selected self-sacrifice ("never think of yourself, give everything in service to society"). Two percent chose "resist all evils in the world and live a pure and just life," and another two percent said "study hard and make a name for yourself. One percent responded "none of these."
In the minds of many people, China has experienced a precipitous decline in its ethical standards nationwide. Zha Jianying, in her outstanding book, China Pop (1995) provides a typical litany of complaints uttered by everyday Chinese as well as elite cultural critics: "Naked greed, raw selfishness, complete disregard for moral principles, destruction of the environment, nihilism, vulgarity, corruption, injustice." A great many other authorities, Chinese as well as Westerners, have identified the same basic attitudes and problems. Perry Link tells us, for instance, that Chinese scholars in virtually all fields--"from seismology to aesthetics, engineering to sociology"--seem to spend their private time in discussion of only one topic: China. "What is the terrible mess we are in? How did it happen? What can we do about it?"
Of course opinions about the state of China have much to do with how well off people are, and whether they see prospects for improvement. Generational differences also affect social attitudes. In 1988, two Chinese sociologists published an extremely popular book titled The Fourth Generation, which divided the Chinese people into four generational groups: (1) A "generation of heros," which grew up during the early decades of the 20th century and contributed to the establishment of the People's Republic; (2) a group of blindly loyal, "rust-free screws of the revolutionary machine," who were educated and socialized in the 1950s; (3) a "lost generation" of Red Guards--"people on the edge"--who were socialized during the Cultural Revolution, and who had experienced fanaticism, disillusionment and hardship; and (4) China's "me generation" the products of an economic (as opposed to a political) era, with a strong self-consciousness, and a fervent desire to control their own destiny.
In the late 1980s this "fourth generation" became the group that older people labeled "selfish," rebellious," and "impatient." Conflicts were particularly acute between the second generation and the fourth. One scholar from the older generation put the matter this way in an essay published in the March 25, 1989 edition of the People's Daily:
We always see the interests of the motherland, the people and the Party as superior to everything else; [therefore we] make no apology to this era and society. This enterprising spirit and sense of responsibility is precisely what today's youth's lack. In this transitional period, some youths actually do not understand and do not fit into the demands of the time . . . . [They] should often think of the motherland and people while coming up with their own designs and creations.
But how accurate are these perceptions? A scientific poll conducted in the Shanghai region (both urban and rural) during the late 1980s by Zhongdang Pan, Steven Chaffee, Godwin Chu and Yanan Ju, sheds some light on the question. Dividing the 2,000-person sample into three cohorts, (1) those 29 years old and below, (2) those 30-49 years old; and (3) those 50-65 years old--corresponding more or less to the fourth, third and second generations--the pollsters came up with results such as the following:
I. In answer to the question: "Do you think younger people should show due respect to older people?," the percentages responding "yes" from the three groups were: (1) 97%, (2) 97%, and (3) 99%.
II. In answer to the question: "If you do not agree with the opinions of someone who is senior to you, will you express your different opinions?," the percentages answering "yes" from the three groups were: (1) 25%, (2) 22%, and (3) 23%.
III. In answer to the question: "Of the following elements of traditional Chinese culture, which do you feel proud of and which should be discarded?," the percentages responding "proud of" from the three groups to each element were:
A. Diligence and frugality: (1) 83%, (2) 90%, and (3) 97%.
B. Benevolent father, filial son: (1) 65%, (2) 63%, and (3) 61%.
C. Loyalty to the state: (1) 79%, (2) 77%, and (3) 76%.
D. Differentiation between men and women: (1) 9%, (2) 12%, and (3) 9%.
E. Three obediences [to father, then husband and finally son] and the four [womanly] virtues: (1) 10%, (2) 9%, and (3) 4%.
F. Tolerance, propriety, and deference: (1) 45%, (2) 48%, and (3) 47%.
G. Chastity for women: (1) 38%, (2) 36%, and (3) 19%.
H. Pleasing superiors: (1) 9%, (2) 7%, and (3) 6%.
I. A house full of children and grandchildren: (1) 30%, (2) 23%, and (3) 10%.
J. Harmony is precious: (1) 46%, (2) 49%, and (3) 52%.
K. Generosity: (1) 57%, (2) 58%, and (3) 62%.
L. Submission to authority: (1) 52%, (2) 50%, and (3) 58%.
M. Respect tradition: (1) 55%, (2) 58%, and (3) 51%.
In all, the generational differences are not very great. Although the younger respondents seem to have a somewhat diminished respect for authority, and to be less diligent and frugal, they are a bit more anxious to please superiors and a bit more loyal to the state. Ironically, they appear to have far more conservative attitudes toward women than their elders.
Ignoring generational differences and focusing only on urban-rural differences, the same three questions yielded the following results:
I. "Do you think younger people should show due respect to older people?" The percentages answering "yes" were: rural, 99%; urban, 97%.
II. "If you do not agree with the opinions of someone who is senior to you, will you express your different opinions?" The percentages answering "yes" were: rural, 32%; urban, 20%.
III. "Of the following elements of traditional Chinese culture, which do you feel proud of and which should be discarded?" The percentages answering "proud of" were:
A. Diligence and frugality: rural, 88%; urban, 91%.
B. Benevolent father, filial son: rural, 57%; urban, 65%.
C. Loyalty to the state: rural, 76%; urban, 77%.
D. Differentiation between men and women: rural, 9%; urban, 13%.
E. Three obediences [to father, then husband and finally son] and the four [womanly] virtues: rural, 11%; urban, 7%.
F. Tolerance, propriety, and deference: rural, 37%; urban, 51%.
G. Chastity for women: rural, 30%; urban, 33%.
H. Pleasing superiors: rural, 13%; urban, 5%.
I. A house full of children and grandchildren: rural, 38%; urban, 16%.
J. Harmony is precious: rural, 35%; urban, 54%.
K. Generosity: rural, 49%; urban, 62%.
L. Submission to authority: rural, 50%; urban, 54%.
M. Respect tradition: rural, 55%; urban, 55%.
Looking at matters from the standpoint of occupation, the poll results were:
I. "Do you think younger people should show due respect to older people?" The percentages answering "yes" were: laborer, 98%; professional, 97%.
II. "If you do not agree with the opinions of someone who is senior to you, will you express your different opinions?" The percentages answering "yes" were: laborer, 25%; professional, 17%.
III. "Of the following elements of traditional Chinese culture, which do you feel proud of and which should be discarded?" The percentages answering "proud of" were:
A. Diligence and frugality: laborer, 87%; professional, 90%.
B. Benevolent father, filial son: laborer, 61%; professional, 66%.
C. Loyalty to the state: laborer, 75%; professional, 77%.
D. Differentiation between men and women: laborer, 12%; professional, 12%.
E. Three obediences [to father, then husband and finally son] and the four [womanly] virtues: laborer, 10%; professional, 4%.
F. Tolerance, propriety, and deference: laborer, 45%; professional, 51%.
G. Chastity for women: laborer, 36%; professional, 25%.
H. Pleasing superiors: laborer, 8%; professional, 3%.
I. A house full of children and grandchildren: laborer, 27%; professional, 11%.
J. Harmony is precious: laborer, 47%; professional, 52%.
K. Generosity: laborer, 58%; professional, 62%.
L. Submission to authority: laborer, 54%; professional, 51%.
M. Respect tradition: laborer, 56%; professional, 49%.
Broken down by gender, the results of the Shanghai poll showed the following:
I. "Do you think younger people should show due respect to older people?" The percentages answering "yes" were: men, 98%; women, 97%.
II. "If you do not agree with the opinions of someone who is senior to you, will you express your different opinions?" The percentages answering "yes" were: men, 23%; women, 24%.
III. "Of the following elements of traditional Chinese culture, which do you feel proud of and which should be discarded?" The percentages answering "proud of" were:
A. Diligence and frugality: men, 89%; women, 92%.
B. Benevolent father, filial son: men, 64%; women, 62%.
C. Loyalty to the state: men, 79%; women, 75%.
D. Differentiation between men and women: men, 12%; women, 8%.
E. Three obediences [to father, then husband and finally son] and the four [womanly] virtues: men, 8%; women, 8%.
F. Tolerance, propriety, and deference: men, 50%; women, 44%.
G. Chastity for women: men, 31%; women, 34%.
H. Pleasing superiors: men, 7%; women, 8%.
I. A house full of children and grandchildren: men, 20%; women, 23%.
J. Harmony is precious: men, 49%; women, 50%.
K. Generosity: men, 58%; women, 59%.
L. Submission to authority: men, 51%; women, 55%.
M. Respect tradition: men, 55%; women, 56%.
Not surprisingly, in many areas the poll data of these researchers shows substantial differences between contemporary Chinese and American society. For instance, overall only 23% of the Chinese surveyed said that they would express their disagreement with someone senior to them, as compared to 78% of a similar U.S. sample. And about twice as many Chinese as Americans (49% to 24%) felt that yielding to others in the interest of harmony was an admirable idea. In the realm of family values, 83% of the Chinese sample thought that, facing financial difficulties, the first recourse of aging parents should be to request assistance from their adult children, whereas only 11% of the U.S. sample felt the same way. When asked whether love was the most important factor in choosing a mate, a mere 23% of the Chinese sample answered "yes," as compared to 77% of the American sample. And when asked about using personal connections to solve difficult problems, 72% of the Chinese respondents said that such ties were either "important" or "very important," compared to 11% of Americans.
This last statistic underscores the enormous importance of personalistic relations (guanxi) in China, past and present. As scholars such as Mayfair Yang, Yan Yunxiang, Andrew Kipnis and others have pointed out, social life on the Chinese Mainland is inconceivable without reference to guanxi networks. In premodern times, the cultivation of "connections" gave individuals a way to obtain a measure of security and a means of getting things done in the face of a huge, pervasive and impersonal bureaucracy. Lacking recourse to any sort of protective law or non-governmental institutions that might serve as a counterweight to the awesome power of the state (religion, "big business," etc.), individuals relied upon personalistic relationships in the conduct of their political, social and economic lives--as they do to this day, for the same basic reasons. There is even a special term in Chinese to describe this enduring phenomenon: guanxi xue, "the art [lit., study] of connections."
Many different types of guanxi exist in contemporary China, each investing Chinese morality with a high degree of particularism. The most common forms continue to be based on kinship, family friendships, shared home area, educational ties, bureaucratic linkages, and so forth. Many types of guanxi imply a superior-inferior relationship, in which the "junior" person owes loyalty, obedience and respect, while the "senior" owes protection and assistance in advancement. Other kinds of guanxi involve more equitable but still highly particularistic relationships. But whether hierarchical or otherwise, personal connections in China have always been reinforced by the practice of gift-giving--a reflection of the deep-seated Chinese social principle of "reciprocity." As Yan Yunxiang and others have shown, many people in contemporary China keep elaborate lists of what they have received and given, and villagers commonly spend as much as twenty percent of their income on gifts. Some even go into debt in order to buy presents.
The pervasiveness of guanxi-related gift-giving in China helps to explain the "organized corruption" that has long been a feature of Chinese bureaucratic life. Officials with low salaries but substantial power have always been in a position to dispense favors in turn for "gifts," and the line between gift-giving, bribery and extortion has often been difficult to draw. Since 1949, China's effort to implement nationwide socialism on the Mainland has produced what Mayfair Yang describes as a "gift economy," in which guanxi networks redistribute what the state economy has already distributed. In other words, personal connections have become widely used to secure scarce commodities, from food and other consumables to housing and even hospital beds. Although Yang is at pains to distinguish between the subtle art of guanxi, based solidly on "human feelings," and the crass self-interest that characterizes simply bribery, she acknowledges that these categories are often conflated, especially in government propaganda.
Significantly, there is evidence from both polls and fieldwork to suggest that personal connections are even more important in China now than they have been in the past, despite the growth of the market economy and the decline of socialism. According to the Shanghai poll cited above, more than 75% of the two youngest groups (29 years old and under and 30-49 years old, respectively), considered personal connections to be "important" or "very important" in the solving of difficult problems, compared to only 55% for those between the ages of 50-65.
In short, Chinese values are in a state of flux. On the one hand, new economic forces and new ideas have produced new social and political attitudes, especially on the part of the young. By almost any measure, including a large number of scientific polls undertaken in various parts of the country during the 1980s and 90s, the Chinese have become more materialistic, cynical, assertive, individualistic and self-interested. One large-scale study in Guangzhou, comparing the values of college students in 1987 and in 1992, found, for example, that increasingly young people have come to believe that "the value of life can be seen in how much money one possesses," and that "happiness lies in having money and power."
Another study of primary and middle-school students in Zhuzhou (Hunan) revealed that 42.8% of them believed that social relationships were based on "each person using another for his own ends," compared to 40.6%, who believed that such relationships were based on "friendship and mutual benefit." On the other hand, even among the young, it is evident that certain time-honored Chinese social values, including an emphasis on family relationships and a reliance on personal connections have endured. Filial devotion is still much-prized in Chinese society, although not as much as in the past, and male chauvinism is still quite evident at all levels, among all age groups. Moreover, socialist values have not disappeared completely from China. To be sure, support for the CCP has diminished among university-level students; and relatively few Chinese of any age appear to be interested in emulating state-sponsored heros such as the self-sacrificing PLA soldier, Lei Feng. But patriotism is still a primary value. Moreover, a nationwide survey of university, middle school and primary school students in China undertaken by the Center for Research in Moral Education in 1992 revealed that when given a choice of three (out of eleven) options, 62.2% of the respondents chose "revolutionary leaders" as the kind of people they most admired, followed by 46% who chose "heroic models" and 45.4% who chose scientists.