Some of China’s famous intellectuals do a favor for the CCP
The Chinese intellectual has an ambivalent relationship with power. In imperial China, a scholar could try to pass the imperial examination (keju) and become a government officer, in which case wealth and high positions would follow for the rest of his life. According to the Confucian doctrine, loyalty to one’s ruler and piety to one’s parents are at the top of the ethic scale. Becoming a state employee gave intellectuals more reasons to be obedient and loyal to the emperor and his absolute power.
Long before the Communist Party took power in China, Mao Zedong was already prepared to take control of the thoughts and minds of intellectuals. In 1942 he delivered the famous Yan’an Talks on Literature and Art, and ordered that literature and art should obey politics and serve the country’s workers, peasants, and soldiers.
The Yan’an Talks laid the foundations of “thought reform,” which allowed the political campaigns of the 1950s to the 1970s—when intellectuals were first criticized and forced to criticize themselves—to sweep through China. During these campaigns intellectuals were banned to remote areas and exiled in their own country. In the process hundreds of thousands, even millions, died in hunger and dismay.
During the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals were targeted and denounced as “cow devils and snake ghosts” as well as “the stinking ninth” because they were ranked lower than landlords, rich peasants, counter revolutionaries, evil elements, rightists, traitors, spies and capitalists. Falling to the bottom of the social ladder, with broken hearts and broken backs, the intellectuals degenerated into lackeys and accomplices of the CCP. The famous philosopher Feng Youlan (1895-1990) was one of the most tragic and embarrassing figures who bowed to suppression and betrayed his own conscience and knowledge. In his old age, he rewrote his History of Chinese Philosophy. According to his words in the preface to the book: “From my level of Marxism, I write my understanding of Chinese philosophy, history, and culture.” Marxism and class struggle became the guidelines throughout his book.
However, times change and today the intellectuals are no longer “the stinking ninth,” they are elite resources. Of course, the CCP knows how to use its resources well, and pressure plus conciliation is an irresistible weapon. Recently, the Party celebrated the 70th anniversary of the “glorious” Yan’an Talks and planned to publish a memorial volume. Mr. Wang Baosheng, assistant to the president of the state-owned Writers Publishing House, had an idea to make the volume more attractive: He invited leading figures in contemporary art and literature to hand-write the Talks.
Wang cut the “Talks” into one hundred sections and sent each with 1000 RMB (US $160) as a gift to the hundred writers who agreed to participate the “historical event.”
News of this spread online, and netizens became furious, calling the writers shameless and comparing them to prostitutes, eunuchs, and dogs.
One article, “One Hundred Writers, One Hundred Slaves” appeared on Canyu.org on May 26, 2012 (it is no longer available), and was reprinted in the Hong Kong-based OPEN Magazine. The names of the one hundred writers have also been posted. Surprisingly some very famous writers such as Wang Meng, Tie Ning, Feng Jicai, Jia Pingwa, Su Tong, and Han Shaogong are on the list.
Of course there are lots of other writers who rejected the invitation. Zhang Yihe, Yan Lianke, and Wang Anyi, among others, are not on the list, yet people are still shocked about how insensitive and indifferent the participating writers are, especially as most of the elder intellectuals were once victims of the system. It seems that the authority’s redemption policy has wiped their memory and their conscience. One gets goose bumps from thinking that the world has to face a huge country, an economic monster, with intellectuals like these. Dr. Faustus made a deal with Mephistopheles because he wanted to find answers to the mysteries of nature and the universe, but these Chinese literati made a deal with the devil for what? Not for the 100-odd bucks. Maybe they’ve never had a soul—they are so clever, they’ve even tricked the devil!
- Updated on September 5, 2020: Two books about the intellectuals from ancient to contemporary China are worth to be introduced:
- 1.The Dilemma of Chinese Intellectuals (zhongguo zhishi fenzi de kunjing), by Zi Zhongyun, 20201/1/ at Hong Kong City University Press.
- 2. Ten Commentaries on Chinese Intellectuals (revised Edition) (Zhongguo zhishi fenzi shilun ), by Xu Jilin 2016/05/17 at Hong Kong Zhonghe Publishing House.
First published at Sampsoniaway.org on August 1, 2012