(Professor Manfred Henningsen was born in Germany. He received his PhD at the University of Munich, 1967. His dissertation was about the British historian and philosopher of history, Arnold J. Toynbee. Mr. Henningsen became a professor of political sciences at the University of Hawai’i in 1970. )
Zuo Feng Wang (alias Wang Ce, 1949 -2021)
Last week the sudden death of the former UH Ph.D. student in political science, Zuo Feng Wang, was announced in Spain by his family. He was 72 years old. Wang received his Ph.D. in May 1992 with a dissertation on China Seeks Democracy: An Inquiry into Models of Democracy and their Role in China’s Future. The members of his committee (Deane Neubauer, Peter Manicas, Lindy Aquino, Chung Ying Cheng and Manfred Henningsen) were impressed by the critical range of his inquiry into the alternative models of a democratic formation for China. After discussing the existing democratic constitutions, namely socialist democracy, liberal democracy and social democracy, he declared in the abstract of his disseration: “… this dissertation discusses some basic principles of democracy that would be appropriate for China’s future. It suggests that a democratic government should be established under the principle of separation of powers.” He mentions as essential features a multi-party system and periodic elections and emphasizes: “Only a combination of the democratic structure of government and the principles of liberty and equality within the political, social and economic realms can make a social system democratic. If China wants to achieve democracy these basic principles of democracy should be considered as references.”
After the completion of the Ph.D. process at UH, Wang re-joined his family that had emigrated to Spain. Having been traumatized by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the Tiananmen massacre (June 4, 1989) he became restless and wanted to return to the PRC. During an attempt to illegally enter the PRC, he was caught and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Ever since these depressing encounters with the Chinese undemocratic reality, he has been writing and talking all over the world about his vision of a democratic China. He published in 2013 in Taiwan the book The Road to Constitutionalism of the Republic of China. One of the last public presentations he gave in July 2019 at a conference in Cologne, Germany, on human rights in China. According to the German journalist Kai Strittmatter (We Have All Been Harmonized. Life in China’s Surveillance State, 2019) who had been a reporter for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Munich) in China for many years, Germany has become a center of Chinese dissent in exile and Wang was seen as the heir to Liu Xiaobo’s legacy.
As the chair of his committee, I had long conversations with Wang about a chapter of his dissertation that I found not completely ready for the inclusion in the final text. He wanted to use the history of the Christian Democratic Party that emerged in West Germany after WWII as a model for the founding of a Christian party in China. He agreed to leave this chapter out. Yet in July 1992, 2 months after his graduation, he sent me the 69 pages brochure: China’s Way to Restoration. Christian Democracy and Chinese Culture. The text was in Chinese but was preceded by a 2 page “Abstract” in English. In this “Abstract” he wrote: “… the author formulates a Program for Chinese Christian Democracy in the form of ‘Five Formulizations Three Ethics’ (Wu Hua San Lun). The 5 ‘formulizations’ are “Social Liberalization, Political Democratization, Economic Livelihoodization and Educational Personalization.” The “Three Ethics” Include “God Ethics, Things Ethics and Men Ethics.” His conclusion: “By reestablishing a harmonious relationship with God, things and men under the law of love, a man can find his proper place in the universe.”
The final words are a reference to the last book in the New Testament, The Revelation of John: “…that Program will certainly bring a renaissance to the Chinese culture with its brilliant five thousand years’ tradition. A blessed New China in the vision of the New Heaven, New Earth and New Men will rise in the East to glorify the name of God with a thunderous ovation.” Re-reading this apocalyptic vision today, I still feel comfortable for having, as the chair of the PhD committee, him talked out of including it in the dissertation. However, I also realize that Wang was anticipating spiritual movements like Falun Gong and the re-energized evangelical house churches and the non-recognized Catholic underground communities. The spiritual vacuum that Wang recognized as having emerged after the collapse of Maoism is supervised today by the dictates of Xi Jinping’s surveillance state.