China’s New Left

Lengthy article on China’s “new Left” movement and one of its main proponents, Wang Hui, editor of the journal Dushu. I’m not going to try and summarize this long piece, but Wang deals with the contradictions in a China that has embraced turbocapitalism and yet still calls itself a socialist country:

More than four million Chinese participated in the 87,000 protests recorded in 2005, and these statistics may not fully convey the rage and discontent of Chinese living with one of the world’s highest income inequalities and deteriorating health and education systems, as well as the arbitrary fees and taxes imposed by local party officials. Much of this, Wang said, could be laid at the feet of the “right-wing radicals” or neoliberal economists who cite Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (advocates of unregulated markets who inspired Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 80’s) and who argue for China’s integration into the global economy without taking into account the social price of mass privatization. And it is they, Wang added, who have held favor with the ruling elite and have dominated the state-run media.

Wang challenges the Western notion that free markets will automatically bring democracy:

For Wang, democracy is not just a simple matter of expanding political freedom for the middle class or creating legal and constitutional rights for a minority already substantially empowered by market reforms. Democracy in China, he said, has to be based upon the active consent and mobilization of the majority of its population, and be able to ensure social and economic justice for them.

According to this piece, “New Left” ideas are increasingly reflected in the rhetoric of the Central Government. It will be interesting to see if their ideas on democracy and social justice are reflected as well.

Lots of food for thought here. Read the whole piece and let me know what you think.

Thanks to the TPD reader who alerted me to this piece – afraid I don’t remember who it was!

UPDATE Reader Brendan refers us to this excellent post from J. at the Granite Studio on Wang Hui – J. makes the point that, for all of Wang Hui’s merits, “he still views the CCP as a force for change.” Writes J.:

Far from being a bulwark of socialism, the CCP actually fosters a climate where legal protections and social programs can be placed on the books at the center and effectively gutted of all meaning by the time they trickle down the party bureaucracy to the local areas. It’s the nature of a one-party system that punishes dissent.

Be sure to check out that discussion as well.

The Discussion: 39 Comments

Please, please refer to J from the Granite Studio’s discussion of Wang Hui at .

October 16, 2006 @ 4:36 am | Comment

I think the “New Left” may be a good influence on China, but I don’t think anything will be able to progress much until Hu Jintao has left office and a new kind of leader comes though. This is important – a new President won’t be any good if he’s a control-freak robot like HJ.

October 16, 2006 @ 7:43 am | Comment

Is it even meaningful to discuss China’s “new new left” based on a 5,000 words article? How many of you have heard of “New Left” in China before? How about DUSHU (读书) magazine? Have you read any issue of it? Even one? How many of you have heard of WANG HUI (汪晖) before? Or Cui Zhiyuan (崔之元)? or any of those “new leftists”? Have you read their works? What do you think of WANG HUI (汪晖)’s writings of Lu Xun (鲁迅)? Do you know who Lu Xun (鲁迅) is? Have you read any of Lu Xun (鲁迅)’s works? If the answer is no, well, then, why should I listen toYOUR comment on THEM?

Come to think of it, why should I listen to any of you guys ideas on China? Because you live here? You speak the language? You travel a lot? You know lots of Chinese people, have a few Chinese friends, and maybe even marry one? You read NYT and BBC? You blog a lot? So that makes you an expert on China, doesn’t it?

October 16, 2006 @ 9:44 am | Comment

Who here claims to be an expert on anything? We are interested in China and share our ideas. If you think these observations are worthless you can always go elsewhere.

October 16, 2006 @ 9:48 am | Comment

For those interested in learning more about Wang Hui, there is a pretty good English translation of his essays edited by Theodore Huter and translated by Rebecca Karl called _China’s New Order: Society, Politics, and Economy in Transition_ published in 2003. We read it for a seminar about two years ago. Again, I may not agree with everything Wang Hui says, but the book is definitely worth checking out.

October 16, 2006 @ 9:56 am | Comment


My comment is not aimed at you. It’s just a reminder how foreign a different culture could be, and the hubris of the mankind, myself included.

October 16, 2006 @ 10:17 am | Comment


What is your point? Why should we listen to you? Is it because you seem to have a Chinese name?

October 16, 2006 @ 11:53 am | Comment

Er, as the person who put up this post, I made no particular claims of knowledge about this movement (I’ve heard of it and that’s about it). I tried to structure the post as a way to stimulate a conversation.

So please, discuss. And don’t name-call. Because I’m interested in this topic; I really would like to learn more, and name-calling is a big turn-off.

That said, anybody who disses Milton Friedman gets a gold star from me!

October 16, 2006 @ 12:00 pm | Comment

Lisa: In a more enlightened age, Milton Friedman
would have been a garbage collector (aka “dustman” for the Brits here.) Now give me my gold star, damn it!

Seriously, I agreed with a lot of what Wang said.
I’ve been saying for years that so-called “free markets” (which sure as hell are no longer “free” in America) are not the foundation of liberal democracy, not even of the democracies Britain and Europe. Some kind of Rule of Law always antecedes democracy, and economic systems are negotiable (and debatable) effects of those things.

But what worries me about Wang is that he seems to be stuck in the myth of economic determinism, or at least in this article he doesn’t seem to see much farther than the dead old landscape of 19th century “political economy.” And no I don’t mean he has a 19th century intepretation of it, but rather that he’s still stuck in the foundational assumptions about economics being the substructure of politics – just like most Americans still do.

So I agree with him about the disconnect between so-called “free markets” and political liberalisation, but I get the impression that his vision is still very myopic. Of course if his vision weren’t myopic to some extent, the Communists wouldn’t allow him to be interviewed and published in the NY Times in this way.

PS, Milton Friedman wears his sister’s knickers. TWO gold stars for me now!

October 16, 2006 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

Lisa and others,

As you should have known by now, I don’t lash out on other commenters for no reasons. fzkong made those comments either due to ignorance or dishonesty. Either way, they don’t help advance the discussion.

Dushu is a publication that tolls the party line. I have no doubt of that. I would even say that it is a publication that upholds traditional Chinese Communist values. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Dushu is one of the most influential academic journals in China today. More important than that, it is an avenue through which the best of China’s institutional elite argues the case for the up-keeping of this traditional value, not only to their compatriots but also to other Chinese studies experts in the world. Through examining the content and intensity of the arguments, we can have a much deeper insight into issues that’s central to the ruling regime in China today.

So that’s a general picture. What particularly intrigues me is this sudden revival of interest in this so-called New Left movement. This happens at the same time as another discussion about the importance of upholding the principle of laissez-fair policy in order for China to further advance its market economy. In both cases, the name Milton Friedman was mentioned. Coincidence? I’m not too sure. Here I’m referring TPD readers to a 14/10/06 entry at the China Digital Times titled “Beijing official on the attack”. The CDT report quoted a report from the HK Standard about an argument between some Beijing-based economists and the HK government over whether HK should hold on to its laissez-fair principles or either there should be more government intervention in economic policies. In the past, we would expert the Chief Executive of HK to jump up and defend HK’s laissez-fair tradition. Not any more.

So I would like to invite you to read on and to read this story about China’s New Left in the context of this dilemma between traditional values and new economic trends.

As for Milton Friedman, what about this: he is a sinking boat that even Donald Tsang wants to abandon. Do I get a gold star?

October 16, 2006 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

Yes, Fat Cat. You and Ivan both get gold stars from me!

October 16, 2006 @ 2:27 pm | Comment


COOL! Now who else do you want me to insult?


October 16, 2006 @ 2:43 pm | Comment

Mmmmm….I have to be careful how I aim this weapon…let me think on that…

October 16, 2006 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

I think it’s a good article. It presents Wang Hui’s ideas quite well, while at the same making it clear that he’s by no means an anti-establishmentarian.

Extremely intelligent guy, but ultimately not too different from the 士大夫 (court intelligentsia) of old. (And Wang Hui himself probably wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.)

I think his call for social security (especially for the peasantry) has great value, but on the whole he doesn’t exactly make me optimistic about China’s intellectual scene.

October 16, 2006 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

I just ordered a book by him in English translation – I’ll report back.

October 16, 2006 @ 3:09 pm | Comment

fzkong piously intoned:
“Come to think of it, why should I listen to any of you guys ideas on China?”

Most of the posters here either live in China, are interested in China, or both. What’s your problem with us trying to better understand the Chinese world around us? Where do you get this idea that only “experts” should discuss things with each other?

As a matter of fact, I’d say a number of regular posters here actually do qualify as experts, or something quite close. I’m grateful they take the time to post, I regularly learn all sorts of valuable things here.

You are cordially welcome to assist us in our quest for understanding, but if the amosphere isn’t quite your cup of tea, by all means, don’t bother yourself – or us – by posting unhelpful comments here. I’m sure an intelligent expert like you is in high demand elsewhere.

October 16, 2006 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

I understand what fzkong means.

He means, China is “different”, China is magical, China is a country of NON-HUMANS, a country whose people and culture are ENTIRELY DIFFERENT from ALL of the Human Race! In fact – as many racist Chinese (including many so-called “scholars”among them) like to believe, maybe the Chinese people are a DIFFERENT SPECIES!

Yes, yes, China is “different” in a way which NO OTHER HUMANS can understand! (That is, assuming that the Chinese even belong to the same species as homo sapiens! This is a debatable topic among some Chinese Nationalist ‘scholars”, who superstitiously falsify the scientific evidence of how ALL humans are descended from the first humans who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago – but no, no, that’s not good enough for those racist Chinese “scholars”, no, they want to fantasise about belonging to an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SPECIES!
Jesus H F—ing Christ, even HITLER acknowledged that the Jews belonged to the same species as him. But there are some bastards among China’s “scholars” who are even more racist than Hitler was.

Those racist Chinese bastards say: There is China, and then there is the rest of the world, populated by “homo sapiens”, aka, “Foreigners.” (Maybe the Chinese should just stop using the word “Foreigner” and replace it with “Human,”, and then concoct some other pseudo-scientific species term for the Chinese, different from “homo sapiens.” How about “Homo Cell-phonicus”, as the name of the Chinese species of hominids? Or how about,
“homo spitticus”, or “homo non-queue-up-us”?)

Good….GOD! Yes I’m fuming here, because I’m so f—ing sick and tired of this BLOOOODY, IGnorant, STUpid, SUPERSTITIOUS shit which so many benighted Humans of the PRC believe in, this BULLSHIT about how the Chinese are “different” from all other humans.

Hey, you wanna talk about racism? THAT is racism, that stupid f—ing idea, that dark barbarian superstition which says, “Foreigners cannot understand China.”

Why not? Is the race of “Foreigners” a different species from the Chinese? (Well, some Chinese racist pigs think so.)

Yeah, well, if “Chinese” is an entirely different species, then here is how naturalists should define the difference between the Chinese and Humans:

1. Humans (homo sapiens) tend to have some basic respect for others of their own species. Chinese (homo cell-phonicus) have no respect for any life other than their own skin or anyone whom they can personally get any advantage from.

2. Homo sapiens have evolved to a level of intelligence which enables them to avoid collisions more than a split second before the collision happens, either as pedestrians or as motorists. Homo cellphonicus does not have this kind of brain which can anticipated consequences of it’s bloody stupid actions.

3. Homo sapiens do not parrot idiotic lines like “You don’t understand China” on and on and on in the most boring and barbarian and ignorant ways.

AGGGH! Good….God……..

(Um, my friends here who know what I’m like, you’ll know that this is just one of my frustrated rants after I’ve seen too much bloody superstitious stupidity in benighted, backward, UNSCIENTIFIC, superstitious, Communist China, and the above commenter’s comment just reminded me of it all….so please indulge me while I get that all out of my system….pant pant pant…..)

PS, Ivan is back…. 😉

October 16, 2006 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

Ivan, I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with all your points, but you sure stated them in a way no one else could. I’m waiting to see fzkong’s rebuttal – if he hasn’t slinked away traumatized.

October 16, 2006 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

Ivan — let’s be friends.

October 16, 2006 @ 11:44 pm | Comment

Brendan: go fuck yourself with a pinecone and never say anything to me on this blog again.

I never say anything to you or about you unless you come around baiting me in the obsessive way that you have done again just now. I would prefer to ignore you, so, Brendan, WHY THE FUCK don’t you give me the same courtesy, and WHY THE FUCK are you SO FUCKING OBSESSED WITH ME?

I take it as a twisted kind of compliment, Brendan, that you pay SOOOO much attention to me even when I just want to ignore you and carry on in peaceful co-existence. But no, that’s not enough for you, because you’re obsessed with me, almost to the same sick extent as the Unnamable Troll is obsessed with Richard.

Brendan, why, why, WHY the FUCK do you insist on baiting me personally when I would be quite happy to ignore your miserable little wanking existence?

Brendan, if you want an ongoing feud with me on this blog, I’ll give you one. But YOU are the one who keeps coming after me and provoking me here, when I’m doing nothing to provoke you personally.

And personally, I would rather not turn Richard’s place (HIS place, not yours Brendan, and not mine, this is RICHARD’s place) into a battlefield between me and your catty adolescent wanking grievances against me and how I say things you don’t like. And I assume Richard agrees with me about that. Therefore, Brendan: Just shut the fuck up whenever you feel tempted to start any personal fight with me, and never start any trouble with me again on this blog, and I know that I can presume that our host Richard will back me up on that.


October 17, 2006 @ 12:11 am | Comment

Actually, I was being totally serious about being friends.

October 17, 2006 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Brendan, OK I’ll take that at face value.

Now please just avoid me for a while and I’ll do you the same courtesy, for a while. That’s the best way for us to begin being friends, at this time.

By the way, Brendan, I have a lot of Irish blood too, like you, and so (as you’ve seen) I fight in very Irish ways. HA! Ah, what the fuck, Brendan, the Irish know that a good fight often makes a good friendship. 😉 I’m beginning to like you already.

So you see you’ve already gotten on my good side with your above comment. As I said, I’m very Gaelic, so my anger doesn’t last long, but my friendship does.

Hm. Well, that said, let’s carry on and see how it goes.

Meanwhile (imgagine me saying this in a Northern Irish accent): “I kneh, whar yew lehv!” (Actually I don’t “know where you live”, but I thought it would be cool to impersonate a Northern Irish terrorist of undefined religion, both sides are very much alike, you know.)

How’s that for a good new start between us two Paddies-in-Diaspora, hah, Brendan? 🙂

And the rest of our audience can marvel at how the Irish fight like you and I have done, and then make up a split-second later. 😉

I’ll trust you to keep this peace, Brendan. That’s all for now. Oh and by the way, maybe now you can understand that whenever I rage about China or related matters, I’m being hyperbolic in the old Gaelic way. Get it? Got it? Good.

And a hearty thanks to you, Brendan.

October 17, 2006 @ 12:45 am | Comment

@Ivan, do you realize God is a dictator? I find you to be very ironic, if not simply dumb.

October 17, 2006 @ 2:15 am | Comment

Jessica, if you call me “dumb”, then it tells me that I’m a fucking genius.

October 17, 2006 @ 2:34 am | Comment

PS (vis a vis my above comments to Brendan about how the Irish fight): Jessica, you are the kind of mass of protoplasm whom the Irish would never bother fighting with. But we might mix your corpse in with the bog turf, as fertiliser, after we find a way to make you stupidly kill yourself.

October 17, 2006 @ 2:38 am | Comment

and we were doing so well…

Can I ask everyone to, erm, watch the rhetorical excesses? As in, avoid calling other posters stupid or potential fertilizer?


your site nanny

October 17, 2006 @ 2:50 am | Comment

@fzkong: “Have you ever blah blah blah? If the answer is no, well, then, why should I listen to YOUR comment on THEM?”

Maybe you could try, I dunno, telling us what you think about them. It’s called a discussion, which is what posts here are meant to provoke. The post is not supposed to be the final answer. Comments are for providing additional answers, not unconstructive bitching.


@Ivan: “This is a debatable topic among some Chinese Nationalist ‘scholars”, who superstitiously falsify the scientific evidence of how ALL humans are descended from the first humans who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago – but no, no, that’s not good enough for those racist Chinese “scholars”, no, they want to fantasise about belonging to an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SPECIES!”

I got your back brother. My social darwinism post links to a paper on “paleoanthropological nationalism”. Ivan’s not exaggerating people. Even in this century Chinese scholars and to some extent the Chinese government has supported the idea that Asians, and particularly Chinese, developed on a separate evolutionary track from the rest of us homo sapiens. Remember that the next time someone exclaims “laowai” and giggles like a schoolgirl.

Actually, some guy did do that on the street today, and I turned around and walked straight at him demanding to know what his problem was. He ran away. Ahhh… that felt good.

October 17, 2006 @ 4:31 am | Comment

“Separate evolutionary track,” huh? How do they explain all of the Europeans with Asian DNA, do you think?

October 17, 2006 @ 6:30 am | Comment

FZKong sounds a lot like our old pal Jing.

October 17, 2006 @ 6:37 am | Comment

History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition.

~ Milton Friedman

October 17, 2006 @ 7:15 am | Comment

What’s lacking is social justice – which I’d define as some sort of social safety net and notion of “the Commons.” I think these things have gotten lost in the era of turbocapitalism. I’m all for capitalism, but for once I’ll second Friedman – it’s not enough for societies to flourish.

October 17, 2006 @ 8:54 am | Comment

Hey, what’s with the Friedman bashing? The Chicago School of Economics is awesome. Look how many dazzlingly successful consultants, i-bankers, and investors it has produced. Something must be going right there.

October 17, 2006 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

Oh, and here are some of Hayek’s words, perhaps they’ll make you like him a little more too, Lisa:

To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible, to supplement it where it cannot be made effective, to provide the services which, in the word of Adam Smith, “though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature, that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals”- these tasks provide, indeed, a wide and unquestioned field for state activity.

F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

October 17, 2006 @ 6:58 pm | Comment

The Chinese blogger “drunkpiano” has a post about this article. I can knock up a quick translation of it if you like, but the gist of it is that he doesn’t have a very high opinion of Wang Hui:

On the one hand, he excoriates “neo-liberalism,” the “market economy,” and “unjust privatization;” on the other hand, he does his utmost to defend China’s authoritarian system. The problem is, the biggest supporter of neo-liberalism, the market economy, and unjust privatization is this authoritarian regime, and how can you criticize neo-liberalism without criticizing the political forces behind it? How blind – or blithe – does one have to be to overlook this fundamental reality? It’s as if one were to courageously denounce a wad of phlegm lying on the ground while simultaneously singing the praises of people who go around hawking loogies everywhere. Courage? What kind of courage is that?

October 17, 2006 @ 7:15 pm | Comment

@Brendan: dude, a translation would be fantastic. If you’re up for it, I’ll post it.

October 18, 2006 @ 1:57 am | Comment

Sure thing, though that’s kind of the money paragraph from drunkpiano. He links to a discussion that should have some good stuff, though — will do it tomorrow.

October 18, 2006 @ 2:46 am | Comment

What are you all yapping about? Just move to Kansas where there is no evolution. Problem solved. LOL.

October 18, 2006 @ 9:41 am | Comment

You mean “Made in Kansas. 100% evolution-free”?

October 18, 2006 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

Thank god this is happening. China may not surpass the United States after all.

October 29, 2006 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

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