An interview with Wang Hui of China’s “New Left “

As all of us know, the concept of “The New Left” is wonderful, even if some of us Cold War Capitalis-types don’t like the word “left.” In theory, it sounds like the badly needed antidote to the Three Represents, and a recognition that the frightening class divide that plagues China won’t go away by itself. Sometimes a little affirmative action is called for, painful as it is to exploiters some in the business community.

This is an interview with one of the New Left architects, Wang Hui, and it reconfirms my initial enthusiasm for the movement — a very cautious and qualified enthusiasm, since, as I said when I first wrote about it, the New Left may be just new hot air. Then again, if Hu and Wen are as committed to it as Wang Hui says, maybe it’ll help remedy some of the inequities endured by China’s rural poor. (And I think Wen is committed; with Hu, you never know.)

A very brief excerpt from a piece anyone interested in Chinese politics and economics should read.

Q: Jiang Zemin, China’s former president, oriented the country along the lines of the U.S. model. Is that changing?

A: Yes, once China only looked to the U.S. Now, if you notice, Hu Jintao’s government is looking much more seriously at the whole world — not just to the U.S. but to Europe, Latin America, India and elsewhere.

The current leadership, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao,are much more concerned about social equality and the environment. Basically we’re seeing a reorientation of the policies of the last government.

Q: Are they also rejecting Jiang Zemin’s Three Represents theory, which sought to “empower the productive forces” of Chinese society — entrepreneurs — and came to be seen as a kind of Reaganeseque trickle-down economics?

A: The Three Represents has been used by too many people to say that China should have GDP growth at any cost — that it’s OK even if peasant migrant workers who build a great building will never get their salary.

But Wen Jiabao has personally intervened at the national level to try and get workers their payments,and a large amount of their salaries have been paid due to this intervention. At one level it’s quite laughable — that the premier of the country had to intervene to get workers their salaries. But on the other hand,it’s a symbol of the concerns of the current government. For example, these things did not happen in the previous government. Jiang Zemin didn’t do it.

Some cruel capitalists may see this as sentimental rubbish. But I think helping to ensure the workers get paid for their efforts is pretty commendable. It sounds good. In fact, it almost sounds American; I always loved my country’s compassion for those at the bottom. (Past tense, “loved.”) It’s a good thing.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

And how interesting that Wang Hui cites John Stuart Mill as a major influence. Mill was also very popular among the reformers in the May 4th period, as I recall…

July 14, 2005 @ 7:20 pm | Comment

Seeing that workers get their salaries is pure self interest. There have been numerous riots demonstrations over such episodes and the CCP fears urban unrest more than anything else.

July 14, 2005 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

Am I the only one the finds the idea Jiang Zemin as a Chinese Ronald Reagan is more than amusing?

All I see here is the idea that the rule of law should be implemented – workers should get their duly owed wages. If that’s what Richard means by the “American way”, then I’m with you in all three tenses.

The New Left continues to unimpress. I’ll read the link and come back, but in the interim my previous thoughts are at

Jiang as Reagan. That’s going to keep me going all day.

July 14, 2005 @ 8:25 pm | Comment

Conrad, I agree with that – but if it impels the government to stick out their necks to help the workers, more power to them.

July 14, 2005 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

And Simon, if “all it means” is that China should respect rule of law, isn’t that HUGE? As in, revolutionary HUGE!?

Oh, and, Jiang was a lot cuter than Reagan, with a nicer smile. No comparison.

July 14, 2005 @ 8:32 pm | Comment

Anyone got photos of Jiang riding a horse, cowboy style?

Respecting rule of law is HUGE, but coming from a couple of intellectuals, it’s not a revolutionary call, is it? The revolution is if the rule of law is observed.

July 14, 2005 @ 8:54 pm | Comment

If it was just a couple of intellectuals I can’t imagine it would be drawing all this publicity. We’ll see. As I said in my post, it could all be just hot air. But I’ll keep an open mind, because, as you know, it may be China’s one great hope.

July 14, 2005 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

China has “Intellectuals” I must be living in the wrong place.

July 14, 2005 @ 9:01 pm | Comment

You mean to say that SOME workers are NOW getting paid? WOW!

July 14, 2005 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

5,000 years……The Chinese really are quick learners.

July 14, 2005 @ 9:08 pm | Comment

I find the idea of Jiang Zemin as a promoter of the rule of law a bit bizarre. If my memory serves me right. Jiang did introduced some legislative reforms during the 1990s. But as far as I could see, these reforms aimed at limiting the power of those who were likely going to threaten the rule of the Communist party in China. So you can say that Jiang was good at exploring the rule of law as a means of strengthening CCP rule. But he was certainly not promoting the rule of law as a way of protecting human rights in China.
And no, I’m not going to comment on the looks of Jiang or Regean.

July 14, 2005 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

Intellectual: Rational rather than emotional. NEVER met one here. Honest to goodness.

July 14, 2005 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

Fat Cat we agree on all counts. American man, I once did meet an intellectual in China. He was an American professor.

(Just joking; I actually did meet several very brilliant intellectuals in my work with Chinese medical associations.)

July 14, 2005 @ 9:24 pm | Comment

I remember travelling on trains in China in the late 1980s. It was always a pleasure to chat with some old soldiers. They were the only people who knew something about Chinese history and literature. From what they told me, it seemed that families with military background in China were given more “freedom” of access to books written in the classical language. A soldier once shared with me some of his poems written in classical style. I was a bit young then to appreciate them. I’m wondering whether these people still exist in modern day China?

July 14, 2005 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

I’m still smiling about Jiang as Reagan. If only I knew how to use Photoshop!

July 14, 2005 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

“New left” interview

An interview with Professor Wang Hui, a leader of China’s new left movement (via TPD). As I said at TPD, the idea of Jiang Zemin as a Reaganite has kept me smiling all day. There’s also some dangerous hog-wash in the interview:I know this is the popula…

July 15, 2005 @ 12:13 am | Comment

China in the late 80’s? That’s fascinating Fat Cat. I hope you can give us a few reminicinces (sp?) when the opportunity arises on TPD.

From what you’re saying about the soldiers, no, I’ve never come across anything like you describe but then again, I haven’t really had much contact with soldiers etc.

July 15, 2005 @ 4:51 am | Comment

I think a lot of us are looking at this “New Left” differently and this might explain the differences in opinion.

I don’t see this “New Left” as a mini-revolution or harbinger of groundbreaking new ideas. I see it as plain common sense on what direction modern China should take.

Government officials can’t promote “New Left” ideas because they have their fingers in the pie and no one would believe them. Entrepreneurs likewise. Therefore, it’s obvious that universtiy professors, people who can look at China laterally, are speaking up about the excesses of ‘economic development at all costs’.

Simon mentioned something in a comment on simonworld that got me thinking. He said that a lot of things are happening with the Chinese economy at the moment but the real test will be during a probable Yuan re-valuation in the summer (as this will effect growth exactly when China’s faultering economy needs it most).

Bearing in mind that the CCP has based much of it’s legitimacy on economic development, what happens when the economy slows? After all, economic development comes in cycles, even China can’t escape this economic reality.

The government would be well advised to adopt the thinking of the current “New Left” and I think we’re already seeing this from Hu/Wen.

July 15, 2005 @ 5:42 am | Comment

Blah, the so-called “New Left” is a shitty idea. The primary objective of the CCP overriding all other considerations is rapid wealth creation. Preferrably as much and as fast as possible.

July 15, 2005 @ 1:37 pm | Comment

No matter how it is created.

July 15, 2005 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

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