Asia Program

Events

Ideological Trends in Contemoprary China

June 05, 2001 // 12:00am

By Gang Lin

Stanley Rosen, professor, University of Southern California;

Peter Moody, professor, University of Notre Dame;

Junning Liu, visiting scholar, University of Indiana;

Bruce Dickson, associate professor, George Washington University

As the Chinese Communist Party prepares to celebrate its 80th anniversary on July 1, 2001, Beijing is buffeted by varied ideological trends, including a declining communist ideology, a growing neo-conservatism, and a resurgent liberalism. While Marxism, Leninism and Mao's thoughts are still highly regarded in the PRC constitution, pragmatism is encouraged in Beijing's routine decision-making process. Yet, because of its theoretical adherence to socialism, Beijing cannot relieve itself from the ideological battles of earlier decades. The ideological leftists want to preserve the pure nature of socialist economy and state ownership, as well as the pure nature of the Party as the vanguard of the working class. On the other hand, pragmatic reformers argue that China should develop a market economy and the multiple property rights system, and that private entrepreneurs should be allowed to join the Party.

Is communist or socialist ideology relevant to the Chinese people anymore? To what degree has the Party redefined its nature and functions? How far will the Party go? What are the social foundations and intellectual roots of neo-conservatism as well as its predecessor neo-authoritarianism? What are the main arguments of this resurgent ideology? Will neo-conservatism become the mainstream thought in China? Is there a quiet comeback of liberalism in China, as freedom to have private discussions of political issues is far greater than before? What are the main arguments of Chinese liberalism? What is the general tendency of ideological debates in China? What are its impacts on China's economic and political reforms, as well as on U.S.-China relations? At a June 5 seminar on "Ideological Trends in Contemporary China" sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, four China experts examined recent ideological debate in China and its relationship to public opinion and Beijing's domestic and foreign policies.

Stanley Rosen of the University of Southern California explored public opinion among Chinese youth associated with various ideological trends, including nationalism, globalism, pragmatism, and individualism. Rosen observed Chinese youth are resentful of U.S. hegemony and intervention in China's domestic affairs on human rights issues, and rising nationalism and patriotism among the public have created new pressure on the government in dealing with foreign countries. On the other hand, Chinese youth, having access to global culture, like to work for American companies and appreciate American films, sports stars, and successful businessmen. Among those Chinese youth who want to join the Party, few are true believers in communism, and most of them perceive Party membership primarily as a means of reaching their individual goals.

Peter Moody of the University of Notre Dame looked at the development of neo-conservatism and its potential as an official ideology in China. According to Moody, neo-conservatism, with its emphasis on social stability, moral order, and traditional values, is associated with a group of official scholars surrounding Beijing's top leader Jiang Zemin. With the dismissal of the Party General Secretary Zhao Zhiyang in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, neo-conservatism has replaced its predecessor neo-authoritarianism, which was associated with Zhao. While neo-conservatism is not necessarily opposed to liberalism and democracy, it argues that China is not ready for democracy, Moody concluded.

Junning Liu of the University of Indiana contended that except for liberals it is hard to find true believers of various ideologies in contemporary China. With its emphasis on individual rights and liberty, free market, rule of law, limited government, and representative democracy, Chinese liberalism presents an alternative to the new leftism that highlights collective rights, individual obligations and government management of economic activities. Although liberalism is still weak in China, it benefits from China's market reform and openness and will hopefully become one of the most competitive ideologies in the years to come, Liu maintained.

Bruce Dickson of the George Washington University argued in his commentary that although communist ideology is dead for many Chinese, the ideological issue is still important for some people. The debate between liberalism and neo-conservatism (or new leftism) will inevitably involve a trade-off between maintaining a strong state and protecting liberty and individual rights. Jiang's announcement that the Party should represent the most advanced means of production indicated the Party's efforts at redefining its ideological justification and legitimizing Party membership for private entrepreneurs, Dickson observed.

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