Update 10/15/06: Wang is also the subject of a magazine piece in this morning’s Sunday NYT: “China’s New Leftist.”
Interesting article in the IHT today about Wang Hui, the Tsinghua University professor and editor of Dushu (读书) who is perhaps the most prominent of China’s New (New?) Leftist intellectuals. Wang’s basic argument is that even though the reform era has brought some good things to China this does not mean socialism has lost its viability or that the Left in China has abdicated its responsibility to protect people from the ravages of laissez-faire capitalism and globalization.
Wang can come across as something of a crank. He thinks the reform process reached its high point in 1985. He bemoans the inclusion of business people into the CCP. He prefers to call himself a “critical intellectual” rather than a leftist. (And given the legacy of “Leftism” in China, who can blame him?) But despite the change in terminology, Wang remains committed to socialism and feels that the excesses of the past are not an excuse to abandon socialist principles in a headlong rush for economic growth at all costs.
He may be on to something. Ronald Reagan would love Shanghai, and why not: The CCP has ripped whole pages from the Reagan playbook. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” “It’s Morning again in China.” This resonates with the urban elite who make up the bulk of the CCP leadership as well as the party rank and file (and to whom the CCP has always catered, even when they proclaimed otherwise–the GLF, anyone?). You see these guys on the streets of Beijing. Shanghai. Shenzhen. Even Tianjin. “Four years ago I rode my bike to work and spilled tea out of a leaky jar, now I drive a Passat and I’m sipping Hennessy–I might hate the taste, but I look successful and now (added bonus) I’m getting laid.”
But obviously there have been those left out, left behind, and stepped all over in the mad rush for the gold ring and there’s a lot of people in this latter category that are starting to, if not actually stand up, slouch just a little bit less. There were 84,000 acts of collective violence last year, mostly directed at government and business interests and that’s just the number the government gives–who knows how many more went unreported.
Enter a guy like Wang Hui. I would agree with him that rampant “GDP-ism” and extreme laissez-faire capitalism are at the root of many of China’s social, environmental, and even political problems. Wang’s a brilliant guy and he’s got credentials. He was one of the last students cleared from the square in 1989; nobody’s sayin’ he doesn’t have the stones. The problem is that Wang, in the sub-cockles of his heart, is a reactionary and he still views the CCP as a force for change. And it is here where Wang Hui loses me.
Wang may lament the inclusion of capitalists into the CCP, but the real problem is the lack of an efficient system of checks and balances–making officials accountable to the people through an independent judiciary and an independent media. 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.
As long as the CCP insists on one-party rule, the patterns of crony capitalism and corruption will worsen. All the anti-corruption purges, calls for a ‘harmonious society, or labor reform in the world won’t matter so long as officials are judged from the top down and the main criterion for official advancement is regional economic development. China’s problems are not going away on their own, wishing won’t make it so, and Wang Hui, for all his merits, is betting on a horse that’s running down the wrong track.