Symposium in Honor of Wang Ruoshui
and the influence of the New Enlightenment Generation on
Sponsored by the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research
May 16, 2002, 3:00-5:00 pm
Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland Street
I became acquainted with Mr. Wang Ruoshui at the end of 1979. At that time, People's Daily had already become the center of the battlefield between the two factions within the Chinese Communist Party, and the assaults from the conservatives were often focused on Mr. Wang Ruoshui. Numerous phone calls, almost everyday, from the leading figures of the conservatives bombarded Wang Ruoshui, condemning him for publishing articles they deemed not in accordance with the party line. The sympathy Wang Ruoshui revealed for the Democracy Wall activists and the editors of the underground independent publications was recorded by plainclothes spies and was placed in Wang Ruoshui's personal files kept by the Ministry of Public Security. He was the first to openly state that Mao Zedong's mistakes must be thoroughly criticized. All of the above "crimes" became ineradicable evidence of Wang Ruoshui's antagonism against the party. I don’t know anyone else among the intellectuals who bore such heavy pressure and did not change his mind. But Wang Ruoshui was calm and serene as usual, as if nothing happened.
From 1978 to 1983, People's Daily played an important and unique role in the political life in China. Nominally People's Daily was still the organ of the party Central Committee, yet it in fact had become the mouthpiece of the reformist faction within the party. People’s Daily carried out the tasks that Hu Yaobang and his colleagues could not accomplish through the party apparatus. Therefore we can say that Wang Ruoshui, as a member of the leading body of People's Daily, played the role of an opposition faction or of a minority within the party. As deputy editor-in-chief of the paper, Wang, together with editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei, on three occasions boycotted the anti-liberalization campaign that had been officially initiated by the party Central Committee. Hu Yaobang, the party's supreme leader in name, could only rely on People’s Daily to carry out his intentions. It is difficult to believe that, after Deng Xiaoping gave his speech on "Upholding the Four Cardinal Principles," People's Daily could publish a series of essays deliberately singing a different tune. It is also difficult to imagine that in 1981, when the campaign to criticize the writer Bai Hua was raging all over China, People's Daily could go against the wind by not publishing one single such article. To be sure, the support of Hu Yaobang was an important factor, but Hu's position was wobbly, and sometimes even he himself had to retreat in the face of the intense pressure. But People's Daily stood firmly behind him. This reveals the uniqueness of China over the recent twenty years -- that is, the existing system can sometimes be flexible; the role of an individual can sometimes be decisive. Although freedom is limited, yet sometimes using the limited freedom, one can stretch it to the largest possible limit, and miracles can be performed. Wang Ruoshui's practice during these twenty years is excellent proof of this.
China watchers often focus their attention on the liberal elite, as if the elite were a unified force, and they do not realize that a split among the elite had already begun as early as the end of the 1970s. There are a lot of intellectuals who, as soon as they recover their political status, they choose to avoid any risk, to follow a much safer way – not only for their own security, but also for some benefits they are seeking from the party. There are many people like this. Wang Ruoshui was expelled from the Communist Party in 1987. He was deprived of his position as deputy editor-in-chief and also of his right to publish. But another famous philosopher, also believed to be a dissident, was recommended by the leading conservative Hu Qiaomu, the major rival of Wang Ruoshui, to be the vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1988, and also became a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at that time.
The two main topics of Wang Ruoshui's research were Mao Zedong and humanism. The essence of Mao Zedong Thought is contempt, and the trampling of the individual, the negation of the individual, and the deprivation of the people’s basic needs, both physically and spiritually. Under such lofty names as people, class, and revolution, the good and noble spirits of the people were destroyed. All these campaigns prepared the people for the pursuit of unrestrained desires and the degradation of social morality in the 1990s; money became the only value in the society.
It is true that most intellectuals in China have suffered a lot. But the most serious harm inflicted on the intellectuals was the stifling of their moral integrity. I was acquainted with three deputy editors-in-chief from People's Daily in the 1950s. All three had been distorted beyond recognition after the Cultural Revolution. One of them became a criminal for his involvement with the Gang of Four. Another had become so slick and sly that one could never tell what he really meant by his words. The third one, I liked him very much for his open-mindedness, a talented journalist. But when I met him again at the end of the 1970s I was so surprised to find that he had become a totally different person. He had become so cautious and timid, and politically he leaned toward the conservatives. And he was working at the People’s Daily as one of the rivals of Wang Ruoshui and Hu Jiwei.
Wang Ruoshui was also changed during this period, but it was a change in an opposite direction. He changed from an ardent supporter of Mao to Mao's main adversary. But, unlike many Chinese, Wang did not discard all faith and ideals. He abandoned Mao Zedong Thought and Marxism-Leninism and, after careful scrutiny, he also negated the mistakes in Marxism. But he adhered to the basics of Marxism. He became more mature and more firm, but for this, he attracted even more intense hatred from his opponents. However, Wang Ruoshui remained pure and calm, just like his name "Ruoshui," which means "like water" in Chinese.
To the Chinese intellectuals who have been struggling in filth and mire, Wang Ruoshui should be a role model. As early as the 1950s Mao Zedong took a fancy for Wang Ruoshui and contemplated having him replace Deng Tuo as editor-in-chief of People's Daily. If this had occurred, he would have been only one step from the center of power. But Wang Ruoshui was not interested. In 1972 he was in fact the deputy editor-in-chief, but he wrote a letter to Mao Zedong and insisted that the criticism of Lin Biao should be focused on Lin’s ultra-leftist doctrines, instead of criticizing his so-called rightist views as the Gang of Four had advocated. This letter displeased Mao, and he wrote “kanlai zhuozi de zhexue de zuojia ye bu gaoming.” Jiang Qing called Wang to the Great Hall of the People and accused him of "intending to split the party center." As a result, he was struggled against, deprived of his job, and sent to the countryside to do manual labor. After the 1970s he had many opportunities to compromise, to retire and enjoy his wealth and rank, but he refused again and again. He was the personification of the ideal of the pursuit of Chinese intellectuals since ancient times: "Neither riches nor high position can corrupt him; neither poverty nor lowly conditions can make him swerve from his principles; neither threats nor force can bend him." Wang Ruoshui chose a road overgrown with thistles and thorns, but he was happy in his choice at the end of his life.
China now faces an unprecedented situation. What China needs most today is moral integrity and a theoretical weapon. The moral integrity and theoretical legacy of Wang Ruoshui are still living among us. He will fight shoulder to shoulder with us forever.
It is a distinct honor to join my colleagues in this celebration of the life and work of Wang Ruoshui. Unlike many of you in this room, I did not know Wang well personally. We met only a few times; I did not spend hours and hours with him, hearing his tales of inner-party struggle and political liberalization that he so deeply believed in. But in the course of my various researches over the last twenty years, I came to know a great deal about him and his role, his works, and his place in a socialist system with which he became increasingly discomforted over the last two decades of his life.
Like many intellectuals of his generation, Wang Ruoshui as a young man was deeply committed to the revolution, to his vision of the Chinese Communist Party, and to the towering wisdom and virtue of Chairman Mao Zedong. From the time of the 1949 revolution until the mid-1960s, he faithfully adhered to the Chairman’s line and policies, seldom stopping to question the strength of his commitment. In his early career he never questioned the Chairman’s judgment and he came to the Chairman’s defense whenever an attack was launched -- for example, in the famous and ill-fated campaign against Yang Xianzhen in 1965. But with the decade of darkness that began a year later in 1966, the scales began to fall away from Wang Ruoshui's eyes. Repelled by the scale of human suffering that had been unleashed by Chairman Mao in the name of proletarian virtue, and repulsed by the blind, hysterical worship of Mao as a near deity, Wang Ruoshui was led to reassess his own path of commitment to Mao and the strength of his own worship of Mao as a younger man.
His philosophical studies of the early Marx, especially Marx’s writings on alienation, now led him, beginning in the 1970s, to see people not in terms of impersonal classes (jieji), nor in terms of heroic but vaguely abstract masses (qunzhong), but as individual, sentient human beings. And as he began to question in this manner the roots of the political chaos and the personality cults of the Maoist era, his thinking began to converge with others in the emergent school of socialist humanism, some of whom are here in this room today -- people like Liu Binyan, Su Shaozhi, Zhou Yang, and Guo Luoji, among others. In thus breaking with Maoist orthodoxy, Wang Ruoshui and the others incurred the bitter wrath of such self-appointed guardians of the faith as Wang Zhen, Hu Qiaomu, and Deng Liqun. It took a great deal of courage to stand up against these powerful conservative forces. And the struggle that Wang Ruoshui waged beginning in the early 1970s inevitably took its toll. He was criticized first in 1971-72 for urging that the emphasis in the anti-Lin Biao campaign be placed on Lin’s true leftism, not his spurious rightism. A decade later, in 1981, Wang Ruoshui was again attacked by party conservatives, this time for allegedly maintaining relationships with illegal organizations and illegal journals, including the infamous April Fifth Forum, during the Democracy Wall movement of 1978-79. These charges were firmly denied by Wang Ruoshui but they nevertheless left an imprint.
In 1983 Ruoshui, along with his boss Hu Jiwei at People’s Daily, lost his job in the wake of the campaign against spiritual pollution. Among other things, he was attacked for writing “In Defense of Humanism.” Others have commented previously on that essay. Here I would just like to briefly cite my favorite passage from this essay, which I think captures the essence of Ruoshui’s evolving position on Marxist humanism and also clearly reveals why the conservative elder statesmen were so enraged at him. In his essay, written early in 1983, he noted that certain well-meaning comrades within the party disapproved of humanist values, regarding them Marxist heresy. “They set Marxism and humanism in opposition to one another,” he wrote, “thus they are unable to see any universal relevance in the idea of human worth.” Rejecting this argument on the grounds that it falsely conflated the concepts of human worth and bourgeois humanism, Wang proposed an entirely different kind of humanism. “Socialist humanism,” he wrote, “implies resolutely abandoning the total dictatorship and merciless struggles of the ten years of chaos, abandoning the deification of one individual, upholding the equality of all before truth and the law, and seeing that the personal freedoms and human dignity of citizens are not infringed upon. Why should this sort of socialist humanism be treated as a strange, alien, or evil thing?” For this he lost his job in the 1983 anti-pollution campaign spearheaded by Deng Liqun, Wang Zhen, and Hu Qiaomu.
Later, in 1987, Wang Ruoshui and other members of the philosophical humanist school, along with pro-democratic theorists Wang Ruowang, Fang Lizhi, Liu Binyan, Su Shaozhi, Zhang Xianyang, and Wu Zuguang, were forced from the party in the campaign against bourgeois liberalization that followed the student demonstrations of December 1986. By the time he reached the United States after these very discomforting episodes of the early and mid-1980s, he had become quite disillusioned about China’s recent history, though he never lost his humanist outlook or his irrepressible optimism.
I last saw Wang Ruoshui three years ago here at Harvard at a meeting commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee. At that time he spoke nostalgically about the hopes for a better future that he and his comrades had entertained in 1978-79. Those were intoxicating times, when the notion of thought emancipation (sixiang jiefang) and the debate on the "criterion of truth" ushered in a period of great optimism that things were about to change.
Undeniably, China has come a long way in the twenty-three years since that initial wave of humanist optimism was embedded in the reforms of the Third Plenum. Unfortunately, however, the hopes raised in 1978-79 for a brighter political future, in which the dignity and worth of the individual human being would be valued as highly as historical abstractions of class or mass, remained largely unfulfilled at the time of Wang’s death. Though Wang Ruoshui was slight of stature, soft of voice, and mild of temperament, his contribution to the struggle for human dignity in China was immense, as he spoke out tirelessly on behalf of the individual human tree within the impersonal socialist forest. He will be sorely missed.
When I think of Mr. Wang Ruoshui, not only do I feel sad about the death of a close friend, my feelings are the same as those of Mr. Li Shenzhi, one of China’s leading intellectuals. In his moving article in memory of Ruoshui, he wrote, “We lost Ruoshui just at the very moment that we needed him the most.” Upon first hearing this, it may be difficult to understand these thoughts.
It is easy understand that all of us, like many of his friends who are present here today and who knew Ruoshui, miss him very much. Mr. Wang Ruoshui was a remarkable person, kind, thoughtful, a true moral model for all of us. In addition, he was also an important figure who made an important contribution to China at a crucial turning point at the end of the Cultural Revolution. But on top of these, I think there is still another significant issue that we should talk about if we want to discuss the role of Mr. Wang Ruoshui in contemporary China. We have tended to pay too much attention to his role in Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening. But in fact, I don’t think this is Ruoshui’s most important contribution in its full sense. Although we know that he did initiate important new ideas at the moment of the great historical transformation, this was not his main focus. He himself rarely talked about this aspect of his work. I think that there is something missing from looking at Ruoshui’s contribution in terms of a rational framework, from looking merely at the concrete policies, strategies, or tactics he supported. What is missing is a soul. Perhaps this is a different way of looking at his contributions from how western scholars may evaluate them. In the West, there is little need to take care of the soul since it has been working stably there for a long time. But in China the system to maintain the soul has been destroyed at least three times – in the late 1910s when we destroyed Confucianism; in 1949 when we destroyed the Western-oriented system; and after the late 1970s, when the communist ideology collapsed. Now, for many Chinese intellectuals, the most serious problem is an absence of the soul. Specific strategies, projects, or tactics on their own cannot solve all development problems. Without a soul, whatever the strategies, they are likely to become tricks and lies, and the institutions become dirty games. We Chinese have already suffered too much from such occurrences because of the absence of a soul.
It is only when we evaluate Ruoshui’s contribution in terms of his efforts to take care of the Chinese soul and to build up a system of conscience in China can we understand Ruoshui’s full contribution to the Chinese intellectual community. The rational cannot work well without a soul, because the rational can improve the soul but the soul always coordinates the progress made by the rational in development. From the time of Confucius to the contemporary period of modernization and development, mainstream Chinese intellectuals never believed in any religion. Thus, there was no supreme creator to look after us and thus we have always had to take care of our souls by ourselves. As a result, only a very few people who practice moral lives and cultivate the full potential of human beings become the models to look after the rest of us. Their lives have been models for all the people and they have provided examples of the existence of all the good in this world. This is the most important role that Ruoshui has provided to contemporary Chinese intellectuals.
Although I am from a different generation from Ruoshui’s, and many of his approaches and strategies are indeed quite alien to most of my generation, nevertheless his spirit and virtuous intellectual life always provided us with a very deep inspiration. This transcends mere issues of technological innovation, material development, and institutional reform. This is because in the final analysis a soul is the underpinning to all rational progress. Ultimately, our world must be built upon the foundation of the best moral examples.
Today, most of the people gathered here are interested in understanding China and the Chinese from an academic perspective. Rational strategies and tactics have attracted a lot of your attention. But I think many Chinese intellectuals would be surprised at the lack of attention to the paramount roles of conscience and the soul in China’s development. This is understandable because of our vastly different experiences. But I think if we really want to follow the progress of China, such important figures as Ruoshui who are models for the Chinese should never be neglected. Some people may argue that figures like Ruoshui are no longer popular among the younger generations of Chinese, that their heroes are now rich businessmen and popular cultural figures.
My last point is that we Chinese critically need Ruoshui and all the good he stood for. But I am not pessimistic about his future legacy to all Chinese. There have been many periods in Chinese history when people like Ruoshui were forgotten or temporarily ignored. But after much suffering and immorality, the Chinese always returned to these exemplary models. Ruoshui is indeed one such model because he insisted on the best throughout the worst of times.
So, in my conclusion, I think I can say that it is still too soon to see the full blossoming of Ruoshui’s invaluable contribution to Chinese society because mainstream Chinese are still too busy focusing on their economic well-being to the neglect of their souls. But this is the best time for all of us to follow in Ruoshui’s example to attempt to build a better and more moral Chinese society. Although I know Ruoshui never thought of himself as a superman – he was far too modest and unassuming -- I am very confident that he is smiling in his heart as he hears these comments from a member of the next generation who has learned so much from his example.
And now from another member of the younger generation, Liu Junning, who was a member of the Institute of Political Science of the Academy of Social Sciences and has spent the year here at the Fairbank Center.
It is a great privilege to talk here this afternoon about Mr. Wang Ruoshui. If I am asked to use one phrase to summarize Mr. Wang's influence on the younger Chinese generation, I would say it is "back to humanity."
Let me start my talk with a political joke in the former Soviet Union. In the universities of Communist societies, there has been a compulsory course designed to indoctrinate Communist ideas into students. Once in such a class in a university in the former Soviet Union, the professor wanted the students to answer the following question orally: "Is communism really 'scientific'? " A third-year psychology student stood up and answered in this way, "Communism is by no means 'scientific'. Otherwise, it should be tested first on dogs in a Pavlovian way before being implemented in human society." (I bet every student in China has been required to answer a similar question.)
Was this student's answer correct? According to the official answer, this student could not be wrong since communism does not differentiate between human beings and dogs. By saying this, I mean communism and its founders do not recognize anything humane. According to Friedrich Engels, the greatest contribution of Karl Marx is that he turned utopian socialism into scientific communism by replacing bourgeois humanism with scientific communism as the only objective law of history.
What does this story have to do with Mr. Wang Ruoshui? It seems to me, just
like this psychology student, Mr. Wang kept challenging scientific communism and tried to bring back the lost dimension of "humanity" to Chinese society -- since there is no place for humanity and individual value in the official ideology of Marxism. Wang's painful experience within the Communist Party told him that the Communists are supposed to be made, not of flesh and blood, but of special stuff without individual free will, dignity, integrity, or mercy. They are denied the right of individual thinking. Their work is just to "do and die, and never reason why." It seemed to people like Mr. Wang
that the fatal error of scientific communism is that it has lost the sight of man, or in Wang's term, "humanity". Therefore, Wang declared himself to be a Marxist humanist.
But in the eyes of Mr. Deng Xiaoping and his followers, a Marxist humanist is
not a Marxist in a "genuine" sense, but a bourgeois humanist, a bad element of the bourgeois liberal intelligentsia. Deng was in fact correct. Marxism as scientific communism denounces humanity. Deng was also right in making no distinction between Marxist humanists such as Wang Ruoshui and other non-Marxist liberal intellectuals. According to Communists like Deng Xiaoping, the official version of scientific Marxism will not tolerate Wang's Marxist humanism. This is for two reasons. First, Marxist humanism is not “scientific." Second, any calls for humanity and individual worth are dangerous. A Communist regime is only safe and stable when humanity and individual worth are extinguished. Any attempts and efforts to bring "humanity" back are considered to be subversive to the Communist rule. But Wang, with his extraordinary courage and conscience, embraced this impossible mission and got his due. He was dismissed from his position at the People's Daily in 1983 and he was expelled from the party in 1987.
People might say, since Deng Xiaoping is gone and China has changed so much, the CCP might have changed its negative attitude toward humanism and individual worth. No, not yet! Deng's successors have inherited his political legacy of anti-bourgeois liberalization and so far have shown no intention to rehabilitate Mr. Wang and to resume his party membership. Ask those people who were banned recently from organizing a seminar in honor of Mr. Wang in Beijing's Peace Hotel! Ask those people who have been persecuted in recent years because of "spreading" bourgeois individualism and liberal ideas.
Wang Ruoshui was not alone in his efforts to bring back "humanity." Instead, to a
very great extent, Wang's humanism pioneered the way for the reemergence of
liberalism in today's China.. People of the younger generation have been very much influenced by his concern for humanity and individual worth, encouraged by his courage to work for them. Wang's humanism has been echoed very favorably from the Chinese liberals, both young and old. All liberal intellectuals, in my view, share his aspirations for a humane alternative to scientific communism, and are continuing on with his mission to bring back "humanity" and individual freedom, which are the franchises of a free and humane society. He will be remembered as a great humanist in a society where humanity and individual dignity are so scarce yet so invaluable.
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