Politics gets personal in left-right row

We wrote yesterday about how a scheduled 500-person lecture at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing by CMP fellow Xiong Peiyun (熊培云) was suddenly “cancelled” earlier this month and moved to a small venue with an audience of just 30 or so students and faculty. As a video of a sharp rebuttal to Xiong’s talk by Fan Zemin (樊泽民), the deputy director of the university’s Student Affairs Division, made the rounds on the internet, the focus of the incident turned to the ideological rift between China’s conservative so-called “left” and its reformist so-called “right.”

But the Xiong-Fan face-off was not the only exchange across ideological lines last week. Also getting some attention was an editorial spat between Wang Wen (王文), the head of the editorial desk at the Chinese-language Global Times, generally known for its nationalistic bent, and the poet and essayist Ye Fu (野夫). Wang’s articles were: “What China’s Liberal Camp is Most Lacking” and “There Aren’t So Many Bad People on This Earth: Another Discussion with Mr. Ye” And Ye Fu’s responses were: “What China’s Authoritarians Are Most Lacking: A Response to Wang Wen” and “The World Always Has a Few Bad Guys: A Response to Wang Wen.”

In his first essay, which prompted the exchange, Wang Wen issues a series of character attacks against academics and journalists he views as representatives of China’s so-called liberal faction, or ziyoupai (自由派). His words are what S.I. Hayakawa once called “snarl words,” full of emotional implications and associations rather than substance.

Pretending to a courtesy that masks a deeper nastiness, Wang chooses to identify none of the people he sets up as examples of the general churlishness and depravity of “liberal” or “reformist” figures in China. He speaks to the reader, as though in a whispered aside, of a certain “very famous professor from the Pearl River Delta” who verged on shouting at a forum on universal values. Then there is “the chief editor of a certain famous special ‘weekly supplement’ launched by a certain newspaper” who, Wang intimates (like the big-mouth gossip who vouches secrecy before spilling all), had possibly carnal relations with a female student from Taiwan ten years ago after delivering a “harangue” to adoring students.

Then, in a further act of pretended grace, Wang actually confesses that a couple of liberals are not so bad. By that point, however, he has successfully confuted moral righteousness and intellectual substance. And how can liberal thinkers possibly have valid points to make if their personal conduct is so odious?

Wang’s conclusion is the conservative mantra: “Let’s take our time.” China is a big and complicated place, after all. And what is needed, above all else, is stability.

In his rebuttal to Wang’s arguments, Ye Fu (野夫) tells the story of how he met Wang at a dinner hosted by a friend, how the two were amiable but had widely diverging views, so that he saw real friendship as impossible. Then, earlier this month, Ye came across an online video on China’s t.m4.cn website in which television pundit Sima Nan (司马南) and Wang Wen speak about the detention of artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未).

In the video, Sima Nan speaks first about Ai Weiwei, saying all Chinese must respect the law before launching into a political argument about how the CCP has led the People’s Republic of China for 60 years and “we should have confidence in this political system” — implying that Ai has incurred guilt by opposing China’s political system. Wang Wen then proceeds to attack Ai Weiwei on the notion of what constitutes “art.” “Is that really art?” Wang asks, noting that Ai Weiwei has exposed himself in public before. “If that’s really art, then anyone can become an artist.”

Taken aback by the video, Ye posted about it on his microblog. He writes of his thinking at the time: “From the standpoint of basic human decency, Mr. Fatty [Ai Weiwei] still belongs to the missing, and the government hasn’t given an accurate statement [on his case], so for these two to sing and strum and pick on the case like this, I can’t help but feel is a bit wicked. So I made a microblog post about this and mentioned for good measure the organization Wang was associated with [Global Times] . . . ”

Wang Wen was apparently upset with the publicity Ye gave to the video on his microblog, and with the mention of the Global Times, so he called Ye’s mobile and asked, quite politely according to Ye, that the post be removed. Ye obliged, and the two pledged to get together for drinks at some later date. Subsequently, Ye saw Wang Nan’s “magnum opus” on the problem with liberals — in which he actually referred to his exchange with Ye Fu over the microblog post — and he decided he had to respond openly. He first sent Wang Wen a text message to let him know that his rebuttal was in the works, to which Wang Wen responded: “So long as it is fair-minded, I will listen.”

Ye Fu’s response can be found in partial form below. But first a partial translation of Wang Wen’s essay.

What China’s Liberal Faction is Most Lacking
Wang Wen (王文)

In recent years I’ve tackled a number of issues on which I’ve deviated to the left, and I’ve often reflected on my own value tendencies. Am I a “leftist” or a “rightist”? Sometimes I’ve called myself a “center leftist” (中左). But sometimes my views on politics and the economy tend to the “right”, tending to be overly liberal (自由化), and the pain and anger hit home on a number of domestic political, economic and social issues . . .

Still, as I’ve grown older, that anger [I once felt as a college student] has slowly sapped away, like that saying that says if you haven’t experienced rage by the age of 30, you’re done for, and if you’re never enraged after the age of 30, you’re done for too. I think I really have passed the age of rage. But this certainly isn’t just a question of age, but stems also from an inherent recognition that what Chinese society needs right now is stability, and further from the doubts and spontaneous disappointment I have felt in recent years as I’ve come into contact with a number of reformists (or they might be called the “liberal faction” or the “right wing”).

My first recollection of disappointment came ten years ago from a chief editor at a certain famous special “weekly supplement” launched by a certain newspaper, which was dedicated to exposing the negative side of society. This was not long after I joined the media world, at a salon in which many young media professionals and students participated. This chief editor, who at the time has already stepped down, was of course someone that the “young men and women” of the media world worshipped, particularly a pretty young female student from Taiwan. As the chief editor delivered a harangue, the female student sat at his side, admiration gleaming in her eyes. Not long after, this chief editor began patting the student’s small hands and soft shoulders [as he spoke]. A bit later, escaping everyone’s notice, he led the female student by the hand to sit off to one side. After that, he led the female student away from the restaurant. I don’t intend to waste any words here speculating about what plot followed on after this, but this sort of situation impacted me quite strongly. How could this person act like this? . . .

The second disappointment that deeply affected me came from a salon at which the issue of “universal values” was discussed. That was around 2007, and the phrase was quite the rage in the intellectual world at the time. That conference probably brought together most all of the top reform faction personalities in China (顶级的改革派人士). At the time I met a rather bigshot professor of journalism studies and quite reverentially offered my business card. To my surprise, he immediately fired back with: “You guys are too nationalistic, in the end all #!*# together with the government.” This wasn’t the first time I had received such ungracious treatment.

In 2008, I was invited to take part in some project for media professionals put together by the U.S. Department of State. There I met the head of the editorial department of a certain southern [Chinese media] group that claimed it wanted to publish China’s best newspaper. Over there he was regarded by his fellows as a kind of central base camp of the “liberal faction” (自由派). I quite professionally exchanged name cards with him and earned in exchange the words: “Ah, that angry youth paper of yours.” This prompted an embarrassed colleague from his newspaper group who was also there to promptly apologize to me on his behalf. They said to him, “I think you should apologize to Wang Wen.” But to this day I’ve never received his apology. Still, I’ve kept his name card.

I ran into that journalism studies professor again at a forum held a year later. The discussion at the time was about how to raise our discourse power (话语权) in China. One of the views I expressed in my talk was that Chinese leaders should extend to domestic media more of the opportunities for exclusive interviews that they now so easily give to overseas media. This professor severely opposed this idea before I had even gotten my words out, saying that if this were done domestic media would “definitely come to blows.” I understood his remark to mean that these exclusive interview opportunities were neither permitted for nor suited to domestic media, and only overseas media were qualified to get them.

Coming back to that meeting about “universal values,” a very famous professor from the Pearl River Delta area gave a talk there. The first thing they said was that some people don’t believe there is such a thing as universal values in the world. “I think this is so ridiculous. I propose right now that we ask anyone present who does not believe democracy and freedom are universal values to please leave!” His speech bordered on crazy shouting, and [when he said this] I could barely keep from spitting out the water I had just swigged. Is that what he calls democracy and freedom?

. . .

I’m not saying that the character and conduct of all reform faction (liberal faction) scholars disappoints me. There are many who deserve my respect. For example, Ma Licheng (马立诚), whom I’ve spoken of at length several times, an old man of sophistication. There is Brother Xu Zhiyuan (许知远), who always keeps his words in check at gatherings of lots of people, and always listens to what others have to say. That kind of character and conduct are worthy of my imitation. But I must say that many of the liberal faction folk I’ve come across belong to that type of which we say they are “lenient with themselves, and strict with others” (宽于律己、严于律人). They are flush with criticism of our government and our society, and they hold that criticism is the first duty of the intellectual. Moreover, they believe that China is rife with ills and defects and reforms must be stepped up.

I can agree with this viewpoint, but I’m still of the view that you can’t sweep up heaven and earth if you can’t keep your own house in order. If you haven’t straightened yourself out, how can you expect others to keep to the straight and narrow? Shouldn’t you examine yourself first, and see whether you personally uphold these principles of democracy and freedom you support? Are you not speaking of democracy in a way that is itself despotic? Are you not yourself unintentionally fishing for glory with all of your insincere baloney?

The following is Ye Fu’s response to Wang Wen’s first essay. It is structured as a series of “comments” or “readings” on blocks of text from Wang’s piece. Unfortunately, I have not translated it all, but Chinese readers are very much encouraged to turn to the original.

A Response to Wang Wen: What China’s Totalitarian Faction Most Lacks
Ye Fu (野夫)

After seeing this essay [from Wang Wen], and seeing the delicacy and fairness of this passage [about our exchange], I decided this was a matter of personal virtue and public virtue, and that I must write to discuss [this issue with him]. So I sent him a text message in the morning and asked whether I could openly respond. I cared about friendship, I said, so I thought I would ask first. He responded that so long as I argued even-handedly, he was willing to listen. And so follows the discussion below . . .

ORIGINAL TEXT: Still, as I’ve grown older, that anger [I once felt as a college student] has slowly sapped away. But this certainly isn’t just a question of age, but stems also from an inherent recognition that what Chinese society needs right now is stability, and further from the doubts and spontaneous disappointment I have felt in recent years as I’ve come into contact with a number of reformists (or they might be called the “liberal faction” or the “right wing”).
COMMENT: You agree with stability preservation (维稳), you have doubts and disappointments about the liberal faction, and you’ve decided not to be angry. What does your original anger about social ills have to do with the reform (liberal) faction? Is it because the liberal faction is also angry about social ills, so you are no longer angry? Or is it that all these things that made you angry are the doing of the liberal faction? Any darkness, injustice or corruption is something than angers Man and God — this has nothing to do with left or right. Perhaps all joy and anger you feel must be defined against the liberal faction. Can that make for a stable society?

ORIGINAL TEXT: My first recollection of disappointment came ten years ago from a chief editor at a certain famous special “weekly supplement” launched by a certain newspaper, which was dedicated to exposing the negative side of society. This was not long after I joined the media world, at a salon in which many young media professionals and students participated. This chief editor, who at the time has already stepped down, was of course someone that the “young men and women” of the media world worshipped, particularly a pretty young female student from Taiwan. As the chief editor delivered a harangue, the female student sat at his side, admiration gleaming in her eyes. Not long after, this chief editor began patting the student’s small hands and soft shoulders [as he spoke]. A bit later, escaping everyone’s notice, he led the female student by the hand to sit off to one side. After that, he led the female student away from the restaurant. I don’t intend to waste any words here speculating about what plot followed on after this, but this sort of situation impacted me quite strongly. How could this person act like this? . . .
COMMENT: Assuming this isn’t all just a fabrication, of what possible relevance is this chief editor’s girl-chasing? How did it possibly harm you, or impact your political convictions? Did you have your own eye on the “soft shoulders” of that female Taiwanese student? She didn’t protest herself at her shoulders being touched, so brother, how could you get jealous about this? Is there a national law or regulation against patting someone’s hand? You’ve characterized this chief editor as a representative of the liberal faction, and he ruined those soft shoulders you had your eye on, and so now you have to go up against reformists? What is the logical connection between the personal virtue of a chief editor and the public virtue of liberals or reformists? So if I offer a few examples of rapists who ardently adored Chairman Mao, can I then use that as a criticism of you guys over on the left?

ORIGINAL TEXT: The second disappointment that deeply affected me came from a salon at which the issue of “universal values” was discussed. That was around 2007, and the phrase was quite the rage in the intellectual world at the time. That conference probably brought together most all of the top reform faction personalities in China (顶级的改革派人士). At the time I met a rather bigshot professor of journalism studies and quite reverentially offered my business card. To my surprise, he immediately fired back with: “You guys are too nationalistic, in the end all #!*# together with the government.” This wasn’t the first time I had received such ungracious treatment.
COMMENT: On this matter, most of the professor’s behavior can be chalked up to poor poise and grace, but as to his assessment of your noble newspaper, this is something you’ve already been quite proud of, so why do you find this hurtful? If you are angry because of this, you should know it’s only because this professor doesn’t worship your noble paper, and what does this have to do with the views of the liberal faction? Why do you not consider why it might be that your noble paper suffers disdain in this way?

ORIGINAL TEXT: In 2008, I was invited to take part in some project for media professionals put together by the U.S. Department of State. There I met the head of the editorial department of a certain southern [Chinese media] group that claimed it wanted to publish China’s best newspaper. Over there he was regarded by his fellows as a kind of central base camp of the “liberal faction” (自由派). I quite professionally exchanged name cards with him and earned in exchange the words: “Ah, that angry youth paper of yours.”
COMMENT: The impoliteness of these people toward you is not because you’ve done something wrong. They have no quarrel with you. As chief editor, shouldn’t you really think about why it is your noble paper has such a deplorable reputation? What they are showing contempt for is the media where you work. Just as you mock the Southern Daily Group, they are mocking your noble paper. But the media profession makes its bread by conscience, and if you really think your noble paper is doing right, then you should find in their criticism the honor you seek — and why again should this upset you? If this makes you feel you’ve been treated impolitely or in an undignified way, you can just think of yourself as the good bird getting the best tree. Why is it I wonder that society does not dishonor journalists at People’s Daily, but you guys always get it?

ORIGINAL TEXT: I ran into that journalism studies professor again at a forum held a year later. The discussion at the time was about how to raise our discourse power (话语权) in China. One of the views I expressed in my talk was that Chinese leaders should extend to domestic media more of the opportunities for exclusive interviews that they now so easily give to overseas media. This professor severely opposed this idea before I had even gotten my words out, saying that if this were done domestic media would “definitely come to blows.” I understood his remark to mean that these exclusive interview opportunities were neither permitted for nor suited to domestic media, and only overseas media were qualified to get them.
COMMENT: Again, a personal story of indignity suffered, having nothing to do with the liberal ideas of the professor in question. You criticize Chinese leaders for not respecting you “major domestic media”, but you should see from this how they actually score you guys in their own hearts. In a country where a press law hasn’t even been made, you don’t demand that media be independent, or that there be freedom of the press, you only demand that leaders have a good opinion of you big media, so of course this arouses scorn. The People’s Daily system of which you are part has already dominated enough of the discourse power and reporting power [in China], and still you whine like a concubine. Do you think that’s fair to the small media proliferating all over [China]?

FRONTPAGE IMAGE: “Mao stamp” by Karen Horton and the Goddess of Democracy in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park by iafos, both available at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.

7 Comments to “Politics gets personal in left-right row”

  1. ltlee says:

    @Steve

    I have no problem with Wang’s complaint. The “freedom” faction personalities described by Wen appeared to be shallow persons. Whether their brand of “freedom” is good is remain to be seen. They did not present themselves as people worthy of deep respect. “Lack virtue” is the expression used by Mr. Ye in his blog. But the Chinese phrase could be more appropriately applied to those in Wen’s article as well as to Mr. Ye. The latter had attacked Wang personally (人身攻击) in his blog. In case Mr. Bandurski had missed it. I cut and paste the following for his convenience: “说他眼斜,心术不正。” “He has slant eyes, he must be nasty.”

    BTW, Wang, like many Chinese, does appear to have slant eyes if one looks at him from a certain angle. Is this why Mr Bandurski chose to describe him as “Pretending to a courtesy that masks a deeper nastiness” ?

  2. steve says:

    Interesting that the rebuttal asks at so many points ‘why should this be upsetting’? It seems like a very difficult case to make, “Just because X upsets you doesn’t mean it’s bad”, even with the strongest evidence that X does in fact cure cancer, reverse aging, and saves the whales. I wonder if there’s any traction to be had in making the case that the core values at the basis of the ‘hardline’ position as presented here, stability, sexual continence, and interpersonal respect /reasonable debate, are actually best served by approaches associated with the 自由 camp? There’s no stability like the flexibility to change without trauma, there’s no moral watchdog like a rule of law coupled with a free press, and there’s precious little chance for respectful, reasonable debate in the face of strongarm press control tactics. I’m in awe of anyone who can, like Ye Fu, rise to that tiny chance and get through an entire rebuttal with only one reference to whining like a concubine. Nice work.

  3. What a remarkable lack of substantive critique–I mean by Observer. :-)

  4. admin says:

    Observer:

    I don’t mean to be snide, but that’s Mr. Bandurski. Just one “r”.

    Really, S.I. Hayakawa. Read it.

    Best,
    David

  5. observer says:

    Wow what a remarkably snide, supercilious bunch of rubbish. I mean by Mr. Brandurski.

  6. King Tubby says:

    What a convoluted, oblique dissing session, but it was educational. Encountered the word confuted for the first time, and yes, it has a home in the OED. The take away messages here are that 1} China’s Grub Street has its groupies and 2] they should ape the Western view that wit and riposte is best kept brief.

  7. cainandtoddbenson says:

    Thanks for posting, very informative. My Thoughts -“Ai Weiwei-Freedom” 自由, 艾未未. Art, animated gif.

    http://cainandtoddbenson.com/2011/04/20/aiweiweifreedom/

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