People’s Daily editorial urges tolerance for “differing ideas”

In a fresh reminder that one can always expect the unexpected from China’s media, the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily ran an editorial yesterday calling on a tolerant attitude toward new and different ideas. In apparent reference to the recent suppression of dissident voices, such as that of Ai Weiwei (though the circumstances of the editorial are at this point speculative), the editorial called intolerance “a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness” and said “diversity is the secret to prosperity.”

The full Chinese text of the editorial can be found at QQ.com here, at China Elections and Governance here and in traditional characters at Sina.com HK here.

Our nearly full translation of the editorial follows:

Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This [quote from Voltaire] expresses a kind of openness, and even more a sense of confidence. The hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails, this way of thinking is fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness, and it does not benefit the construction of social harmony or the creation of a healthy temperament.

. . . China’s society today stands in an age in which ideas and culture are pluralistic, diversified and always changing. As we move into the deep zone and a crucial stage of reforms, the modulations and game playing of different interests will naturally give rise to the expression of different demands. As our opening expands and we move deeper into globalization, it is inevitable that various values and ideas, traditional and modern, foreign and homegrown, will collide and clash.

Without a doubt, this is a historic change. From one voice to a hundred flowers in bloom, from a thousand uniform faces to richness and diversity. This expresses a great liberation of ideas, and it shows that China is advancing.

When you have diverse expression, it is difficult to avoid having “contrary ideas,” so that it seems chickens are talking to the ducks [and neither side understands the other]. In this process, we must appreciate calm and rational discussion, being ready to admit our own errors. But it is with some regret that we note that some cannot countenance differing views in discussion, but resort to mutual insult, dragging up old misdeeds, and leaping to slap the other side with ugly labels, so that personal emotion trumps the pursuit of truth. In dealing with criticism and differing opinion, some not only fail to keep an open mind, but even raise charges of “slander” and exercise their power to suppress different voices.

Mr. Lu Xun once said that threats and execrations are a far cry from combat. Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This [quote from Voltaire] expresses a kind of openness, and even more a sense of confidence. The hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails, this way of thinking is fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness, and it does not benefit the construction of social harmony or the creation of a healthy temperament.

In this sense, it is only through having a merciful attitude toward “contrary ideas,” adjusting our opinions through dialogue and dissolving tensions through discussion that we can we reach consensus to the greatest degree possible, promoting the progress of ideas. In dealing with ordinary people, those rulers who hold power especially require this “tolerance.” While the narrow-mindedness of the former might amount to verbal violence, the narrow-mindedness of the latter can lead to real harm, as we saw in the “Pengshui poetry case” (彭水诗案) and the “Lingbao text case” (灵宝帖案). If the tolerance of the former shows strength of character, the tolerance of the latter shows not only a kind of “magnanimity” (雅量), but further meets the needs of rule for the people, and the demands of a society rule by law.

“Because we serve the people, if we have faults, we do not fear the people criticizing them and pointing them out.” Criticism can perhaps be right or wrong, and some may even go to extremes. But so long as they are well-meant, do not violate laws and regulations, and do not harm public order and morals, they should be met with an attitude of tolerance. They cannot be subjectively dismissed as something being “done in opposition.” Quite the contrary, we should recognize that in a diverse society respecting different voices and opinions is a necessary part of respecting citizen’s right to express, and moderating anxieties within society.

. . . Actually, differing voices and even opinions of opposition, are important resources in raising the bar on leadership. So called “not making decisions without hearing different opinions” can only happen if different voices are allowed to exist. This is the only way different situations can be understood, rational assessments be made and accurate decisions rendered. This is why Mao Zedong said that the sky wouldn’t fall if people were allowed to speak. This is why Deng Xiaoping said that “seven mouths and eight tongues are not frightening, but most frightening is when not a crow or sparrow can be heard.” This is why central Party leaders have continuously emphasized that “we must create the conditions for people to criticize and monitor the government.”

Diversity is the secret to prosperity. The further a society develops, the more need it has for the expression of diverse personalities, and the more capacity it needs to draw on different opinions to create unity of will. If we treat different voices with tolerance, seeking “unity” in “diversity”, we will not become like “a sack of potatoes with no continuity,” but we will through the discussion and collision of ideas continue to coalesce and rise.

8 Comments to “People’s Daily editorial urges tolerance for “differing ideas””

  1. samsa says:

    Seeing how People’s Daily is the most narrow-minded nationalist paper, I can’t help but feel this is a bit of a put on.

  2. ltlee says:

    @David and Bill

    The article put down a free speech principle beyond the principle of “no prior restraints.” In case someone does not know what “prior restraints” means, let me explain by quoting from “DEMOCRACY AND THE PROBLEM OF FREE SPEECH”, written by Cass R. Sunstein who had examined the history of free speech in the US.

    “…If we turn to history, we will find some evidence that in the
    founding period, the phrase “the freedom of speech” was a term of art,
    one with a highly specialized meaning. The term may have referred
    primarily or even exclusively to protection against what are described
    as “prior restraints.” Priior restraints consists mainly of two things:
    (1) licensing systems before speech can reach the public (for example,
    a requirement that you submit your sexually explicit book to a licensor
    before you can publish); and (2) court-ordered injunctions against
    expression, banning speech in advance (for example, a court order
    stopping you from printing a dissident political tract).”

    Sunstein described the current state of free speech as free speech absolutism. According to him,
    “The current state of free speech law in America cannot really be
    attributed to the Constitution’s words, or even to the aspirations of
    the people who wrote them and made them a part of America’s founding
    document.”

    IMO, official free speech thinking in China has passed the “no prior restraints” stage but still a long way from absolutism.

  3. David says:

    Bill:

    There’s of course a lot we don’t know about this essay and its circumstances yet. But I don’t like the choice between a “real” or a “fake” call for allowing dissident voices. That’s a false dichotomy, and this essay isn’t either. Imagine a fractured leadership in which no one individual or clique controls the Party’s central mouthpiece, and all sorts of political contingencies can lead to hardline, moderate and sometimes even liberal voices getting play there. No one piece is absolutely reflective of policy, and the winds constantly change direction.

    In that light, it is certainly not “wishful thinking” to see this as a call for tolerance toward alternative voices. However, it is most certainly wishful thinking to believe such a call will make any difference. Just as it would be to assume that Wen’s overtures on political reform in Malaysian will be somehow decisive.

    Best,
    David

  4. Bill Bishop says:

    I hope some day we find out the truth, but think it is wishful thinking that this is somehow a real call to allow dissident voices. I am curious about the choice of the word 异质 (heterogenous). To most Chinese, does that mean something similar to 异见?

    perhaps everyone looking for signs of reformers are searching for something that doesn’t really exist

  5. David says:

    Bill (Bishop):

    This certainly does not mark a shift in policy . . . But nor does it read like a “softening tactic.” There’s a big difference between calling on Party leaders to act more responsively and encouraging competition for ideas with a nod to Voltaire. This is completely different from the rhetoric of smarter “public opinion channeling” that we’ve seen in recent years.

    The editorial again raises questions about divisions and differences at the top about the direction of reforms.

    Best,
    David

  6. ltlee says:

    Tolerating contrary ideas and “free speech” as understood in the West are two different things. Basically, no freedom in speech is an built in function of speech. All speeches are spoken to stop other speeches. Whether people have contrary ideas or not, they need to respect this reality.

    The following is how I see freedom and non-freedom in speech.
    ———————————

    语言当然是用来表达一个人的思想、感情、对某事物的好恶等等。
    人与人之间,言语也是传递信息和知识的主要桥梁。这都是言语
    正面的功能。言语也有一个很重要的负面功能。叫别人闭嘴的功能。
    本能上几乎所有的人都清楚言语的正面功能。言语的负面功能比
    较受忽略。

    在很多的情况下,语言正面与负面的功能并行不悖。

    例一,
    张三:请问现在是什么时候?
    李四:三点十五分。

    张三的问题是语言正面功能的例子。李四的答案包括正面与负面
    的功能。李四固然是提供有用的信息。他的答复也防止张三再问
    同样的问题。若张三听请楚答复而又再问同样的问题,他的思想
    或记忆力可能是有毛病。

    因为语言有上述正负两方面的功能,言论不自由实际上是日常生
    活的一部份。两个人之间的辩论无容致疑是二者间互相使对方闭
    嘴的行为。一个人圆满地回答另一个人的问题亦是希望他不再作
    同样的询问。是不是说言论自由是一个全无用处的概念呢?这也
    不是。语言是一座人与人交通的桥梁,其负面的功能可以视作这
    人与人之间交通桥梁上的红灯。红灯亮了,交通就到此为止。
    相对而言,言论不自由是过早亮红灯或是利用其他辨法阻止正常
    的思相交流。

    例二,
    张三:现在是什幺时侯?
    李四:三点十五分。
    张三:赵五刚刚跟我说是四点多。怎幺会是三点十五分?
    李四:(伸手让张三看表) 你自己看吧。
    张三:(走开了又再回来) 我问钱六。他也说是四点多。你的手表
    会不会是坏了?
    李四:(摇了摇手表。把手表放在耳边听了听。) 我的手表没有问题
    我早上出门前跟电台对了表,时间不会有错。信不信由你。

    从例二得到的观察:
    1. 张三实际上是问了三次时间。
    2. 对话或思想交流在李四回答张三的问题后都可以圆满结束。
    3. 张三之所以能继续同一问题是因为他每次都提供新的资料。赵五
    和钱六的答复。其后,张三没有新的话题或资料,对话就完了。

    例三,
    公:公有理因为如此如此一。
    婆:婆有理因为如此如此二。
    公:公有理因为如此如此三。
    婆:婆有理因为如此如此四。
    公:你这狗娘养的…

    公对婆发动人身攻击,停止婆说婆有理的机会。对话未能圆满完成。
    他其实是妨碍婆的言论自由。

    例四,
    侍者:请问先生要吃什么小莱?
    客人:我要一个汉堡包。
    侍者:我们这里只卖中国小菜,不卖汉堡包。
    客人:不要哕唆。叫厨师弄个汉堡包就是。
    侍者:(走开了又回来) 厨师说他现在忙,没有时间弄汉堡包。
    客人:找你的经理来。
    侍者:厨师就是这店的主人。这里不卖汉堡包。你还是点个中式
    小莱吧。
    客人:不成,我要汉堡包。我要汉堡包。我要汉堡包…
    侍者:你不点菜。请离开吧。
    客人:这是我的言论自由。我要汉堡包。我要汉堡包。我要汉堡包…
    (侍者打电话找公安。)
    客人:你为什么要捉我。我没有言论自由吗?
    公安:言论自由须要言论的对手。侍者已清楚地告诉你不卖汉堡包。
    对话完了。你在这方面的言论权也完了。你当然有点中国小菜的言论
    自由。再要求汉堡包是自说自话。你可以在家中说。在公众埸所大声
    自说自话就是扰乱公安。

    概括而言, 所有的对话、讨论、辩论都以停止对方继续发表言论为
    目的。这是语言本身的功能。若是对话、讨论及辩论都不自动停止
    的话。人们就会终日说过不停。只产生噪音而不能传递信息。言论
    自由须要两方面的合作。并不是自说自话。所以自由主义者不能光是
    要求言论自由,也须要考虑某种言论是否有在某一段时间内继续讨论
    的条件:新的资料或新的听众。

    上述固然是个人与个人的对论。但亦可应用到个人与团体或个人与
    政府之间的讨论或辩论。
    ———————————

  7. Bill Rich says:

    Start of another “Let a hundred flowers bloom” ?

  8. Bill Bishop says:

    I am not sure this directed at the suppression of dissident voices. Given who the audience-Cadres & party members- I think it is warning them to behave better and to be more willing to listen to the masses and their grievances. Beijing knows the party has a massive credibility crisis and needs to manage social contradictions better. Too many issues go confrontational too fast, in part due to cadre arrogance, misbehavior, and lawlessness. But behind this softer approach there is still large hard and ready security apparatus that will be used unhesitatingly. I dont think this marks a shift in policy but rather a softening tactic to try to reduce some of the trigger points for the more boiling tensions and social contradictions.

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