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.”
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.