Friday, Oct 31, 2014, 7:20 PM CST – China

Editorial

Put the debate back into politics

The issue of the increasingly polarized and puerile conduct of would-be political thinkers cannot be solved by the judiciary

With the rapid uptake of social media, Mainland Chinese are becoming increasingly outspoken when it comes to politics, at least online. Engagement between diverse political viewpoints can enrich the debate on public policy, helping China in its search for the right reform agenda. Unfortunately, along with legitimate and reasonable debate, we have witnessed a rising tide of radical political viewpoints, expressed often in little more than verbal abuse. These kinds of “activists,” when faced with a well-informed opponent, even resort to physical violence.

In the latest example, Mao Yushi, an economist well known for his critical view of Mao Zedong (no relation), was verbally abused when giving a speech in Shenyang on April 25. At a separate speech in Changsha, also by Mao Yushi, a group of protectors occupied the venue, forcing the organizer to abandon the event.

Earlier in January, Li Chengpeng, a famous writer known for his criticism of the government, was slapped in public by a protester during a book signing.

This is just a glimpse of a radicalization of political engagement. Instead of debate, the clash between ideologies has become emotionally driven. On the Internet, detractors of the government become “traitors” who should be “prosecuted,” while its supporters are mocked as “patriotraitors” or “running dogs of the government.”

Without the ability to listen to other viewpoints, there is no room for debate. In such an atmosphere, one’s “side” becomes more important than the issue under scrutiny. As each camp claims to be right, they refute the right of their opponents to exist.

This is a worryingly familiar trend to those who survived the Cultural Revolution, when “class struggle” dominated daily life, and political differences were settled through intimidation, abuse and violence. Indeed, many buzzwords visible in today’s online battles of ideas are borrowed directly from the Red Guards.

As extreme comments tend to attract more attention, some of China’s intellectuals are now paying lip service to the trend of abuse in order to increase their influence. As a result, the word “public intellectual” itself has become a pejorative.

In a recent case, Kong Qingdong, a political conservative and a professor from Peking University, called student Guan Gaiyuan a “treacherous dog” for pointing out a technical error in one of Kong’s poems published on his microblog. Guan later sued Kong in a Beijing court, which on May 7 ruled, controversially, that Kong should apologize and compensate Guan 1,200 yuan (US$193) for causing mental distress.

The issue of the increasingly polarized and puerile conduct of would-be political thinkers cannot be solved by the judiciary.

As a participant in public debate, one must be aware that only when interaction between different opinions results in greater understanding can it be of use to society. Verbal abuse and the expression of personal hatred only serve to alienate political moderates, making it very difficult to foster a political climate that allows for nuanced perspectives.

Only in such a political climate, will China be able to deliver peaceful and meaningful political reform.

Tags:

Editor's Picks

Sex for Snacks

In cities like Shanghai and Chongqing, a handful of high school…[More]

Prize Fighter

Elevated into the State-approved pantheon of great Chinese writers thanks to…[More]

China Legislates Against Terrorism

The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s legislative body, passed a new…[More]

What do Chinese People Want?

“I wish I could do what you do.”…[More]

Progress or Pornography?

A new sex education primer aimed at elementary school-age children has…[More]

TROTSKY IN CHINA

How Communism’s most controversial theorist finally found an audience – in…[More]

THE HERMIT HUNTER

A student of Buddhism with a keen interest in China’s…[More]

Sex and the Schoolroom

Chinese teachers, parents and legislators weigh in on a familiar debate…[More]

Xinhai Revolution: A Potted History

The Xinhai Revolution is named after the official title of the…[More]

From Stall to Mall

Taobao’s shift towards a business-to-consumer model has come at a…[More]

Outsmarted

As China draws towards overtaking the US as the world’s…[More]

Masterful Mock-ups

Counterfeiting, driven by booms in speculation and investment, has now become…[More]

Dams in Distress

In 1975, over 60 dams collapsed after a rainstorm in Zhumadian city, Henan…[More]

PepsiCo Joins The Master

PepsiCo, the world’s second largest beverage company, declared a…[More]

Edible Bribes

As crab season approached in late Autumn, live crabs packed into…[More]

Hoopes Away From Home

Higher pay and better competition has recently attracted Taiwanese basketball players…[More]

The River Wild

From its source in Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo River meanders 2,900 kilometers…[More]

Dishonorable Honors

The election process for academicians employed by the Chinese Academy of…[More]

Catwalk Diplomacy

With China’s 2011 Miss Universe contestant Luo Zilin wooing Manhattan before…[More]

Trust Crisis

A recent online survey by China’s Xinhua News Agency…[More]

Out of Line, Out of Reach

After shocking photographs of kindergarten teachers physically abusing their students went…[More]

Move Toward Mainstream

Internet shorts, dubbed “micro-movies,” are growing in popularity, but how long…[More]

Disinformation, Displacement, Destruction

Ten years ago, the Evenki, China's last tribe of hunter-gathering reindeer…[More]

Can You Afford to be an Angry Bird?

The developer of the popular mobile game recently claimed that Chinese…[More]

Worked to Death

A growing number of young Chinese white-collar employees are dying of…[More]

Money Talks

While investment may speak louder than politics, the business communities from…[More]

Trading Places

The campaign to join the World Trade Organization was the most…[More]

Death of a Saleswoman

A controversial death sentence handed down for financial fraud has caused…[More]

30 Years of Sculpture

Start from the Horizon, an exhibition reviewing modern Chinese sculpture since 1978…[More]

Everything is Dangerous

The extent to which these ayi hover over the children entrusted…[More]