Monday, May 25, 2015, 7:00 AM 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]

TROTSKY IN CHINA

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

Prize Fighter

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

THE HERMIT HUNTER

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

What do Chinese People Want?

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

Worked to Death

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

The New Class

China’s growing online education market has attracted the attention of…[More]

Pathologically Politicized

Practitioners at all levels concur that “messy” is the word that…[More]

China Legislates Against Terrorism

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

Progress or Pornography?

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

ANGRY

A policeman pulled his gun to dissuade villagers from stealing oranges…[More]

BEWILDERING

A 74-year-old man surnamed Xie from Shenyang, Liaoning Province was duped out of 420,000 yuan (US$69,342), despite bank employees’ efforts to…[More]

Graft Breeds Graft

The gap between the investigation and prosecution of official corruption cases…[More]

HIVE MINDED

China’s indigenous honey bee is under threat from both environmental…[More]

Exam Boot Camp

A middle school in Anhui province has earned a reputation for…[More]

In Whose Court?

The failure of the country’s administrative litigation system has prompted…[More]

Tradition on Trial

After Confucianism made the maintenance of inequality between the sexes fundamental…[More]

Inevitable Brutality

The vicious murder of a doctor in a Zhejiang hospital shows…[More]

From Stall to Mall

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

Problem Solved?

Former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s public trial sends mixed messages…[More]

Who Cares?

A new law decrees that all Chinese citizens are now obliged…[More]

Back in Action

After stagnating for 10 years, China’s SOE reform has fired up…[More]

AMUSING

Wang Xun, an archeologist with Peking University, arranged the bones of…[More]

An Avoidable Tragedy

Poor city planning and lax safety regulations turned a minor gas…[More]

Mean Streets

The chengguan system has become the most visible symptom of a…[More]

Trust Trip

Embarking on a three-month car journey around China without handing over…[More]

Dams in Distress

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

THE HANGING DEAD

The hanging coffins of the Bo people, a Chinese ethnic minority…[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]