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On Publication of Reflections on Chinese Civilization

Posted by on 2009/09/24. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Xiao Jiansheng
Sep 24, 2009 – 2:30:40 AM

For over 20 years, I have been collecting data and thinking about issues related to Chinese civilization. I also completed a book, which was published by the China Social Sciences Press in January 2007, on this topic. Although many deletions were made, the book was banned from being launched at the end. I am truly delighted that my book can now finally be published and launched overseas in its original state. I wish to thank everyone who has worked hard to make this happen.

I have been asked why I wrote this book, and I feel that I am obliged to talk about my past.

First of all, it is because of the death of my grandfather.

My birthplace is located in a remote village in Feng Huang Prefecture, Xiang Xi, Hunan Province, China. It is about 50km away from Feng Huang town. My grandfather dyed fabric for a living when he was young. He was very hard working and enjoyed what he did. His business thrived. He accumulated some wealth and bought some land. During land reform, my family’s land was categorized as small lot operation. Actually my grandfather should have been regarded as a wealthy farmer, but since he was very kind, honest and giving, his good reputation prevented that from happening. At the end, my grandfather was categorized as a well-off medium level farmer, and became a target for unification.

Bad luck, however, soon came to find my grandfather. In 1958, a people’s commune was set up in my home town. Our land, farming cows, farming tools, and even our pots, bowls and chopsticks were all confiscated. From then on, each person had to go to the public canteen to obtain a little bit of rice. Since we did not have enough food from the canteen, we had to feed on wild vegetables. My grandfather was very upset and enraged by the situation, and decided to end his life of 74 years by going on a hunger strike. For the entire week, my grandfather did not even consume a mouthful of water and finally starved to death.

I had just turned three when my grandfather passed away. At that time I did not understand his cause of death. My mother told me what happened when I was a bit older. She said my grandfather made a comment on the current situation. He said “Now we can only come to the canteen to obtain a few mouthfuls of rice. What hope do we have left?” Grandfather was totally disappointed by the situation at that time, and was determined to fight back with death. The sad fate of my grandfather marked me for life. I could not forget what he had done. I truly admire his integrity and honorable personality, and I also learned that when a person’s private property is infringed upon, his right to pursue happiness is taken away, there could be dire consequences.

The second reason has to do with what happened to me in 1974.

I graduated from First High School in Feng Huang prefecture in 1972. As an educated youth, I was supposed to return to the production team to do labor work. Serendipity changed the course of my life. The Propaganda Division of the Prefecture Revolution Committee( the Committee) was looking for someone to do journalistic work. I did not return to my home town. Instead, my teacher recommended me to take up the task as a news officer for the Propaganda Division. I was mainly responsible for reporting news. One year later in early 1973, I was assigned to take the post as editor at the broadcasting station under the Committee. I formally began my life in the news area. Compared to many young people in my time, I was very lucky. I was even more fortunate that I had access to many books related to history and philosophy when I was working in the Propaganda Division and the broadcasting station. It represented the opportunity of a lifetime for many young people in that era. I love history and philosophy, and in my work place I read about ancient Chinese history and works of famous authors such as Hegel and Hugo.

It was before the end of the Cultural Revolution. I often went to rural areas for interviews and saw how poor many villages were. Some older cadres at the Committee privately talked to me about how Pend Dehuai was incriminated at a Lushan meeting in 1959, and how many people starved to death in Feng Huang and Xiangxi. I therefore had to opportunity to understand more about the serious issues brought forward by the implementation of class struggle and theories of continuation of the Revolution advocated by Mao Zedong. I was deeply saddened by how poor some villages were at that time. I spent more than six months at a production team in the Qian Gong Ping Commune in Feng Huang Prefecture. Many people from the Miao tribe resided there. I stayed at the home of a Miao commune member called Long. The mountain was tall and the river ran low at the bottom of the mountain. The village was located at the top of the mountain. There was no water and the temperature was low. The person in charge from the Committee, however, decided that there should be more large scale paddy fields on the mountain. The Miao people were very reluctant and became victims of public criticism and they were sent away to drift from village to village as punishment. Consequentially the level of food production declined substantially that year. After we submitted the portion to the commune, what we had left was not even enough for half a year. When lunar new years’ eve arrived, we did not even have half a kilogram of meat for the entire household. Such life in abject poverty drove me to think deeply about Chairman Mao’s roadmap of revolution and began to have serious doubts.

In May 1974 (that was when I was 19 years old), I wrote an article called Commentary on China’s Future and Fate. I sent it to the office of People’s Daily. In my article, I expressed serious dislike towards public criticism on certain individuals, the new direction for the agricultural sector, and certain extreme “leftism” that insisted on continuation of the revolution. I stated that such political movements brought nothing to the people except poverty. People had no food, no clothes. Basically people had absolutely nothing. We were worse off even compared to farmland slaves. If the situation continued, people would not be able to survive and they would have no choice but to rebel. China’s future would be filled with uprisings.

That article sent me to my doom. People’s Daily and the propaganda division of Revolution Reform Committee in Hunan Province sent my article to the prefecture. The committee secretary for Feng Huang Prefecture ordered the public security bureau to have me arrested and removed me from my duties. Some older cadres from the Prefecture Revolution Committee such as Xiao Dabao, Xiang Kuan Liang, Teng Zhuqian and Lin Zongjin tried to offer me protection with various excuses. At the end I kept my job, and I was not arrested. Until today, I feel deeply grateful towards these older friends of mine. They have given me much encouragement and taught me a great deal.

I was not subject to ten year imprisonment like Yang Xiao-kai, who wrote “Where is China Heading”, but because of this incident, despite my excellent grades at the senior high examination in 1977, that article caused me to fail the political screening. I almost made it to Peking University, but did not at the end. I never got to attend any university. Even Ji Shou University in Xiangxi did not want me. I learnt about the cruelty of politics the hard way. The Cultural Revolution was already over, but in a small town like mine, people’s way of thinking did not change. But I never regretted what I did.

In 1978, China began to open up its politics. That year I went to Hunan People’s Radio to learn about editing. In April 1979, Hunan People’s Radio had me transferred from Feng Huang Prefecture to work for them. I had the conditions to start working on something I really loved – history studies. I chose Xiong Xiling as the subject of my research work because he was also from Feng Huang prefecture. According to the massive amount of historical data, I found that Xiong Xiling, in his young age, pursued constitutional monarchy, and, later in his life, pursued a constitutional republic. He spent his whole life on fighting for modern civilization. It was the same Xiong Xiling, however, who took up the position as head of PRC State Council in 1913, and under the threats from Yuan Shikai, signed an order to dismiss the Congress and dissolved Guo Min Dang. His action caused an irreversible blow to the establishment of a constitutional democracy in China. I was greatly shocked by this incident, and I deeply felt the horror of traditional Chinese autarchy and conspiracy culture. The completion of my book on Xiong Xiling allowed me to have more in-depth understanding of the history of China’s contemporary constitutional democracy.

Beginning from 1985, I began to collect historical data and reflect on China’s history of civilization. In June 1988, CCTV broadcasted a political commentary called The Death of the River. It offered reflections on China’s history of civilization and strongly criticized the conservative agricultural culture represented by the Yellow River and Yangtze River, the closed-door policy established since the Ming and Qing Dynasty, our Dragon culture that symbolizes power and violence etc. All these left me with deep impressions and plenty of very useful inspirations.

The failure of the June Fourth movement in 1989 drove me to think deeply for a long time. With the historical conditions available at that time, political reform in China had already begun. Public commentary and news reporting were also very open. During the June Forth Movement, the students were peaceful and rational. They wanted to push for political reform, punishment of corrupt government officials and fair evaluation on Hu Yaobang. We should say that such voices asking for reform came from within the institution and they received support from around the nation. So why was it met with the fate of military suppression? I was deeply shocked by the nobility of Zhao Ziyang, who would rather lose his position as leader of the nation than issue an order to crackdown on the students. Why was Zhao Ziyang met with such fate? Why was there a crackdown on such peaceful democratic movement organized by a group of students? What lessons are left for us? What do we need to do to prevent anything similar from happening in the future?

In 1993, I was transferred to Hunan Daily to take up the job as an editing reporter. There is where I learnt that most of the editing reporters were regarded as rightists during the 1957 anti-rightist movement. It was a hard hit area for the national anti-rightist propaganda war. Many people who were sent off to rural villages received really unfortunate treatment. I was deeply impressed by these predecessors’ courage in insisting on press freedom back in those days. I truly admire their noble spirit. Why did this historical anti-rightist tragedy take place? Why did those who spoke a few words of truth have to endure such sad fate? Why are individual rights stipulated in the constitution such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press not protected?

We cannot consider these issues on the institutional level. I began to deeply feel the necessity of China moving towards modern civilization. I felt even more deeply on how to realize progress in Chinese civilization through establishment of political and legal systems. I especially realized the meaning of religious faith as a decisive factor in laying down the foundation for modem civilization. I began to explore into these areas. I was greatly influenced by Yang Xiaokai’s articles “Some Thoughts on Chinese Politics” and “Christianity and Constitutional Politics”. I gathered massive amount of historical data and combined them with historical facts. I started some in-depth thinking.

In early 2006, when I finished my book “Reflections on Chinese Civilization”, I contacted many publishers in China to discuss the matter of having my book published. Not one single publishing agency dared to publish a book like this. Later I found the website of China Social Sciences Press and I saw the name of Chen Biao, their editor. I read about his thinking on editing and contacted him by email. I did not expect Chen Biao to write back so quickly, and after he read the draft of the book, he soon decided to have it published. In January 2007, however, when the book was published but not yet launched, we were notified that the book had to go through a new round of censorship. Later my book was sealed up after censorship.

My book was sealed up, but I still had faith in getting it published. I believe that the Chinese society and civilization are progressing after all. No one can stop the footsteps of history from moving forward. It is the trend of our era that government rights should be restrained and individuals’ rights and freedom should be protected. Modern civilization will one day arrive in China.

Now “Reflections on Chinese Civilization” can finally meet the reader. I have revised the content of my book at least 20 times, making additions and deletions here and there. Looking back at the difficult process of doing research and writing in the past 20 years, I cannot help but heave a sigh of emotions that I cannot explain with words. In this long period of time, it was my sense of responsibility towards history that allowed me to turn down earthly temptations of money and power and insist on writing this book without complaints or regret. At the same time, the very sad fate of my grandfather and his spirit of choosing death over living as less than a human being continued to give me encouragement. Today, I can finally use this book as a memorial sacrifice to comfort my grandfather’s soul in heaven. May he rest in peace in the heavenly kingdom. I would also like to thank my mother, who, being an uneducated village girl, taught me live with my conscience at all times and there is nothing to fear if you have done no wrong. It was her teaching that drove me to stick to my conscience in the course of writing this book.

I was greatly influenced by foreign authors such as Locke, Adam Smith, Tocqueville, Hayek, Montesquieu, Acton, Popper etc. A number of works by Chinese people also impacted on my thinking. They included “The Annals of Chinese People” by Mr. Bo Yang from Taiwan, “Prosperity and Crisis” by Mr. Jin Guantao and Liu Qing Feng, and the TV documentary “Gospel” by Mr. Yuan Zhiming. I have been particularly influenced by the works and articles of Mr. Yang Xiaokai on constitutional democracy and Chinese economic issues. I have also been inspired by the works and articles of Mr. Yuan Weishi and Mr. Lin Da. I have not met with or contacted any of the Chinese scholars I mention here, and therefore have not been able to learn from them personally. Their integrity and profound academic thinking have deeply touched and inspired me. I would like to thank them all here. Now that Mr. Yang Xiaokai and Mr. Bo Yang have already passed away, I will not have the opportunity to consult them in the future, which is truly regrettable. I hope they are very happy in the heavenly kingdom.

My home town Feng Yang has nurtured many talented people. I am greatly impressed by famous people such as Shen Congwen and Xiong Xiling. They have also been a wonderful source of inspiration. All these have given me the motivation to work hard and complete my book.

It is a very difficult task to systematically and comprehensively reflect on the history of Chinese civilization by adopting modern civilization viewpoints. In the process of writing this book, I have insisted on one basic principle, which is to express difficult academic perspectives by using objective, vernacular and interesting language. I hope this book inspires people on their level of thinking. Due to the very limited level of thinking and knowledge, I have many inadequacies and imperfections. I hope to receive criticism and guidance from the public.


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