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The Elite’s ‘Cultural Superpower’ Dream and Han Han’s Dream of ‘Harmonious Existence’

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By Liang Jing
Feb 25, 2010 – 7:38:15 AM

The Elite’s ‘Cultural Superpower’ Dream and Han Han’s Dream of ‘Harmonious Existence’*
by Liang Jing

The lead article in the current issue of Nanfang Zhoumo [Southern Weekend] is entitled “Is it possible to become a cultural superpower; if so, how?” Written by Yi Zhongtian, the intention was to pour a little cold water on the ruling elite’s dreams of becoming a “cultural superpower.” The article concluded that “becoming a ‘cultural superpower’ should not be the wishful thinking of an elite minority, but the common pursuit of all citizens. If its citizens can live in dignity, China will have dignity; only if they have culture in their lives will China have any culture. Only on this basis can we produce influential figures, ideas and works. For a people’s practical experience is the source of its culture.” [1] (Translator’s note: Yi Zhongtian 易中天: Professor in the Academy of Humanities, Xiamen University; intellectual and TV personality. Known as “Superman of Scholars,” gained popularity in CCTV’s ‘Lecture Room’ for his retellings of history.)

Eight or nine hundred million people in China live below the poverty line; not only do some millions of people suffer unnatural deaths each year, almost all Chinese people are, as Jiao Guobiao has said, “living abnormally,” and even Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Wen Jiabao “live quite abnormally, in great hardship, and are quite pitiable.” [2] But this is no impediment to China’s ruling elite dreaming of becoming a “cultural superpower.” Nearly 30 billion yuan was invested in Confucius Institutes in 2009, a 60-fold increase over five years, and it is also planned to invest billions of dollars to build a media empire to compete with that of the US. How, then, to understand the motives underlying this dream? One interpretation is that the regime has the nouveau-riche psychology of “riff-raff making it rich”; another is that it is self-dealing, nominally expanding “soft power” to fill their own pockets. These are good as far as they go, but a deeper reason lies in the hidden cultural ambitions of the Chinese elite. Over several thousand years, Chinese people were self-confident that their culture was the best in the world, but for over a century not only did China suffer from humiliation, its culture was faced with ruin. At present, the “rise” of China’s economy has re-inspired the cultural ambitions of some of the elite. [2], [3]. (Translator’s note: Jiao Guobiao, professor of journalism, Beijing University; in 2004 called for the CCP Propaganda Department to be abolished. The university, under official pressure, canceled his journalism course in September).

This has been most clearly expressed by the well known cultural scholar Gan Yang: “I think that to be Chinese means to belong to the only cultural nation in the contemporary world able to genuinely struggle for cultural independence from the tutelage of the West, the only nation capable of gaining self-dignity. A non-Western nation completely enveloped by the West is without dignity. Hence being Chinese is something to be very proud of, because you have the possibility of a history. I think the most important issue in the twenty-first century is to break the five hundred years of global domination by the West; only China has this possibility, and other nations—India and the like—do not. That is where the true meaning of being Chinese lies; we need to strive towards this goal.” [4].

While there is nothing wrong with challenging Western cultural hegemony, against the background of the reality of China’s elite rampage, such statements are suggestive of a cultural ambition which is heedless of moral right and wrong. As for the theory of the inability of non-Chinese nationalities to challenge Western cultural hegemony, it is even more ignorant nonsense.

There were important cultural factors in the humiliation suffered by the Chinese in their conflict with the West, one of which was that the ruling elite was too lacking in sympathy for the suffering of the lower orders. This meant the Chinese couldn’t be as unified towards the outside as the Japanese. We now see a recurrence of this old disease: can a nation lacking a long memory constitute a cultural superpower?

This year’s “Spring Festival Evening” was the least successful for many years, a sign that that the regime is losing its magical powers of enslaving the people by cultural means. It was Han Han rather, a representative of youth culture and rebellion, who used an obligatory Spring Festival evening of Xinjiang people singing songs in praise of the Communist Party to create a highly influential cultural event. He launched a “Jakexi” Lyric Contest, to ridicule all the absurd policies of the Chinese Communists with great success. [5], [6].

In a major development, Han Han, born in the 1980s, has become one of China’s most influential cultural figures. He gave up university studies but still managed to have a successful career. More importantly, he has never pandered to the Communist Party, bluntly criticizing maladministration of all kinds, and winning a host of fans on the Internet. Thus many young people see that there are other ways of living. The Han Han phenomenon constitutes a major attack on the mainstream culture of servile philosophy and flattery of the powerful that is supported by the authorities. It seems they have no idea of how to deal with this cultural leader of rebellious youth.

According to Han Han, a major problem with Chinese people is that they judge by the ideological standpoint rather than by right or wrong; whereas he has no standpoint and judges only whether something is right or wrong. Clearly, it would bode well for the future if more young people in China had such an attitude towards life, but for the rulers of the CPC and the devotees of the philosophy of servility it is seriously subversive. Han Han is aware, of course, that he may face hostility and threat. In a recent interview, he said, “What I really want is a harmonious life.”

I sincerely hope that China will as it develops allow the likes of Han Han to realize their dream of a harmonious life, which is far more important than the ruling elite’s dream of being a cultural superpower. If the latter insists on realizing this dream at the expense of Han Han’s, it would be a nightmare for the world. Because many facts tell us that China is probably the only power with the strength to transfer its culture of corruption to the world. [7] , [8], [9], [10].
* Liang Jing, “Jingying de ‘wenhua daguo’ meng yu Han Han de ‘hexie rensheng’ meng” [The elite’s ‘cultural superpower’ dream and Han Han’s dream of ‘harmonious existence’], Xin shiji, 24 February 2010 [梁京: “精英的‘文化大国’梦与韩寒的‘和谐人生’梦”, 新世纪,2010年2月 24日 (<http://www.newcenturynews.com/Article/gd/201002/20100224085347.html>here).].

[1] Yi Zhongtian, “Wenhua daguo shifou keneng, ruhe keneng” [Is it possible to become a cultural superpower, and if so how], Nanfang Zhoumo, 18 February 2010 [易中天: “文化大国 是否可能,如何可能”, 南方周末,2010年2月 18日 (<http://www.newcenturynews.com/Article/gd/201002/20100219102359.html>here).].

[2] “Kongzi xueyuan: guanpai ‘chuanjianshi’” [Confucius Institutes: ‘missionaries’ of officialdom], Shidai zhoubao, 24 February 2010 [“孔子学院:官派‘传教士’”, 时代周报,2010年2月 24日 (<http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/20100220/22307428553.shtml>here).].

[3] “Zhongguo zashu shiyi meiyuan dazao meiti diguo yu Ximei kangheng” [China lays out billions setting up an empire to fend off Western media], , 28 September 2009 [“中国砸数十亿美元打造媒体帝国与西媒抗衡 ”,2009年9月 28日 (<(http://www.chinapress.net/observer/2009-10/08/content_252200.htm>here).].

[4] Gan Yang, “Yong Zhongguode fangshi yanjiu Zhongguo, yong Xifangde fangshi yangjiu Xifang” [Use Chinese methods to study China, Western methods to study the West], 自由左派 – 甘阳首页, 23 October 2009 [甘阳:“用中国的方式研究中国,用西方的方式研究西方”, 自由左派 – 甘阳首页,2009年10月 23日 (<http://www.caogen.com/blog/Infor_detail.aspx?ID=200&articleId=17233>here).].

[5] Han Han, “Yakexi tianci dasai” [Yakexi competition], , 16 February 2010 [韩寒:“亚克西填词大赛”,2010年2月 16日 (<http://www.bullogger.com/blogs/twocold/archives/352878.aspx>here).].

[6] “Wangluo dansheng shenshou, Han Han Yakexi dasai zhengci” [Net gives birth to spirit-beasts; Han Han’s yakexi competition], , 20 February 2010 [“网络诞生神兽 韩寒亚克西大赛征词”, 新唐人电视,2010年2月 20日 (<http://ntdtv.com/xtr/gb/2010/02/20/a392869.html>here).].

[7] Zhang Jieping, “Han Han: wo meiyou lichang zhi fen duicuo” [Han Han: I have no standpoint, just distinguish truth and error], 25 December 2009 [张洁平:“韩寒:我没有立场只分对错”,共识网,2009年12月 25日 (<http://www.21ccom.net/newsinfo.asp?id=4918&cid=10352200>here).].

[8] Li Haipeng, “Duihua Han Han: ‘wo zuizhong xiangyaode shi yige hexiede rensheng’” [Talking with Han Han: ‘What I want in the end is a harmonious existence’], Nanfang zhoumo, 30 December 2009 [李海鹏: “对话韩寒:‘我最终想要的是一个和谐的人生’ ”,南方周末,2009年12月 30日 (<http://www.infzm.com/content/39455>here).].

[9] Mo Weibai, “Gan Yang: Zhongguo wenming yingyou ziwo qixu” [Gan Yang: Chinese civilisation needs to have expectations of itself], Nanfang renwu zhoukan, 17 September 2008 [墨未白:“甘阳:中国文明应有自我期许”,南方人物周刊,2008年9月 17日 (<http://www.forum1.cn/show.aspx?cid=144&id=909>here).].

[10] Han Han, “Kan Kongzi” [Viewing Confucius], Xinlang boke, 25 January 2010 [韩寒:“看孔子”, 新浪博客,2010年1月 25日 (<http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4701280b0100gqf8.html>here).].

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