Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Politics, Culture, and Scholarly Responsibility in China: Toward a Culturally Sensitive Analytical Approach*

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Politics, Culture, and Scholarly Responsibility in China: Toward a Culturally Sensitive Analytical Approach*

Article excerpt

The relationship between knowledge and power has always been acutely problematic, particularly in the study of international relations. Inspired by an address by Ann Tickner, this article urges the need to develop culturally sensitive approaches to the question of scholarly responsibility in the realm of power in different historical, cultural, social, and intellectual contexts. Taking international relations scholarship in China as an example, I suggest that the expanding political space and the weakness of critical scholarship in China, combined with a historically induced intellectual predicament and inherited cultural legacies, constitute a useful analytical framework for making sense of Chinese understandings of scholarly responsibility. This framework also helps to understand the perpetual agony of Chinese intellectuals in coming to terms with the turbulent relations between knowledge and power in China today.

Key words: China, sociopolitical development

Introduction: The Proper Role of Scholars

The role and function of intellectuals and how the intellectual confronts the question of power and authority have seen some perennial debates. In his 1993 Reith Lectures, Edward Said argued that the intellectual is obliged to speak truth to power. One of the principal intellectual activities in the twentieth century, in his words, "is the questioning, not to say undermining of authority."1 For Noam Chomsky, intellectuals and academics should aspire to be moral agents, not servants of power.2 Other cultural, social, and political traditions have historically embedded the tricky relationship between knowledge and power. While the Russian intelligentsia in the nineteenth century developed a strong sense of responsibility for the fate of Mother Russia and an adversarial relationship with the political establishment, Confucian literati as "action intellectuals deeply immersed in 'managing the world' (jingshi) of economics, politics and society" remained an integrated mainstay of Imperial Chinese political and bureaucratic establishments from the Han (206 BC-220 AD) to the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.3 What unites Confucian literati, the Russian intelligentsia, and modern (Western) intellectuals, however, is their ultimate concern for the improvement of human condition and their perceived role as being the conscience of the society.

In the discipline of international relations, the question of an appropriate relationship between knowledge and power and between scholarly responsibility and the policy arena has been repeatedly raised and long debated. Wary of the visible tie between the scholarly world and the world of power, which "puts academics and researchers not only in the corridors but also the kitchens of power" in the United States, Stanley Hoffmann warned three decades ago that the discipline of international relations in the United States must guard itself "from the glide into policy science."4 Two decades later, this time in Britain, Willliam Wallace issued a call to "consider the appropriate degree of detachment or of engagement which academics in International Relations should practise towards the policy arena." He argued for a balance between the two extremes of total cooption into the policy-making arena and the passionate detachment from it.5 The spirited debates that ensued only highlighted the uncompromising disagreements among British international relations (IR) scholars on scholarly responsibility in the realm of knowledge and power, a question that remains perpetually controversial.6

Ann Tickner, president of the International Studies Association in 2006, recently articulated the disquiet about the uneasy relationship between knowledge and power in the United States. Concerned about the shrinking space for political dissent and increasing intolerance of other world views after the 9/11 attacks, Tickner asserted that many international relations scholars are profoundly uneasy about the direction of U. …

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