Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Chinese Liberal Camp in Post-June 4th China

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Chinese Liberal Camp in Post-June 4th China

Article excerpt

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This paper is an assessment of Chinese liberal intellectuals in the two decades following June 4th. It provides an analysis of the intellectual development of Chinese liberal intellectuals; their attitudes toward the party-state, economic reform, and globalisation; their political endeavours; and their contributions to the project of constitutional democracy in China.

Liberals in contemporary China understand liberalism in the classical sense as a political philosophy that considers individual liberty as the most important political goal and upholds principles such as legal protection of individual ri^its, the rule of law, and limitations on government power. For them, liberalism takes the form of political liberalism for the support of liberal democracy over dictatorship, economic liberalism for the support of private property over government control, and social liberalism for the support of equality over privilege. China's liberals not only strive for individual freedom and seek to replace the despotism of the Leninist party-state with liberal democracy, but also stand at the frontline in the fight against social inequality, and champion the cause of the working class in the quest for a better life.

The June 4th massacre was a major setback for the démocratisation project in China, but the discourse on democracy has continued to flourish in defiance of the party-state. The massacre not only hurt Chinese intellectuals deeply, but also compelled some of them to reconsider the trajectory of China's political development and strategies for achieving the goal of democracy. It is in the process of this intense reflection that a number of Chinese intellectuals have achieved an intellectual breakthrough to fully embrace liberalism since the 1990s. This paper is an assessment of the thou^its and activities of Chinese liberals in the two decades after June 4th. It will provide an analysis on the emergence of the Chinese liberal camp, the latest intellectual developments among Chinese liberals, and their contributions to the quest for constitutional democracy in China.(l)

t The formation, of the Chinese liberal camp under "MarketLeninism"

China's "reform era" was divided into two different phases by the June 4th massacre in 1989, which brought a premature end to the healthy trend of political liberalisation inspired by democratic aspiration. Following the massacre, and in the wake of the collapse of Communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Deng Xiaoping took two resolute measures for survival: a ruthless purge of democratic forces in society and within the CCP on the one hand, and the introduction of "market economy" on the other. With the tremendous aid of capital, technology, and consumer markets facilitated by globalisation, the post-totalitarian regime in China rapidly evolved into a new order of "Market-Leninism," a useful term coined by New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof that refers to a Leninist party-state sustained by a combination of relatively free-market economics and autocratic one-party rule.(2) In other words, it is an astonishing paradox that combines previously incompatible elements of capitalism and Communism, which by definition aims at eliminating capitalism.

To the surprise of many throughout the world, this strange hybrid has produced an economic miracle parasitic on exceptionally low-cost production factors, the expanding global market, and imported technologies and expertise. The enormous wealth generated by this new prosperity has provided a much greater incentive for Chinese Communist power-holders to retain power, and more resources for them to co-opt other social groups and repress the opposition. The result has been a transition to and consolidation of "power elite capitalism" (quangui zibenzbuyi), in which the development of the cruellest version of capitalism is dominated by the Communist bureaucracy, leading to phenomenal economic growth on the one hand and endemic corruption, striking social inequalities, ecological degeneration, and skilful political oppression on the other. …

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