China 'Gray Lists' Its Intellectuals ; Recently the Rising Stars of Popular Magazines, Intellectuals Are Now Being Charged with 'Elitism.'

By Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

China 'Gray Lists' Its Intellectuals ; Recently the Rising Stars of Popular Magazines, Intellectuals Are Now Being Charged with 'Elitism.'


Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In a move intended to muffle the voices of some of China's most prominent and independent scholars and activists, hard-line elements in the new Hu Jintao government are seeking to eradicate the concept of "public intellectuals" in China.

A new "gray list" has been created, sources say, of historians, economists, writers, environmentalists, and other Chinese who have offered a critical voice or been influential in recent years in Chinese society outside official circles, and who have started to be referred to as "public intellectuals." The term until now has connoted dignity and worth.

Public intellectuals in China are known for opposing brutal police practices; for promoting greater citizen participation, AIDS awareness, freer speech; and for advocating environmentally friendly policies.

Propaganda ministry officials are now seeking to eliminate the concept of public intellectuals, and to stop Chinese media from creating lists of such persons as a commercial enticement to buy their publications. In recent weeks, official warnings have gone out to state-run newspapers, magazines, and TV urging limits on the use of those who have been heard under the "public intellectual" moniker, and who often voice thought differing from China's party line.

"The attack is on the idea of independent thinking," says a Western scholar of China based in Beijing, who said the language of attack is "pretty hard."

Prominence to proscription

The issue exploded in September after a list of China's "Top 50 Public Intellectuals" was published in Southern People's Week, a popular magazine in the province of Guandong.

The list of 50 included Hua Xingming, an opponent of careless demolishing of old architecture in Chinese cities; Gao Yaojie, who uncovered an AIDS epidemic in Henan brought by black market blood- selling; and Wen Tiejun, known here for exploring the mixture of problems in Chinese villages like bloated government agencies and peasant suffering.

There is also He Weifang, an eminent law professor at Beijing University, famous recently for a successful petition against a whole system of shaking down and banishing migrant workers. The system's eventual abolition followed the beating death by police of a young graphic designer in Shenzhen, who was mistaken for a migrant worker. Mr. He's petition was widely read as a galvanizing reform document that gave liberals hope; it appeared on the Internet, considered a new space for diverse concerned Chinese to meet and be heard.

Yet on Nov. 23, the boom came down. Shanghai's hard-line "Liberation Daily," a paper known as a cheerleader for the Cultural Revolution years ago, widely condemned the concept of public intellectuals. The paper called it an "imported term" whose nefarious design is to "estrange the relationship between the party and intellectuals," and "the masses and intellectuals."

Public intellectuals are often guilty of "arrogant elitism," the editorial continued, accusing them of trying to create a "hegemony and monopoly" of their own views and urging the Chinese people, most of whom are not familiar with the meaning of public intellectual, to "stay calm" in the face of such challenges.

This past weekend, the Liberation Daily editorial was reprinted word for word in the People's Daily - the newspaper of the Communist Party in China which is published nationally. …

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