Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chinese Public Intellectuals - the second rung

To put it briefly, a public intellectual has a strong concern for public issues and generally consider themselves representatives of public interests. They have a strong sense of social responsibility, and consider rectification of social problems as their personal responsibility

In 2004, Guangzhou’s People Magazine Weekly listed China’s 50 top public intellectuals – writers, lawyers, and even academics who lead pushy issue-based debates and even protests on public issues. This list resulted in wide publicity for the debate and protest model of raising issues and improving lives. And since then things have never been the same. A large number of intellectuals emerged in all parts of the country to raise questions and lead agitations and protests on a diverse range of subjects - from environment issues to land grab to protest at corrupt governance by bureaucrats. And this is how it should be! Such a large country like China and that too in a developing phase, should be teeming with problems. Protests and polemical articles help to raise and resolve livelihood issues important to the public. Invaluable for the government - not only as a safety valve for channelizing and defusing public unrest, but also as a barometer for the public mood.

Chinese public intellectuals like Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei are quite well known. But the second rung of intellectuals is less well known outside China. The New York Review of Books has covered some of them over the last few months. A review of these articles might help to know the issues currently affecting Chinese society.

1. An Interview with Huang Qi

A report in the New York Review of Books, carries an interview with Huang Qi, who has created the first human rights website of China, where the protests taking place across the country are being recorded - almost live. He receives a phone call from the protest site and immediately puts it on line. This site is constantly tracked by the central government and it helps them to respond quickly to people's problems and defuse situations at a preliminary stage. This is almost like a hot line to the government itself. While the above might be an idealised version of how the site fits in to aid governance, this governance model does prompt some questions. Recording protests in this manner might increase the number of recorded protests and show the government in a poor light. However, Does not the quick responsiveness and amelioration of concerns on the other hand add to the credibility of the government? Does this not therefore help to greatly legitimize the Chinese government? One can perhaps call it Human rights with Chinese characteristics? In the Chinese sense of using a concept to constantly improve the "situation", whether it is Socialism, Capitalism or Human Rights. The cat's color is not important.

Click here to read the interview.

2. An Interview with Ran Yunfei
Ran works in Sichuan Literature, a govt run magazine. He is from Chongqing. During the Arab Spring when  Jasmine Revolution rumours were doing the round in China, he exaggeratedly said that without full freedom, China could turn into a North African country which is often under turmoil. He was arrested and released much later.
Click Here  to read the interview.

3. An Interview with Bang Tao

 In the 1980s, he was director of the Office of Political Reform and the policy secretary for Zhao Ziyang the former general secretary! Just before the suppression of Tiananmen protests in 1989, Bao was detained and charged with revealing state secrets and counter-revolutionary propaganda. He was convicted in 1992 and served seven years, in solitary confinement. He believes that in a corrupt system, everyone has to be corrupt or they will not be allowed to survive. He lives in Beijing.
Click here to read the interview.

4. An interview with Yu Jie

Yu Jie author of 30 books, the first being the social satire Fire and Ice. He has written a satirical biography of Wen Jiabao. He has now followed this up recently with a biography of Liu Xiaobo, a personal friend. Yu Jie makes an interesting comparison between Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiei in the interview. It is not appropriate to reveal it all here. But an interesting aspect - while both of them are popular in the West, they are popular in different audience segments. Liu is more popular with the Western intellectuals while Ai is more popular with the Western strategic community. Yu fled to the US in Jan 2012.
Click here to read the interview.

4. An interview with Chen Guangcheng

He is the prominent blind legal activist from north-east China, who had made history by escaping house arrest and fleeing several hundred kilometers in 2012 to get shelter in the US embassy. He finally made it to the US after negotiations between China and the US - to study disability law in New York University.
Click here to read the interview.

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