The Research on “New Leading Ideology”
October 7, 2001
A great Change has been taking place in the mainland China, especially the cities and the southeast area, since the end of 1980s. It's very clear that today's mainland China, in almost every aspect, is very different from what it was before. Not only the economics and culture but also the politics: the composition of the ruling group, the political roots of the ruling, the basic way in which the government controls the society and, very important, the state ideology -- all of these are deeply changed. There is a very brief account of these changes in the outline I gave to the conference, in which I mentioned 4 points I thought as the most important: the huge differences between the parts of the mainalnd -- you can even say that there are several different "China"s, not only one "China", in the mainland today; the end of the 1980s' reform and the flourishing of the 1990's reform -- I insist that there are 2 different things, not 2 different stages of one thing, in the recent 20 years; the rapid growing of some new social group, especially the "New Rich" and -- as its main opposition -- the "New Poor", such as the out-of-work workers and the "labor workers"; the replacement of the Moist ideology by the so-called "New Ideology". As one of the results of these changes, people find that there is no ready-made theory they can use to understand the new situation. Today's China is neither a "socialist" country nor a "capitalist" one. It needn't to be repeated here what I wrote in the outline and the paper. I just want to introduce you how the Chinese intellectuals are doing now to respond the new situation, what aims they hope to reach and what difficulties they are meeting when they do so.
It's the early 1990s that Chinese intellectuals realized that they should re-start their thinking and analyzing of the rapidly changed reality. In fact, they were already divided into some very different, even strongly opposed, groups by the deep divergences on how to understand the complex reality, especially on how to understand the so-called "market-economy reform" guided by the government. For example, some people called themselves as "liberals" and some other ones were called "new left". The former still believe that the reality was basically acceptable because the "reform", and the social changes caused by the "reform", is leading the country into a new state that will be rather similar to the "American model". Though they knew that there were, and would be, so much problems in the process of the reform. But the Latter thought that the Maoist autocracy was replacing by only a new kind of autocracy, which was considered as "capitalism" by some of the latter while the rest didn't agree with this judgement and thought it's too simple. So the "new left" strongly worried about the suffering made, and would be made, by that new autocracy and called more struggles against the autocracy. From 1998 to 2000, there was a series of sharp debates took place between these two groups. I think some of these debates will continue in the coming future though many arguments, of not only the "liberals" but also the some of "new left", were proved to be too simple by the current development of the social reality.
Accompanied by the division, and those debates, of the intellectuals, popular culture became a new focus of the attention and arguments of the intellectuals. Many people believe that they could find some keys to understand the current social situation. So some important discussion about the popular culture, especially about the urban culture, has been developed since the middle of 1990s. As the results of these attention and discussions, a series of publication, often titled with the word "culture study", were born in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. In the spring of 1998, for example, such a discussion started in Shanghai and it still continues now. As a participate of the discussion, I'ld like to give you a more concrete introduction about it.
In the first stage of the discussion, people focused on the very fashionable image of "chenggong renshi", about which I gave an introduction already in the outline I mentioned. About 10 articles published at Shanghai Literature, a very important monthly in Shanghai, from April to July in 1998 and, as the first result of the discussion, an article collection was published in Nanjing in Nov. of 2000. The authors argued that people should pay great attention to the image, as well as the other icons of the same kind, because they indicated the forming and spreading of a new leading ideology, which simplified and covered the harsh reality of 1990s' mainland China. They further pointed out that the critical analysis of the new ideology could open a new vision in which so much things would appear with the very different, and more complex, meanings from what people thought to them before: not only the current situations of the economics, politics and culture but also the whole modern history of China.
The second stage of the discussion began in the last month and was planed to continue for more than one year. It will be supported even mostly organized by the newly established Center for Research on Contemporary Culture of Shanghai University, which can be seen as the first institute of the kind in the mainland China. Thus the discussion will develop into a series of monograph study. The popular culture flourishing in Shanghai area is selected as the main subject of the study in this stage since Shanghai is commonly considered as the most eye-catching symbol of the "reform". So these items were determined as the first parts of the study:
1) a study of the combination of political propaganda and commercial advertisement in today's Shanghai;
2) a study of the fashion magazines in 1990s' Shanghai;
3) a study of the street advertising of Huaihai Rd. (the most famous and expensive shopping area in Shanghai);
4) a study of the fiction on Shanghai;
5) a study of the decoration of the bars and cafes in today's Shanghai;
6) a study of the architecture of today's Shanghai;
7) a study of some new films on the social changes of today's China, especially of recent-20-years Shanghai;
8) a study of the making and developing of the myth about Wang Fei, a woman singing star who has a great influence on the young people of Shanghai area;
9) a study of the cultural change of Nanxiang in the recent 20 years, which is a very famous but small town close to the central part of the city;
10) a study of the nostalgia fever in 1990's Shanghai.
All these studies will focus on the new leading ideology -- it's characteristics of formation and operation, for example -- and its mutual-affected relationship with the economical, political and other cultural changes in the recent 20 years. Also the people will pay particularly attention to the diversified relationships between this new ideology and the similar ones in the other East Asian areas and the United States. We do hope the studies can open up some new path in the understanding of the "market-economy reform" and the creating of the new concepts even theories about modernization, globalization, socialism and capitalism and so on. Thus our respond to the situation of today's mainland China will also be the one to the complex situation of today's East Asia and the whole world. But we know clearly that what we are doing now is only at the very beginning. The studies will succeed only after occurred more and more joining with other studies of the kind, which come from the other disciplines and the other areas.
Of course, what I introduced above is only a part of the culture studies in today's mainland China. I also know, and believe, that some other things of the kind are going on in Beijing and other cities. I even believe that the critical analysis of the contemporary culture will become very soon a new "hot spot" in the academic field.
But I want to say that the difficulty the studies are facing now is also very evident. I needn't list here the limits from the external, such as the official controls over the information and publication, the lack of the research funds, and so on. The more important one is internal, that is, the limits from ourselves. As to now, the most of the people who are undertaking the studies are from the disciplines of humanity, so it's clearly that they should do more training of social science to meet the needs of their work. The other big problem is the lack of the resources of thinking. When facing our cultural reality we do find that there are so huge differences between the reality and the critical theories born in the West. Certainly we need to learn from these theories and they can inspire us in some ways. But we know clearly that we can't do our studies only according to the directions of these ready-made theories. We have to start our work with a lot of concrete description of the complex situation of today's society. We also have to create some new concepts and thinking, which are from the global vision but very different from the ones offered by those Western theories, to catch and analyze the characteristics of the reality. Only after that we can reach the possibility of responding powerfully the social and cultural problems of our times as well as of creating new cultural theories to support the responding. Of course it's rather difficult. But it's by realizing this difficulty that we feel our work interesting and worthy to do.