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I really haven’t read much about Chinese politics lately, and this Wapo article leaves me wanting for more.  This “new left” doesn’t appear to be a democracy movement, and if I’d left my impressions with the first skimming of the article I’d assume it’s actually a response from Chinese communist orthodoxy to the economic liberalization of the past few decades.  It is partly that, but there are hints in the article that it represents something more.

The New Left’s appeal is built on the work of prominent academics, including Zuo, 58, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Tsinghua University professors Cui Zhiyuan, 47, and Wang Hui, 50. They have become especially popular among young people, farmers and laid-off factory workers.

Wang, a professor of humanities who is considered the leading New Leftist, has said that China is caught between two extremes: “misguided socialism” and “crony capitalism.”


The Utopia bookstore — named after the perfect sociopolitical-economic system of Sir Thomas More’s imagination and located northwest of Tiananmen Square in Beijing — has become the premier gathering place for these intellectuals and their supporters.

Members include environmental activists, songwriters, Internet programmers and entrepreneurs, few of whom are shy in speaking out at the weekly meetings. Although attendees of the seminars have been variously described as pan-Leftists, Maoists or nationalists, many participants say they reject labels but are united in their passion to make sure the rewards of China’s development are shared equally among all its citizens.

That the movement is tolerated, so far, might be an indication that increments of political reforms are starting to emerge after decades of economic reforms.  And this “new left” seems to be anything but monolithic.  From the article it doesn’t seem they’ve taken any direct action other than publication and discussion.  No mention of Tiananmen.  No talk of independent unions.  No discussion of problems of power or the suppression of more active dissent.  But active and public discussion of idea critical of the regime is not something which has been allowed to flourish in the not-to-distant past.  And I doubt Wapo has the whole story.  I suspect they’re very careful about what they discuss publicly.  I’m sure the private conversations are much more comprehensive.  I’m sure they’re watched closely.

Lest we forget the events of two decades ago.

And this new movement faces the same problem of the Tiananmen demonstrators, namely, that they’re primarily if not exclusively middle and upper class intellectuals.  But in the latter movement is addressing economic issues, and while the networks all rave about how their contacts in China are buying new cell phones every six months, the conditions on the bottom are nothing to take pride in, even before the global recession.  The benefits of globalization.  Thank you for shopping at WalMart.



April 2009
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