State of Mind of the Chinese Nation
Debasish Chaudhuri

Knowledge plays a vital role in nation building and in controlling of society. From the last decade of nineteenth century to the May Fourth period, Chinese intellectuals of different backgrounds – reformists, revolutionaries, pragmatist thinkers, anarchists, and would-be communists engaged themselves in a debate to decide upon the suitable knowledge for nation building in China. They borrowed from both the Western as well as Chinese tradition for rescuing their country from the imperialist forces and making it a rich and militarily powerful nation (富国强兵). After a century of struggle, China has emerged as the world’s most dynamic economy and a growing military power under the fourth generation leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. Much of its success has been accrued in the last thirty years of the reform period. In the process of rapid economic development and subsequent changes in social life, the CPC has lost its hold over the masses and its ideological strength has also slackened considerably. From the increasing number of mass protests, it appears that the party does not have much power over the minds of the people. Maybe, the biggest challenge for the CPC is to make the official ideology more palatable for the Chinese populace and generate a more sophisticated knowledge to control the society.

The reformist leaders of the late Qing period proposed that China should use the Western knowledge for developing its infrastructure and material wealth and the Chinese traditional wisdom for the construction of the core of Chinese nation. Mao Zedong put forward the same concept as ‘make the past serve the present and foreign things serve China’ (古学为今,洋为中用). As Marxism has gone through the process of sinicization, the Chinese party thinkers have separated it from the Western knowledge and categorized it as Maxue (马学). In the face of a declining official ideology the Chinese leadership in the reform period realized the importance of rebuilding a common belief system on the basis of nationalism and the age old philosophical tradition especially that of Confucianism. The party ideologues began to feel strong urge to relocate the roots (根) of the Chinese nation into its historical and philosophical tradition.
Under the pragmatist leadership of the reform era, the party doctrine has gradually been driven more and more by state policy. Whoever tried to enrich the Marxist analytical debate in China by applying the concept of alienation, humanism, political dissent or other traditions of Marxism, were accused of polluting people’s mind. Maxue in the hands of subsequent orthodox leaderships has lost its critical dynamism and began to play the role of legitimizing reform policies and projecting party’s glorious tradition. The ideological cannon of the reformist communist party of China are an attempt to marry China’s historical tradition with its revolutionary tradition. The revolutionary tradition is relevant, because success of the communist party since its inception is still capable of generating nostalgic sentiments among the people and the party can conveniently use this historical legacy at the time of distress.

After the 30th anniversary of the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Party Congress, Prof. Cheng Enfu, head of the Institute of Marxism in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences gave a new formulation of Chinese Marxism and coined a new phrase ‘Marxism for the reflection on China, foreign knowledge for application and Chinese culture as the root’ (马学为体,西学为用,国学为根). According to Cheng’s thesis, the late Qing scholar Kang Youwei’s Book of Great Harmony (大同书) captures the most ideal form of utopian socialism with Chinese flavor and falls in the category of the world’s great socialist utopianism. The book interprets the socialist economic thought by employing the language and wisdom of the Chinese tradition. Cheng opines that Kang’s ideas in the book are close ally of Maxue and both are based on China’s national condition (国情). Cheng also discards both the doctrines of Taiping leader Hong Xiuquan and the leader of the republican revolution Sun Yat-sen as agrarian socialist fantasy and socialism of the petty bourgeois. It is note worthy that in the early reform period, as the CPC leadership had initiated measures to correct revolutionary excesses in the Mao decades, it sought to utilize the legacy of Sun Yat-sen whose theory of economic reconstruction was based on cooperation rather than class conflict. It appears that in the face growing economic inequality, social stratification and political cleavages the party intends to install a relatively benign reformist Kang Youwei’s theory as the fountain head of party’s new doctrine under the leadership of President Hu Jintao.

In order to improve the quality (素质) of Chinese nationals, three Sixth Plenary Sessions (三个 “六中全会”) of the 12th, 14th and 16th Party Congresses held respectively in 1986, 1996 and 2006 took some important decisions. The proceedings of these plenary sessions are considered as the theoretical foundation for building healthy state of mind of the Chinese nationals (健康国民心态). The main theme of the 1986 and 1996 plenary sessions was construction of a socialist spiritual civilization (社会主义精神文明). The 1996 session particularly gave importance to the elimination of market generated negative influences in the spiritual life of the Chinese citizens. Addressing the new ideals of development, the 2006 plenary session gave emphasis to the concept of scientific development (科学发展观) and construction of a socialist harmonious society (社会主义和谐社会). In 2010 the party central committee again published a series of documents on civil/civic morality (公民道德), ideological and political education of university students and cultivation of moral thinking of adolescents.

In the Central Work Conference of December 1980, Deng Xiaoping first mentioned the importance of developing a high spiritual civilization (高度的精神文明). Socialist spiritual civilization is more than developing educational, scientific and cultural foundation. It also designates itself with communist ideology, higher ideals, faith, morality, discipline, commitment for revolutionary principles, and inter-personal comradeship. The sixth plenary session in 1986 stressed the importance of fostering socialist civilians with high ideals, morality, culture, and sense of discipline. Besides emphasizing the above, the 1996 session decided to cultivate people with a strong hold on scientific theories, correct public opinion, and high spirit. The resolution of the session also stated that the people of all nationalities should be unified and mobilized for the construction of a rich, powerful, democratic, civilized socialist modern nation. Addressing the growing social maladies like corruption and money mindedness resulting from China’s rapid economic development in the reform period, the party leadership time and again attacked individualism, hedonism and various superstitious believes. The 2006 plenary session stressed the need of developing a socialist scientific harmonious society that would eventually cultivate harmonious relations between man and man, man and society, and man and nature. The recent official publications consolidate the party’s program of nurturing the mind of the masses. It also defines and elaborates the concept of state of mind of the Chinese nationals.

The healthy mind of the Chinese nationals has been defined as an important psychological basis for promoting individual, social and national development as well as a major component of soft power of the national culture (国家文化软实力). As China is going through the historical process of great development and transformation, it requires creating a soft cultural environment as a complement to its hard power posture. This soft cultural environment is also supposed to mitigate social contradictions in the contemporary China and promote individual happiness and all round development of Chinese citizens. The latest official writings give importance to fostering the following qualities among the Chinese people: self-esteem and self-confidence, rationality and scientific thinking, pragmatic and enterprising, and open mindedness and tolerance.

It is propagated in these writings that every Chinese should be proud and boastful of their nationality and nation. They should have ample faith on the prospects of individual and national development. Indomitable spirit should be inculcated among the people who would further exert unswerving efforts to realize the great revival of the Chinese nation. While doing so they should neither make humble estimation, nor exaggerate the nation’s capability. Rational and scientific mind would help the people to understand as well as handle inter-personal relations, relations between man and society and between China and other countries. The official documents point out that the Chinese people have a habit of following current trend of the masses (跟风从众) and others’ footsteps (跟着别人走), and they seldom analyze anything independently. The pragmatic approach would also help to overcome the bad practice of rushing for quick profit, hankering after everything, bragging of prosperity and fighting for wealth and any form of complacency. This is true for personal as well as national matters. Whenever a nation wants to rise relying on its own power and strength, it needs to aspire for high ambition (even preposterous ambition), but it should also have foresightedness and persist on working in down-to-earth manner. Openness and tolerance should be inculcated so that it would help improve China’s image in the world.

As China is becoming more global, the party is losing its power over the people. The party leadership has realized that China will not be able to increase its influence in the international arena only on the basis of its economic strength and military power. In order to tackle this situation, the party leadership in the 17th Party Congress has put forward a new formula with three parameters, namely, international situation (世情), national situation (国情) and affection for the party (党情). It is an effort to establish that the world situation should be taken as a warning/mirror as far as national situation is concerned (世情为鉴,国情为据) and an imperative to inculcate deep love for the party (党情为要). The recent official pronouncement is perhaps another attempt to ensure people’s allegiance to the communist leadership in China.

Arif Dirlik, The Origin of Chinese Communism, New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989
Jamie Morgan, “Contemporary China, Anachronistic Marxism? The Continued Explanatory Power of Marxism”, Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2004

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