I spent one night at Park Hyatt in Shanghai, on the way to Zhoushan to christen a Brazilian ship. And today, I had the pleasure to have lunch with Shaun Rein, a leading strategy consultant and the author of recently published book The End of Copy Cat China.
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On Monday Nov. 17, 2014, I had the pleasure and honour to give a speech at EU China Economic and Finance Forum held in Beijing. It was organized by AsiaMatters, an economic institute based in Dublin, chaired by Alan Dukes, a well-known Irish politician.
EU ambassador Schweisgut gave a welcome speech, stressing the purpose of the forum – driving partnership potential in EU China trade and investment. About half of the audience was Chinese and the other half Europeans.
I am delighted that my speech, entitled ‘Developing a better understanding of China’s to better comprehend present day reforms’, went very, not only because I’ve become a more seasoned public speaker but also because the subject is more interesting: I told a human story while others crunched numbers or other economic dry facts. Yet, giving China a human face and understand China’s past are important.
As I was talking, I saw several women of my age nodding and smiling at me – they knew what I was talking about. This, more than anything else, made my day!
writer, journalist, social commentator and public speaker
· Nov 17, 2014
COMMENT›INSIGHT & OPINION
Think tanks with Chinese characteristics won’t fully succeed in muzzling scholars
Lijia Zhang says Xi Jinping’s attempt to rein in public intellectuals can only go so far in the internet age
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 November, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 November, 2014, 4:48am
The vague term "with Chinese characteristics" has been used in the past by the authorities to defend the authoritarian system. At the meeting of the "leading group for overall reform" at the end of last month, President Xi Jinping called for the building of "a new type of think tank with Chinese characteristics".
In this instance, we should perhaps take it to mean "with overt government influence", or adhering to the party line, as Xi stressed at the meeting. But could such a think tank actually function properly and offer independent views, critical thinking or objective evaluation? It would probably end up justifying government policies rather than breaking new ground, for fear of crossing the "red line".
And what about the intellectuals and researchers at think tanks? There has been much debate about the role of public intellectuals even before Xi’s remarks. In July, Wang Weiguang , the president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China’s top think tank and research institution, said its members must be "red experts" (experts with the correct ideology) because the institution is not a "loose organisation of a bunch of freelancers who can say whatever they want or write whatever they please".
Wang’s remarks led to heated discussion on the internet about whether academy members should be independent thinkers or the party’s soldiers. One freelance writer, Shi Pingshan, claimed that what had upset Wang was the word "freedom". "So many conservatives still view it as frightening as ‘flood or fierce animal’," Shi wrote.
Renowned scholar Wu Jiaxiang wrote in his Sina blog: "If the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is not a loose organisation of freelancers, is it a cage for slaves?" Only a few netizens felt academy scholars should serve the government given that they are on its payroll; others pointed out that they are funded by taxpayers. The overall consensus seems to be that the scholars should be allowed to do their job – think independently.
However, several "black sheep" within the organisation have already got into trouble. In 2006, Lu Jianhua , an academy researcher and author of a controversial book Disasters Caused by the Leftists -a scathing examination of the disasters under the Communist Party – was jailed for 20 years for supposedly leaking state secrets. In truth, he was probably punished for his often critical view of the regime.
This May, liberal-minded scholar Xu Youyu was arrested and detained for attending a gathering commemorating June 4.
Back in 1967, Noam Chomsky published his famous essay, "The Responsibility of Intellectuals", in the middle of a national crisis in America after the debacle of the Vietnam war. The essay was very critical of the intellectual culture in the US, especially public policy, which Chomsky believes is subservient to power. He argued that intelligentsia have an obligation to speak truth to power.
For Chinese intellectuals, that’s not a luxury they had in 1967, and probably won’t have in the near future.
In centuries past, Confucian scholars were frequently torn between their loyalty to the emperor and their duty to point out wrongs. Those who were true to their conscience often faced persecution. Historian Sima Qian was given the choice of suicide or castration. He endured the latter and completed his famed Shiji( Historical Records).
Intellectuals in contemporary China haven’t fared much better, being tightly controlled by the Communist Party from 1949. In 1956, having consolidated power, Mao Zedong launched the Hundred Flowers Movement, inviting intellectuals to speak out. Taken aback by the overwhelming criticism, Mao struck back a year later with an "anti-rightist movement" which sent many who had voiced their honest views to jail or hard labour in the countryside. The Cultural Revolution witnessed more suffering of the intelligentsia.
The reform era has made the cage bigger. In the past two decades, a growing number of intellectuals have ventured to express their views, taking advantage of market-driven media outlets, and more importantly, the internet, which is much harder to police.
Xi’s idea about a new type of think tank is seen by some as the regime’s latest attempt to rein in public intellectuals who may try to challenge the party’s monopoly on truth.
If the authorities could rein in their authoritarian impulse to control everything, they would see that free debate can aid governance, as it would allow scholars to critically assess policies. Otherwise, creativity and pluralism will be stifled just as China needs them in its shift to an innovation-led economy.
There may not be an intellectual spring where "a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thoughts contend" around the corner. But the era when "10,000 horses were all muted" is gone forever, too.
In this internet age, no government can silence the voice of all intellectuals.
Lijia Zhang is a writer, journalist and social commentator
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Chinese think tanks may try to muzzle scholars, but they won’t fully succeed
Victory: a small one. Huang Rong, who sued the cooking school for gender discrimination, is now rewarded 2000 yuan’s compensation for the spirtual damage.
will be a speaker at the Forum.
The start of the show is Mr. Jha, a prominent journalist/public intellectual from India. It’ll be introduced by his brilliant writer daughter Radhkia and moderated by me.
Come along if you can!
Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger
Soft Skull Press, UK
Prem Shankar JHA will talk about his book.
Will India or will China succeed in dominating the world economy in the next forty years? To take for granted that either or both will succeed in doing so is perhaps naïve. Both countries are at the early stages of the transition from precapitalist to capitalist societies. The transition closes old avenues of progress and opens new ones, creating new winners and new losers by the hundreds of thousands. Prem Shankar Jha examines the interaction between economic change and social and political change in India and China as they have progressed down the road to capitalism. He examines the social and political conflicts that the market has unleashed and shows how the course of development in both countries has been determined by the conflict between competing strata of the newly empowered capitalist class. As no mechanisms have been created which could potentially reconcile these conflicts, the future of both countries remains uncertain.
PREM SHANKAR JHA is a former information advisor to the prime minister of India and former editor and columnist to The Hindu, Hindustan TImes, Economic TImes, Financial Express and Times of India. He has also been a visiting fellow at the Fairbanks center Harvard University and visiting chair in Political economics at the Paris Institute of Political Science.
Radhika Jha is the author of four novels Smell, The Elephant and the Maruti, Lanterns on their Horns, My beautiful Shadow. She has also been a correspondent for Business World magazine.
Zhang Lijia is a rocket-factory turned writer and columnist, the author of best-selling memoir "Socialism is Great!" and a big fan of India!
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Shaun Rein, the founder and managing director of China Market Research Group, is an engaging and eloquent speaker. We were speakers at quite a few events together. I’ve been to his talks and was always impressed by his confidence – obviously he knows his stuff. Armed with a master degree from Harvard University and flawless Chinese, Rein is one of the world’s recognized thought leaders on strategy consulting.
Rein writes in the same engaging and confident manner. I found his latest bookThe End of Copycat China: The Rise of Creativity, Innovation, and Individualism in Asia, a sequel to his The End of Cheap China, a better read.
Is China an innovation powerhouse yet? This has been a hot topic lately. China may not be quite an innovation powerhouse yet but Rein argues in his book that China has been shifting away from simple coping of successful business models from the west. True, China used to pick the low-hanging fruit in the investment-driven economy. With China’s economic restructure, intensified competition, higher labor costs and changing consumer tastes, Chinese companies have been forced to move up the chain value.
Rein uses the success stories of Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi to make his point. And he knows the CEOs of those companies or interviewed them.
I learnt a lot from the book.
Some chapters are well-crafted, for example the first part of chapter 7 China’s Expanding Consumer Class, set in new mother Vanessa Zhu’s flat. It reads like a well-written feature piece, with full-fledged scene, interesting dialogue, vivid description of the people and atmosphere. “The lingering scent of spicy Sichuan food hung in the air.” Such descriptions help the western readers, who have little idea what a Chinese home is like, to build a mental picture and make the book a pleasure to read.
Personally my least favorite are the Q and As. Dry in parts, it demands readers’ patience. They can also do with a bit of trimming.
Overall, I think the book can serve as a valuable guide to any businessmen lured by China’s vast market and potential or a good educational source to anyone interested in China. I also hope will help to break the stereotype of China image.