The Return of Liberalism and Social Democracy: Breaking Through the Barriers of State Socialism, Nationalism, and Cynicism in Contemporary China
- Publication Type:
- Journal Article
- Issues and Studies, 2003, 39 (3), pp. 1 - 31
- Issue Date:
After having been sidelined and overwhelmed several times, the gathering momentum of liberalism and social democracy in China today may constitute the most profound change in Chinese intellectual development since the mid-nineteenth century. However, it is a daunting task for both liberalism and social democracy to win the minds of the majority of Chinese intellectuals by breaking down the barriers of state socialism, nationalism, and cynicism. It is not easy to determine the political persuasions or ideological beliefs of many intellectuals in contemporary China: Are they liberals, socialists, or nationalists? One can easily find devotees of liberalism, socialism, or nationalism among intellectuals in modern and contemporary China; the problem lies in the heterogeneous nature of their ideological beliefs and political persuasions. As a pattern, many of these intellectuals are, or intend to be, liberals, socialists, and nationalists at the same time, without fully understanding the tensions or contradictions between these different ideologies. One consequence is repeated bewilderment at many historical junctures, when such elite display political precariousness and ideological bankruptcy. These intellectuals may subscribe to liberal and democratic values, but in the end cannot resist the seduction of state socialism and nationalism. The combination of these three political beliefs has actually formed a hierarchy in the ideological structure of progressive Chinese intellectuals in modern times. Nationalism came first, followed by socialism and liberalism in order of relative importance. It is impossible to find any influential political or intellectual leaders in modern China who are not nationalist. The strong commitment of the elite to nationalism has not only eventually led to the prevalence of state socialism over any other brands of socialism, but has also set a clear limit on the development of liberalism. There is now a real possibility that liberalism will prevail over both nationalism and state socialism in China.
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