Professor warnings over conservatism in China

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Issue 1015, Page 3
Word count: 600
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Contemporary China should never just stick to its traditions but has to be open-minded and also learn from the West in order to contribute to the creation of a new civilisation in the world, a mainland professor said in Macau yesterday.

Shen Xiaoyuen, a professor of history at the Nanjing University made the remark in a public lecture, “Critical Thoughts About New Conservatism in Contemporary Mainland China”, at the University of Macau.

New Conservatism, also known as neoconservatism, was a movement first arose among thinkers and the cultural scene between the 80s and 90s in mainland China. It argued that progress was best accomplished through gradual reform of society, avoiding revolution and sudden overthrow of the government.

Hence, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were deemed in error as they attempted to change society through revolutionary means.

According to Professor Shen, since the 90s there was a “strong conservative movement” in the academic sector in China, and it was related to the “patriotic education and the legitimacy of political propaganda” at that time.

After the Cultural Revolution, nationalism and cultural traditions became significant among government officials. Both “New Confucianism” and “New National Studies” were regarded as useful to reconstruct the Chinese values, weaken the position of the Western values in the world as well as to resist the cultural invasion of Western imperialism.

Professor Shen Xiaoyuen also said that the rising of Asia’s Four Little Dragons – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea – since the 60s and the “remarkable achievements” made by the Chinese communities in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines were seen as the “third economic development model”.

Therefore, figures from “New Confucianism” attributed the rise in East Asia to the success of Confucianism and tried to look for a modern model through the “Asian values” that harmony, moderation, balance and self-sustaining characteristics could help society to strengthen family integrity and against the introduction of bad Western values in China, Professor Shen told the audience.

The value of conservatism, Professor Shen said, is that it can provide a “lever” to stabilise social order, and eventually fulfil economic development and bring in foreign investment.

“The ‘order-oriented’ idea and core value of stability of Neoconservatism can reduce the political costs for the integration of modernisation and have significant contributions to the survival of the nation and social progress and development,” the professor said.

Despite its rationality, necessity and importance, Professor Shen warned that it was “not normal” to see conservatism get excessively dominant and prevalent in China.

She reminded that conservatism was a major “weapon” of Chinese officials to combat Western cultures and ideas.

“Some people even think that conservatism has not only become the mainstream among intellects nowadays, but also become the dominant ideology for China to enter the 21st century,” she said. “If it’s true, it will really be a sorrow”.

According to the professor, during these days when China is opening up itself and in the stage of reform and when it needs even more cultural integration and engagement with the world, “if Chinese officials insist on conservatism, [China] will be against modernity by traditions and against progress using a backward state”.

Terrorism, she added, is in fact a kind of “extreme conservatism that strictly adheres to national standards, traditional cultures and also resist and reject Westernisation”.

Therefore, Professor Shen told the audience if China allows the flooding of conservatism that “has apparently been used by politics”, it won’t only harm the healthy development but may become an obstacle impeding the progress of the traditional Chinese culture.


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