Monday October 14, 2019

YU YING-SHIH: CHINA WILL RETURN TO THE CULTURAL MAINSTREAM

August 19, 2013

Special interview with Dr. Yu Ying-shih in Princeton, New Jersey by reporters Weng Tai-sheng (翁台生), Wei Pi-chou (魏碧洲), and Tseng Hui-yen (曾慧燕) for World Journal (世界新闻). Translated by Shannon Tiezzi. View the original article (in Chinese) here.

 

Although historian Yu Ying-shih maintains his anti-Communist stance, his writings are widely circulated on the mainland. The tip of his pen overflows with humanistic feeling, and his thinking influences the global community of ethnic Chinese. Some have said that after the “Ch’ien Mu fever” of 2004, “Yu Ying-shih fever” sprang up in the Chinese intellectual community. On August 17, Yu Ying-shih sat for a two-hour interview by the World Journal in his Princeton home. The topic was broad, from the one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party to the Xi-Li administration; from Xi Jinping’s “China dream” to his own “human dream”. Yu Ying-shih indicated that he is not pessimistic about China’s future, but firmly believes that China’s traditional culture will not disappear, and one day will return to the cultural mainstream. Below is a summary of the interview.

Corrupt official’s wives and children are sent abroad: There is no trust towards the regime

Reporter: In the last few years, “China’s rise” is a common view both within China and abroad. According to your observations, is China really rising? How should we view China’s current situation?

Yu Ying-shih: I don’t believe that China is truly rising. The Communist regime cannot be maintained for long; there must be change in the political system. Right now there is severe wealth gap in mainland China. In the coastal regions, a hundred million people have become wealthy, but most of them have close connections to Party officials—if they’re not family members then they are close friends. As we say, “you don’t water another person’s field.” Who knows how many corrupt Party officials have sent their wives, sons, and daughters abroad, and who knows how much money they have deposited overseas. If they had faith in their own regime, they wouldn’t do this.

The Communist Party’s “stability preservation” expenses are predicted to exceed their military expenses this year. During the “Two Meetings” [the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress], Beijing mobilized 800,000 people to ensure stability preservation. Still more, dissident were removed from the capital region by many people on a “publically funded trip.” My cousin is a “Tiananmen mother”. Every time someone pays a visit to her or there is some slightest sign of trouble, the entire family is sent on a trip to Fuzhou or Hangzhou for ten or twenty days. The officials accompanying them are quite happy to get to travel for free. This is the reason that stability preservation expenses are so huge. Can such a society last long? Anyone with common sense knows that this can’t last long.

I believe that the CCP regime will change in the future. One day it will not be able to continue. But I don’t venture to say how it will change.

Social inheritance system: The origin of corruption

Reporter: You have said that you don’t look highly on Xi Jinping’s “China dream.” What do you think of Xi Jinping’s leadership ability? What is the greatest challenge facing the Xi-Li administration?

Yu: More than a few people have hopes for the Xi-Li administration, but really what hopes are there? They are only yelling slogans. There was a survey that interviewed a few thousand people; about 70 or 80 percent of them did not recognize CCP rule. The surveyors thought that everyone would respond enthusiastically, but the result was the exact opposite. They could only let the results go; they didn’t dare to publicize them. But still some materials leaked out and were published by a Hong Kong magazine. This reflects a large problem: no one believes in the Party.

I don’t believe the Party is that mighty. Because China’s corruption phenomenon is too common, many rich people are fleeing abroad and leaving themselves an escape route in foreign countries. Some people, although they stay in China and work, have their passports at hand and have prepared so that they can leave at any time. This shows that they do not approve of the Party, and don’t believe that China has a dream that can cause them to stay in China and work. The CCP is currently a social inheritance system. 108 princelings have wealth in the trillions and control 168 companies.

For another thing, the number of corrupt officials that escape every year is over 10,000. A lot of money flows out. Although not a few are caught, it’s still a small number overall. Do people like this recognize the China dream? If you don’t even believe the slogans you are shouting, what kind of great society is this? Some overseas Chinese might express agreement because of nationalistic sentiment, but those who truly understand the current situation of the CCP will not agree.

Reporter: So, what is your “China dream”?

Yu: I don’t have a “China dream”, I only have a human dream. My “dream” is that everyone is at peace– everyone can do whatever they want to do, say whatever they want to say. This kind of society is my dream. I don’t have a desire for China to grow extremely powerful and be above the rest of the world. That is a vanity that haunts the Chinese people. This sort of nationalism is not good. Right now this nationalism is the only point that the CCP can exploit and use to rally supporters. Nationalism should only exist during a time of invasion, so that everyone can band together to resist foreign humiliation.

We see that Germany and Japan, who promoted nationalism more than any other country in the world, did not see a happy result in the end. However, some people are currently very influences by nationalism. They believe they have been bullied for over a hundred years, and hope to “stand up”, to make other people pay respect to them on sight. They will only be satisfied with that result. I’m afraid this will lead down the path of self-destruction.

Urbanizing 250 million peasants: A Mao Zedong-style Great Leap Forward

Reporter: Recently when talking about urbanization, you said that it was a great injury to China. As this policy has already started, in the future what sort of “China” will there be?

Yu: The CCP promotion of urbanization is a Mao Zedong-style Great Leap Forward. No society on earth has ever taken 250 million peasants from their villages and relocated them en masse to the cities. All of the land will be taken by the CCP; this is a method of making money. Currently in mainland China, average people everywhere protest most against forced demolition and relocation. Now some areas have already started implementing urbanization, for example, Shaanxi has begun moving village peasants into the city. However, there are an extraordinary number of difficulties. First, finding work is extremely hard. Lacking this foundation, some people want to return but their original home doesn’t exist anymore.

The CCP has two aspects that are the most fearful: reeducation through labor and urban management forces (chengguan). Urban management forces create harm everywhere, seizing people for no reason and sending them to labor reform camps or reeducation through labor camps. This is entirely relying on force to subdue the people. Continuing in this manner, they might as well return to the period of the Qin Shihuang, the first emperor.

Reporter: Looking at the Arab Spring developments in Tunisia and Egypt, is it possible that the authorities in Beijing are not worried?

Yu: The CCP is alarmed by and pays close attention to these sorts of movements, which are a great threat to its regime. But democracy is not so easily attained; it depends upon the education and quality of ordinary people. Democracy needs suitable education, appropriate traditions, and considerable respect for the opposition party—it is a very difficult thing to do. I don’t believe that a country can make the leap to democracy all at once. In Taiwan, because of good education and several decades of development, in addition to the influence of time spent as a Japanese colony, as well as the inheritance of calls for science and democracy since China’s May Fourth Movement, everything can be openly discussed. But currently the CCP does not allow discussion of democracy and science, it seems that this is one of the recently named “Seven Don’t Mentions” (qi bu jiang). Also when it comes to Mao Zedong, there some things you can say and some things you can’t say. Or Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Adherences” (si ge jianchi). There are all topics that the CCP cannot change, talk about, or discuss.

To return to China, I must deny myself: I would not feel at ease

Reporter: You pursue the universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights. As China rises and your years become longer, China has thought of every way to persuade you to return. Although you often openly criticize the policies of the CCP, most of your works have already been published in China. Many expatriate Chinese intellectuals often miss their homeland and have a desire for cultural belonging as they grow old. Are you adamant about not returning to China?

Yu: First, I don’t like commotion. If I return, I would have to hold conferences and make lectures everywhere. I couldn’t take it, and right now I’m not even talking about the government. Second, on a basic level there are value issues, completely unrelated to the Tiananmen Incident. If I must deny everything about myself in order to go back, then I would not feel at ease; I would despise myself.

Whether or not I go to the mainland is not important. If I don’t go, it’s all right—at least one person, and I believe more than one person, lets other know that there is a person doing this, and this person is still alive. It’s not that you have to return to the mainland in order to eat, and this is significant.

The U.S. gave me the greatest freedom. Living in a free world, I don’t have to beg other people to share my opinions. If other people’s opinions are the same as my own, I’m actually not very happy. Every person should have their own opinions and point of view

Reporter: If the CCP gave up its one-party dictatorship, would you think about returning to the mainland?

Yu: If the CCP gave up its one-party dictatorship, I would go immediately.

Reporter: The Tiananmen Incident and the Cultural Revolution are embarrassments that the CCP is not willing to face today, and are also unchallengeable foundations for the regime. If the authorities in Beijing are never willing to sincerely face these historical scars, do you believe there can be political rehabilitation for the Tiananmen Incident?

Yu: I believe there is no question of “political rehabilitation” for the Tiananmen Incident. As long as the CCP regime exists, they will never face the issue. Otherwise, the Party will collapse, and then we should not call it the “political rehabilitation” of the Tiananmen Incident.

After the Tiananmen Incident, many people believed that the CPP would quickly collapse, but their organization was too powerful. This is also a question of fate.

Reporter: Why do you persist in opposing communist? Are you optimistic about China’s future?

Yu: My opinions were shaped when I was 19 years old, but I don’t oppose communism just for the sake of opposing communism. I am not pessimistic about China’s future. China’s traditional culture won’t disappear. China has some things that have grown roots, “old things” like ancestor worship and gathering with people from the same village as well as tenderness, sincerity and real human interest. I believe these will slowly return. In the future, we will have to live ordinary lives. Right now there are too many struggles, especially if the CCP is constantly speaking about class struggle. But I believe the CCP cannot last forever. There will come a day when China will return to its cultural mainstream.

Hold tight to democratic values: Taiwan maintains soft power

Reporter: You have also spoken about the Taiwan example, and whether or not this example can be applied to mainland China. However, because recently Taiwan’s economy has been struggling, perhaps you don’t have the confidence to often talk about the Taiwan example?

Yu: This is Taiwan’s biggest issue. Taiwan has a huge psychological issue, including within the Kuomintang (KMT)—they are afraid of the Communist Party, extremely afraid. First, they fear that the Communists will attack, and it seems that there is no way they can resist.  On the other hand, they fear Taiwan independence, so they want to use mainland China in order to control the Taiwan independence movement. This is a very selfish way of thinking. Speaking honestly, if they continue worrying like this, then in the end they can only surrender to the CCP. If that happens, then why did they even need to flee to Taiwan in the first place? They should have just signed a treaty of surrender in Nanjing and been done with it.

In dealing with the CCP, Taiwan’s government must have principles and must preserve the values of democracy and freedom. For example, when blind human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng went to Taiwan, not only did President Ma Ying-jeou not dare to see him, but even Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai didn’t appear. This was extremely unseemly; in my opinion, they lost a lot of face. This wasn’t something brilliant. It seems like they were worried that the CCP might bring them trouble. Frankly speaking, I’ve very discouraged by Taiwan’s current attitude. To be blunt, I despise it. In the past, I had a sort of hope for Taiwan. I know that Taiwan has countless aspects that are not ideal, but it cannot lack the determination to resist the CCP.

How can a government that began by opposing communism come to this? It’s not that Taiwan cannot interact with the CCP, the “Three Links” [direct postal, transportation, and trade] are all ok. But on the question of politics, Taiwan cannot give way. I don’t understand Ma Ying-jeou. As I know him, he’s a good person. But I believe there is a lot of pressure on him within the party. Just like within the mainland, you may have ideas but you put them to use. Cooperating with wealthy Taiwanese businessmen to do business makes a small number of people live very comfortably without regard for the people below. Currently they are grabbing benefits from the mainland at all costs. This way, the average people become farther and farther disconnected from the government.

Reporter: In cross-strait relations, where does Taiwan’s self-confidence come from? Does Taiwan have what the outside world commonly recognizes as “soft power”?

Yu: Taiwan has power in the cultural realm, where it’s absolutely higher than the mainland, especially in that type of Chinese culture that has real human interest. Also, Taiwan’s society is one that can be accepted by everyone. No one says that Taiwan should overthrow its society and build a new one. This is a huge stabilizing force. Taiwan itself doesn’t think so, but look at how much energy to CCP spends on stability preservation. If every person thinks that he cannot live without tearing down the system this is a dangerous state.

Reporter: As each country interacts with China, it’s as if they worry: if by chance the CCP should be deposed, instability in China would bring a disaster…

Yu: Yes, everyone views the results of a failure to preserve stability as severe. However, I believe that the purpose of the so-called stability preservation of the CCP is to keep the Party from losing power. I think that China will not fall into chaos; rather it will be a case of slowly not listening to the CCP’s commands. Now, we cannot allow the CCP use violence to rule to its heart’s content. So the CCP’s so-called stability preservation is exaggerated. People think that without the CCP, China will be finished and there will be chaos, but the situation is not that terrifying.

 

Yu Ying-shih is a leading scholar of Chinese history in both Chinese and American academia. After receiving his PhD from Harvard University, Yu taught at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Yale University, and Princeton University. He also served as President of New Asia College and Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Yu was awarded the Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement by the Library of Congress in 2006. Yu’s research covers a wide range of topics, with a special focus on Chinese intellectual and cultural history. Among his many books are The Historical World of Zhuxi (2003, published in Chinese), The Power of Culture: Studies in Chinese Cultural History (co-edited with Willard J. Peterson and Andrew Plaks, 1994), and The Two Worlds of the Red Chamber Dream (1978). Yu was born in Tianjin in 1930 and studied at Yenching University in Beijing and New Asia College in Hong Kong.