No Forbidden Zone in Reading? Dushu and the Chinese Intelligentsia

In New Left Review, Zhang Yongle looks at Essentials of Dushu, a survey of the intellectual journal‘s last ten years, which he calls, “a window through which the world can see China’s social upheavals during this eventful decade, and situate the intelligentsia’s thinking within its historical context.”

The publication date for this long-planned selection of articles from Dushu—probably China’s leading intellectual journal of the past decade, as well as its most controversial—has turned out to be highly ironic. In July 2007, even as the six-volume Essentials of Dushu collection was appearing in the bookshops, its two chief editors, Wang Hui and Huang Ping, were being dismissed from the monthly magazine by its parent company, sdx Publishing. The official grounds for this seemed scarcely plausible: initially there was talk of falling circulation, although in fact the number of Dushu subscribers had risen under Wang and Huang, from around 60,000 to well over 100,000. sdx then announced that it was implementing a company policy that required all chief editors to be full-time, rather than complement their work with university teaching, as was the case for Wang and Huang. The company could provide no explanation, however, as to why it had suddenly ‘remembered’ this policy, which had existed for many years without ever being enforced.

The lengthy article also looks at tensions within China’s intelligentsia as they relate to the rise and fall of Dushu:

The social sciences became increasingly important in the discussion of public problems from the middle of the decade onwards, and Wang Hui is one of many scholars who moved from literature to social and intellectual history during this period. But Dushu’s orientation also reflected the dramatic ideological cleavage that has taken place within the intelligentsia from the mid-90s, when many of its authors began to articulate a critique of China’s development path. This was a highly controversial stance, soon dubbed ‘new left’ or ‘post-modernist’. Both labels had strong negative connotations in this context: for a long time after the 1970s, it was almost scandalous for an intellectual to be described as ‘left’ (as opposed to ‘liberal’), because the majority of the intelligentsia had once been the victim of the ultra-leftism of the Chinese Communist Party. Post-modernism seemed even stranger: how could an intellectual criticize the ideal of modernization in a backward society?

To read more about China’s new generation of public intellectuals, read Mark Leonard’s recent article in Prospect Magazine, via CDT.


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