…To dismiss the importance of Charter 08 because it is the product of a single class (or sub-group within that class) is to miss a lesson of history. With a nod to Margaret Mead, I might suggest that modern Chinese history has had its own share of small groups of committed individuals whose ideas did not receive their due when first published or spoken but whom we now look back upon as transformational figures: Wang Tao, Yan Fu, Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Sun Yat-sen, Li Dazhao, even Mao Zedong. This is not to say that the authors of Charter 08 are destined to enter such a hallowed pantheon, only that history warns us not to immediately dismiss their ideas because “only” 2000 intellectuals signed the document.
In 1919, our birthday boy Cai Yuanpei wrote:
“With regard to ideas, I act according to the general rule of the various universities of the world, following the principle of “freedom of thought” and adopting the policy of tolerating everything and including everything…Regardless of what schools of academic thought there may be, if their words are reasonable and there is cause for maintaining them, and they have not yet reached the fate of being eliminated by nature, then even though they disagree with each other, I would let them develop in complete freedom.”