Wu Si(吴思): “They Produce Lies, We Pretend to Believe”

Xujun Eberlain of Inside-Out China has translated an interview with Wu Si, editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, published in the New Weekly (新周刊):

New Weekly: This is a question of historical view: what history is true?

Wu Si: The fact is, there is a kind of state system that makes it extremely easy to produce lies, manufacture lies, under which lying becomes legitimate and cost-effective. Look at this system in our history: an emperor, a bunch of bureaucrats under him, facing a country of peasants, peasants with no open information channels. To the person who fights for state power, who rules the country, whether Qin Shihuang, Zhu Yuanzhang, or Liu Bang, the problem he must solve is how to rule the country. The highest ruler has two options: one is using naked violence, compulsion; another is using persuasive power, benevolent governance. The two options also have to be kept in proportion. Ruling by violence alone is fragile, and will not last, or in other words, the long-term gains are not looking good. Thus the partial adaptation of Confucian ways, to convince you, exhort you, let you approve by heart.

New Weekly: Why does the state system that easily produces lies last so long in China?

Wu Si: It has low cost, high benefit. The core of the state system are the rulers, to them this is a natural strategy. The lies are nothing but statements of how the ruling system conforms to the public will. If the system changed to one with elections by popular will, becoming a negotiation between the public and public servants, then the system would be a trading system, the elected naturally conform with the popular will, there’s no need to make lies. Further, in such a trading system, all sides watch to see if you follow the contract. Hence the system is one that destroys lies. If you violate the contract, if you lie, it generally results in bigger loss than gain.


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