Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Thisexpresses a kind of openness, and even more a sense of confidence. The hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails, this way of thinking is fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness, and it does not benefit the construction of social harmony or the creation of a healthy temperament.
… China’s society today stands in an age in which ideas and culture are pluralistic, diversified and always changing. As we move into the deep zone and a crucial stage of reforms, the modulations and game playing of different interests will naturally give rise to the expression of different demands. As our opening expands and we move deeper into globalization, it is inevitable that various values and ideas, traditional and modern, foreign and homegrown, will collide and clash.
Without a doubt, this is a historic change. From one voice to a hundred flowers in bloom, from a thousand uniform faces to richness and diversity. This expresses a great liberation of ideas, and it shows that China is advancing.
When you have diverse expression, it is difficult to avoid having “contrary ideas,” so that it seems chickens are talking to the ducks [and neither side understands the other]. In this process, we must appreciate calm and rational discussion, being ready to admit our own errors. But it is with some regret that we note that some cannot countenance differing views in discussion, but resort to mutual insult, dragging up old misdeeds, and leaping to slap the other side with ugly labels, so that personal emotion trumps the pursuit of truth. In dealing with criticism and differing opinion, some not only fail to keep an open mind, but even raise charges of “slander” and exercise their power to suppress different voices.
Such talk is not unprecedented, as the Dui Hua Foundation’s Joshua Rosenzweig pointed out:
There’s a well known incident from Yan’an in the 1940s in which Mao Zedong stops security officers from pursuing counterrevolution charges against a farmer who said Mao ought to be struck by lightning. Mao says: “If the masses complain or make objections, it shows that there are problems with our policies and our work. When the masses make comments, even sharp comments, don’t immediately put them under investigation…or attack and suppress them. This way of doing things is actually a sign of weakness, a sign of mental weakness. No matter what, we Communist Party members should not oppose ourselves against the masses.”
Nor is it a reliable sign that China’s ongoing crackdown is relaxing, given the detention on Friday of human rights lawyer Li Fangping, and the continued detention or disappearance of dozens of others.