China as an Intellectual Force

DESPITE THE MANY ARTISTS, writers and filmmakers that are currently doing big things in China, often with a political slant, the country’s modern culture continues to be looked at from the outside through the framework of its brute-force economy. But perhaps not for much longer.

Mark Leonard has spent the last five years studying the China’s growing intellectualism, and writes a surprising and important piece about the movement for Prospect magazine this month. Among Leonard’s more interesting observations is that China’s strict one-party system has unexpectedly (and likely, unintentionally) fostered a thriving environment for public debate:

Paradoxically, the power of the Chinese intellectual is amplified by China’s repressive political system, where there are no opposition parties, no independent trade unions, no public disagreements between politicians and a media that exists to underpin social control rather than promote political accountability. Intellectual debate in this world can become a surrogate for politics—if only because it is more personal, aggressive and emotive than anything that formal politics can muster. While it is true there is no free discussion about ending the Communist party’s rule, independence for Tibet or the events of Tiananmen Square, there is a relatively open debate in leading newspapers and academic journals about China’s economic model, how to clean up corruption or deal with foreign policy issues like Japan or North Korea.

Read the full article. (Via Howard French.)

Photo: tiananmen square, by pmorgan.

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1 Response to “China as an Intellectual Force”


  1. 1 Peter M March 25, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Small World: Glad to see my pictured used to illustrate your post. I don’t agree with Mark Leonard. Public debate in China is very restricted. In part this is because of the government restrictions on what is acceptable, even in non-threatening areas such as public health and primary education, but also because the restrictions on travel mean Chinese academics, by and large, aren’t exposed to as broad a range of opinions as are others.


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