The relationship between particularism and universalism is a long-standing topic of debate. As two different standards and manners of describing social relations, both are not in fact radically antagonistic, or in an either-or relationship. In almost all societies, universalism and particularism coexist; only, generally speaking, particularism is more prevalent and important in traditional societies, while universalism has more recognition in modern societies. After all, the people who form the world are becoming more and more similar, and more and more related, and people’s social life needs more common norms and values.
Since the 1980s, along with the rise of multiculturalism, communitarianism and feminism, the prevalence of anti-universalist thinking in Western societies – including questions on the unitary aspect of modernity, unipolar criticism, the ideology of science and the enlightenment discourse – is a critical reflection on the problems that Western societies are facing. It is actually a crticism of Western ethnocentricity and the theory of cultural advantage. But if you were to blindly pursue or apply Western anti-universalism in a different context, such as that of Chinese society, which still struggles with pre-modern and non-modern predicaments, this would undoubtedly lead to diametrically opposite results.
The anthropology of modern society emphasizes cultural relativism, and adopts a critical position towards Western ethnocentricity and its cultural hegemony. In fact, this relativism is rare: regarding ethnocentricity – it still considers its own culture to be the most advanced, the most civilised, and an object for all mankind to follow. But cultural relativism, pushed to the extreme, may lead to cultural particularism, which it opposes: so-called relativism is opposed to the absolute, the unipolar; the proposition is plural coexistence. Co-existing on the same field is equivalent to playing a great game together. But to play together, there must be mutually recognised rules of the game, there should be a mutually acceptable standard of value – universal values. Thus we can say that universal values constitute the rational basis for common norms in human society.
From time to time, I see people emphasizing China’s special conditions, and saying it should not implement Western democracy – following the particularist point of view that China must maintain its own characteristics and go its own way. Furthermore, in order to prove the uniqueness and superiority of the “Chinese model”: a national system, concentration of power to achieve big things, unity (as opposed to diversity), stability (as opposed to unrest), etc etc. In order to emphasize China’s peculiarity, you must criticize universal values, and to prove the superiority of the Chinese model, demonstrate that there are no common values. But the perverse thing is that this same argument is often used to denounce the poor quality of Chinese people, and to conclude that they are not fit for democracy.
Every time I read similar views and arguments, I can’t help but want to ask out loud: is China really like that ? And as a follow up question – are Chinese people people?
What are universal values? According to Wikipedia, they are values and ideas that all people or almost all people identify with, based only on conscience or reason, independently of religion, nationality or ethnicity. In short, hey say that everyone should be treated in a way which is human and humane; and that is that everyone should enjoy the basic freedom of belief, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
A few years ago, official medias and government-run schools criticized on universal values, I wrote a text called “universal values are commonsense”. According to commonsense understanding, “universal values” refer to ideas developed through the process of civilisation’s development over the course of mankind’s history, such as freedom, democracy, science, human rights, rule of law, equality, fraternity, etc. They refer to truths ordinary people can understand, to put it more frankly that values everyone needs and fond of, some people put it quite extreme, that is, even rogue can not openly deny it. Yeah, the rogue even had to admit the rationale, the robber had to obey the principles, what more do we need to discuss? Denying common values basically amounts to publicly stating: I am not reasonable. Reminiscent of the cultural revolution slogan: I prefer the socialist grassroots, I do not want the seeds of capitalism’, we recently saw a new slogan appear, saying ‘I would rather grass no longer grew in China, but the Diaoyu island must come back’, or “宁可中国遍地坟，也要杀光日本人”的标语: this is a manifestation of the absence of reason.
That being said, no matter how much the Chinese insist on their own ‘special characteristic’, and how strongly we resist Western modernity, how much we want to form our own modernity, and explore a path of development superior to that of the West, and how much we want achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, we cannot go against universal values, and we cannot deviate from the mainstream of human civilisation. Unless we’re just a group that doesn’t distinguish seed from grass, black from white – a group in complete confusion.
Lu Xun once gave a critique like” spear “, ” dagger” sharply pointed out that traditional national character: he emphasized on the castigate masters (the rulers), flunky, spectators and other categories, he further exposed the ” cowardly, lazy, yet cunning”, lack of self-discipline, “concealable and deceitful”, ” spiritual victory “, numb, conservative, blindly arrogant, submissive, repressed and a series of so-called national deep-rooted bad character.
Bo Yang with ” Ugly Chinese ” painfully points out ” such an enormous country, with a quarter of the world population, fell into poverty, ignorance, fight , bloody and so on into the quicksand, it is difficult to extricate themselves. “For Chinese people’s” dirty, chaotic, noisy”, “internal fighting”, “can not unite”, ” rather die than admit one’s mistake”, “intolerant character”, “be narrow-minded” and other ugly phenomena have been pointed out one by one, further, he analyses the causes of this ‘ugliness’ in the following way: “The Chinese people form a deeply wounded nation, they haven’t been trained in the ability to praise and value others, and they’ve developed into polarised animals, self-deprecating or flattering others.” And because the sauce has stayed in the pan for too long, thinking, judgement and vision have all been contaminated from whatever pollution is in the pan, and it’s very hard to get out of the pan’s limited scope”. And the cultural revolution, this artificial catastrophe, not only caused lives to be lost, “The biggest loss was the destruction of human nature and the devastation of noble character. If people leave humanity and noble character, then there is no difference with animals.”
My co-nationals who have strong national pride and self-respect as a people, on seeing this evaluation, will probably tremble with rage, but looking more closely, I think they might find it does have reason to it, 所谓爱之深，恨之切. Let me return to the question: in the end, how special are we? Are we still not members of the human community? No matter how unique how diet, clothes, language, culture, religion, beliefs, etc, there should be no objection to the fact that we belong to mankind, so the question is, what is it that would make us special, or in other words, are there alternative ways of being human?
Whether Chinese people are people or not depends on whether institutional arrangements and the government’s philosophy is oriented towards people, treats people as people, and based on humanitarian values.
When people are helpless in front of the reality of social injustice, we often hear the following sentence: “Don’t forget that you’re in China”. This highlights the fact that the institutional machine does not treat people humanly. In Lei Feng’s famous diary, we find this sentence: “I want to be a screw in the service of the revolution, where the party places me, there I will shine and never rust.” A revolutionary slogan during the cultural revolution said: “Revolutionary fighters are like bricks, where they’re needed, there they must go; and they shouldn’t be proud of making up towers, or sad to build a toilet block.”
Obviously, screws are not human; bricks are not human; worthless ants are not human; docile tools are not human; potatoes are not human; the rabble is not human; the boxers are not human; the Red Guards are not human… everyone who is just driven from the outside is not human in the true sense! Soldiers in the civil war are not human, they’re cannon fodder; the target objects in the previous political movements are not human, they are class enemies will soon be wiped out so they are not human, and as the driving force of the movements’ masses are not human, but rather been utilized weapons; Those who died in the Great Famine are not human, they’re just population statistics; New World factory workers are not human, but smart and tame hands；Olympic athletes on the field are not people, but tools to win a Gold Medal; Died of “hide and seek ” and other multifarious forms of suspects were not being treated as human; being chased by the city management in the streets, beaten, robbed, smashed small venders were not being treated as human; fell under the wheels of forceful demolition were not treated as human ! In the real and the virtual world been muted and missing were also not being treated as human! Similarly, implementing enforceable oppression’s State machine certainly are not human.……
“People oriented”, this is a principle the party adopted clearly as early as the third plenary session of the 16th Meeting in 2003, and it should serve as a basis for the concept of scientific development. For this reason, 我们必须改变不把人当作人的制度与文化基础。The crux of many problems in China is that we’re not treating people as people: for instance, “发展是硬道理”！面对这个“硬道理”我们必须要问：what is development? Whose development? 经济增长、GDP增加能够“硬”过人的生存、发展和自由吗？Or again: ‘stability is the ultimate need’! We need to inquire: why should we stabilise? Who will most benefit from it? What is the foundation of stability? Social stability should not be a goal in itself, stability can never be be more of an ‘ultimate need’ than the happiness and dignity of the people! 而当我们探索中国的宪政民主之路、努力融入人类文明主流的时候，却总有强大而不停的呱噪：中国人不适合民主，一旦民主就会乱；决不搞西方那一套；中国模式最优越。这就如同当你还跪着的时候，就有人告诉你一旦站起来就会摔倒因而很危险。
In today’s world, for the people of a country to become real people, first they must become citizens, 即懂法律、有理性、知晓自己的权利、义务且能够合法合理地保护自己权利的有组织的公民。是不是人取决于我们要把自己当作人！Strive to become citizens, and promote the growth of a civil society. 这也是阿伦特意义上的行动的人，独立思考的人，积极生活的人。In Annah Arendt’s view, the nature of citizenship is not just the identity of people within a political community, but it’s a role and an ability, 自由的个体以此在共同事务中成为有效成员。而相较于劳动和工作，行动置于“人的条件”的核心位置。行动是至高无上的人性的形式，没有行动的生命“简直是死寂一片，它不再是一种人类生活，因为此时人不再生活于人与人之间”。
公民的行动以人的自由、尊严以及积极进取的主体性为基础，以人的自我启蒙为条件。由此个人才不再是孤独冷漠绝望的个体，而是现代社会中的公民——assume the responsibility of citizens, be responsible for one’s own affairs, and be responsible for public affairs. 公民社会的力量，公民的觉醒与能动性——the courage of the citizens, the ability of the citizens, and the wisdom of the citizens, are its creative forces, and an inexhaustible source of social vitality and social change. 体制改革的动力来自社会而非权力自身：体制内的改革力量是在社会力量的逼迫下产生的；rules of fairness and justice are formed through the interplay of all sorts of forces; civil society is produced by citizens taking part in collective action. Leaving the standstill and restoring social vitality can only begin from the consciousness and actions of the citizens.
On February 28 1804, all the churches in the small German town of Konigsberg starting tolling the bell, informing passers-by that the philosopher Emmanuel Kant, born 80 years earlier in that same place, had just found its way to the icy grave. On a plain tombstone, this sentence from the ‘Critic of Practical Reason’ was written, in the hand of Beethoven: above my head the stars in the sky, and in my heart the moral imperative.
The second article of the ‘Declaration of Independence’ says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This is now famous as one of the ‘fifty sentences which changed humanity.”
Starting from everyday life, in order to achieve and protect the possibility to defend and pursue the right to life, freedom and happiness, we will prove that Chinese people are not different, but equal members of the human family. And through this process, real people will stand up – People with a capital P.
Published in ‘sociology cafe, 2012/12, 21 October 2012
Source : My1510, 24 January 2013