我们究竟有多么特殊? – Just how special are we? – English

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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, in a special edition of an official magazine 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, 说白了就是人人都需要人人都喜欢的价值观,有人说得极端些,就是连流氓都不能公开否认的东西。是啊,流氓都得承认的理,强盗都得遵守的道,还用得着讨论么?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.


其后,更有柏杨以《丑陋的中国人》为书名,痛指“这么一个庞大的国度,拥有全世界四分之一人口的一个庞大民族,却陷入贫穷、愚昧、斗争、血腥等等的流沙之中,难以自拔。”对中国人的“脏、乱、吵”、“窝里斗”、“不能团结”、“死不认错”、“没有包容性的性格”,只有“狭窄的心胸”等等丑陋现象一一针砭,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 is consistent with humane and human values 人道主义待人.

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; 历次政治运动中的斗争对象不是人,是要被消灭的阶级敌人即非人,而作为运动动力的群众也不是人,是被利用的武器;Those who died in the Great Famine are not human, they’re just population statistics; 新世界工厂中的工人不是人,而是灵巧又驯服的人手;Olympic athletes on the field are not people, but tools to win a Gold Medal; 死于“躲猫猫”等五花八门形式的在押嫌疑犯们没有被当作人;在街头被城管追、打、抢、砸的小商贩们没有被当作人;倒在强拆车轮下的钱云会们没有被当作人!在现实和虚拟世界中被禁言被失踪的也同样没有被当作人!同样地,实施强制压迫的国家机器当然也不是人。……

“以人为本”,这是党和政府早在2003年党的十六届三中全会上就明确提出的,并且作为科学发展观的基础。为此,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 people are not treated as people. For instance, when we say: “development is the ultimate truth’, when facing this ‘ultimate truth’, we must ask: what is development? Whose development? Can economic development and GDP growth be the ‘ultimate’ point in people’s existence, growth and freedom? Or again, when we say: “Stability takes precedence”, we must ask: why stabilise? Who will benefit most from ‘stabilising’? What are the foundations for ‘stabilising’? 社会稳定不应成为目标,稳定永远不能“压倒”人民的幸福和尊严!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。This is as if you were still on your knees, and someone told you standing up could be dangerous, you could fall down.

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——承担作为公民的责任,为自己的权利负责,为公共事务负责。公民社会的力量,公民的觉醒与能动性——公民的勇气、公民的能力和公民的智慧是创造性力量,也是社会活力与改革动力的不竭之源。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

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Source : My1510, 24 January 2013

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact julien@marcopoloproject.org