How to Stop Reactionaries From Derailing Reform in China

One of many figures we should celebrate as we do this is Liang Sicheng, the son of Liang Qichao. He was an architect and scholar, full of hope for the renewal of China. Educated in Beijing under the Republic and in the United States, he wrote A History of Chinese Architecture, in which he described six stages in the development of Chinese architecture going back to the Shang Dynasty 3,500 years ago. At his Institute for Architectural Research, in Beijing, he imagined a refurbishment of China's cities.

He proposed that the old imperial capital be converted into a garden city; the old Ming walls being made into a museum and public park for a liberated and cosmopolitan citizenry. He was in America when Mao took power, but he returned to Beijing, hoping to make a contribution to the "New China." He was given a senior appointment in Beijing in city planning, but his vision did not come to fruition. Both he and his wife suffered marginalization and oppression on ideological grounds, even in the 1950s. His wife died in 1955, aged only 51. He was arrested during the savage purges of the 1950s.

Mao demolished the old walls and built grim industrial suburbs. Liang Sicheng died in 1972, the Cultural Revolution still wrecking China around him. But, like Hu Shih, he embodied the spirit of China at its best. When we see opportunities in China, feel awe at its economic transformation, the burgeoning of its cities and its trade; we should be mindful of the generous and cosmopolitan vision of its finest twentieth century minds. If we are to prosper sustainably in trade with China, it must be this China; if we are to feel secure in a world in which China becomes a truly rich and powerful state, then it is very much in our interest that it be this China we have to deal with.

If China's recent progress is to be sustained, it's time, at long last, for the dragon to be slain and for the beauty of all that is best in China to meet the best that the modern world has to offer. Mao Zedong was not the dragon slayer. He was the very embodiment of the dragon. Liang Qichao and Liang Sicheng, Lu Xun and Hu Shih and, let it be said, the imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, leading author of the suppressed Charter 08, are the real dragon slayers of modern China. Their time has come and we need to collectively recast our perception of China, our dialogue with China and our future relationship with China in terms of their vision.

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Paul Monk is the founder and director of Austhink Consulting and the author of Thunder from the Silent Zone: Rethinking China.

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