was rejected by the Qing court in 1898 and its leading proponents beheaded or
exiled. It resurfaced in 1908-12. It was suppressed again by Yuan Shikai, in
1913-1916, but resurfaced with the May Fourth Movement in 1919. It was
suppressed by Chiang Kaishek in 1927-31, but resurfaced in the principled
advocacy of Lu Xun, Hu Shih and others. It was suppressed by the Communist
Party after 1949, but rose to the surface in the Hundred Flowers Movement, only
to be crushed again. It was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, yet rose
to the surface yet again in the late 1970s. It was crushed in 1989, but the
need for it is now acknowledged at the highest levels in China.
It took centuries
to create liberal democratic institutions even in England and America, to say nothing
of continental Europe. The West, too, had an imperial culture to overcome: the
culture of Rome, of Caesar and of Papism. Whether we look back to Greece or
only to Gutenberg, to Luther and Tyndale, or Bruno and Galileo; to Milton and
the religious non-conformists, or Locke and the separation of church and state;
to "Wilkes and liberty" or John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, we know that our struggle, also, was long and painful.
shouldn't feel self-righteous about the enormous struggle China has fought to
overcome its dragon culture. Nonetheless, it now needs to take decisive steps.
We cannot make reform happen in China. It may not happen. China may go over a
precipice, with traumatic consequences for its own people and for our
interests. But we need to understand, better than our 19th-century ancestors,
both the pressures for reform and the sources of resistance to it.
There is, of
course, a deep fear of political disintegration in China. The horrors of the
Taiping era, the anarchy of the warlord era, the miseries of the Cultural
Revolution, all feed this fear in political and folk memory. And political
reform is always and everywhere a matter of the "slow boring of hard wood," in
Max Weber's phrase. But we need to be clear that "bold political and social
reform" in China in this decade is in our interest so that China can become not
the rival of America, with a dragon culture's hauteur and growing military
clout, but the brother of the West in taking science, economic innovation and
democratic governance to new levels.
In the West,
we used to look back to the fifth century BCE in classical Greece as the most
glorious era of Western civilization. Hu Shih looked back to the fifth century
BCE in China: with its many schools of thought and many different kingdoms,
before the King of Qin suppressed both. Hu, in exile, lived in a simple house in
Taipei, now a museum. If you visit it, you can purchase a small volume of his
reflections: Tolerance and Freedom.
In looking back, he was no reactionary antiquarian or inward-looking romantic.
He was a cosmopolitan intellectual, educated in the United States, who longed
to see China's dragon culture become modern and liberal.