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New Left Review 6, November-December 2000

The Chinese intellectual scene has been transformed by the emergence of a New Left. Its leading theorist explains how and why the neo-liberal consensus of the early nineties broke down, and considers what a radical agenda should look like as social and political problems mount.



What is the role of Dushu in Chinese intellectual life, and how do you conceive your position in it as editor?

The first issue of Dushu was published in April 1979. Its leading article was entitled ‘No Forbidden Zone in Reading’, and you could say that has been the spirit of the journal from the beginning. This is how we do our editorial job today, and we will never change it in the future. The first editor of Dushu came from the Commercial Publishing House in Beijing, historically the most important imprint in modern China. A year later, Fan Yong—a progressive publisher with close links to the intellectual world since the forties—took over. I think he was the most significant figure in the history of the journal, making it a key forum for new ideas and debates in the eighties. From 1979 to 1984, most of these were raised by an older generation of scholars or open-minded official intellectuals, like Li Honglin, Wang Ruoshi and others. It was they, for example, who took up the issue of the relations between Marxism and humanism. Then around 1985 a younger levy of intellectuals took centre stage. Among the most active were the Editorial Committee of Culture: China and The World, a series of translations aiming to introduce classics of modern thought from abroad, most of them produced by the Sanlian Press, which is also the publisher of Dushu. The journal ran many reviews of these books, which attracted a lot of attention from university students, graduates and fledgling intellectuals. There was an enthusiastic reception of modern Western philosophy, social theory and economic thought. Nietzsche, Heidegger, Cassirer, Marcuse, Sartre, Freud, not to speak of modernization theory and neo-classical economics were eagerly canvassed in the articles of the time. There was some resistance to all this, since the style in which these notices were written was often criticized as too difficult or obscure. Looking back, one can see that this younger generation was more interested in introducing new theories, without any necessary political bearing, whereas the older generation had a much closer relation to politics. In this phase Dushu was not a radical journal—it was relatively detached from the political ferment of the late eighties. But an intellectual space for further discussion was created, which was not without significance in 1989.

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Wang Hui, ‘Fire at the Castle Gate’, NLR 6: £3

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