While contemporary Chinese readers, Wang Chaohua observes in her introduction to this selection of essays,
have access in their native language to large areas of Western literature and philosophy, political and economic thought, to classical texts and contemporary ideas of the world . . . this process of cultural familiarization has been one-sided. Neither the length and depth of traditional Chinese civilization, nor the importance of China in the modern history of the world, are reflected in a comparable range of Western translations of Chinese thought and culture.
Her aim in this volume ‘is to help in a modest way to correct this imbalance, by presenting the diversity of outlook among contemporary Chinese thinkers directly’.
Few would dispute Wang’s observation, although what she has to say, and the manner in which it is said, bears further reflection; I will return to it below. The undertaking itself is to be commended without reservation. One China, Many Paths joins a growing list of publications seeking to acquaint English-speaking readers with developments in the prc through the works of Chinese intellectuals themselves. Whereas most previous volumes have concentrated on culture and cultural analysis, however, Wang’s collection stands out for its focus on issues of democracy and social justice, as seen by a varied and distinguished group of Chinese thinkers. It is an important contribution, both in introducing public intellectuals quite well-known in Chinese circles to the Anglophone world and in making available a body of writings on issues of utmost concern to critics of the developmentalist path on which the Chinese Communist Party has launched the country.
These concerns no doubt relate to Wang’s own experience. Born in Beijing she is, like many of the writers in this volume, a graduate of 1989, but one who had been formed politically and intellectually during the more radical days of the Cultural Revolution. She became a leader of the student movement in Tiananmen Square, confronting Premier Li Peng on national television. After the military crackdown of June 4th she was one of the two women on the most-wanted list broadcast by the government in the drag-net that followed. After eight months in hiding she reached America, where she is now an essayist and student of Chinese literature at ucla. Most of her contributors are also among the older alumnae of 1989, born in the 1950s; their differences have been magnified significantly since then with the rapid changes in Chinese society—most importantly, the dizzying incorporation into global capitalism following Deng Xiaoping’s famous imperial tour of the South in 1992, and the structural transformations it has wrought both at home and in the prc’s relationship to the world at large.