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.
That year saw a turning point. Whereas there was a high turnover of editors in other periodicals by late 1989, there was no change at Dushu, whose chief editor Shen Changwen carried on till 1996. This was partly just because the journal had played little direct political role in the preceding years. But in the general atmosphere of conservatism and dogmatism after 1989, Dushu now stood out as more open-minded. Of course there were pressures on the journal, and after Deng Xiaoping’s visit to southern China in 1992, a wave of consumerism and commercialization swept the country. In these conditions, Shen shifted editorial policy towards articles that were easier to read, with less academic discussions, to boost sales. Circulation rose from 50,000 to over 80,000 in five or six years, but while the journal became more popular, it was also criticized for failing to reflect the development of intellectual research in the country. Actually, it was still introducing new themes like Orientalism or post-colonialism, and continued to be widely viewed as a symbol of elite culture. But the changes in Dushu in the early nineties did mark a new tension between popular culture and high culture in China.
In 1996 I was invited to be a chief editor—joined a year later by my colleague Huang Ping. Since then, our policy has been to keep a readable style for the journal, but to move it away from consumerist preoccupations back to real intellectual discussion, and to expand its range beyond literature and the humanities to the social and natural sciences, including subjects never touched on before like archaeology or historical geography. We have launched a series of major debates on the fate of rural society, ethics, Asia, war and revolution, financial crisis, liberalism, law and democracy, nationalism, feminism. Most of these issues—the current crisis of rural society, for example—were raised for the first time in contemporary China in our pages, and other journals then followed. We carry opinions from right across the political spectrum. I should say that, as chief editor, I publish my own articles in other periodicals, to safeguard the impartiality of the journal. Our roster of contributors has expanded substantially, and many of the newer ones have made their names writing for us. All this has made Dushu a focus of lively controversy, and increased its readership to between 100,000 and 120,000.
Yes, this has been a major development. All kinds of different forces are now finding an outlet on the net, and even the Chinese government has stepped in with—not very successful—efforts to regulate it. The internet has brought three significant gains. It creates a space in which direct discussions between mainland and overseas Chinese intellectuals become possible, as a zone beyond the borders of nation-states. Secondly, it allows a lot of directly political issues to be addressed, which the print media in the mainland cannot touch. Thirdly, it spreads information from local levels very quickly across the country, which otherwise would not get national attention. So it offers the possibility of linking local, national and international spaces. But its limitations remain obvious too. The information it purveys is not beyond regulation by various forces. Since much of it is impossible to check, we often have no means of knowing whether something is true or false. The net is also an ideal medium for intervention without responsibility, encouraging personalized attacks and reckless vituperation under cover of anonymity. At the same time, it does not lend itself easily to theoretical discussions, which are still more or less the preserve of print journals in China, though some are now setting up their websites and we can expect more interaction between the two media. Still, the internet has certainly played a role in the intensification of polemical exchanges this year, with new camps springing to life on the most pressing issues of the day.
Towards the end of the seventies, the terms ‘conservatives’ and ‘reformers’ indicated, respectively, holdovers from Mao’s last years—also derisively dubbed fanshipai or ‘Whatevers’—and supporters of Deng’s policies. At that time, it was figures like Hua Guofeng or Mao’s former security chief Wang Donxing who were the conservatives, while theoreticians like Deng Liqun or Hu Qiaomu belonged to the reforming wing of the Party.footnote1 In the late seventies, Deng Liqun was quite radical: while Hua Guofeng was still Chairman of the CCP, he published some lectures in the Central Party School attacking the conservatives very sharply—even criticizing Mao himself. But after the ‘campaign against spiritual pollution’ in 1983, the political map changed. Hu Qiaomu published a famous article about socialist humanism, attacking Zhou Yang, Wang Ruoshi, Su Shaozhi and other—generally more open-minded—intellectuals within the Party, who had taken up this slogan; and the perception of Deng Liqun changed too.footnote2 Once Hu Yaobang became General Secretary of the CCP, Hu Qiaomu and Deng Liqun were typecast as conservatives. But actually they had earlier been regarded as reformers themselves. All these people belonged to Deng Xiaoping’s camp. You can see the same kind of shift in categorizations of Li Peng, whom we considered the arch-conservative in 89. Known mainly as Zhou En-Lai’s adopted son, he became Vice Premier in the mid-eighties. His attitude was quite ambiguous at the time—it was not at all clear whether he was a conservative or a radical reformer. The distinction between the two stances was plain for all to see among the older generation of party leaders, but was much more blurred in this generation.