The Spirit of Chinese Thought in 20th Century

The evolution of Chinese Thought in the 20th Century can be seen in three distinct yet closely intertwined streams of national philosophies. These three phases have shaped the modern China’s overall approach to the world around as well as towards its own people. This symbiotic thought will also direct China’s near future. And this rising perspective of China is emerging as its holistic civilizational thought.

To understand this wholesome process of thought evolution, one must trace the roots of 20th Century China in 19th Century movements of reform, revolt and self-strengthening. The 20th Century thinkers and leaders like Sun Yat-Sen, Mao Zedong were the actual products of 19th Century initiatives in Chinese thought.

In the second half of 19th Century, Chinese Imperial Qing Dynasty was riven with internal defects, weaknesses; on account of which the Chinese Nation was facing defeats at the hands of Western Powers as well as Japan. It was critically held by many of the Chinese Confucian Scholars of those times that China has lost its strength of character and ethical vigour.

The defeats in opium wars had completely revealed the hollowness of Chinese Heavenly Imperial Order, its administrative, military and socio-political infirmities were started to be understood by the common people of China. Many of the thinkers and classical philosophers put the blame on Age-Old Chinese Bureaucracy which had grown in to a rusted system unable to cope with times or with the aspirations of people.

The only thing which somehow increased the lifespan of Qing Dynasty was its complete control and total subjugation of Taiping Revolutions or Rebellions. Yet, the treaties following Opium Wars had opened up the ports and some hinterlands for the westerners. And these westerners became the vehicles of western sciences and ideas to be absorbed in the mainland China.

The most important thing that took place in China after 1850 was the initiation of modernization process in the domains of Imperial military prowess. Many of the imperial commanders recruited as well as adopted many of western men and methods of wars. This seemed to have benefitted them in the safeguarding of the Qing Empire, against the internal or domestic enemies.

This process of modernization gradually was adopted in the economic and administrative sections of the Qing Empire. Various important programmes like tax reformation, land development and reclamation, irrigation, flood control were started in the latter half of the 19th Century by the Qing Emperor. But, these reforms were not enough to tackle the onslaughts of modern world.

But under such dwindling circumstances, the genuine Confucian scholars in Qing China had a strong belief that not just power and prosperity, but only a noble man, pursuing great virtues and ideals of character will save the Chinese Nation and bring it back from the prevalent situations and ruins. This viewpoint continued till the last decade of 19th Century. And hence, till the last decade of 19th Century, not much consideration was given to the way of rebellion or revolution on the people’s part. The Taiping Revolution or the Rebellion, was not instigated with a goal of raising a republican system on the grave of imperial rule. It wished to install the Chinese Ming Dynasty consisting of the ethnic Han people and leaders.

This period basically saw two major aspirations among the Chinese Nationals and only these aspirations became their breakthroughs towards the modernization and establishment of the republic. These aspirations were, military strengthening of China by adoption of western sciences and methods; and second was the reinvigoration of Chinese Classical Virtues and Ethics in the face of moral degradation of Qing Systems.     

The movement of self-strengthening had its roots in the Neo-Confucian doctrine of Self-Reliance, Self-Discipline and taking responsibility of the way on oneself. And no doubt, the origins of this movement were in the scholarly class employed in the statecraft.

The prominent scholars like Feng Guifen, pointed out that the only way to self-strengthening goes through the adoption of western sciences and technologies, and at the same time outgrowing the Chinese social psyche out of the worthless quagmires of bureaucracy and administrative mechanisms. He calls out to people to interact with the westerners and try to acquire their knowledge and their ways for the self-strengthening. He also calls for the adoption of western learning and he fervently worked for the establishment of the translation bureaus all over china to translate the Western Works in Chinese. Along with this, he also suggests that the people should be guided on the Confucian tenets, and should be stopped from converting to Christianity. And thus, he adopted the stance that the western sciences and the Confucian tenets must be taught in combination.

Other important scholar-officials like Zeng Guofan and Li Hangzan strongly advocated the self-strengthening movement, and for the same, when completely devastated under the Japanese victory over China, they advocated for the strategy of Japan. This strategy was about sending Chinese youth and scholars to the West, and getting them educated in West, in western sciences and technologies. Another important Confucian Scholar like Xue Fucheng firmly quoted the Confucian tenet of ‘Great Change in Circumstances calls for Great Change in the methods’, and asked for a national mission in Imperial Order regarding the administrative as well as the strategic reforms.

The most important scholar raised in the same tradition, and whose influence can be seen as the major force in Chinese Doctrine still today is, Zhang Zhidong. He stated that only the three things will be the carriers of China to its greatest glory. First is a stable and progressive state, second is the firm national foundation of Confucian Ethics and third is the protection and nurture of Chinese Race. Only when all the Chinese people will unify their hearts for these three principles, a glorious time for China will arise. He asks people to always be faithful and sternly rooted in the bonds with the nation of China, which have originated from the family cores of Chinese society. And while suggesting a western oriented education in China, he called for a foundational education in Confucian Ethics and Philosophy to rightly orient our way and direction towards the future.

The inevitable fracture among the scholars over the modem and method of reform in China and the overall process of the self-strengthening occurred in the 1890s’. After the defeat at the hands of Japanese Imperial Forces, Chinese Scholars and Thinkers understood that the Japan-like reform movement won’t take place in China. Meiji Reforms that brought Japan in to the age of modernization was tried to be copied in China, but the initiative was an utter failure. This methodological failure was pointed out by many scholars, and a thought-process of introspection started.

This introspection was led by independent scholars like Wang Tao. Wang Tao is hailed in China as a father of Chinese Journalism. As an independent scholar Wang had a great grasp of Chinese Classics and at the same time, he as a part of translation project of these classics in western languages had widely travelled to the west. His observations of the western world gave crucial critical insight towards Chinese systems and administration. When he started his own newspaper from Hong Kong and Shanghai, he heavily came down on the bureaucratic muddles and redtapism or redundant regulations in China which according him was the only cause behind the failure of all reforms in China. As the imperial order of Qing Dynasty was not ready to reform itself, it ultimately led to failure of all initiatives for the reforms and self-strengthening. He was the first scholar as well as the first independent professional to come down on the Imperial Order of China.

With the thoughts of Wang Tao, one sees a clear call for an abandonment of the Imperial order of the reforms and a gradual yet firm grounding of the fate on China in the aspirations of Chinese People. This same attitude was developed further by other independent scholars like Yan Fu. Yan Fu has been revered as the great contributor to the development of Chinese Thought as it was he and his translation works which brought the great thoughts and works of Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Montesquieu in Chinese language. The translations of these scholars completely changed the scenario of Chinese Intellectual Atmosphere. His essays and various lectures all over China became the most important change-maker catalysts in China. His conception of redundancy of Monarchical rule in China, high time for people to establish a republican system in China, and following Herbert Spencer as well as Darwin his overall understanding of evolution of cultures, people, societies as well as the nation totally brought Chinese Social Psyche out of the shackles of age-old imperial considerations and hegemony-based social system.  But he stated that the road to China’s upheaval requires an enlightened leader and a ruler, who must have an unconditional support of the people. The rebellion according to him was an expression of emotional upsurge of the people, which is not in line with the great ethical traditions of China. A gradual change of the leadership and rule was the only way according to him which will bring China to her powerful resurrection.     

The impact of these scholars was mostly felt on the works and initiatives of Scholar-Officials like Kang Youwei who was the strongest supporter of the reforms. But, at the same time these scholar-officials wanted to use the imperial order, its overall administrative setup and resources for the spread of reforms in China.

In the last decade of 19th Century, after defeat in the war with Japan, Chinese Imperial Order too became restless to introduce reforms and military strengthening measures in China. Under these circumstances, being one of the highest scholar-officials of Qing Empire, Kang Youwei introduced a new programme called as 100 days reforms. These reforms initiated by Kang were not just about polity and administration, but these were totally about the society and culture. He introduced many of the social reforms like abandonment of the foot binding practices in China, administrative education to women, public schooling system, and parliamentary system in Chinese Imperial Order etc. He established many reformist societies all over China. He was the sole reformer who tried to initiate institutional reforms in the commercial sectors of China. He introduced modern Banking in China as well as tried to promote various entrepreneurial activities in China. He inspired many Chinese Businessmen to invest in modern technologies. Various important professions like Mining, Agriculture, and Industries were modernised under his guidance. The reflections of these reforms must be seen in the context, as this sole reform movement completely changed Chinese Society and at the same time made it receptive for the further political and social movements. Yet, his all initiatives though supported by the people, were stalled by the bureaucratic machineries and mechanisms. The 100 day reforms failed, and it completely embittered the people towards the Imperial Order and Bureaucracy. 

Yet, his interpretations of Chinese Confucian Classics changed the outlook of people towards the Confucian Tenets. In his commentaries on Confucian Canons, he showed that Confucius himself was a great reformer, who initiated great movement to reform the prevalent institutions of his times. The most important philosophy propounded by Kang is about the three ages. These three ages were basically evolution of society and social systems of a human being. From tribal state to autocracy was the first age. From Autocracy to Constitutionalism was the second stage and from constitutionalism to republic was the third stage. And according to him, China must evolve towards the third stage as early as possible. Further in his magnum opus known as Grand Commonality, he narrated that through the combination of Buddhism and Confucianism, China can lead its way towards great progress and ultimate peace and prosperity in the world. He established the notion of No Hands, which deemed that once the people are enlightened, no other institution is required to make them work or function. People having clarity about ethics and life, can function as a harmonious society.

The next contributor in this thesis of Kang was taken by his own admirer and a onetime pupil Tang Sitong. Being a free-spirited man, Tang, though being qualified to become a governor under the imperial order, adopted an independent and free lifestyle. Being good in philosophy, poetry, swordsmanship, archaeological explorations, and avid essayist. Tang wrote the most important treatise known as On Humanitarianism, in which he combined the tenets of Buddhism, Confucianism and Western precepts of liberalism and humanism.

The reform edict of 1901, issued by the Imperial Qing Dynasty Court must be seen on this backdrop of gaining popularity of the reformers and reformist philosophies among Chinese People. The Reform Edict, appointed many of the reformer thinkers, their students and earlier rebel leaders in the form of a committee to bring forward a plan to resurrect China by combining the wisdom of east and west. The Boxer Rebellion had already tore down the imperial prestige and in 1900, the Imperial Court had to abandon the capital and move out in far north province. Under the leadership of reform edict, many new ways were introduced in China on a national level. The Western Education, Judiciary, Law, Police, administrative organs, banking, and currency were all modelled on the western ways.

Liang Qichao, the student of Kang Youwei was another one among the reformers who basically was raised in the Confucian Doctrine and Philosophical School, yet when he chose the way of a reformer, he completely abandoned the Confucian way and solely borrowed from Western Intelligentsia. He adopted the philosophy of Herbert Spencer. Under its spell he wrote a universal history in Chinese, in which the social Darwinism was sought as the sole principle behind the evolution of development of human society and systems. He thus painted nations and societies as organisms which are continuously evolving through various cultural and social adaptations and mutations. He established the doctrine of renewing of people, by which people revise and re-augment their original systems as per the times and by fusing with other systems as well as thoughts. Liang must be attributed with the development of the notion of nationalism or the Chinese Nationalism on western terms.

Yet after the fall of Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion, and at the same time very improved conditions in the cities like Shanghai which were under the western rule brought many of the thinkers to the point of adoption of revolution as the only mean to re-invigorate China. In 1905, under the public pressure as well as pathetic situation of the Chinese Qing Bureaucracy, the Imperial Bureaucracy as well as the Examination System was completely abolished by the Empire. The scholar-officials were asked to establish a new governing system which will be modern and administratively capable. Various thinkers during this time noted the need of complete overhaul of the Chinese Society and System.

A revolutionary nationalism rose in China. The foremost among them was a thinker called Zhang Binglin. He became very much critical about the Confucian Reformists like Kang Youwei. He noted that scholars like Kang Youwei know that everything is wrong, they know the way to resurrect China, yet, they still cling to Empire, want to under the patronage of Empire. These thinkers who want reform to follow imperial order want to raise a powerful Chinese Nation and People, but sincerely wish to receive blessings and felicitations from the Emperor. Zhang Bingling became quite vocal about the condition of scholars in China, who couldn’t easily come out of the Imperial Charms. In his very evocative essay “The Destruction of India”, Zhang Bingling noted that the fall of India was not because of poverty in their thought, but because of the intellectuals’ tendency to appease kings rather than enlightening people. And hence, even though very scholarly traditions like Buddhism and other Philosophies rose in India, India’s popular mind was not taught in those ways. China, he added must give up its love for emperor. Emperor has lost his heavenly dictum. Now, it is people, who should wield the heavenly dictum to rule themselves. He resoundingly called for a nation-wide revolution and an overthrow of the Imperial Rule in China.

And on this backdrop, the nationalist revolution led by Sun Yat-Sen rose in China, which established Republican Government in 1911. The thinkers in China, who were the founders of the trend and tidal waves of popular mind; had uniquely set the doctrine of Nationalism and Republicanism in China. These thinkers were just divided in terms of the methods to revive Chinese Nation.

Dr Sun Yat-Sen, and his followers were the fervent supporters of Revolutionary Way to achieve the national entity of China. In 1895, that had also attempted a coup in Canton, which failed and Sun Yat-Sen had to flee China. His travels to Japan and later England enlightened him in various ways. His whole philosophical outlook matured. And its reflection can be seen in his philosophical magnum ‘The Three Principles of the People’. Sun Yat-Sen came up with a three way plan of revolution,- a military coup and government; creation of a constitution granting local self-government; full constitutional government under the republican system. Sun Yat-Sen later detailed his other three principles to be the nationalism, republicanism and land nationalization. In 1911, the first of these principles were realised when the evil Manchu or the Qing Dynasty rule was overthrown by a violent revolution. He also added other three people’s principles, which professed the way of international networking and relations with other powers; second one professed indispensability of united and strong China for the maintenance of the world peace; while third one was about the creation of a world front of the liberal thinkers and leaders.

Sun Yat-Sen had established an international network of revolutionaries, students and leaders. His charm was felt among the Chinese, when he was received in various nations like Japan and England as a great Chinese Reformer. Being a doctor by profession, he had already established a good rapport among the Chinese people in places like Peking, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Macau by treating and educating the poor people free of cost. Sun Yat-Sen too was influenced by the thoughts of Herbert Spencer and his whole understanding of Republicanism stems from the philosophy of Herbert Spencer. For the changing times, imperial order was totally obsolete, and hence a total revolution to take back the rule of people from the Manchu Empire was necessary. The third important doctrine of Land Nationalization was aimed at wiping put the class of landlords and nobles from Chinese Society.

In all his overseas operations to bring help and funds for the revolution in China, Sun Yat-Sen was always helped and supported by a secret organization called as Triads. It must be noted that Triads were raised from the earlier Buddhist secret society called as White Lotus. The Triads were actively involved in the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions. It initially wished to establish the former ethnic Han Ming Dynasty in China under the aegis of constitutional monarchy, but the higher echelons of Triads were convinced by Sun Yat-Sen about the establishment of republican state as it was necessary for the peaceful development of the people. The Triads or the White Lotus then onwards became a staunch supporter of the Sun Yat-Sen. Winning them to the side of revolution must have been the greatest turnover of all events.  

The 1911 revolution in China thus was supported by the people. After the fall of Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat-Sen withdrew from active politics, yet he reluctantly allowed his revolutionary organization to form a political party and enter party politics. The Koumintang Government was established and the provisional constitution was created. In 1924, Sun Yat-Sen remodelled his three principles of people for changed times, and reintroduced them as nationalism-patriotism, Democracy and Livelihood to all, towards which all of the Chinese people were asked to progress. His framework of three phased national reconstruction was a doctrine which prophesised initial stage of military rule for the clearing of all the enemies of democracy, then in the second stage under the political party tutelage, the provisional self-ruling units were to be established in various regions, and later in the third stage the democratic rule was to be established in China. The doctrine of party tutelage, made the Chang Kai Shek to be the heir of Sun Yat-Sen, as Sen withdrew from the active politics in 1913, which is after the success of revolution and some setbacks in other provinces.

            The nationalist government that was established under the tutelage of Chang Kai Shek was becoming more and more authoritarian and absolutist. Even in his own party, many of whom were western educated Chinese, found the ruling of a nation by a single person to be not acceptable. The party was riven with many protesting voices and oppositions. During these circumstances, a new debate arose in China, ‘What kind of a government do we want?’ and ‘What kind of a Government do we have?’. This debate strongly brought forward the loopholes in the Nationalist Government. It pointed out that the Nationalist Government was dominated by western educated middle class youth and leaders. It never had a connection with the ground realities in China. The nationalist leadership never reached the Grass-Root level in China, and except Sun Yat-Sen no other leader from nationalist government had a connectivity with the people. This debate finally precipitated in the realization that the national reconstruction do need absolute rule, yet the rule must be raised from the ground realities of people. This debate of national intelligentsia was brought to its culmination by the entry and complete victory of Marxist View. The Russian Revolution or the October Revolution had given a best alternative to the absolutism of Chang Kai Shek.

The thoughts of Stalin and later Lenin had gradually captured the minds of many of the intellectuals in China. The rise of the proletariat, working class against the absolute state; and its culmination in the dictatorship of the proletariat was seen as a great alternative by many scholar leaders. The Marxism had already entered China, yet it hadn’t taken root. As the industrialization to the oppressive scale hadn’t taken place in China, and traditional artisans had been a free class since the ancient times. And at the same time, peasant class was seen with doubt and grudge by Lenin as well as Stalin. Both claimed that the peasants being very much connected with land, have a tendency to support the land oriented capitalist system. Many of the peasants have an individual aspirations to own lands, and for which they toil to the death. This tendency make the peasants to be unlikely bearers of revolutionary mantle.     

Within some years after the revolution, Chiang Kai Shek tried to reinvigorate the Confucian value system and the ethics in the nationalist doctrine. He wrote a treatise called as ‘Destiny of China’ in 1943, which was made a compulsory reading for all the party members. It detailed a programme of China’s reconstruction through moral rearmament. The Confucian Doctrine was again brought in the national programme of China. He propounded that the moral values were the ultimate basis of human life. This turn of Chinese national thought from western liberalism to Confucianism has been seen by many of the scholars and even the early Marxists in China as Chiang’s attempt to connect with the people. But when one goes over the correspondence he had with Sun Yat-Sen throughout his life, as well as his and Sun’s foundational upbringing in the Confucian Schooling makes it clear that the attempt by Chiang was very genuine one. The synthesis of east and west, in which the institutional life was to be based on western doctrine while the ethics and morality of life were to be based on the Confucianism, was the ultimate natural conclusion all thought processes of many of these national thinkers. Chiang Kai Shek started a New Life Movement in China in 1930s’. Through this movement he wished to revive the spirit of China, make the Chinese man to be model of ideal life ethics and mentally bring China out of the setbacks it had received under western and Japanese Conquests. He combined the Chinese Philosophical principles in one doctrine of new life. The regulated attitude, right conduct, clear discrimination, real self-consciousness were the four main principles of this movement, which he posed to be the guidance tenets of human life on individual, social and national plane. This doctrine of new life continued to flourish after 1949 in Taiwan, when the Kuomintang government moved out of mainland China and finally settled in Taiwan. The Taiwan thus till date becomes the bearer of the mantle of constitutional democracy dreamed by Sun Yat-Sen. Constitutional Democracy of Sun Yat-Sen stopped evolved as a system in China.

In 1911, when the imperial order was overthrown, it didn’t completely extinguished the Confucian way of life. The Confucianism was a complete way of life, it was an all-encompassing tenet to which nationalism and republicanism just supplemented in parts. To understand Confucius was to understand life. In 1916, an unsuccessful attempt was made by the Confucian scholars and supporters of Imperial parliamentary System to resurrect the old order. But it failed. Yet, it showed that the Confucianism as a thought still had a great influence over the popular mind.

Another philosophical force rose under such circumstances. This force wished to completely deny the Confucianism and the traditional way of thinking in China. It wished to adopt the western ways of thinking and institutional or organizational way of life. Through this way many new thinkers rose, who tried to find antidotes to the Confucian opiate of masses. Various journals and magazines that had nationwide circulation became the battlegrounds of these opposite views. The most important among these magazines is The New Youth edited by Chen Duxiu. The magazine clearly adopted anti-traditionalist worldview. And with the denial of Confucian Ethical Foundation by Chiang Kai Shek, the new youth became the most vocal opponent of the government doctrine.

During the same period, the literary revolution took over China. The western trends of literature started to set in China. Many of the western classics were translated as well as the western genres were adopted in Chinese literary forms. This further intensified the debate between traditionalism and western oriented modernization.

Various other philosophical strains like Pragmatism from United States, Physicalism, Metaphysics entered in Chinese Lands and this way the first four decades of 20th Century saw a complete and powerful stirring of Chinese Mind. The debates like materialism and idealism, science and metaphysics, ethics and pragmatism, historicism and evolutionism all dominated the young mind of China till 1940s’.

Under an increasing support from the young scholars and educated people, Chen Duxiu established Communist Party of China in 1921. The New Youth became the voice of Communist Party of China and at the same time, it became an open platform where the strategy of Communist Revolution of China was formed through the works and articles of various writers from all over China.

The New Youth gradually concentrated its all efforts on finding a vanguard for a continuous revolution in China. Through debate and discussions, many of the Communist Scholars impressed by the success of the October Revolution, strongly believed in an inevitability of Communist Revolution in China.

Many of the Scholars like Li Dazhao, Liu Shipei confirmed that the peasantry in China can be the bearer of mantle of communist revolution. The peasants were seen by these scholars as having all the traits to establish a cooperative organizations to bolster the communist ethical life. Peasantry was seen as the main proletarian force in China. It must be understood here that the divorce of Chinese Communism from the Russian version started from the beginning. It was not just an innovation of Mao Zedong as has been considered by many of the scholars.

Under these intellectual formations, gradually many of the young scholars as well as the party workers of the Communist Party of China started to engage with the peasants of China. And as part of this active initiative, a new leader came to the fore, who successfully organized the peasants of Hunan Province and led their agitation as well as self-government. This was Mao Zedong.

The potential of Peasants as the vanguard of Communist Revolution had already been established in the Communist Party of China. Till 1927, CPC worked in close connection with nationalist Kuomintang Government. In 1927, over the leadership in Kuomintang and the role of CPC members in KMT, an agitation took place in Shanghai. And this agitation was brutally subdued by KMT leader Chiang Kai Shek. After this massacre CPC and KMT became the staunch rivals pitting against one another for the complete control over China.

The peasantry was heralded by various Communist scholars for their revolutionary potential. The history of peasant movements in china was constructed and studied by the communist party leaders. And it was concluded that the earlier rebellions were subdued because peasants lacked educated leadership and organization. The communist party of China since Mao Zedong’s appraisal of conditions of peasants in Hunan and their organizational capabilities became the voice of peasants.

After his interaction and stay in Hunan province, Mao completely changed his views about the peasants and their overall culture. On the basis of his exceptional observations and studies of Marxism-Leninism as well as Stalinism, Mao prepared the most important tenets of his own philosophy.

Mao in his earlier philosophical works and essays established the people or the peasant-centric view of the Chinese History. Its various phases like free society, feudal society and modern hypo-colonial-capitalist social setup in China were detailed. From this understanding Mao enters the sphere of Peasant’s culture, and firmly denies the Leninist-Stalinist understanding of society and social history. Mao says that Stalinism sees the society from a completely materialist standpoint. Stalin’s dialectical material denies people of their initiative. The popular culture and politics, he states must be seen as a great domain for revolution as well as for the further development of human communism.

In his philosophical work known as ‘On Contradictions’ Mao states that there are various contradictions that are continuously working in the society. These contradictions are as eternal as the synthesis. Yet, which of these contradictions should be highlighted and worked upon for the development of society and communism has to be studiously decided by the leaders and scholars. These contradictions must be selected on the basis of circumstances, timings and understanding of the future of the society. For example he states that there are many of the contradiction among the people on the basis of languages, dialects, regions, beliefs, superstitions, methodologies etc. These all contradictions have their own way of development towards new synthesis and further dialectics, but as a leader of the people, the thinker should understand which of the contradictions are to be worked upon as per the times, for example the feudal society and people’s aspiration for their own rule is the most important contradiction that has to be worked upon for the release of potential of the people and development of the communist way of life.

He sets that these contradictions on two bases, workable and non-workable. Workable are the one which have to be given a crucial and strategic thought in the party policy. While the non-workable has to be looked upon as not to escalate as well as to keep the quality of the contradiction intact which ensures its natural development towards synthesis.

In another of his very important essay known as ‘On protracted war’, Mao calls for a lingering war against the gentry and landed feudal way of life. According to his view of Chinese Past, he described that the China’s great struggle to establish the rule of the people started with the opium wars. For the beginning the leadership of this struggle was in the hands of bourgeoisie nationalists, and now it is gradually moving in the hands of communists and socialists. This great struggle of Chinese People is a part of global revolution for the establishment of a communism. This thought line further develops towards the formation of mass line. The mass line is a manifestation of the aspirations of the people. To bring these aspirations to the fruition is the responsibility of the CPC. The aspiration was identified as a wish for moderately prosperous society.

The most important philosophical work of Mao is ‘On Practice’, in which he strongly stresses the scientific process of the formation of knowledge through the practice. He says that people acquire knowledge through a process of perception, cognition and conception. Throughout these stages man has to engage with reality through his labour and actions. The politics as well as culture are the products of these processes and hence the development of man and society must be thought in terms of culture and material development. The culture and materialism are both the facets of human life. Here, one can observe that Mao has taken a complete divorce from the Stalinist and Leninist view of human society and communism. He further notes that any theory has to correspond to the reality. Only when the theory is applied in a situation which is completely different from its origin, the purpose and relevance of it increases manifold. Any theory should be developed for a universal application. ‘On Practice’ must be seen as a culmination of Mao’s thought before his complete submergence in the dictatorial traits and policies.

In 1949, under the leadership of Mao the people’s republic of China as a communist government was established and Kuomintang had to withdraw from the mainland China to the land of Taiwan. While coming to the power, Mao developed a governing policy for CPC which was termed by him as new democracy. The New Democracy was a gradual move towards complete socialist rule. It was deemed to be a communist rule of China where the people’s leader would become the general secretary of the CPC, through CPC central Committee or the politburo’s initiative the leader will become the premier of the China. This was his doctrine of democratic dictatorship. The CPC under the tenet of new democracy had to follow the policy of land reforms, nationalization of land and other key industries, and Cultural Revolution of China. The Cultural Revolution was about the complete abandonment of the old ways and traditions. Mao was a hard-core opponent of Confucianism and other Chinese Philosophical tenets. Only because of the realism driven philosophy of history propounded by Legalist School of Chinese Philosophy, this school of thought was given place in the Maoist doctrine. Other cultural institutions, schools of thought were brutally victimized under the Maoist rule.

From 1949 onwards till the end of his life in 1976, Mao Zedong followed his own philosophical doctrine with all might and conviction. His greatness as well as blind totalitarianism can be seen in his policy of ‘Great Leap Forward’. The great leap forward was a policy of establishing a communist-socialist rule in China and completely debarring its private-agriculture oriented economic-culture. Various initiatives like agricultural collectives and people’s communes which were based on the Soviet Model, industrialization, abolition of money and wages system in communes, the economy of behavioural points, backyard furnaces in each commune to work out their own tools, crop experiments were introduced in this policy. The whole of policy was introduced in years 1958 – 1962. It all drastically backlashed. The famine took over mainland China. Many of experiments turned disastrous.

Many scholars turn to his philosophy of contradiction to understand overall his response to the disaster. More than 3 Crore people died in this resulting famine. Yet Mao denied any of such claims. He was strongly following his policy and considered these disasters to be part of a dialectic. During these periods China continued to export its available food and grain. Many scholars think that Mao being the premier was convinced about which of the contradictions and dialectics to be worked upon, and hence he completely turned blind eye towards this great agricultural disaster. Yet, it must be understood that during this period his charisma and popularity increased in mainland china as well as even in soviet and Cuban circles. By 1964, Mao Zedong had come up with the little red book A.K.A. the quotations of Chinese Premier, which became a compulsory reading for party members, military personnel, students, citizens, workers, famers etc. Many of the purges and Cultural Revolution programmes continued. The policies of industrialization, strengthening of military continued to the end of his life in 1976.

From 1949 till 1976, the era in Chinese History must be seen as a great experiment of communism with its certain failures as well as certain successes. In 1976, China had definitely emerged as an agricultural giant as well as a rapidly developing industrial base. This era proved to all the people of China that it can function greatly without the bureaucratic mechanisms as well as monarchical order. One must see this period as China’s great attempt to come out of history and embrace present. In 1976, Mao Zedong died and yet the legacy of Mao continued in Chinese Governance, and unmistakably which still persists in the form of various principles of governance and ideology.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping another one of higher CPC committee member and a scholar belonging to a traditional family of scholar officials in China became the Paramount Leader of China. After the liberation and modernization era of Mao Zedong, Deng again had to claim a new era to be of modernization. He postulated that CPC will bring China back on the track of scientific socialism and real Marxism, from which Mao and his regime were deflected. Many of the programmes of cultural purges and break downs were discontinued. And most of the people who had to face the brunt of Mao Cultural Revolution were rehabilitated during Deng’s reign. Although the agenda of Deng didn’t state any kind of leap forwards for China, it definitely brought stability and uniformity in China. In 1980, the age old and crucial institution of Chinese Bureaucracy was also reinstated by Deng’s rule. The Bureaucrats were recruited from the party cadres. The Bureaucracy in China had established its own tradition and value in Chinese Society and Culture. Many of the people as well as the thinkers thought that the vast country like China needs as complex bureaucratic machinery for the better function as well as governance.

The start of this process towards stability was initiated by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai by his 1975 speech, which he delivered from his deathbed while riven with Cancer. In his speech, he strongly came against the direction taken by Mao. He highlighted that the priority of the governance is not augmenting class struggle and revolution, but modernization. The class struggle as well as the exploitations will cease under the waves of modernizations. This Speech gave a critical boost to the opposing voices to Mao. He underlined the five year plans and their goals of complete modernization in Agriculture, Industry, Defence and Science-Technology. He suggested that these goals and related policies must reach the people and everyone should contribute with his lot in the grand modernizations of China.

Since 1978 onwards Deng Xiaoping adopted the same strategy of Modernization by stalling the programmes related to Cultural Revolutions. By the rehabilitation of many of scholars and schools of thought, China again acquired her great resource of intellect. One must notice that these purges of Mao had affected even the family of Deng Xiaoping and various other leaders or thinkers. Deng belonged to such a family and hence his overall emphasis on the rehabilitation of such people must be seen in this context. The present premier of China, Xi Jinping’s father too had to face sever crackdown under Mao’s regime for his admiration towards Confucian Philosophy. Xi’s father had waged a legal war against Mao’s regime and policies in China.

In 1978 Deng Xiaoping proclaimed that the China will go in new direction away from class struggles and mass movements. Then onwards China was to go towards economic modernization and stability in all the spheres of national life. During his regime, Mao’s rhetoric of ‘Politics in Command’ was reverted to the tenet of ‘Economics in Command’. The road to modernization was taken with normal slogans of dictatorship of the proletariat, communist party, socialist road and Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought. These four principles were again and again proclaimed by Deng to ensure continuous support of CPC and military. But in 1980, the most important doctrine came from Deng Xiaoping, which completely changed the intellectual scenario of communist China for the years to come.

Deng Xiaoping understood the importance of opening up the inroads to China for western as well as the eastern world. Yet, he like other scholars was very much worried about the influence of the external world on China. Seeing the negatives of such an influence during the last decades of Qing Dynasty rule and other events like Opium War, Deng decided to formulate the civilizational thought to safeguard the Chinese Society and its spirit. This doctrine is known as ‘Socialist Spiritual Civilization’. Though it sounded very absurd to the global socialist intellectuals as Deng combines socialism with the spiritualism, it was the most pragmatic and the most significant doctrine of China. The core tenets of Socialism were preserved in this doctrine which basically were the parts of CPC agenda. And it was tried to be synthesized with the traditional value systems and ethical bases of China. It was a great symbiosis which has given an unprecedented confidence to the Chinese mind. In this doctrine, explicit terms like Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism, and Buddhism were shrewdly avoided and certain principles and doctrines reflected in various dialogues, discourses, anecdotes, and tales were underlined. This doctrine became quite famous in China, and it was readily adopted as an inseparable part of Chinese School Curriculums. Another important tenet was introduced by Deng Xiaoping as a part of his doctrine, which has been collectively called as Deng Xiaoping Theory. The tenet of called as ‘Opening-Up’, which is a gradual unlocking of Chinese Economy and Polity towards its own people as well as towards the world.

The contemporary intellectual trends to Deng Xiaoping in China too adopted novel ways of course correction in scholastic terms. One of such experiment was the synthesis of Humanism and Socialism. Earlier, Humanism was denied as an ideology of the bourgeois. This synthesis was presented by many of scholars to bring back the tradition of social and intellectual discourses, peaceful criticisms as well as cooperative course corrections. This was period which gradually saw the revival of neo-Confucian thought in academic and intellectual spheres.

With these openings in Chinese intellectual expressions, the decade of 1980s’ saw a careful but firm rise in intellectual freedoms and related discussions in Chinese mainstream as well as CPC policies. And during this period another important tenet of Deng Xiaoping came as Manna From Above. This doctrine was ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’. This doctrine set before it the goal of achieving moderate prosperity by the end of millennium. The road of socialism was chosen by China for achieving this goal. And certainly, according to Deng Xiaoping this road is Chinese road. China must come up with her own ways and characteristics. And these will reflect Chinese ways taken throughout her history. Under this doctrine, Chinese markets were opened for foreign investments. China started to build her own mode of entrepreneurial base and at the same time, it genuinely started to enter international turfs with an aim of participation in global market system. Deng Xiaoping strongly said that the closed door policy is not a Chinese way. Chinese Way is opening the doors for the world and entering the world with unpretentious confidence.   

During this decade many of the scholars from various universities started to openly criticize the Deng regime, for its lack in scientific methodologies and equivocating doctrines that do not trust modern scientific methodologies and technologies. These scholars started to demand more freedom to the intellectuals. And their demand was positively responded by Deng, as he gradually removed party control over the intellectuals and academicians.

Yet, in the second half of the decade of 1980s’ Deng gradually adopted a stance of authoritarianism which for many resembled with the political tutelage doctrine of Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai Shek. This period saw a rise in corruption among the CPC party members and Deng was worried about it. To direct the party towards a better organizations and transparency he had to adopt authoritarianism. To his last years, he was engaged in each every policy functioning and it seemed that he was directing everything under his keen eye. Many of the scholars had started to assert that the CPC itself should be reformed and reform must start with the limiting the tenures of the leaders.

One must understand the situation taking place here. Such an open criticism would have been brutally squashed down during the reign of Mao, yet, within a decade after his demise, the political and intellectual atmosphere of China had become much free, where Deng not only entertained such critics, but responded them positively. This was a great change.

Since 1970s onwards, under the guidance of various rebel scholars and intellectuals, a new philosophical doctrine rose in China. This doctrine seems to be gaining its strength day by day, and will definitely become the Chinese Mainstream Doctrine. It is New Confucianism. Many of the philosophers and thinkers like Xiong Shili were the true inspiration behind this resurrection of Chinese Intellectual current. His works on Confucianism, Buddhism and their philosophical or theoretical devices that can be evolved for the present and future time, greatly motivated many of the thinkers. These all philosophers had to go through ugly times and repressions under cultural revolutions yet the spires ignited by these thinkers developed further.

New Confucianism combines modern philosophies or especially western philosophies with the foundational Chinese philosophies. ‘The essence of a Change, ‘new Philosophy of Reason and Rationalism’, ‘social and socialist reality’, ‘originality of a substance and universalism’ etc. are some of the philosophical doctrines and treatises that brought ancient Chinese philosophy in the realms of modern times.

The New Confucianism took a step further in 1960s’ and 1970s’ when it came up with the Manifesto of New Confucianism, which called for the reappraisal of the Chinese Cultural and Civilizational Studies and reconstruction of the Chinese Culture. This manifesto was an actual leap taken by the Chinese Intelligentsia and that too under the nose of Mao Zedong.

The manifesto rightly proclaimed the permanence of Chinese Culture and History. It resounded that the lively nature of Chinese Culture. It stated that seeing China through the western theories is a great blunder. China is not a stagnant culture which lacks strength and potential to evolve, it is alive with all capabilities. China is an ever-evolving entity. New Confucian thought has become the greatest and most potent undercurrent in China, which is reclaiming its place day by day. New Confucianism claimed that the essential civilizational thought of China will evolve by synthesizing itself with the western world thought and modern times.

During the latter part of Deng’s rule many of the party members who were supporters of the Deng’s reformist policy and modernization, rose to the central committee of the CPC. One of the most important among such was the comrade of Deng Xiaoping, ‘Hu Yaobang’. Deng through his policies had promised the people of China to deliver a more transparent party system and party bureaucracy, more liberal programmes in all spheres and reforms. Hu Yaobang’s death in 1989 completely shattered the popular mind. Hu Yaobang had acquired quite a popularity among the students as well the industrial workers of China.

His death in 1989 made all such people doubtful about the CPC’s intentions of going forward with the reforms and transparency. This whole situation culminated in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Various CPC members had expressed their notion that various thought undercurrents and related informal associations and organizations were playing subtle political role behind the escalation of this crisis. And this whole undercurrent was ascertained to have been originated in the philosophy and movement of New Confucianism. The CPC realized that the reform policy cannot be given up, and finally in 1992-93 various reforms in party management were introduced.

After the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997, the premiership of China went in the hands of Jiang Zemin. Yet the paranoia about various philosophical and intellectual movements continued in his regime. Jiang initially adopted the policy of crackdown against all such intellectual and philosophical trends and related association. Yet he continued on the Deng Xiaoping doctrine of modernization, socialism with Chinese Character and Opening-up of the system.

The most important doctrinal thought provided by Jiang Zemin is called as ‘Three Represents’. He stated that the CPC must always represent the interests of the China’s advanced Productive Force, it should represent the orientation of China’s advanced culture and CPC should also represent the fundamental interests of the whole of Chinese population. These three represents have continued to form a part of CPC constitution, and as a legacy it has won its place in the policies of his successors Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao

His successor Hu Jintao from 1997 onwards characterized his policy with two features, ‘harmonious socialist society’ in China and a ‘peaceful development’ in International terms. These both features led him towards the creation of doctrine of Scientific Development perspective which has guided China’s voyage in the 21st Century.

The Scientific Development Perspective denotes scientific socialism, sustainable development, social welfare, humanistic society, increased democracy and a creation of a socialist harmonious society. This whole concept tried to synthesize the Marxism-Leninism and Maoism with the contemporary Chinese society and the needs of time. The founding principles of this whole conception were, people’s aspirations must be the basis of all works and hence all the development should be comprehensive. Hu Jintao himself practiced this perspective during his tenure.

Another important conception originated by Hu Jintao is Socialist Harmonious Society. It is a socio-economic vision of China, according to which the policies are to be designed. This concept, has been hailed by Hu Jintao to have generated from his understanding of New Confucian Philosophy. This philosophy asks the rulers to be synthesizers of social life of the people. To make the overall social life peaceful and democratic, the ruler must know how to direct the mood of the people, how to give them a vision to work towards and how to handle the differences in a peaceful manner. A ruler is compared with a head of the family, a patriarch; who must understand the capacities of various people and communities, and accordingly must take them on the road to progress. The people should be involved in the vision of the progress, and thus the work for the vision becomes a family matter for every citizen. Everyone should participate out of affection and not just to follow the state dictates.

Yet, the policy implementation has gone through many pitfalls. The increased wage and wealth gap, higher internal security budgets and increased surveillance practices, as well as the unprecedented corruption in CPC and state owned industries show a complete lack of harmony among the rulers and the ruled. Many scholars state that there are basically two realities working together in CPC. One which stands for the reforms, brings up various conceptual frameworks for the realization of increased democracy and there is this other, which is just paranoid of everything and wants to hold the reins of all to keep China in the loop of centrally ruled nation.

Scholars of New Confucianism state that these two traits of rule have been continuously active throughout Chinese History. And many like Feng Yu-Lan have stated that the Chinese Philosophy has always taught the rulers and administrators to outmanoeuvre such authoritarian trends. True rulers never do away with these forces, but keeps them intact and under control. A true ruler rules these forces, but doesn’t let them know that they are being ruled. Each force has its own strength and weakness, a true ruler like a synthesizer knows what to press and when.

And when such a ruler doesn’t come on the throne, one sees a personality like Wen Jiabao sitting on the Premiership of China. Wen Jiabao, as noted by many Chinese scholars lacked the basic skill of a true patriarch. His ambivalence made people confused and the world more confused. Wen sometimes boasted that the socialist regime will continue forever in China, and sometimes he declared that Democracy is the right kind of Government which will rise in China within some years. Yet his confusion must be seen as a consequence of increased strength of democratic and Confucian forces in the Chinese Governance and at the same time, it was also a harder attempt of the centralists to keep everything on track.

Only with the rise of Xi Jinping, a certain and unmistakable trend in intellectual atmosphere of China is rising. And this trend is a synthesis of Socialism and New Confucianism. Xi seems to have unabashedly embraced New Confucianism, which is evident in his philosophical doctrine of New Development.