China’s Xi: More Social Science, But With More Socialism

Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the primacy of philosophy and social science in building a strong China during a symposium on those subjects Tuesday. The president, who is also the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, added that these disciplines must in turn incorporate what he called “Chinese characteristics,” and in particular Chinese socialism, according to a report in the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping (Photo: Day Donaldson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)
“China is undergoing the most profound and widespread social reform in its history,” Xinhua quoted Xi, which makes the time ripe for expanding the role of social science in China. By the same token, he said the time is ripe for expanding the role of China in social science. “After all,” he argued, “confidence in our culture should be strengthened, which is a power that is more basic, deeper and more lasting.” That culture includes the country’s Marxist political roots as well as China’s own millennia of scholarship and traditional teachings.

Saying that Marxism “opens the path toward truth,” Xi instructed party leaders to include philosophy and social science in their agendas. He also encouraged the academic disciplines to help ensure that Marxism itself evolved into an ideology fit for the 21st century.

The Xinhua report cited a number of specific disciplines where philosophy and social science should focus, including history, economics, politics, culture, society, ecology, the military and Communist Party construction.

The symposium was held a day after the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which itself began with an attack on a Peking University philosophy professor accused of trying to “revise” Chinese communism. The Agence France-Presse news agency noted that some scholars with a more Western bent were not part of the symposium:

Mr Deng Yuwen, the former deputy editor of the Central Party School’s journal, said the symposium’s guest list showed that liberal scholars had been excluded in favour of leftists more prone to shun Western influences. “Rightist intellectuals have completely lost the trust of the ruling party, while those who adhere to the ‘Chinese model’ are taking centre stage,” he wrote on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo platform.

Xinhua said Xi compared social science and philosophy with the natural sciences, saying that a “leading nation” must have both. “Xi said people should recognize the irreplaceable roles played by philosophy and social sciences and the important work done by researchers in these fields,” the news service wrote.

Xinhua quoted one expert who suggested Xi’s message was meant as a wakeup call for disciplines that have not shared in China’s amazing economic boom:

Xie Chuntao, a professor with the CPC Central Committee Party School, noted that China’s performance in philosophy and social sciences does not match its progress in reform and opening up, and efforts are needed to better sum up and analyze China’s successful practices. China’s achievements over the past decades have been remarkable, and people in philosophy and social sciences need to work harder to tell China’s stories, Xie said.

As the South China Post wrote two years ago — in an article noting that most of the grants from China’s National Social Sciences Fund that year were going to projects that studied Xi’s speeches — “China has lagged far behind industrialised nations in the development of social sciences.”

The social sciences haven’t always had a smooth ride in the People’s Republic of China. Sociology, for instance, was banned as a “bourgeois pseudoscience” in 1952 and was only rehabilitated in 1979. It suffered another setback in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when sociology was perceived as adding to the foment. A little over a decade ago, during another speech by another Chinese president, Hu Jintao, applied social science was given a mission. As Hu said then, “the construction of a harmonious society is a very good opportunity for the development of sociology, or we can say that the spring of sociology is coming.”

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