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Chinese Checkers

Chinese Checkers

 
 
In Response to:

Contradictions from the July 7, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

Martin Bernal in his review [July 7] describes Franz Schurmann’s brilliant new book Ideology and Organization in Communist China as “easily the most provocative work…yet seen on contemporary China.” On the basis of this characterization one might expect some significant response in the review to the book’s arguments. Yet, Mr. Bernal, if one can judge by the review, seems to have been singularly unprovoked. May I respond, in loco reviewerus?

First, Professor Schurmann sees the theory of contradictions as “essential to the struggle for unity and transformation” (p. 103) in China. If I understand him, I find the theory of contradictions in practice somewhat circular. Schurmann says, the theory “has been put to three practical uses…for analysis,…as a basis for behavioral norms…[and] as an approach to create and use organization” (pp. 53-54). The first and third uses I take to be essentially the “recognition of contradictions” and the attempted “resolution of contradictions” (p. 75).

One might expect that a theory of such importance would have an independent validity as an analytical tool. But this does not appear to be the case. Since the “recognition of contradictions” has immediate action implications, it appears that contradictions will not be “recognized” until the leadership is prepared to deal with them. Thus, Schurmann writes, “the Chinese Communists have been careful not to label all dualities contradictions; some dualities are still considered relationships. When the elements of a duality are stated to be in contradiction, resolution must follow; this means policy consequences” (p. 101, italics added). On this reading, stating a duality to be a contradiction is another way of saying we intend to take action to deal with a bad situation. The “recognition” seems to follow from the decision to “resolve,” rather than vice versa. If this is so, the significance of the theory as an analytical tool in practice may be slight.

Second, I believe it is somewhat misleading to write, as Mr. Bernal does, that Schurmann “takes the slightly unfashionable view that the changes of the Chinese Revolution are more significant than the continuities.” Schurmann is not dogmatic on this point. It is, after all, a matter of balancing incommensurables. With respect to ideology and organization, Mr. Bernal’s statement seems accurate. But with respect to the social system, it seems to me, Schurmann is confusing. He has it both ways.

On the one hand, Schurmann argues that the “core elements of a social system,” ethos (Confucianism), status group (the gentry), and the modal personality (pater familias), had all been destroyed by 1949. Consequently, he writes, “with the traditional trinity of authority gone, the social system itself has disappeared” (p. 7). On the other hand, however, he recognizes that in the village, “China’s most typical form of social organization” (p. 10), “the bulk of the people…retain links with the past” (p. 16). Only with communization did the Communists attempt “fundamentally to transform the traditional work organization of the peasantry” (p. 497). And, of this attempt, Schurmann says, it “would seem to have been unsuccessful. There is little evidence that the fundamental work organization of the peasantry as a whole has changed” (p. 498).

Moreover, even cooperativization, aimed at destroying the power of the rich peasant in the village, has had only limited success: “the fact that the production teams have basic rights of usage over land gives the rich peasant an opening for acquiring de facto control over portions of land greater than that officially allotted to him. The production brigade now appears to be an area where Party cadres, loyal to the state, and ‘old peasants’ (most likely, rich and wealthy middle peasants), loyal to village interests, struggle with each other” (p. 498).

The importance of continuity in rural China is underscored by the recent study of G. William Skinner on “Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. XXIV, no. 1, 2, and 3 (Nov., 1964. and Feb. and May, 1965)—one of the few works in the field of a quality comparable to Schurmann’s.

In that study Professor Skinner concludes that, as of 1962-64, “the analytic categories developed for the study of traditional Chinese marketing remain…[surprisingly] serviceable…. The central place hierarchy of premodern times persists, and there has been remarkable continuity in the functions performed in each type of market town” (p. 379). According to Skinner. “the traditional Chinese village is…being brought relatively intact into the modern world in the form of the production brigade…. With collectivization as with marketing, the Communists have been constrained to accept traditional structures as given, to build on their inert strength, and to work through them toward institutions of a socialist society” (p. 398). Professor Schurmann’s these demand antitheses. I have tried to present two, for what they are worth.

Richard M. Pfeffer

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Martin Bernal replies:

Mr. Pfeffer finds an inconsistency in Professor Schurmann’s treatment of the theory of contradictions. He quotes Schurmann’s statement to the effect that analysis is one of the uses to which the theory has been put. He then equates analysis with the recognition of contradictions to which Schurmann refers on a later page. These two are linked to another observation that “when the elements of a duality are stated to be in contradiction resolution must follow; this means policy consequences.” From this Mr. Pfeffer deduces that “the” recognition seems to follow the decision to resolve rather than vice versa, and goes on to say “If this is so the significance of the theory as an analytical tool in practice may be slight.”

The flaw in Mr. Pfeffer’s argument is his mistaken belief that Professor Schurmann equates recognition with analysis. In fact by the recognition of contradictions Schurmann appears to mean the public statement of the results of analysis rather than the analysis itself. It is nearer to his use of the world “reveal” in the passage, “it is imperative that analysis lead to discussion in which the contradictions can be revealed and resolved” (p. 57). There is no doubt that the relationship between the “recognition” and the attempted resolution of contradictions is extremely close, and that the Chinese leadership tend to “recognize” only those contradictions upon which they are prepared to act. But in what way apart from analysis can they organize reality so as to decide what the contradictions are and how and in what order their resolution should be attempted? Mr. Pfeffer’s argument does nothing to cast doubt on the truth evident to Professor Schurmann and anyone who follows events in China, that the method of organizational and economic analysis most often used by the leadership and cadres at all levels is that of the theory of contradictions. The fact that the results of these analyses frequently influence policy decisions gives great practical significance to the theory as an analytical tool.

Personally I agree with Mr. Pfeffer that the continuities in Modern Chinese Society particularly those in rural areas are extremely important, even though the survival of earlier organization and village leadership does not now appear quite so clear cut as it did in 1964. I also agree that when writing about a book as subtle as that of Professor Schurmann any statement such as “he takes the view that the changes of the Chinese Revolution are more significant than the continuities” is bound to be an oversimplification. Nevertheless I still maintain that Professor Schurmann’s overall bias is clear. At the end of the prologue he writes. “In preparing the manuscript of this book, I was repeatedly impressed by how little [Chinese] it appears to be. Where is China in all these processes? Chinese culture has not disappeared but China’s social system has. Revolutionary changes which began more than a century ago and were brought to completion by the communists have profoundly altered the substance and form of Chinese society [p. xivi].”

P. S. In loco takes the genitive.

Topics: 
Martin Bernal was born in London in 1937. He studied at Kings College in Cambridge, and in 1959 attended Peking University. After taking his degree he did graduate work at Cambridge, the University...

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This article was first published in the August 18, 1966 issue of the New York Review of Books.

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AsiaWorld

IAN BURUMA

1.To stand somewhere in the center of an East Asian metropolis, Seoul, say, or Guangzhou, is to face an odd cultural conundrum. Little of what you see, apart from the writing on billboards, can be described as traditionally Asian. There are the faux-traditional façades—...

Found Horizon

IAN BURUMA

1.Traveling recently by bus from Shigatse to Lhasa, squeezed in between a heavily made-up bar hostess from Sichuan who was vomiting her breakfast out the window and a minor Tibetan official in a shiny brown suit who asked me about Manchester United football club before noisily...

East Is West

IAN BURUMA

Chang-rae Lee has an extraordinary talent for describing violence. Here is his account of the gang rape and murder of a Korean sex slave (“comfort woman”) in a Japanese army camp during World War II:I ran up the north path by the latrines, toward the clearing, as it was known...

Divine Killer

IAN BURUMA

“If there was anything Mao wouldn’t want to see, it was tears. Mao said on one occasion, ‘I can’t bear to see poor people cry. When I see their tears, I can’t hold back my own.’ “Another thing which upset Mao was bloodshed.” —From Mao Zedong: Man, Not God by...

China in Cyberspace

IAN BURUMA

1.It is not widely known that the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan are now at war. The battles are not being fought on land, however, or at sea, or even, strictly speaking, in the air; they take place in cyberspace, where nobody so far has ever died. The soldiers in this...

The Jiang Zemin Mystery

ORVILLE SCHELL

1.Since the Chinese Communist Party leaders will not allow themselves to be criticized in the press or on television, critics have had to find other means to express their political grievances. Historically speaking, one of the most telling ways to make a protest known has been...

Sex and Democracy in Taiwan

IAN BURUMA

Fairly or not, sex scandals in politics have acquired a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon ring. The French boast of taking a more sophisticated view of the private lives of public men—that is to say, those lives are shielded from public scrutiny. Germans smack their lips when their...

Selling Out Hong Kong

IAN BURUMA

1.And so it finally came to pass, at midnight, June 30, 1997, in the brand-new Hong Kong convention center, resembling, local people say, a giant cockroach: the red flag of the People’s Republic of China, snapping in the breeze of wind machines, went up, and the Union Jack came...

Holding Out in Hong Kong

IAN BURUMA

1.The Master said: “If seeking wealth were a decent pursuit, I too would seek it, even if I had to work as a janitor. As it is, I’d rather follow my inclinations.”—Confucius: Analects1Flicking through the April issue of the Hong Kong Tatler, a glossy high life magazine...

China: The Defining Moment

JONATHAN MIRSKY

The evolution of the People’s Republic of China since its founding in 1949 has been tumultuous and bloody, and marked by the suffering of millions. It has been anything but peaceful. Yet it is precisely the prospect of “peaceful evolution,” which in Peking has the special...

The Beginning of the End

IAN BURUMA

Failed rebellions are often like failed marriages: former partners and their friends blame the other side for what went wrong; old tensions are magnified; the past is rewritten; feuding camps are formed. This pretty much sums up the situation among the survivors of the Beijing...

In China’s Gulag

JONATHAN D. SPENCE

Near the end of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn includes a chapter he calls “The Muses in Gulag.” Most of the chapter describes the absurdity and uselessness of the Communist Party’s Cultural and Educational Section, but he also briefly reflects on the relationship...

Unmasking the Monster

JONATHAN MIRSKY

In 755 the Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu wrote about the corruptions of court life:In the central halls there are fair goddesses; An air of perfume moves with each charming figure. They clothe their guests with warm furs of sable, Entertain them with the finest music and pipe and...

History on the Wing

JOHN K. FAIRBANK

Golden Inches is a charming memoir of an American couple who built up the YMCA in Chengtu and Chungking. Their careers on America’s farthest Western cultural frontier in Szechwan province give us a sense of the day-to-day texture of Chinese-American relations during the golden...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping

JOHN K. FAIRBANK

When I began teaching Chinese history at Harvard in 1936 my first students turned out to be the brightest I would ever have—Theodore White as an undergraduate and Mary Clabaugh as a Ph.D. candidate. Mary Clabaugh was a Vassar graduate from Tuscaloosa who came to study...

The Last Days of Hong Kong

IAN BURUMA

1.“Everything you need to know about a new life abroad…. It’s all in the pages of The Emigrant.” —Advertisement for a new Hong Kong periodical, 1989May 1983: It was exactly seven months after Mrs. Thatcher stumbled and fell on the steps of the Great Hall of the People...

Keeping the Faith

FANG LIZHI

On June 4, the day after the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on the citizens of Beijing, the distinguished Chinese astrophysicist and dissident intellectual, Fang Lizhi, reluctantly sought refuge in the American embassy in Beijing with his physicist wife, Li Shuxian. They...

Stories from the Ice Age

JONATHAN MIRSKY

Since the Tiananmen Square killings it has become fashionable within the Chinese leadership to refer to dissident intellectuals as “scum.” That was Mao’s view, too. In 1942, the chairman, his armies besieged by both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese army, took time off for...

Why China’s Rulers Fear Democracy

JOHN K. FAIRBANK

To try to understand is not to condone or forgive. Quite the contrary. In this bicentennial year when a euphoria for democratic rights seemed to be sweeping the world, why was it stopped in Tiananmen Square? Why do China’s rulers attack their students like enemies when in our...

The End of the Chinese Revolution

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR

When Deng Xiaoping suppressed the Beijing Spring last month, he thought he was putting down a new Cultural Revolution. Pirated notes from a Party meeting in late April quoted him as telling his colleagues:This is not an ordinary student movement. It is turmoil…. What they are...

The Price China Has Paid: An Interview with Liu Binyan

NATHAN GARDELS

Liu Binyan is a sixty-two-year-old writer and journalist who is regarded as the preeminent intellectual advocating reform in China today. During the mid-1950s and again throughout the post-Mao period, he has strongly criticized Communist party officials for abusing their power...

Passing the Baton in Beijing

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR

Succession has become an omnipresent problem not only in China but throughout Asia. Long-lasting regimes under aging rulers are entering their twilight zone in North Korea, Burma, and Indonesia, and face a period of weakness and uncertainty, for the moment...

Our Mission in China

JONATHAN D. SPENCE

This is the bicentennial year for contacts between the United States and China, since it was in 1784 that the merchant ship Empress of China sailed to Canton from New York. It was an auspicious beginning, at least for the American backers of the voyage; the trip netted them 30...

China: How Much Dissent?

JONATHAN D. SPENCE

In the year 278 BC an aristocrat and poet named Qu Yuan took his own life by throwing himself into the waters of the Milo River. Qu Yuan had once been the powerful adviser to the ruler of the Chu kingdom, specializing in legal affairs and diplomacy, but the monarch was tricked...

Rules of the Game

JOHN GITTINGS

On September 18, 1931, a very small bomb caused a very minor explosion on the South Manchurian Railway just north of Mukden, a railway controlled by the Japanese and crucial to their economic domination of Manchuria. The explosion was denounced as the work of Chinese saboteurs....

Bringing Up the Red Guards

JOHN GITTINGS

Revolutionaries are Monkey Kings, their golden rods are powerful, their supernatural powers far-reaching and their magic omnipotent, for they possess Mao Tsetung’s great invincible thought. We wield our golden rods, display our supernatural powers and use our magic to turn the...

Peanuts and the Good Soldier

JOHN GITTINGS

In 1927, the province of Shantung was under the control of the warlord Chang Tsung-chang, a ferocious ex-coolie with a taste for white mercenaries and white women. His forces included a Russian brigade with four armored trains; he himself went to war with a...

A Mao for All Seasons

MARTIN BERNAL

A psychologist and an expert on the Far East, Mr. Lifton believes that the most fruitful way to look at Mao Tse-tung and the Cultural Revolution is to combine the investigation of psychological motives with historical analysis in what he calls the “...