While doing the final (studio) filming for the MOOC on Chinese Marxism, we got talking about the role of criticism in relation to socialist democracy. The widespread and mistaken international image is that criticism is ruthlessly censored in China.
This is far from the case. In fact, three points are worth noting:
- The long socialist tradition of criticism and self-criticism, which the Chinese both inherit and to which they add their own cultural approach. As my Chinese friends tell me, ‘we Chinese are very good at self-criticism’.
- The basic difference between constructive and destructive criticism. The Chinese government encourages the former, with constant projects and research focusing on problems and how they might be solved. Take Xinjiang, for instance, where many problems may be found. The efforts to identify the problems and proposed solutions are myriad. But as long as they are constructive. Suggest a destructive solution, such as the secession of Xinjiang as a country, and that will be seen as destructive.
- An even more basic distinction is between disdain and friendship. The Chinese are very good at picking up the difference. A foreigner does not have to say anything explicit, but Chinese people will pick up very quickly if aforesaid foreigner looks down on and disrespects China, and they will react accordingly. But if people get the message that you are a friend, the whole situation changes, people open up, and the possibilities for constructive engagement are far, far greater.
With these thoughts in mind, I filmed a segment of the MOOC on the role of criticism in Chinese socialist democracy.