Looking back in order to enhance looking forward

There is no intention on my side to engage in a wider or deeper debate on Chinese issues – it would require volumes, acknowledging successes, failures and contradictions now and then. And there is surely no intention to deny one or the other, be it in absolute terms or in the light of comparative reflections.

Still, having arrived in Moscow, I dare looking briefly back. The 19th CPC National Congress, having taken place the recent days, marks a shift in the orientation of which the meaning will be seen in the future. The congress suggested as main, i.e. ‘principal contradiction’ the country faces now is the society being

between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing need for a better life.

Previously – for 36 years – the maxim was seen as being caught between

the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production.

Sure, even commenting on this can only be an attempt to make us thinking about what is at stake – actually far beyond China.[1] And any commenting is of course facing the danger of ‘loosing due to translation’. A bit of comfort for me is looking back at some experience in daily life, the glimpses into Chinese life and perhaps a bit of the mentality – glimpses, surely not more.

Well, then, isn’t there potentially a ‘mental’ or ‘intellectual typo’? Shouldn’t it read peoples’ instead of people’s. In the second case there is an individualist undertone while the challenge is really the life of the people, not people.

Sure the resolution of the congress has inscribed this new project:

addressing the development’s imbalances and inadequacies, and push[ing] hard to improve the quality and effect of development

into the party’s constitution. Important is now to see emphasis that constitutions are about processes, not structures. We are dealing with the constitutive process, the formation. And with this it remains to be seen if the apostrophe will be shifted into the right position, to promote a course that is worth to be carried on by a party that claims to be left. At stake is indeed the peoples’ life as foundation of people’s life – seemingly a tiny difference though remarkably one that is decisive for the meaning of the social.

Looking back at the experience of teaching in the PRC up to recently there is the tension not just in the party’s document and in reflecting on it. Surely, some of my students would go for moving the apostrophe into the right place. And surely, this means not least confronting an Americanised and Europeanised orientations of the educational system.[2]

Sure, there is the wider question, looking back much further. Here we have to ask if Deng had actually been right – or completely wrong. First we have to eat, that stands before any moral considerations are made – well known from Brecht’s Three-Penny Opera. The ‘Deng-question’ remains, better to say, the question Deng did not sufficiently consider: ‘What kind of moral will those, being well fed, while others receive little more then the bread crumbs, develop?’

There is no reason to question successes – over the last years more than breadcrumbs had been made available for many. Equally, as appalling as developments in Higher Education is in ‘the West’ are, there are exceptions and there are increasingly counter movements: claims for higher quality, for

an education … [that] will teach you how to think, not what to think

to use the words of Jazreel Goh, education marketing director of the British Council in China. More than glimpses of hope?

The hopes I personally have, and it means to take up on and support the excitement I see in the eyes, I hear in the voices, I read in the words of so many students; the hope that they withstand the strangulation that is still going on.

Looking back … – or looking forward? There is no real need for marketing directors but there is a need for academics being aware that they are and will always be students and for students that are aware of being academics, not future bean counters or Wall Street-pedestrians [follow the links for the interviews that are in these articles] – I found it striking that the congress paid a lot of attention to the economy and its development, while it neglected by and large many of the questions that are ore fundamental, namely those dealing with the actual processes of production and its ‘what and how’.

*****

[1]            This far beyond may well be taken as part of the interpretation of the outspoken claim to be a global payer.

[2]            I dare to say that the congress was apparently clear on the question of education – but in a very unfortunate direction towards competitiveness, undermining ‘deep quality development’.

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