Happy New Year. I hope to introduce Cui Weiping, an influential female writer and academic.
The China Story has an entry of Cui Weiping:
"Cui Weiping is a public intellectual and a professor at the Beijing Film Academy whose work focuses on literary theory, political philosophy and eastern European intellectual and political culture".
Born in 1956 in Jiangsu province, Cui Weiping received her Masters Degree in Chinese Literature from Nanjing University in 1984 and has since then been teaching at Beijing Film Academy. She became a professor in 1999. Cui Weiping has close to 250,000 followers on Sina Weibo.
Based in Beijing she is also a freelance writer, translator, movie critic, and political essayist. Her books include Prior to Justice (2005), The Narratives of our Time (2008), Thoughts and Nostalgia (2010), and Attractive Lies (2012). She has also translated Václav Havel’s Toward a Civil Society and Collective Works, both of which have been published underground in China.
I have been reading one of her books called Thoughts and Nostalgia in Chinese and find it very interesting. It was published in 2010 by Beihang University Press. In this book she collected articles on current affairs, combined with review of Western philosophy. I have picked up some excerpts to share with you.
Thoughts and Nostalgia
Cultural Modernism like a maze
There are many forms that people look for as their "spiritual home" - religion, traditional culture, all kinds of Qigong, etc. They always hope to find a spiritual haven that could make them happy ever after. They hope to submit themselves once and for all, so that they will never need to bother, especially tolerate conflicts from everyday's different spiritual values and they don't need to answer all sorts of new questions that come up all the time. The deceased writer Wang Xiaobo commented on this in the end of the 20th century. He is very suspicious of the notion that "knowing how to recite religious rituals means you have a spiritual home". Or rather perhaps the concept of "spiritual home" is quite inappropriate. Spiritual activity is a kind of pursuit, inquiry. It is a journey to the unknown. It is to create order from chaos, and it is to shape form from mud, rather than rush to a place to settle. Circling a piece of land as their own and drawing a place as a prison is pre-modern.
Compared to other Chinese writers, Wang Xiaobo is a rare and conscious modernist. He borrowed the expression from Hans Christian Andersen's The Thorny Road of Honour and described his own proposal: "the humanistic undertaking is like a road of thorn on fire, and smart and enduring people walk on fire". Walking on fire means people rather endure the pain and torment of not having a "home" than selling themselves short or settling themselves carelessly on any kind of haven or utopia. It is not that he is not eroded by void. It is not that he does not feel the hollowness and dullness of the ridiculous modern life. But he rather likes to stay silent. He endures. He is able to endure.
We need a lower version of humanistic value
I call the leading principal of the humanistic value in our society a "higher version" of humanistic value. It is "high" because it has a relatively higher level of evaluation or estimate of humanistic values. Sometimes it is even so high that it lacks necessary consciousness of the defect or limits of human beings.
In the contrast divide between different classes, the working class is considered the most noble and exemplary - they are selfless, willing to sacrifice, etc. This symbolizes a highness of humanistic values, which is also a benchmark that is set up for everyone to follow.
To deify a certain class is a consequence of the influence of a generally deifying society. People in that kind of background tend to look at the society from a perspective of awe. They use this kind of perspective to look at their reality and future, and other people. Not only in terms of skills and capability, but also on moral standards, they enter into a phase of miracle.
People who are beautified and deified most are heroes and leaders. No matter they are heroes from real life that are broadcast from mass media, or heroes in arts, they are all made of special materials. Usually they can tolerate unbearable pain and test unattainable by ordinary people. They also have another common feature: they don't have emotional needs that are also shared by all human beings. Their lives come from half way in the sky, instead of from the ground. In terms of the crazy admiration of leaders, it was performed to an unimaginable degree. All the wonderful features are captured in one person, and this person is considered the "god". One sentence he utters out is worth of "ten thousand of sentences". When he passed away everyone was shocked, because since the red sun always rises from the east, he will never die.
The so-called "lower version" of humanistic value hopes to adjust the existing understanding of humanistic values.
From the surface, it seems to mean widening people's understanding of humanistic values with a more relaxing attitude to accept all kinds of human performances. There is enough estimation and preparation to all kinds of chaos and degradation in human life. This is contrast to the quick critique that we regard things as not possibly be conducted by human beings. We believe that human beings are capable of doing anything, even the most compromising things. They are still human beings and their humanistic nature is probably not that far from yours. In terms of the possibility of shocking others and shocking to yourself, or more bluntly, in terms of the capability to conduct evil deeds, everyone is equal, there is no difference.
However, this does not mean that we give up moral requirements on people. To the contrary, this kind of "lower version" of humanistic values is to further constrain and regulate human nature. It is to highlight -- no matter to master or transcend human nature, we need to first have a proper understanding of human nature. We need to have a good recognition of the dark sides in human nature, in stead of singing a high tune from unrealistic standpoint, or just indirectly address the issues but not confront them. The so-called "low" means that we have lower expectation and could see more human behaviour. We have enough awareness of the dark sides of human nature, therefore we will be fully awake, alert and suspicious.
Today, "taking human as the foundation" is a notion of rich significance. It clearly outlines a new historical phase of our nation. It means that same as other nations in the world, we have entered into a modern society, or a secular society. This is a world of the people, a world based on the benchmark of human beings, instead of on God. It is no longer a world centred on the will of the God. This is an incredible step.
However, pointing our gaze on human beings themselves, in the world of the people, we need to further ask the question: "what is the people". If we say people are complicated, multi-faceted and multi-layered there are different shifts and shades among different channels from low-tune to high-tune, then what kind of people should we be based on? What kind of people should be the benchmark? After taking over the position of god or godly powers, do human beings really have enough awareness and consciousness of their own defects, limits and degradation? We don't need to overwhelm the notion of human nature based on the principal of "the people". Of course, this question can only be asked after the notion of "based on the people". Contemporary experts and scholars need to shoulder some responsibility. Maybe we could also ask, how come "human nature" became an important notion?
Postscript: Thinking is processing one's darkness
The path of my work has always demonstrated that thinking is actually processing one's darkness and blind spot: thinking is self-education. We always open up our mindset bits by bits. In terms of academic pursuit, it is after thought, based on the foundation of thinking. Thinking is the plough, academia is the field.
How does thinking process one's darkness? It means, not only do you need to understand this world, but you also need to feel yourself. You need to capture your fleeting feelings, sometimes it is continuous, but it is also a silent yet stubborn feeling. Due to all kinds of pragmatic concerns, people often choose not to respond to their reactions. To achieve a certain goal, it is even better to bury oneself and never voice their heart's opinions.
Actually I started from observing myself. When people try to acquire some real and tangible knowledge on this world, I try to acquire probably the most unrealistic knowledge -- the knowledge on one self, meanwhile on human nature and humanistic nature. In my article I write about Han Han's shift of personal perfection to civil humanism, and actually this is my own path, at least it is the case in this volume.
From observing one self, from listening to the timid voice inside us (including consciousness), we could listen to this world, including the oppressed and excluded voices and the obscure and blurry fields. To me, voicing in the public sphere is not just a cry of integrity. To the contrary, I avoid loud cry. I hope to find some reasons, and hope to find a perspective that is not articulated yet. I hope to find a dimension that is covered up -- why are things (feelings) this way? What are the reasons behind them? Using the terminology of public sphere, we call it widening the public platform. For me this is still called "imagination", to upgrade the things that lack a shape to a clear feature.