New Left

New Left
The ‘New Left’ was invented as a label to stigmatize the group’s alleged ideological complicity with the state and was rejected by most of those so labelled. It is ‘new’ because it is independent from the old left of the Communist Party. It is ‘leftist’ because it questions the new dogma of the ‘free market’ as the centrepiece of modernity. Not strictly a ‘faction’ or ‘school of thought’ (pai), it has evolved into an amalgam of loosely associated intellectuals and groups articulating alternative visions that move beyond the rigid dichotomy of laissez-faire capitalism and state socialism. Its brief history, especially through its entanglement with liberalism, defines and reflects much of the intellectual reconfiguration in post 1989 China.
The phrase was first applied to a small circle of fiction writers—Zhang Chengzhi, Zhang Wei and Han Shaogong—for their attribution of the growing socioeconomic inequities and moral decline in China to the market reforms. The phrase was publicly circulated after Cui Zhiyuan called for a second intellectual liberation and institutional innovation in 1994. Meanwhile, Wang Shaoguang and Hu Angang raised the question of ‘state capacity’, calling for an increase in the central government’s share of revenues to strengthen its power of redistribution and to counter growing social and regional economic disparities. With the then current experience of the former state socialist countries in mind, these intellectuals went against the grain of neo-liberal economics that had been elevated to orthodoxy during the Reagan-Thatcher era and were now being emulated by liberal thinkers and policy-makers in China and the rest of the world (see economic thought).
In the cultural arena, an aggregate of questions emerging under the guise of ‘Western theory’ were also placed under rubric of the ‘New Left’, most prominently, ‘Western Marxism’ (Xima) and what was called ‘post-ism’ (Houxue). The former drew on the Frankfurt School, Wallerstein’s world-systems and S.Amin’s dependency theories, and especially the views of Anglophone cultural theorists best represented by Frederic Jameson; the latter transplanted poststructuralism, postmodernism and postcolonial cultural politics. With much divergence and some overlap, ‘Western Marxism’ and ‘post-ism’ stand largely as avant-garde academic discourses with a foreign flavour, yet bearing varying populist and nativist banners. In response to the changing global geopolitics of the post-Cold War era, a myriad of nationalist sentiments arose around the same time, from serious questioning of US hegemony and cultural imperialism to the ‘China-can-say-no‘hype. Extremist views of all kinds were attached to the ‘New Left’ for no substantive reasons other than the appearance of a shared oppositional rhetoric.
Of all ‘New Leftist’ intellectuals in the PRC, Wang Hui has been a central figure. His systematic rethinking of modernity in relation to contemporary issues of China has helped develop a more comprehensive and sophisticated leftist discourse. Dushu [Reading], co-edited by Wang Hui since 1996, and Tianya [Frontier], where Wang published his cornerstone essay, stand as the two major venues for ‘New Leftist’ voices, though both remain open to authors of differing viewpoints. Shijie [Horizons], a new theoretical journal co-edited by Li Tuo, has joined the cause. Once disassociated from state power, leftist ideas are poised to regain ideological legitimacy and historical relevance.
See also: literary periodicals; nationalism; Neo-Conservatism; postmodernism (houxiandai zhuyi) and ‘post-ism’ (houxue)
Chen, Jianhua (1998). ‘Local and Global in Narrative Contestation: Liberalism and the New Left in Late 1990s China’. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 9.1/2:113–29.
Hu, Angang (2004). ‘Equity and Efficiency’. In Wang Chaohua (ed.), One China, Many Paths. London: Verso, 219–33.
Xu, Jilin, Liu, Qing, Luo, Gang and Xue, Yi (2001). ‘In Search of a “Third Way”: A Conversation regarding “Liberalism” and the “New Left Wing”’. Trans. Geremie R.Barmé. In Gloria Davies (ed.), Voicing Concerns: Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 199–226.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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