Interesting, given this: “…Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accused the Nobel committee of ‘orchestrating an anti-China farce,’ and called supporters of the Peace Prize ‘a few clowns'” (from: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2035587,00.html#ixzz17XimKE7W ).
If you can’t beat the circus, put on your own, I suppose.
On a tangential note, Confucius is very effectively being used as a brand by the current government in Beijing, as the naming of this award illustrates. That’s a bit worrisome, isn’t it, for people who work on and promote aspects of Confucius and Confucianism? They’re in some danger — how much, I don’t know — of being regarded as shills, perhaps in the near future.
Hi Manyul! It seems to me Beijing’s emphasis on Confucius could be a great boon to scholars working on Confucius, at least in the West: giving their work a vivid current importance that brings more readers, more lively debate, and more jobs.
Or is the importance an illusion? I’d like to know how Beijing’s effort at Confucian branding works in practice. To what extent is Beijing addressing intellectuals (at home and abroad), and to what extent is it simply bypassing them? That is to say, does Beijing’s strategy rely in any way on scholarly opinion?
I have a feeling that you’re both right. The more that elements of the Chinese party-state, and/or society, put emphasis on the Confucius “brand” (to say nothing of engaging more deeply with the tradition), the more attention there will be to Confucianism outside of China, in the way Bill’s first paragraph suggests. At the same time, There will be a widespread (and understandable) attitude, both inside China and without, that it is a mere brand, an empty symbol, and that scholars like us are shills for the regime. (In response to Bill’s second paragraph, I don’t think this attitude is *entirely* correct; scholars and intellectuals are attended to, to some degree, by the leaders in Beijing.) Taking all this together, I think the takeaway message is “no publicity is bad publicity.” We may have to work to show that we are independent, critical, and that Confucianism (etc.) is valuable in its own right, but at least more people will be listening.
Update: As expected…
“BEIJING (Reuters) – It was meant to be China’s answer to the Nobel Peace Prize, a timely riposte to the honoring of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo. But the winner of the first “Confucius Peace Prize” didn’t even bother to show up…”
There is the question how one should act on one’s own suspicion that someone might be acting as a shill for Zhongnanhai. I myself have no such suspicions about any academic writing I have encountered in recent years, even Yu Dan if she counts as academic.
(Steve, I bought a book in HK a few years ago by several scholars, titled something like “Yu Dan Is Wrong!” I haven’t read it, but my guess would be that it is perfectly cogent and that it hasn’t much interfered with her success, no matter whether or not she has some concern with the opinions of academics. That’s the sort of “illusion of importance” I was worried about above.)
All kinds of irrationality feed into academic writing, especially on philosophy, religion, and politics. I don’t much worry about who might be a shill: it seems to me that readers and academic editors should focus simply on the quality of the work (from the most elementary mechanical basics, which I am tempted to itemize, to subtler matters of excellence). In evaluating or refereeing, we can sometimes be wholly distracted from these things. As writers we know that we have powerful tools for distracting even academic readers. Writing that aims mainly at intimidation and evasion can succeed in those aims, even brilliantly. Success by such work may be expected to have a chilling effect on the work of young scholars. Or a corrupting effect: for young scholars increasingly have a more immediate and compelling motivation for deliberately distracting readers than political advantage: they have material insecurity.
I say “academic” editors should focus simply on quality, because I think non-academic publications can sometimes legitimately have political aims. But my claim was too stark: of course there are other legitimate concerns for academic editors. For example, as we have sometimes discussed in this forum, a legitimate aim is the development of lines of communication between very different groups interested in similar questions. This sort of aim can justify preferences of topic, and it certainly justifies a special concern that writing-style be humble, plain, and clear, even at the expense of other virtues. I’m pretty happy about how that concern has been carried into practice by our journals.
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