Professor strikes at party's heart and suffers
Professor Zhang Xuezhong is risking his teaching position at the East China University of Political Science and Law by not issuing a retraction to his article 'China needs to remove Marxism', published in Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao newspaper in 2009. He stands by his writing, saying he is not going to compromise his beliefs at the expense of his dignity and freedom of speech. But the school is not making his decision an easy one.
Why did you write such a sensitive article?
I am a law researcher, and I am also interested in reading books on politics and philosophy. Many years ago I started questioning Marxism, the orthodox theory of the Communist Party, and I think it is unreasonable in many ways. I regard the Marxist philosophy as dogmatic. But this theory is the official ideology held firmly by the mainland government, which requires all of its 1.3 billion people to study it and acknowledge it. The move has limited the people's spirit and religious freedom. The result of this autocratic education is dire.
What did you say in the article?
I attacked some holes in Marxism, including its self-proclaimed successful explanation of two basic things - what is the world and what is the relationship between matter and consciousness. I challenged the theory's advocation of banning all religions because they had always been adopted as a tool by tyranny. At the end of the article, I said China's past 30 years of economic development had actually been on a track to derail Marxism. I called for the downfall of its dominance in politics, culture and education.
Did you expect the aftermath?
No, I didn't. I thought the article was the rightful academic expression of a university teacher. Soon after it was published, leaders of my university told me it had drawn the attention of some ranking central government officials. The university, backed by authorities, asked me to write a letter saying my ideas were incorrect, or I might lose my job. But I didn't obey them. Last year, the university stopped most of my teaching assignments, and this past March didn't renew my contract. But they haven't fired me either, and I am still working there. I think they are waiting for me to surrender.
Before this article, you had other pro-democracy works in Lianhe Zaobao?
Yes, about 100 in total between 2005 and 2009. From September to December 2005, I was a visiting scholar at the National University of Singapore, and during that time I got to know an editor of the newspaper. He invited me to write a column for them. Some of my articles were noticed by Shanghai authorities, who pressured my university to postpone my promotion to associate professor in 2007. I am still not an associate professor, but it doesn't matter to me.
Is it feasible for the mainland to have a two-party or multiparty system?
China is a large country with a huge population, and this fact serves to further justify the need for the electoral system. Otherwise a minority of the people will dominate and abuse power, ignoring the interests of the majority of the public. Concerning the claim mainlanders are lacking in 'qualifications for democracy', I would say the education level of today's Chinese is higher than that of the Europeans and Americans hundreds of years ago. At that time, democratic societies were starting to form there, why can't we do it now? The instability and the divisions that we have now in society are because of one-party rule.
Which other articles of yours have antagonised the government?
In March 2009 I put an article on my blog titled 'The role of military in a country', which angered them and was deleted one day later. I said there were basically three roles that militaries play in countries across the globe, and on the mainland, the military is the de facto force of the Communist Party. I wrote: 'People can't help but doubt whether the soldiers who served in the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square in 1989 were really proud of themselves. The fact is, no one from the military has publicly taken credit for the crackdown. As an ordinary citizen, I would like to remind the military that the best place for soldiers to win honour is on the battlefield by defeating the armies of other countries, rather than in our own capital's city square.'
In May you sent a letter to Education Minister Yuan Guiren, calling for the end to compulsory classes and exams on Marxism for university students. Have you received a response?
Not yet, but I am sure that he has received the letter I couriered. On the mainland, every university student must take the Marxism course, and anyone sitting the graduate school entrance exam must first pass the test on Marxism, no matter what major he or she is applying to study. I know some university students and teachers have their own religion, and when they are forced to study and to acknowledge Marxism, they won't have inner peace ... With Marxism, all people are forbidden to challenge it. In my lengthy letter to the minister, I said this ridiculously forced instilling of Marxism on all Chinese has downgraded their dignity, imprisoned their minds and infringed upon their freedoms of speech, spirit and religion.