China law professor blasts 'hired guns of western power' in commencement speech

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 5:26pm

Weeks after US Vice-President Joe Biden referred to China as the nation that cannot “think different” in a commencement speech, a law professor at Peking University urged his students to think very differently when mapping out their lives and careers.

Professor Jiang Shigong, in an emotionally charged address (in Chinese), warned students to shun the popular path pursued by former law graduates: to study at US law schools and climb the corporate ladder in Western firms. Instead, Jiang encouraged them to think beyond the paycheck and work towards establishing a new world order -- one with a staunch nationalistic tone. 

The old, "Hobbesian" world order is dying, but China’s law professionals have largely failed to live up to their mission at this historic moment, Jiang argued. He blamed this on an illusion held by many that “rule-of-law, constitutionalism and democracy can be achieved only in a world created by the US”.

“Would you like to become hired guns of Western capital and defend the old empire created by the US?” Jiang asked. “Or work with people of our homeland to revitalise the Chinese nation and establish a brand new world?”

“Should we destroy our history and traditions to make way for Western constitutionalism?” Jiang added, further attacking Western influence. “And do we want a fake democracy that relies on Western capital and powers? ”

The harshly worded speech also touched on a recent hot topic in China: universal values.

“Universal values are only meaningful when they are passed down as cultural heritage and become part of a nation’s civilisation,” he said. “Otherwise it's an empty word.”

Chinese universities have recently been ordered to steer clear of seven topics in their teaching, including universal values, press freedom and civil rights, a signal that ideological control under the new Communist Party leaders might be further tightening. 

Jiang cemented his speech with an enthusiastic pledge.

“Love our country and our people, believe in and protect our history and civilisation - that’s the duty of legal scholars.”

Jiang’s speech went viral on Weibo, where it was met with mixed reaction on Wednesday. While some laud his nationalistic views, others criticised his “cold-war mentality”.

“Law is about reconciliation and order, not struggles and fights,” one microblogger said, referring to Jiang’s comment that we live in a world of constant struggles and fights between individuals and countries.

He Weifang, outspoken liberal law professor at Peking University, meted out scathing criticism towards his colleague on Wednesday. 

"The primary task of China's law professionals is to limit the powers currently not supervised by law," he wrote on Weibo. "And it's ridiculous to equate judicial indepence with 'a powerful judicial system in a weak country' [as Jiang claimed]."

He added: “You asked us to give up personal interests for the greater good of our country, and to sacrifice our personal character for a noble common cause. You asked us to associate knowledge and theories with the glories of the nation in order to produce all kinds of sciences of the Chinese nation - this is Nazism!"

In a phone interview with the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, Jiang, whose name is sometimes spelled "Qiang" in English, declined to comment on his speech. He added that he does not use Weibo and is not aware of online reactions. When asked about feedback from students, he said: “I am very busy and I rarely work with students.”