Monday, July 2, 2012

He Weifang: Legal Reform, Resolve, and Lawyers (Part II of III)

Professor He Weifang. Photo credit:
China Business View
There is perhaps no better example of a public intellectual in China than He Weifang (贺卫方), professor of law at Peking University Law School and avid promoter of legal reform and judicial independence. In part two of a three-part translation of an interview He gave Xi’an newspaper China Business View, he discusses the need for resolve in the pursuit of legal reform. Click here to read part one of the translation on legal reform and judicial professionalization.

Reform Itself Changes National Circumstances [Excerpt]
China Business View, May 19, 2012
Interview with He Weifang

Steely Resolve Needed to Push Forward Reforms

CBV: There are many differences of opinion within academia about legal reform. Some scholars hope to find a safer path.

He: I always feel that sometimes you need to have a kind of steely resolve in order to push forward reforms. That is to say, when you push for reform in the correct direction, sometimes things might actually get worse for a while, rather than reform fixing everything all at once. So, you need to have a certain degree of patience with respect to reform. But these days there are many people without enough patience, people who think that they need to compromise and consider the degree to which [reform ideas] are acceptable to powerful departments and whether they have a way of backing down [from proposals]. I think that academics should remain loyal to truth and express their research outcomes in full; only then can official decision-making avoid being particularly confused with respect to logic and pace. Otherwise, reform cannot be successful. Of course, I personally believe that there should be a division of labor among scholars. I’m often criticized for being too idealistic and too much of a purist. Some say I should make some compromises and concessions and that one can only map out the path of reform in accordance with national circumstances. But I think that reform is about changing the national circumstances. Sometimes I think I have to express myself; if I can’t express myself, I’d rather not say anything at all.

CBV: In today’s discourse, on a certain level the opposite of reform has become a return to the “Cultural Revolution.” But it seems that contemporary intellectuals are also clearly divided and opposed on this question.

He: I can never understand why some intellectuals who themselves experienced the great calamity of the “Cultural Revolution” would say that we have to “see both good and bad” in the “Cultural Revolution.” And these people are very influential among university students. I think that perhaps you can find some kind of explanation if you analyze their psychology. For example, some of those who still sing the praises of the “Cultural Revolution” might be detached, like some overseas scholars. Or take Li Ao, who is very critical of the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek because of the suffering he experienced but who has no painful experience of the “Cultural Revolution.” Perhaps there’s a difference between those who have personally experienced suffering and those who have not. It is even more impressive when a person who has not personally experienced suffering can understand that suffering and produce a good theoretical analysis of it. We say that the tragedy of the “Cultural Revolution” could reappear because we have never allowed younger citizens to see the truth about the “Cultural Revolution.” The Cultural Revolution museum that Ba Jin called for has still never been built. I feel we ought to reflect honestly on history and use tangible objects to tell each generation of citizens that our nation once experienced a decade of insanity. For example, Germans place extraordinary emphasis on reflecting on the Nazis. In the prime area next to the Brandenburg Gate there is there is actually a large spot devoted to a memorial for the Jews. People say now that “praising the Cultural Revolution” is free expression, but this is something that perplexes me a bit. It’s like the way that praise for the Nazis does not fall under the scope of free expression in Germany.

CBV: Intellectuals are a knowledge repository for society and continued speech is beneficial toward leading society in the correct direction. Can today’s intellectuals ever develop a group voice?

He: People who study the humanities and social sciences rarely ever join together, and it’s the characteristics of their profession that make them unwilling to join together. This is related to the special characteristics of the profession of intellectuals and scholars. Of course, intellectuals may to some degree discover the existence of certain [common] interests or enemies. For example, during the height of McCarthyism, American intellectuals sensed that this was a great threat to society and they joined together at the time to oppose it so that the height of McCarthyism did not last long. At the same time, this kind of opposition led intellectuals to feel that they were a unit or a group, but in reality it is difficult for intellectuals to exist as a “group.” It’s best when they debate each other, when there is free expression, and when everyone is trying to influence society and society makes certain choices.

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