‘Clean Up This Mess’: The Chinese Thinkers Behind Xi’s Hard Line

Chinese academics have been honing the Communist Party’s authoritarian response in Hong Kong, rejecting the liberal ideas of their youth.

The New York Times
Date: Aug. 2, 2020
By: Chris Buckley

A panel of scholars and experts discussed Hong Kong last year during a briefing in Beijing organized by the State Council Information Office. A generation of Chinese academics has turned against Western-inspired ideas.Credit…Wang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — When Tian Feilong first arrived in Hong Kong as demands for free elections were on the rise, he said he felt sympathetic toward a society that seemed to reflect the liberal political ideas he had studied as a graduate student in Beijing.

Then, as the calls escalated into protests across Hong Kong in 2014, he increasingly embraced Chinese warnings that freedom could go too far, threatening national unity. He became an ardent critic of the demonstrations, and six years later he is a staunch defender of the sweeping national security law that China has imposed on the former British colony.

Mr. Tian has joined a tide of Chinese scholars who have turned against Western-inspired ideas that once flowed in China’s universities, instead promoting the proudly authoritarian worldview ascendant under Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader. This cadre of Chinese intellectuals serve as champions, even official advisers, defending and honing the party’s hardening policies, including the rollout of the security law in Hong Kong.

“Back when I was weak, I had to totally play by your rules. Now I’m strong and have confidence, so why can’t I lay down my own rules and values and ideas?” Mr. Tian, 37, said in an interview, explaining the prevailing outlook in China. Witnessing the tumult as a visiting scholar in Hong Kong in 2014, Mr. Tian said, he “rethought the relationship between individual freedom and state authority.”

“Hong Kong is, after all, China’s Hong Kong,” he said. “It’s up to the Communist Party to clean up this mess.”

While China’s Communist Party has long nurtured legions of academics to defend its agenda, these authoritarian thinkers stand out for their unabashed, often flashily erudite advocacy of one-party rule and assertive sovereignty, and their turn against the liberal ideas that many of them once embraced.    [FULL  STORY]

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