Sebastian Veg on the rise of grassroots intellectuals

On November 7, Sebastian Veg will come to Freiburg to give a lecture with the title “Speaking with the Silent Majority: the Rise of Grassroots Intellectuals.” An abstract:

Whereas, throughout the 20th century, intellectuals in China defined themselves through a posture of responsibility for the affairs of the nation and the state (“taking the world under the heavens as one’s responsibility”), in the last twenty years, positions have become more diverse and more complex. Beginning in the 1990s, intellectuals were no longer exclusively affiliated with state work units, and their income sources became more diverse. Many began to question the “grand narratives” of modernization and democracy, which had cemented the elite consensus over “reform” in the 1980s. Criticizing intellectuals’ traditional elitist bias, they shifted their interests to concrete problems, often associated with people situated not at the center but at the margins of society, famously described by Wang Xiaobo as the “silent majority” or “weak groups” (ruoshi qunti). Some of them began to work for NGOs, or study sensitive topics, or produce documentary films. As the public sphere broadened to include the internet and social media, new forms of interventions appeared, along with alternative spaces. This presentation will attempt to assess the changes that have taken place and to connect them with several theoretical questions related to definitions of the intellectual and of the public sphere

Time: November 7, 18:15.

Place: Erbprinzenstraße 12.


“New Trends in the Study of the Early People’s Republic of China” International Workshop

This week the Maoist Legacy Project will be co-hosting an international workshop on New Trends in the Study of the Early People’s Republic of China. Workshop participants will present on and discuss a range of topics spanning the Mao years and their immediate aftermath. Members of the MLP team will present on research findings and the project database, as well as lead a discussion on the digital humanities and PRC history.

Judith Bout on China’s lawyers

The Maoist Legacy Project has invited Judith Bout (EHESS) to Freiburg to give a talk on the recent history and current situation of lawyers in China. 

Judith Bout is an analyst of the debates in the French Senate. She is currently working on a PhD dissertation at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, under the supervision of Yves Chevrier and Isabelle Thireau, on the history of lawyers in the People’s Republic of China. In 2013, she published a biography of Zhang Sizhi: Les confessions de maître Zhang (Paris: François Bourin, 2013) 

The talk will be held on Thursday, 27 April, 18:00, Erbprinzenstraße 12 (4 OG). The language of the presentation will be French.

Should we take the brutal repression of China’s politically engaged lawyers under Xi Jinping as a sign, among others, that China is getting ready to take a great leap back to the Cultural Revolution? Many are those, both foreign observers and Chinese intellectuals, who worry about such a prospect. Indeed, the profession has never before suffered attacks comparable to those we see today.

However, Judith Bout argues that, while this repression constitutes a change of direction, it does not signal a return to the legal nihilism that was prevalent during the Cultural Revolution. On the contrary, as it is carried out in the name of preserving the “socialist Rechtsstaat”; the violence of the attacks against the lawyers underlines that the question of law, which was of secondary importance in the early period of reform and opening up, has now become a central concern to the Chinese Communist Party, to the point that it has been integrated in the party doctrine.

In her talk, Judith Bout will trace this evolution through three major stages: first, the use of law as a tool and the reestablishment of the lawyer profession (from 1979 to 1998); second, law as method and the transformation of the lawyer into a spokesperson (1999 to 2012); finally, law as value and the party’s renewed preoccupation with the lawyers (2012 to today). 

To illustrate her presentation, she will draw upon a unique set of materials: testimonies and private archives recovered over more than ten years from circle of lawyers around the godfather of the profession – Zhang Sizhi (1927–).

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La brutale répression des avocats chinois engagée sous Xi Jinping constitue-t-elle un signe, parmi d’autres, que la Chine s’apprête à accomplir un grand bond en arrière pour revenir à la Révolution culturelle? Ils sont nombreux, commentateurs étrangers comme intellectuels chinois, à le redouter. De fait, jamais cette profession n’avait fait jusqu’ici l’objet de telles attaques.

Pour autant, Judith Bout avance que si cette répression constitue un tournant, elle n’annonce pas un retour au nihilisme juridique qui prévalait sous la Révolution culturelle. Bien au contraire, elle soutient que, menée au nom de la préservation de “l’Etat de droit socialiste”, la violence des attaques contre les avocats souligne que le droit, question mineure au début de la politique de réforme et d’ouverture, est devenu un enjeu politique majeur pour le Parti au point qu’il l’a intégré à sa doctrine.

Judith Bout retracera cette évolution en trois grandes étapes: d’abord, le droit comme outil et la refondation de la profession d’avocat (de 1979 à 1998) ; ensuite, le droit comme méthode et la transformation de l’avocat en porte-parole (de 1999 à 2012) ; enfin, le droit comme valeur et la reprise en main des avocats (de 2012 à aujourd’hui).

Sa présentation sera illustrée par des extraits tirés d’un matériau unique : les témoignages et les archives personnelles recueillis depuis une dizaine d’années auprès d’un cercle d’avocats dont Zhang Sizhi, né en 1927, figure tutélaire de la profession, constitue le noyau.

Association for Asian Studies Roundtable on PRC Grassroots Documents and History Methods, Toronto

The Maoist Legacy project team will travel to the Association for Asian Studies annual conference held in Toronto this week, where Daniel Leese will participate in a roundtable discussion on Grassroots Documents and PRC History Methods alongside several other prominent scholars. The roundtable will address “the challenges and benefits of gathering grassroots documents” and include open discussion on the topic from both panelists and the audience. Leese will discuss the Maoist Legacy’s collection, various obstacles in using grassroots sources, and the possibilities that a digital platform can offer to address these problems.