Perspective on Ge Jianxiong’s phenomenon from Li Ping’s cautionary tale

Li Ping, the editorial writer of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, was detained by police on June 23 on suspicion of “conspiracy and collusion with foreign countries or forces outside the country to endanger national security. Before he was detained by the police, he published his last editorial, “Don’t wet your bed at dawn”.

This deafening editorial was a cautionary tale for Chinese intellectuals! Li Ping wrote: “Both the Cultural Revolution in China and the Nazi period in Germany were dark times in the history of human civilization. However, there is a time when the darkness will pass and mankind will eventually return to civilization. Therefore, whether intellectuals, media workers, political figures or tycoons are in those times, they should be tortured by their wisdom and conscience, and should not pee in bed when it is almost dawn, making a mockery of history.”

Li Ping advised Chinese intellectuals and people of integrity not to spend most of their lives speaking from their conscience, only to surrender on their knees when the evil system is about to collapse, sell out their conscience, and become the drummer of power. The Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan, who spent most of his life sticking to his conscience, joined the Gang of Four writing group at the end of the Cultural Revolution and wrote letters of allegiance to Jiang Qing, and within a few days the Gang of Four fell, and his wife was so angry that she scolded him: It was almost dawn, but he peed in bed. This unpleasant incident in the academic world now seems to be repeating itself with intellectuals such as Ge Jianxiong, a professor at Fudan University.

In a lecture entitled “How should we treat history” held at Xi’an Jiaotong University on January 4 this year, Ge expressed some of his ideas, such as “opposing historical nihilism and ensuring the political legitimacy of the CPC”, “history has chosen the CPC, the people have chosen the CPC “and “any country, party or group speaks of history to strengthen its political legitimacy”. Ge Jianxiong would not be unaware that he is flattering Xi Jinping with these statements. Xi Jinping has been criticizing historical nihilism almost from his first day in office, arguing that the crux of historical nihilism is the fundamental denial of Marxism, socialism and the leadership of the CPC, which was chosen by history and by the people. Isn’t Ge Jianxiong’s claim that he is blowing the trumpet for Xi Jinping to carry the sedan chair?

However, Ge Jianxiong was not like this in the past. He has been known in mainland China as an outspoken speaker. People who know him well say that he once stood up for his colleagues who were being purged after the June 4 Incident and ran to their rescue; he is known as “Ge Da Cannon” or “Thought Bomb” for his courage to speak out publicly on social issues and point out social ills. In his book “Unification and Division” published in 2009, he bluntly stated that “in the history of China, division has lasted longer than unification”, “division is not necessarily bad, unification is not necessarily good” and “the so-called The claim that ‘a certain place has been an inseparable part of China’s territory since ancient times’ is simply untenable”. These three historical truths, in the words of Ge Jianxiong today, are typical historical nihilism that must be criticized!

So, what happened to make Ge Jianxiong oppose “yesterday’s me” with “today’s me” and produce a 180-degree change of heart? A careful search of online reactions to Ge’s change reveals several explanations: 1) political speculation, the degradation of a once warm-blooded figure into a regime cynic to meet the political environment of the Xi Jinping era; 2) self-protection in an increasingly harsh academic environment to protect his family, children and students; 3) a gesture of embracing the CCP’s authoritarian regime, believing that this is “historical inevitability.”

My view is that all three of the above explanations have merit, while the third one is the mostmake sense. ge Jianxiong, a historian, may have misjudged the historical situation, not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and even seeing the darkness as an inevitability. Just imagine, when Feng Youlan wet his bed at dawn, he obviously did not think that it was really almost dawn. On the other hand, the temptation of darkness was too great. Those academics who were strictly controlled by the CCP and who followed the current regime closely, such as Zhang Weiwei, Chen Ping and Shen Yi of Fudan, all ate and drank well, while those who criticized the current regime, such as Xu Zhangrun, Zhang Qianfan and Cai Xia, were either expelled from the university or wandered into the world. Can these have no pressure on Ge Jianxiong?

Finally, let’s make a small conclusion. The so-called Ge Jianxiong phenomenon refers to those who “wet their beds at dawn” like Ge Jianxiong, not only Feng Youlan who pandered to the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution, but also the Jewish intellectuals who embraced the Nazis during World War II. They had a common mistake: they thought the night was long and that it was a historical necessity. Li Ping’s cautionary motto is to warn people: do not misjudge the general trend of history; the night may be long, but a long night never represents the inevitability of history; the night will always pass.