When intellectuals are unable to publish what they really think, a small number will explore their ideas in works that cannot be published -- so-called "for the drawer." But most will find that if they cannot write, they cannot fully think. When publishing is blocked, writing is hampered, and thinking is crippled. Without independent publishing, a civilization stagnates. Today only Bouden House makes possible the development of new thought for mainland China. Bouden House publishes the authors who explore the true challenges that China is facing today. It is a painful, effortful process, and the fact that we do not know where it will lead is precisely why it is so important.
The books published this year by Xu Zhangrun and Rong Jian are distinguished examples of such hard thinking and eloquent writing. Professor Xu Zhangrun is a great scholar, an elegant stylist, and a courageously independent critic not only of dictatorship but of the social norms that support it. His six essays provide a penetrating analysis of the decay that one-man dictatorship imposes on a sophisticated and humane civilization. Public servants become servile bureaucrats, citizens become resentful slaves, and caring colleagues isolate themselves from each other in fear.
Rong Jian's deeply learned refutation of Wang Hui's new leftism makes invigorating reading. Rong attacks those who, in what he calls a "Heidegger Moment," take leave of their intellectual independence to sing the praises of the dictator. Rong stands up for the common sense of liberal values like rationality, cooperation, and fairness, against the obscure mythology of leaderism. He exposes the mystical language of those who use vague, romantic language to call for coercion and repression.
It is especially welcome that Bouden House has also produced an English language translation of Rong Jian's book. There is too little communication between the two vigorous linguistic worlds that share a common interest in a great subject, China.
Both of these books cannot be published in China, as is the case with the other books and articles that Bouden House has published. But there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese outside of China who can read these books, and I hope some of them will bring the books home. In the more distant future, when intellectual freedom returns to China, the library of works that Bouden House is creating will serve as the Chinese people's intellectual capital, as they consider where they stand in the long historical process of China's development.
Andrew J. NathanJanuary 2023
On 6 January 2023, Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 was awarded a book prize in absentia. The presentation was organised by Rong Wei 榮偉, founding editor of Bouden House 博登書屋, an independent Chinese publisher in New York. The prize recognised both the intellectual impact as well as the publishing success of a series of essays that Professor Xu had published amidst considerable controversy, and at great personal cost, in 2018-2019, a 戊戌年 wùxū nián, or Wuxu Year, according to the traditional Chinese calendar.
[Note: See Six Chapters — One Hundred and Twenty Years, China Heritage, 1 January 2020.]
The 2018-2019 Wuxu Year marked the 120th anniversary of the ‘Wuxu Reforms’ 戊戌變法. Also know as the Hundred Day Reforms of 1898 百日維新, these were a series of ambitious political changes supported by the Guangxu Emperor of the Qing dynasty formulated by predominantly young literati that were aimed at speeding up the modern transformation of the Chinese empire. A palace coup saw the emperor detained and a number of his young advisers arrested and executed — the martyrs are celebrated as the Six Gentlemen of Wuxu 戊戌六君子. The reforms were abandoned and a volatile era of brittle autocratic rule finally ended with dynastic collapse and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912.
In six lengthy essays published in the Wuxu Year of 2018-2019, Xu Zhangrun addressed themes highlighted by the reforms of 1898 and the resonances of their failure in contemporary China. Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes, a lament for the end of the post-Mao Reform Era, is the most famous of these works as not only was it a daring critique of Xi Jinping’s rule it also outlined a series of policy prescriptions aimed at salvaging the situation. In five follow-up works, Xu Zhangrun analysed the historical context of China’s continued struggle with modernity, the state of the dominant party-state and the mixed prospects for its future. Along with practical policy advice, the cycle of essays warned of the dire consequences of China isolating itself from the Western-led international community and the threat posed by Beijing’s imperial global ambitions. Xu titled his collection 戊戌六章 Wùxū Lìu Zhāng — Six Chapters from the Wuxu Year, which was a pointed reference to the failed Hundred Days Reforms of 1898 and the calamitous fate of the Qing dynasty.
Six Chapters was originally contracted to a university press in Hong Kong. In the repressive atmosphere that followed the quelling of the Hong Kong Uprising of 2019, however, the publishers were forced to withdraw from the project. As a result of the good offices and speedy work of Rong Wei, the book was published in June 2020 under the auspices of Bouden House in New York.
Unemployed and stripped both of professional and social status, Xu Zhangrun lives bound to Beijing and under constant surveillance. He sent a message of thanks to Rong Wei via a circuitous route that was read out at the award ceremony on 6 January. A translation of his remarks along with the original text are published below. We also include a précis of the award citation composed by Rong Wei and an encomium by the noted political scientist Andrew J. Nathan, who is an adviser to Bouden House, in which he celebrates Xu Zhangrun as well as Rong Jian 榮劍, a Beijing-based writer recognised at the award ceremony for his book Summoning the Spirits of Revolution: a critique of Wang Hui 為革命招魂——評汪暉的中國革命史觀 (New York: Bouden House, 2022).
With Professor Xu’s permission, we are also publishing a series of impromptu poems that he composed in January 2023, as the coronavirus ravaged his hometown in Lujiang county, Anhui province.
We conclude this chapter in the Xu Zhangrun Archive with video recordings of two lectures and a letter:
The first is a masterclass on civil society and the law delivered in 2011; and,The second, recorded in 2014, takes as its theme autocracy and the virtues of constitutional governance.These are followed by a link to A Farewell Letter to My Students.
— Geremie R. BarméEditor, China Heritage14 January 2023