Murong Xuecun: Chinese system is “designed to make people stupid, foster mutual hatred, and degrade their ability to think critically”

Murong Xuecun, the outspoken Beijing-based writer and anti-censorship champion, calls China an obscurantist system “designed to make people stupid, foster mutual hatred, and degrade their ability to think critically and understand the world” in his latest broadside, penned for Foreign Policy.

The article, “Let Them Eat Grass,” is ostensibly about China’s Great Famine revisionists — of which there are apparently plenty — but Murong merely peppers those folk with jabs and body shots –

Remarkably, the focus of contention is not the cause of the famine, but whether it actually occurred. Many believe a small number of ill-intentioned conspirators fabricated the famine. Some see it as short-lived, restricted to a small area, and think that it was absolutely impossible for tens of millions to have starved to death. One netizen, who went by the name Fact Checker, asked, “If so many people starved to death, where are the mass graves?” Wu Danhong, an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing and a prominent leftist, wrote on Sina Weibo: “I have verified that between 1959 and 1961 in my profoundly impoverished hometown there were instances of people consuming tree bark and some were so hungry they contemplated suicide. But they endured and no one died of starvation. The entire village suffered from diseases of hunger but none died. Perhaps some political rightist whose circumstances were bad to begin with starved to death.”

Professor Wu’s comments inspired many others, including the baffled (“My hometown is poor, so why haven’t I heard about people starving to death?”) and the caustic (“If so many people starved to death, why didn’t your mother?”). Someone who went by the name Li Weiling wrote: “I’ve seen a lot of articles written by people who were sent down to labor in rural villages in the 1960s which claim they had to survive on water and locusts and the result was edema. I really don’t understand why they didn’t plant vegetables and grains. They were sent down to the countryside to labor, weren’t they?” Li inspired another comment from someone who went by the name smallcat823: If there was no grain, why didn’t they eat wild herbs? I hear wild herbs are delicious.”

– before laying the big right hook:

Most people in China suffer from an inability-to-accept-facts syndrome. They only believe what they want to believe and can’t see facts that are painful or contradict their own views. A school curriculum that ignores all policy failures since 1949 exacerbates this syndrome.

“This syndrome is the source of many conflicts in contemporary China,” he writes. We’d be remiss to not mention that the syndrome is by no means exclusive to this country — I grew up in a state that tried to take evolution off the high school state curriculum twice — but institutionalized amnesia here appears worse if only because the stakes seem higher. The history is more recent, larger in scale, more traumatic, and simultaneously, the younger generation is more divergent, many of them with no interest in the burdens of the past, or what we might call “social memory.”

So as a society, how do we move on? Dredge up more materialistic mortar as stopgap until those who still remember are dead — and along with them, the forgettable past? These are the difficult questions that have always confronted China. They spend most of the time unseen, tugged with the undertow, but will, like an unpleasant reminder or its morbid physical commensurate, occasionally bob toward the surface, bloated and grotesque, waiting for someone brave enough to pull it ashore.

16 Responses to “Murong Xuecun: Chinese system is “designed to make people stupid, foster mutual hatred, and degrade their ability to think critically””

  1. P.

    Great post and it couldn’t have come at a better time. As Mainland China settles into a deep freeze, both in terms of the weather and the increasingly-frosty political climate, it’s nice to be reminded that there are homegrown intellectual heroes out there who continue to speak out in the wake of so much anti-intellectual fuckery.

    Speaking of right hooks: Nice closing paragraph!

    Reply
  2. The Good Doctor

    umm…i think this is a common phenomenon in most cultures. human nature is to accept the facts the support your own belief and conveniently ignore or rebut those that contradict your worldview. it’s called tribalism and it’s obviously very much a part of american culture. more extreme examples have people denying the holocaust, ignoring the nanjing massacre as if it never took place, celebrating thanksgiving without realizing it’s a holiday that celebrates genocide, etc.

    Reply
    • Anthony Tao

      The question is if you can build a healthy society without acknowledging those mistakes from the past — more specifically, without even letting other people acknowledge them.

      Reply
      • RhZ

        And even further, today speaking out about say something like the 1989 killings will get you harassed, and maybe arrested or even tortured. So, sure ‘every country does it’, but some countries are going the wrong f-ing direction.

        The poor sods who were killed or injured during the Tuskegee Experiments were the victims of government, but finally they or their families were compensated and I won’t get arrested for writing about them. That’s a big difference.

        China wants to bury these facts forever, and then continue to make awful decisions, and then bury those facts too. Some day, that’s got to end.

        Reply
  3. King Baeksu

    “If so many people starved to death, where are the mass graves?”

    Many of the dead were literally eaten, often by surviving family members.

    “Most people in China suffer from an inability-to-accept-facts syndrome.”

    This past semester, one of my Marxism graduate students literally claimed to the rest of the class that present-day China was a “classless society.”

    No one dared to openly contradict her.

    Reply
    • P.

      “If so many people starved to death, where are the mass graves?”

      Many of the dead were literally eaten, often by surviving family members.

      Yep. And if I remember my Frank Dikötter correctly, folks tended to die in drips and drabs—not in the huge genocide-sized numbers that would have necessitated mass graves.

      Reply
    • KopyKatRetard

      Well why the fuck didn’t you contradict her? You’re the teacher. You should be provoking discussion. You fail.

      Reply
      • D

        Probably because it would have been a colossal waste of class time.

        “Critical discussions” tend to go something like this. The class member with the best Party ties spouts the complete nonsense that is the official line, and then every other student will nod, smile and say he or she agrees when called on.

        The hive mind rules in the Chinese classroom.

        If you are truly, truly fortunate, you make have a student who will come talk to you about it one-on-one, days later and away from the prying eyes and ears of their classmates. Such students are one in sixty.

        Reply
  4. Thomas Chongruk

    Can’t access the original article. Signed up for an account, but wondering if the hiccup is just on my machine. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Wendy

    I truly wonder how long it will take China to release itself from the bubble of denial. It seems to stick with them even if they have left the country. I’ve encountered recent immigrants who still deny the events of 1989 as merely fabrication of the American media, the famine even though their neighbors here in the states are living proof of having endured starvation while living off tree bark.

    Reply
  6. Michael Robson

    Re: Chinese system is “designed to make people stupid, foster mutual hatred, and degrade their ability to think critically”
    ————————————————————————————————————-

    Over and over again, I’m reminded that what we see as ‘Modern Chinese Culture’ is really just ‘the only freakin’ solution we could come up with to ______ 1.5 billion people’ Look at the school system, the rote learning, look at the notion of 忍, look at the traffic, at the pollution, look at Chinese cuisine (every kind of root, weed; intenstines, dogmeat, etc). Being nice to each other is a luxury that China just cannot afford at the moment.

    I come from a rich, very small country, that has no clue what it would do if it had anything close to China’s population.China is very much a developing country, maybe in 50 years we can get around to this issue.

    Reply
  7. B

    “This syndrome is the source of many conflicts in contemporary China. Anyone who embarks on a discussion of Mao Zedong will be confronted by people who either believe Mao was the savior of mankind or a monster; mention of the Great Famine will arouse people who say it was an unprecedented catastrophe or others who insist that it is a cheap fabrication concocted by third-rate novelists.”

    Doesn’t this last paragraph somewhat dilute Murong’s point? If there is such a dichotomy of opinion, then someone somewhere must be doing some heavy duty critical thinking. This would be ironic since he also said….

    “Most people in China suffer from an inability-to-accept-facts syndrome. They only believe what they want to believe and can’t see facts that are painful or contradict their own views.”

    Reply
    • narsfweasels

      @B

      Not even slightly. See public intellectuals such as Sima Nan, that fella that punched the old guy or Xenophobic Yang Rui. There are people who are paid to express a countervailing opinion despite evidence and fact being against them.

      And I’d like to add my voice to the “trouble loading this site” crowd: it’s becoming a real nuisance.

      Reply
      • RhZ

        Ha yeah those Maoists are great aren’t they? Arrogant violent idiots who quickly remind everyone why Maoists suck. And Sima Na might even suck worse than the average Maoist.

        Unfortunately, there are people in the US paid to ignore evidence and facts as well…

        Reply

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