A Question from Donald Clarke

In this post, I answer a question I received from  Donald Clarke (George Washington University) on a translation of a Chinese article I published on the website of FLIA and the CPE research project on Social Credit in China. 

For the convenience of my two readers, I am posting Professor Clarke's question below.

Flora, you haven’t included a link to the paper that explains your view that official policy interpretations should prevail over any others. Not sure what you mean by “prevail.” If you mean, “should be considered more truthful as an account of the real reasons behind a policy,” I don’t see why we should automatically believe everything a government says. For example, Trump just announced a policy of barring transgender people from the military. His official explanation: it hurts military readiness. But an administration official revealed a more plausible reason: it will force the Democrats to oppose the policy in the next election, thus helping him with cultural conservatives. Why should we always believe the official explanation, no matter how dubious? We know that governments lie all the time.

Dear Don,

there is really no need to bother reading that 20-pages article, here's an explanation of what I meant in the introductory note to my translation

What do I mean when I use the word ‘prevail’? 

I may have used that word inappropriately, perhaps. Coming from a lower working class family, and from one of the poorest regions of Italy, I had to work my way through college by working as a seller of fireworks, librarian, bartender, shelf stacker, and secretary. I never had as much time to devote to study as some of my classmates did. So I chose to focus my energies on Chinese and China Studies, and to skip my English classes. As a result, my English is entirely self-taught, and because of this reason I might not be fully aware of the full universe of meanings the verb ‘prevail’ has.

I will try to explain what I mean by an example. But, I will have to talk about Cuba.

I know of many Italian academics, intellectuals,  and professionals, who somehow ended up believing the Chinese government always lies, so they never took Chinese policy and/or legal documents at face value. I have seen them miss innumerable opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth, and there are so many stories I could tell but...hey! The Damoclean sword of a potential defamation lawsuit hangs on my head…so let’s talk about Cuba instead. 

The Cuban government recently enacted a “Conceptualization of the Cuban socio-economic socialist development model” (Conceptualización del modelo económico y social Cubano de desarrollo socialista), [see here]. This document states the Cuban government’s intention to gradually move towards a form of market economy.

Based on the content of this document, and on commonsense (please see the picture above) I think that, when it states it intention to allow for a greater role of a form of market economy, the Cuban government makes a plausible statement. Therefore, if a Cuban commentator publishes an article on the official organ of the PCC, in which he says the Cuban government wants to promote economic growth, the words of that individual commentator are plausible too.

The “Conceptualization” means what the Cuban government says it means. Likewise, an individual commentator’s words mean what the commentator says they mean.

I might have my own individual opinion about the respective effectiveness of various mechanisms of economic coordination. However, I believe that my individual opinion should not color the way in which I explain the significance of those documents to my students and to my readers.

I hope this answers your question.


A Short Response to a Reader

Liu Shaoqi
This post provides a short and simple response to a question I received about my short essay "民法的一般原则、党组以及“一带一路”  (available here for those who may like to read it in Chinese, and here for those who may like to read it in English). The question was received on the "法律与国际事务学会" Wechat group, following the circulation of this short essay on Chinese-language internet groups and websites. 

I am publishing my short and simple reply here because the question may be of interest to persons other than the reader who asked it (and whom shall remain anonymous). Also, my essay was written for the sole purpose of academic research and communication therefore, there is no reason why I should provide my answer within the 'four walls' of a social media group.

Question: In your commentary, you wrote “in 1957, Liu Shaoqi suggested to use the words ‘militant bastions’ in article 19 of the Constitution of the CPC to refer to the function of primary organizations, rather than to their identity or legal nature” 

Do you have a source to explain why it is Liu Shaoqi that made the suggestion? Thanks for your time.

Answer: Thanks for your question! Unfortunately, I must admit that no, I don't have an answer to the question of whether I have a source to explain why Liu Shaoqi chose those specific words in order to describe the function of primary organizations of the Communist Party of China in 1957. 

Or, I should rather say, my answer to the question is in the negative: I do not have a source explaining why Liu Shaoqi decided to make that suggestion.

In my essay, I explained how Liu Shaoqi used an allegorical language to describe the function of primary organizations.  I also explained the reason why those words should not be interpreted in their literal sense. According to the article I cited, it is a proven fact that the suggestion to use the words 'militant bastions' was made by Liu Shaoqi. 

The question of why Liu Shaoqi chose those specific words rather than any other words, or why Liu Shaoqi, rather than any other official of the Communist Party of China made that suggestion is extremely interesting. But, finding an answer to this question can take some time. 

I don't have the relevant primary sources handy but, a possible way to answer this question may involve:

1. Compiling a list of the names of all the high ranking officials who, in 1957, gave their input to the amendment of the Constitution of the CPC.
2. Locate the biographies, public speeches, and perhaps most importantly the 年谱 (for English speakers: their diaries), private letters, as well as other archival materials if accessible, for each one of these historical figures.
3. Acquire, if available in bookstores, libraries, or archives, the memoirs of their relatives, their secretaries and, generally speaking, persons who were close to them. 
4. Reading these materials character after character,  with the goal to find out any information that may relate to the point of why Liu Shaoqi chose the words 'militant bastions'.

This is not the only possible way to answer the question. There are other ways - the only limit being the competence, acumen and creativity of individual scholars. 

I might offer my hypothesis, but an hypothesis is not a factHere's what I personally thought as I was writing the commentary. 

As many of those who, in the first half of the 20th Century, were concerned about the future of China, Liu Shaoqi chose to take the road of revolution. He joined the Long March and - among others - in the early 1940s, he was a political commissar of the New Fourth Army. Even though his work took place in 'white areas' he had a direct experience of life in the army. 

Perhaps, he chose the words 'militant bastions' to remind future generations of the contribution of those who lost their lives in the 1930s and 1940s, to allow us all to live in peace.