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Between Past and Future

Sorin Antohi

IV. The New Europe: Prospects for Cooperation and Conflict

19. Chinese Bridges to Postsocialist Europe

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

Texte intégral

  • 1 Kenneth Jowitt, New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction (Berkeley: University of California Pr (...)

1Ten years ago it was still commonplace to think of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as comparable and even connected places. There was no need then for someone like me, who specializes in Chinese studies, to begin a chapter in a book such as this, which focuses on nations that were once part of the former Soviet empire, with an explanation or defense of my essay’s inclusion in the volume. Now, as we begin the second decade of the age of the “new world order” or, as it has much more aptly been dubbed, the age of the “new world disorder”, the situation is very different1. It is useful and maybe even necessary for me to start by justifying my efforts here to bring together the experiences of the PRC and those of European countries that once either clearly belonged to the Soviet empire (such as East Germany) or stood at its fringes (such as Yugoslavia).

  • 2 Some books published in the 1990s that either pay equal attention to each of these parts of the wo (...)

2This effort will center on the value of focusing on shared characteristics of the postsocialist social and economic transitions that China, like the other countries analyzed in this volume, is undergoing, as opposed to emphasizing only the fact that the PRC is still a Leninist state. Before making this case, however, it is important to do something else: retrace the steps by which comparing China with countries such as Romania and Poland first came to seem such a natural practice and then rather abruptly became an issue that needed to be defended. We need to do this to understand why attempts to combine analysis of these two parts of the world, though still sometimes undertaken, has become much more rare in the 1990s than before2.

A Bridge is Made, 1949-1989

3Once upon a time, and actually not so long ago, it was routine for social scientists to pair discussion of the PRC with discussion of part—or all— of the Soviet empire. Sociologists concerned with the nature of labor-management relations in Marxist-Leninist states did it. So did economists working on topics such as the role of state-run industries in planned economies and anthropologists doing research on communist family policies. Most commonly of all, perhaps, political scientists concerned with the workings of one-party bureaucracies or the varied forms taken by Marxist doctrines did it. This seemed normal scientific practice in an academic world where there were journals with names such as Problems of Communism and in which the cold war functioned to provide a clear-cut basis by which to divide the world.

4China was, of course, often treated as a “special case” within this division of states. Initially this was due to Chairman Mao’s break with Moscow as well as to the moves toward normalizing Sino-American relations made by U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter and their Chinese counterparts. Later, China’s status as an exceptional sort of Leninist country was also linked to Deng Xiaoping’s decision to embrace market reforms and privatization. Nonetheless, the fact that the PRC was governed by a communist party that had little tolerance for dissent was seen by many western conservative and liberal academics as reason enough to place it on the red (or dark) side of the “communist/free world” divide. For radical scholars, less tied to or even critical of this kind of cold war polemical language, China still seemed worth putting in the same category as other one-party states that followed five-year plans.

  • 3 Personal communication, István Rev to Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, 28 April 1999.
  • 4 Yue Daiyun and Carolyn Wakeman, To the Storm: The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman (Berkel (...)

5Moreover, it is worth remembering that many people living in China and in Central or Eastern Europe before 1990 saw themselves as enmeshed in comparable cultural worlds. Some even thought of themselves as sharing connected fates. István Rév summed up this sense of relatedness. Up through the 1980s, he noted, many Hungarians thought of themselves as almost sharing a “common border” with not only China but Cuba as well—a nice trick of the imagination, he commented, for citizens of a landlocked country3. And this feeling of connection was by no means one-sided, as the memoirs of Chinese intellectuals such as Yue Daiyun clearly show. Her wonderful book, To the Storm, makes it clear that events taking place and texts produced in places such as Hungary and Yugoslavia between the 1950s and the 1970s often had an impact on how she and those around her understood and acted in their Chinese political world4.

  • 5 For the role of this visual grammar in China, see Harriet Evans and Stephanie Donald, eds., Pictur (...)
  • 6 Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, “China Under Siege: Escaping the Dangers of 1968”, in 1968: The World Trans (...)

6There are many other specific kinds of interconnectedness that could be mentioned. There were, for example, the linked visual commentaries provided by the monuments and political posters suffused with Soviet realism and other styles that from the 1950s to the 1980s were produced in China and in various parts of Central and Eastern Europe5. In addition, there were decisions made by communist party leaders in one part of the state socialist world that were inspired by actions taken by their counterparts in another section of it. For instance, as Nancy Tucker stresses in a recent essay on the PRC in 1968, Chairman Mao’s decision to curtail the most radical phase of the cultural revolution needs to be understood, in part, as a reaction to the Prague Spring6.

A Wall Tumbles and a Bridge Falls Down

  • 7 For details on the Chinese case, see various contributors to Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Elizabeth (...)

7The unexpected upheavals ten years ago brought forth first a dramatic flourishing and then a shattering of the assumption that the PRC and parts of Central and Eastern Europe were closely tied. They also triggered a turn away from Sino-European comparisons by many—though by no means all—academics. For a time during that epochal year, it seemed that the PRC and parts of the Soviet empire might change in perfect synch. At almost the same moment that round table talks were transforming Polish politics, for example, Chinese demonstrators at Tiananmen Square and in the central plazas of other cities were making demands for direct “dialogue” with officials. The first half of 1989 also saw protesters in both Czechoslovakia and the PRC testing the limits of the regimes’ openness by holding, or trying to hold, mourning ceremonies for martyrs. In each instance, dissidents claimed that all they wanted to do was celebrate the memory of a hero who had died too young. The hero in question was the Prague Spring martyr Jan Palach in the one case and the reformist communist party leader Hu Yaobang, who had been demoted in 1987 for being too lenient toward student protesters and then suffered an unexpected heart attack in April 1989, in the other. In each case, dissidents tried to combine these commemorative activities with calls for those in power to live up to the ideals represented by the fallen heroes7. Finally, in the second half of the year, after the 4 June massacre and related acts of brutality put an end to the protest movement in the PRC, it seemed to many people that countries in the Soviet bloc were picking up where the Chinese insurgents had left off.

8It is still hard to assess just how strong the links really were between the struggles for change in 1989 that occurred in places as far apart from one another as Wuhan from Warsaw, Beijing from Bucharest. Though there were broadly cosmopolitan and internationalist dimensions to what many protesters did and said that year, a wild eclecticism of the symbols and strategies and slogans they turned to, there was also often a self-contained sense to what was going on. It is likely that, at least in many instances, national—or at most regional—influences remained most important, and that attention to what was happening or had happened recently on other continents was of secondary significance in shaping the choices protesters made. Certainly, there is no evidence that Chinese protesters calling for dialogue viewed the Polish round table as a direct influence. Nor did all those who gathered to honor Jan Palach know much about Hu Yaobang, or vice versa. Still, it did seem for a time that all the various yet specific protests were part of the same macroevent, and this alone makes it worth taking seriously the interconnections of various 1989s.

9To put this another way, though the influence of European developments on China can be overstated, it certainly meant something when students in Beijing lamented that “Heaven gave Russia a Gorbachev but only gave us a Deng Xiaoping”. It also meant something when they wondered if a Chinese “Walęsa” might emerge from the ranks of the angry workers who joined students on the streets in ever increasing numbers. Meanwhile, though there are people in East European countries who in 1989 were ready to insist that interest in the Chinese protests was much less acute for them than interest in struggles in neighboring lands, there are also those who swear that the Chinese example was very inspirational. Each statement is doubtless true to varying degrees for varying individuals; I have heard both and seen no reason to doubt the speaker’s sincerity in either case.

  • 8 Daniel Chirot, “What Happened in Eastern Europe in 1989?”, in Wasserstrom and Perry, Popular Prote (...)

10Perhaps all that can be said definitively is that it certainly meant something to many European protesters that autumn that Chinese demonstrators had done what they did that spring—and had done it on television. The sense of shared borders alluded to above, moreover, made at least one kind of connection very direct. A distaste for what Daniel Chi-rot has referred to as the pervasive “rot” within and growing popular “disgust” toward so many Leninist regimes provided a common vocabulary that year. Even protesters who spoke different languages than and knew little about the specific histories or ideals of their counterparts in other regions found common ground in their shared distaste for corruption and anger at petty forms of official tyranny8.

11Most significant of all, perhaps, it meant something to the leaders in each part of the state socialist world that, as their authority was being challenged by popular movements, so too was that of their counterparts in other countries. Deng and those close to him were intensely concerned with the Polish dilemma and the example set by Solidarity. This helps explain the strategies of repression they turned to in 1989, from the move to impose martial law in May to the decision to use state violence in June to break the back of the protest movement in both Beijing and Chengdu, where a massacre also occurred. Knowing that martial law in Poland failed to check the rising social movement led by Solidarity in the early 1980s helped convince China’s leaders to use armed soldiers to dispel the crowds. It is no accident that the majority of the victims of the massacre were workers, nor that the heads of newly formed autonomous labor unions as well as student protest leaders figured prominently on the regime’s most wanted lists. It is also no coincidence that, while some educated youth were punished severely, the harshest sentences tended to be given to workers.

  • 9 See the comments on Sino-European connections sprinkled through James A. R. Miles, The Legacy of T (...)

12The influence of the Chinese regime’s behavior on European leaders is harder to summarize and describe in straightforward terms. Some specific individuals may have eschewed violent solutions in part to escape the international censure that was directed at people such as Li Peng after 4 June, though this seems unlikely in light of the relative mildness of the real impact of this criticism on the PRC. No Chinese leader, after all, fell from power due to being held accountable for the massacres, and the diplomatic and economic consequences of the international condemnation of the crackdown were minimal. At least one East European leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu, seems to have seen in the Chinese regime’s actions a model for survival. Others, such as East Germany’s leadership, seem to have toyed with, but then finally decided against, imitating Beijing. The one point that is clear is that many leaders, including Gorbachev, had China on their minds late in 1989 and that what happened in China on 4 June was seen as relevant in some way to the dilemmas that faced the countries of Central and Eastern Europe several months later9.

Unconnected Shores: 1990-1999

13The fracturing of a sense of connection and a turn away from comparison already could be sensed by the very end of 1989, and the pulling apart of the two regions in scholarly and other imaginations became even more dramatic a year and a half later. A kind of bleak last hurrah for the notion of relatedness and comparability came in December 1989, when some of Romania’s leaders treated protesters in a brutal fashion similar to that of their Chinese counterparts. But then, before the year ended, Ceauşescu was executed—an event that some Chinese dissidents celebrated as a kind of displaced wish-fulfillment fantasy, the closest thing they could hope to see happen to Deng or his ally Li Peng as punishment for the bloodshed of 4 June. When the new decade began with Deng and Li still in power, even this imagined connection between Romania and China— two countries that had often shared a particularly close bond from the 1960s to the 1980s—became very tenuous at best. There remained the possibility, at that point, of continuing to draw analogies between a reduced Soviet empire and a still intact Chinese one, but even that disappeared in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell apart.

14It was not just the reshaping of the geopolitical order that separated the PRC from some of the countries to which it used to be thought similar and linked but also nearly simultaneous—and related—shifts in intellectual fashion. Most notably, the 1990s saw the rise of two different ways of conceptualizing the “post-cold war” world, each of which was tied in some way to the events of 1989 and each of which militated against thinking of the PRC as comparable to any part of Europe. The first of these continued to stress the sharp contrast, beloved by cold war propagandists of the left and the right, between “capitalist” or “liberal democratic” states and “state socialist” or “totalitarian” ones. The difference now was that each set was a different size: nearly all parts of the former Soviet empire were seen as rooted in or at least drifting toward the former, while China was portrayed as among the few proud or benighted hold-out countries of the latter.

  • 10 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1993).
  • 11 See, for example, the approach taken in Song Qiong et al., Zhongguo keyi shuo bu (China Can Say No (...)

15One influential version of this was the “end of history” paradigm of Francis Fukuyama, in which China was presented as a land that had been left behind, yet again, by the tide of progress10. The only hope for it, in this and other liberal triumphalist readings of 1989, was to try to catch up with the former state socialist countries of Europe and join them in their effort to shed communism and transform themselves into western-style democracies. There were other versions of this worldview as well, however, including a Chinese one that saw the countries of the former Soviet empire as the ones that had stepped out of the Hegelian stream of historical progress. The year 1989—in this reading, equally triumphalist in its own way—was a year in which China resisted an evil tide that had engulfed and destroyed some of its former allies and ruptured the ties between the PRC and various European lands11.

16The second new way of thinking about the world that militated against viewing the PRC and any part of Central or Eastern Europe as linked and comparable stressed cultural difference. One influential version of this was the “clash of civilizations” paradigm associated with Samuel Huntington, in which China was bracketed off from the former

  • 12 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon (...)
  • 13 The mutually reinforcing workings of some forms of western China-bashing and various types of resu (...)

17Soviet empire by virtue of its attachment to Confucian ideals and practices that posed a danger to Western ways12. Here again there was a Chinese counterpart in the form of the “Asian values” argument, which put a distinctively positive spin on the same conflict of worldviews13. In either case, the end result was essentially the same: to contribute to the push away from comparing the PRC to European countries. In each case, there was a compensatory pull, a move toward linking China to its western and southern neighbors (Japan, Korea, Singapore) as opposed to its northern ones (Russia, other parts of the former Soviet Union, and Mongolia). Similarly, where Central and Eastern Europe is concerned, a focus on “historical” and “cultural” factors of the Huntingtonian sort both pushed Chinese analogies away and made comparisons with neighboring countries seem more appropriate.

In Search of New Bridges

18Is all of this merely of historical interest? Should we just note that it used to make sense to think of the PRC as linked to some parts of Europe, but it no longer does, and then move on to matters of contemporary interest? Is there any real reason to continue to think that a giant, still-Leninist country with high growth rates should be compared to much smaller post-Leninist ones that have, in most cases, undergone tough economic times in the 1990s?

19These questions are reasonable to ask whether or not one accepts the tenets of either of the new paradigms for thinking about how parts of the world are interrelated as sketched out above. Moreover, if one takes seriously the way people living in particular countries think about their condition and possible futures, there is certainly good reason to ask them. Returning to Rév’s comment about “common borders”, he brought up the old one between Hungary and the PRC precisely because he thought it was now primarily of historical interest. Being a historian, among other things, he certainly did not mean that this made the idea unimportant, just that now it was the shared history of communism more than the commonality of current experience that could be invoked most easily as a bond tying Hungary to China. To the extent that Central Europeans and East Europeans now think about how their lands fit into larger wholes, it is usually Central Europe, Eastern Europe, or Europe as a whole that is the main point of reference. Likewise, while some citizens of the PRC may think that their country has a special link to other state socialist countries, many are more concerned with how it is situated within an Asian—or, rather specifically, East Asian—cultural sphere.

20In spite of these and other reasons to support the idea that the time has come to relegate to the past the idea of placing the PRC and formerly state socialist parts of Europe side by side in our minds, I am convinced we should resist this temptation. There are good reasons for China specialists and scholars working on Central or Eastern Europe to establish a more robust dialogue on the decade stretching from 1989 to the present. Now that the borders connecting these two parts of the world are harder to see (aside, of course, from the always tense physical one dividing China from Russia that runs through Central Asia), forays into comparison may need to be made in more creative and thoughtful ways. They are, nevertheless, still well worth making. I say this in part simply because when trying to find our bearing in confusing transition periods— and both the PRC and the former Soviet empire are in the midst of these—we need all the help we can get. One kind of assistance can come, in this case, from paying attention to how those who are thinking about another, in some way comparable, part of the world are formulating questions, developing models, and pondering the dilemmas of postsocialism.

21Most of the rest of this chapter is devoted to describing four approaches to comparison that seem particularly worth pursuing just now. The first is a macrovariety, which involves sweeping assessments of the whole decade and all parts of both regions. The second is a geographically limited variety, which looks for parallels between developments in specific cities or provinces of the PRC and specific countries within Central and Eastern Europe. The third is a temporally limited comparison, which zeroes in on specific moments in time. The fourth is one that moves freely through time, comparing different periods in each region’s past.

22A final prefatory note about the issue of comparison is in order, however, before each of these four approaches is described in more detail. Despite all the comments above about Sino-European divergence since 1989, a good case can be made that some parts of the former Soviet bloc have become more, not less, like the PRC in the 1990s than they were in the preceding decade. I was convinced that this counterintuitive statement was true before I went to the Budapest conference, and I came away from that gathering even more certain of its validity. This is because, as I listened to the papers that now have been collected as the chapters of this book, I continually heard comments being made about one or another part of Europe that similarly described the Chinese phenomenon. I heard descriptions of an increase in official corruption here and experiments with local elections there. 1 listened to accounts of a resurgence of virulent forms of nationalism in one part of the region, of the popularity of synchretic apocalyptic cults in another, of the incredible influence of Mafia-like organizations in certain cities, and of the serious environmental crises that threatened to affect the whole region. I took in arguments about nostalgia for more stable totalitarian times among some residents of one area and about the crises triggered by increasing discrepancies between richer and poorer segments of the population in another.

  • 14 A useful book to turn to for a quick sense of just how many of the phenomena we typically associat (...)

23And all the time I found myself thinking the same thing. Namely, if a group of well-informed Chinese intellectuals had suddenly made a wrong turn during a tour of Budapest and been brought into this gathering not knowing what it was, they might easily have drawn a strange conclusion about many of the papers. They might have imagined that a presentation about one or another part of the former Soviet empire was actually a discussion of China in the 1990s14.

Broad-brush Comparisons

24The main danger of treating the PRC of 1989-99 as essentially the same sort of place as Central and Eastern Europe during this period has already been spelled out; to do so is to efface the importance of the contrast between Leninist and post-Leninist states. If, however, we define each of these parts of the world as undergoing a transition away from socialist economic structures and temporarily bracket off political issues, then a basis for broad comparison remains. China, no less than the former Soviet empire, is experiencing a variety of social traumas right now that are linked to such issues as the privatization of many industries and a scaling back of welfare activities by the state. The high growth rates of the PRC make it a special case in one sense. We need to remember, however, that these growth rates have not equally benefited all citizens of China. The disparity between the experience of haves and have-nots within the PRC has been increasing dramatically in recent years, with laid-off former employees of state-run industries and residents of the hinterland as opposed to coastal regions tending to be the ones left behind by “progress”.

25This, in itself, suggests one basis for sweeping comparison. Not only can parallels be drawn between the specific hardships that some people in each place are undergoing, but also a similar move from homogeneity to heterogeneity has taken place in each region. Circa 1970, for example, the kind of material lifestyle that typical residents of coastal cities such as Guangzhou and those of the hinterland such as Xian could expect to enjoy were pretty much the same, but this is not true today. The same thing could be said of people living in more and less economically successful parts of the former Soviet empire.

26What good does it do, in pragmatic terms, to accept this notion? Here, as in the sections to come, I will try to illustrate the value of thinking along a particular comparative line by referring to some recent publications on a relevant theme. Not surprisingly, given my background, these will typically be works on China that either refer to European parallels or develop approaches to a topic that could be applied to the former Soviet empire. Without going into their arguments in any detail, they should bring to mind some ways that looking at Central and Eastern Europe through the lens of a China specialist might be useful. In some cases, they will also show how the reverse can be true.

  • 15 Barmé, In the Red, 316-44; Svetlana Boym, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia (C (...)
  • 16 Barmé, In the Red, 316, 344

27Let me begin this search for bases for broad comparison with some discussion of the book In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture, a collection of essays by Australian China specialist Geremie Barmé, one of the most perceptive analysts of recent developments in the PRC. Of particular relevance here is Barmé’s chapter on “Totalitarian Nostalgia”, which leans heavily on the work of Russian specialist Svetlana Boym15. Barmé claims that there are both distinctive and generic characteristics to the way that, in the PRC of the 1990s, nostalgia for the security of more totalitarian times has been expressed. In the Chinese case, like the Russian one, according to Barmé, we find this nostalgia articulated through a temper that “harks back to and feeds off lingering totalistic and totalizing tendencies”. He stresses differences between European and Chinese varieties of this nostalgia, noting such things as the special role of totalizing ideas in various periods of China’s precommunist past. He also emphasizes that the interplay between what Boym calls “Utopian nostalgia” on the one hand and “ironic nostalgia” on the other is different in the PRC of today than in the former Soviet empire16. Overall, however, it is the similarities rather than the differences that stand out for him. Despite the fact that the communist party is still in control in China and not in the former Soviet Union, Barmé sees many parallel manifestations, sometimes taking similarly perverse forms, of the desire for a simpler, if less free, past that Boym analyses.

  • 17 On the Mao revival, see also Geremie R. Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Lea (...)

28Barmé also describes several ways that in China, as in Russia, attempts have been made to manipulate this hunger for stability and use it to further political ends. The revamping of Stalin and Mao as symbols is one area where the parallels are particularly strong, he shows, and Russia and China end up seeming the two 1990s settings where the workings of totalitarian nostalgia are most comparable17. But at least implicit in

29Barmé’s reworking of Boym’s arguments is the notion that cultural developments throughout the postsocialist world are likely to have some important points in common. His study is thus likely to be of relevance not just to Russianists but also to those interested in other parts of the former Soviet empire.

  • 18 Dorothy Solinger, Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logi (...)

30A second, very different sort of work that also draws attention, in this case mainly implicitly, to the potential for macrocomparisons is an important new book by political scientist Dorothy Solinger on China’s “floating population” and the social problems associated with it. Entitled Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market, her study deals with the flood into many cities of rural dwellers, often young men in search of work, that began in the 1980s when bans on internal migration were lifted18. There are some parts of her study that do not travel well or at least cannot be transported easily to the Central and East European context. For example, as Solinger notes, there were unique features to the way villagers were tied to the land under Maoism that prevented movement even from one part of the countryside to another. There are also culturally distinctive—though by no means unique—aspects to the disdain for peasants felt by many Chinese urbanites. This prejudice, which remains acute in spite of decades of official propaganda extolling the virtues of peasants as key makers of the revolution, is justly treated by Solinger as analogous to an extreme form of dislike of ethnic “others” assumed to be inferior in every way.

31This said, increased internal migration as well as tension between long-time residents of certain places and new groups perceived of as inferior (perhaps temporarily but perhaps eternally so) is an important part of the social landscape in many parts of the world, including much of Central and Eastern Europe. Solinger’s study, which uses a varied documentary base and draws on her own ethnographic explorations of the subculture of the “floating population” within Chinese cities, thus has much to offer to those working on related phenomena in the former Soviet empire. Her framing of the problem as one directly tied to renegotiating categories of “citizenship” at a time of economic transition is likely to make it particularly valuable for these scholars. Her actual comments on Central and Eastern Europe are very limited, taking form mainly of passing reference to the lessons on limiting mobility that Chinese communists took from Stalin. Even if she does not, like Barmé, draw directly from the work of a Central or East European theorist, however, she does provide a solid analytical basis on which those with comparative interests can easily build.

  • 19 Dutton, Streetlife China, 8-13, 62-69, and 86-93.

32The same is true of another recent work, Michael Dutton’s Streetlife China, which also deals at length with the problems faced by members of the “floating population” as well as those of other marginal or subaltern groups disadvantaged by postsocialist trends19. Dutton, a political scientist by training like Solinger (though a much more unconventional one than she), explores in detail the myriad ways that subaltern groups have become scapegoats for social evils and targets of state repression. His book is stylistically and theoretically very different from Solinger’s, taking the form of a collage of documents and analysis and looking to postcolonial and neo-Marxist theories for inspiration. Nevertheless, the two books can be read in tandem and successfully played off against one another by anyone interested in the ways that uprooted people survive and struggle amidst the uncertainties of a postsocialist transformation.

Connecting Pieces of Two Worlds

33The second type of strategy for bringing together discussion of the PRC and discussion of Central and Eastern Europe in the era of the “new world disorder” involves limiting one’s purview to specific sections of each large region. Here, to illustrate this general point, I will confine myself to a single case. This will involve drawing on my own current work on Shanghai. I am specifically concerned with the process by which this metropolis, once dubbed “The Paris of the East”, as was Budapest, became a more provincial place under socialism, but now has reasserted itself as a cultural and economic center in the postsocialist period. I see potential value in pairing this Chinese city with several Central and East European ones that were very cosmopolitan urban centers before experiencing socialist interregnums.

  • 20 Full elaboration of the arguments presented will be contained in a book, the working title of whic (...)

34My comments below are drawn from an ongoing study of Shanghai’s past and present. My study will place this metropolis within the models articulated in some major contributions to urban theory that deal with the global city as a social form and also challenge some of the underlying assumptions of these works20.

  • 21 Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London and Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, (...)
  • 22 On visions of the postmodern city, see Michael Dear, “Beyond the Post-Fordist City”, Contention: D (...)

35Of particular interest to me, as already noted, is how Shanghai’s degree of integration into or detachment from large-scale economic and cultural systems has varied over time. The pattern of Shanghai’s movement into and out of international structures makes it very different from many other major urban centers of today. Unlike Tokyo, for example, which has steadily become an increasingly significant global hub, Shanghai went through a period when it stopped serving these sorts of functions. And unlike some of its competitors within the PRC, such as Shenzhen, which were never thought of as major cities before the 1980s, Shanghai’s recent rise to global prominence needs to be seen as both a novel development and a resumption of old patterns. Shanghai thus poses a problem of sorts for much of the theoretical writing on the “global city”, including the justly influential and important work by Saskia Sassen. In such studies, one is given a sense that urban centers with certain characteristics move steadily and naturally from being local to national to transnational centers of exchange21. The assumption is that cities begin firmly rooted in a national context, but over time, some take on characteristics that detach them from this setting, linking them cultural and financially to other major urban centers in distant parts of the world. Discussions of “postmodern” cities also often frame their arguments within this kind of general evolutionary vision22. The fact is, however, that Shanghai was more “global” or at least “cosmopolitan” during its old incarnation as an international treaty-port—or, to use the Chinese phrase, a subdivided “semicolonial” city—than as a socialist metropolis.

36In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, in the treaty-port era (1843— 1943), Shanghai acquired many of the features that are now described as typical of postmodern or global cities, from its links to distant urban centers to its fragmented internal character. This suggests either that these terms need to be rethought or perhaps that room needs to be made for the idea that some cities were precociously postmodern or global. More to the point, since Shanghai became more closed in on itself and less open to the world after 1949, yet in the 1990s has dramatically begun to be reintegrated into transnational cultural and economic systems, its history suggests that these phenomena can proceed in many ways. It is possible to see stop-and-go movement, even sometimes a circling back and restarting of old patterns, where some urban theorists suggest only the possibility for unidirectional progress.

37A final point worth making about the Shanghai case is that its past has played a symbolic and practical role in its resurrection as an international center of cultural and economic activity. It is hard to say just how much weight should be assigned to specific historical factors in this case, since belief in each of them has sometimes been as significant as their actual existence when it comes to convincing the regime and foreign investors to foster the transformation of Shanghai. To one degree or another, however, each of the following factors has played a role, as has the rise to prominence in post-1989 China of national leaders with Shanghai roots: (1) the idea that Shanghai people have personality traits and cultural traditions that make them especially good at doing business and especially open to foreign influences; (2) the idea that the city of Shanghai, despite turning inward during the Maoist era, retained an infrastructure that will aid its reglobalization; and, (3) the idea that its past status as a major center for world trade will facilitate its resurgence as an international center, simply because people around the globe are used to thinking of it as a natural transnational hub.

  • 23 The preceding section is, admittedly, a somewhat impressionistic one, so it is only fair to note t (...)

38This very brief description of Shanghai’s resurrection as an international hub, with real and imagined ties to various parts of the world through investment and the flow of everything from people to ideas to styles, should be enough to suggest the value of looking for comparisons with some European cities. In its heyday, the Soviet empire led to the turning inward of certain formerly cosmopolitan urban centers, which became more firmly nested for a time within national or, at the most, imperial boundaries. The postsocialist period has seen some of these cities become more internationalized once again, if not necessarily move toward the status of full-fledged global cities. It has also seen some of them—East Berlin being perhaps the most obvious example—return to old, interrupted trajectories. Shanghai is not, moreover, by any means the only city of this sort where assumptions about its past have played a key role in how its future potential has been marketed to the national authorities and the world at large. Budapest, like Shanghai, is a place that tourists and investors think about in special ways in the 1990s, in part because they know that it was called, with good reason, a “Paris of the East” in the presocialist era23.

Comparing Moments

39Another way to restrict the search for parallels that makes sense in certain cases is to elevate time rather than space to the status of a key variable. Perhaps the most important illustration of this point involves circling back to comments made at the beginning of this chapter about 1989. Here, we see an ironic outcome of the move away from the comparisons between the PRC with Central and Eastern Europe that gained steam at the beginning of the 1990s. Namely, this has led academics to pay much less attention to the similarities between the protests that took place in China and in various parts of the Soviet empire ten years ago than might have been expected. While the events of 1989 were unfolding, it was common for journalists and scholars to note such parallels; some works published in the 1990s have certainly continued to do this, but the tendency has been to focus on divergent results rather than common processes. Hence, it has been more typical for commentators to stress the difference between the success of the protests in the former Soviet empire and the failure of those in China and wonder why the outcomes varied than to explore features the events may have shared.

  • 24 Andrew Walder, “Collective Protest and the Waning of the Communist State in China”, in Challenging (...)

40When it comes to counterexamples that show the desirability of relinking discussion of the Chinese and the non-Chinese 1989s, a variety of recent works on the PRC bring up issues or develop methodologies that might be of value to those working on Central and East European cases. One worthy of particular attention, in part because it addresses comparative issues quite directly, is a recent essay by sociologist Andrew Walder that focuses on the key question of how protesters were able to carve out the political space to demonstrate in 198924. He stresses the central role played by divisions within the Chinese leadership in opening up the room necessary for a movement to grow. He also, in a related vein, highlights the importance of supportive coverage of some early events by the official media as a factor that helped convince people to take to the streets.

  • 25 Craig Calhoun, Neither Gods Nor Emperors: Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China (Berkel (...)

41Another recent significant study with clear comparative implications is Neither Gods nor Emperors by Craig Calhoun. This is, as the author himself makes clear, not the work of a China specialist per se, but rather that of a social theorist interested in popular protest who happened to be in Beijing during the dramatic events of 1989. Calhoun’s interpretations of the struggle—based on his own observations, work done in collaboration with Chinese-speaking research assistants, and analysis of secondary sources and materials in translation—is impressive and innovative. Of particular interest to specialists working on the former Soviet empire may be the attention he pays to the role of friendship in political movements that break out in authoritarian states as well as his comments on issues associated with civil society and the public sphere25.

  • 26 Daniel Chirot, ed., The Crisis of Leninism and the Decline of the Left: The Revolutions of 1989 (S (...)
  • 27 This paper will be presented in November 1999 at the Social Science History Association annual mee (...)

42The links between Chinese and European developments in 1989 are also treated in some publications and works in progress that take a collaborative form. Several collections of essays were published in the early 1990s that focused on either the 1989 protests in the PRC or those that took place in parts of the former Soviet empire that year, yet included at least one chapter that paid close attention to the other region26. Encouraging signs of developments to come in this line include even more directly collaborative efforts, such as conference papers cowritten by people knowledgeable about different parts of the world. China specialist Yang Guobin and Europeanist Steve Pfaff, for example, are working on a joint presentation on “Anniversaries as Symbolic Mobilization Opportunities” in the former Soviet empire and the PRC27.

China’s Present and Europe’s Past

43The final sort of bridge-building that seems particularly worth attempting involves moving through time. What I mean, more specifically, is the effort to compare events that have taken place in China recently with those that occurred at an earlier point in the former Soviet empire. This can be done appropriately or inappropriately, however, and some proponents of the “end of history” teleology have fallen into the trap of doing it in the latter fashion. They have accomplished this by suggesting— misleadingly—that the PRC is destined to follow directly in the footsteps of the nations of the former Soviet empire.

44There are many problems with the assumption, implicit in the work of Fukuyama himself and some who have taken their cues from him, that China missed the democratization boat ten years ago but would soon follow along the same post-Leninist course set by countries that had “successful” 1989s. Here, it will be enough just to mention two. The first is that, as other chapters in this volume show, there has not been one path away from Leninism and toward something new in Central and Eastern Europe; there have been many. So if one assumes China will someday “follow” in the footsteps of the formerly Leninist lands of Europe, then this begs a major question: Which footsteps leading in which direction? Another problem is that many residents of formerly Leninist countries have felt that, during the years following 1989, their plight has gotten worse, not better; the “nostalgia” that Boym describes is not always, by any means, an irrational desire to return to a more oppressive way of life.

45This latter point is particularly important no matter how big this “many” is thought to be and how valid the feelings of members of this group are considered. This is because China’s leaders and the official media in the PRC have made strategic use of the traumas that various parts of the former Soviet empire have experienced in the 1990s. When Central or Eastern Europe is mentioned in the speeches of Chinese leaders or in the pages of mainstream PRC newspapers, they are typically presented in a negative light, and usually countries where things are going particularly badly are singled out for attention. Sometimes this is done in a critical fashion, but more often in a way that is designed to inspire pity and make the citizens of China feel lucky that they have avoided suffering from particular post-1989 social or political crises.

46The Chinese handling of the recent events in Kosovo fits this pattern, but perhaps the most significant case in point has been—and remains— that of Russia, which is, with justification, portrayed as having become much weaker internationally and much more troubled domestically in recent years. In 1989, some demonstrators, as noted above, lamented

47China’s lack of a Gorbachev. In recent years, however, in subtle and not so subtle ways, the Chinese regime has tried to convince the people of the PRC that they were very lucky indeed that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, heaven gave them a Deng Xiaoping instead. In 1989, one of the strongest rhetorical cards the regime had to play was fear of the potential of the protests to usher in a period of luan (chaos) reminiscent of the decade of the cultural revolution (1966-1976). Even this was not, however, a powerful enough image to keep demonstrators from gaining widespread support. Now, when the regime defends the idea that all those who want to see China become a richer and stronger nation must make stability their watchword, the image of the danger of luan is linked to a different referent. The cultural revolution era is still sometimes conjured up as a bogeyman, but the fear of the kind of chaos that direct challenges to the regime’s authority could bring in their wake is now associated more often with the post-Leninist fate of Russia.

48If the “end of history” version of comparing China’s present to Europe’s past is thus doubly problematic (since it simplifies possible routes beyond Leninism and fails to take into account the influence of post-1989 troubles in the former Soviet empire as a negative example), which version works better? The alternative is one that avoids any sense of inevitability or restricted outcomes, but rather focuses on multiple possibilities and merely looks at how similarities between China now and parts of Central or Eastern Europe then can be used to help us think through complex issues. It is also one that accepts and makes the most of the variability found within the recent and not so recent histories of Central and East European states.

  • 28 Maria Csanadi, Party-states and their Legacies in Post-communist Transformation (Cheltenham, U.K.: (...)

49An important case in point among works in progress that take the approach I have in mind is by a Europeanist, not a Sinologist. It is Budapest-based political economist Mária Csanádi’s attempt to explore the relevance for China of the model for understanding post-Leninist transformations that she has developed with reference to Hungary and other parts of the former Soviet empire. Three key points about her investigation, which is too complex methodologically and theoretically to do justice to in a short summary, are worth pointing out here. First, the main work it draws on, her own earlier book, Party-States and their Legacies in Post-Communist Transformation, is one that takes seriously the considerable variability of experiences of transition that have occurred in Central and Eastern Europe. Second, she leaves open the possibility that the PRC will follow a post-Leninist path that is not quite like that taken by any part of the Soviet empire. Third, she acknowledges the extent to which China has already entered, at least in some senses of the term, a postsocialist phase28.

50Another important line of analysis that brings together parts of Central or East European history and contemporary developments within the PRC can be found in a book that has already been discussed, Geremie Barmé’s In the Red. Here, I am thinking particularly of his ongoing efforts to adapt and apply to Chinese phenomena the “velvet prison” idea developed by Miklós Haraszti.

  • 29 Miklós Haraszti, The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism trans. Katalin and Stephen Lande (...)

51Haraszti’s justly acclaimed and controversial analysis of artists under socialism focuses primarily on the situation in the Soviet empire in the early to mid-1980s and the decades leading up to that point. It also includes passing comments on the PRC of the same era, however, and in part because of this, in addition to the elegance of the argument it contains, it has generated a good deal of discussion and some debate among specialists in Chinese cultural studies from 1989 on. Barmé’s first major engagement with Haraszti’s work took the form of an essay that appeared in the Taiwan-based journal Issues and Studies a decade ago, which argued essentially that what the Hungarian analyst had said about European artists under socialism could be used to make sense of the situation in the PRC. This article by Barmé subsequently inspired a rejoinder by Paul Pickowicz, a specialist in Chinese film studies. Pickowicz, writing after the events of 1989 had taken place, saw problems with using Haraszti’s model to understand the work of Zhang Yimou and other “fifth generation” Chinese directors. He also criticized Haraszti for being too pessimistic about the potential for change in state socialist countries29.

  • 30 Barmé, In the Red, 129; see also Barmé, In the Red, xviii, 1-19, 304, and 345; the quote comes fro (...)

52Now, in his new book, far from giving ground in his championing of Haraszti’s approach, Barmé extends his application of the “velvet prison” model by showing how it can be used to explicate Chinese cultural trends of the 1980s and of the 1990s. One chapter of In the Red, which reworks some of the material first presented in the aforementioned 1989 essay, is called simply “The Chinese Velvet Prison”, and Haraszti is invoked in the introduction and in other sections as well. In a chapter on “The Graying of Chinese Culture”, for example, Barmé cites approvingly the Hungarian critic’s comment that: “The more talented and flexible the state, the more pleasurably it can suck the dissidents’ vital fluids into the organism of state culture30”.

  • 31 It is worth noting that some producers as well as analysts of Chinese popular culture are interest (...)

53Throughout In the Red, Haraszti plays a key role in a general effort by Barmé to link contemporary Chinese trends to those that are taking place—or once took place—in a larger international world of culture. Two other figures, Václav Havel and Milan Kundera, are invoked or quoted in a similar way at different points in the book, but it is Haraszti’s influence that is most pronounced31. One interesting point to note about Barmé’s efforts to make use of the insights of Haraszti and other analysts of European state socialist phenomena is that he skillfully manages to suggest that there is a basic common dynamic at work, yet also makes plenty of room for cultural variation. Neither Europe nor China seems the “exception” to the rule in Banners account. Rather, he encourages us to think of each case as one in which we can see change over time and across space taking place within a shared set of politically circumscribed boundaries.

54The other key point to mention about Barmé’s work here is that this vision of change within parameters allows him to compare pre-1989 Europe and post-1989 China without falling into the “end of history” teleology. There is even a possibility left open—and here it is worth remembering the discussion above of his adaptation of Boym’s ideas relating to posttotalitarian nostalgia—that Leninist cultural patterns can remain in force or even return after Leninist political structures have been dismantled. He shows, in short, a tendency to see contemporary China as still very like pretransition parts of the Soviet empire, but neither just like those places nor clearly located behind them on some unidirectional cultural timeline.

In Search of Conclusions

55It is hard to know how to wrap up this discussion of comparisons, which has doubtless brought up more questions than it has answered and pointed to roads that might be worth taking more often than it has actually followed any path. Perhaps the best way to proceed is to look briefly at how keeping all of the strategics sketched out above in mind can help shed light on a single specific issue. The most fitting example I can think of is one that has been a recurring theme throughout this essay: the relationships, real and imagined, between the Chinese protests of 1989 and various Central and East European events. Thinking about 1989 as an epochal year illustrates the need to resist the temptation to focus on only one sort of comparative strategy. None of the four methods outlined above is satisfactory on its own, but each has something to offer.

56Macrocomparisons across time and space certainly have something to offer in the case of the 1989 movements. This is because there are important common threads connecting not just what Chinese protesters and their counterparts in what was then the Soviet empire were trying to do ten years ago, but also the repercussions of their actions. It is common to think of the PRC demonstrations as having a dramatically different outcome than those in other parts of the state socialist world, but the contrast can be overdrawn. If we want to understand post-1989 Chinese political trends, it is important to see the protests of that year as having brought about some positive changes, even though in the short-run they were crushed.

57The fact that the regime came so close to being toppled in 1989 helps explain some of the main directions it has pursued in the 1990s. More specifically, while continuing to suppress—often through brutal measures—direct challenges to communist party rule, China’s leaders have made efforts to try to show that they are committed to solving the problems that helped convince people to take to the streets in 1989. Anticorruption campaigns, though bearing only mixed results, have become a routine part of political life in 1990s China. In addition, the state has become a much less intrusive force in the daily life of many Chinese citizens, and more channels have opened through which people can express their grievances, again with the key proviso that these not include demands for an end to one-party rule. The increased experimentation with local level elections, especially in the countryside, has been another post-1989 development that should be seen, in part, as a positive response to the failed protests of that year.

  • 32 Merle Goldman, “Restarting Chinese History: A Review Essay”, American Historical Review (forthcomi (...)

58In general, we can say that not only were the Chinese and European protest movements of 1989 comparable in various ways as events—a point already discussed above—but also that the defeated Chinese struggle had some results that paralleled those of much more successful European ones. If, as other China specialists such as Merle Goldman have claimed, China’s trajectory since 1989 has at times been more similar to that of many parts of the former Soviet empire than is usually assumed, these parallel results help explain why this has been the case32.

59This said, neither macrocomparisons nor temporally limited ones nor even some combination of the two exhaust the possibilities for bringing China’s 1989 into dialogue with Central and East European events. This is because, when taken as a whole, neither the events that took place in the two parts of the world in 1989 themselves, nor the impact of the various movements on the developments of the 1990s, are completely analogous. There are contrasts as well as parallels to be reckoned with at these levels of generalization. Moreover, regionally limited and temporally staggered approaches also have something to offer.

60When it comes to breaking up China and the former Soviet empire into smaller constituent parts, what stands out most is that certain moments in the Chinese movement in particular cities were very similar to certain moments in one or another European country in 1989. The parallel between the Polish round table episode of March and the demand for dialogue by Beijing protesters in May has already been noted, as has the similarity between the abortive Romanian official crackdown of mid-December and the more effective and even bloodier June ones in both Beijing and Chengdu. One can also say that, during the heyday of the occupation of Tiananmen Square, China experienced something very closely akin to a velvet revolution moment, and in the central plazas of some other cities, similar events took place. Even if it lasted just a week or two, and even if it proved to be based as much on hope as on anything else, there was a sense among some Chinese urbanites that the state might dissolve and an alternative order might be created without violence.

61Last but not least, if one takes an approach to China’s 1989 that tries to link the PRC events to those that occurred earlier in Europe, the failure of the protests of that year can be placed in a new and interesting light. I say this because, while listening carefully to the papers presented in Budapest, I was struck by the extent to which events that took place in Central Europe well before the 1980s were being described as having an impact similar to that of the Chinese protests of 1989.

62Comments were made about the Hungarian struggles of 1956 illustrating the difficulty of trying to defeat the state by revolutionary means, while Prague Spring showed in 1968 the impossibility of a reformist leader being able to comprehensively reshape a Leninist regime from within. Post-1968 efforts to transform these two countries and Poland, meanwhile, were presented largely as being carried out by people who simply decided that the best course of action was one predicated on taking for granted the imminent demise or obsolescence of Leninist structures. These led me to ponder the possibility that China’s 1989 could be seen as a kind of counterpart to Central Europe’s 1956 and 1968 rolled into one—and not just because in all these cases acts of state violence crushed a movement for change. Some thoughtful former participants in the Chinese protests of 1989 have argued that many demonstrators and their supporters fell into the trap of imagining that salvation could come through the actions of one heroic figure within the regime. Some have also criticized the tendency of participants in the movement to frame it as a “revolutionary struggle” to save the “revolution”—and hence fail to see that a completely new approach to changing China was needed. One tendency since 1989, among at least some critical intellectuals and dissidents, has been to move away from looking for a communist party leader who will save the regime from itself. Another has been to look for alternatives to the paradigm of attachment to a sacred revolutionary cause that has, over the course of so many decades, tended to lead mass movements in troubling directions.

63Where all this will lead is hard to tell, and here again there is a need to steer clear of teleological fallacies that would have China inevitably following the course set by one or another Central European country. Still, it is tempting to see hope for the citizens of the PRC in the way some have been recently redirecting their energies in a fashion similar to that seen in Central Europe after 1968. Some have worked toward creating new organizations that stand apart from the communist party; others have simply behaved as though the eventual obsolescence of the regime can be taken for granted. Ten years after 1989, the Chinese regime shows no sign of simply withering away and rather gives the appearance of having bounced back quite effectively from the challenge it faced in the months preceding the 4 June massacre. Nevertheless, there remain many sources of discontent within the PRC, and it is still too soon to tell just what toll the legitimacy crisis of a decade ago really took in terms of destroying long-term public faith in the communist party as a moral force. Taking all this into account, and remembering how few people saw serious cracks in the facade of the Soviet empire when only a decade had passed since Prague Spring, it is at least worth wondering what the historians of the twenty-first century will say about China’s 1989. One possibility is that they will come to see it as the same kind of beginning of an end as we now see in Central Europe’s 1968.

64Ironically, and it seems fitting to end this circuitous chapter on such a note, one point that will help determine whether or not this comes to pass is the course that history takes from here in the countries of the former Soviet empire. Even if the borders between these lands and the PRC have become more tenuous and harder to see, they do remain important in this sense: Troubles in Central and Eastern Europe continue to play a key role in the struggle by China’s leaders to restore their regime’s sense of legitimacy. Every member of the international community has good reason to hope that the second decade of the post-1989 period sees more countries in the former Soviet empire stand out as “successes” when it comes to economic development and democratization than was true in the first. People such as myself, who have a special interest in and concern for China, have an additional one—namely, because moves in that direction in Europe will also, indirectly, increase the likelihood that positive steps will be taken in the PRC as well.


1 Kenneth Jowitt, New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

2 Some books published in the 1990s that either pay equal attention to each of these parts of the world (or focus on one, but include at least one chapter devoted to the other) are Yanqi Tong, Transitions from State Socialism: Economic and Political Change in Hungary and China (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997); Andrew G. Walder, ed., The Waning of the Communist State: Economic Origins of Political Decline in China and Hungary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Paul Bowles et al., eds., China After Socialism: In the Footsteps of Eastern Europe or East Asia? (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996).

3 Personal communication, István Rev to Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, 28 April 1999.

4 Yue Daiyun and Carolyn Wakeman, To the Storm: The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). See also Richard Kraus, “Eastern Europe as an Alternate West for China’s Middle Class”, Studies in Comparative Communism 22:4 (Winter 1989): 323-36

5 For the role of this visual grammar in China, see Harriet Evans and Stephanie Donald, eds., Picturing Power: Posters of China’s Cultural Revolution (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999); for the Soviet case, see Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); for comparative perspectives, see Evgeny Dobrenko and Thomas Lahusen, eds., Socialist Realism without Shores (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997).

6 Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, “China Under Siege: Escaping the Dangers of 1968”, in 1968: The World Transformed, eds. Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, and Detlef Junker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 193-216.

7 For details on the Chinese case, see various contributors to Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Elizabeth J. Perry, eds., Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China, 2d ed. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994); Han Minzhu, ed., Cries for Democracy: Writings and Speeches from the 1989 Chinese Democracy Movement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); and various materials included in the website created for the Long Bow Film Group’s controversial prize-winning documentary on Tiananmen, “The Gate of Heavenly Peace”, On the European side, two excellent, very different starting points are Vladmir Tismaneanu, ed., The Revolutions of 1989 (London: Routledge, 1999); and Bernard Gwertzman and Michael T. Kaufman, eds., Collapse of Communism rev. ed. (New York: Random House, 1991). The former brings together seminal essays on the events; the latter, dispatches by correspondents for the New York Times. Despite having a European focus, Collapse of Communism includes some important newspaper reports on China.

8 Daniel Chirot, “What Happened in Eastern Europe in 1989?”, in Wasserstrom and Perry, Popular Protest and Political Culture, 218-45; also in Tismaneanu, Revolutions, 19-50.

9 See the comments on Sino-European connections sprinkled through James A. R. Miles, The Legacy of Tiananmen: China in Disarray (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996); on East German plans (later abandoned) to employ a “Chinese solution” to the problems there in Gwertzman and Kaufman, Collapse of Communism, 216-22; and on the ironic deterrent influence on European leaders of the PRC’s actions in Tucker, “China under Siege”, 214.

10 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1993).

11 See, for example, the approach taken in Song Qiong et al., Zhongguo keyi shuo bu (China Can Say No) (Beijing: Zhonghua gongshang lianhe chubanshe, 1996).

12 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

13 The mutually reinforcing workings of some forms of western China-bashing and various types of resurgent Chinese nationalism, and the way that “Asian values” ideas work in both, is discussed well in Geremie R. Barmé, In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 365-77

14 A useful book to turn to for a quick sense of just how many of the phenomena we typically associate with the former Soviet empire have been affecting post-1989 China is Orville Schell and David Shambaugh, eds., The China Reader: The Reform Era (New York: Vintage, 1999). On virulent nationalism, see 291-96 and 519-21 ; on rising crime rates and mafia-like organizations, see 394—405; on increasing disparities between rich and poor regions, see 357-61; on official corruption, see 131-32; and so on.

15 Barmé, In the Red, 316-44; Svetlana Boym, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994).

16 Barmé, In the Red, 316, 344

17 On the Mao revival, see also Geremie R. Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996); and Michael Dutton, Streetlife China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 238-71

18 Dorothy Solinger, Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); and on the “floating population”, see also Schell and Shambaugh, China Reader, 362¬75.

19 Dutton, Streetlife China, 8-13, 62-69, and 86-93.

20 Full elaboration of the arguments presented will be contained in a book, the working title of which is Global Shanghai, but some preliminary discussion of the themes introduced can be found in Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, “Comparing ‘Incomparable’ Cities: Postmodern L.A. and Old Shanghai”, Contention: Debates in Society, Culture, and Science 15:3 (1996): 69-90; and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, “Locating Old Shanghai: Having Fits about Where it Fits”, in Remaking the Chinese City: Modernity and National Identity, 1900-1950 ed. Joseph W. Esherick (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999), 192-210. My discussion of Shanghai builds on recent work by a variety of specialists in the history and present state of that city, and many of them are acknowledged in some fashion in my “Locating Shanghai” chapter. My current work also draws heavily from studies in progress by and ongoing discussions about Shanghai’s past and present with several people, most notably Robert Bickers, Elizabeth Perry, Steve Smith, and Barbara Mittler.

21 Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London and Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

22 On visions of the postmodern city, see Michael Dear, “Beyond the Post-Fordist City”, Contention: Debates in Society, Culture, and Science 5:1 (1995): 67-76; also Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies (London: Verso, 1989

23 The preceding section is, admittedly, a somewhat impressionistic one, so it is only fair to note that it was inspired in part by my own impressions of Budapest. Arriving there for the first time in March 1999 to attend the conference at the Central European University, I expected to find a city that reminded me of Vienna, the urban center closest to Budapest, which I had visited in the past. Instead, I was struck by a variety of impressions, including the juxtaposition in some districts of stores and hotels that suggested European architectural styles of the 1930s and generically state socialist concrete apartment buildings from the 1950s that reminded me more of Shanghai. I did not see the same kind of evidence of massively ambitious new building projects that are such a definitive part of 1990s Shanghai, of course. There were, however, many signs in Budapest, as there are in Shanghai, of a city attempting to return to an interrupted path of urban development and resurrect itself as an international hub.

24 Andrew Walder, “Collective Protest and the Waning of the Communist State in China”, in Challenging Authority: The Historical Study of Contentious Politics eds. Michael P. Hanagan, Leslie Page Moch, and Wayne te Brake (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 54-72.

25 Craig Calhoun, Neither Gods Nor Emperors: Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 170-73 on friendship and 188-212 on public sphere and civil society. A variety of other analysts have, in part because of the influence of work on the former Soviet empire that deals with similar themes, focused on issues of civil society in looking at China’s 1989. See, for example, various contributions to Arthur Rosenbaum, ed., State and Society in China: The Consequences of Reform (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992); various chapters in Roger Des Forges et al., eds., Chinese Democracy and the Crisis of 1989: Chinese and American Reflection (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993); Elizabeth J. Perry and Ellen Fuller, “China’s Long March to Democracy”, World Policy Journal (Fall 1991): 663-95; Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Liu Xinyong, “Student Associations and Mass Movements”, in Urban Space in Contemporary China, ed. Deborah Davis et al., (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 362-93; and Philip Huang, ed., “Symposium: ‘Public Sphere’/’Civil Society’ in China?”, a special issue of Modern China 19:2(1993).

26 Daniel Chirot, ed., The Crisis of Leninism and the Decline of the Left: The Revolutions of 1989 (Seattle: University of Washington, 1991); Robert P. Miller, ed., The Development of Civil Society in Communist Systems (London: Allen and Unwin, 1992); and Wasserstrom and Perry, Popular Protest and Political Culture

27 This paper will be presented in November 1999 at the Social Science History Association annual meeting. It will be part of a panel on “The Democracy Movements and the Upheavals of 1989: Research on Social Movements and Political Change Ten Years Later” that is to be chaired by Jeff Goodwin, a theorist of revolutionary change. It will also include papers by Jack Goldstone and Daniel Chirot.

28 Maria Csanadi, Party-states and their Legacies in Post-communist Transformation (Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 1997).

29 Miklós Haraszti, The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism trans. Katalin and Stephen Landesmann (New York: Basic Books, 1987); Geremie R. Barmé, “The Chinese Velvet Prison in the ‘New Age,’ 1976-89”, Issues and Studies 25:8 (August 1989): 54-79; and Paul Pickowicz, “Velvet Prisons and the Political Economy of Chinese Filmmaking”, in Davis, Urban Spaces, 193-220. Barmé’s approach to Haraszti’s work—as providing “one the most insightful, albeit irreverent and often tongue-in-cheek, guides to mainland China’s post-1976 ‘new age’ of culture”—Barmé In the Red, 7—is returned to later. Pickowicz, “Velvet Prisons”, begins with a reference to Haraszti as a “brilliant” analyst (194), but ends by saying that “for all the light [his] work sheds on the situation in China, he was, in the end, wrong” (216). Pickowicz claims that Haraszti—and Barmé as well, at least in his earliest use of the “velvet prison” idea—is too hard on artists working under state socialism and ends up painting too bleak a picture of the possibilities for effective and genuinely subversive dissent in such settings.

30 Barmé, In the Red, 129; see also Barmé, In the Red, xviii, 1-19, 304, and 345; the quote comes from Haraszti, Velvet Prison, 159.

31 It is worth noting that some producers as well as analysts of Chinese popular culture are interested in links between Eastern Europe and China. It is surely no mere coincidence, for example, that the title of the controversial rock singer (and more recently rapper) Cui Jian’s latest compact disc is “Power of the Powerless”, an allusion to a famous piece of writing by Havel.

32 Merle Goldman, “Restarting Chinese History: A Review Essay”, American Historical Review (forthcoming 2000).


Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington; he also serves as associate editor of the American Historical Review.

© Central European University Press, 2000

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