Criticisms of Freezing Point
While Li Datong and Lu Yuegang have been actively giving their side of the story, people have not read much in the way of criticisms of them (in English). This gets back to the perennial problem: If something is not reported in English, it did not happen! (eh, it was Michael Anti who said this first)
The following is a translation Ming Pao (February 27, 2006) in which a group of people criticized Li Datong (in abstentia) in a public meeting. This was not exactly an instant replay of the anti-Rightist campaign or the Cultural Revolution, and the identity and rationale of the group are not what one might expect either.
The Freezing Point weekly magazine of China Youth Daily is about to resume publication. Yesterday, certain "leftist" scholars in Beijing publicly criticized the former Freezing Point editor Li Datong. They asserted that Li Datong and "liberals" supported "freedom and democracy" that represented the freedom of a certain interest group and unconnected to the common people. They also rejected the Yuan Weishi's article "Modernization and History Textbooks" which had caused Freezing Point to be suspended. They said that the article was connected in its ideas with the television drama series "The Reign of Emperor Yongzheng" and "Progressing Towards The Republic" and served to turn young people into slaves who "worship and believe in all forms of power."
At a forum held yesterday afternoon in Beijing, three scholars took turn to criticize Yuan Weishi and Li Datong. Chinese Youth Research Center research Wang Xiaodong fired the opening salvo by criticizing Yuan Weishi's article for promoting "an oblique history for enslavement." The article was said to be selectively editing history in order to guide the readers towards worshipping imperialism as well as the power of the present ruling class. Once the political powers get the upper hand, history became its tool to praise or smear at their service. Wang Xiaodong believed that Yuan's viewpoints are unacceptable in academic terms. "He has his problems with historical viewpoints, but he turned around and described other people's historical viewpoints as 'wolf's milk'."
Political scientist and deputy editor of "International Social Science" Huang Jisu took aim at Li Datong. He pointed out that Li Datong and his fellow liberals promote certain freedom and democracy of a particular size. Just like the waist width of a pair of pants, the size is based upon whatever suits their waistlines. If it is a bit smaller, they complain that there is no freedom. If it is a bit larger, they call others "violators." (暴民) "The size can only be whatever suits them."
Huang Jisu said: "In recent years, the liberals want to talk about the civilian sector, as if the civilian sector was opposing the government. Actually, their thinking are most closely connected with the government." He believes that Li Datong is just like many business persons who start off being government officials. When they get some benefits within the system and turn the newspaper into something big for themselves, they will turn around and forget what they said before. Actually, the masters behind the scene are the foreigners and civilian capitalist interest groups.
Chinese Political Law University professor Yang Fan hinted that the nationalism represented by the Boxers was a "national faith" (Yuan Weishi's article criticized the Boxers) and therefore it is not subject to challenge. When this "faith" was challenged, the government used administrative procedures to shut down Freezing Point. That action cannot be excluded or rejected out of hand, although it should proceed according to the law. Yang Fan said that when the government stopped the publication of Freezing Point, they not only refused to let the liberals speak out but they also forbade the leftists from speaking too because the people above do not like the nationalism of the leftists.
Wang Xiaodong said that recent hit television series "The Reign of Emperor Yongzheng" and "Progressing Towards The Republic" are "connected in their ideas" with Yuan Weishi's article. They hype up the oblique history for enslavement, promote correctness of the upper-class rulers and their authority and oppose violent revolution. He believed that this will endanger the basis for the survival of the nation and its people and will bring China onto the path of internal suppression and external surrender in the manner of the Duvalier family of Haiti."
Related link (in Chinese): 《冰点》主编李大同反驳左派学者的攻击
The previous mentions of the television drama series are echoed also in this short article in Yazhou Zhoukan (March 5, 2006 issue):
In recent years, the Chinese academics have broken away from political doctrinarism in the study of history. They have begun to re-examine the history of the late Qing dynasty and this has provided new results and new viewpoints for the popular cultural products in television and movies. They have provided more objective assessments of historical characters that are different from the previous good-bad dichotomy. Examples are "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" and "Progressing Towards The Republic."
There has always been differences in opinion about the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace among Chinese scholars. The mainstream school is derived from the Chinese Communist traditional ideology and held that this was a just struggle by peasants against the powers of feudalism and foreign invaders. But more and more scholars believe that the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace was pure destruction and zero construction, while betraying traditional Chinese notions of culture, morality and ethics. The philosophy was organized as an evil cult that mixed Chinese and foreign ideas. Even from the viewpoint of Chinese peasant movements, the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace was a passive force in history.
The television drama series "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" was based upon the premise that the Chinese people were opposing imperialism and feudalism. Therefore, it affirms the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace movement and it praised the uprising of the peasants. But it also exposed the corruption, lust and greed of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace leaders in the final stages. Thus, it hoped to use the lessons learned to warn people about the current situation. For example, it portrayed Hong Xiuquan and others as "heroes" even as it showed how they were politically treacherous, conspiratorial, selfish and ruthless and personally corrupt and licentious. By contrast, the Qing general Zeng Guofan was portrayed as a refined and learned person, which was quite different from the traditional image of Zeng as a butcher.
There had been scenes in Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace in which the superstitious rebel army was practicing magical martial arts. It was easy to make people connect to the anti-Falun Gong campaign being run by the government at the time, so the 50-chapter serial drama was edited down to 46 chapters and its showing was postponed. The government requested that there should be less emphasis on the evil cult aspect of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace so that the audience would not mix up Falun Gong and the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace.
The 59-chapter television serial drama "Progressing Towards The Republic" was called the "drama of the century." After it was broadcast, there was a tremendous response inside and outside China. This drama returned the true faces of the historical figures, and gave a huge jolt to the thinking of the Chinese people. In textbooks, Li Hongzhang had been presented as a "traitor" who sold out his country. In the television series, Li Hongzhang gave his heart and soul to try to salvage the situation and he was both courageous and intelligent. The Emperor Dowager, Yuan Shikai and others also received brand new characterizations.
"Progressing Towards The Republic" affirmed Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles Of The People and the Constitution of the Five Powers. In the final chapter, Sun Yat-sen delivered a 30-minute speech in which every sentence hit right at the heart of totalitarianism. This scene was eliminated in the actual broadcast, but it can still be seen in the pirated and overseas edition disks. Although this drama series was shown only once by CCTV and no re-broadcasts was allowed afterwards, it has already struck a deep resonance in the hearts of the Chinese people.