The Chinese Dream from the perspective of social and ecological justice

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--By Josef Gregory MAHONEY, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, East China Normal University

In our paper we examine the Chinese Dream from two basic perspectives. First, using an approach described as political hermeneutics, we interpret the Chinese Dream as a discourse that is historically and politically situated and contextualized within a number of other ongoing narratives and policies in China. This approach is especially apt because, in many respects, the purpose of the Chinese Dream is to round out while also reframe and reemphasize the Party's longstanding vision of Chinese political and economic development, and to do so in the midst of possibly difficult reforms and transitions. Thus, the Chinese Dream should be understood as being a part of a larger historical discourse, one that islinked contemporaneously to pressing needs for change, and in this sense, it has less to do with theory than practice.



With this in mind, we assemble and discuss the broader narratives that surround and suffuse the Chinese Dream and illustrate how it aims to function as a metanarrative. As a positive discourse, the Chinese Dream aims to express official visions of the past, present and future, but must also be understood in tandem with actual policies designed to advance Party and national interests and the various challenges these face. Accordingly, we interpret the Chinese Dream in the context of recent developments, including what appears to be a national rectification campaign as Xi Jinping continues to consolidate power, curtail Party factions and corruption, discipline critics, and prepare the Party and nation for some measure of reform and, likely, some measure of more of the same.


While our first approach examines the Chinese Dream as a matter of political practice in an immediate but historically contextualized sense, in our second approach we examine the Chinese Dream from the perspective of political theory. This is because despite being concerned primarily with practice, the important of theory cannot be neglected. Of course, as a matter of immediate political practice, and by this, we mean, insomuch as the Chinese Dream serves as a disciplining discourse for both the Party and the nation, there is perhaps little room for discussion. And yet, at the level of political theory, we should accept the invitation to discuss the Chinese Dream sincerely. When new leaders take the helm they often come to power with new ideas. Ideas are compromised by political realities; nevertheless, developing ideas, particularly in terms of political theory, remains important. This is especially truewhen a reform project reaches certain stages requiring new ideas and solutions to new challenges. It is, commonly, the role of intellectuals in part to contribute to such discussions. In the early 1980s, for example, intellectuals made significant contributions to the development of comprehensive reform, and we are again at a stage when such engagement is perhaps vital. Thus, while the Chinese Dream functions in the first sense as part of a disciplining discourse, in the second sense it offers an opening for discussion, one that must be taken seriously and requires thoughtful contributions.


Our contribution to this discussion is to reject in the first and last instances reductive narratives that might ultimately consign the Chinese Dream to lesser notions of justice, or, similarly, to mistake the tactics of struggle and the sacrifices therein as virtuous unto themselves. Additionally, we argue that it is a mistake to reduce the Chinese Dream to the level of a functioning primarily as a national narrative. Taken together, we argue that it is a mistake to reduce the Chinese Dream to the notion of a xiaokang society—i.e., the idea that a certain per capita GDP or increases in domestic consumption, etc., would signal circa 2021 or 2049, the achievement of a more juststate or nation. Indeed, this is not what Chinese leaders have in mind, assuredly, although such elements might be emphasized propagandistically in such a waythat they might be mistaken as being the essence of the Chinese Dream.


We detail a number of critiques of possible paths the development of the Chinese Dream might take. These critiques in turn suggest a new theoretical perspective that can lead to value construction, one that is largely alreadySinified, onethat can easily be Sinified further. As we will show, this concept, what we call the "dialectics of recognition and care" can provide a strong theoretical outline for rethinking social and ecological justice at the level of practice,given current political, economic and environmental conditions. It accounts for the difficult liminal position confronting social and ecological justice in a socialist market economy. As we will illustrate, can help us continuously rethinkandrebalance both individual and collective interests, including those of the Party and state, and China moves toward achieving the Chinese Dream.

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