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CCCI Fall 2015 Highlight: Sebastian Veg outlines the historical development of the role of intellectuals in China

Sebastain Veg

CCCI Lecture Series: Sebastian Veg - "Speaking with the Silent Majority: New Intellectuals in China's Changing Public Sphere" (September 28, 2015)

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Since the crackdown on the democracy movement of 1989 and the subsequent boost of economic reforms in 1992, a palpable change can be observed in the status and role of the intellectual in China. Whereas, throughout the 20th century, intellectuals defined themselves through a posture of responsibility for the affairs of the nation and the state (“taking the world under the heavens as one’s responsibility”), in the last twenty years, positions have become more diverse and more complex. Beginning in the 1990s, intellectuals were no longer exclusively affiliated with state work units, and their income sources became more diverse. Many began to question the “grand narratives” of modernization and democracy, which had cemented the elite consensus over “reform” in the 1980s. Criticizing intellectuals' traditional elitist bias, they shifted their interests to concrete problems, often associated with people situated not at the center but at the margins of society, famously described by Wang Xiaobo as the “silent majority” or “weak groups” (ruoshi qunti). As the public sphere broadened to include the internet and social media, new forms of interventions appeared, along with alternative spaces. This presentation will attempt to assess the changes that have taken place and to connect them with several theoretical questions related to definitions of the intellectual and of the public sphere.