In July 2018, the Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun published an unsparing critique of the Chinese Communist Party and its Chairman of Everything, Xi Jinping. Xu warned of the dangers of one-man rule, a sycophantic bureaucracy, putting politics ahead of professionalism and the myriad other problems that the system would encounter if it rejected further reforms. That philippic was one of a cycle of works that Xu wrote during a year in which he alerted his readers to pressing issues related to China’s momentous struggle with modernity, the state of the nation under Xi Jinping and the mixed prospects for its future. Those essays will be published in a collection titled Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog by Hong Kong City University Press in May this year.
Although he was demoted by Tsinghua University in March 2019 and banned from teaching, writing and publishing, Xu has remained defiant. His latest polemical work—“When Fury Overcomes Fear”—translated below, appeared online on February 4, 2020 as the coronavirus epidemic swept China and infections overseas sparked concern around the world.
Xu‘s writing style combines elements of classical Chinese in which references to or quotations from philosophy, history and literature are seamlessly interwoven in an elegant but highly personalized literary form commonly employed by members of China’s élite from the late-19th to the mid-20th centuries. It is a prose free of Party jargon, although the author frequently makes mocking reference to officialese and to the kind of Europeanized Chinese popularized in the 1910s when the vernacular was promoted by political and cultural progressives. Although the written language became more expressive of modern ideas it was soon overwhelmed by a kind of Communist Partyspeak that now dominates China’s media.