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Abstract

The tragic June 4th Crackdown on the Tiananmen Student Movement dealt a devastating blow to the hope of China’s democratization. In the 1980s, the majority of young Chinese students expressed overwhelming support for the democracy movement and the New Enlightenment thought trend which preceded the 1989 protests. The homogeneity of the 80s intellectual sphere, however, is a stark contrast to the intense debate between the “New Left” and “Liberal” camps in China which began in the late 1990s. My paper seeks to answer the question: “Why did China’s intellectual homogeneity dissolve so quickly in the 90s?” And more importantly, “What is at stake in those debates between intellectual camps?” To answer these questions, I argue that ideological differences among Chinese intellectuals fundamentally change their perception of China’s post-1989 reality. After the Tiananmen Movement, Deng Xiaoping intensified China’s economic reforms as an answer to both the internal and external crises to his political power after June 4th. While this new wave of reforms brought about unprecedented economic growth and commerce in China, it also created looming social problems such as inequality and corruption. However, these social issues generated polarizing responses from Chinese intellectuals who offered contradicting explanations to these social and economic issues. Scholars of the New Left, who argues that socialism still has a future, blamed the influx of foreign investments and global capitalism as the primary cause. The Liberals, on the other hand, identify the dictatorship of the Leninist party-state to be the cause of China’s mushrooming social ills. The paper then concludes with a reflection on the debate with respect to recent political developments in China, particularly the rise of President Xi Jinping and his Great Rejuvenation of China campaign.

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