Editorial: Don’t wet the bed right before dawn | Apple Daily Hong Kong
“Wetting the bed right before dawn” has become the adage in vogue on the Chinese Internet. This is a commentary of Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan’s wife towards her husband on forgoing his virtue in his old age. The reason why it was stirred up again was thanks to renowned historical geographer Ge Jianxiong, whose remarks that “history is to maintain the legitimacy of contemporary politics and regime” triggered the debate among scholars on whether one should “conduct academic research while kneeling”. Throughout the history of mankind, there is no lack of scholars and reputable people who wet the bed right before dawn, and of course, there are also a lot who uphold their conscience. Hong Kong is no exception.
Public opinion mocks scholar for sucking up to the authorities
Ge Jianxiong is the former Director of the Institute of Historical Geography of Fudan University in Shanghai, Director of the Fudan University Library, and also a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He is known as “Howitzer Ge” for being one who does not mince words. In a recent clip being circulated, he emphasized in a seminar at the beginning of the year that “the history of any country, party, and group is to strengthen its own political legitimacy and not to be questioned, or even denied.” Xi Jinping has repeatedly lambasted historical nihilism, for “history is to maintain the political legitimacy of the CCP”. Ge even added that “our history is to safeguard the political legitimacy of the CCP.” These remarks have been hyped up as the CCP approaches its centenary, and many have mocked him for sucking up to the authorities, including ironic reference of “wetting the bed right before dawn”.
Feng Youlan, who was ridiculed by his wife, was in fact highly regarded in the philosophy department in Chinese academia. In China’s academic world of philosophy, it is said that there have been one and a half philosophers in China in the past century, one is Feng Youlan, the other half is Hu Shi. Towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, Feng Youlan joined the writing team of the Gang of Four and published the 25-poem “Songs of History” (《詠史》) in “Guang Ming Daily” (《光明日報》), among which the two lines “Zetian dared to be the empress, the only heroine in Chinese history” were said to be licking the boots of Jiang Qing. As history goes, the Gang of Four collapsed soon after. The illustrative description of Feng epitomized the embarrassment in which Feng found himself, and was widely circulated at the time.
Compared to Feng Youlan and Ge Jianxiong’s forfeiture of their virtues, Wang Zhongmin, a highly regarded “national treasure” master of Dunhuang studies and ancient philology, had upheld his integrity till death without succumbing to lies, and therefore was naturally revered. Wang Zhongmin was a dean at Peking University’s library science department. During the Cultural Revolution, he was locked in a bullpen, where he expressed his dissatisfaction on rough toilet paper, for which he was beaten up by the opposition faction. In April 1975, he refused to endorse the “Compendium of Historical Review” used as a struggle tool by Peking University and Tsinghua University, and insisted that it was a forgery. As a result, he was put through struggle sessions. No, he did not wake up to a wet bed, but instead, he was willing to die for his beliefs. He died hanging himself in the corridor of the Summer Palace.
To endure the interrogation of conscience, and not be a mockery in history
In the face of power, be it among intellectuals or dignitaries in society, there will inevitably be a split, and many choices to be made. This situation did not occur in China during the Cultural Revolution alone. During the Nazi regime in Germany, the famous philosophers Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger chose vastly different paths as well. The former never yielded nor cooperated, and always carried in his pocket cyanide-capsules, and was known as the “conscience in dark times”; the latter led 960 professors to swear support and allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi regime, and was regarded as “an episode of soul-selling that has humiliated the glorious history of German academia.”
In comparing the difference between Jaspers and Heidegger, netizen “9 PM” (Jiu Dian) pointed out that: “the reason why Germany has fallen into the abyss gradually was not because nobody discovered the evil of the Nazis, but because everyone opted for an ignoble existence in the presence of the Nazi’s evil. Then, one step at a time, they’ve evolved into a point of ‘inhumanity.’”
Jaspers is dead on the target when he said, “But each one of us is guilty insofar as he remained inactive.”
Whether it was the Cultural Revolution in China, or Nazi Germany, there were dark times in the history of human civilization. Yet, dawn is bound to come after darkness, and humans will return to civilization. Therefore, whether one is an intellectual, a media professional, a politician, or a tycoon, to find yourself in such a time, one must endure the interrogation of wisdom and conscience. Please do not wet the bed right before dawn and be the laughing stock of history.
This article is translated from Chinese by Apple Daily.
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