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UPDATED: August 2, 2010 NO. 31 AUGUST 5, 2010
Is the Past Better Than the Present?
Experience from practice shows that it's useless indulging in the "happiness" of the past. The hope lies in more thorough reform

Recently, a yearning for "nostalgia" has appeared in China—some people show an emotional love for the social climate of decades ago and a centrally planned economy featuring egalitarian distribution. From their point of view, society is not as good as it used to be. Song Huichang, a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was asked by Beijing Daily to analyze the social phenomenon.

Feelings of nostalgia are normal psychological activities, revealing complex human feelings about the past. Nonetheless, the "nostalgic" emotion discussed here is not a recollection and longing for the past in a normal sense but refers in particular to a kind of obsession with outdated economic and social systems coupled with random condemnations and complaints about current development. This is a negative phenomenon hindering social progress.

For instance, some people always sigh with feeling, "We don't live life as happily as in the past. At that time, we didn't have the pressure of unemployment and job hunting. People had similar levels and ways of living." Accordingly follows blame and antipathy to China's reform and opening up. The essence of the emotion is disapproval of the ongoing social reform. Some people show a yearning for the privilege and vested interests lost in the process and for their lifestyles in the past as well. This yearning has translated into strong resistance to new values. This is the essence of "obsession with the past."

China's reform and opening up is an innovative activity of the whole of society. It mainly consists of reform of political institutions and economic restructuring with the purpose of turning Chinese society from rule of man to rule of law, from a planned economy to market economy, and finally bringing about changes in all fields of life. Reality shows this is the essential impetus of social development in China. Through ceaseless deepening of reform and opening up, socialist society in China must be propelled forward more forcefully. By nature, it's the will of Chinese people. The reform and opening up in China has enjoyed sincere support from most people. Nonetheless, due to their overemphasis on individual interests, as well as biased values and ways of thinking, some people are obsessed by the past and become negative about the present situation.

All great social reforms in history changed the structure of interests in society. That's to say, this change always causes temporary costs for people with vested interests. For example, in the circumstances of rule of man and a planned economy, a small number of people enjoy certain privileges. With the transformation from rule of man to rule of law and from a planned economy to market economy, they gradually lost their vested interests due to the abolition of corresponding privileges. This is an inevitable result of social development. If they take a long-term perspective, they'll understand this is not only beneficial for the whole nation but also beneficial for individuals. But there are always some narrow-minded people who cannot help but argue against every little loss they sustain.

Some people grumble, "The generally simple social climate in the 1950s-60s has disappeared; people now think too highly of individual benefits; there is too much divergence of views and it's hard to make people think alike; extreme individualism overflows and collectivism has vanished; corruption emerges because of flaws in our system, and so on." These "nostalgic" people think these are all brought about by reform, market economy, democratic politics and rule of law. Looking at these arguments superficially, people can find reasons for these viewpoints; but if they study more deeply the essence of these phenomena, it's clear these viewpoints are shallow and unilateral since the main trend of reform is toward a higher level of social development. Denying reform because of peripheral problems in its process implies the risk of great social retrogression. For Chinese people, it's a fatal issue.

It's not surprising "obsession with the past" has emerged in Chinese society. At all times and in all countries, whenever far-reaching changes have been made by profound reform, this kind of emotion emerges in society. The basic feature of the emotion is criticizing "flaws" in social reform and at the same time praising highly "advantages" of the old system. It also expresses in euphemistic ways the "wish" of going back to the old times. "Obsession with the past" almost becomes part of human history. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels revealed this phenomenon in The Manifesto of the Communist Party. The history of human development tells us it's accomplished by a new social system replacing the old one. In that process, value conflicts surely happen along with real struggles concerned with interests. What matters is that we must face reality. We should accept reform is never a trouble-free journey and mistakes do and should be allowed to happen. Regarding this, we shouldn't avoid talking about it, let alone covering it up on purpose. Meanwhile, when reform arrives as tidewater, dregs of society inevitably rise, for instance, the phenomenon of corruption. In nature, corruption comes from the combination of a resource monopoly with a power monopoly, which are the result of underdeveloped market economy and slow progress of democratic politics and rule of law in the process of a new social system replacing the old one. It means problems are the result of halfway reform. Experience from practice shows that it's useless indulging in the "happiness" of the past. The hope lies in more thorough reform. n


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