He Xin


He Xin
b. 1949, Wenzhou, Zhejiang
Literary critic
A creature of the intellectual free-for-all of the 1980s, He Xin struck the pose of a renaissance man, writing tirelessly on literature, art, philosophy, economics and politics for the popular media. He was an early and acerbic critic of late-modernist trends in literature and art, warning of the dangers of Euro-American cultural decadence and the threat it posed to social coherence and political stability. He took particular delight in baiting the arrant media philosopher Liu Xiaobo.
The son of a failed Party cadre, He Xin followed an undistinguished academic career by concentrating his efforts on attracting the attention of Party and state leaders. Like many other thinkers and would-be courtiers during the 1980s, he petitioned Party elders regularly, submitting advice papers on a range of topics to anyone who cared to read them. His particular brand of cultural patriotism and anti-American opinion struck a chord with Party stalwarts like Wang Zhen and Li Peng.
A trenchant critic of pro-US intellectuals like Li Tuo (who, after a stint in the USA in the 1990s, became a born-again cultural patriot with a neo-Marxist inflection) and Wang Meng (novelist, Minister of Culture and reformist cultural critic) in the late 1980s, He Xin advocated cultural purges but cautioned that government extremism could create political martyrs. Some of his ideas were taken up by the authorities following 4 June during a time of political and intellectual poverty, and he also lectured widely at universities. He Xin’s own career foundered, however, when he publicly claimed a greater influence on Party leaders than he really enjoyed.
An intellectual apparatchik in the baneful tradition of Hu Qiaomu, Yao Wenyuan, Zhang Chunqiao and Zeng Qinghong, He Xin’s garrulous personal style and egomania led to his fall from favour in the early 1990s. The man who had played a crucial role in shaping the neo-patriotic discourse of the 1990s was later reduced to trading in antiquities. More populist and extreme voices, like those of Wang Shan (China Through the Third Eye) and the authors of China Can Say No!, would drown out the comparatively reasoned conservatism of writers like He Xin. Although he would continue to make occasional forays into the media, commenting on politics and culture, He was generally derided as a has-been contrarian. He launched a final salvo against the retiring premier, Zhu Rongji, on 1 March 2003, and announced on his website that he was withdrawing from public life.
GEREMIE R.BARMÉ

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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