When we say that “China is complicated” we don’t necessarily mean this as a negative thing. Change is happening all around us. Our society is opening up more and more by the day. Chinese are exploring their own ideas and moving in their own directions, each seeking their own position in life. Gone are the days when we all sported the same face and were all of a single mind.

Having said that, we should be concerned with the fact that civil exchange and the sharing of our respective ideas and opinions is getting more difficult all the time. It’s hard to detect in our society any sort of “consensus of the times” or other commonly-held foundation of thought or belief.

That at least is the impression I have.

Take for example the extreme language we have seen in such cases as the [self-immolation] in Yihuang, in which one official said that, “Without demolition and removal there can be no new China,” a sentiment flatly rejected by ordinary Chinese.

Generally speaking, misunderstandings between the government and the people have still not been eliminated in our country. The left side [of the CCP] has its own discourse, and the right has its own discourse, and the two sides seem to have completely lost the capacity to speak frankly about issues. Each regards the other side with disgust, and they are incapable of friendly exchange.

Many of us seek out people with whom we can share our views over a cup of tea — but most often this is to have a good laugh, not to arrive at a consensus about how to solve this or that problem. You might even say we are altogether disillusioned with this process, the product of our constant and unending disappointment. We don’t suppose those exercising power will give even a nod of consideration to our ideas. This is the way the media generally feel as well.

There is no-one we can count on to dissolve our differences or bring reconciliation, not between the government and the people, and not between the so-called left and the so-called right.

How is it that we now have ever more advanced tools for discussion at our fingertips, but the tangible results of this have only been a deterioration of the discussion?

More and more people are hungry to express themselves and have the means, but fewer seem willing to listen. Instead, everyone is speaking in his or her own corner, soliloquizing. We hear nothing, and other voices are no longer important. Even though parts of our society have reached a consensus on some key issues, like the need to abolish the existing regulation on demolition of urban housing, such action faces immense hurdles on the government level.

It seems we can only engage in a completely fruitless sort of dialogue.

Actually, this mess is worse than just ineffectiveness. We’ve become like Ivan Andreevich Krylov’s poem about the swan, the pike and the crawfish trying to pull a loaded cart off in different directions. We’ve become embroiled in a pointless and protracted war of attrition.

Who are you? Are you a swan, a pike or a crawfish? This is no longer the point. The point is that we’re all exhausting ourselves and facing extreme hardship, without any sense of security. We push off in our own directions, but its a zero-sum game. In this tug-of-war pattern, strength is of no avail in solving anything.

At such a time, what we really need is to sit still for a moment and really think. We need to sit down and have a really good talk, seeking the real means of change. In the end, we’re all concrete individuals, whether we’re system insiders or system outsiders.

Just a few days ago, a student of mine, a lively thinker, said: “Teacher, isn’t it bad too for so many media to put attention on [Chinese Academy of Social Sciences professor and CMP fellow] Yu Jianrong (于建嵘).” Yu Jianrong is a rare sort of scholar in contemporary China. In my view, his value like less in his academic work per se, or in his public addresses, than in his efforts to work toward a “China consensus.” Yu is willing to preach to government leaders to defend the interests of China’s disadvantaged.

Thinking of this, I answered the inquisitive student: “The core problem isn’t that too many have paid attention to Yu Jianrong, but that in China scholars of Yu Jianrong’s mettle are few and far between. The work that should be done by a whole class of people is bravely sustained by a handful, and they have become like stars in a tragedy. This is really what China today must work to change.”

This editorial was originally published in Chinese at The Beijing News.