At a state-sponsored forum on arts and culture held earlier this month, President Xi Jinping said works of art and literature “should be like sunshine, blue sky and the spring breeze, inspiring minds, warming hearts and cultivating taste.”
What kind of taste exactly? Well, first of all, tastes and values should be uniquely Chinese. And they should also be full of “positive energy,” or zhengnengliang (正能量) — a term used widely in China’s state media since 2012 to refer to positive and uplifting content and attitudes (as opposed to critical and negative ones).
In the wave of Chinese media coverage attending the arts and culture forum, one representative in particular was singled out as the flag-bearer of “positive energy,” just the kind of voice that China needs to stake out its cultural place in the world. According to news reports, President Xi shook the hand of internet writer Zhou Xiaoping (周小平), a commentator known for his patriotic essays, and said: “Zhou Xiaoping, from here on out you must carry forward positive energy on the internet.”
One of Zhou Xiaoping’s best known writings is called A Sunshine Boy for the Mother Country (我待祖国如暖男), Zhou’s manifesto of sorts on how he sees his values and purpose. The term “sunshine boy,” or nuannan (暖男), is a new internet slang referring to a young man who, like the sunshine, instills people with feelings of warmth.
For cultural nationalists, Zhou Xiaoping certainly fits the bill.
“Exclusive Interview With Post-80s Internet Writer Zhou Xiaoping: We Must Uphold Our Own Cultural Values” (专访80后网络作家周小平: 必须坚持我们自己的文化价值观)
October 24, 2014
Post-80s internet writer Zhou Xiaoping (周小平) has been a hot property lately. At the Work Forum on Arts and Culture held on October 15, he received the affirmation of General Secretary Xi Jinping as a representative at the meeting. The general secretary said he hoped [Zhou] would “create even more works with positive energy” (正能量). From Please Don’t Let Down This Age (请不要辜负这个时代) to A Sunshine Boy for the Mother Country (我待祖国如暖男), Zhou Xiaoping has voiced his own thoughts on himself, on this age and on China, and he has drawn widespread attention on the internet. Our reporter interviewed Zhou Xiaoping on related questions.
“My sense of responsibility is pretty heavy, but I don’t feel pressure, because I’m confident I can do it well.”
Reporter: Not long ago, you took part in the Work Forum on Arts and Culture led by General Secretary Xi Jinping. Seeing as it was your first time taking part in such a meeting, how did you feel?
Zhou Xiaoping: The deepest personal feeling I had was first of all that General Secretary Xi Jinping had read a great many cultural works. Not only had he read these book, but he could talk about the content in detail — and he had even been to many of the places in these works.
His understanding about arts and culture is very profound, and that really surprised me. Because to my mind, leaders are too busy and they shouldn’t have the time to pay attention to these things. But General Secretary Xi is different. He in fact pays a great deal of attention, and he had a lot of stories to tell.
What General Xi Jinping really thirsts for is to express his innermost thoughts about the the revival of Chinese culture. This really shows between the lines — how he wants China’s cultural market to prosper, and it also shows how he wants to see Chinese culture have more confidence.
Reporter: When General Secretary Xi urged you to creative even more works with positive energy, what were your feelings right then?
Zhou Xiaoping: Actually, I had a lot of feelings going on. I’m a pretty ordinary guy, born in a far-flung place in Sichuan. That day I checked on a map and realized that there’s 1,800 kilometers between my hometown and the Great Hall of the People. So a huge distance, and such disparity of status, and it gave me this hopeful feeling. I never for the life of me believed that something like this would happen to me. My sense of responsibility is pretty heavy, but I don’t feel pressure, because I’m confident I can do it well. I can take three years, or five, or ten, or even longer to use the richest way possible to express the things I want to express, to convey my ideas and concepts through even richer and more colorful works.
“I fiercely recognize that only by returning to a sense of confidence in Chinese culture can we make our country and our lives better.”
Reporter: The many writings you’ve posted online have drawn a lot of attention and also stirred up criticism. How do you view this controversy and criticism?
Zhou Xiaoping: I read this piece that analyzed my frame of thought and said that it was inconceivable that Zhou Xiaoping’s way of thinking wouldn’t be attacked in today’s public opinion climate and cultural community. Because the first opposition voice to speak up is always the one that gets criticized. This is just normal. Today many people talk about democracy and have to talk about Greece, or talk about human rights and have to talk about the West, or talk about innovation and have to talk about America and Europe. They think Chinese culture is decadent. They have no confidence in Chinese culture. So at a time like that for someone to stand up and dare to have confidence in Chinese culture, that’s something that gets on the bad side of a lot of prejudiced people — so naturally they are attacked.
And what do my essays actually talk about? I fiercely recognize that only by returning to a sense of confidence in Chinese culture can we make our country and our lives better. In their hearts, web users hold a love for their country, and they feel conflicted about the dark mood that prevails on the internet. That’s when people like me use our own way to tell them: your country has a sunny side. And when we show that sunny side, we earn the respect of a lot of people. They don’t necessarily agree with everything I say, with every viewpoint, with every story, with all the numbers. But what they do agree with is my feelings toward the country and my pursuit of light. This is something no one can refute.
“Shaming the country is not criticism, and scolding the country is not criticism; we accept criticism, but we do not accept insults and abuses.”
Reporter: These ideas of yours can’t have come from nowhere. What is the relationship between your views and your life experiences?
Zhou Xiaoping: When I was little I was influenced a great deal by Western culture. At that time, I pretty much idolized the United States, Japan and Europe, and I didn’t feel a sense of affirmation about my own country. In Please Don’t Let Down This Age, I wrote that when I was young I wrote a lot of really foolish essays criticizing the government and voicing my admiration for the United States and Japan. But something happened when I served in the army, and it had a major impact on my values and my view of the world.
I started my military service in 1998, and the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade happened in 1999. At that time I was stationed on the border in Tibet, rifle in hand, and we stopped training and entered Level Two combat readiness (二级战备). That day, all admiration I had for America and Japan vanished. My liking for Europe disappeared too. Why? What I thought about was if we really went to war, what would my mom and dad do about those American bombs? And what about my relatives and friends? At the time I thought: If they really want to murder my relatives and friends, then they first have to step over my dead body! So from that time I went from being a baby soldier who didn’t understand a thing to a fighter devoted to the protection of his own country. Your faith comes out and you become a man, and you think, I need to protect my own country — so your sense of patriotism emerges too. My time as a soldier had a very big impact on my view of life.
I think cultural values should be diverse. When it comes down to China, we should have our own cultural values. That’s why General Secretary Xi says, “‘Getting rid of Chinese-ness’ (去中国化) is pathetic.” Because you are Chinese. And so what you adhere to can only be Chinese cultural values, and Chinese cultural values by the way are not too shabby.
For much of the broad sweep of history we were in first, and right now we’re catching up and getting ready to pass. The creativity emerging from this civilization, from our Chinese spirit, the inclusiveness and strength of our Chinese cultural inheritance, is something that deserves our pride. In China, we must adhere to the cultural values of the Chinese people. This is the only way we can live proudly in the world.
I think the fostering of this sort of attitude and the building of cultural values is a long-term project. Perhaps thirty or fifty years later, young people will have a different view of today, and a different view of the world. But how their views are different is a matter of what we do today. If we lose our culture, if we have no cultural values of our own, if we are entirely destroyed behind a tide of Western ideologies, well then, what will all of our struggles since 1840 have been for? So we have to make Chinese people feel pride and not shame for their culture and their history.
Reporter: And you think that is what love of one’s country means?
Zhou Xiaoping: Yes. General Secretary Xi has said, that we stand today closer than we ever have been to the Chinese dream. This is true. You need to understand that right now where you stand on this piece of ground, are the bones of so many martyrs. So many who sacrificed themselves. Think how many scientists returned to repay their country. How many ordinary people all playing their part . . . How can we just accept a total Westernization? I think that’s something shameful.
I think that’s how I see cultural values. We must uphold our own cultural values. Some people are always substituting their own concepts. I say, patriotism is not ass-kissing. Carrying forward the Chinese spirit is not empty flattery. We have to make a clear division over these. Shaming the country is not criticism, and scolding the country is not criticism; we accept criticism, but we do not accept insults and abuses.
The reasons are simple. For example, your child does something wrong at home. You criticize him. And maybe you spank him a couple of times. This is for his own good. In your heart you love him. But if someone comes over and says your child is a bastard, that he’ll be locked up in jail when he grows up, you would definitely sucker punch them. What we’re opposed to are those things that shame China.
Reporter: So what are your plans now that the forum [on arts and culture] is over?
Zhou Xiaoping: I’ve been a soldier. I’ve been a public servant. I’ve been a television host. And now I’ve started up a new company. From here on my main occupation won’t be essay writing, but I hope to create more and richer cultural products to express my ideas and serve society. And I hope these works truly influence others.