Sage of ‘The End of His­tory’

Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity scholar and con­tro­ver­sial the­o­rist Fran­cis Fukuyama chats with China Daily in Bei­jing, Zhang Yue re­ports.

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Fran­cis Fukuyama felt a bit tired af­ter speak­ing dur­ing two days of lec­tures in Bei­jing. It was his fourth visit to China in the past five years, largely spent at­tend­ing aca­demic ac­tiv­i­ties.

Af­ter de­liv­er­ing a lec­ture on April 21 with pro­fes­sor Masahiko Aoki, the Ja­panese scholar in com­par­a­tive in­sti­tu­tional eco­nomics, Fukuyama spent about an hour tak­ing ques­tions from the au­di­ence and sign­ing his books. The lec­ture, themed State Gov­er­nance and Cor­po­ra­tive Gov­er­nance, was held at the School of Public Poli­cies and Man­age­ment of Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity.

“I was ac­tu­ally sur­prised by the num­ber of peo­ple who speak such good English and who have read my book,” Fukuyama said.

Some of the most fre­quently raised au­di­ence ques­tions on his more re­cent visit to China shed light on whether he has changed his view on the tri­umph of lib­eral democ­racy in light of China’s eco­nomic suc­cess as well as his sug­ges­tions on China’s anti-cor­rup­tion battle.

The 63-year-old in­sists in de­scrib­ing him­self as an out­sider look­ing at China, and he said he is more in­ter­ested in look­ing at his­tory, present signs and find­ing out the rea­sons why than giv­ing con­crete sug­ges­tions.

“China’s eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion has been hugely suc­cess­ful and was seen as magic by the rest of the world,” he said. “And I be­lieve that such eco­nomic suc­cess is sup­ported from the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

“And my sug­ges­tion on the an­ti­cor­rup­tion battle would be that when deal­ing with cor­rup­tion, it re­quires a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion that can be in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized,” he said.

The Amer­i­can scholar and pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity be­came best known for his book The End of His­tory and the Last Man, pub­lished in 1992, in which he ar­gued that lib­eral democ­racy is the best and only way to run a mod­ern state. The book gained huge in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and dis­cus­sion and has since been trans­lated into more than 20 lan­guages. His later work in 2011, The Ori­gins of Po­lit­i­cal Or­der, ar­gued that three build­ing blocks are re­quired for a well-or­dered so­ci­ety: a strong state, the rule of law, and demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity. The se­quence in which th­ese in­sti­tu­tions were adopted strongly in­flu­ences their sub­se­quent devel­op­ment. In his books, Fukuyama has made the state­ment that China has a strong state, but is lack­ing the rule of law and demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity. Ac­cord­ing to him, the mod­ern state ap­peared for the first time in China in the Qin Dy­nasty (221-206 BC), which was much ear­lier than in most West­ern coun­tries.

The pro­fes­sor has moved from Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity in Wash­ing­ton, DC, to Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, in Cal­i­for­nia, partly be­cause Stan­ford at­tracted more his­to­ri­ans who bet­ter un­der­stood China’s Han Dy­nasty (206BC-AD 220).

“At my school in Wash­ing­ton there were no his­to­ri­ans who un­der­stand China well,” he said. “Yet un­for­tu­nately, by the time I moved to Stan­ford, I had fin­ished writ­ing the part of China’s Han Dy­nasty of my book.”

He said he has been keep­ing a close eye on China’s devel­op­ment in re­cent years. In the lec­ture, be­sides in­tro­duc­ing the core idea of this aca­demic work, he ar­gued that there is no cer­tain po­lit­i­cal form that ap­plies to all coun­tries in the world, be­cause the world changes fast and po­lit­i­cal form is un­der­go­ing changes as well.

Daniel A. Bell, a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at the School of Hu­man­i­ties at Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity, as well as the au­thor of The China Model, has been teach­ing Fukuyama’s work this se­mes­ter for one of his grad­u­ate cour­ses in in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal ethics. He also joined a Fukuyama sym­po­sium a week ago on ad­vanc­ing the rule of law in China, or­ga­nized by the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of For­eign Ex­perts Af­fairs.

“His work is in­cred­i­bly wide-rang­ing and dif­fer­ent parts ap­pealed to dif­fer­ent stu­dents. But the Chinare­lated parts of the book gen­er­ated the most de­bate,” Bell said. “He writes about Chi­nese his­tory and pol­i­tics in a com­par­a­tive con­text, so most stu­dents find his work even more en­gag­ing,”

The class has eight stu­dents who come from China, Ger­many and In­done­sia. He said that be­sides his­tor­i­cal and eth­i­cal is­sues, the stu­dents de­bated some of the trans­la­tion of key terms in the book a lot.

“Some words, like ‘clien­tal­ism’, do not have ready equiv­a­lents in Chi­nese. And Fukuyama’s spe­cial use of terms like ‘mid­dle class’ means we had to think of trans­la­tions that dif­fer from the norm,” Bell said.

Bell’s first per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion with Fukuyama was over din­ner at Stan­ford in the sum­mer of 2014.

“He is a thought-pro­vok­ing yet bal­anced scholar who goes be­yond the usual dis­ci­plinary bound­aries,” Bell said, when asked about his im­pres­sion about Fukuyama. “Rather than rest­ing on the fame of his 1989 ar­ti­cle, he has been pro­duc­ing a se­ries of long and thought­ful books that span cul­tures and dis­ci­plines, and he is only get­ting bet­ter with time.”

Meng Fanli, edi­tor in charge of the Chi­nese ver­sion of Fukuyama’s two books at Guangxi Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity Press, said that what he likes most about Fukuyama’s work is his in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary anal­y­sis in the his­tor­i­cal con­text.

“I think some Chi­nese read­ers have cer­tain mis­con­cep­tions about Pro­fes­sor Fukuyama and con­sider him as an ad­vo­cate for West­ern forms of lib­eral democ­racy be­cause of his book in 1992, and there­fore did not even fin­ish read­ing his books,” Meng said. Con­tact the writer at zhangyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

SHAO HAO / FOR CHINA DAILY

Fran­cis Fukuyama Amer­i­can scholar and pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity Fran­cis Fukuyama spoke with China Daily on April 22 in Bei­jing. The Amer­i­can scholar and pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity be­came best known for his book The End­ofHis­to­ryandtheLastMan, pub­lished in 1992.

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