Sage of ‘The End of History’
Stanford University scholar and controversial theorist Francis Fukuyama chats with China Daily in Beijing, Zhang Yue reports.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.