This article assesses the Chinese intellectual scene through sketching four groups of Chinese intellectuals: state strategists, the (politically) scandalous, professionals, and the weibo (microblogging) opinion leaders. The Chinese intellectual scene today is filled with excitement and sensationalism, a carnivalesque dinner party of festivity enjoyed by academics, media practitioners, and other cultural workers — the “discourse owners” of China’s global “cultural soft power” or “discourse power,” to use the new buzzwords. Missing, however, are well-grounded and seriously thought-out responses to the fundamental questions and dilemmas that China faces today: the absence of social consensus and coherent social values that provide not only cohesiveness to an increasingly diverse and fragmented society in rapid transformation but also clues to the world community as to the future orientations of a rising China. The GDP fetish and economic developmentalism have been the backbone of the pragmatic policies of the Chinese Communist Party since reform, but three decades of economic achievement have not bolstered the leadership’s political self-confidence, let alone their vision and courage for the inevitable reforms in political and ideological realms. The continued and omnipresent censorship and self-censorship in China’s intellectual arena, as well as the corrosive effects of corruption, fraud, and the temptations of material benefits in the academic and media sectors, contribute to further divisions among Chinese intellectuals, whose identity as such has already transformed beyond recognition. China’s global soft power and discourse power campaign may ultimately turn out to be a self-celebratory extravaganza bereft of real substance.

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