oa African Yearbook of Rhetoric - and rhetoric and the impossibility of constructive dissent in China

Volume 3, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2220-2188
  • E-ISSN: 2305-7785



In considering the problems associated with the voicing of constructive dissent in today's China, where the surveillance of the population by the authorities is probably at its most pervasive level as at any time in its history, I shall first briefly review the Chinese rhetorical tradition and provide examples of persuasive texts to show how dissent or disagreement was expressed in earlier times. The texts exemplify 'the art of indirect criticism' - the use of strategies of rhetorical persuasion, although direct criticism was also possible in certain circumstances. I shall then turn to the current situation. Using three contemporary dissident texts as examples (an essay by Zhou Youguang, Charter 08 and the annual letter written by the mothers of those who died in Tiananmen Square), I shall argue that, particularly since the Cultural Revolution, the 'art of indirect criticism' has been all but lost and replaced by an antagonistic style of rhetoric. Not only does this mean that there is no agreed rhetorical style in which constructive criticism can be framed, the current confrontational style commonly leads to the arrest (or worse) of the participants, and increased surveillance and suspicion by the State.

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