Theory and Society

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 425–449 | Cite as

On the public commitment of intellectuals in late socialist China

  • Maurizio MarinelliEmail author


This article investigates the intense debate on the figure of “Chinese public intellectuals,” which has gained increasing importance, both inside and outside Mainland China, during the last decade. The climax was reached in the year 2004, when the debate on the search for and against a role for the “public intellectuals” became the litmus test of the intellectual intersections between the State actors and the public. Through a close reading of the crucial documents, this article critically engages with the terminology and the interpretive paradigms employed. Thus the article highlights the contribution of the scholars examined to a dialogue on the role of critical thinking within China as well as globally. In fact, the exploration of the diversity of contemporary Chinese thought on the topic of “public intellectuals” can be inscribed within the framework of the following questions: How is the social category of “public intellectuals” used and why? And, ultimately, what does it really means to be an intellectual for the public in China today? In this sense, the article sheds light on the indigenous and foreign understandings of “public” and “intellectual.”


Chinese public intellectuals Party-State Market Liu Xiaobo 



The author would like to express his grateful thanks to the Senior Editors of Theory and Society for their thought-provoking comments and suggestions. The paper has also benefited from advice and insightful comments from two anonymous peer-reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.China Research CentreUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia

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