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Professor Xu Zhenzhou: On the spirit of equality and its social significance

Peking University, Mar. 20, 2014: "The genuine harmony and equality could not be achieved until the effects of economic prosperity and material gain on individuals are weakened." said Professor Xu Zhenzhou from the School of International Studies, PKU.

Professor Xu explored the essence of the spirit of equality and its significance for reality at the 72nd Caizhai Lecture held on March 13th.

Professor Xu's research interests include western political philosophy and French politics. He emphasized the vital importance of the issue of equality, which was not only a major research object in traditional studies of political science but also an inevitable problem in political practices.

Professor Xu Zhenzhou delivering a lecture on the spirit of equality

Professor Xu looked at the political history from the perspective of the game theory and pointed out that the whole history was a competition between various powers and in particular, a competition between the elite and the common people. He gave the audience a concise sketch of three kinds of typical western opinions on equality: the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato, believed that men were born unequal and that individuals should enter professions which befitted their social ranks and duties; over 2000 years later, in post-Revolution France, people began to recognize legal equality, although meanwhile they still thought that men were actually unequal because of their innate differences in talents, merits and abilities; the third group of thinkers, represented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, held the view that men should be equal both in law and in reality.

In modern China, the nation's increasing emphasis on and the society's obsession with success, according to Professor Xu, were somewhat undermining the spirit of equality. The widespread infatuation with material prosperity, with its assurance about happiness in this world, was actually a mentality advantageous for the powerful individuals, since in fact, the majority of the community members were unable to notch up the so-called "success". The ordinary individuals might sink into a mood of pessimism if they could not achieve the expected self-fulfillment. Such a negative mood might further shatter the confidence of those at a disadvantage and ferment a general disbelief in social equality.

Professor Xu stressed that genuine harmony and equality could not be achieved until we set up an appropriate political structure which featured the reasonable compromises between the elite and the ordinary folks and weakened the effects of economic prosperity and material gain on the individuals.

Background Info
Caizhai Lectures are a series of lectures which are put on to promote interdisciplinary researches and to provide the graduate students with diverse academic viewpoints. The project was launched in the autumn semester of 2010. Every semester, the organizers will hold 8 to 10 lectures and invite eminent researchers in the fields of humanities, social science and natural science to share with the audience their understanding of the structure, research history and application of a certain discipline as well as the potentialities and future of interdisciplinary explorations.

Written by: Chen Jiayu
Edited by: Zhu Wenjia
Source: PKU News (Chinese)