大学与知识分子有怎样的关系，这应该要说到“知识分子社会”，在许纪霖看来，梁任公所说的“既有思想之中等社会”，指的就是从帝国和家族秩序中游离到民间的知识分子们所组成的社会。这些知识人，虽然成为了职业各不相同的游士，但他们并非互相隔绝的一盘散沙，而是有着一个紧密联系的社会文化网络。这样的社会文化网络，许纪霖称之为“知识分子社会”（intellectuals society），而“知识分子社会”有三个基础建构（infrastructure），那就是学校、传媒和结社，当然这三个基础建构的提出来自张灏先生，而许纪霖称之为三个基础性的公共网络。（许纪霖 《启蒙如何起死回生》北京大学出版社2011版)
Are college students intellectuals? This question comes from a presentation I did during a college course on modern history. At the time we had six students on our team, and the topic was the vicissitudes of the destiny of intellectuals. This presentation was based on two books called ‘The marginalisation of Chinese intellectuals’ by Yu Yingshi and ‘Intellectual attitudes towards orthodoxy: inheritance and loss’ by Zi Zhongyun. It divided Chinese intellectuals into six periods: ancient scholars, intellectuals during the Republic of China, intellectuals during the Anti-Rightist movement, intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals during the Reform and Opening, and modern intellectuals. At the time of the presentation, this was something I’d hoped that people could identify with. I was trying to get across a few things to 100 first-year college students: to recognise our history, to learn what has been the fate of intellectuals in history, and, ultimately, to take social responsibility to know the truth of our history. But in the end, reactions were flat. Nobody related to much of anything, let alone the underlying history.
A year later, I mentioned this to one of my friends, who said it was my mistake for choosing the wrong audience in the first place, because college students are not intellectuals. So I began to consider whether college students are intellectuals and whether universities should even be fostering intellectuals or not. Of course, first we must we must define what I mean by ‘intellectual’. ‘Intellectual’ refers to those who engage in producing and spreading knowledge, including writers, scholars, editors and so on. What’s more, there is one thing I need to mention specifically: that intellectuals should be more critical. In Zheng Yefu’s book The Study of the Intellectuals, there are three basic features of this type of intellectual. First of all, never focus on one specific subject but focus on major problems, values of society and the ultimate questions about nature and life. Second, be critical when looking at existing conditions. Third, this kind of passion and critical attitude are based on a strong sense of moral responsibility .(Zheng Yefu, The study of the intellectuals, China Youth Publishing Group, 2004)
What kind of connection is there between college and intellectuals? To answer this question, we should talk about “The Society of Intellectuals”. In Xu Jilin’s view, “the middle society with the existed thoughts ”mentioned by Liang Rengong implies a society that consists of intellectuals who wander from empire and family to the people. Those intellectuals, though they have different missions, are not separate but belong to a well connected social and cultural network, which is called “intellectuals society” by Xu Jilin. This Intellectual Society has three infrastructures: school, media and associations. Though this theory is put forward by Zhanghao, Xu Jilin calls it the three basic public networks (XuJilin How the enlightenment resurges, Peking University Press, 2011).
Before the abolition of the Chinese imperial examination system in 1905, traditional intellectuals were divided into scholar-bureaucrats and the traditional gentry. Scholar-bureaucrats depend on feudal examination system while the traditional gentry either formed a college culture – since the Song and Ming Dynasty that is to return to the folk society, to open a college, to teach in the college and to form associations – or they became local elites in rural society and later become compradors or local representatives with the development of commerce and the emergence of local gentry at the end of Qing Dynasty. However it still can’t change the importance to traditional intellectuals.
It’s not until the abolition of the Chinese imperial examination system in 1905 that colleges finally replaced the examination system to become official institutes for cultural intellectuals, acknowledged by the State. Hence, college diploma, especially the diplomas obtained overseas replaced the fame of the examination system to become a standard approach to politics, culture and the identity of social elites. ( XuJilin How the enlightenment resurges, Peking University Press,2011 ). After the abrogation of the examination system, the college has replaced this system: intellectuals no longer come from examinations, but from college. They acquire modern science rather than traditional Confucian epistemology. In some extent, according to Xu Jilin, from the year 1905 to the end of the 1940s, modern colleges cultivated more than intellectuals, they cultivated social elites.
With the disappearance of the examination system, the intellectuals “changed a history that depended on imperial politics, and owned their own independent professional space”, that is, intellectuals became independent. This independence has two sides. The good side is that intellectuals have their own independent space, they no longer live within the scope of royal politics and become real intellectuals in the modern sense. The bad side is that this kind of independence forces intellectuals to separate from society, becoming experts in one specific field. They care only about knowledge but ignore social responsibilities. Even though there are intellectuals that possess social care and social responsibility, they will be marginalized because of their separation from society.
Besides independence, the other feature of intellectuals is being critical, which comes from their own traditional culture. From Xu Jilin’s point of view, this tradition of criticism has formed a public opinion in modern colleges: modern Chinese colleges originate from traditional schools, which are not only a place to cultivate knowledge and talent but also a place to form public opinion. This tradition comes from the way traditional scholar-bureaucrats viewed schools in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties. And they tried to interpret schools as a public scholar institution to represent pact and to limit royal power. (XuJilin How the enlightenment resurges, Peking University Press,2011) Here, this criticism is especially against royal power and it’s a public opinion institution independent from bureaucracy and imperial power.
The ideal state is of course one of inseparability between independence and criticism. There’s no criticism without independence. Throughout history, only in the Ming Dynasty was public opinion actually built to rival the government. Though traditional intellectuals intended to go back to the Xia, Shang and ,Zhou Dynasties to form a real independent public opinion space that could really restrain the royal power, most of the time it couldn’t be truly independent, nor was it constructive. Even if there’s independence, there can be no criticism, but only focus on one specific area without concern about reality.
The connection between colleges and intellectuals we discussed above emerged in modern history, Colleges nowadays, since after 1905, have been cultivating elites more than intellectuals. Those elites form an “intellectuals society” supported by three infrastructures: colleges, the media and associations. Within the three infrastructures, college should be the core centres of “intellectuals society”. Those elites are separated from traditional royal power and own their own professional spaces, meanwhile possess the spirit of criticism due to the tradition of criticism.
Now let’s bring our eyes back to today’s colleges. In my opinion, since the expanding enrollment of colleges, there are two main problems faced by modern colleges: professionalization and bureaucratization. Bureaucratization can be traced back to before the expansion while professionalization has become more evident after the expansion.
The problem of expanding enrollment of colleges resulted in the devaluation of college students. More and more graduates are competing for jobs while the academic requirements in the job market are becoming higher and higher. In the meantime, expansion also leads to the ignorance of other forms of education, like vocational education and technical education. Colleges should be a place for teaching knowledge and cultivating students’ comprehensive abilities but not a training factory for vocational education nor a vocational school for providing labor to society. Yet our college classification lacks variety, except the so called 211 and 985 projects colleges. We don’t have private colleges, religious colleges and community colleges, not to mention liberal arts colleges like the US. If there’s more diversity, students can just choose the study that relate to their profession and there will be no circumstance like students who want to be a cook but end up in college studying law. Only those who want to do academic research will study at college.
Therefore, colleges after expansion are not as pure as the colleges before, when students in colleges could be called cultural elites and automatically be counted as intellectuals. (Of course talented people who haven’t been to college but learn by themselves are also intellectuals). But are contemporary students intellectuals? I don’t think so. Most of them may define themselves as rich, poor, beautiful, etc, but never as intellectuals. Having been to college is not a criterium for becoming an intellectual any more. At least to most people, they have lost this identity.
Now back to identity, Wang Fansen talked about the identity of modern intellectuals in his book Intellectuals’ changes in self-image. After the Russian Revolution, this sense of identity was transformed from “I’m an intellectual” to “why am I not a worker”. But in contemporary colleges, because of their expansion, students may not have the knowledge or abilities of intellectuals, not even their spirit of independence and criticism. Moreover, it makes the students lose the self-identity as intellectuals.
Second, bureaucratization leads to the lack of independence of some students in college. The abolition of the old examination system resulted in the independence of intellectuals from traditional royal institution. But now they’re more dependent on bureaucracy than ever. Though traditional intellectuals rely on royal politics, they own the right to interpret moral values and they represent the will of heaven just as the monarch do, according to Confucian culture.
So the baseline for colleges’ culture should be first to train qualified citizens, then to breed intellectuals with a spirit of independence and criticism. But how do the intellectuals marginalized and separated by politics and society gain cultural influence? Colleges, which are one of the three basic infrastructures forming the “intellectuals society”, may not be the only option. With the advancement of modern information and the advantage of the internet, intellectuals can also come from among people who learn by themselves and possess the spirit of social criticism and responsibility.
Are college students intellectuals? From my point of view, that depends on whether they have the spirit of criticism and independence. 算是准知识分子，是未来的知识分子，甚至能够将自我身份认同于知识分子。