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Qin Hui (Chinese: 秦晖; Pinyin: Qín Huī; born 1953) is a Chinese historian and public intellectual. He holds the position of Professor of History, Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing.


His primary field is economic history, but since 1992 he has emerged as a prominent public intellectual, taking a stand on a range of issues, often in conflict with the official doctrines of the Chinese government.

In terms of political ideology, Qin Hui defends a left-liberal position. He favors privatization under strict conditions of democratic openness. However he opposes market fundamentalism in its Chinese forms, and seeks to introduce institutions of social democracy, including some aspects of the welfare state. He strongly defends liberty as a political value, and often allies with other Chinese intellectuals labeled "liberal." (Note that this term is used in a different sense from the currently popular usage in the United States of America. Qin's liberalism is the "traditional" sense associated with classical texts, e.g. the Federalist Papers). He has engaged in polemics with the Chinese New Left, particularly its more populist and nationalist forms. He has for example signed petitions protesting chauvinistic responses to the 9.11 attacks in New York.

His major contribution as a public intellectual has been to initiate wide debates on social justice. Having himself been sent down to work as a peasant in a poor mountainous region of Southwest China in the Cultural Revolution, he has identified China's peasantry as suffering from grave lack of social justice up to the present day. At the same time, his historical research has shown strong tendencies of the peasantry to enhance their citizen status whenever possible (whereas the urban working class has often tended to demand restitution of the dependent client status it enjoyed under the Maoist planned economy).

A skilled writer able to provide incisive arguments and encapsulations of complex issues, Qin Hui has introduced a host of influential themes to the Chinese-speaking world, and in the so-called "Sinosphere" (or Chinese language Internet), collections of his works can be found on literally scores of websites. An important case in point is his doctrine of "issues versus isms" (wenti yu zhuyi).

Qin has drawn on the work of Chayanov, Eric Wolf and other writers on agrarian society to attack cultural essentialism in studies of the Chinese peasantry, which often takes the form of portraying the peasantry as permanently imbued with Confucianism and the collectivist ethics of the feudal patriarchal lineage. Qin has been concerned to show that history rather than culture provides a solid explanatory framework for the empirical phenomena.

Qin's formal research has largely been concerned with China's agrarian history in the broad. Contrary to the received Maoist view which emphasized peasant wars as expressions of class struggle, Qin concludes that the most significant fault-line in the countryside was not between peasant and landlord, but between peasant and official. This has obvious consequences for interpreting contemporary rural China.

Qin Hui is married with one daughter. His wife, Jin Yan (金雁) is an eminent scholar of Eastern European and Russian affairs in her own right, often collaborating with Qin under the nom-de-plume Su Wen (苏文).

See also


  • David Kelly, “Guest Editor’s Introduction,” in The Mystery of the Chinese Economy, special issue of The Chinese Economy, vol. 38, no. 4, July–August 2005, pp. 3–12.
  • Qin Hui, “The Common Baseline of Modern Thought,” in ibid., pp. 12–22.
  • Qin Hui, “Dividing the Big Family Assets,” [New Left Review] 20 (March–April 2003).
  • Qin Hui and Su Wen, Tianyuanshi yu kuangxiangqu–Guanzhong moshi yu qianjindai shehuide zairenshi (Pastorals and rhapsodies: the Central Shaanxi model in rethinking pre-modern society) (Beijing: Zhongyang bianyi chubanshe, 1996).
  • Qin Hui, Wenti yu zhuyi (Issues and isms) (Changchun chubanshe, 1999).

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