To Seek the Future in the Past: Thoughts on Xu Zhangrun: ‘Our Current Fears and Expectations’ (评许章润:我们当下的恐惧与期待)

21 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2018

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Flora Sapio


Date Written: August 19, 2018


In July 2018, Professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润) Professor of Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law at Tsinghua University, posted an essay, "Our current fears and expectations" (我们当下的恐惧与期待). The essay appeared on the website of the Unirule Institute of Economics (天则经济研究所), an independent think tank in Beijing. It was then translated into English by Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage on 1 August 2018 and posted to its website with an elegant and thoughtful introduction by the translator (Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes — A Beijing Jeremiad). Xu very tightly packed within the few pages of its essay a set of complex and sophisticated theoretical arguments whose elaboration and interpretation critically affects key structures of Chinese politics, economics and societal objectives. Professor Xu focuses not merely on theoretical aspects of Chinese constitutionalism in the New Era, but also its necessary consequences for the political work of the vanguard in the context of the overarching policy of Reform and Opening Up, and with it, socialist modernization. The essay quickly became quite well known in China, and abroad. The essay is important and worthy of reflection, even for those inclined to reject its claims, in whole or part. In this contribution to that necessary discussion, Flora Sapio (UniNaples, Italy) and Larry Catá Backer (Penn State, USA) for the Coalition for Peace & Ethics have each produced reflections on the many important ideas, and provocations, in Professor Xu's essay. These reflections touch on core evolving concepts of Chinese constitutionalism — the mass line, democratic centralism, and the evolution of Leninism as theory and as method. They touch on the character of China's Go Out policy as well — especially in the form of its current Belt and Road Initiative. Lastly, the reflections, like Professor Xu’s essay, touch on the critical issue of the role of the intellectual classes in the process and operation of constitutionalism, an issue with important ramifications in the West as well as in China.

Keywords: Constitutionalism, China, Marxism Leninism, Political Theory, Belt and Road Initiative, Cult of Personality, Communist Party

JEL Classification: B14, B51, K33, K42, K49, F42, F55, P21, P37

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá and Sapio, Flora, To Seek the Future in the Past: Thoughts on Xu Zhangrun: ‘Our Current Fears and Expectations’ (评许章润:我们当下的恐惧与期待) (August 19, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

Flora Sapio

Independent ( email )

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