PIG: From Moral Utopia to Agreement Community: A Historical Research of Decentralized Organizations in Modern China


From Moral Utopia to Agreement Community: A Historical Research of Decentralized Organizations in Modern China

Team Members

Yun Miumiu and Xixi

Short Summary

Decentralized organization is not a new concept. While it may not be directly considered the traditional successor of the democratic political tradition, it is at least related to the anarchist and socialist ideological trends since the 20th century. In China, anarchist thought was introduced in the late Qing Dynasty, and related practices reached a climax in the 1920s. In the 1930s, left-wing thought led by the Comintern replaced it. However, the widespread spread of anarchism itself also influenced Chinese intellectuals in their acceptance of left-wing ideological trends, and still formed part of the political and cultural ideals of modern China for a long time. In the bipolar confrontation of the Cold War, very few people paid attention to other social transformation imaginations in the 20th century, as well as the new democratic imagination contained in socialism itself, which often pointed to the discovery of mass power—in other words, the dispersion of intelligence and creativity of nobody. We could build an association between the conception of “protocol” with these various social movements from organizing mass groups to trying community autonomy, the moral politics, and moral idealism that emerged from the beginning of Chinese-style socialism and later intensified, since morality can also be regarded as “protocol”, which once was even the first factor for the protocol.

When we pay attention to the small groups in all shapes and sizes in the 1920s and 1930s, such as the New Village Experiment and work-study organizations, and those literati living in the garrets of Shanghai, we can find many similarities between them and “digital nomads” of our times. In addition to the decentralized organizational form, there are also a series of other similar characteristics: their cosmopolitan view, the preference of co-residence, a tendency to disconnect from the original community, an age structure dominated by “youth”, and even their open attitude to relationship and romance. Qu Qiubai, the pioneer of China’s left-wing revolution, named a type of intellectual at that time as “Bohemian” (he translated it as “薄海民”, and attached some native meanings to this foreign concept), which is exactly the same as the self-identification of “digital nomads” in China today. This is no coincidence, but contains the code of a certain political culture. When we discuss decentralized organizations today, imagine all these new technologies and new governance possibilities, what is actually happening? Have we secretly inherited some “seemingly forgotten memories”?

The “protocol” is not only a technical issue but also a cultural issue and a political economy issue that affects the totality. We think this aspect should be emphasized especially when it comes to the “humanities” in technology. It is necessary to expand the historical perspective of protocol research. We’d like to do some basic research on this area, starting with a century-long dialogue in modern China.

Q: What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?
A: This proposal addresses the fact that existing discussions of “protocols” from the perspective of technology, for example, blockchain, rarely mention their historical origins. Due to the ignorance of the historical experience worthy of reference, it is difficult to further our discussions. There is a lack of necessary understanding of the possibility, prospect, and practice, as well as what kind of humanity and interpersonal relationship we need to face.

Q: What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?
A: If we believe that the existing discussion of decentralized organizations is similar to the revolutionary trend of anarchism and socialism in the 20th century, how are they specifically connected? Furthermore, how do we view the practical difficulties encountered by decentralized organizations today? How does today’s exploration constitute a meaningful transcendence?

Q: What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?
A: In the part of historical narration, the main methodology should be literature research and case research based on the materials during the Republic of China and after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It is also a need to address some international thoughts.
When it comes to the associations and inspirations for contemporary, we will conduct interviews and field trips.

Q: In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?
A: We plan to present historical narratives for the general public to showcase the historical roots of new ideas and their profound influence on the country’s development path. Additionally, we will create theoretical articles for discussion with experts.

Q: How will you field-test your improvement idea?
A: It’s challenging to “test” a historical research project. However, we plan to run a series of workshops discussing related questions, such as why past plans failed, how people felt and explained their trials, and what we can learn from them.

Q: Who will be able to judge the quality of your output?
A: This is a literary and historical research topic, and we hope it will lead to a dialogue with the humanities academic research community. Additionally, it will tell a fascinating historical story about humanity’s journey of finding better ways to connect, cooperate, and cohabit for centuries, so it is also necessary to gain public attention.

Q: How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?
A: We plan to publish an academic paper and an essay for popularization. Additionally, we may use podcasts, interviews, and videos.

Q: What is the success vision for your idea?
A: We aim to clarify the historical lineage of both theory and practice in decentralized organizations since the 20th century in China, identify what we can learn from it, and explore how we can make a real breakthrough in discussing “protocol” based on technological innovation today.