Sunday, May 29, 2011

China's Left Alternative "Up in Arms"

Why China’s left is up in arms

From: Chinese Media Project

In recent months we have noted a resurgence of China’s hardline Maoist left. It can be glimpsed symbolically in the red pageantry of Bo Xilai (薄熙來), the former commerce minister and now Chongqing head honcho who has suspended advertising at his official television network and filled the lineup with “red culture” programming — and who has his propaganda chiefs, like so many Pied Pipers, leading the local population in “red songs” to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

It could be glimpsed earlier this year in the sudden prominence of Chen Kuiyuan (陈奎元), vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and dean of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an anti- “bourgeois liberalization” attack dog who sat with propaganda czar Li Changchun (李长春) when media control policy for 2011 was drummed home to national propaganda ministers. It could be read in and between the lines of the address to this year’s National People’s Congress by politburo standing committee member Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), in which he said China might “descend into an abyss of internal chaos” if it veered from the current political system.

The examples seem too numerous to admit doubt . . .

The silencing of Xin Ziling (辛子陵), a former official at the China National Defense University and a well-known “liberal,” who has called with great urgency for political reform. The high-profile and very personal slinging match between Wang Wen (王文), the head of the editorial desk at the Chinese-language Global Times, generally known for its nationalistic bent, and the liberal poet and essayist Ye Fu (野夫). The nasty (from the left) and very lopsided exchange between liberal scholar and CMP fellow Xiong Peiyun (熊培云) and a Party official at the University of International Business and Economics.

There is, of course, the detention and subsequent ritualistic attack on artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), known as one of China’s most outspoken proponents of political reform. And the increased visibility of Li Shenming (李慎明), currently a vice-director at CASS and formerly secretary to Wang Zhen (王震), one of the so-called Eight Elders of the Chinese Communist Party, who has argued openly for the continued relevance of the “Stalinist model,” saying the critical reason for the collapse of both the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union was not the failure of Marxism or socialism, but the betrayal of these values and systems by Khrushchev and Gorbachev.

The “deep reds,” with their wistful talk of the glories of Mao Zedong, the “Four Basic Principles” and socialism with Chinese characteristics, seem to have been emboldened.

But how, and why?

While the hawks on the left seem to have greater visibility (and perhaps greater political pull) right now, they are only half the story. It takes two to tango, right?

We have seen interesting, even historic, shows of strength from the liberal right in recent weeks. The first of two recent examples, of course, was the essay from social critic Mao Yushi (茅于轼), which enumerated the various crimes of the CCP’s revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong, an act of criticism of historic proportions. The second was an editorial in the Party’s official People’s Daily that urged tolerance for “differing ideas” and seemed to be pointing at the grumbling powers on the left when it said the “hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails” is “fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness.”

It must be noted that the People’s Daily editorial, which according to a well-placed source at People’s Daily Online was an independent effort by moderate journalists with senior-level blessing (not, as some have suggested, a cynical public relations ploy), has drawn fury from the left. During a recent speech on Marxist theory, Chen Kuiyuan, the very same man whose prominent place at the national meeting of propaganda ministers signaled tighter ideological controls on the media, said that “so-called ‘tolerance’ cannot become the ‘stealthy substitution of one thing for another’,” a clear reference to what he saw as the dangers of the kind of thinking expressed in the People’s Daily editorial. “If Marxism is stealthily substituted, and changed out slyly for ‘democratic socialism’, ‘neoliberalism’ or other such bourgeois thought systems,” said Chen, “the nature of our Party and our country will change.”

Last but not least, of course, we have Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝), who has stepped out on numerous occasions over the past year and harped on the need for political reform, most recently meeting with student leaders on the anniversary of the 1919 May Fourth Movement and on a diplomatic mission to Indonesia. And one of the most interesting (and perhaps revealing) rumors now going around in Party circles is that a deputy propaganda minister recently referred to Premier Wen as a “troublemaker.”

Therefore, as we watch China’s resurgent Maoist left, we have to recognize that the liberal right is acting with greater brazenness as well. This in fact is one important reason why we have seen so much of the left in recent months.

In the following piece, translated from the Chinese side of the China Elections and Governance website, the writer looks at the causes of these “fierce and furious responses” from China’s left. The piece provides excellent background on the current ideological rift playing out behind the scenes, where despite the outward grand narrative of a confident, exuberant and rising China, confidence is flagging.

This is make it or break it time. After three decades of reform, the big questions are now on the table.

As the intellectual Zhang Musheng (张木生) said recently on the launch of a new book that is making ripples inside the Party — more on that tomorrow — “The age of ‘avoiding debate” (不争论) has passed. We have drilled our way through ‘chaos’, and now a new age of ‘debate’ is upon us.”

“Troops on Separate Paths Draw Their Swords: Where Does Chinese Society Go From Here?” (各路人马纷纷亮剑,中国社会何去何从)
Wan Jun (万军)
May 10, 2011


Recently, vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and secretary of the Party Leadership Group, Chen Kuiyuan (陈奎元), delivered a speech during the 2011 Work Meeting on Discipline Construction for the Study of Marxist Theory on the subject of “Having Faith in Marxism, Being a Firm Marxist” (信仰马克思主义,做坚定的马克思主义者). He pointed out in his speech that: “The theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics follows in one continuous line from Marxism, and is built on the foundation of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. It is not about the restringing of a musical instrument, or making a fresh start.” “So-called ‘tolerance’ (包容) cannot transform into ‘stealthy substitution of one thing for another’ (掉包),” [Chen said]. “If Marxism is stealthily substituted, and changed out slyly for ‘democratic socialism’ (民主社会主义), ‘neoliberalism’ (新自由主义) or other such bourgeois thought systems, the nature of our Party and our country will change. Therefore, so-called ‘tolerance’ can under no condition become stealthy substitution of one thing for another. We must not allow our very soul to be lost imperceptibly.” Clearly, this speech is like many speeches we have seen in the past two years, with statements like, “[We] resolutely will not allow the usurping of Party and state power under the banner of reform and opening,” or, “[We] resolutely oppose universal values,” etcetera. All of these are aimed at certain social phenomena, and they are quite pointed [in their criticisms].

Naturally, Chen Kuiyuan’s speech represents more than his personal viewpoint. He represents formidable powers. This causes us to recall the remarks of one high-level central Party leader at this year’s two meetings [of the NPC and CPPCC], who said, “In adhering to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the most important thing is to keep to the correct political direction. [We] must not waver on the basic [political] system of our nation and other major matters of principle. If we waver, not only will there be no building of socialist modernization to speak of, but the development gains we have already made will be lost, and the nation might even descend into an abyss of internal chaos.” [NOTE: This statement was made by Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC and a senior politburo standing committee member]. He also said with great gravity that, “China will not do multi-party governance in succession, will not do diversity of guiding ideologies, will not do separation of powers or a bicameral system, will not do federalism, and will not do privatization.” With delirious delight, as though he had found a hidden treasure, Zhang Hongliang (张宏良), a Maoist Communist Party member and a professor at China University of Nationalities (Minzu University of China), used the biggest platform of the Maoist left, the Utopia website, to make a report lasting almost three hours, carrying out a comprehensive interpretation of the speech by this high-level leader.

[Zhang Hongliang] then said with utter confidence: “If the Chinese people want to rise without the banner of Mao Zedong, there is no way . . . We must believe that the era of Mao Zedong Thought is coming. We must prepare.” [He added], “Some people say we’re talking about cutting our country off from the world. Then let’s cut our country off from the rest of the world, I say! What’s so bad about that?” This all creates the impression that “a tide of revolution is coming.” When you link the words of these people together, when you line all of these characters up together, the conclusion that you come to us this — that if we want to continue holding high the banner of reform and opening, taking ourselves deeper into the tide of world civilization, the impediments to this are many indeed.


What exactly is it that has stirred all of these people to make such fierce and furious responses? Please see the following materials, from which we can certainly find the answers we need.

February 27, 2010 — Wen Jiabao (温家宝) says during an online discussion with web users: “I’ve referred in the past to remarks made by Chairman Mao Zedong and Mr. Huang Yanpei (黄炎培) before the founding of the republic to resolve the problem of the periodic law (周期律) [of the successive changing of dynasties] and the fact that ‘the nation can fall as quickly as it rises’, [and I said] that the most important thing is democracy, and only with democracy can we ensure the we don’t [have the problem of] a man’s policy measures dying with him (人亡政息).”

June 2010 — Political reforms in Hong Kong come to an impasse, then suddenly there is a reversal, the central leadership accepts the political reform plan of the Democratic Party. Soon after, Adam Michnik, the former advisor to Lech Walesa of Poland’s independent trade union Solidarity paid a visit to China and had a forum with Chinese scholars. At the same time, the senior cadre Qin Xiao (秦晓) meets with People’s Liberation Army General Liu Yazhou (刘亚洲), the son-in-law of Li Xiannian (李先念) [and a well-known proponent of democracy], for talks on universal values.

August 21, 2010 — Wen Jiabao delivers a speech in Shenzhen called “Only By Adhering to Reform and Opening Does Our Country Have a Bright Future” (只有坚持改革开放,国家才有光明前途), in which he says: “Without the protection afforded by political reforms, we will lose the gains [we have made] through economic reforms, and our goal of modernization cannot be achieved . . . Stopping or moving back will not only spell and end to the fruits of 30 years of reform and opening and a precious development opportunity, sapping the vigor and vitality of socialism with Chinese characteristics, but it will go against the wishes of the people, and is ultimately a dead end.”

September 23, 2010 — Wen Jiabao accepts an interview with CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria, [and says]: “I believe that while moving ahead with economic reforms, we also need to advance political reforms, as our development is comprehensive in nature, our reform should also be comprehensive. I think the core of your question is about the development of democracy in China. I believe when it comes to the development of democracy in China, we talk about progress to be made in three areas: No. 1: We need to gradually improve the democratic election system so that state power will truly belong to the people and state power will be used to serve the people. No. 2: We need to improve the legal system, run the country according to law, and establish the country under the rule of law and we need to view an independent and just judicial system. No. 3: Government should be subject to oversight by the people and that will ask us, call on us to increase transparency in government affairs and particularly it is also necessary for government to accept oversight by the news media and other parties . . . And such a democracy first and foremost should serve to ensure people’s right to democratic elections, oversight and decision making. Such a democracy should also help people to fully develop themselves in an all-around way in an environment featuring freedom and equality. And such a democracy should be based on a full-fledged legal system. Otherwise, there would be chaos. That’s why we need to run the country according to law and ensure that everyone is equal under the law.” [NOTE: Above is not translated from the Chinese version, but taken directly from CNN's transcript of the interview.]

April 22, 2011 — Prosecutors in the Li Zhuang Case withdraw charges [against the defense lawyer Li Zhuang]. The so-called “Li Zhuang Lawyer’s Perjury Case” (李庄漏罪案) is a symbolic case in the city of Chongqing’s campaign against criminal elements and its turn toward “red culture” and propaganda. The withdrawal of the case has a ripple effect throughout society, doubts open up about [Bo Xilai's] “anti-crime drive” (打黑) and the “red singing” [campaign] appears desolate and ridiculous.

April 26, 2011 — Caixin Online, a media under the Party newspaper Zhejiang Daily, publishes an essay from the economist Mao Yushi (茅于轼) called “Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form” (把毛泽东还愿成人), which said: “Mao Zedong was not a god, and he must ultimately step down from the stage of godhood and become an ordinary man. Once he has been stripped of his cloak of divinity, and all of the superstitions surrounding him have vanished, he must be subjected to fair judgement.”

April 30, 2011 — The CCP’s newspaper organ the People’s Daily publishes an editorial called “Meeting ‘Diverse Thinking’ With a Tolerant Heart” (以包容心对待社会中“异质思维”) that says: “Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested. ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ This [quote from Voltaire] expresses a kind of openness, and even more a sense of confidence. The hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails, this way of thinking is fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness, and it does not benefit the construction of social harmony or the creation of a healthy temperament.”

May 4, 2011 — Southern Metropolis Daily publishes “Wu Kangmin: The Premier Invited Me For ‘a Talk’” (吴康民:总理邀我“一晤”), and points out: when Wen Jiabao spoke about the difficulties facing mainland reforms, he mentioned two principal forces, the first the remnants of feudal society, the second is the evil legacy of the ‘Cultural Revolution.’ [NOTE: Ng Hong Mun is chairman of the Hong Kong delegation to the NPC.]

Look at the above materials and we understand only too clearly that these men have reacted so fiercely because reform elements within the Party have shouted again and again. Yes, China is in the midst of a fierce clash between different ideas, and this state of affairs has directly impacted political trends in China. These political trends concern the direction of economic development. At its most basic, this clash of ideas concerns the major question of what course the Chinese people should take.


This fierce clash of ideas exposes the crisis facing socialism with Chinese characteristics. The special characteristics theory was something raised by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s according to the new development demands of society. There were three basic sources. The first was the original doctrine of socialism, and this was evinced clearly in the raising of the banner of Marxism-Leninism, the adherence to single-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party, and a national economic system focusing on the state-run economic sector. The second source was Chinese culture. If the theory of special characteristics was to be rooted in the native country it must be permeated with Chinese cultural elements. In the old parlance, this was about “taking Marxism-Leninism and combining it with the concrete experiences of revolution in China.” Wherein lies the deepest truths about China? Not, I think, in its huge population, or in its clear differences with [countries] around the world. Rather, it lies in those things that manifest the spiritual core of the Chinese people. In understanding the world, the Chinese people have always begun with the yin and the yang — this is true of [understanding] nature, and it is true of [understanding] society. Linguistically, the Chinese people have two systems, the first real [or concrete] (实) and the other void [or fictitious] (虚). Behaviorally, there are also two systems, one yang ["explicit" or "positive"] (meaning clear principles) and the other yin ["implicit" or "negative"] (meaning the unrevealed principles). As these [cultural elements] appear in special characteristics theory, this means that a number of important and well-known wordings and formulations (提法) must be understood in the context of these systems. For example, “First let a few get rich,” but how? The premises are unclear, they are implicit, but the results are explicit, and they must rely on many principles (including many unspoken ones) in order to be achieved. 尽管后来有人匆匆忙忙予以阐述,但已很难改变人们固有的认识. Then there was [Deng Xiaoping's] so-called “Cat Theory” (猫论), “crossing the river by feeling the stones” (摸着石头过河), and all were perhaps this way — to understand them you must put them in the context and background of Chinese culture. The third [source of special characteristics theory] were various principles from capitalist market economies, but owing to theoretical needs, these principles were always referred to as principles of the “socialist market economy” (社会主义市场经济). It was this theory that over thirty years resulted in a soaring Chinese economy, with China becoming the world’s second largest economy and causing many people to shout: “China has risen!” At the same time, under the guidance of these theories [borrowed from capitalist market economies] the country has accumulated many thorny problems, such as a growing gap between rich and poor, which has already surpassed that of the world’s most developed capitalist countries. Mechanisms of self-governance and self monitoring [by the Party and government] have turned corruption into a great scourge, so that it has already become one of the countries most salient cultural characteristics. The power of citizens is continuously trampled under foot, and moral dust storms come blowing in one after another . . . All of this has covered the face of the theory of socialism with special characteristics with a layer of grey, and it faces a serious test.

Concerning the whole range of problems existing in society, the normal means would be to treat them surgically, ensuring that the nation operates in health. But the state system under the guidance of special characteristics theory has an extremely small capacity for correcting its errors. Take, for example, the ongoing food safety issues that concern all Chinese. Not only have they not been effectively checked, they’ve grown worse and worse. This shows us that this theory [of socialism with Chinese characteristics] is applicable only to a moment in time, and cannot be applied more broadly. It must exit the stage of history. But there are some who are terrified of this historical necessity, and they will stop at nothing to defend this theory. Their reasons are simple. They are the greatest beneficiaries of this theory. And of course, they represent a powerful force, and they have a foothold in political power, finance, trade, foreign relations, science and technology and other areas.

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