Remember the Journey

On the 60th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party rule, Bao Tong, former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, says China needs competitive elections.
2009-10-05
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Bao Tong, political dissident and aide to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, Sept. 14, 2009.
Bao Tong, political dissident and aide to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, Sept. 14, 2009.
AFP

By Bao Tong

The People’s Republic of China’s 60th birthday is nearly upon us. How should Chinese people show their love and concern for their country? By reviewing the troops? By sending their good wishes? By going out and having fun? By publishing a few appropriate articles?

None of these is most important. But neither is clearing the streets of peddlers and hawkers, pursuing and detaining petitioners, cracking down on negative reporting, and forbidding any form of collective complaint from ordinary citizens in keeping with the spirit of National Day. I hope that we will never see this again.

If we are to show love and concern for our country, then we need to remember the journey we have made over the last 60 years, to list the particulars of each year minutely, in a conscientious rather than a perfunctory way. Which events were in the interests of ordinary Chinese people, and which events brought them calamity? Which policies stand the test of history and which required an utter reversal of direction?

The old saying people used in the past which said we should look at the big picture isn’t necessarily correct here. The big picture can all too easily become a set of muddled accounts. We need to set it all out, item-by-item, and ask China’s people to include their personal views, and to point out their high and low points.

Many different opinions should be given the opportunity to debate with one another, regardless of whether they are on the left, the right, or from anywhere else in politics. Nobody should have the right to order anyone else’s mouth closed in the name of “unifying our thinking.”

Some things are hard to say in isolation. But if we are going to put the people at the heart of things, if we are going to accept that the people have a right to understand what is going on, then we have to trust them. How many poor laborers and farmers really died of famine during the past 60 years? How many trumped-up charges were brought? How many good citizens were beaten to death? Where was the state in the face of such tragedies? Where has the rule of law gone?

If we take away the number of successfully resolved cases from the number of cases that have dragged on for year after year with no resolution, what is the result? How many cases are resolved, compared with the number still using up the last of people’s energy to bring?

Rampant corruption

The Party and government have a responsibility to tell the masters of this country. They shouldn’t dress it up in fancy talk.

And those hidden troubles shouldn’t be allowed to remain packaged up in talk of “great and mighty results,” for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all their descendants. For example, the corruption endemic in public actions and the widening gap between rich and poor which hide in the words “prosperity” and “the rise of China.” For example, the plunder of natural resources and the laying waste of the environment that hide behind the words “hard reasoning of development.” For example, the collapse of personal freedoms, religious freedom, ethnic autonomy, and freedoms of speech, protest, and demonstration that lie behind the words “stability above all else.” For example, the empty speeches, fake permits, moral decay, and unscrupulous actions bound up in the words “the honor of Party and state.” All of these need further summarizing.

All of the great mistakes at a national level with far-reaching consequences were committed under the planning and leadership of the Communist Party. The Constitution states: “All power in the People’s Republic of China rests with the people.” This is entirely correct. Or should have been. But Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping had other ideas.

They both decided that everything in China should be subject to the leadership of the Communist Party. The result was a nationwide, unified system under the leadership of the Communist Party. After 60 years of such leadership, we can say in summary that that we are a republic without a republican system.

Better elections

The lifeblood of a republic lies in the principles of private ownership, popular government, and the welfare of the people. The litmus test of whether a country is a republic or not lies in whether or not its government is elected by the people. In the past 60 years, China’s “people’s” government, from central government down to the township and village level, has been run by Party officials of every rank, who have than gone through the motions of “single-candidate elections” for the populace.

Single-candidate elections were the brainchild of the Communist Party in the 20th century. There is no entry under “elections” in the Communist Party lexicon. There are only arrangements. All political power comes from arrangements made by the Party. The higher ranks make arrangements for the lower ranks to carry out. The older generations make arrangements on behalf of the younger generation. Every rank arranges things for the rank below, all of which guarantees that nothing will change in our led-by-the-nose republic.

A republic cannot be built through single-candidate elections, nor through the use of approved candidate lists. If you take Chen Xitong, Chen Liangyu, and Cheng Kejie as your list of candidates for three posts, or perhaps the Gang of Four as your candidate list for four posts, then what democracy is there to speak of? OK, so let’s say we move to an approved candidate list system, and we allow you to choose one candidate from among seven: Chen Xitong, Chen Liangyu, and Cheng Kejie, and the Gang of Four, does that make our government a democracy? Our country a republic?

If we are to cash in on the prescription written by the Fourth Plenum of the 17th Party Congress, which included democracy, openness, competition, and meritocracy, universal direct elections are inevitable. Otherwise, that particular check will undoubtedly bounce.

China is in dire need of a period of education and enlightenment about what is really meant by “republic” and what is really meant by “universal, direct elections.” For a universal direct election to take place, there must be competition, and there must be a meaningful choice. No political party should be given the right to field an approved list of candidates, whether there are more candidates than posts or the same number, or to interfere with the right of any candidate to enter the field or to take up their post if they are elected.

The legitimacy of a republic rests on universal, direct elections. It is the sacred duty of every patriotic citizen to promote universal, direct elections in which there is true competition between candidates.

3,000 years of history

The People’s Republic of China occupies only a very short period in the entire history of China. Its 60 years can scarcely lay claim to being the best or the worst government that China has had in more than 3,000 years of history. It can’t even make such claims in comparison with its neighbors, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea], or Russia, or the four little dragons (of Southeast Asia), unless you count its inexhaustible supply of cheap labor and the sheer force of its numbers.

The problem is that some people are addicted to the notion that “our Party” is the best in the world. The only two top Chinese leaders in 60 years to admit that the Communist Party had made some very serious mistakes were Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Hu Yaobang saw that the Communist Party had brought countless trumped-up charges against people, and he set about overturning them. Zhao Ziyang saw that the economic system set up by the Communist Party wasn’t working, and he set about reforming it. Both of these leaders, who underwent self criticism on behalf of the Party, were toppled by Deng Xiaoping.

No, the main theme that everyone had to sing along with was the supremacy of the Party and self-inflation, with the result that the Party got so confused that it was unable to criticize itself. Anyone who was dissatisfied with the Party was a public enemy with ulterior motives. If they went out to demonstrate, they were causing turmoil and upheaval. If they were Han Chinese, they were subversive elements.

If they were from an ethnic minority, they were trying to split the motherland. If they were foreign, they were anti-China. In short, they wouldn’t rest until they had done you down in a life-and-death struggle. Don’t tell me that these tragedies aren’t still being played out today. Now we are witnessing a very strange phenomenon: The more closed and secretive the Party becomes, the more remote and hazy a republican future looks for this country.

The People’s Republic of China is not a republic at all. This is a sort of pathology. It consists of the systemic erosion of the rights of citizens to all sorts of things, including elections and private property, by the country’s leadership over the last 60 years. So far, we haven’t managed to set up a republic. Therefore, every patriotic Chinese person has a responsibility to protect his or her own rights, to supervise and set limits on the power of the Communist Party, and to build a genuine republic through common effort.

That goes as well for certain patriotic leaders within the Party, who have a responsibility to stop infringing on the rights of citizens, and to return political power to them. Returning power to the people and building a republic should be the number-one priority for a republic that has yet to become a republic.

Translated from the Chinese by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Comments (2)
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Anonymous Reader

Leaders sometimes prepare others for fear by warning them that the opposition will threaten them with this and woo them with that. ,

Oct 23, 2009 06:10 AM

Anonymous Reader

Another excellent commentary by Bao Tong. Bao is says what many Chinese people feel but are afraid to say. Even so, Bao is under house arrest for having such open thoughts. It's only b/c of Bao's past affiliations is he not in prison. Ordinary Chinese w/ no Party connections would end up in prison for promoting democracy in China. The PRC today is the largest one-party dictatorship in the world & with increasing human rights violations. The Party doesn't respect the Constitution, the law or the people. As long as the Party rules China, the country will never progress in civil rights & rule of law.

Oct 09, 2009 02:41 PM

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