How China's Leadership Turns Stability on Its Head

A commentary by Bao Tong
2013-04-30
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An elderly couple cries in front of a damaged house in Ya'an, April 23, 2013.
AFP

So, the leadership has the right to shout about beating the flies and the tigers at the same time, but the citizens don't have the right to require the seven members of the Politburo standing committee to declare their assets publicly. This utterly legitimate, reasonable and fair request has been deemed "illegal" by the authorities. Since March 31, more than eight honorable men and women have been detained, while Ms. Hou Xin was granted medical parole because she was forced into emergency treatment for a heart attack. The other seven remain behind bars. Only the leadership is allowed to fight corruption, it seems; ordinary people are outlawed as soon as they open their mouths. This is a strange phenomenon native to today's China.

Three days after the April 20 earthquake in Ya'an [in Sichuan province], more than two thousand quake victims in Baoxing county were left—hungry and cold—to fend for themselves while awaiting rescue. Six days after the quake, there was still a shortage of relief supplies, and the situation continues to deteriorate. The government isn't making enough effort, but they prevent civic and charity groups from entering the quake-hit disaster area. On the day of the disaster, Mr. Huang Qi and four others from the [non-government] Skynet disaster relief group rushed at full speed to Ya'an, but were intercepted by police on arrival and warned not to enter the disaster area because of the "chaos." It is well-known that it was Mr. Huang who reported the truth about the "bean curd" school buildings [which killed thousands of children] during the [2008] earthquake in Wenchuan county.

Making sure the truth is widely known can only help the quake victims. Dressing it up to look great only helps the orchestrators of the main theme tune. But under the "stability over everything" approach, the cover-up boosts the [government's] account of its performance, whereas reporting the truth is regarded as making trouble, and must be kept out of the disaster area. They are still unable to extricate themselves from this attitude that they had in the past. This gives people a transparent example in which to experience the continuity and the predictability of the main theme tune.

While the main theme tune also includes fighting corruption and disaster relief work, its main footing comes from stability maintenance. That's why it must look at the fight against corruption and the disaster relief effort through the tinted lenses of stability maintenance. From the point of view of the main theme tune, fighting corruption and disaster relief aren't important in themselves; they are only important as means to stave off political instability, of which the orchestrators live in fear, day and night.

In a civil society, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are a basic right for all citizens that they can't live without, like air and sunshine. Any major problems faced by such a society are inseparable from the free flow of information and the free expression of public opinion. But when the orchestrators of the main theme tune insist on wearing their tinted glasses, it's hard not to see the rights of citizens as "causing trouble," and hard not to deem them "illegal." The main theme tune doesn't care whether or not there is a single right of its citizens that remains unviolated. All it cares about is maintaining the stability of the leadership's grip on power.

Such is [propaganda minister] Liu Yunshan's vision and outlook on life. He doesn't need to worry about messy reality coming at him from all directions. Neither does he need the free exchange of public opinion. He is only interested in a filtered and audited report, and in whether or not the spirit of his top-down commands is indoctrinating those under him. To use one of Mao Zedong's sayings, this is called "grasping ideology," "grasping politics," "the soul of ideology," and "politics as commander-in-chief." If you grasp tightly enough, you will be able to unify everyone's ideas, until the dream comes true.

I have no basis on which to judge whether or not this is the consensus of all seven members of the Politburo standing committee. I can only make a limited guess on the basis of the facts. But in the eyes of standing committee member Liu, the China he has in mind can only be one in which everything is stood on its head.

In his country, there are only heads and mouths, so that to stand up means to stand on one's head. So-called soft power only uses the mouth to blow the shrill whistle. But don't we need hands as well? It seems we do. Because hands are the cheapest and most effective tools of production and of combat. However, they must submit to the direction of the main theme tune, or risk greater instability and chaos, and become alienated from the body politic.

As for the feet, do we need them? We don't really want them; we're better off without them. The most stable society is one that has no movement. The children of the people are to be directed and put to work, one generation after another, followers for all eternity. The children of officials, on the other hand, are destined for office, to conquer and rule over the country, and of course this should continue for all eternity, a leadership in perpetuity. All we need is harmony between the rulers and the ruled, and the legend, the dream of perpetual political power will indeed become a reality.

So, they stand things on their heads to achieve more stability: to achieve a super-stable system. Such is the main theme tune, that has met with more failures than successes. I can't for the life of me work out what Mr. Liu's next move will be. Will he resign, or does he intend to submit a bill to the National People's Congress to formalize the view that it is illegal to call on officials to declare their assets publicly?

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.