Let’s put the spirit of Hu Yaobang into politics and culture in China by Bao Tong

Let’s put the spirit of Hu Yaobang into politics and culture in China

Let’s put the spirit of Hu Yaobang into politics and culture in China

I heard that the CCP is preparing a memorial event in honor of Hu Yaobang. I was very happy to hear this. I believe it’s true. The people miss Hu Yaobang. The CCP should commemorate him.

The CCP currently has tens of millions of members, good and bad all mixed together. Some of them have brains, discrimination, passion; others have just learned to blow with the wind. There are two sorts of attitudes to the Party among them. Those who blow with the wind think that the slogan: “Loyalty to the Party” is all that is meant by loyalty to the Party. That it includes backing the Party’s mistakes, covering up murky practices by its members. This view believes that as long as it’s a Party decision, it’s the right decision, to be adhered to and implemented without the shadow of a doubt, with unswerving resolve.

The trouble with this attitude is that the Party is hardly likely to be the embodiment of Truth. It does a lot of good things, but it also makes some very big mistakes. That’s why those with brains, discernment and passion within the Party know that you can’t follow its policies blindly; that you have to exercise judgment with regard to its actions, supporting and nurturing its good policies, and taking issue with its mistakes. And that this is a truly loving attitude to the Party. At the end of the 1970s, veteran journalist Liu Binyan wrote that those who follow the Party blindly exhibited one kind of loyalty. But he said that those who took issue with the Party’s decision exhibited “a second kind of loyalty.” But this really set the cat among the pigeons among the old guard of the Party, who saw Liu as a dissident. But General Secretary Hu Yaobang wasn’t like the old guard; he praised Liu Binyan and nurtured him.

This isn’t to say that everyone in the first camp is a hypocrite. There are those among them who follow out of a sort of blind superstition; others who have caved in under enormous pressure. But the result is that same; that of harm to the Party. Those in the second camp take an attitude of seeking truth from facts, a logical approach. They are the people who can help save the Party from its own errors. It was that sort of utter sincerity that was the hallmark of Hu Yaobang. He had no time for the darkness in the Party and dedicated himself to a campaign against empty speech and overturning wrong decisions made in the past… It didn’t matter whose decision it was; if it was harmful, false or unreasoned, would toss it aside...even if it was made by Mao Zedong himself...While Zhao Ziyang was busy directing reforms of the economic system, Hu Yaobang ushered in a new political atmosphere where decisions once more had meaning.

After the death of Mao, there were some who would shoot down any semblance of normal thinking, just to show that they were the true heirs of Mao Zedong Thought...and they rallied around the slogan “Hold High”, to try to frighten people. Hu Yaobang merely smiled and said, “What are you holding high? Are you holding high a banner? Or are you holding up clubs? What are you about? Are you about beating people up?”

Suicide was once known as “giving oneself up to the Party,” but later it became known as a dread punishment for one’s crimes, and synonymous with treachery. In the process of overturning wrong verdicts, however, many people had committed suicide following brutal attacks during struggle sessions. What to do? Some people were only too keen to point the finger in the name of the Party, saying that suicide was of itself the worst possible treasonable act, the biggest mistake you can make, the worst crime of all, and didn’t want those people rehabilitated. Hu Yaobang retorted: “What are you talking about, dread punishment? This is a question of suffering making people lose the will to live!” And those Party faithful were left dumbstruck at this statement, with not a word more to say on the subject.

So should the people serve the Party or the Party serve the people? Of course the answer is well known. But theorists still come out with such terms as “ Weltanschauung ,” “Party spirit,” and “discipline” to confuse the issue. Some of the old guard get confused as soon as they hear words like 'Party spirit', 'the Party’s power', 'the status of the Party', and 'the Party’s reputation'. A [former] People’s Daily boss, Hu Zewei got into trouble with the old guard for supporting such principles as the popularization of the Party.

But Hu Yaobang’s clear-eyed judgment of the affair resulted in his supporting Hu Zewei, respecting him. At the end of 1986, some of the old guard tried to pursue so-called proponents of bourgeois liberalism in the Party under the guise of Party discipline. But Hu Yaobang wouldn't let them get away with these sorts of shenanigans. Such a General Secretary, in tune with the ordinary people, was characterized as “soft” by the old guard, and ousted from power. After fearlessly overturning so many injustices against others, he himself became the victim of just such a wrong decision. When it happened, he wept. And he had good reason to weep. He was right to be worried about the Chinese people, who have been through such suffering and calamity.

I am in favor of commemorating Hu Yaobang. But it should be done with the right intent. The spirit of Hu Yaobang should be allowed to permeate China’s political and cultural life, to sweep away the suffocating air of tyranny, corruption and hypocrisy, and create another few million Hu Yaobangs. The CCP should learn a painful lesson from its treatment of Hu Yaobang, and through its commemoration of him, should learn once more the art of self-criticism. The only meaningful way to be worthy of Hu Yaobang, to remember Hu Yaobang, is in the spirit of Hu Yaobang.

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