Bring Back Self-Criticism

A former premier's aide says the ruling Chinese Communist Party must reflect on its own mistakes before it can progress.
By Bao Tong
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Ex-Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun (L) and Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang (R) at a recent meeting in Beijing, Nov. 14, 2012.
Ex-Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun (L) and Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang (R) at a recent meeting in Beijing, Nov. 14, 2012.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about self-confidence, piling error upon error, until it is repeated so often that it seems like truth. We need to get at the source. It originated in a speech given last year by Li Changchun, one of the nine members of the former Politburo standing committee, and it was he who first proposed this theory of consciousness and of self-confidence.

For all its rambling length, the speech basically makes two points: firstly, that the Chinese Communist Party, in taking it upon itself to liberate humanity, made a world-changing, historic choice, and therefore is in possession of a clear theory of consciousness and of self-confidence. Secondly, that the Party has produced a string of remarkable achievements, precisely because of its reliance on these theories.

This is a text jam-packed with poor reasoning. Firstly, why does a desire to liberate humanity and change the world on the part of A [the Party] add up to a clear theory of self-confidence and consciousness, but when B wants to [do the same], their theories of self-confidence and consciousness are shown to be confused?

Secondly, he says that [the Party]'s achievements grabbed world attention, and took place within the framework of these theories of self-confidence and of consciousness. What, does he mean [the Party]'s blind thrashing around in a culture of lawlessness and the resultant unprecedented catastrophe which grabbed worldwide attention? Or perhaps he is referring to rampant official corruption and the resultant social divisions and widening rich-poor gap? Do they not have an even greater claim to be laid at the feet of these theories?

I think all this talk is deceptive. It would be better to be a bit tougher on oneself. How about some consciousness of one's actions, as opposed to self-consciousness? That, at least, is tangible, whereas 'a theory of consciousness' just slips through the fingers, for all this fancy talk about how good it is ... If we elevate theory to cult status ... we will bring disaster on country and people. The Chinese people have already been forced to pay dearly for this lesson by Mao Zedong. Isn't that enough?

Mao Zedong liked to brag and boast, but not everything he said was rubbish ... In particular, he wrote very movingly about the importance of self-criticism, and his thinking on self-criticism was rigorous in its logic ... He never talked about self-confidence ... This is from his "Seven Reports":

"Chinese communists take as the starting point the best interests of the overwhelming majority of people, and they believe that everything they do is entirely consistent with justice. They have already given up everything, and they are ready for martyrdom for our cause at any time. Could it be that they still harbor some views, opinions and methods that are not entirely suited to the people's interests that they are reluctant to let go?"

Some people say Mao had little to do with the writing of the seven reports, and that ... they were penned by highly skilled wordsmiths. Whatever you think about that, the following example is entirely logically consistent: "For the people; for justice; don't hesitate to sacrifice all; don't hesitate to cast away error."

This is reliable. It means that if we make mistakes, we should rectify them. It's a pity that Mao persisted in his own errors, and ditched the practice of self-criticism—that most reliable hallmark [of the Party's political style].

It's also a pity that, amid all this talk of changing our work style, there is no mention of criticism or of self-criticism. As long as this emblematic practice is shelved, the Party's attempts at self-renewal will not go smoothly.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.





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