'The People Can Only Do As They Are Told'

A commentary by Bao Tong
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Xi Jinping (C) raises his glass during the 64th National Day reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2013.
Xi Jinping (C) raises his glass during the 64th National Day reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2013.

Who is subject of these "comprehensive reforms?" This is the first question I want to sort out, because it's the key to whether these reforms are good or bad, and to whether they succeed or fail.

Wang Anshi's reforms in the 12th century have already been proven a tragedy. He was a good man, a loyal minister who loved the people. He was entirely focused on maintaining the stability of the Song dynasty,
and believed in his well-meaning way that ordinary people would benefit naturally from this.

He designed his reforms personally, from the highest level. Who was their subject? Wang Anshi. Who was being reformed? Corrupt officials and ministers.

And who benefited? It should have been the people, but actually the people didn't get anything out of these reforms...and the corrupt officials...created a whole new world of corruption in the process.

In the end, Wang Anshi had no choice but to step down.

The reason for this failure was the "monks with the twisted mouths": the corrupt officials, who twisted the spirit of the reforms.

Did Wang Anshi know that the "monks" existed? Yes, he did know, but even you throw out one "monk" who opposes your reforms, there are many more "monks" taking an active part in them. What could Wang Anshi do?

Did the people know? Maybe they did and maybe they didn't. But there was little the people could do under a top-down design, and they had no power to reveal the truth, nor to make demands, nor to expose or
depose the "monks." They had no influence on the reform process.

All of this is 900-year-old gossip. Will it be repeated in today's China?

There are people implied in the sections of the Third Plenum's decision document that deal with markets. According to the "decision," people are free agents in the market system, with the right to pursue business activities of their own free will, and to engage in fair competition.

They have the right to free choice as consumers, and the right to freedom of movement and exchange.

Frightful capitalism

In the eyes of Mao Zedong, Chen Yun and Deng Xiaoping, this would be that frightful capitalism, without a doubt.

But according to the principles of Marx and Engels, these would be the "free men" they dreamed of, who form a commonwealth in the economy.

As I read further into other sections of the "decision," the political, the military, anti-corruption, cultural, information, public opinion, Internet and "social management" sections, these people gradually fade away, giving way to the strengthening role and status of the Party.

I have probably read this correctly: while the subject of these comprehensive reforms has been identified in clause 60 as "the people," in reality, they will be implemented by Chinese Communist Party officials and organizations, large and small, at every level.

So--to paraphrase Stalin--will these [officials and committees] willingly take the scalpel to their own tumor?

"But if we don't rely on the Communist Party organizations and officials, won't chaos reign?"

"Wouldn't that mean starting over with a second stove, to leave aside existing institutions?"

"Wouldn't that mean that this was no longer reform, but something closer to rebellion?"

This is the real problem that must be faced. Those who are trapped inthis dilemma probably don't understand the difference between masters and public servants.

A master doesn't have to do much, but they have to talk a lot, so as to tell everyone if they're happy or sad, angry or having fun.

Public servants shouldn't say much, but have to do a lot, so as to implement with diligence the orders of the master.

Power to speak

In order to work out who is the subject of these sentences about reform, we have to look at who has the power to speak them.

In clause 38 of the "decision," there is creative use of the phrases "the institutional mechanisms of public opinion" and "positively guide and manage according to law the combined work patterns of Internet

As usual, no-one understands what these newly minted phrases mean.

The most authoritative explanation for the time being is that they come from [propaganda official] Liu Yunshan, as he is the deputy chairman of the drafting committee for the "decision."

He says that the Communist Party must "grasp the right to lead, manage and to speak out on ideological work."

From this we can see that public opinion isn't going to be led by the people, but by the Party.

Similarly, we can see that the right to speak out will belong to the Party, rather than to the people.

This is most worthy of reflection. If Liu Yunshan is wrong about this, I hope he'll make a self-criticism.

But if his interpretation represents a natural state of affairs, then he should make this clear: that public opinion and the Internet are being taken over by the Party and are now its territory; and that the people can only do as they are told.

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.





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