'Evil Road' of Our Dreams

A former premier's aide says the Southern Weekend anti-censorship protests show China is still far from constitutional rule.
By Bao Tong
china-nanfangzhoumo-protest-305.jpg A pro-government protester (r) shouts as he confronts an anti-censorship protester (l) in front of the Southern Weekend newspaper's headquarters in Guangzhou on Jan. 9, 2012.

The Southern Weekend incident seems to have tailed off, but all is not quiet, and it's not over. At the very least it has left behind it three major issues, which are worthy of reflection.

Firstly, the location of the command center for the anti-constitutional forces is unclear. [Recently], the Politburo standing committee commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Constitution [1982], affirming that the life and authority of the Constitution lie in its implementation.

This is normal, and worthy of repetition in the public domain. The Southern Weekend published an editorial titled, "The China dream is a constitutional dream," which is also normal, and should have made the government relieved. But it didn't react normally.

Some people were unhappy and decided to amend the article, putting pressure on the paper and forcing media organizations from Guangdong to Beijing to model their thinking on the [editorial] in the Global Times.

This shows that there really does exist, in the People's Republic of China, a command center that opposes the implementation of the Constitution.

But this center remains hidden. Who but the inner sanctum of the Politburo can tell us where it lies? In Guangdong? In Beijing? In the Global Times? In the Central Propaganda Department?

Or does it lie at a higher, deeper, core level? There seems to be a tacit understanding among the insiders, while we outsiders are all kept in the dark.

Secondly, the intentions of the Politburo standing committee in [commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Constitution] are unclear.

According to Professor Hu of Qinghua University, each of the standing committee members is a president. At the 17th Party Congress we had nine members of the Politburo standing committee. By the 18th Party Congress [last November] that number had been reduced to seven, so we then had seven presidents.

It was this seven-man standing committee that said that the life and authority of the Constitution lies in its implementation.

Yet, when the Southern Weekend was slapped down for supporting this view of the standing committee, it said nothing. A week went by.

Can anyone tell me why the standing committee of the Politburo has said nothing? Perhaps someone will say that the seven presidents need to remain aloof from everyday affairs, and I support that.

But when it comes to the Constitution, should the collective presidents remain detached? When it's a matter of violating, or of upholding, the Constitution, the presidents should stand tall and speak to the world, not remain silent and secretive.

Thirdly, the most serious problem is this: The legitimacy of constitutional government isn't clear in China. While the other two problems also involve lack of clarity, perhaps they could co-exist without causing major problems if the whole nation were willing to engage in patient and ongoing observation.

But this issue of the legitimacy of constitutional government in China is too big, and an urgent bulletin should be issued to settle things for everyone—the sooner, the better.

If there is no legitimacy for constitutional politics in China, then it's far better to tell everyone and put an end to their hopes, so we don't have to waste a lot of effort pursuing this "evil road" in our dreams.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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

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