'Six Things We Don't Do'

Bao Tong, former aide to an ousted top Chinese official, says Beijing must embrace universal values.
by Bao Tong
BaoTong2008-305 Bao Tong at his Beijing home, April 2008.

The important thing about this year's parliamentary annual sessions wasn't the premier's work report, nor the 12th Five Year Plan. The former only relates to a single year; the latter only to five. But when it comes to the secret policy measures known as the Six Things We Don't Do, no one knows for how long they will have effect. They may not just shape today, but also our future. The original text of the Six Things We Don't Do, spoken by the chief legislator [Wu Bangguo], goes like this: "We don't do multiparty democracy, nor ideological diversity, the separation of the three powers, bicameral legislatures, federalism, or privatization." The words are so simple, yet their meaning is complete, imbued with a profound majesty. I read them over and over again, and yet the more I read them, the more confused I became.

Actually, the Six Things We Don't Do, are in fact only one thing, and that Thing We Don't Do is universal values. The Chinese Communist Party was founded on common values to be found all over the world, but ever since 1989 it has hid that light under a bushel, and universal values haven't been mentioned. Instead, it has shut itself out of international civilization with the concept of "Chinese characteristics." Apart from the debate about whether to have a unicameral or bicameral legislature, the other five items of the list of the Six Things We Don't Do: multiparty democracy, ideological pluralism, separation of powers, federalism, and privatization are key binding factors of human civilization, together with free market economics. They are recognized worldwide as the constituents of a good political system.

So, why must we be unwavering in our rejection of the Six Things? According to our chief legislator, wavering would "topple the country into the abyss of civil strife." This is a highly rhetorical explanation, but it is baseless. There are many arguments going in the other direction. The violence of the recent "Jasmine revolutions" in North Africa and Central Asia, for example. Meanwhile, order remains in countries that recognize universal values, even in Japan after it was hit by a huge and disastrous earthquake. Not a single one of them has descended into chaos because of some "Jasmine revolution." On the contrary, it's precisely those paranoid countries who have Things We Don't Do in order to hold on at all costs to a superficial harmony that do ... Countries with a genuine desire for stability and harmony, that really want the leadership supervised and an end to corruption, and that want a peaceful means of resolving social conflicts rather than aggravating them, need to have some self-awareness, and they need to take some serious lessons from the West ... A lot of people don't understand this, but Chinese people who open their eyes to the rest of the world do understand it. [Qing dynasty reformer] Liang Qichao understood it. Sun Yat-sen understood it ... Even Chairman Mao understood it ... Back in the fifties, when the Communist Party was discussing the limitless tragedy that was unfolding under the Stalinist dictatorship, he hit the nail on the head when he said, "Such a thing would never happen in a Western country." What he meant was that the Western political system was the natural enemy of dictatorships. Mao's observation was a profound one, and he was absolutely correct. A multiparty democracy would be suicide for single-party state.

In the West, anyone who doesn't win the approval of the people has to leave office, because they have elections. The separation of powers means that supervision of government and checks and balances frequently take effect. Many larger Western countries have a federal system, which prevents the extreme concentration of power in a centralized bureaucracy as we have in the Chinese Communist Party. Because people in the West have ideological freedom, it is very hard for anyone to deify themselves or to demonize others ... People like Stalin or Mao Zedong would never be allowed to do as they pleased and get away with murder in a Western country with universal values. Deng Xiaoping understood this too. That's why he said that the Cultural Revolution would never have happened in a Western country when it was being discussed during the eighties. A Western civil society is the only kind that can guarantee long-term peace and stability, the only kind that doesn't have to fear a Jasmine Revolution. It is the kind of society that a Jasmine Revolution is aiming for.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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Jul 13, 2011 03:01 AM

The #2 Party apparatchik forgot to add that China's Party-state doesn't "pull off" (gao) national elections, either, that's number 7. This is to be expected of the ossified thinking of the authoritarian rulers of the Party-state.