Party Interests 'Drive China'

China's Communist Party drives the country's 1.3 billion people with scant regard for their welfare, and the country's nascent civil rights movement holds the main hope for political change, a former top official says.
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Agitated petitioners are seen during a gathering in Beijing on Dec. 3, 2007 to protest against corruption.
Agitated petitioners are seen during a gathering in Beijing on Dec. 3, 2007 to protest against corruption.
AFP/Teh Eng Koon

What follows are Part 6 and a concluding section of a series of essays by Bao Tong, currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing, to mark the 30th anniversary of Chinese economic reforms:

The difference between Deng and Mao

There are differences between the "Four Upholds" of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong's "Six Criteria," and they have nothing to do with the numerical differences between four and six. In December 1980, Deng Xiaoping made two crucial comments. One was, "Things must be determined according to the appropriate legal forms," and the other was, "Upholding the leadership of the Party is at the core of upholding the four principles."

Deng was calling for legislation where Mao did not. Deng in fact had less of a grasp of the rule of law than Mao did. But he lacked Mao's confidence and force of will when it came to anarchy, and so he had to call on the authority of the law to back up his "Four Upholds." He was tenacious about this, and in 1982 he achieved his aim, when the four principles were enshrined in the Constitution. And there they became four sticks with which to beat the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, and became principles that drove all other forms of law before them.

The civil rights movement is extending its influence into every domain."

The important thing to note here is what has happened with the phrase "the core principle of the Four Upholds." In a flash, it revised Mao's road map in a radical way. According to Mao's "Six Criteria," the two most important of the six are adherence to the socialist road and supporting Party rule. By the time we get to Deng, it is expressed as, "At the core of upholding the four principles is upholding Party leadership." This condenses Mao's two principles into just one: Party leadership has been elevated to the status of core principle. So what happened to socialism?  By now it is lagging far behind, and it will never again be the most important principle.

Tail wags dog

Is this a case of the Communist Party being founded on an ideal, or is it the case that the whole raison d'etre of the ideal is to support the rule of the Communist Party? Is the tail wagging the dog? This is a key question. Mao Zedong never answered it. Deng, at least, answered it by saying that the ideals of the Communist Party were less important than ensuring it continued in power. Power had triumphed over ideology, which was now to be made to serve Party rule. This was the main innovation of Deng Xiaoping's political theory, and it turned him into the biggest political theorist in the Communist Party. It also turned China's Communist Party into a Communist Party without communism. Just as the silkworm, in the process of metamorphosis, turns into another creature and flies away on new wings, so the Communist Party cast off the chrysalis of socialism and flew away on the new wings of Party rule, free to choose a new direction.

Once staying in power was taken as a guiding principle, then there was no need for debate any more. What is Marxism? Nobody discussed it. What is socialism? Nobody debated that either. The right of the Party to rule decided everything. Whatever the Party said, that was "Marxism." Whatever the Party decided it liked was "socialism." Whatever oppression was ordered by the Party, even if no legal formalities whatever were observedwhether in searching people's homes or keeping them under house arrest, arresting them, or mowing them down with bulletscame under the "dictatorship of the proletariat," so that Marx would have to bear responsibility for it.

'Chinese characteristics'

What sort of reasoning is that? It is reasoning with Chinese characteristics. Any objections can be surmounted if you add the phrase "Chinese characteristics" to something. Fixed elections, well, they're elections with Chinese characteristics. Anarchy? The rule of law with Chinese characteristics. Keeping ordinary people in the dark, not allowing them access to so-called state secrets, becomes financial and fiscal administration with Chinese characteristics. I leave it to you to imagine what a republic with Chinese characteristics might look like.

A core principle that can't be curbed by any other gives rise to the three other tools it needs for fulfillment, and the dragon is complete. Whether we plan our economy or use the market is a matter of method. The thing to worry about is the Four Upholds themselves. As one might expect, the Four Upholds with continuing Party rule at their core are in fact an extremely efficient tool for getting anything done. It is a system engineered to make sure the people are governed by the interests of the Party, engineered so that the Party can drive China's billion-strong population before it in any direction it chooses. It doesn't matter what the task is; the system is up to the challenge, up to mowing down everything in its path, however fruitful, up to dealing with sudden incidents, up to trying the signatories to Charter 08 in court; there is nothing it can't handle smoothly. It is the unrivaled world champion.

But the new era also brings with it a new question. The champion is very good at protecting the Party's political power, but does it have the same kind of zeal when it comes to protecting the rights of its citizens?

Concluding comments

Thank you to my readers and listeners for casting an eye over a few old images with me. We have now returned to where we started, with "Not introducing reforms will take us down a blind alley." We have wandered down memory lane to China as it was when Mao Zedong breathed his last, and bowed respectfully in the direction of the demonstrations on Tiananmen Square on April 5, 1976, the source of vast reserves of anti-Maoist feeling, tapped and welling up among the Chinese people who rose up in silence and great numbers.

The banners calling for the smashing of the Gang of Four and the healthy hubbub of the Third Plenum both sprang from this source. Our great and mighty reforms began amid the background noise of debate, sometimes shouted, sometimes whispered, in villages and towns across China, and amid uncertainty, as we all felt our way blind across the river. With many a wobble and uncertain step, we somehow got through the next 10-20 years. After all, that's how history happens. Perhaps some people, the kind who are obsessed with planning everything, might look down on such things, but history can happen without being processed through the brains of giants.

Social tensions

Something was coming unstoppably into being in Chinese society, and it kicked off the entire process of de-Maoification in China. The Party's insistence on leadership was allowed to suppress the Chinese people, and the reforms were cut off in their prime.

But it hasn't managed entirely to quash the Chinese people, or to prevent the continual slackening and tightening of tensions between various forces in Chinese society, movements that gain and lose ground, movements that grow and disappear, and it's these social tensions that are now the deciding factor. Under the influence of the four principles, the nature of the reforms changed, and they were surreptitiously turned into something completely different.

Of all the grassroots movements that have happened in the past 10 years, the one most worthy of notice is the civil rights movement. There are mass actions to defend civil rights in every city and village in the country, one every five minutes, in a phenomenon which is both unstoppable and impossible to hide. The civil rights movement is extending its influence into every domain: from appeals and complaints about grievances and official wrongdoing, to health and safety, to land and property rights, to the right to religious freedom, to the right to ethnic autonomy, to the right to supervise those in power, and the right to self-expression and to vote.

A people's republic

Under the influence of the long-suffering masses and some political dissidents, the concept of civil rights has now broadened out to include everyone: journalists, writers, lawyers, consumers, office workers, entrepreneurs, and civil servants. I have no doubt that the civil rights movement will continue to spread and deepen.

Civil rights are the right way to go; anyone who opposes them is swimming against the tide. If Luo Ruiqing, Peng Dehuai, and Liu Shaoqi were still alive today, I think they would be in favor of civil rights too. Clause 2 of the Constitution reads: "All power in the People's Republic of China resides with the people." That's why it's called a republic. This is axiomatic. And if the people's rights can be blown away by a sudden gust of wind, then the republic is no longer worthy of the name.

So I urge anyone who cares about China's future, when they are reading up on the Chinese Communist Party's work reports, that it would be a good idea also to make a collection of all the accounts of civil rights actions in China's cities and villages, a "Record of the Civil Rights Movement," and to study it, and value it. Because that record has now far surpassed those reports in value. It will be that record that decides the future direction that China will take, that will even seal the fate of the four principles themselves.

Civil rights for the masses

The unfinished business of reform will be carried out by China's civil rights movement. If the people can defend their rights, and are really given their due; if the state can bow to public opinion, and civil servants actually serve; if the people can supervise the bureaucrats, who cast off their so-called God-given right to rule; then there is hope for China. In a climate where the nature of reforms has been modified into something else, China's hopes lie with a peaceful, legal, steadfast, and persistent civil rights movement, which will use civil rights activism to implement the Constitution, and save this country and its people.

I will conclude with some lines that I wrote in 2006: During the past half-century, China has been mired in the hysteria that comes with one-party dictatorship. We may have a chance of actively resolving, and of peacefully resolving, all the major social conflicts in Chinese society, through the reform of the one-party dictatorship by the civil rights movement.

Now the Chinese people have moved into the era of civil rights for the masses, in which the dark times of corruption and dictatorship will be no more. This era will bring instead justice, liberty, rationality, and new life. The road to civil rights also leads to the building of a democratic system, and to the establishment of a system of dialogue and consultation in which the main social themes can be represented. It will lead China out of deception and into a civilized society. This is a universal truth. This is how the modern world emerged, and China's modernization will depend upon it too.

Original essay by Bao Tong, broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service. Director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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