Cai Xia, a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, was expelled from the party and had her pension stripped on August 17 for “serious violations of political discipline of the Party” following her criticism of the increasingly authoritarian policies of Xi Jinping, party chief and state president. The dissident in-house scholar called the CCP a political zombie and likened Xi to a “gang boss”. Widely known as one of the “Hereditary [Second Generation] Red,” descendants of founding members or important figures of the CCP, the 68-year-old spoke to Vienna Tang of RFA’s Mandarin Service recently about Xi's controls with the party and the reaction of Chinese intellectuals.
RFA: That is Totalitarianism 3.0?
Cai: Totalitarianism 3.0
RFA: Is this something no one has ever encountered in human history?
Cai: Yes. A few years ago, some scholars in mainland China, a small group of us, already shared the same three views. However, some differences exist. Some scholars thought that we were already in the post-totalitarian era. In that view, the society has opened up to the outside world, and people are not as shut down as they used to be. A civil society is developing. However, some other scholars, myself included, felt that we were not in the post-totalitarian era at all; instead, we have regressed from authoritarian back to an era of “exquisite totalitarianism.” This exquisite totalitarian era has surpassed that of the Mao era in history. It is as barbaric and ferocious as Hitler’s rule. It could be even more ferocious than Hitler’s.
I summarized a few characteristics of “exquisite totalitarianism.” First, the high-tech, 24/7, comprehensive surveillance of the entire party and the entire society. Second, he forcefully suppresses different opinions within the party. From the totalitarian 1950s to the authoritarian 1980s and to the market economy of the 1990s, China’s political system has gradually loosened and given party cadres some room for corruption. Therefore, in such a system no one’s hands are clean. When you voice a different opinion, he can accuse you of corruption. He has been using this tactic to cleanse different opinions in the party.
Additionally, there are the “rules.” If he thinks that you have broken the “rules”, then you have committed serious crimes. But if you have done something that is not allowed in the system, but he deems it as fitting the “rules” in the party, then you have done a great job. By using the “rules” and anti-corruption tactics, he could overpower anyone and everyone within the party. Under such circumstances, the opposition within the party is unable to place any restrictions on his moves. This is the second characteristic of totalitarian rule.
The third characteristic lies within the society. We knew China does not have a sound legal system. In the CCP Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee, Xi said that CCP should rule the country in accordance with the laws. So, is it a right to pass many laws following his comment? It seemed so. However, what did he really do with the laws? He uses them as tools to oppress the people. More importantly, since the party has a monopoly on the country’s resources, it takes hold of everyone by their throat. What do I mean by that? Take Xu Zhangrun, the (Tsinghua) university professor that you all know. ‘After I fired you, no other universities would dare to hire you as a professor.’ He also uses this against many retired senior party members. ‘If you express different opinions, then I would take away your pension, cancel your retirement benefits.’ There is a good number of seniors who have to remain silent. He’s silencing them by the throat. Look at Inner Mongolia. Recently many Mongolian cadres stood up against him to safeguard their ethnic language. This is a right thing to do. But he said, if you do not send your children to school, you will lose your government job.
Moreover, in the past, I thought that if you hold a job outside of the party then you should be ok. You could be a business outside of the system. But no, he now uses class struggle slogans and calls the businessmen in the private sector “private capitalists.” Isn’t capitalist exploitation a crime? Then you will be discriminated against in the country’s politics. I can then use various reasons to oppress you.
RFA: What a description of exquisite totalitarianism. Given a social system like this, how can change be accomplished?
Cai: So, I want to be clear that a system like this cannot be reformed internally. It is impossible. Therefore, the system must be changed. The system must be completely discarded. If we use the term “liberalization,” then we’re talking about the liberalization of the entire 90 million party members. To free the 1.4 billion people from being kidnapped by the party, to liberate them, we must abandon this system.
RFA: You have mentioned that a “Party Dominated Constitutional System” would not work. So, other than the Communist Party, what is the main subject of the constitution? How could this be established?
Cai: The main subject of the constitution should be the 1.4 billion people. But to realize this constitutional process is very difficult. It is difficult because we must abandon our conventional thinking. What do I mean by that? Currently, the reformists within the system are oppressed cruelly by Xi, and they failed to earn understanding from those outside of the system who hope for reforms and who wish to push China forward. Those outside of the system would consider you guilty as long as you are within the system and a CCP member. In fact, (if) both the left and the right are oppressing this force within the Party, then this thinking must change, so we wouldn’t be fighting against CCP with CCP-like thinking. Can we break away from this thinking and unite all the forces?
RFA: You talked about the 90 million party members should not be held hostage. You also talked about the democratic forces outside of the system do not understand the reformists within the system. Will the evolution that you mentioned lead China down the path of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev? Will the CCP he eventually manage to survive in a different format?
Cai: I don't think so. Why? Take Soviet Union for example. Gorbachev promoted party-wide changes. The Soviet Communist Party members, I remembered so clearly, walked out of the Kremlin in disdain. People despised this party. How many Soviet party members were left? Only a few old ones. They still cling on to the Soviet communist doctrines, but that party posed no threat anymore. That's why we said the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to become a dominant party in the future. Yet would those elites in the society and in the CCP join hands to form a new political force and collaborative to move the country forward? I think it is possible.
RFA: Some said that one important reason why the CCP system cannot be shaken is because up until today, this system is still supported by the majority of the Chinese people. And like you’ve said, Xi silenced his opposition in the name of anti-corruption, and it is working, because many Chinese people hate corruption. They do not care about the power struggles among the top officials. What is your take on this view?
Cai: It makes sense to some degree. This is what I think. Many only see parts of the problems but not the roots deep down. Is there anything wrong with anti-corruption? No. But have you ever wondered why there are so many corrupt officials? Why do you only get another batch of corrupt officials after the previous ones were replaced? Only when you change the system can you truly be protected with job security and secure lives. This is something that people at the bottom of society cannot imagine. This is the first point. The so-called social elites shoulder more responsibilities. When we talk about the differences between the elites and the common public, this is where the difference lies. The elites should shoulder more responsibilities and more obligations. They must do so.
What’s the second issue? Frankly, for thousands of years, Chinese society has been an imperial ruled society. People worshiped power. It was natural that power was not constrained. But people didn’t care; they only cared about whether this person was good or bad. There is a Western concept called “Stockholm Syndrome.” The abused would be grateful to the abuser at the slightest improvement of the situation. The victim appreciates the abuser. A person with Stockholm Syndrome does not change, because fundamentally he worships power and the authoritarian political system. It has become a deep-rooted cultural mindset within the society. This mindset is very different from that of the Western society. We can see that people in Western society are not afraid of power, rather, they want to oversee and restrain power.
RFA: We know that ever since China started reforming and opening up more than 40 years ago, there have been many who benefited and developed vested interests, that is, the middle class. How do you persuade them that, by overthrowing this government, they will enjoy a better life and that changing the party would be in their best interest?
Cai: Let me tell you a story. Bo Xilai was abusing his power in Chongqing; he even killed a very well-known local businessman. Later we invited that man’s daughter to Inner Mongolia to speak with the Inner Mongolia business association. We talked about what businesses could do when political powers are abused. Do they push for political reforms or do they submit themselves to the powerful one? You know we had hoped, or we had expected, that the businessmen would have said that “we will join forces together to promote a national political reform.” But do you know what the businessmen said? They said, our force alone cannot beat them, so we can only protect ourselves. So, I felt there needs to be a process for political awareness to emerge and grow in society. Just because your income reaches the middle-class level doesn’t mean that you are then equipped with essential ideological and political qualities needed as the backbone of society. There is still room for that development in society.
RFA: You also criticized the CCP as a political Zombie. Your comment drew oppression from the Chinese government against you. Nonetheless, some thought that CCP has always been a political zombie. Your criticism of Xi Jinping could be applied to and suitable for any CCP leaders. These people think that your anti-Xi actions represent a political power that has been suppressed for years. What’s your response to this comment?
Cai: I don’t think the CCP is a political zombie from the get-go. When democratic development within the CCP was good, and when people were allowed to talk about democracy, when everyone was allowed to express their opinions, CCP might have been able to correct its mistakes. Then it might have changed a little bit in response to these comments. But when the top leaders strictly and cruelly suppress different opinions, and it completely fails to self-correct its mistakes, then the CCP will become a political zombie.
Therefore, the CCP we’re seeing now is a political zombie, because it has no energy to restrain power. And I and people who share the same ideas as mine hope to change this situation. We’re not doing so to save this party, but we want to bring the country out of this stalemated situation, to make our people and country progress forward. This is particularly important. Therefore, I agree if you say people share similar ideas like mine, and that we all share the same hope. However, I don’t see myself as the representative for all, because I’m only able to speak for myself.
RFA: You look quiet and peaceful on the outside, but you are very “defiant”. What shaped your personality? Who and what have influenced you the most in your life?
Cai: Let me put it this way. My parents and extended family joined the CCP back in the 1930s. My maternal grandfather joined the party even earlier. I believe my parents truly wished to promote advancement of the country. This is what they had taught us at home. You emerged in such an environment, and when you and I started working, we had always been within the system. We heard about the positive things every day. You mistakenly took these lies seriously. This is how we’ve formed some fundamental values when we were young. And these values will not change. Secondly, to us, our parents have fought for this ideal for so long and so hard, but China did not move towards democracy. If you think you’ve been raised well by your parents, then I think you should take it upon yourself to carry on your father’s wish and push the country forward, rather than enjoying the status (you have inherited). Should you have become another privileged class, then that is certainly not what your parents had joined the CCP and fought the revolution for. Therefore, with this, I feel we are obliged and charged to bring it forward.
Translated by Min Eu.