A Banner Too Far: Bao Tong on the 17th Party Congress


2007-10-24
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Bao Tong gives a rare television interview. Photo: AFP

A former top official in China’s ruling Communist Party has launched a stinging attack on his former colleagues as a key political meeting winds down in the capital. Bao Tong, former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, was scathing about the 17th Party Congress. He wrote this essay, broadcast by RFA’s Mandarin service, from his Beijing home, where he has lived under house arrest since his release from jail in the wake of the 1989 student movement :

No sooner was the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of China over, than people were talking about it going down in the annals of history. Surely this is a little premature?

Perhaps if the new people that this Congress has voted into office are heroic, without equal, they will truly manage to inscribe themselves into the history books with deeds that move Heaven and Earth. Naturally, if this dream were truly attainable, then that would be an occasion for congratulations and admiration. But this isn’t the case, and there is no place for this dream in a realistic forecast, nor does it have any basis in what is really happening.

Shadow of the Party

The writers of the 17th Party Congress documents...are trying to scratch an itch from outside of their boots. In doing so, they have achieved a new level of rhetoric, which is an accomplished blend of the old blah and the newspeak.

When it comes to the documents of the 17th Party Congress, I don’t value them very highly, because they don’t address the real difficulties that beset ordinary Chinese people and even the highest level of leadership.

They don’t address exactly how the social differences between rich and poor came about. They don’t tell us how--while China’s economy was busy throwing off the yoke of Maoism and attracting world attention with its rapid and continual development--suddenly millions of billionaires were created, while the people whose labor had made all of this possible were stuck in the mire of poverty with no means of escape. Why the meager wages of the workers and the peasants made them unable to exercise their purchasing and investing power in the marketplace, nor why no decent domestic market exists, nor why a country of 1.4 billion people thinks it can’t breathe without the air of foreign sales or foreign investment.

Now, the Party that supposedly represents those workers and peasants has been in power for more than half a century. So how is it that the workers and the peasants who are named in the Constitution as “the basis of the country” have nothing left to depend on, turned into a voiceless group of colonized weaklings, who are routinely bullied and humiliated by those with power and money?

How is it that it is impossible to get rich by working hard or by running a legal business? How come power and money have replaced free competition in almost every major transaction, to the extent that it is now so commonplace that it has become a typical phenomenon which repeats itself millions of times over?

Nothing to fear for Party

As officials and businesses collude in the drive to make massive profits, the environment is increasingly degraded and natural resources are being spoiled. Where are future generations going to live? Why is it that we, a nation of 1.4 billion citizens, are simply clinging on, trying to delay the catastrophe? Why is each and every one of us incapable of grasping our own power?

Why is it that the crucial roles played by the media and the creative arts, that of exposing the dark side of our society, are now regarded as the epitome of treason, and are being choked off, one by one? Why has the publications inspection system which caused Marx such a headache been turned by Communist Party leaders into the art of maintaining power?

These and so many other similar questions are studiously avoided by the documents of the 17th Party Congress. They aren’t raised, they aren’t analyzed, and they aren’t answered. The documents don’t answer the question of how to turn this country into a genuine republic, not just in name only; neither do they address the question of how to ensure that ordinary citizens genuinely have the right to exercise state power.

Neither, of course, do they address how the problem of relations across the Taiwan Straits might be addressed from a firm basis of peace and democracy, or the question of how China might become a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community.

It is my opinion that there is nothing to be feared for a political party willingly to give up dictatorship, because such a move will inevitably result in new life through death, with immeasurable prospects for the future.

All of these problems have beset the writers of the 17th Party Congress documents, who are trying to scratch an itch from outside of their boots. In doing so, they have achieved a new level of rhetoric, which is an accomplished blend of the old blah and the newspeak. To do this, they have had to come up with a whole new brand of political language—let’s call it an international expo with Chinese characteristics. Its kitsch new nouns each have their place—“such magnificence! Such virtue and beauty!”

The 17th Party Congress passed a resolution to say that it was very happy with all these documents, which they say make clear which flag they are flying and which road they are taking. Perhaps they really are flying a banner with Chinese characteristics. Perhaps they really are walking such a road. Perhaps it is a mutable, obscure banner, and an uncertain road. Perhaps small adjustments have to be made along the way if the ultimate goal is to be attained.

Either way, it is no more than a euphemism for the Party’s unwavering aim: and that is to assure its continuing hold on power.

Mao Zedong’s insight, that continual revolution was necessary, was an excellent one [in the context of maintaining total power]. Because any political system in which power is monopolized is by definition an illegal one.

Neither do I believe in the any of that mumbo-jumbo about banners and roads. Why should we let the wool be pulled over our eyes?

To date, China has held high the banner of Marxist-Leninist Thought, of Mao Zedong Thought, of Deng Xiaoping, and of the Three Represents. All this banner-holding has left us with is a huge pile of unsolvable problems.

No wonder they have had to come up with a new banner, and will have to come up with a good few more in the future. Will they suffer a reversal of fate? I daren’t believe it.

It is my opinion that there is nothing to be feared for a political party willingly to give up dictatorship, because such a move will inevitably result in new life through death, with immeasurable prospects for the future.

From the point of view of a republic, it shouldn’t allow a single party to monopolize power, to look after the people, to hold up banners in their name, or to walk its citizens’ roads for them.

It is far more important that each individual citizen should exercise their own right within the framework of the law to say what they need to say, and to do what they need to do. The citizen is king.

With 1.4 billion thinking, acting citizens, all with the power to root out problems in the system within the law, what problem could remain unsolved?

Written by Bao Tong for RFA's Mandarin service. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Translation by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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