WASHINGTON—Financial instability, rampant official abuse of power, and a growing gap between rich and poor have eroded the Chinese Communist Party's traditional support base and could trigger a major political upheaval, according to a veteran Chinese journalist now living in exile in the United States.
"The masses will soon rise, and people from different regions will join hands in their struggle," former People's Daily journalist Liu Binyan told RFA in a recent interview to mark his 80th birthday.
"There will be great disorder, and their dynasty will soon collapse. Their actions do not square with their promises," said Liu, who was expelled from the Party in 1987 for advocating free speech and reporting on alleged official abuses of power.
"It is our hope that there won’t be a nationwide upheaval, but it seems China is heading in that direction," said Liu, who for many years had expressed the hope that reform could happen from within the Party itself.
Liu, who joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1944 only to be demoted and persecuted time and again because of his blunt criticisms, told RFA's Mandarin service that the factors holding China's current regime together had been steadily falling away since he left the country in the 1980s.
He said the continuing practice of throwing rural families off their land to make way for lucrative property developments would take its toll on the Party's traditional power base—China's 900 million peasants.
"On the one hand, they say that the government is not allowed to take farmers’ land at will and that farmers can demand the return of their land that has been taken," Liu told Jill Ku, host of RFA Mandarin's Different Voices program.
"On the other hand, if farmers really insist on having their land back, they will be arrested," said Liu, who was labeled a rightist in the 1950s, rehabilitated, expelled from the Party, again rehabilitated and again expelled from the Party.
The authorities played a dirty trick. On the surface they agreed to some of the requests made by Zhao’s relatives but broke the agreement the morning when the ceremony was about to begin at Babaoshan. They didn’t allow Zhao’s children to place their wreath in the front and demanded its removal. Though it was agreed that some people would be invited to attend the ceremony, none of them got the invitation. The authorities went back on all their promises.
Rapid economic growth might have benefited corrupt government officials at every level and the urban elite, but it has come at a cost of a widening gulf between haves and have-nots, together with a financial system which was on the verge of collapse , Liu said.
"Social contradictions have become more intense. Migrant workers have come to work in the cities from the countryside, but they haven’t been paid for a whole year ," said Liu, who went to the U.S. 1988 on a lecture tour, but then went into exile after the bloody crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
"By the time they are about to go home, they remain unpaid. As a result, some of them have committed suicide by self-immolation . Has this ever happened in any other countries?"
"This means the Communist Party is undermining the very foundation that once supported it, and you can see how critical the situation has become."
I’d like to offer my congratulations to the venerable Mr. Liu Binyan on his 80th birthday...People around fifty years old like me miss Mr. Liu Binyan as well. He is highly respected as an amiable person and a man of integrity, unyieldingly pursuing freedom and democracy. His "Between Man and Demon" is known even to women and children on the mainland. At the time he, Wang Ruowang, and Fang Lizhi were expelled from the party because of the 1987 student movement, people were indignant at their unfair treatment.
Now, at 80, Liu intends to write what he calls his last book, to draw attention to the impoverished state of Chinese culture and civilization after 55 years of communist rule.
"In China, the role an individual can play is very limited, but on the other hand that role is indispensable and irreplaceable," Liu said, adding that his experience of decades of Chinese politics and society gave him a unique view of the long-term damage to Chinese political culture after decades of political campaigns, including the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and the more recent campaign against bourgeois liberalization (Bourgelib) .
"The book will discuss why China remains in a sorry state," Liu told RFA. "In the last century, the word 'failure' was written on every page of China’s history. Even though we defeated Japan and won the victory of the war, we are not the real winner."
"The Chinese have themselves to blame for all their disasters...All the European communist parties have collapsed, but the communist party still stands towering in China."
"First, people were waiting for the death of Deng Xiaoping. After he died, people were waiting for Jiang Zemin to step down. Now Jiang has stepped down but nothing has changed, and things have even become worse ."
Now the ordinary Chinese are able to enjoy freedom to a certain extent and they are demanding changes. It should be the right time for a change, but the Chinese intellectuals have refused to stand up.
Liu blamed the majority of intellectuals—including media professionals, artists, writers, and anyone involved in cultural actitivities—for continuing to toe the Party line in the face of blatant social injustice and abuse of official power.
"Now the ordinary Chinese are able to enjoy freedom to a certain extent and they are demanding changes. It should be the right time for a change, but the Chinese intellectuals have refused to stand up," Liu said.
"The betrayal or escapism of intellectuals is China’s greatest disaster," he said, blaming increased economic prosperity and a hollowing out of cultural vitality for their lack of willingness to stand up for freedom of expression.
But he also saw hope in a new generation of Chinese thinkers who were using the Internet to express their views, and who had aligned themselves with China's most marginalized and dispossessed people.
"On the Internet, you can see young and vigorous Chinese intellectuals in their 30s or 40s identifying themselves with workers and farmers. This is most encouraging," Liu said.
"They don’t have any social status, and some of them even do not have regular incomes, but they are campaigning hard for the well being of the Chinese people. And this is unprecedented."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Jill Ku. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Produced in English for the Web by Luisetta Mudie.