By Hu Ping
Mr. Hu Ping (胡平) was a graduate student of philosophy at Peking University in 1980. On campus that fall there was a lively student campaign, and then election, for People’s Representatives of Haidian District in Beijing, an event that has not been seen since. Mr. Hu was one of the candidates. I remember all of a sudden the campus was filled with milling crowds reading posters by the candidates sharing their ideas. Public debates were held, followed by endless chattering around meal times and in the evening hours. After ten bleak years of the Cultural Revolution, the energy was palpable, raw and eruptive. As a freshman still just finding my ways in college life, I understood little of what was going on, but I do remember reading Mr. Hu’s posters on the walls lining my way to the student canteen, and I remember the fresh impressions his writings made on me. They had to do, among other things, with John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”
It serves to consider this: 30 years on in 2011, independent candidates across the country, as few as they were to begin with, were harassed, beaten and prevented from campaigning. Few have made to the ballot, let alone been elected.
Mr. Hu Ping is one of the most respected dissent intellectuals. He now lives in New York, is the editor in chief of Beijing Spring (《北京之春》), “a monthly Chinese-language magazine dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and social justice in China.”
This article was originally published in Chinese on March 26, 2012, by Radio Free Asia, and this translation appears here with the permission of Mr. Hu.
Does Wen Jiabao Really Wish to Redress June 4th?
Financial Times on March 20 revealed that Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) has proposed to redress the June Fourth crackdown (Tian’anmen Square in 1989) three times in secret meetings of Chinese communist senior leaders over the last few years, but each time he was met with opposition from some, and Bo Xilai (薄熙来) was among the fiercest dissenters.
It’s hard for us to ascertain the veracity of such reports. But it’s probably true given the series of speeches Wen Jiabao has made about political reform.
During the press conference at the end of the Two Meetings (两会), Prime Minister Wen Jiabao once again appealed unequivocally for political reform. In response, some gave credit to him, while others dismissed him.
As always, Mr. Yu Jie was strongly dismissive (余杰, author of Wen Jiabao, China’s Best Actor, who has recently arrived in the US for asylum after being tortured in the hands of Chinese authorities for his connection with Liu Xiaobo and his criticism of the regime). Yu Jie called Wen’s press session a “sedative” that doled out false hopes and made the public think, “We can still have hope in the Communist Party, since it still has in it good people, just men and benevolent ministers!”
In my view, however, Yu Jie got it backward: Even the Premier who wants to push for changes couldn’t get them going, and it goes to show how bad the political climate is in China now, how recalcitrant the current system is, how little CCP can be expected, and how improbable it is for political reform to occur solely from within the system.
The reason Yu Jie rejects Wen Jiabao is that Wen talks but doesn’t do. Yu Jie’s logic is that, if Wen Jiabao really wants to push for political changes, he would have accomplished something using his power as a Premier, not merely flashing a few pretty words. But that is to assume that, under the current circumstances, the Premier alone can initiate political reform and attain concrete results. This view seriously underestimates how trenched special interests are, how rigid the system operates, and how severe the political reality is.
To be sure, it’s hard for us to establish Wen’s motive. But instead, we can ask ourselves this question: Suppose Wen Jiabao sincerely wants to effect political changes, is he able to do so in the present situation? My answer is: No, he would not be able to.
The reasons are not all that complicated.
First of all, he is not the No. 1 figure. His main job is to manage the economy; and politically he has limited power.
Secondly, today’s China is not a dictatorship but an oligarchy. Each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee has his area of responsibility, and unless you are the General Secretary, it wouldn’t be easy for one member to interfere with issues under the jurisdiction of another member. Most of the human rights abuses were perpetrated by the Committee of Politics and Law overseen by Zhou Yongkang (周永康). The year before last year when Wen Jiabao gave speeches calling for political reform, some liberal intellectuals within the system planned to answer his call, but they were soon given “special attention” (meaning “giving warning or threat”—Yaxue’s note) by Zhou Yongkang’s people. Now that the power of the Committee of Politics and Law has recently been weakened a bit, things perhaps will get somewhat better.
In addition, the central government is much less authoritative than before, and as some people put it, [the central government’s] “edicts don’t leave Zhongnanhai.” Others say, “Isn’t that good? With the weakening of the central government, the local governments will have more room to make their own decisions. Isn’t that great?” But it depends on what edicts we are talking about. All of the stability-maintenance edicts get implemented consistently. For example, when the central government ordered crackdown on Falun Gong, a lot of local officials had not wanted to do that but had to carry out the order. Also, the recent harassment of independent candidates for people’s representatives was also a national deployment without exception. Only edicts that touch on the interest of local officials, such as the anti-corruption ones, are collectively resisted and, thus, couldn’t get implemented.
Some ask, why was Bo Xilai, a local governor, able to “sing red songs and crush crimes” that made waves and created buzz, while the Prime Minister cannot seem to act on his ideas for political reform?
That’s because the two things are not equal. As I said a long time ago, in post-June 4th China, there has been plenty of room for flaunting Maoist tendencies, such as what Bo Xilai has done in Chongqing, but almost no room at all for raising the issue of liberalism. Any sign of it has been promptly snuffed out.
At the press conference, Wen Jiabao expressed his helplessness, frustration and deep regret. He stressed the difficulty of carrying out reform, and he concluded that, “for any reform to happen, the people must wake up and support it with their initiative and creativity.” This is tantamount to saying that, relying on the top leadership, on the CCP, there will be no political reform. This echoes what we have been saying all along: “Hope lies in the realm of non-government.” Do everything we can to strengthen it—that’s what we have concluded.