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Condemning the Enforced Disappearance of Lawyer Lu Tingge

Members of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, March 8, 2019

Lu Tingge (卢廷阁) is a lawyer based in Shijiazhuang (石家庄), the capital of Hebei province. He is one of the newer faces in the community of human rights lawyers in China. In February he put forward a proposal to limit the legislative authorities of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and more than a thousand Chinese citizens signed to support the proposal. He has been missing since March 2. — The Editors  

We have learned from multiple sources that, on March 2, the Shijiazhuang-based lawyer Lu Tingge was taken away by officials of Shijiazhuang municipal Justice Bureau and his neighborhood police officers, and that his family and colleagues have not been able to get in touch with him for seven days as of today.

Lawyer Lu called his wife once on the evening of March 2, not using his own cell phone, but that of Xing Qiang (邢强), an official of the Bureau. Since then his family has not been able to get in touch with him.

We as lawyers believe this is a serious violation of a citizen’s basic human rights such as freedom of movement and freedom of communication. It is a typical act of enforced disappearance. Those who are involved in disappearing lawyer Lu Tingge have committed the crime of extralegal detention defined by Article 238 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.

We have reasons to believe that the enforced disappearance of lawyer Lu is probably related to his proposal for amending the Constitution and his gathering signatures of support because several lawyers who signed have been summoned for talks by officials of their local Justice Bureaus.

Lawyer Lu’s disappearance reminds us of a number of human rights defenders whose freedom has been partially restricted for their expressions. We believe that:

First, it is immoral to secretly categorize and identify citizens for their expressions and political orientations; it is immoral to conduct secret and prolonged investigations of lawful citizens who are merely exercising their constitutional rights.

Second, it is illegal to forcibly evict or limit the movement of certain citizens based on such secret categorization and identification when the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), or the Chinese Communist Party’s national conference convenes, or on dates deemed particularly sensitive. It is a blatant contravention of constitutional rights and in opposition to the government’s claim of governing the country according to the law.

Third, the central requirement of governing the country according to the law is to respect and protect basic human rights and to allow citizens to be free of fear. Enforced disappearances by the government will create permeating fear. Such inappropriate exercise and transgression of power sets a precedent and can easily be multiplied, creating threats to all citizens. The enforced disappearance of lawyer Lu Tingge will inevitably and adversely affect ordinary people.  

Fourth, according to article 16 and article 23 of the United Nations’ “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers,” “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,” that “lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly,” and that “they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights…” 

We call on Shijiazhuang Justice Bureau and neighborhood police to immediately restore lawyer Lu Tingge’s physical freedom and freedom of communication.

We call on the Hebei provincial government’s disciplinary and supervisory entities to investigate the civil servants who have been involved in committing the crime of illegal detention in this case and to eliminate the ill effects it has created.

Members of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团)

March 8, 2019

谴责石家庄市司法局和公安局对卢廷阁律师的强迫失踪

从数个消息来源获知,自2019年3月2日卢廷阁律师被石家庄市司法局和辖区派出所警察联合带走后,就与外界失联。至今已经是第7天了。

虽然3月2日晚卢律师给妻子打过一次电话,但用的却是司法局邢强处长的电话。此后其家人再无法再联系上他。

作为法律人,我们一致认为这是对公民人身自由,通讯自由这些基本人权的严重侵害,是一种典型的强迫失踪行为,相关涉案人员已经构成《刑法》第238条的非法拘禁罪。

我们有理由相信,对卢律师的强迫失踪可能与他提议修改宪法的联署文本有关,因为多个联署律师均已被所在地的司法局约谈。

由卢律师个案联想到以前多位人权捍卫者因言论表达而被区别对待甚至被限制部分自由的情形,我们一致认为:

第一,基于人的言论和政治倾向而对公民进行秘密分类和甄别是不道德的,对践行宪法权利的合法公民进行长期的秘密侦查是不道德的。

第二,在全国人大、政协或者中国共产党的全国会议召开及某些特定日子,基于对公民的秘密分类和甄别,对特定公民进行强制驱逐和限制自由迁移是违法的,是对《宪法》权利的践踏,与政府主张的依法治国精神相违背。

第三,依法治国的核心要求是尊重和保障基本人权,让国民有免于恐惧的自由。而公权力的强迫失踪会塑造弥漫性的恐惧氛围,因为权力的行使具有强烈的示范作用,一旦权力边界被突破,极易被复制,对所有国民都是一种威胁。卢廷阁作为一名律师,他的被强迫失踪不可避免的会带给普通人更大的心理冲击。

第四,依据联合国《关于律师作用的基本原则》第16条和23条之规定,各国政府应该保证律师能履行其所有职责而不受恫吓和威胁,律师作为公民也享有言论、信仰、结社和集会的自由,他们应有权参加针对法律、司法以及促进和保障人权方面的公开讨论。

我们呼吁石家庄市司法局和辖区派出所人员即刻还卢律师人身自由和通讯自由。

我们呼吁河北省纪检监察部门立即对涉案的国家机关工作人员非法拘禁的犯罪行为展开调查,以消除事件带来的恶劣影响。

中国人权律师团

2019年3月8日

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A Brainwashing War: An Appeal for the Poet-preacher Wang Yi

Liao Yiwu, translated by Michael Martin Day, March 4, 2019

Wang Yi, front right; Liao Yiwu, front left. Photo: @liaoyiwu1

On December 9th, 2018, on the eve of International Human Rights Day, in my hometown of Chengdu, Sichuan, the most influential house church in China today, the Early Rain Covenant Church, was raided by the police and banned, and more than 100 believers were taken away. The chapel, seminary, and other church property funded by the congregants were seized and the property was immediately and illegally occupied, becoming the government office hall of the Double Eyes Well Community. The founders of the church, the husband-and-wife pair of Wang Yi (王怡) and Jiang Rong (蒋蓉), were both accused of “inciting subversion of state power”, arrested and have gone missing until this day, leaving their ten-year-old son, Wang Shuya (王书亚), to be looked after by Wang Yi’s parents. A few days ago, burning with worry, Wang Yi’s father sought out a lawyer for his son. Unexpectedly, just after the two parties had finished their interview, police officers who had been surveilling them rushed up and arrested the lawyer, interrogated him in the police station for six hours, confiscated all related legal documents, and announced that he had been stripped of his right to provide counsel.

Wang Yi and I have known each other for 20 years. We are both dissident poets and writers and have both been directors of the Independent Chinese Pen Association. Together, we also published four underground books that have been banned. As I had visa applications to leave the country rejected 16 times, Wang also acted as my human rights lawyer. In 2005, Jiang Rong and Wang Yi were baptized and returned to the Lord. A half year later, Wang Yi, Yu Jie (余杰), Li Boguang (李柏光) and other Chinese Christians were received by President Bush in the White House. In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, Wang Yi and his wife founded the Early Rain Covenant Church in their home. Since then, they have been repeatedly harassed by the police and have been interrogated over 20 times. Later, Wang Yi became the chief pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church and the most controversial “political pastor” among the more than 10 million congregants of China’s underground churches.

Every year on the anniversary of the June 4th Massacre, he has held a prayer meeting for the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre, for which he has been repeatedly censured. He has responded: “Many people ask us why we pray for June 4th as it is politics. I say I didn’t see politics, I saw people being killed, an injustice, people being oppressed and suffering. In a politicized society, just maintaining freedom of conscience is already considered political.”

On October 28, 2018, he preached: “This country is launching a war against the soul, although the ranking of this war is not the most advanced, it is the most important war. In Xinjiang, in Tibet, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Chengdu, the rulers of this country are launching this war, but they have established for themselves an enemy that can never be detained, can never be destroyed, will never capitulate nor be conquered: the soul of man…so they are destined to lose this war and are doomed to fail…”

He went on to mention the spiritual life, stating that life without spirituality is consequently undignified. He stressed: “Just as the spiritual life is the essence of human life, just as Christian faith is so precious, the one thing we cannot bear to lose, and is even the one treasure we sinners possess [is our spiritual life]; just so, when this country comes to take this sole treasure away, we beseech the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit, Amen. We beseech the Lord to let us not only do this, but to also let us use our persecution to convey a gospel of persecution to the society of China. Let them torture themselves in questioning the value their own souls, interrogating their own pitiable, despicable lives; where is dignity, honor and freedom under such a dictatorship of money and absolute power? It is either in Jesus Christ, or there is no dignity at all…”

And, so, Wang Yi was accused of “inciting subversion of state power”, and the sentence awaiting him will be no less than that of Liu Xiaobo, who was convicted of the same crime. And as he follows in the glorious path of a martyr, I predict that it can be no less than the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

In this “brainwashing war,” or call it a “war of souls,” like those of authoritarian tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, etc., God’s servants Wang Yi and Jiang Rong have become captives of “this country;” just as a decade ago, Liu Xiaobo became a prisoner of “this country” for drafting Charter 08. Wang Yi has stated: “If you tame the rulers in heaven, you cannot tame the dictators on the ground.” This young “egg”, who is 18 years younger than Liu Xiaobo, is at the turning point of this darkest chapter of Chinese history, similar to the martyred saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the Nazi period in Germany, when he openly confronted the “boulder” coming to crush him. At an evangelistic meeting on September 11, 2018, Wang shouted: “We have a duty to tell Xi Jinping that he is a sinner. The government he leads has greatly offended God because it has persecuted the church of our Lord Jesus Christ; if it does not repent, it must perish. We must proclaim that an evil person like him still has a way out. And the only way out is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…we say this as it is of true benefit to him and China’s rulers: we don’t want to see them sinking into hell, being cursed by God.”

In a sermon on the evening of September 21, 2018, he told the more than 500 Christians present: “In the persecution of the Henan House Church, not only was the cross dismantled, but the church was looted, and even the bibles and psalm books were burned. In China’s history of the twentieth century to the present, this is the fourth burning of the Bible. In 1900, the Boxers burned the Bible and killed Western missionaries, but the Lord at that time prepared a group of local evangelists for the future revival of his church. The second time was the heathen movement of 1922-1927, when the government burned bibles in large numbers; but it was followed by a ten-year renaissance of the Church from 1927 to 1937. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 was the third time China’s rulers burned the Bible and demolished churches; but since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Church of our Lord has had a revival of forty years in length. So, a few days ago someone asked: ‘Pastor Wang, don’t you worry that you will go to jail?’ I replied, I don’t worry, I just want to know one thing: Is the Lord using this burning and persecution in 2018 to somehow raise up a group of preachers for the Church in China? And are some of them congregants of the Early Rain Covenant Church…”

In the early spring of 2011, on the eve of my escape across the Sino-Vietnamese border, Wang Yi sent an e-mail to his friends that accurately predicted his own, later calamity. “Going to prison is like going to Africa,” he wrote, “God has given me three brocade purses: the ability to move my house at any time, to go to jail at any time, and to return to my heavenly home at any time.”

Seven years later, he finds himself in a cage. A common friend of ours, from our hometown thousands of miles away, mailed me Wang’s four underground poetry collections. Once, I deliberately did not read his writings. I am not a Christian, although I wrote God is Red, a book pirated and praised by Wang Yi as “exalting the Lord”. However, I never subconsciously felt any form of mission or desire to offer praise. Although I will diligently write everything down [that I am told], I am but a tape recorder of an era.

But the “recorder” also bursts into tears, just as I do now as I read Wang’s poems, mulling over “going to prison is like going to Africa” – so far away! So far away!! Can he return? Can I still see him in this life? In this world?

The prison cells of the Communist Party are getting darker and darker. Both Liu Xiaobo and Yang Tianshui have died within them. They were only in their 60s. They were both non-violent dissident writers. As soon as their sentences were almost served, they were suddenly diagnosed to have terminal illnesses…and Wang Yi has chronic gout that is extremely painful whenever it strikes. Will the police who took him “to Africa” let him carry painkillers with him? The next surprise interrogation he is subjected to, an attack of gout can be expected, and as he writhes in pain on the floor, will they send him to the hospital?

Our teacher in this profession, Solzhenitsyn, compared the labor camps all over the Soviet Union to a “gulag archipelago.” He described how when a person had not yet entered, the archipelago is like a constellation in the sky, so far away, unfathomable, no one knows how to reach it. Until one day the catastrophe befalls them, and they then realize the only way to get there is through formal arrest. Coming back, or never coming back, no one can tell….

Yes, when I left the birthplace of my nightmares, the gout patient Wang Yi continued to move onward and desperately resisted for seven more years before finally being formally arrested instead of being “asked to tea”, “subpoenaed”, “placed under house arrest”, “repatriated”, “sent on vacation”, “gone missing” or “black-hooded”. I have a foreboding feeling he will not return! Everyone knows that country and its cities known as Chengdu, Lhasa, Urumqi or Beijing, are secretly filled with political prisoners serving their time. For those who for the time being have yet to enter, they are as remote as the archipelago or Africa.

I am here with an appeal for the poet, writer and pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong. I hope that all Western politicians and poets, writers, scholars, human rights activists and ordinary citizens will pay attention to this confrontation with brainwashing, this resistance in the war of hijacking the souls of China’s people; I hope that German Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas will make use of their influence with China to prompt the Xi Jinping regime to release Wang Yi and Jiang Rong; I also hope President Trump and the U.S. government will link their unprecedented trade wars with human rights and rescue Wang Yi and his wife. I say this because the President put his hand on the Bible when he was sworn in, and Wang Yi was arrested and imprisoned in protest against the burning of the same Bible.

Of course, I also hope that the Pope and the Vatican, who signed a shameful agreement with the Chinese government not long ago, will repent and publicly propose the release of God’s children, Wang Yi and Jiang Rong.

Dear friends, whether we know each other or not, thank you for reading and passing this on. I also hope that you will express what you feel and your conscience in any way you find appropriate, and support this appeal.

Liao Yiwu, exiled writer, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, 2019, Berlin.

Three Poems by Wang Yi

Liao Yiwu is a Chinese writer living in Berlin. Michael Martin Day teaches at National University in La Jolla, California.


Related:

The Crackdown on Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church: A Backgrounder, China Change, December 21, 2018.

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Acceptance Speech for the 2018 French Republic Human Rights Prize

Tang Jitian, January 30, 2019

On December 10, 2018, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (La Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme) has awarded the annual French Republic Human Rights Prize to six personalities or organizations that have distinguished themselves in their country for the defense and promotion of human rights, and Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) is one of them. He was unable to travel to France to receive the prize. On January 14, 2019, the French Ambassador to China, Mr. Jean-Maurice Ripert, presented him the award in Beijing. –– The Editors

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

I am very grateful to the French government for awarding me the 2018 French Republic Human Rights Prize (Le Prix des droits de l’Homme de la République Française). I think this is not only an affirmation of my own work on behalf of human rights, but also an affirmation of all Chinese human rights defenders, including lawyers. While expressing thanks to those who conferred this award, I also want to say thank you to friends from all walks of life at home and abroad who have expressed concern and given me support and help for more than 10 years. My life became more meaningful because of you!

Since entering the legal profession, especially after coming to Beijing in 2007, I was determined to use the law to help those who had suffered injustices. In addition to handling human rights cases, I also participated extensively in social actions, one of which was an effort in 2008-09, together with a cohort of lawyers to promote direct elections of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association. This action infuriated the Chinese government, and in April 2010, my license to practice law was revoked. Even though I suffered this blow of losing my normal legal practitioner’s identity, it didn’t stop me from engaging in rights defense work. On the contrary, I threw myself into the work even more actively, including the struggle for lawyers’ own rights and interests. And despite having suffered numerous rounds of forced disappearance and arbitrary detention, accompanied by torture, I nonetheless still had the same intention as before –– to continue to be active in the field of rights defense in China.

Although I’ve been restricted from exiting the country for nearly 10 years, making it impossible for me to fully communicate and work together with the outside world, my view was not completely limited. I still have friends from certain countries who have facilitated my work to varying degrees.

As everyone knows, France has a notable tradition of defending human rights. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen still has a unique guiding value for today. After the Second World War, and especially in recent years, the French government and civil organizations have made great efforts to promote the improvement of human rights in mainland China. Among the democratic countries, France plays a role that is appropriate for a major country. As a major democracy, France still has considerable room for expansion in promoting world development, especially in China’s human rights cause. I hope it can be even more proactive than in the past in getting involved in China’s human rights matters, and provide practical and effective support and assistance to human rights defenders on the frontline.

Contemporary mainland China has reached a critical juncture: whether to embrace civilization or choose barbarism; whether to practice universal values ​​or push the rules of the jungle; whether to preserve and strengthen the outdated totalitarianism or move toward a new democratic politics –– there is not much time left to waver.  

As a member of civil society, I look forward to China getting on the right track as soon as possible, but those selfish and greedy officials in the government are trying to pull the people back into barbarism. It is difficult to imagine what things would be like to have a China with 1.3 billion people suspended alone for a long period of time outside the civilized world: the deteriorating human rights situation in mainland China is not only a nightmare for the Chinese, but will also be a misfortune for all of humanity.

In the face of this grim situation, groups upon groups of Chinese people eager to live with dignity have fought for their rights and interests in various ways, so that future generations can live in a normal environment, and the Chinese nation will not become a burden to the world. Human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, are to some extent shouldering a historical responsibility. As one of them, I hope they will receive more understanding, attention, support, and assistance from the international community.

This award serves as both motivation and pressure. In the past, I only did my job as a human rights lawyer, therefore going forward I can’t stop doing what I am called upon to do. Instead, I should always remind myself not to be complacent, and do more work to the best of my ability using available means. Defending human rights has long been an integral part of my life. I will work together with other human rights defenders, from a new starting point, to make a due contribution to the protection of human rights and the advancement of the rule of law.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the guests at the awards ceremony!

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

The Chinese Communist Party Should Fade Into History Peacefully, Avoiding Violence and Minimizing Social Unrest

Zheng Yefu, January 25, 2019

“Now it’s time to lay it bare: You can’t fool the Party into starting this journey, nor can you allow the calls for political reform that lack a clear final goal to numb the minds of the people.” 

I. Why Hasn’t Political Reform Happened?

In the late 1970s, China undertook a reform; the main elements were the restoration of the household production system in rural China [that allowed individual families to take control of their farming], opening up the private economy, and allowing farmers to go into the cities to find work. In the early 1990s, seeing that it was likely that this reform would run aground, Deng Xiaoping once again pushed a reform agenda, which was known as “reform of the economic system.”  As for corresponding political reform, Deng Xiaoping and the leaders that came after him all mentioned it in succession, and even said: “Without successful reform of the political system, reform of the economic system will be impossible to carry through to the end.” Subsequent history proved this argument.

It is precisely because political reform did not happen in China that “reform and opening up” fell far short of meeting people’s expectations, and the developments up to the present have led to a fear of further regression. Why did political reform always remain in the realm of words, with not even one step taken towards action? The truth is actually quite obvious, but unfortunately, it seems that it was never clearly pointed out.   

When referring to political reform in speeches, the above-mentioned leaders meant the following: first, the separation of Party and government and the separation of government and enterprise; second, decentralization of power, avoiding excessive concentration of power; third, improving the legal system; fourth, initiating social and political consultations.

Why did these leaders propose political reform? Because they realized that if rule of law is lacking and power is abused, then social and economic life cannot get on the right track.

But why, ultimately has political reform not been implemented? Because intuition has also told the Communist Party leaders that every component of political reform weakens the Party. First, the separation of Party and government, and the separation of government and enterprise, means that the Party is losing power to others, and that the Party will lose control of the administration of the state and the society and economy. Second, the soundness of the rule of law will, on the one hand, guarantee citizens’ rights and freedoms such as speech, association, assembly, and demonstration, and on the other hand, limit the sphere of action of the Party. The society will not be completely controlled by the ruling group as in the past. Third, once genuine political consultations are initiated, it’s possible the Communist Party’s views will fall into a disfavored position. In order to avoid such a situation, the Party leaders eventually created political consultations in form only, in which they had the final say. Fourth, in the competition with the Party’s internal and external opponents, the rulers are increasingly firmly convinced of this: in order to suppress and respond to the trend of social diversification, democratization, and liberalization, even internally the Party cannot practice democracy and must concentrate power.

Before the reform of the economic system, and afterwards too, it’s difficult to say that most of the Communist Party’s guiding principles and policies have been in the fundamental interests of the vast public. But ahead of us there is something that is in the common interest of both the broad Chinese public and the Party, and that is, the Communist Party should fade into history peacefully, avoiding violence and minimizing social unrest. I think that the one great thing the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party can do that would enter the annals of history is to honorably and with dignity lead the Party off the historical stage.

The mindset of preserving

power at all costs ruined the

souls

of those involved.

During its 70-year rule, the Party has brought too many disasters to the Chinese people. And as the Party has evolved up until now, its power structure as well as its ecology have predetermined that it can no longer deliver excellent leaders for Chinese society at all levels; it has almost completely lost its self-correcting mechanism. Its nature has already completely degenerated: for a long time it’s been a group that lacks belief; people join the Party to become officials, and they defend the Party to protect vested interests. The mindset of preserving power at all costs ruined the souls of those involved: hatred of different political views grows ever stronger, and the fear of a crisis has led to their own dysfunction.

The path to escape the shackles on their souls is to strive to melt the Party into the larger society.

However, to make the Party that has ruled Chinese society for 70 years end the one-party dictatorship by itself, there will be a long period of transition. During the transition period, the Party will necessarily be the one to guard social order. This transition period will allow other political forces to emerge, preparing to launch real and meaningful political consultations. Every school of thought and political faction can have its own ideas, but China’s blueprint for the future, and the path it will forge, can only be produced through negotiations involving many political groups.

Don’t we already have the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference” (CPPCC)? It is difficult in this world to find a business like the CPPCC that squanders taxpayers’ money and is so hypocritical, contrived, pointless and boring, and deceptive. I’m speechless as how to describe it. If the rulers had courage and confidence, they should either disband the CPPCC and engage in a real one-party dictatorship; or give different political factions a platform for dialogue and engage in real political consultations.

Ending autocracy is in the interest of the Chinese people, but bloodshed and turmoil are not. A peaceful transition is in the interest of the Communist Party, because it is the only dignified path of retreat.

In sum, pursuing prosperity while fearing for its political security has resulted in the Party professing interest in something it fears for more than 30 years, and swaying to and fro, left and right, in the economic and ideological fields. However, in the past few years, the seesawing has come to a halt at the left side because the Party leaders realized that the private economy and the liberalization of thought bears a threatening and close relationship to the survival of the Party. In contrast to the increasingly stereotypical conduct of the power oligarchy, the call for political reform has not declined at all in society. Unfortunately, the latter has been weak at best. It’s been weak because everyone is scared; it’s been weak because those few in the know have stopped short of telling the whole truth. Chen Ziming (陈子明) said: We should promote democracy together with the Communist Party. Zhou Duo (周舵) advocated Party-led constitutional government.

Just exactly what will the position of the Communist Party be when democracy and constitutional government are realized in China? Now it’s time to lay it bare: You can’t fool the Party into starting this journey, nor can you allow the calls for political reform that lack a clear final goal to numb the minds of the people.

Zheng Yefu.

II. Rarely Seen Common Interest of the Party and the People

The core of the theory is “the Communist Party of China must always represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.” Unfortunately, during most of its rule, the Party’s principles and policies have not represented the interests of the vast majority of the Chinese people. Property rights are the greatest manifestation of interests. In the rural areas, through the chain of land reform, mutual aid groups, cooperatives, and people’s communes, the land has changed from privately owned to state-owned. In the cities, private economy vanished following the public-private partnership movement. The benefits of the economic reforms of the 1980s proved that the above-mentioned two revolutions seriously violated the fundamental interests of the Chinese people, and suppressed their zeal for production. Otherwise, why would there have been a need for reform to begin with?

So after the reform, did the policies represent the interests of the vast majority of the people?  When land was nationalized, what did the government do?  Creating revenue by selling land. It sold lots at high prices to real estate developers. This is the first cause of excessive housing prices in China and a great portion of the population became slaves to their mortgages.  Isn’t it too tyrannical to say that a policy that enriches the state and impoverishes the people is in the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people?

For 60 years, from 1949 to today, only once did I see a time when most of the people in the ruling class had reform aspirations, and that was in 1978. Just once.

Has there ever been a policy of the Communist Party that has been in the fundamental interests of the Chinese people? Yes, but it really is rare; that was the reform of the economic system in the late 1980s. I stated the following view at a seminar in 2008: top-down reform is not common; it is a rare thing because the reform aspirations at the higher level and motivation to reform exist only in rare moments. For 60 years, from 1949 to today, only once did I see a time when most of the people in the ruling class had reform aspirations, and that was in 1978. Just once.

What was the motivation for the reforms in 1978? Because they were at a point at which they could either choose to reform, or see the Party demise. “If the Party falls, so does the nation” is the axiom so often repeated by the state propaganda machine. But there is no such thing as the demise of the country. The age of colonialism is all but in the past; China and its people no longer face the same threat of extermination. It’s the Party that is going down. Thanks to its dismal management of the country, there are so many people who can’t make ends meet. What happens if the Party falls? The Party will fade into history. Of course, they want to avoid that scenario, so reform was implemented.

We can credit Mao Zedong for creating this consensus among them: Mao, in his dogmatic ways since 1956, had drawn himself ever further apart from his colleagues. No one except for the bootlickers and careerists were inclined to support him. By the time of his death, he had driven upwards of 95 percent of the people within the Party into the ranks of a hidden opposition. The end of Mao led the other senior officials to jointly discuss how they should move away from Mao’s political line. I have yet to find a second dictator in history whose subordinates stood together in such unity after his death. It is extraordinary and rare: the Party elders were of one mind, working in concert to turn things around.   

Reform is not a novel concept: going back to 1956, and even earlier. In the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911), and all the way back in the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.), household production system had been the model for agricultural production. Throughout history, there had been a private economy that existed to varying degrees in urban areas. Reform isn’t some sort of groundbreaking thing, it’s actually conservatism: look at what the ancients did and follow the path they took. It’s just that Mao Zedong introduced his utopian thinking that repudiated common sense. This thinking led to constant disagreement during the reform period despite the broad consensus; as a result, the general secretary [of the CCP] was replaced time and again. Today, that rare moment of consensus that once permeated the leadership is gone; they will not come to this kind of understanding again. What reason do we have to hope that any new top-down reforms can be sustainable?

III. Successful Transition Requires the Cooperation of Two Forces

No discussion regarding the end of the one-party dictatorship in Taiwan can do to omit Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). At the same time, the Taiwanese themselves firmly deny the notion that the course of their history was shaped by one individual. They think that Chiang would not have made that choice if not for the perseverance of Taiwan’s democratic activism as well as the massive pressure that arose from the social diversity at the time. I am of the same opinion.  

The ruler is created by the ruled, and vice versa. Ruler and ruled sculpt one another, together creating a vicious circle. The ruler bears most of the responsibility, but his wantonness is also induced by the meekness and submissiveness of the Chinese themselves. They have spoiled the CCP too much. Only when we the vulnerable speak up can China escape this vicious cycle. If there is no pressure from outside [the political system], no demand for the independence of the press or tolerance of opposition parties, there can be no change: Even supposing the Party leader himself is willing to reform, he would encounter opposition from his colleagues — they would think that he has gone insane. It needs not be said that without external impetus, the idea of reform will never occur to them. If we don’t voice our opinions and exert pressure, we don’t deserve to see the dictatorship come to its end.

On the other hand, a wise leader is needed to bring a peaceful end to dictatorial Party rule. Otherwise, violence will be inevitable. It is hard to say if this sort of positive development has much probability of occurring, but at least there’s the possibility, since those in the upper echelons of power know the truth, better than anyone on the outside, that the Party can hardly change its ingrained habits. For the Party to voluntarily give up its power in a way that saves face would be a win-win outcome.

There’s a third “win” involved: I have always believed that politicians must possess ambition. For one’s name to be honored by history should be enough to satisfy the ambition of any politician. This is the best way out for the Chinese people, the Party, and the Party leader.  

Being the Party leader though, it’s really no easy task to take the Party on this path. The challenge comes not necessarily in the form of opposition from the outsiders, but the lack thereof, which is also a consequence brought about by the Party itself. As it doesn’t face any credible opposition, it has little reason to choose the path of ending its rule.

This is also the reason why I have decided to “poke through the paper window” and point at the truth hidden within. Let us gather and pool our efforts to take the single path that will lead to an amicable resolution. This opportunity will not last long.

IV. Blame Not He Who Speaks But the Wise Men Who Remain Silent

It is written in the Chinese constitution that the “socialist system is the basic system of the People’s Republic of China.” and that “the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Given that the central theme of this article goes against the words above, should I be considered a criminal for writing it? No, because it is an expression of opinion and not an action. There should be no such thing as a thought criminal in a civilized country.  

The Thirteenth People’s Congress convened in 2018 is instructive. There used to be a rule in the constitution limiting the number of presidential terms, and a motion to remove the term limit was proposed prior to the conference. Is it a crime to suggest a constitutional amendment to the presidential term limit? No. I am in favor of terms being limited, but I don’t think it’s wrong to suggest any amendment to the constitution. The characteristic of the law is that it is authoritative and inviolable under a specific setting, but it also progresses along with the course of history and as such is subject to revision. The process of revision is dependent on the ability of citizens to freely discuss and criticize the laws, so long as their criticism remains in the realm of speech and not action as this would be illegal.

Over the years I have scribbled millions of words. How could I forgive myself if I fail to write a few words on the one question that has been on my mind for so long, the question that concerns the future of our country?

While I write this primarily in my own self-defense, I also write them for the people who came before, or will come after, me. For a peaceful transition to become reality, China needs citizens who abide by the law. I am such a citizen. Everyone shares a collective responsibility for the welfare of the nation, as it’s said, and this is one of the reasons I wanted to write this article. A humbler reason is to allow myself some semblance of self-respect. Over the years I have scribbled millions of words. How could I forgive myself if I fail to write a few words on the one question that has been on my mind for so long, the question that concerns the future of our country?

In January 1948, three months after the CCP published the “Outline Land Law of China” (《中国土地法大纲》), late Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong (费孝通) wrote an article titled “Standards for a Moderately Prosperous Society Free of Hunger and Cold” (《黎民不饥不寒的小康水准》) to argue against violent land reform. He wrote: “History is not always reasonable, but in any historical setting there has always been a reasonable solution available. Whether history can develop along a reasonable course is dependent upon whether people can make rational choices. Those in the position of scholars have the responsibility to point out rational solutions, while it is up to the politician to bring it into history.”

I don’t believe we’ve reached the point where we can hold the politicians responsible for everything. This is because at present, the intellectuals have yet to fulfill their duty. Had they stayed true to their conscience and mustered the courage to speak their minds, China would not be in the state it is in today.

Drafted August 2018; finalized December 2018.

Zheng Yefu (郑也夫) was born in 1950 in Beijing. He was one of the 17 million “educated youths” sent down to the countryside, and served in the Heilongjiang Construction Corps. He is now a retired sociology professor from Peking University. The Chinese version of the article can be found here.


Related:

A Great Shift Unseen Over the Last Forty Years, Xiang Songzuo, December 28, 2018.

Bid Farewell to Reform and Opening Up –– On China’s Perilous Situation and Its Future Options, Zhang Xuezhong, translated by Andrea Worden, January 7, 2019.

An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’, China Change, October 31, 2018.

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Who Is Huang Qi?

Tan Zuoren, January 13, 2019

Huang Qi’s trial opens today (January 14, Beijing time) in Mianyang Intermediary Court, Sichuan Province. – The Editors

Huang Qi, second from left, in April, 2016. Photo: RFA

Huang Qi (黄琦), 55, is from Neijiang City in Sichuan Province (四川内江市), southwestern China. He holds a bachelor’s degree and is the founder of 64 Tianwang (六四天网) as well as the China Tianwang Human Rights Affairs Center (中国天网人权事务中心). He has for years devoted himself to public interest work, and he is also a dissident. Huang Qi’s late father was a soldier. His mother is a retired cardiologist Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清), 85 years old this year.

Huang Qi graduated from the Radio Department of Sichuan University in 1984. Following his graduation, he worked for years as a businessman. In 1998, Huang Qi and his wife Zeng Li (曾丽) pooled the resources of their family and founded the “Tianwang Center for Missing Persons” (天网寻人网站)—the first such Chinese public welfare organization—in Chengdu. On October 23 of the same year, he founded China’s first private office for locating lost persons. Through this organization, Huang Qi and his wife helped the police crack down on kidnapping and assist the relatives of abducted women and children in finding and rescuing their loved ones. 

Tianwang’s work was acknowledged and praised by major Chinese media. The People’s Daily published a special report called “The Many Exploits of Tianwang’s Searches for the Missing” (《天网寻人故事多》). Feature reports by other media include, among others, “My Dream Is to Reunite Ten Thousand Families” (《万家团圆是我的心愿》), “The Missing Persons Center Handles Every Case With Love and Tears” (《寻人事务所一一用爱和泪水来经营》), and “She Founded China’s First Missing Persons Center” (《她创办了中国首家寻人事务所》).

On June 3, 2000, Huang Qi was arrested and imprisoned for posting “sensitive rights defense information on the website of Tianwang Missing Persons Center. It was his first. After two and a half years of detention, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” During his five-year sentence, Huang Qi was repeatedly beaten by police officers, prison guards, and other inmates, leading to serious ailments such as hydrocephalus, brain atrophy, bilateral ventricle enlargement, and narrowing of the urethra.

The core mission of 64 Tianwang is to “stand in solidarity with those who have no power, no money, and no influence.”

On June 2, 2005, after Huang Qi was released from prison, the Tianwang Missing Persons Center, still running when he served out his sentence, was officially renamed 64 Tianwang. The core mission of 64 Tianwang is to “stand in solidarity with those who have no power, no money, and no influence” (与无权无钱无势的弱势人群站在一起). It has served as a comprehensive, peaceful, and effective service to protect the rights of petitioners throughout the country who have no other recourse available to them. The volunteers who run 64 Tianwang adhere to the facts in their reports, exposing public corruption scandals and information about civil rights activism. It is the first private media organization in China to provide a wide range of information services for petitioners.

During the May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008, Huang Qi actively participated in disaster relief efforts, and was first to report the shoddily-built tofu-dreg classrooms (校园豆腐渣工程) scandal via 64 Tianwang, incurring the anger of the Sichuan provincial authorities who were under the factional patronage of Zhou Yongkang (周永康). Charged with “Illegal possession of state secrets,” Huang Qi was sentenced again, this time to three years in prison.

By 2011, when Huang Qi was released from his second sentence, he was suffering from a terminal kidney illness. Despite his condition, he continued his public interest activities with 64 Tianwang, and founded the China Tianwang Human Rights Center (中国天网人权事务中心). Huang Qi’s determination did not waver even as his family broke up. Together with other Tianwang volunteers, he established a nationwide information network for petitioners and civil rights, providing first-line, first-hand information from all levels of government about human rights and “stability maintenance” for the public.

On November 28, 2016, Huang Qi was accused of illegally providing state secrets to foreign agencies. This third time, he was arrested and imprisoned for disclosing the contents of a supposedly secret internal document.

On July 28, 2017, after six long-distance trips made in as many months, Huang Qi’s defense lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青)[1] was finally able to meet with the ailing Huang Qi at the Mianyang City Detention Center. By this time, Huang Qi’s condition was very serious, and the investigation associated with his criminal case had been concluded several days prior and had been transferred to the prosecution for review.

Despite the obvious deterioration of his health, Huang Qi was in good spirits during the meeting with Sui Muqing. He expressed full confidence that China would move toward constitutional governance, democracy, and social justice.

While Huang Qi remained unyielding throughout his 18-year campaign for civil rights, he has always been willing to provide constructive support for government work in specific issues. In helping a large number of petitioners resolve matters of practical urgency, he won their broad respect and support around the country. Internationally, Huang Qi has earned an honorable reputation for his contributions to the cause of human rights, and has received multiple international awards for his work.

Huang Qi’s rights-protection cause has inevitably hindered the authority and interests of many local governments. Naturally, he has become a crackdown target, spending half of the 18 years of his public interest work in jail! It is indeed very regrettable!

In fact, if we abandon the old ideological prejudice and the unilateral political/rule interest calculation, the human rights cause that Huang Qi supports is indisputably a force that is both in line with fundamental moral values and universal consensus. It is a cause that benefits the fundamental, long-term interests of all society, and as such ought to receive encouragement and support at all levels of government. Especially when China’s political system remains imperfect and society is rife with serious upheaval, Huang Qi is a humanitarian who strives both to protect disadvantaged groups, and as such, he helps maintain social stability. His is perhaps the greatest contribution a citizen can make to the nation!

In view of the uniquely arduous conditions that Chinese political prisoners must cope with, and in view of the painful experience of dissidents such as Li Hong (力虹), Cao Shunli (曹顺利), Peng Ming (彭明), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), and Yang Tianshui (杨天水), we hope that the authorities will, in keeping with the humanitarian spirit, grant the terminally ill Huang Qi medical leave as soon as possible, so that he can access timely and effective treatment, as well as living conditions suitable for his medical state.

Political issues are complex and perilous, while the humanitarian spirit is humble and simple, and forever. Huang Qi’s release would also mean release for his aging mother, and it would not do the least harm to the authorities. The matter is just this simple: I hope that the relevant authorities will consider this matter and make the decision to release Huang Qi in time and avoid yet another human tragedy!

August 20, 2017

[1] Over the period of this article’s writing to now, both lawyer Sui Muqing and lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), who succeeded Sui to defend Huang Qi, have been disbarred.

Tan Zuoren (谭作人), born on 15 May 1954, is an environmentalist, writer and former editor of Literati magazine based in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He was imprisoned for five years from 2009-2014 for investigating student deaths during the Wenchuan earthquakes in 2008. [Wikipedia entry]

Translated from Chinese 《民间维权十八年,换来牢狱祸连连》


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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

Bid Farewell to Reform and Opening Up –– On China’s Perilous Situation and Its Future Options

Zhang Xuezhong, translated by Andrea Worden, January 7, 2019

Last week, Dr. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), a law professor at East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, posted an article on WeChat titled “Bid Farewell to Reform and Opening Up –– On China’s Perilous Situation and Its Future Options” (《告别改革开放 –– 论当今中国的危局和前路》). The following is an excerpt from the article in which he dismisses the notion that Deng Xiaoping’s time was a better time, a time, many believe, the current leader Xi Jinping has digressed from and should return to. We should point out that, in 2013, Dr. Zhang was stripped of his teaching position at the university by the university’s communist party committee for his writings on constitutionalism, and he now works in an administrative office on campus. He also has been a practicing lawyer and has represented prominent human rights activists, Liu Ping and Guo Feixiong, among others. But in the last two or three years, the university has blocked his practice. In other words, the university has reduced the law professor and human rights lawyer to an office clerk. He should be grateful that he hasn’t been sent to Jiabiangou (夹边沟) to die, if you call that progress.  –– The Editors

The Place of Reform and Opening Up in the Course of Long-Term National Transition

From the Westernization Movement to the Reform Movement of 1898, and then to the Revolution of 1911, the idea of a republic–– antithetical to a monarchy––became the consensus of the Chinese elite. Since the Revolution of 1911 through the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and afterwards, although the values ​​of freedom and democracy had not been well implemented, they were modern political principles and ideals such that no political force dared publicly deny, destroy or discard them. In September 1949, the new People’s Political Consultative Conference formulated the interim Common Program (共同纲领), which would both continue the legacy of the Revolution of 1911 and establish a new democratic system.

However, the concept of communist dictatorship that the CCP adhered to then and now, in principle, stands in fundamental contrast to the constitutional government of a liberal democracy. This means that the continuation of the CCP’s rule must be predicated on the elimination of the concepts of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Beginning in 1953, a series of political campaigns, such as the socialist transformation movement (社会主义改造) and the “washing” of intellectuals (i.e., thought reform) meant the gradual destruction of the new democratic system. The 1954 Constitution, based on the Common Program, was in force for three years and then abandoned.

This meant that the new democratic system was replaced by the Soviet-style system, and that the political legacy of the Revolution of 1911 was basically eradicated. During the 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign, following the persecution of Zhang Bojun (章伯钧), Luo Longji (罗隆基), Chuan Anping (储安平) and others, liberal, democratic organized forces with clear political demands vanished completely from the mainland. Since then, although the ideals of freedom and democracy have hung on by a thread, they have survived and been passed on only in the form of personal thought.

Reform and opening up, which was launched after the end of the Cultural Revolution, is undoubtedly a denial of Maoism. It brought opportunities and space for a ravaged Chinese society to recover and recuperate. Compared with Maoism, reform and opening up is substantial progress, and objectively speaking, it brought about the emergence of civil society relative to governmental power.

However, reform and opening up as a political guideline and policy of the Chinese Communist regime, contrary to what Professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润) said, has never been about the transition to a better form of government (优良政体). In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Reform and opening up, as a policy measure in response to actual circumstances, is aimed precisely at consolidating and continuing the CCP’s one-party dictatorial rule. Initially, reform and opening up relaxed restrictions on society, and the loosening of political oppression made people hope for a more civilized, democratic, and liberal political system. This is the social backdrop of the 1989 student movement. However, the suppression of the student movement by the CCP regime, headed by Deng, undoubtedly indicated to the world that reform and opening up never included in its agenda the gradual establishment of a liberal democracy.

Interestingly, pundits who are today still loudly extolling Deng Xiaoping are deliberately ignoring the most important political decision Deng made during his life–– that is, his decision to use military force to suppress the student movement. This suppression not only ended a patriotic student movement that focused on the pursuit of freedom and democracy, but also ruined the opportunity for a peaceful political transition in China.

In fact, judging from both official public pronouncements and the internal discussions of policy makers, in the past few decades, no CCP figure who has held real power has ever thought about establishing a good, modern political system in China. For CCP leaders, the supreme concern has always been keeping the CCP in power, meaning they must spare no cost to tenaciously defend a backward, premodern system of government. All policies carried out in the name of so-called “reform and opening up” must be based on the premise of defending, and even strengthening, the existing structure of power interests.

I have never denied that compared with the Mao Zedong era, the policies during the reform and opening up period–– and the results of those policies–– are certainly much better [in terms of economic growth and improvement in people’s livelihoods]. But I don’t agree that scholars and pundits should act like the official mouthpieces who invariably look at the path of reform and opening up over the past several decades from a vulgar, utilitarian perspective.

What Criteria Should Be Used to Judge 40 Years of Reform and Opening up?

We must use the discourse of rights and rules before we can fairly judge the gains and losses of reform and opening up.

Once we adopt the discourse of rights and rules, not only can we conduct a fair and convincing evaluation of the past reform and opening up, but we can also more clearly understand the current situation in China. We can even conceive of a clearer future for this country, one that is more reasonable and reliable. 

For example, we often see people, who, due to a crass utilitarian mentality, are deeply grateful to Deng Xiaoping for reinstating the college entrance examination (gaokao). However, if we use the discourse of rights, we can see that the resumption of the college entrance examination is both an improvement over the situation during the Cultural Revolution, and at the same time we can understand that it is a fundamental human right of modern society for people to be able to receive higher education when appropriate conditions are met. During the whole period of reform and opening up, not only has the allocation of resources for public institutions of higher learning been unequal and unfair, but also the government’s restrictions on private schools artificially deprives generations upon generations of opportunities for higher education, not to mention the long-term implementation of political brainwashing in the national education.

To take another example, during the period of reform and opening up, there was a limited right to have and protect private property, and the private economy. This is certainly an improvement compared with the preceding period. However, if we realize that personal property rights and business rights are basic human rights to begin with, we can see that during the period of reform and opening up, people’s property rights and business rights have not been adequately respected and protected by the government, and the violation of these rights by public authorities is extremely common and widespread.

As another example, compared with the absolutely unrestrained and comprehensive violation of human rights during the Cultural Revolution, the period of reform and opening up is, of course, much better. But at the same time we can also see that in the latter period, many freedoms, including the people’s right of freedom of speech, publishing, assembly and association, as well as the right to petition and the right to freedom of movement, have been strictly suppressed; and people have always been deprived of the right of political participation, and political persecution has been a common occurrence.

I think these few examples are sufficient to illustrate my point. In fact, once we begin to use the discourse of rights and rules, we not only can transcend the different subjective feelings held by different groups of people, but also objectively and fairly evaluate the reform and opening up policy. Moreover, we can clearly see how decades of reform and opening up have created the various crises and problems in China today.

In a nutshell, the root cause of these crises and problems is the dictatorial system in which a few people monopolize unconstrained power. In the process of reform and opening up over the past few decades, the problem of unfettered government power and unprotected individual rights not only has not been solved, but has also at times deteriorated. The policy priorities of different political leaders may have differed during this period, but they are completely consistent in terms of defending dictatorial power and suppressing individual liberties.

Arbitrary power can be wielded capriciously. When a few people monopolize unconstrained power, the power-holders can relax their control of society at a certain moment due to certain realistic needs, and they can also at a different moment, in response to different practical needs, strengthen their oppression of society. The reform and opening up path of the past few decades has always been based on a political system in which government power is not constrained and individual rights are not guaranteed.

Once we have seen this clearly, it is easy to understand that although there have been different policy priorities during different stages of these decades, the logic of political power behind them has been consistent. In the first stage of reform and opening up, the private economy was tolerated and encouraged to a greater extent, both to remedy the crisis of the national economic collapse caused by the Cultural Revolution, and because the size of the government at that time was still relatively small and the government’s absorption of social and economic resources was at a relatively low proportional level.

But unconstrained power must inevitably be rent seeking, and it is certain to be corrupt. The phenomenon of rent seeking by those in power has accompanied the entire course of reform and opening up, beginning with the dual pricing system (价格双轨制) in the early stage of the reform period. Once government power could be used for rent seeking and profiteering, not only did the power holders’ appetite become bigger and bigger, but it also led to more and more people using various kinds of paths to enter the government, and subsequently, the scale of the government swelled continuously and expanded without limit. Once such a trend reaches a certain critical point, the speed of social production and national economic growth will not be able to keep up with the increasing scale of government exploitation and consumption of social resources. By this time, all sectors of society, including private entrepreneurs, would find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation, with the exception of those who can use their power to extract wealth. We can even say that the various policies of squeezing and tightening in the later stages of the reform are a completely natural and logical result of the reform and opening up.

Leave Behind Reform and Opening up and Move Towards the Creation of a Modern Government

Under the reform and opening up policy, the government has never considered establishing rules for a constitutional government that would guarantee the basic rights of citizens. On the contrary, the suppression of individual liberty and the trampling of civil rights went hand in hand with economic growth. This model of economic growth inevitably led to problems such as a large gap between the rich and the poor, serious environmental damage, and the collapse of social governance. It can be said that the current government financial crisis and various social crises are the inevitable consequences of decades of reform and opening up. Those who have used 2012 as the dividing line and have portrayed the thirty-plus years before 2012 as a beautiful time, it is is incumbent upon them to search their hearts and ask themselves: Of all the social crises people have faced since 2012, which one of these did not already exist before 2012? Which one is not the result of decades of reform and opening up?

If we expand our horizons a bit more broadly, it is easy to understand that China’s political moves in recent years to intensify the repression of civil society and reject Western influences are themselves the logical result of the reform an opening up. The West is the region in the world that first completed modernization, and the core of modernization is political modernization; that is, the democratic politics of national self-governance under the precondition of respecting and guaranteeing individual freedom. The so-called modern polity is exactly the polity of this liberal democracy.

The Sino-Western collision during the Qing Dynasty made the imperial court aware of its own fragility, and the “Westernization movement,” which aimed at self-strengthening by learning from the West, became an important policy measure. But for decision makers in power, this modernization-oriented learning process had to be severed from political modernization. That is to say, the purpose of limited study of the West was not to change the autocratic regime of the minority ruling the majority, but to preserve and consolidate this premodern regime. However, the Westernization of such facets as technology, management, education, and culture gradually created a partially modernized society, which, in turn, led to conflict between the society making big strides towards modernization and the unchanging, obstinate, premodern government.

However, their more likely choice was to forcefully interrupt the process of societal modernization in order to eliminate the threat to the authoritarian regime posed by society’s pursuit of modernization. It is not surprising that after many years of the Westernization Movement, the extremely xenophobic Boxer Movement followed closely behind.

To a certain degree, the post-Cultural Revolution reform and opening up can be regarded as a Westernization Movement under new conditions. The key point is for China to learn from the West––to introduce Western investment, technology, management and products–– but at the same time, resolutely exclude political modernization. This is precisely the reason why Deng Xiaoping’s “four modernizations” slogan at that time did not include political modernization. While adhering to reform and opening up, the government at the same time insisted that the polity uphold the four basic principles that enshrine the leadership of the Communist Party. This is similar in terms of outcome to the formulation “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application,” in the late Qing dynasty.

However, with the castration of political modernization from the development agenda, sooner or later there will be a conflict between a society with limited modernization and an authoritarian regime that rejects modernization. At that point, the rulers must make a fundamental decision: either initiate the process of political modernization or discontinue the process of societal modernization.

People lament that China at present is a country that lacks consensus and is highly torn. In fact, the rips that have emerged in various aspects of this country all stem from a fundamental tear: a tear between a society that is looking forward to comprehensive modernization and a premodern government that adheres to the structure of existing power interests. It can be said that China today is a country that is pulling itself apart in opposite directions.

However, this state of pulling itself apart in opposite directions cannot be sustained over the long term. Eventually, either the whole society will succumb to the backward regime and regress to the previous state of closure, depression and poverty; or the backward regime will conform to the demands of the comprehensive modernization of society and transform into a modern political system that is compatible with modern society. In a sense, our country has reached a critical moment: Is it moving forward or backward?

What the Chinese need most is not to look backwards, not to recall with nostalgia the so-called reform and opening up, but to move forward, to decisively bid farewell to reform and opening up, and to work hard to innovate the current premodern polity.


Related:

A Great Shift Unseen Over the Last Forty Years, Xiang Songzuo, December 28, 2018.

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.