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For over two years ocean rocks have dominated China’s foreign policy issues. So far the Party has managed to anger virtually all their neighbors and has left an opening for America’s pivot to Asia. In my opinion, regardless of whether or not China’s claims are valid, the gov’t seems to be losing the battle on the international stage.
One afternoon when I was chatting with a typically soft-spoken co-worker about my future plans in the Pacific, she pointed out the Philippines on the map and said, “I hope the ocean swallows this country up so that China doesn’t have to destroy it.” As I picked my jaw up off the floor, she elaborated, “Since I was a little girl, these little islands have been a part of China, and I can’t accept the idea of giving them up. It would make the map look all wrong.”
It was something of a wake up call for me as this insanely nationalistic war call was coming from an individual who has been adamantly against the Communist Party in other discussions. Though I shouldn’t have been too surprised that this person who wanted the best for her country, also wanted her country to be “whole”. To her, war in the region is unavoidable; few things ruffle feathers in China the way discussions of territory do. A Chinese politician giving up historical claims is as likely as a Republican candidate proposing a one child policy.
When we started talking about what might happen if China did need to “wipe the Philippines off the map,” it became clear that there was no victory for China in that scenario (nor would it be good for the Philippines, U.S. or anyone else).
Imagine with me if you will how such a thing would unfold-
First one country, likely after provocation by fishermen, would open fire on an opposing vessel sparking the conflict. If the media is as biased against China as some of the angry youth believe, than surely China would be blamed for the increased aggression regardless of the facts. After all, what benefit would there be for any of the neighboring countries if China were absolved of blame? It would only put them at greater risk in the future. In the U.S. it would excuse a military build-up, and in an election year, who knows how much of a reaction would be needed to keep people’s votes.
As a result of the conflict, the US and neighboring countries would lend military support (or at least some gesture), there would be a call for sanctions, and many individuals would likely boycott Chinese made goods (in addition to those Americans who already do). In the long run, this military conflict would likely cost China’s economy more than the prized oil is worth, and the short-term effects of the economic punishments could seriously undermine employment and by extension, stability (although some argue that a war would give nationalism a pretty healthy boost in an already sagging economy). In the U.S. billions of dollars in investments in China would likely be lost, and the price of goods would swing sharply upward.
War would be lose-lose for all involved.
While I’m in no way an expert on the South China Sea issue, I’ve yet to see a scenario that ends with China maintaining any kind of positive image overseas.
Based on this (oversimplified) thought experiment, to me it seems that China’s best choice is to continue with the plan of waiting to exploit these resources, and encouraging their neighbors to be patient in finding a solution they can all agree on, and prevent the situation from reaching the point that the U.S. feels it needs to get involved. It gives the country the opportunity to lead, offers a second chance at building trust within the region, and keeps the U.S. away from China’s backyard.
Unfortunately, oil isn’t the only resource being considered and appearances must be maintained when it comes to issues of sovereignty (if these “islands” don’t belong to the mainland, Taiwan might start getting ideas….) It seems that Chinese fishermen have depleted their own stocks, and are now searching further afield for fish, leading to standoffs that would otherwise be avoided in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.
It is China’s environmental issues that are pushing officials (on both sides) to puff up their chests as much as it is the massive quantities of oil that they had been willing to wait for. This makes it much more difficult to reign in, as calling on fleets to stay ashore looks weak domestically, and pushes up already high food prices. I fear that if war does come to this region, it won’t be the result of decisions made in Beijing, as Chinese leaders are aware of the risks, but rash acts by patriots, fishermen, and the forces sent in to deal with them.
Last December as soon as I started tweeting and getting to know Twitter’s Chinese community, I was shaken by the news of two men—Chen Wei (陈卫) and Chen Xi (陈西) –being sentenced for nine and ten years in prison, respectively, for writing pro-democracy articles. Even though I was no fan of the Chinese communist party, it seemed to me utterly preposterous that in the 21st century China was still locking people up for thought crimes while it postured itself on world stage as a great power and tried to exert influence. All of a sudden, I was guilt-stricken by everything I enjoyed and took for granted, such as the sunlight slanting across my dining table and the morning peace enveloping me. Then again, shouldn’t there be a few things in life that we take for granted?
A few days ago, I came across the Weibo account of Chen Wei’s wife. Between work, their daughter and prison visits, she keeps a “diary” to share information, mostly, having to do with her husband. With her permission, I translated a few recent entries for our English readers. But first, let me briefly introduce Chen Wei:
Chen Wei entered Beijing Industrial College (北京工业学院, now Beijing Institute of Technology) to study physics in 1988. In 1989 he witnessed June 4th movement as a student leader. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced for a year and a half and expelled from college. In 1992 he was sentenced five years in prison for organizing the Chinese Freedom and Democracy Party (中国自民党). Between 1997 and 2011, he participated in organizing the Sichuan Democratic Party, signed 08 Charter, and was an important coordinator of non-violent rights activism. He was charged with “inciting to subvert state power” in March, 2011. In December 23 of the same year, he was sentenced to nine years in prison. Among the evidence presented by prosecutors were four articles he authored: Constitutional Democracy as Medicine for a Sick System, Growth of an Opposition Key to China’s Democracy, The Trap of “Harmony” and the Absence of Justice, and Thoughts during Human Rights Day Fast. –Yaxue
April 10, Day 416. 2869 days remaining. We took high-speed train early this morning and arrived in Nanchong at 10. Then we took a taxi to Jiangling Prison. It passed 10:30 already when we got there. Inside we were told to wait for approval of the person in charge. When word came back shortly that we had to wait until the afternoon, I protested. “How can you do this to me? Our high speed train leaves at 12:50pm and we already bought tickets! We have jobs to go to; you can’t give us a hard time every time we are here!” After some wrangling, they finally allowed us to meet him. The meeting ended at 11:30am.
April 10, second post, 8:20pm. Over our meeting today, he told me he didn’t wash dishes anymore, but he still had to do training every day. His skin darkened considerably from sunburn. His left hand and right hand are very different from one another: his right hand was dark and rough after washing dishes for a month, while his left hand was quite pale. Pretty soon, though, he was going to be assigned to labor teams. [New prisoners in Chinese jails go through a period of harsh “training” and labor, after that they are assigned to labor teams where life is more or less routine.—Yaxue ] I hope everything will go well and he could breathe a little easier in less harsh circumstances. We brought greetings from many friends. Thank you all!
April 22, 8:16pm, Day 428. 2857 days remaining. On my way home I dropped by the management desk. His letter was there. Turned out it had arrived yesterday, but I got home too late last night. Opened it eagerly in the elevator. Between us, it feels like when we fell in love the first time. He actually mentioned that our love is able to stay “fresh.” He said he has a good wife, a lovely and smart daughter, and there is nothing more for him to want in life!
May 4, 7:47pm, Day 440. 2845 days remaining. Good heaven. Today is May 4th Youth Day. I called the prison around 11am to find out where he was sent to. I was told they hadn’t grouped them yet and I was told to call back on Monday. So I have to wait until next week before I can decide a time to visit him….
May 7, 1:42pm, Day 443. 2842 days remaining. Called the prison today. He was grouped to 3rd prison zone, and I can visit any day from Monday to Friday. I will be going the day after tomorrow. I look forward to it.
May 8, noon, Day 444. 2841 days remaining. Got ticket. Leave tomorrow.
May 9, 8:34pm, Day 445. 2840 days remaining. Visited him today. Everything went all right. Took the high speed train to Nanchong and then a taxi to him. The meeting began at 10:50am. His skin was dark, and we chatted about family and friends. I was sad looking at him. The good thing is he cannot drink or smoke anymore. Now that he’s in the 3rd zone, I can go to see him any day Monday through Friday, and it will be more flexible for me to arrange my visits.
May 15, 11:17pm, Day 456. 2833 days remaining. Today I came home early. I let our daughter ride by herself and I went to the management desk again to see if there was a letter. There was. He said on the 9th that he had submitted his letter for mailing, and I have been checking it every day since I was back. Finally, it’s here.
May 18, 1:06pm, Mailed a letter to him. Also his sandals and bed sheets. Hopefully he will have them soon!
May 28, 9:11pm, Day 468. 2821 days remaining. Days are passing by quickly. I haven’t had time to get online lately, and, in a blink of the eyes, it’s the end of the month. Day in and day out, time flies like a shuttle, as the saying has it.
June 6, 9:30pm, Day 477, 2812 days remaining. Each year I prepared saline water for him on that day. [Chen Wei had fasted on June 4th since 1992.] I don’t know how he spent it last year and this year. Each day I count the days and look forward to the day when I visit him. I miss him.
June 10, midnight, Day 481. 2808 days remaining. Yesterday I attended the hundred-day banquet for little Jasmine [celebrating 100 days since birth]. It was a big party. I just got home now and am so tired. At the party I saw a lot of friends, and I couldn’t help feeling lost. I don’t know what to say…..but I sincerely wish the little beauty will be healthy and happy forever!
June 18, midnight, Day 490. 2799 days remaining. Yesterday was Father’s Day. My daughter and I visited his father and mother. We spent a pleasant weekend together. Tomorrow I will be going to Nanchong.
June 19, 1:22pm, Today I visited Nanchong and met him. I missed him so much. To my surprise he has put on some weight since his training stopped. 150 jin [75kg]. His brother [who went with me] said my dress was too “sexy” as if I were having a holiday. I said, but this is my holiday. He [Chen Wei] was very happy to see me in my new dress. Here is a picture for you all to take a look.
June 19, second post, 22:56pm, He asked me if I had gotten his letter yesterday. I said I hadn’t. He said he’d already send it. So I went to the management desk to look for it as soon as I was back. It had arrived two days ago, and the desk saved it for me in their cabinet. That’s why I didn’t get it the last couple of days. I am so happy that I got the letter and saw him in person on the same day. Tomorrow is his mother’s birthday, and we are going over to her’s to celebrate, and I have the card he sent to give to her. She will be so happy.
Over the past three days we’ve had a chance to look at the full version of the story the Party tells about China’s past 170 years. I divided it into three sections that weren’t broken up in the National Museum, but that allowed reflection on logical chunks – The Opium war up to the founding of the Republic; The founding of the Party through the Mao years; and finally, 30 years of opening up. I wanted to wait to comment on the text until you all had had a chance to read it and form some of your own impressions (which I hope you’ll share below).
The first thing that I noticed from the exhibit was that China’s default status in the world is “glorious,” and that this glory comes from the Party. This is hardly a surprising claim, but its importance in the foundational myth is worth noting. Even the title of the exhibit reinforces this idea – The Road to Rejuvenation. From there we learned that foreigners’ only interest in China was exploitation, and that the Republican gov’t failed to live up to Sun Yatsen’s vision for China.
While these two points are not completely accurate, they are presented in a way that is convincing and clear. The repeated use of the word “bourgeois,” suggests that this is a story that the Party knows how to tell (it appears 9x in the first section, and only 1 time after that when discussing the founding of the Party). All the sections prior to the actual establishment of the People’s Republic of China seem to be much clearer than the later sections.
The second section of the exhibit has a different focus and serves to emphasize the role the Party has had in improving the lives of the Chinese people. It also reinforced the idea of ethnic unity (mentioned three times here, and only one other time in the preface). While the first section may have bent the truth to some degree, this section seems to have heavily employed the use of the delete button and provides a version of history that would likely confuse many who survived Mao’s decades of rule. Without any further knowledge of China, one would come away with the impression that nothing bad happened in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s; even though well over 50 million Chinese people died unnecessarily during that time. As despicably revisionist as it is, there is still a narrative that makes sense if you ignore all of the outside information.
However, it’s not Mao’s era that seemed the most difficult for Party historians to discuss, it’s the last 30 years. As I walked through the museum with my father, we were both left scratching our heads as we read through lists of slogans and campaigns that described each leader’s reign since Mao. I wasn’t surprised that there was no mention of Tian’anmen square or the other crackdowns, but I was surprised that there was not no mention in the narrative of a single concrete action that any of these leaders had accomplished.
Within each decade there were trinkets of accomplishments, but it felt more like a scrapbook than a museum, in that it provided very little in the way of explanation. Oh look, it’s Deng Xiaoping’s cowboy hat. Wow, remember when we got let in to the WTO, or sent that guy into space? What was clear to me was that the Party still doesn’t know how these leaders will be viewed in the future, and seems to be working on the last third of the narrative.
The conclusion though makes sure you haven’t missed the point – “Socialism is the only way to save China,” and a subtle nudge to “closely unite around the CPC central leadership with Hu Jintao as its General Secretary.”
As we left the halls of the museum and returned to Tian’anmen Square, I couldn’t help thinking that not far from here Chen Guangcheng, Ai Weiwei, Wang Lijun, and Bo Xilai were all waiting for history to judge them as well. Each one would have been seen quite differently just a little over a year ago by the authorities and by common Chinese people. Chen would have likely been forgotten in Linyi, unknown to most and a thorn in the side of leaders; Ai would have occupied a dubious position between dissident and respected artist, but I don’t have many Chinese friends interested in modern art; Wang was a cop worthy of novels and film; and Bo was a rising political star that caused the country to pause and sing the songs of an era worthy of a single photo in a museum.
Ushering in a new era of development in the cause of socialism 5.1
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee was a significant transition in the history of the party and the state since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. the CPC central collective leadership with Comrade Deng Xiaoping as its core throroughly reviewed the lessons from its experience in socialist construction, emancipated their minds, sought truth from facts, made the historic decision to shift the focus of the Party and country’s work to economic development and to implement reform and opening up, laid out the Party’s basic line for the primary stage of socialism and the three-step strategy for modernizing the country, created Deng Xiaoping Theory and blazed the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Opening a new chapter in reform, opening up and modernization 5.2
Faced with enormous changes in the international environment and rapid progress of domestic reform and development, the CPC central collective leadership with Comrade Jiang Zemin as its core held high the banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory, upheld the reform and opening up policy, kept up with the times, created a new socialist market economy, formulated the Party’s basic program for the primary stage of socialism, embarked on a new stage of full opening up, promoted the great new undertaking to build the Party, created the important thought of Three Represents, and carried the successful implementation of socialism with Chinese characteristics into the 21st century.
Opening a new chapter in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects 5.3
Standing at a new historical starting point, the CPC central collective leadership with Comrade Hu Jintao as its General Secretary follows unswervingly the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents. It strives to keep up with new developments in and outside China, grasp the strategic opportunities in this important period, stay realistic and pragmatic, and make pioneering efforts. It has articulated the Scientific Outlook on Development and other strategic thinking. It is working hard to promote scientific development and social harmony, improving the socialist market economy, and resolutely carrying forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics while building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
Over the past one hundred years and more, the Chinese people have written a magnificent epic of solidarity, struggle, self-improvement and resilience. Since the founding of the Communist Party of China ninety years ago, under the strong leadership of the CPC, our great nation has successively achieved many historic changes from a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society to a brand new society of national independence and rule of the people; from new-democratic revolution to socialist revolution and construction; from highly centralized planned economy to vibrant socialist market economy and from semi-closure to comprehensive openness. History has proven that without the CPC, the People’s Republic of China would never have come into being, nor would socialism with Chinese characteristics; socialism is the only way to save China, and reform and opening-up is the only way to develop China, develop socialism and develop Marxism.
Standing on this new historic point and facing the future, one cannot but feel the weight of mission on our shoulders. We shall closely unite around the CPC central leadership with Hu Jintao as its General Secretary, hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, follow the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of “Three Represents,” carry out the Scientific Outlook on Development thoroughly, join efforts to forge ahead and persistently strive for the great goals of implementing the 12th Five-Year Program and building a moderately prosperous society.
An earth-shattering event 3.1
The imperialist powers invasion shattered China’s dream of learning from the West. The October Revolution in Russia sent Marxism to China and cause progressive Chinese to turn their attention from the West to the East, and from bourgeois democracy to socialism. The May 4th Movement furthered the spread of Marxism, and the working class appeared on the stage of history as an independent political force. The integration of Marxism with the workers movement gave birth to the CPC. The founding of the CPC was an earth-shattering even that brought new vitality to the Chinese revolution.
Searching for a new path for the Chinese revolution 3.2
After its founding, the CPC relied on and mobilized workers and peasants, cooperated with the KMT, carried out the Northern Expedition against the Northern Warlords, and brought about an upsurge in the Great Revolution. Chiang Kai-shek and other KMT rightists betrayed the revolution, and the might Great Revolution ended in failure. The Chinese Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong adopted the revolutionary course of surrounding the cities from the countryside and wresting political power by military force, and gradually created Mao Zedong Thought that integrates Marxism with the concrete realities of the Chinese revolution. During this period other strata of Chinese society put forward some ideas for how to save the nation, but they were not a solution to China’s fundamental problems.
The tower of strength in the people’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression 3.3
In the 1930’s, the Japanese imperialists launched a war of invasion to subjugate China. With the nation in dire peril, the CPC proposed the formation of an anti-Japanese national united front based on cooperation between the CPC and KMT, and the CPC became the nation’s tower of strength in the war of resistance. After 14 years of bloody war, the Chinese people won their first victory in resisting and repelling the invasion of a foreign enemy in its modern history.
Struggling to create New China 3.4
After the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, China was faced with the historic decision of what course to take. The KMT faction under Chiang Kai-shek adhered to its reactionary policy of autocratic rule and civil war, and the CPC carried out a positive struggle for peace and democracy. After full-scale civil war broke out, the CPC led the people of the whole country in a revolutionary war against the counterrevolutionary forces and overthrew the reactionary KMT rule, winning the great victory of the new-democratic revolution.
The Chinese people have stood up 4.1
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the three big mountains of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic-capitalism, which had long oppressed the Chinese people, were overthrown, and national independence, liberation of the people and the great unity of China’s ethnic groups were achieved, opening a new era in the history of the Chinese nation. In the early days of New China, the CPC led all the Chinese people in consolidating newly won state power, healing the wounds of war and creating the conditions for undertaking economic development on a massive scale.
Setting up the basic socialist system 4.2
Building socialism in China is the inevitable outcome of the course of modern Chinese history. The central collective leadership of the CPC, with comrade Mao Zedong at its core, led the people of all China’s ethnic groups on the road of socialist industrialization, innovatively completed socialist transformation, and put a basic socialist system in place. The victory of the new-democratic revolution and the creation of a basic socialist system provided the basic political conditions and institutional basis for all of contemporary China’s development and progress.
Setbacks and progress in the exploration of socialist construction 4.3
After the establishment of the socialist system, New China entered a period of socialist construction in all respects. The CPC led the people of all China’s ethnic groups to painstakingly explore the laws of socialist development, and clearly set forth the great goal of achieving the four modernizations. They developed their self-reliance and overcame hardships in the course of creating an independent and relatively comprehensive industrial system and economic system, which laid a crucial foundation of material and technology for socialist modernization.
Enhancement of China’s international standing and improvement of its international environment 4.4
New China adhered to an independent foreign policy of peace, broke the imperialist blockade, opposed hegemonism and power politics, strengthened its unity and cooperation with a vast number of developing countries, improved its relations with developed Western countries, resumed its rightful seat in the United Nations, strove to preserve world peace, and created a favorable external environment for domestic development.
The following is copied word for word from the exhibit “The Road to Rejuvenation” at The Chinese National Museum in Beijing (and as far as I know has not been published online prior to this). The exhibit focuses on China’s history from 1840 to the present. The Chinese National Museum reopened in March 2011, offering the most official and most recent account of China’s history as told by the Communist Party (for more on the museum I recommend this excellent NYT piece about the difficulties the Party had in agreeing on how the past should be portrayed). This is the story taught to hundreds of millions of Chinese students; it shapes every discussion of China’s future.
I hope this series of posts will help foster discussions of China’s history and how it is used to consolidate power. Also, as I think you will see, what is left in is just as interesting as what has been left out.
The Chinese nation is a great nation whose people are industrious, courageous, intelligent and peace-loving and have made indelible contributions to the progress of human civilization. For generations and generations, the Chinese people have been pursuing a dream of national strength and prosperity.
“The Road to Rejuvenation” is a permanent exhibition showcasing the explorations made by the Chinese people from all walks of life who, after being reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society since the Opium War of 1840, rose in resistance against humiliation and misery, and tried in every way possible to rejuvenate the nation. The Exhibition also highlights the glorious history of China under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in which all the ethnic groups joined forces to achieve national independence and liberation and strove to build a strong and prosperous country for the well-being of the people. The exhibition therefore clearly demonstrates the historical course of the Chinese people of choosing Marxism, the CPC and the socialist road and the reform and opening-up policy, and China’s firm determination in building socialism with Chinese characteristics, through adherence to this great banner, this specail road and this theoretical system.
Today, the Chinese nation is standing firm in the east, facing a brilliant future of great rejuvenation. The long-cherished dream and aspiration of the Chinese people will surely come to reality.
The world and China before the Opium War 1.1
Beginning in the 17th century, with the occurrence of the bourgeois revolution and then the Industrial Revolution, Western Capitalist countries developed rapidly and entered into a period of large-scale expansion and plundering. At this time, China’s feudal society was enjoying its last hurrah during the reigns of emperors Kangxi and Qianlong before its final decline. The Qing court closed the country to the outside world and became ossified, with the result that production methods became antiquated, society stagnated and class conflicts were exacerbated. China was best by crises, and the gap between it and the Western powers constantly grew wider.
The invasion of China by imperialist powers 1.2
After Britan started the Opium War in 1840, the imperial powers descended on China like a swarm of bees, looting our treasures and killing our people. They forced the Qing government to sign a series of unequal treaties that granted them economic, political and cultural privileges and sank China gradually into a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society. The contradictions between imperialism and the Chinese nation and between feudalism and the broad masses of the people became the primary contradictions in modern Chinese society. Achieving national independence and liberation of the people, and making the country strong and prosperous and the people happy became the two great historic missions of the Chinese nation throughout its modern history.
The struggle and the awakening of the Chinese people 1.3
In order to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and defend the nation’s dignity, the Chinese people unflinchingly attacked the foreign invaders, foiling the imperialist powers’ plot to subjugate China. The national crisis and the people’s misery constantly deepened which spurred Chinese people of insight to ponder the nation’s future and the country’s fate and search for a path to salvation.
Early attempts to find a way out for the country 2.1
Faced with national crises and social conflicts of an unprecedented severity, all strata of Chinese society began to look for a way out for the people and the country. The peasant class launched armed struggles to overthrow the feudal rulers and foreign invaders; the feudal ruling class tried to consolidate their rule by making limited changes, and the bourgeois sought to strengthen the country through political reform. All these efforts had positive effects to varying degrees, but none of them succeeded due to historical and class limitations.
The revolution of 1911 overthrows the feudal monarchy 2.2
Different from other efforts, the bourgeois revolutionary faction led by Sun Yat-Sen realized that revolution is the only way out for China. The bourgeois revolutionaries raised the flag of the national democratic revolution, launched an armed uprising and drew up a plan to establish a bourgeois republic. The overthrew the Qing Dynasty, putting an end to more than two thousand years of feudal monarchy, and established the first bourgeois republic in China’s history. This was the first massive change China underwent in the 20th century.
The failure of the Revolution of 1911 and the rise of the New Culture Movement 2.3
With the support of foreign imperialists and domestic reactionary forces, Yuan Shikai, leader of the Northern warlords, usurped the fruits of the Revolution of 1911, and established a reactionary government, which represented the interests of large landowners and comprador bourgeoisie. The bourgeois revolutionary faction’s repeated efforts to restore the republic were frustrated. The fact that the Revolution of 1911 did not change the nature of Chinese society shows that in the historical conditions of the time, the bourgeois reformist faction was unable to complete the task of overthrowing imperialism and feudalism. Subsequently, the New Culture Movement, which took democracy and science as its basic motto, arose and gave birth to a number of schools of thought that formed a current of liberated thinking.
To be continued