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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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Economics Professor Expelled for ‘Politically Harmful’ Expressions, Including Estimate of Staggering Cost to Maintain the Communist Party Apparatus

China Change, August 21, 2018

 

Yang Shaozheng

 

 

Yang Shaozheng (杨绍政), a couple of months shy of 49, was for 11 years a professor of good standing in the College of Economics at Guizhou University. He taught game theory and advanced microeconomics, focused his research on optimization theory and mechanism design theory, and managed numerous provincial- and state-funded research projects. On August 15, however, Guizhou University made a decision to expel him for “long-running publication and spreading online of politically mistaken speech, writing a large number of politically harmful articles, and creating a deleterious influence on campus and in society.” He was also guilty of “being unrepentant” and refusing to accept “educational help.”

Prior to this, last November, Yang was suspended from teaching and banned from advising graduate students. According to a personal statement he published online, Yang repeatedly approached the administration and the university’s Party Office to demand a formal statement of reasons for the sanctions. In each case he was fobbed off or refused. His written appeal to the university president was ignored.

Around the same time, Yang’s WeChat account and his blog were shut down, leaving him cut off from all public communication channels to express his views.

Last November, Yang submitted to New Tang Dynasty Television, a station affiliated with Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual practice, a short article titled: “Can We Really Leave the Party Out of Our Economic Research?” (《我们经济研究中政党真的可以被忽略?》) The essay said: “Party personnel as well as the staff of some non-Party mass organizations are sustained by the taxes of the citizenry plus the state’s revenue. They are across the government, the military, mass organizations, state enterprises, educational and cultural institutions, and the organs responsible for Party Affairs. Their number exceeds 20 million; the cost to maintain them, including the loss of wealth caused by maintaining them, is estimated at 2 trillion yuan annually, with every Chinese carrying a burden of roughly 15,000 yuan each.”

Yang published the more detailed analysis, with the full title: “How the Estimate of All of Mainland China’s Government, Party, Mass Organization and State Enterprise Annual Costs Coming to 2 Trillion Was Calculated,” though it has since been deleted from his Sina blog.

In the article, he wrote that in two different economic systems — with all else being equal — one of them that had to “provide for that many regime officials would become increasingly impoverished. As long as nothing changes, the society that has to sustain the more government officials will ultimately collapse.”

Yang Shaozheng pointed out that despite the problem being so important for the future of the country, in China it is a forbidden area of enquiry and a blindspot in the public realm. Interestingly, in the article Yang described how several scholars pointedly avoided the topic at an academic conference he attended on political economy. During the tea break he brought up the question of Party expenditures to other scholars. Fudan University professor Zhang Jun (张军),  gave no response; Zhejiang University professor Zhang Xukun (张旭坤) said he was worried that there may be State Security (国保) officers on site; Chongqing University professor Pu Yongjian (蒲勇健) said: “You understand what’s going on. If you’ve got the courage, go research it.”

In 2005, a researcher named Mu Zhengxin (穆正新) published an essay, which was widely disseminated, titled “The Chinese Communist Party is the Most Expensive Political Party” (《最昂贵的政党是中国共产党》). Mu calculated the expenditures on maintaining the Party apparatus, which he narrowly defined as Party organs and projects that have been set up just for the Communist Party and that are operated with funds from state revenue. The organs included in his calculations are: 1) The Party Committees, disciplinary committees, and consultative conferences at every level of government; 2) The specialized Party organs in schools and universities; 3) Organizations set up by the Communist Party, including the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the All-China Women’s Federation, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, as well as the Party’s youth organizations and numerous, countless other variants; 4) Party organs in police, military, and paramilitary systems, as well as courts and procuratorates; 5) The Party Affairs units inside state-owned enterprises; 6) The Party organs and expenditures for propaganda projects that go on inside Party mouthpiece media; 7) Overseas united front and propaganda work.

Mu Zhengxin’s calculations indicate that the Party’s annual expenditures on the above, just to sustain the Party, came to about 226 billion yuan. Ten years later, all signs indicate that such expenditures have, rather than decreasing, expanded enormously, possibly well beyond that dedicated to the educational system — and certainly far outstripping the budget dedicated to  healthcare. Inquisitive readers are invited to examine the Chinese government’s budget for themselves.

Yang Shaozheng’s figures included not merely the costs of sustaining the Party apparatus, but also the loss associated with the constant drain of these costs (including the massive corruption that takes place).

As to Communist Party expenditures, in 2012 the Peking University professor of law He Weifang (贺卫方) wrote on Weibo: “The Party’s treasury cannot be confused with that of the country. Party cadres cannot derive their income from the national treasury, and instead should be supported by the Party’s own fees. Taxpayers pay their taxes to a secular national government,  not a Holy Party.” (Professor He’s original post has likely been expunged entirely; the only online traces of it are in forwarded messages like this.) On March 27, 2016, He Weifang proposed on Weibo that national budgetary support be withdrawn from the Communist Youth League.

These demands are of course feeble without a transformation of the political system. The effect they do achieve, however, is to remind the public and the scholarly community to consider these issues. We look forward to Professor Yang Shaozheng and other Chinese or foreign political economists engage in detailed studies and calculations on this issue.

Prior to the Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Yang was twice called in for ‘chats’ by the Public Security Bureau in Guizhou Province. He told Radio Free Asia in an interview: “The first was on September 19. They said that during the 19th Party Congress I had to keep my mouth shut. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t write anything online, and couldn’t say anything political during class. I said to them at the time: what you’re doing here is illegal according to our national constitution. The second time they came to me was the very evening of the opening ceremony of the 19th Party Congress, at about 9:00 p.m. They first accused me of spreading rumors. I asked them where I was supposed to have spread rumors and demanded that they present the facts. They had no facts to present. In the end they told me explicitly that I had to shut up, and then asked whether I’d do so or not. I told them clearly that I wouldn’t be quiet. They froze my Weibo account. I told my students about what happened.”

Yang Shaozheng’s writings on websites inside China have been blocked or purged, and now only a few of his articles are available on some sites outside the country. In 2012 when Yang’s personal page “Statecraft for the People” (经世济民) on KDNET, a popular Chinese-language website, was deleted without prior notice, he wrote to the website administrator: “Today it was my website that was unconstitutionally disappeared; tomorrow I myself may be, unconstitutionally and without reason, also disappeared; and you, among many others, may also have their websites or books disappeared, or be disappeared yourselves.”

An overseas human rights activist told China Change that, over the weekend, Yang Shaozheng and his family were attempting to travel to Hong Kong when they were intercepted at the border. China Change has been unable to contact Yang so far.

Over the last few years, numerous university professors have been expelled, pulled from classes, sacked, or had their Party memberships rescinded, among other punishments, for their transgressions of thought and speech. A sampling of such cases over the last two years includes:

  • Deng Xiangchao (邓相超), the vice dean of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University, who was forced to retire in January 2017 after he forwarded a number of posts making fun of Mao Zedong on Mao’s birthday;
  • Zhai Jiehong (翟桔红), associate professor in the law school at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, who in May 2018 had his Party membership cancelled and was suspended from teaching after criticizing the constitutional amendment (to remove the tenure limit on the head of state in China);
  • You Shengdong (尤盛东), a professor of international trade at Xiamen University, who in June 2017 was sacked after being informed on by students for making statements in class that were “opposed to the socialist value outlook”;
  • Li Mohai (李默海), an associate professor and director of the political department in the political-law school of Shandong Institute of Business and Technology, who was sacked in July 2017 for “publishing incorrect speech online”;
  • Shi Jiepeng (史杰鹏), an associate professor of classical Chinese at Beijing Normal University who in August 2017 was expelled for “publishing incorrect views online over a long period of time,” “crossing the red line of ideology management, violating political discipline, and causing severe damage to the reputation of the university”;
  • Xu Chuanqing (许传青), an associate professor at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture who in September 2017 was subject to administrative punishment after being informed on by students in his Probability Theory class for “making inappropriate comparisons between Japanese and Chinese people and giving free reign to his personal dissatisfaction.”

Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) and Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), two university professor who are also human rights lawyers, were also deprived of their teaching qualifications. Liu Shuqing was disbarred from practicing law, and while Zhang Xuezhong has managed to keep his license, he’s been unable to practice due to the university’s concerted interference. Recently Zhang, a law professor, received a harsh warning from the police for publishing a proposal for drafting a new constitution by citizens that aimed to help create a modern political system in China.

In July, the Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润), in Japan as a visiting scholar, published a lengthy essay titled “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” which carried out a thoroughgoing critique of — and expressing his deep concern about — Chinese political and social life. In writing the essay, he seemed to have made preparations for whatever would come to him, again showing that in China today, the freedom of expression of intellectuals is deeply imperiled.

In early August, Sun Wenguang (孙文广), a retired professor from Shandong University was set upon and dragged away by half a dozen police officers, who barged into his home while he was in the middle of an interview with Voice of America. The recording cut off live as he was hauled off. He was illegally detained for several days before being allowed to return home, and since then hasn’t been able to speak with journalists. A VOA journalist and news assistant who visited him previously were also temporarily detained.

In September 2017, Professor Yang Shaozheng, no place to publish, no blog to write, and unable to have a social media account inside China, came to Twitter. Few knew who he was. He posted screenshots of his writings and published them on his feed as though speaking to himself. His inaugural tweet reads, “The more I think, the more distressed I become. It’s hard to pursue the truth; it’s hard to speak the truth; and it’s hard to be a truthful person. Being able to freely express ourselves, without terror, is our dream.”

 

 


Related:

Xu Zhangrun’s China: ‘Licking Carbuncles and Sucking Abscesses’, China Change, August 1, 2018

War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018

 


 

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The Thinking of the System vs. The Thinking of Individuals Within the System

Sun Liping, January 21, 2018

 

This essay was published when I first launched a public WeChat column. Now, I’ve made some revisions, and am publishing it again as follows. I’m doing this because people have a hard time comprehending a few recent events because they were incredibly unreasonable. It’s hard to understand why people, who are clearly smart and have gone through great travails, are screwing things up so badly. This essay attempts to explain this phenomenon from the perspective of the thinking of the system. –– Sun Liping, December 14, 2017.

 

About 20 years ago, I once said: Sometimes the system is more stupid than individuals in the system. That is to say, people within the system may all appear to be shrewd, but the system as a whole sometimes nevertheless behaves foolishly. Certain academic big shots were unhappy about my comment.

Below I’ve recounted a story I told in 2008 during a lecture at Tencent’s Yanshan Lecture Hall (腾讯燕山大讲堂), which says something about the truth of what I said.

Around the late 70s or early 80s when I was studying at Peking University, I came upon a short story in a provincial literary magazine. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten the title of the story and the name of the magazine; nor do I remember the author, and haven’t found any other mention of this very meaningful story. But I remember vividly the plot of the story, nearly 30 years later.

The story involved a soldier who was about to be demobilized. In order to be able to find a good job after he left the military, he wanted to secure Communist Party membership (at that time, the kind of work you could find and whether or not you were a Party member were directly related). So, acting on suggestions from friends, he started to give presents to his political instructor, spending a lot of money on the effort. But up until the day before he left the army, he still didn’t have his Party membership.

One evening, he charged into the instructor’s office and got into a big argument. Suddenly, he spotted a gun in the office, grabbed it, and pointed it at the instructor’s head. The company commander, who was nearby, heard the altercation. The moment he opened the door, he saw the soldier pointing the gun at the instructor’s head.

What to do? If the company commander forcibly seized the gun, it was likely to accidentally discharge and kill or injure the instructor. In such a state of emergency, he thought of the plot of a movie he’d seen not long before, involving the use of psychological deterrence. Accordingly, he walked towards the soldier while shouting “Go ahead and shoot!” “Shoot!” The soldier was stunned: How could the commander be yelling at me to shoot? Meanwhile, the commander slowly walked over and pushed the muzzle of the gun toward the floor, preventing a tragedy.

Now it was time for the incident to be handled. That the soldier would be punished was inevitable. The next to be punished was the commander. The reason for punishing the commander was because he was telling the soldier to shoot when the gun was pointed at the instructor. The commander defended himself: “It was to deter him psychologically.” But the system is incapable of acknowledging the law of psychological deterrence, because in the only political logic recognized by the system, there is no way to put the law of psychological deterrence in an appropriate position. What the system could acknowledge was a fact that could not be simpler –– that “when the muzzle of the gun was pointed at the instructor’s head, you said ‘shoot.’” As independent individuals, the people who were handling the case perhaps understood perfectly well the true intention of the commander, but the system in which these individuals operated had no way to do so.

What’s my point in telling this story again? I hope to point out the difference between an individual’s thinking and that of the system. Some years ago, a well-known British anthropologist, Mary Douglas, wrote a book titled How Institutions Think. The title implies that systems are able to think. Indeed, systems are able to think. Such a proposition gives us an even greater recognition and understanding of systems. But regretfully, in the end, scholars still often attribute the system’s thinking to human thinking; that is, they suppose that the thinking of the system thinking is carried out through individuals. In this way, individuals and the system are again rather simplistically confounded with one another.

What I want to emphasize is that the thinking of the system is not the same as the thinking of the people within the system. In fact, the thinking of the system is sometimes quite different from the thinking of the people in it. Every person in the system may understand a matter, but the system does not. For another example: during the Cultural Revolution, a man accidentally broke a statue of Chairman Mao. Everyone understood that it was an accident, but the system does not allow such an event to be an accident: If you broke a statue of Mao, you must be punished.

Why is the system’s thinking different from the that of individuals within the system? Because the thinking of individuals depends on the individual’s intelligence and knowledge, and institutional thinking depends on the logic and circumstances of the system. And so to the question raised in the title of this article.

 

 

Sun Liping (孙立平) teaches sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This is an unauthorized translation of his WeChat post 《孙立平:体制的思维与个人的思维是不一样的》 on December 14, 2017. (Archived here.)

 

 

 

Thoughts on the South China Seas – we should be more worried about fishermen than politicians

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.

Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China

Part of a continuing series of journal article summaries. You can also read my summaries on The regulation of religion in China and Reconsidering the campaign to suppress counter-revolutionaries.  

Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China                         By: Joseph Tse-Hei Lee (full text PDF)

Tom’s Summary:

The Little Flock Movement or Christian Assembly, was a loosely connected church movement that was started by Watchman Nee in the 1920’s as a wholly Chinese form of Christianity. It strove to be self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-funded in accordance with three-“self” principles that were popular at the time, and quickly grew as the Chinese public turned more strongly against foreign imperialism.

Fundamentally the Little Flock modeled itself after the church depicted in Acts; they would be united as a community of believers, and there would be no hierarchy beyond the local church. They strongly promoted the idea of the “priesthood of believers.” They urged their congregations to break cleanly from western missionary movements and rejected the idea of denominational ties. This is somewhat ironic given that the Little Flock benefited greatly from theological training from earlier missionaries. The movement also promoted the idea that there should only be one church in each geographical region, so that there would not be competition between believers.

The Little Flock movement spread in two distinct ways. One way was for travelling evangelists (“apostles”) to make connections in a new place, and train local leaders who would form the core of the new church. Once established the evangelist would move to another region. The other method was to move several families from an existing congregation to a new area, where they would reach out to non-believers. By 1949 the Little Flock movement made up roughly 25% of China’s Christian population.

When the Communist Party came to power they initially claimed that religious institutions would be tolerated, and created the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which followed the same ideas mentioned above, but was directly overseen by the Party.  Initially the Little Flock worked alongside the TSPM and eventually endorsed the “Christian Manifesto,” which stated Christians’ loyalty to the Communist Party. While Watchman Nee was concerned about Mao’s atheistic views, he convinced himself that the movement would not be affected because it was both indigenous and apolitical.

In 1950 the Korean War broke out and all foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country. This meant that many foreign funded churches were suddenly understaffed and underfunded. The Little Flock quickly made connections with these congregations, and helped them to continue worshiping in accordance with the three-self principles.

Initially the Little Flock congregations urged their members to sacrifice material comfort and help the Party rebuild China. Later though they would resist collectivization and conscription. This dangerous position and their recent connection with foreigners, meant that many Christians suffered during Mao’s various campaigns.

In 1951 some church leaders turned against each other and publicly denounced other Christians and Watchman Nee. This led to the excommunication of all believers who were explicitly pro-government in ’52. In ’53 Little Flock leaders began to openly encourage congregations to leave the TSPM, and reaffirm that Christ was the only authority over the church.

Watchman Nee’s insistence on ideological autonomy eventually led to his own denouncement. In 1956 he was arrested and charged with being a counter-revolutionary and undermining the power of the State. He died while serving a 15 year sentence in a labor camp.

Despite persecution the Little Flock continued to grow and spread to every corner of China. Many believers infiltrated the Party and used their positions to spread the Gospel. On university campuses many of the professors were also believers because they had been trained on Christian campuses prior to ’49. Youth groups were also organized in an effort to counter anti-religious teachings promoted by the Party.

By the time the Cultural Revolution began, the Little Flock movement had become adept at surviving persecution, their theological view of the world reinforced the idea that this was a time when their faith would be tested, and that God would eventually deliver them. Ironically, during this time the movement grew due to the lack of supervision from State agencies that had collapsed in the chaos.

When China allowed religion to reemerge in ’78, the Little Flock became the template for many of China’s house churches.

Tom’s reaction:

In the article there is a quote which states that throughout China’s history there has never been a gov’t that has promoted freedom of religion. The goal of the State has always been to regulate, control, and exploit religion. Just this week the Party issued a message once again warning about the dangers of religion.

In a country where “change” is a word that is usually followed by “undermines stability” it can be difficult to imagine that things could ever be different. Religion offers a radically different view of society, and encourages submission to an authority higher than the Party. In many cases throughout Chinese history, people of faith have been the instigators of change.

Given this, it isn’t surprising that the Party has tried to control those who exist outside of socialist ideology, but given the power of religious ideals, it also isn’t surprising that the Little Flock survived decades of persecution in an effort to maintain the ideological autonomy necessary to pursue their beliefs.

The Coming Change – The Party loosens its grip on power

This week we’ve been looking at how the party relies on improving its citizens quality of life for its mandate to rule. We started by looking at how GDP is no longer enough to maintain that stability, and what changes will be coming in the next few decades. Today I want to focus on some ways the Party could eventually transform its system of rule.

As you read remember that the Party will maintain absolute power until a majority of the population feels that their lives are no longer improving.

The most important idea to understand, is that there is no action considered beyond the pale for maintaining their position of power. As Fei Xiaotong points out in his book, “From the Soil”, they would be willing to sacrifice the whole country for the sake of their party, and the whole world for the sake of their country (I’ll give you a second to let that sink in).

The Party has demonstrated this stance several times, most notably in Tian’anmen square, and more recently with their overreaction to whispers of a Jasmine revolution (e.g beating foreign journalists trying to report on a group of 20 people standing around).

I believe that any popular movement to remove the Party completely from power would be met with such overwhelming force, that it could not succeed. The fact that the gov’t spends more on domestic security than their military shows just how desperate they are to cling to power.

They have also been learning how to defeat protest movements by studying those at home and abroad:

  • Tibet protests led to the blocking of Youtube, since it allowed images of gov’t backed violence to be quickly spread.
  • Iran protests led to the blocking of Facebook and Twitter, which were heralded as the tools of modern demonstrators.
  • Jasmine protests led to speedier and wider ranged key-word censorship on Weibo, and other Chinese-run sites.

Some of you may point again to the protest of 12,000 in Dalian just this past week. While it was a surprising show of unity, it was not directed at the gov’t. These resulted in quick concessions from the local gov’t. For a more typical example,  look instead at the recent riots in Guangdong by migrant workers, which caused the local gov’t to bring in paramilitary troops and armored-vehicles.

Instead the change will be gradual, I think a completely non-violent movement, dedicated to reforming local gov’ts is likely sometime in the next 10 years.

Already the central gov’t is allowing more open criticism of these low ranking officials, and will eventually concede to more supervision from the citizens they rule. Once this happens public oversight would slowly expand to higher levels.

After all, those with a hunger for democracy have been experimenting with how to protest despite gov’t controls:

  • Code words and double meanings to out-maneuver the Great Firewall of China.
  • Organize protests as walks, so that gov’t cannot distinguish between demonstrators and pedestrians.
  • Using sites beyond the firewall to spread the message quickly to like minded individuals (e.g Ai Weiwei has 100,000 followers on Twitter).
  • They are pushing the boundaries of what is “safe” to change with actions like the Dalian protest.

Secondly it is important to consider the sheer size of the Communist Party, nearly 78 million members. They would not be willing to lose their status, even for the greater social good.

These people would need to agree to the changes made, and the Party itself could not be dismantled without serious waves through Chinese society. Instead positions and promotions would gradually be decoupled from Party membership, and new political parties would be allowed to compete for spots in the government.

Before any of that can happen though, I believe we would see greater discussion of policy and enforcement within the Party and Gov’t organizations (currently laws are passed with virtually no dissent or discussion).

These next few decades will decide the fate of China’s next century. A smooth, and gradual transition from the current one-party system would ensure China’s position as a dominant world power for the next century (this is an idea that Wen Jiabao has been hinting at on recent trips overseas), or the Party may try to cling to power after losing their mandate, and China’s rise could end with internal struggle and isolation.

note: I am in no way advocating these changes, but simply pointing out likely problems and compromises that may occur in the near future.