Category Archives: political reform

“The man who must change China”

The Economist board has an editorial describing Xi Jinping as the man who “must” change China:

As ruler of the world’s new economic powerhouse, Mr Xi will follow his recent predecessors in trying to combine economic growth with political stability. Yet this task is proving increasingly difficult. A slowing economy, corruption and myriad social problems are causing growing frustration among China’s people and worry among its officials.

In coping with these tensions, Mr Xi can continue to clamp down on discontent, or he can start to loosen the party’s control. China’s future will be determined by the answer to this question: does Mr Xi have the courage and vision to see that assuring his country’s prosperity and stability in the future requires him to break with the past?

Until recently, the Chinese were getting richer so fast that most of them had better things to worry about than how they were governed. But today China faces a set of threats that an official journal describes as “interlocked like dog’s teeth”. The poor chafe at inequality, corruption, environmental ruin and land-grabs by officials. The middle class fret about contaminated food and many protect their savings by sending money abroad and signing up for foreign passports. The rich and powerful fight over the economy’s vast wealth. Scholars at a recent government conference summed it up well: China is “unstable at the grass roots, dejected at the middle strata and out of control at the top”.

Once, the party could bottle up dissent. But ordinary people today protest in public. They write books on previously taboo subjects and comment on everything in real time through China’s vibrant new social media. Complaints that would once have remained local are now debated nationwide. If China’s leaders mishandle the discontent, one senior economist warned in a secret report, it could cause “a chain reaction that results in social turmoil or violent revolution”.

But, you don’t need to think that China is on the brink of revolution to believe that it must use the next decade to change. The departing prime minister, Wen Jiabao, has more than once called China’s development “unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable”. Last week Qiushi , the party’s main theoretical journal, called on the government to “press ahead with restructuring of the political system”.

Ultimately, this newspaper hopes, political reform would make the party answerable to the courts and, as the purest expression of this, free political prisoners. It would scrap party-membership requirements for official positions and abolish party committees in ministries. It would curb the power of the propaganda department to impose censorship and scrap the central military commission, which commits the People’s Liberation Army to defend the party, not just the country.

No doubt Mr Xi would balk at that. Even so, a great man would be bold. Independent candidates should be encouraged to stand for people’s congresses, the local parliaments that operate at all levels of government, and they should have the freedom to let voters know what they think. A timetable should also be set for directly electing government leaders, starting with townships in the countryside and districts in the cities, perhaps allowing five years for those experiments to settle in, before taking direct elections up to the county level in rural areas, then prefectures and later provinces, leading all the way to competitive elections for national leaders.

Mr Xi comes at a crucial moment for China, when hardliners still deny the need for political change and insist that the state can put down dissent with force. For everyone else, too, Mr Xi’s choice will weigh heavily. The world has much more to fear from a weak, unstable China than from a strong one.

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“Amid Calls For Reform, China Waits For New Leaders”

From Louisa Lim at NPR, a good one to read while we wait for the new guys to take over:

Even the state-run media is on the offensive. Two months ago, an editor at the Study Times newspaper wrote an article declaring that the problems caused by the past decade’s policies “are even more numerous than the achievements.”

This was followed by a call for reform in the party publication Seeking Truth, which pronounced that “stagnation and turning back is a dead end.”

Historian Zhang Lifan believes this essay is significant.

“That a conservative magazine is singing about reform shows a change in attitude at the top,” says Zhang. “I don’t think they’ve reached consensus on how reform will be carried out. They just realize they can’t continue as before.”

Zhang himself sees the party’s future in absolute terms, predicting either “reform within five years or death within 10 years.”

The new president isn’t all-powerful, however. He’ll be first among equals in a collective leadership. Currently that committee consists of nine people, but rumors are circulating that it will be reduced to seven posts.

Only two of the current members of the committee will remain: Xi and his premier, Li Keqiang. As for the rest of the positions, horse-trading could continue until the very last minute.

But the black box of Chinese politics means all this happens behind closed doors. Zhang, the historian, warns of the dangers of oversimplification.

“Westerners think black is black and white is white,” he says. “How could they know that for Chinese, black contains white, white contains red, red contains black, everything is mixed. It’s rather complicated.”

In less than three weeks, a new chapter in China’s political history will begin at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. However, no one knows how many men or women will rule China, or who they are. Change may be coming, but the question remains just how much.

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“China must reform or risk crisis, experts warn new leader”

Via Chris Buckley, another piece describing some of the advice Xi Jinping is receiving in the last days before he ascends to power:

“China’s economic and social contradictions seem to be nearing a threshold,” prominent Chinese economist Wu Jinglian said in a recent interview with Caijing business magazine.

Advocates of reform are pressing Xi to cut back the privileges of state-owned firms, make it easier for rural migrants to settle permanently in cities, fix a fiscal system that encourages local governments to live off land expropriations and, above all, tether the powers of a state that they say risks suffocating growth and fanning discontent.

Most party-linked proponents said in interviews with Reuters that political reform must start at the grassroots and be incremental; they called outright democracy a distant or unrealistic idea.

“You can’t solve all of these problems in a decade, but you can address the reforms urgently needed by ordinary people and show that you’re heading in the right direction,” said Deng Yuwen, an editor at the Study Times, a newspaper published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials.

The party’s recent unity behind a decision to punish disgraced politician Bo Xilai has kindled hopes among some that Xi can build similar accord for bolder reforms.

Xi is aware of the calls, said experts and party insiders. But heeding them will require him to take on economic and political blocs with a powerful hold over policy.

“Does the new leadership recognize that they’re reaching a key inflection point in their economic and political path? I think the answer is yes. But the other question is: Do they have the courage to act boldly on those problems,” said Christopher Johnson, a specialist on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

“Before each congress, there’s always a debate, but it feels sharper this time,” said Zhang Jianjing, editor of “China Reform” magazine, which has advocated pro-market policies and using the law to curb state power.

“There’s a deeper sense of anxiety now that goes beyond specific issues. There is a widespread sense of foreboding,” said Zhang, a journalist who has followed four party congresses.

But recently, Xi hinted that he understands the calls for him to take a bolder path, even if he wants to also put to rest any expectations he will seek a radical change.

In a talk with Hu Deping, son of the late reformist leader Hu Yaobang, Xi said he favored steady reform.

Signs the party leadership wants to trim the Politburo Standing Committee – the core of party power – from nine to seven members also appear to reflect a desire for more agile policy-setting.

Yet even if Xi wins a leadership lineup sympathetic to a bolder agenda, he faces the obstacle of pushing changes past powerful state sectors and state-owned conglomerates that have enjoyed privileged access to credit and opportunities.

He might also have to accommodate two retired leaders, Hu and his predecessor Jiang Zemin, who are likely to demand a say in big policy changes. That could make for unwieldy compromises bogging down change, said some advocates of reform.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, political reform, Xi Jinping

“Preserving Stability”

Qian Gang has a good post at the China Media Project, looking at how stability preservation has hijacked the Chinese political landscape, and wondering about whether or not it will preserved as a main principle of the next leadership group:

The two-character Chinese phrase weiwen is an abbreviated form of the full phrase, weihu wending, meaning to preserve or safeguard stability. The Chinese Communist Party has many such shortened phrases, compact verbalisms that pack a political punch, invoking whole histories of policy and practice. For those versed in China’s political vocabulary, these are important shibboleths.

In the phrase “stability preservation,” stability is a coded reference to social disorder — which is to say, social disorder must be avoided at all cost.

Meeting with U.S. President George H.W. Bush on February 26, 1989, Deng Xiaoping said: “Before everything else, China’s problems require stability.” In the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown just over three months later, Deng again stressed this point in what quickly became a hardened phrase: “Stability is of overriding importance.”

The phrase “wending yadao yiqie” could also be translated as “stability above everything else.” This term’s coming of age, you might say, was heralded when it became a headline in the People’s Daily on the one-year anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1990.

“Stability above everything else” is a slogan much beloved by Party leaders associated with the conservative faction, or baoshoupai, who oppose reforms in China. When Deng Xiaoping used this phrase, however, he used it in conjunction with his advocacy of reform and development.

When Jiang Zemin passed the baton on to Hu Jintao in 2002, a careful balance of these three ideas — stability, reform and development — was maintained. The full phrase, “Stability above everything else,” this hard-edged watchword, did not appear at all in either of Jiang Zemin’s political reports to the 14th and 15th national congresses in 1992 and 1997. The phrase did sneak into the political report to the 16th National Congress in 2002, the year when Hu Jintao took the presidency, but it was dropped again in the political report five years later.

As the phrase “stability preservation” has risen in prominence, so has the influence of officials associated with the Central Politics and Law Commission, the Party organization that takes charge of political and legal affairs in the country.

Some within China have referred to the 10 years of President Hu Jintao’s leadership as the “stability preservation decade.” During these years, political reform has stalled as an agenda item, and powerful interest groups have hijacked politics and the economy.

As China’s national strength has advanced, China’s population at large has paid a heavy toll. Social inequality in China has worsened substantially. Facing a growing tide of rights-defense movements by disenfranchised Chinese, the response by Party authorities has been to apply pressure on top of pressure. This has sometimes been called “maintaining a high-pressure environment.” Its net result has been a constant outbreak of violent incidents. When thousands of residents in the Sichuanese city of Shifang took to the streets in July 2012 to protest the building of a copper alloy plant close to residential areas, the local government responded by mobilizing armed police, who sought to clear the streets in tightly advancing formations, even firing stun grenades at protesters.

In terms of Party watchwords, this leaves us with two important questions:

1. Will the phrase “stability is of overriding importance” appear in the political report?
2. Will the phrase “stability preservation” appear in the political report?

If these terms do appear, this will signal that the Party intends to perpetuate the political line of “stability preservation,” and maintain an atmosphere of high pressure on all perceived forms of unrest, regardless of how legitimate the claims of those carrying out rights defense may be. If these terms do not appear in the political report, the question will be how the report deals with the agenda of social stability, and whether there are watchwords of change to read between the lines.

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“China president-in-waiting signals quicker reform”

Reuters has a piece about how Xi Jinping is supposedly chomping at the bit to speed up the pace of reform. It all sounds good, but after the Hu-Wen administration dashed our hopes so many times I think a good bit of skepticism is going to be key here:

Xi met the prominent reformer, Hu Deping, in the past six weeks, the sources said, in a gesture intended to show he was listening to voices calling for not only faster economic liberalization but also a relaxation of political controls.

“The problems that China has accumulated are unprecedented,” one of the sources said, paraphrasing what he said was a written summary of Xi’s remarks circulated among some retired officials.

“We must seek progress and change while remaining steady,” Xi was quoted as saying.

In recent days, Chinese websites have circulated a withering assessment of Hu’s decade in power by an editor at a weekly newspaper run by the Central Party School. Xi is president of the school, and some members of his brains trust work on the campus in northwest Beijing, which trains rising officials.

“Overall, in this decade China has achieved considerable success and progress. But behind success there are also problems,” said the commentary by Deng Yuwen, a deputy editor of the Study Times newspaper.

“If we speak candidly, this decade has seeded or created massive problems, and the problems are even more numerous than the achievements,” said the commentary, which first appeared on the Caijing business magazine until it was taken down.

Deng said problems include an over-reliance on investment to power the economy, failure to nurture a secure middle class, urban-rural disparities, pollution, “ideological bankruptcy” and, above all, failure to pursue political reforms.

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“As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks”

Michael Wines has a solid look at the voices for change coming from inside the Party in the run-up to the Party Congress:

A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. The son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of the country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more.

Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February.

“Compare now to 1989; in ’89, the reformers had the upper hand,” said Mr. Zhang, a historian formerly associated with the government’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to the pro-democracy student protests that enjoyed the support of a number of important party leaders but were crushed in Tiananmen Square. “Twenty years later, the reformers have grown weaker. Now there are so many vested interests that they’ll be taken out if they touch anyone else’s interests.”

To Mr. Zhang and others, this is the conundrum of China’s rise: the autocracy that back-flipped on Marxist ideology to forge the world’s second-largest economy seems incapable of embracing political changes that actually could prolong its own survival.

Many who identify with the reform camp see change as inevitable anyway, but only, they say, because social upheaval will force it. In that view, discontent with growing inequality, corruption, pollution and other societal ills will inevitably lead to a more democratic society — or a sharp turn toward totalitarianism.

If peaceful change is to occur, Mr. Zhou and many others say, it must begin inside the Communist Party; the lesson of Tiananmen Square is that the leadership will not tolerate threats to its control. Many speak of a transformation along the lines of that in Taiwan, where authoritarian rulers peacefully gave way to direct elections in 1996, and helped spawn today’s robust democracy.

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“Signs of a New Tiananmen in China”

A sensationalist headline from Minxin Pei, who thinks the same factors that lead to Tiananmen are starting to resurface in Chinese society:

Despite disagreement among participants in this incipient post-1989 Chinese intellectual renaissance, the discussion is fast converging on three critical issues. First, there appears to be a widely shared consensus among China’s thinking class that the country’s economic reform is either dead or mired in stagnation. Second, those who believe that economic reform is dead or stuck argue that only political reform, specifically the kind that reduces the power of the state and makes the government accountable to its people, will resuscitate economic reform (some advocate for more radical, democratizing changes, although the consensus on this particular point has yet to emerge). Third, the status quo, which can be characterized as a sclerotic authoritarian crony-capitalist order, isn’t sustainable and, without a fundamental shift in direction, a crisis is inevitable.

Such signs of an intellectual awakening are worth noting for many reasons. Its timing is certainly significant. Many people would connect this development with China’s pending leadership transition. In China, as in most other countries, pending changes in leadership usually stimulate discussions among the intelligentsia about the future of the country and the accomplishments or failures of the departing leadership.

One may be tempted to dismiss such discussions as idle chatter among marginalized Chinese intellectuals. This would be a mistake. Some of the participants in these discussions are influential opinion makers or advisors to the Chinese government. Their views reflect the thinking of at least some insiders of the Communist Party. So the frustrated tone and anxiety conveyed by their views could suggest that more open-minded elements in the party, some of whom may be in line to assume senior or important positions as a result of the leadership transition, share the same sense of crisis and urgency.

The voices of China’s liberal intelligentsia are now resonating among a public increasingly disenchanted with the party’s policies. In particular, such voices should appeal to China’s better-educated youths, whose numbers have increased several times since Tiananmen. Two decades of rapid economic growth, consumerism, and state-sponsored nationalism may have lulled them into political apathy. But as they experience the injustice, corruption, and incompetence of the current system in their daily lives, they’ll most likely feel increasingly swayed by voices urging a fundamental change of course.


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“Scholar posts 10-year plan for social and political reform”

CMP is carrying the story, and their headline may as well have been “Liu Xiaobo is about to get a new cellmate.” Yu Jianrong is looking to get in trouble:

Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), one of China’s most outspoken intellectuals, yesterday posted a ten-year plan for social and political development in China on his Tencent microblog account. The plan called for a three-year initial phase of concerted social and judicial reforms, including the abolishment of the petitioning and household registration systems, followed by a second phase of political reforms moving China toward constitutional democracy.

Yu’s plan gives readers a general idea of many of the concrete changes proposed in China by pro-reformers under the auspices of “political reform”.

A translation of the general outline for Yu Jianrong’s plan follows.

Check out their post for the plan itself.

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“China will move forward with reform, slowly”

The CSM is taking a good look at what Xi Jinping ascending while Bo Xilai crashes means, but their conclusion might be a bit too optimistic:

China is an oligarchy, not a dictatorship, and ultimate authority will not be vested individually with Mr. Xi, but collectively with the CPC Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), currently with nine members. Everything in China reports to one of these nine. Xi will be first among equals, but equals the nine are, and their final composition shapes policy.

This explains the intense focus on the firing of Mr. Bo, because it was assumed he would become a PSC member in the once-a-decade top leadership shuffle. Media savvy, Bo had built a name for himself by promoting the “Chongqing Model,” a leftist-populist mixture of strong state, Maoist paeans (“Red songs”), crime crackdown, equality over productivity, and wealth redistribution.

Xi, of course, upholds the primacy of the party. Yet, recognizing China’s “earthshaking change,” he advises officials to embrace greater change – to “emancipate our minds and overcome the attitude of being satisfied with the status quo, the inertia of conservative and complacent thinking, the fear of difficulties, and timid thinking.”

Though some would have Xi quicken reform, political as well as economic, he will likely move slowly. Stability will continue as China’s touchstone.

One challenge for Xi Jinping is high expectations. A senior aide confided, “Xi is ready, but it won’t be easy.”

Where exactly Xi and his fellow Politburo Standing Committee members will take China is not clear. What is clear is that they will move forward with reform step by pragmatic step, not backward to Maoist nostalgia or cult of personality populism.

Isn’t there a third possibility, that inertia will keep China on its slow drift away from meaningful political reform and towards a police/surveillance state? If you think Xi will overpower the various police bureaus and anti-reform blocs, I think the burden of providing evidence lies on you at this point.

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“Chinese premier urges political reforms”

Too little too late from Wen Jiabao, who wants us to believe that he truly cares about political reforms despite having gotten exactly nothing done on that front during his decade as one of the most powerful men in China:

Premier Wen Jiabao warned Wednesday that ruinous turmoil that engulfed China in the past could re-emerge unless the country tackles political reforms, and he rebuked a populist fellow leader over a scandal that brought infighting among officials into public view.

In a three-hour news conference, his sole such event of the year, Wen renewed a call for unspecified political reforms, particularly of the Communist Party leadership, saying that without them China’s hard-won prosperity might fizzle. No democratic firebrand, Wen has issued similarly vague pleas before — and become a popular if lone voice among senior leaders by doing so. This time his tone was more emphatic, as was the setting.

“Without successful political reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic system reform. The gains we have made in this area may also be lost,” Wen told reporters in the Great Hall of the People. “New problems that have cropped up in China’s society will not be fundamentally resolved and such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again,”

The recurring references to the past and the wistful, reflective tone turned the premier’s news conference into something of a swan song for the most popular member of the usually remote leadership. Sometimes called “Grandpa Wen,” he comes across as warm and caring. He has been shown eating dumplings with coal miners and consoling survivors of the devastating Sichuan earthquake and other disasters.

Unspecified political reforms, taking place at some point in the distant future… thanks a lot Wen! Great job!

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“Reform in the Air in Beijing”

A slightly misleading title, as the article itself is far more ambiguous on the subject. Gordon Chang on the two conferences, leadership change, and political reform:

This time, the handover from one set of leaders to the next is provoking real debate among party luminaries because there is a sense that things must change in the country. So it is not only the wholesale turnover in party leadership that is consuming the assembled deputies. There is now talk of fundamental reform, political as well as economic.

There is always great hope, both inside and outside the People’s Republic, when new leaders take over in Beijing, and now, with the need for change apparent, many are beginning to think that Xi Jinping, slated to replace Hu Jintao as general secretary, and Li Keqiang, tapped to take over from Premier Wen Jiabao, will actually move the country in the right direction. As Wang Xiangwei, the new editor of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, reports, “Already there is positive chatter that both Xi and Li are bona fide reformists, unlike Hu and Wen, who have continually spoken of reforms but failed to manage any significant breakthroughs during their 10-year reigns.”

There are a dozen reasons why analysts think that Xi will sponsor change once he takes over after the First Plenum: his father was a reformer, members of Xi’s Princeling faction are bolder than the technocrats, new Chinese leaders always try to clean house if they can. All this makes sense, but there are also a hundred reasons why Xi will act to protect the status quo: Xi is close to conservative generals, he will protect the business interests of fellow Princelings, he will need years to consolidate his political base among the hard-liners controlling Beijing.

In truth, we do not know what Xi really thinks or how he will exercise power, should he in fact take over the Communist Party this fall. Yet among the NPC deputies now in the Chinese capital, there is a sense of anticipation that his rule will see great change. And the desire for change is the one precondition for progress.

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“In China, will transition bring real change?”

Keith Richburg of the Washington Post takes on the question, and writes about some of the different views:

One opinion holds that the governing approach will be different only because a more modern, sophisticated citizenry is demanding it.

“The social and political mood in the country has changed,” said Li, from Brookings, who is an expert on China’s elite politics. “Their policy will be profoundly different — that is the people’s expectation. New leadership produces new policies, period,” he said. “If they do not change, that itself is a problem.”

Wu Jiaxiang, a political analyst in Beijing, agreed. “No matter if they want it or not, dramatic changes will happen in China the next 10 years,” he said. “The domestic situation is reaching tipping point right now. People’s self-awareness is wakening.” Of Xi, he said: “One of his missions is to save the party, like by changing the system of dictatorship into a multi-party system. This is not a question of whether he is willing to do it or not. He has to do so.”

But many others, here in China and outside, are less certain. According to this view, Xi is mostly a consensus choice among competing factions, and power is now exercised by a collective leadership, so the new country’s new rulers are likely to move cautiously, if at all, particularly on issues of reform.

“I am not optimistic about the politics of China in next few years,” said Mo Shaoping, a human rights lawyer. “I don’t think that the dawn of democracy, free speech and the religious freedom will come to China in the next term.” He sees the likelihood of tighter control, saying, “with the growing power of the grass-roots society, the authorities will try harder to crack down against it.”

Nicholas Bequelin, the senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Hong Kong, said, “I think the outlook is not promising.”

Besides the incoming leader being “a consensus candidate” with limited authority, Bequelin said another factor was the rise in power, and budget, of China’s security apparatus, which now has a higher budget than the military.

“You never know,” Bequelin said. “The aspiration of the Chinese citizenry is going in a very clear direction. They want greater freedom, greater freedom of expression and the rule of law. You never know if a leader will decide they should respond to it, and benefit from it.” He added, “There’s not a lot of optimism at the moment.”

I don’t think he gave enough time to the idea that the transition might bring real change for the worse, as a new generation of leaders finds itself feeling incredibly insecure and leans on the military and increased restrictions and surveillance to make up for it.

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“After 20 Years of ‘Peaceful Evolution,’ China Faces Another Historic Moment”

Damien Ma at The Atlantic has a lengthy piece up about Deng Xiaoping, the evolution of the Chinese political science, and why today it’s approaching another fork in the road:

Twenty years ago this month, the octogenarian Deng Xiaoping embarked on his “southern tour,” a journey that would turn out to be one of the most significant acts of modern Chinese history. Although Deng would die five years later at 92, his organs donated to medical research, the elder leader’s bold maneuvering in the winter of 1992 made the China of today possible. Deliberately ambiguous in intention, the trip was in fact a political campaign of sorts aimed at achieving two crucial objectives: First, to sustain the political conditions that would facilitate continuous reform and economic liberalization; and, second, to rescue the Communist Party — via a reform agenda – -from reducing itself into a speck in the dustbin of history.

Indeed, Deng was thrusting himself into a political climate that was entirely anathema to his “reform and opening up” policy. The conservatives in the party seemingly emerged victorious after the Tiananmen crackdown three years earlier, only to have the collapse of the Soviet Union hand them another convenient justification to block economic and political reforms. A considerable conservative faction vehemently discredited further reform, claiming that it would bring the party to its knees. To them, the Tiananmen tragedy of 1989 and the Soviet disintegration were all products of “peaceful evolution,” which they viewed as the clear and present danger. Peaceful evolution was the most serious and threatening in the economic sphere, they claimed, and any economic reforms must be first and foremost subject to the question, “is your surname socialism or capitalism”?

Very much worth a read.

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“Critical report pulled from China’s web”

Two days ago Tsinghua University released an annual report which strongly criticized the lack of political reform in China. Seeing such an important university do so in such strong language was good to see, and their conclusion stated that the following steps are vital to China’s future:

1. “[China must] move in the direction of the mainstream world civilization.” The report holds that the “mainstream world civilization” has as its core values “freedom, rationality, individual rights, market economics, democratic politics and rule of law.”

2. “Recreating social vitality through political reforms.” “Political reform and social construction (社会建设) offer the most practical impetus [means] of moving out of the transformation snare.” The report argues that resolving the problem of black case work (暗箱操作) [or behind the scenes dealing], and promoting the open operation of power, creating mechanisms to check power (制约权力的机制), can serve as the breakthrough points for political reform (政治体制改革的突破口). In recent years, the central party has already promoted open government information (政务信息公开).

3. Carrying out reforms in terms of top-level [institutional] design on the basis of public participation (民众参与). “In fact, one of the most important reasons that reforms have taken a malformed path in recent years is a lack of participation in reform by the masses. In the 1980s reforms were supported by the enthusiasm of an idealism [in society], and the defect of inadequate public participation was not yet so readily apparent. But once this idealism faded, interest [self-interest, the profit motive, etc.] became the chief factor driving reforms. Reform, in the absence of public participation, can quite easily become a large-scale dividing of the spoils (大规模的‘分赃’). Many clear examples of this could be seen in the restructuring of state-owned enterprises in the 1990s.”

4. Finally, the report advocates using “equity and justice” to form a consensus on [further] reforms. “What people feel most readily in the midst of the transformation snare is disaffection, that equity and justice have been destroyed. Therefore, re-coalescing a consensus on reform must be done by defining equity and justice and the most basic value and objective [of reform]. In this sense, the building of democracy and rule of law must be the core content of future reforms in China.”

The report concluded: “In an era like today, what China needs above all else is courage, the courage to face vested interests head on, to break through the fabric of vested interests and through the logic of the ‘transformation snare’, the courage to move beyond the present deadlock and morass.”

That translation came from CMP, which now reports that the paper has been pulled from the internet and disappeared:

The report, authored by sociology professor Sun Liping (孙立平), the former doctoral adviser to now vice-president and successor apparent Xi Jinping (习近平), argued that China was in the midst of a “transformation snare” (转型陷阱) in which the energy and impetus to push ahead with necessary reforms was being lost.

A lengthy summary of the Tsinghua University report was published in the January 9 edition of China Youth Daily, and was quickly posted to a number of major Chinese web portals, including People’s Daily Online. But within hours, links to the article were disabled.

By mid-day the link to the China Youth Daily version at People’s Daily Online called up a warning page that read: “The page you are looking for does not exist. You will be automatically re-directed to the People’s Daily Online homepage in 5 seconds.” A similar warning from the popular Netease web portal read: “We’re sorry, the page you are visiting does not exist or has already been deleted.”

For several hours, users on the popular social media platform Sina Weibo shared a link to a cached version of the China Youth Daily report at, as well as news that the article had been deleted from sites like Netease. By day’s end the Baidu version had been pulled down as well. The page now linked only to the electronic edition of China Youth Daily, where an unreadable image of the original newspaper page could be found but the text to the right only read: “This article has been deleted.”

If the Communist Party’s hold on power was really as secure as their apologists claim, would they need to delete something like this?

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“Scholar Warns Against Expanded State Power”

Caixin has a report about some lawyers who sound like they’re asking for an all-expenses paid trip to a black prison soon:

Speaking at a ceremony November 20 commemorating the life of legal scholar Cai Dingjian, China University of Political Science and Law Professor Jiang Ping said the expansion of both government and Communist Party authority is a dangerous sign of an inflexible, oppressive society.

Though Jiang did not clarify which developments pointed to expanded state power, he said Taiwan’s major political reforms in 1986 are a noteworthy example for how China should carry out reforms, while creating checks on the government. That year, Taiwan shifted its single-party system to a multi-party democracy, while also removing state controls over the press.

He also viewed the prioritization of “Stability Overrides Everything Else”—a Deng Xiaoping quote oft-repeated by officials in recent years to describe China’s economic and political direction—as going hand-in-hand with expanded state power. As long as political power is of the utmost importance to the Communist Party, he said, it will never implement real reform.

Another sociologist at the gathering, Tsinghua University Professor Li Dun, said reform in China has reached a standstill. It is a sign that the central government has too much power, he said, when there are all sorts of people who want to revert back to socialism, or to the Cultural Revolution times, and or who advocate militarism for the sake of unification.

“Today’s serious imbalance in power has resulted in a lack of common understanding between different parts of Chinese society,” the scholar said. “This is intertwined with the party’s control. China must establish a societal system based on human rights, democracy and equality.”

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Filed under activism, civil society, Communist Party, political reform

“At 105, Chinese Linguist Now A Government Critic”

Zhou Youguang, whose involvement in developing pinyin took Chinese romanization methods into the modern era, is in the news again. Now the man who put a stop to linguistic madness like saying ‘Peking’ for a city roughly pronounced ‘bay-jing’ is in trouble, though. From NPR:

Zhou has published an amazing 10 books since he turned 100, some of which have been banned in China. These, along with outspoken views on the Communist Party and the need for democracy in China, have made him a “sensitive person” — a euphemism for a political dissident.

When Zhou was born in 1906, Chinese men still wore their hair in a long pigtail, the Qing dynasty still ruled China, and Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. That someone from that era is alive — and blogging as the “Centenarian Scholar” — seems unbelievable.

In the late 1960s, he was branded a reactionary and sent to a labor camp for two years. In 1985, he translated the Encyclopaedia Britannica into Chinese and then worked on the second edition — placing him in a position to notice the U-turns in China’s official line.

At 105, Zhou calls it as he sees it without fear or favor. He’s outspoken about what he believes is the need for democracy in China. And he says he hopes to live long enough to see China change its position on the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989.

“June 4th made Deng Xiaoping ruin his own reputation,” he says. “Because of reform and opening up, he was a truly outstanding politician. But June 4th ruined his political reputation.”

Far from shying from controversy, Zhou appears to relish it, chuckling as he admits, “I really like people cursing me.”

That fortitude is fortunate, since his son, Zhou Xiaoping, who monitors online reaction to his father’s blog posts, has noted that censors quickly delete any praise, leaving only criticism. The elder Zhou believes China needs political reform, and soon.

“Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party any more,” he says. “The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy. Look at the Arab Spring. People ask me if there’s hope for China. I’m an optimist. I didn’t even lose hope during the Japanese occupation and World War II. China cannot not get closer to the rest of the world.”

The elderly economist is scathing about China’s economic miracle, denying that it is a miracle at all: “If you talk about GDP per capita, ours is one-tenth of Taiwan’s. We’re very poor.”

Instead, he points out that decades of high-speed growth have exacted a high price from China’s people: “Wages couldn’t be lower, the environment is also ruined, so the cost is very high.”

Zhou’s century as a witness to China’s changes, and a participant in them, has led him to believe that China has become “a cultural wasteland.” He’s critical of the Communist Party for attacking traditional Chinese culture when it came into power in 1949, but leaving nothing in the void.

Someone really should compile a list of old men who terrify Beijing.

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Filed under democracy, history, inequality, political reform

“Separation of Powers? The dragon doesn’t believe it exists.”

Great post from ChinaRealPolitik about separation of power in Beijing:

I think a fair proportion of senior CCP members don’t believe it truly exists. Anywhere. When foreign governments talk about the rule of law and independent institutions, I rather suspect many Chinese officials believe this is a ploy to lecture China, as they actually can’t comprehend of a system where those ‘in charge’ can’t make decisions in areas outside their sphere of influence.

Norway is taking China to the WTO over claims that China is imposing import controls on Norwegian salmon, in retaliation for the Nobel Committee’s awarding of the Prize to Liu Xiaobo.

Here’s the thing – it was an independent committee. The Norwegian government had no say over who the Peace Prize committee chose. Yet, the Chinese government remains determined to punish Norway. There are a number of possible reasons, all of which may be true to certain degrees. There are probably Chinese officials who genuinely think that the Norwegian government was somehow complicit in the decision. Some think that pressuring the government will result in the government pressuring the committee (smarter, but still underestimates the resilience of the separation of powers, which tends to be pretty strong in Scandinavia). There are also some who are angry and want to punish Norway whatever way they can, and as always, a significant number who are doing it to demonstrate their nationalist credentials.

This is far from an isolated case. Remember Lai Changxing? He was a Chinese criminal kingpin who went into hiding in Canada. The Chinese government wanted him back and seemed to genuinely think that the Canadian Government had the power to wrest him from the courts and hand him over. Citing comments from Canadian officials, Sinocism quotes a book which said:

“‘They never, never, never got it that we could not force the outcome, right up to Zhu Rongji and the highest levels. It was beyond their comprehension. They just did not believe that we cannot tell our courts what to do.”

It brings to mind a discussion I had with a Chinese friend of mine. It was around the time Obama’s ratings were starting to take a hammering, and I mentioned that there were probably a few news commentators on the Fox network who would be gleefully preparing reports on that. My friend asked quite honestly why Obama didn’t just close down Fox news. I wasn’t quite sure where to begin answering that, but in fairness, she wasn’t somebody who follows the news closely – but I think she does represent a fair sampling of how many ordinary members of the Chinese public think governments – all governments – operate.

Rule of law and separation of powers are the two things that would completely turn China around, even if they kept a one-party system. It’s pretty much my refrain here, but without these concepts I think China is in for a rough decade or two.

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Filed under Communist Party, courts, political reform

“Premier Wen calls for political reform, again”

The headline is the good news. The bad news is that Wen is looking like ‘the boy who cried reform!‘ I don’t think anyone is buying it anymore- he’s wasted too much time, and is getting too close to the end of his term for anyone to believe his heart is really in it. Via CMP:

That’s right, he’s at it again. Using the opportunity afforded by a speech in a prominent international forum, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) is once again visiting his favorite theme — the urgent need for political reform in China. And once again, his remarks are fodder alike for sanguine optimists, grumbling pessimists and cautious skeptics. Is he serious? Is his making a cynical bid the cement his legacy as a moderate? Is he simply too beleaguered and too powerless to effect his ideas? Or does this prefigure some sort of real change?

It is a debate that has been repeated on each occasion over the past 18 months where Wen has stepped out to toll the bells of political change in the midst of what seems by all other measures a period of great internal political sensitivity for China.

Hey Wen- you aren’t protecting your legacy by occasionally mentioning to foreigners that China needs political reform. Your legacy is going to be defined by your inaction on this issue, at a time when political reform could decide China’s future.

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Filed under China, political reform