Posts tagged ‘Wen Jiabao’

Monday, March 27, 2017

Populism in China (1): The Downfall of Bo Xilai

There is no Weltinnenpolitik yet, but there are cross-civilizational trends.

The City of Red Songs

There would be no second chance. Gerhard Schröder, former chancellor of Germany, was in a hurry in June 2011, on the sidelines of a forum in southwestern China’s metropolis of Chongqing. He was therefore lacking the time to attend one of the red-song nights that were customary there. But he still pleased his interlocutors with a German proverb: Where people sing, you can settle down – wicked people sing no songs.

In full, the red-songs custom advocated by Chongqing’s party chief Bo Xilai was Singing revolutionary songs, Reading classic books, telling stories and spreading mottos. There would be nine more months of that before Bo Xilai was toppled by his CCP comrades.

A Hudong article explained the activity at the time. It was a mass concept, started in Chongqing in 2008, which was greeted with enthusiasm there, and elsewhere in China. The concept wasn’t outdated, because

if a country and a nation have no correct thought and advanced culture, it will lose its backbone. The current deep changes of the economic system, the structure of society, and the profound adjustment of interest patterns must be reflected in the ideological field. There is diversity in peoples’ minds, and although the mainstream is positive and healthy, while some peoples’ material life conditions have improved, spiritual life is somewhat empty. To change that condition, and to ensure a safe passing of the torch in the cause of the party and the country, the red flag must be righteously upheld, the ideology of Marxism must be consolidated in its guiding position within the ideological field, and the attractiveness and the cohesive power of socialist ideology must be strengthened.

一个国家和民族没有正确的思想、先进的文化,就会失掉主心骨。当前,经济体制深刻变革、社会结构深刻变动、利益格局深刻调整,必然反映到意识形态领域。人们的思想日趋多元多变多样,虽然主流积极健康向上,但一些人物质生活改善了,精神生活却有些空虚。为了彻底改变这种状况,保证党和国家的事业薪火相传,必须理直气壮地举红旗,不断巩固马克思主义在意识形态领域的指导地位,增强社会主义意识形态的吸引力和凝聚力。[Links within these lines omitted.]

According to the HuDong article, CCP politbureau member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) had deplored the phenomenon of young people who sang decadent songs (唱 .. 靡靡之音, chàng mímí zhī yīn), who were reading “fast-food” kinds of literature (读 .. 快餐文化, dú kuàicān wénhuà), told “low and vulgar stories” (讲 .. 低俗故事, jiǎng dīsú gùshì), and “spread pornographic or dull scripts/pieces” (传 .. 黄段子、灰段子, chuán huáng duànzi, huī duànzi).

So, apparently, there were dirty songs, too. Maybe things weren’t as simple as Schröder had believed. At least one  reader and forum commenter of China’s Huanqiu Shibao didn’t trust Schröder’s expertise and wrote:

OK, listen [to the red songs], you won’t comprehend them anyway. It will be as if you were listening to folk songs.

听吧,反正听不懂,就当听民歌了

The “Chongqing Model” was controversial, at least in the perceivable medial public of China. The party elite wasn’t entirely in love with Bo’s pretentious neo-Maoism. A vice president of Law School at China University of Political Science and Law was quoted by the English-language party mouthpiece “Global Times”:

There have been 104,000 “Red Song Concerts” in Chongqing, with 80 million participants. It cost 1,500 yuan ($231) per person for onsite renting and costume expenses, 210 million yuan in total. Adding in the offwork compensation and transportation the final cost is 270 billion [sic – probably means million – JR] yuan. Why don’t they use the money for health insurance?

Bo Xilai’s “Populism”, 2007 – 2012

At the grassroots, however, Bo’s leadership style appears to have worked (maybe it still does). The Chongqing Model wasn’t just about folklore, red or otherwise.

Chongqing (Sichuan province) residents set off firecrackers today, celebrating the execution of the provincial-level city’s former chief justice Wen Qiang (文强), cqnews.net reported in July 2010. The Wall Street Journal explained:

Wen Qiang was put to death following the rejection in May by China’s Supreme Court of an appeal of his conviction on charges including bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape and inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets, according to Xinhua news agency. Xinhua didn’t say how Mr. Wen was executed.

Punching black crime and uprooting vice (拳打黑除恶) was the name of the campaign that cost Wen his life – according to the historical records as Bo would have it, he and his police chief Wang Lijun not only battled against gangs, but infiltrated cadres, too.

The now defunct website Chinageeks published an English translation of Zhang Wen, a former chief editor of the Xinhua magazine Globe:

Bo Xilai and the “northeast tiger” Wang Lijun entered Chongqing and started a war and began a “battling corruption and evil” movement that has gradually begun to spread nationwide and worldwide. This action is in line with the people’s wishes, and at the same time, also in line with what central authorities wish.

At first, the public opinion was very one-sided; no one could find any fault with Bo. The controversy and difference of opinions came with the case of Li Zhuang. Proponents of the democratic rule of law questioned and criticized the legality of Chongqing [court] proceedings, but Bo Xilai’s supporters hold that punishing lawyers who defend “bad people” is appropriate.

Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai is a high-level lawyer who has been working for many years. The two have been together for many years and Bo himself was once the head of the Ministry of Commerce, and thus often negotiated international legal issues with foreign opponents. Because of this, Bo Xilai should have a solid conception and knowledge of the law.

But in the end, in the Li Zhuang case, the organs of justice in Chongqing left a bad impression that they might violate legal procedures. Precisely because of this, some people’s opinions on Bo Xilai changed dramatically. I myself once wrote an essay expressing pity that Bo Xilai hadn’t turned out to be the sort of high-quality modern politician [we had hoped].

Chongqing was a small pond for a big fish – Bo Xilai appeared to have hoped for a permanent seat in the CCP’s central politburo, but landed the job as party secretary of Chongqing instead. Chongqing wasn’t an insignificant city, but it was far from where central Chinese power was. Only an alernate politburo membership linked him to Beijing. From 2008, his Maoist song events raised nationwide attention, and even beyond China – Henry Kissinger apparently leapt at the chance Schröder had missed.

In 2011, Bo Xilai started his second campaign for a permanent seat at the CCP’s top table. While the Economist found Bo’s style refreshing, it noted nervously that

The region’s party chief, Bo Xilai, is campaigning for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee in next year’s leadership shuffle. He looks likely to succeed. Like every other Chinese politician since 1949, he avoids stating his ambitions openly, but his courting of the media and his attempts to woo the public leave no one in any doubt. Mr Bo’s upfront style is a radical departure from the backroom politicking that has long been the hallmark of Communist rule and would seem like a refreshing change, were it not that some  of his supporters see him as the Vladimir Putin of China. Mr Bo is a populist with an iron fist. He has waged the biggest crackdown on mafia-style gangs in his country in recent years. He has also been trying to foster a mini-cult of Mao, perhaps in an effort to appeal to those who are disillusioned with China’s cut-throat capitalism.

Bo didn’t appear to aim for the top job as secretary general, the Economist noted, as that position appeared to have been reserved for Xi Jinping. Indeed, Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as party secretary general in autumn 2012, and as state chairman in March 2013.

Bo Xilai’s plans didn’t work that smoothly. In November 2011, a British citizen, Neil Heywood, died in a hotel in Chongqing. Given that Chinese courts don’t work independently from the party, the circumstances of his death can’t be considered resolved. A Chinese court found Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, guilty of killing Heywood, and after only one day in court, she got a suspended death sentence.

The BBC‘s China editor Carrie Gracie tried to shed light on the circumstances of Bo Xilai’s rise and fall, and the role Heywood’s death played in the latter, but didn’t find too many interlocutors. Instead, she presented a Rocky Horror Picture Show of elite power struggles with Chinese characteristics. Bo Xilai as the avenger of the common man, a crashing, media-savvy scourge of organized crime, who addressed the public directly, without party media filtering. That hadn’t happened since Mao’s days – “think Donald Trump”.

With support from local police chief Wang Lijun, who fancied leading roles in martial-arts television, too, Bo had exercised a regime that labeled opponents as mafiosi and not only jailed them, but expropriated them too, in favor of Chongqing’s budgets.

It isn’t contested that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun prosecuted the real or supposed gangsters’ advocates, too, with questionable means. Gracie quotes one of these advocates, Li Zhuang (see above, Zhang Wen’s criticism of Bo Xilai), as Li describes how he was arrested by Wang Lijun personally:

The scene was so over-the-top, loads of police cars surrounding the plane, riot police in helmets and camouflage, armed with submachine guns. I asked, “Why the big show? Is it Obama’s state visit or are you capturing Osama Bin Laden?”

We were surrounded by a huge scrum of reporters. He wanted to show his authority on camera. He was in a trench coat, hands in his pockets. He said: “Li Zhuang, we meet again.”

There were admirers of Bo and Wang, there were critics and enemies, and there were people who detested the two. But at the grassroots, the fans appeared to be numerous. According to Gracie, there are still many.

Making inconvenient lawyers disappear was no unique feature of Bo Xilai, however. The party leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has been proving for years that to them, the rule of law is a theroretical nicety they may or may not care about.

Gracie reduces the causes of conflict between the noisy polit-soloist Bo Xilai and the basically “collectivist” leadership in Beijing on a personal rivalry between princeling Bo and princeling Xi.

Certainly, top politicians’ egos can hardly be overestimated, and when they are Chinese, ostentatious modesty shouldn’t fool anyone.

But Xi alone wouldn’t have gotten Bo under control. Neither with the sudden Neil-Heywood scandal – that became known as the Wang-Lijun incident in China after the police chief fled into the next US consulate and being passed on to the central authorities from there (but only after having spilled the beans). Nor otherwise.

The question suggests itself if Bo Xilai’s career wasn’t finished in summer 2011 anyway, given wide-spread disapproval among the party elite, of his egotistic leadership style in Chongqing.

“Unity is strength” was one of the “red songs” Bo Xilai had them sing in Chongqing (above: October 8, 2009). But it wasn’t only the Xi faction that saw a lack of just that on Bo’s part. Bo was putting himself forward, and that had been a taboo during all the post-Mao years.

He didn’t denigrate his leading comrades – appearances like that of Donald Trump as a campaigner, cursing fellow members of his political class, would have been inconceivable. But putting himself into the limelight (and casting it away from others) amounted to the same thing, by Chinese standards. Besides, given his anti-corruption renown, sanctimonious as it may have been, could have threatened his “comrades”. A tribun within their ranks – that couldn’t work.

Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao are said to be rivals. But within the Hu camp, Bo’s populism didn’t seem to resonate either. On the contrary: Wen Jiabao, chief state councillor (aka “prime minister”) during the Hu Jintao era, had been a tireless, even if unsuccessful, advocate of political reform, way beyond economics or technology.

At a press conference in March 2012, after the closing ceremony of the annual “parliament” plenary sessions, Wen warned that China wasn’t immune against another cultural revolution. That John Garnaut, an Australian correspondent in Beijing, got the opportunity to talk with Hu Dehua, one of Hu Yaobang’s sons, may also count as an indication that the comparatively liberal factions in the party leadership were at least as sick of Bo Xilai’s revolutionary operas, as were the Xi supporters.

Garnaut, two weeks after Wen’s press conference, in an indirect account of his conversation with Hu Dehua*):

Hu Dehua told his father how pessimistic he felt about his country’s future. Hu Yaobang agreed that the methods and ideologies of the 1987 anti-liberalization movement came straight from the Cultural Revolution. But he told his son to gain some historical perspective, and reminded him that Chinese people were not joining in the elite power games as they had 20 years before. He called the anti-liberalization campaign a “medium-sized cultural revolution” and warned that a small cultural revolution would no doubt follow, Hu Dehua told me. As society developed, Hu Yaobang told his son, the middle and little cultural revolutions would gradually fade from history’s stage.

From there, everything went fast. Still in March, Bo was dismissed as Chongqing’s party chief. He also lost his alternate membership in the politburo. In summer 2012, his wife Gu Kailai got her commuted death sentence, and in September 2013, Bo was sentenced to life in prison – based on the usual charges for unrigged politicians: corruption.

Is there a Chongqing Heritage?

At first glance, Bo Xilai’s “populism” or “Maoism” is finished. But Bo counted as a champion of many Chinese from the political left. A comment in German weekly Die Zeit, in September 2013, saw the verdict against Bo as a signal from the top that resistance against economic reform was futile.

To assess Bo Xilai’s political heritage objectively. The CCP may be beyond the era when beaten opponents were airbrushed from all photos and records. But the question about how publicly or privately-owned China’s economy should be might impose itself with any questions about Bo Xilai, and the now seven-member standing committee of the politburo can’t use such questions.

A political scientist of Beijing University, He Weifang (贺卫方), hinted at problems in assessing the Chongqing Model’s performance, from 2007 to 2012:

It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

If Bo Xilai was a populist, one of Donald Trump’s kind, or Putin’s, or Neil Farage’s, or whoever, one has to ask oneself how much influence he has maintained over Chinese politics to this day. After all, populists like Geert Wilders aren’t ineffective, merely because they can’t lay their hands on the imperial regalia.

When looking at European populism – that’s only a snapshot, of course -, one can get the impression that populists may not be elected, but they do leave marks on politics, from Merkel’s Willkommenskultur back to the traditional Christian Democrats’ policies, and Britain’s Brexit, implemented not by its original proponents, but by Theresa May, who had used to be a lukewarm supporter of Britain’s EU membership.

Populism is hardly ever the common peoples’ business, but that of the elites. The battles are fought within the political class, as observed by Hu Yaobang in the late 1980s. That is about as true in Europe. However, these battles within the superstructure may create or intensify certain trends in the public mood – and once policies have moved sufficiently into the “populist” direction, the support for these parties wanes, and the electorate turns back to the long-established parties. After all, Joe Blow doesn’t want to look like an extremist.

When Xi Jinping announced China’s new role as a guardian of free trade at the Davos forum in January, German Handelsblatt China correspondent Stephan Scheuer hailed the party and state leader’s “dressing-down for populists”. In Davos, Xi had become “a pioneer of fair-minded globalization”.

What could be beginning to show in China is a comparatively strong Maoist component in propaganda, as long as this doesn’t come at the cost of China’s privileged, and as long as this doesn’t require substantial reallocation of means or wealth to poor classes of population, or laggard regions. But whenever the name “Bo Xilai” should appear in any token event, the exorcists will be just around the corner.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

China’s Legal Reform Projects: Slowly, very slowly

The fourth plenary session of the 18th CCP central committee took place from October 20 to October 23. Less than a month before the opening of the plenum, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted a politburo statement of September 29 as saying that the plenary session’s focus would be on improving the administration of law. At the center of that, according to the SCMP, would be a battle against corruption.

In July, Stanley Lubman, a lawyer and longtime observer of legal issues in China, wrote in the Wall Street Journal‘s (WSJ) China blog (China Realtime) that the CCP’s central leading group for judicial reform of the party and the “Supreme People’s Court” were signalling a serious intention to implement measures that could lead to a shift of power over finances and personnel in basic courts, from local governments and local “people’s congresses” to provincial governments. Pilot projects were planned in Shanghai, Guangdong, Jilin, Hubei, Hainan and Qinghai. If successful, these reforms could boost citizens’ chances to challenge local cadres over issues such as illegal land seizures or concealment of violations of product safety and environmental laws. However, this didn’t mean that courts would be insulated from pressures from those higher-level officials on their decision-making. Importantly, nothing in these reforms is aimed at diminishing Communist Party control over outcomes in the courts.

Lubman also links to a creative-commons translation cooperative, China Law Translate, which describes the pilot projects on the provincial and municipal (Shanghai) level in more detail.

Ultimate CCP control reservation apart, Lubman’s article came across as sort of optimistic. Less so an article by Russell Leigh Moses, dean of academics and faculty at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, published on October 24. If the communique issued after the plenary session was something to go by, this was a plenum that wasn’t interested in engineering far-reaching changes to China’s legal system. China would move slowly, very slowly, suggests the headline.

That said, the term under the party’s leadership (党的领导 / 党的领导下), quoted from the communiqué by Moses as a reminder that the conception and implementation of law belongs only to the Communist Party, can’t have surprised any observer.

According to the Economist, the CCP’s new enthusiasm for the rule of law springs from the campaign against corruption – see first paragraph of this post, too (SCMP quote). The battle is old (Xi Jinping’s predecessor as party and state chairman, Hu Jintao, warned in November 2012 that corruption, if not tackled by politics, could prove fatal to the party.

The battle is even older than old. Shen Zewei, China reporter for the Singaporean daily Lianhe Zaobao (United Morning News), quoted a Taiwanese researcher, Lee Yeau-tarn, in 2009 that Chiang Kai-shek had been able to implement land reform in Taiwan, but not in the mainland, because the KMT had been intricately connected with the despotic gentry.

This suggests that even Moses’ forecast could prove overly optimistic for China.

The Economist’s November 1 edition, however, sees the glass half-full – or even more positively. After all, one of the weekly’s editorials argues, the constitution, emphasized by the CCP leadership,

enshrines property rights. Of the many thousands of “mass incidents” of unrest each year in rural China, 65% relate to disputes over the (often illegal) seizure of land by officials. Mr Xi wants to make it clear that their behaviour is not just illegal but also unconstitutional. That sounds scarier.

Farmland reform, which was at the focus of the 17h Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Third Plenary Session in 2008, back then under the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao leadership -, is also moving slowly, very slowly. And the fourth plenary session of this 18th central committee might be considered another push into the direction of a more just, and more efficient, use of land – six years later.

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Related

» Dead Cats, rotten Fish, Nov 7, 2011
» Rural Land Certificates, July 10, 2011
» Wen Jiabao’s Endgame, April 21, 2011
» Tossing the Mountain around, Nov 8, 2010
» Farmland Reform, Oct 8, 2008

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Press Review: the “Magic” of Third Plenary Sessions

The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee’s third plenary session is scheduled to begin on Saturday, and to close on Tuesday. The Economist is full of joy and great expectations:

When colleagues complain that meetings achieve nothing, silence them with eight leaden words: “third plenary session of the 11th central committee”. This five-day Communist Party gathering in December 1978 utterly changed China.

Why should Xi Jinping be in a position to repeat a similar plenum tomorrow, 35 years after the 1th Central Committee? Because Xi, and chief state councillor Li Keqiang, have assembled an impressive bunch of market-oriented advisers, and because Xi himself appears to have more authority than any leader since Deng. And he had done nothing downplay expecations.

press review

The outland expects nothing short of a (counter) revolution.

The Economist’s editorial mentions two fields on which the central committee – in its view – should focus: state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the countryside. The magazine has been banging on about the latter issue since March 2006 – if not earlier. In its March 25, 2006 edition, it suggested land reform (“how to make China even richer”), and it saw some of its expectations met in winter 2008, but the third plenum that Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao chaired in October 2008 proved an anticlimax.

If the next days should not produce spectacular decisions, neither the Economist nor the Financial Times appear to be too worried: bloated phrasing, the FT suggests, has not been an obstacle to far-reaching economic policy changes in China over the past 35 years. The FT also agrees with the Economist’s 2008 finding that

for Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor, the 2003 third plenum became a marker of his administration’s shortcomings. Mr Hu vowed at the plenum to tackle China’s unbalanced growth, but a decade later left office with the economy even more reliant on investment.

But contrary to the Economist, the FT doesn’t seem to believe that the input from the market-oriented advisers, assembled by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, will translate into results quite as dramatic as the think-tank papers. Incremental change would prevail.

One of the ideas – certainly not shared by all Chinese leaders alike – behind the right to farmers to sell their land is that the money earned from sales would enable them to start new lives in the cities or in urbanized areas. This would, apparently, require loosening or abandoning the household-registration system, even if some more conservative models of trading land-related rights rather seem to encourage rural citizens to stay where they are.

This should make sense – maybe not everywhere, but in many places. After all, Hu Jintao’s and Wen Jiabao’s caution wasn’t unfounded. The history of Chinese agriculture seems to have been about making farmers owners of their land – with concepts of ownership which most probably differ from our days -, even if for different goals. The idea then was to make agriculture work, not to make urbanization work. And time and again, land concentrated, back into the hands of small elites, Erling von Mende, a sinologist, suggested in a contribution for a popular-science illustrated book published by Roger Goepper, in 1988.*)

If a peasant in Gansu province sells his few mu of land – to a local developer, for example – and heads to a big city, one may doubt that his small capital would get him very far. He might return to his home province as a poorer man than ever before. It’s unlikely that the center would loosen all the brakes at once.

The most striking thing to me about recent foreign coverage of the plenary session aren’t the technicalities, however. It is the way China is being looked at as just another kind of political system. The potential of big business seems to have squashed ethical issues.

That’s not soft power, but it is Beijing power. A number of former foreign officials, among them Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo and former British prime minister Gordon Brown, pilgrimaged to the Chinese capital to attend a conference of the 21st Century Council, a global think tank (apparently formed by them). They got an invitation for tea met with Xi Jinping, too, who informed them that China would not fall into the middle-income trap.

There is no reason to believe that elites who worship abusive power abroad will show more respect for human rights at home.

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Note

*) Roger Goepper (Hrsg.): “Das Alte China”, München, Gütersloh, 1988, pp. 164 – 166

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Related

» Is China misunderstood, Oct 24, 2012
» Middle-income trap, Wikipedia, acc. 20131108

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Monday, May 20, 2013

The Weeks before June 4: Deng Xiaoping’s remarks and the April-26 Editorial

« Previous translation/rendition: Struggling for the Ideological Switch Stands

For all previous instalments, see this table.

Most or all of the party-insider information used by Wu Renhua seems to be based on “Li Peng’s diary”. There seems to be wide-spread agreement that the diary – becoming known in 2010 – was authentic. However, even if it is, one needs to ask if Li’s own account of the run-up to the massacre of June 3/4 1989 is accurate. Probably, these are questions only the party archives could answer – JR

Tuesday, April 25, 1989

Main Link: 1989 年 4 月 24 日 星期日

About 60,000 students at 43 colleges and universities in Beijing continue the strike on lessons. (On April 24, 38 colleges and universities were involved.) At some colleges and universities, wall papers promoting the students’ movement continue to emerge.

At 3 p.m., the Beijing University Preparatory Committee publishes a notice: eight out of the university’s 27 faculties have set up branch committees, and the preparatory committee has conducted re-elections, with Kong Qingdong (孔庆东), Wang Chiying (王池英), Feng Congde (封从德), Wang Dan (王丹), and Shen Tong (沈彤) as new members. “The new preparatory committee will have decision-making authority, and temporarily take the lead of the students union.”

The Beijing University students union has established contact with more than 32 other colleges and universities in Beijing. Chairman Zhou Yongjun says that three demands have been issued to the government:

  • official dialog with the state council, based on delegations (or representation)
  • a public apology for the Xinhua Gate incident and punishment for the perpetrators
  • truthful domestic media coverage about the students movement.

At nine in the morning, at his home, Deng Xiaoping listens to Li Peng’s, Yang Shangkun’s, Qiao Shi’s, Hu Qili’s, Yao Yilin’s, Li Ximing’s, Chen Xitong’s and others’ reports. The meeting ends before 11 a.m.. After the meeting, Yang Shangkun stays with Deng for discussions.

Deng agrees with the politburo standing committee’s and the broader politbureau meetings’ decisions, and requires the central committee and the state council to establish two teams – one to focus on dealing with the unrest, and one to get hold of the routine work. Deng says that before, the talk had been about managing the economic environment, but now, there was a need to manage the political environment.

Deng believes the students movement isn’t a normal agitation (or strike), but a political unrest. Attention needs to be paid to avoiding bloodspills, but it will be hard to avoid it completely. In the end, it could be necessary to arrest a batch of people. The “People’s Daily”, in accordance with the spirit of what Deng said, writes in its editorial on April 261) that “we must oppose the unrest with a clear and distinct stand” (more literally: under a bright banner).

On Li Peng’s proposal, Zeng Jianhui (曾建徽) drafts the editorial, and after authorization by Hu Qili and Li Peng, it is decided that the editorial shall be aired this evening at 7 p.m., by Central People’s Broadcasting Station (CPBS) and on CCTV’s main newscast Xinwen Lianbo.

Delegations from all colleges and universities in Beijing discuss the prospects of the students movement at the Autonomous Federation’s meeting, held at the University of Political Science and Law, at 7 p.m.., and determining a draft for a national people’s program. At the time of the meeting, the April-26 editorial is aired, on which countermeasures are discussed. The editorial leads to a tense atmosphere, and one student leader says that the danger is understood, and that the work to defend the dormitories needs to be strengthened.

At about 18:45, some three- to four thousand students of the People’s University (Renmin University) arrive at the China Youth University for Political Sciences, at Beifang Jiaotong University, at the Academy of Nationalities  (i. e. national minorities, 中央民族学院 – frequently referred to as the Minzu University of China), and the Beijing Foreign Studies University (actually: foreign-languages university, formerly an academy, 北京外语学院, now 北京外国语大学) to support the strikes, and also to strongly oppose the April-26 editorial. 21:40, the protesters leave the China Youth University for Political Sciences, originally planning to go to Beijing Normal University, but they are intercepted by nearly 800 police. At 21:02, more two thousand students from the People’s (Renmin) University, the Minzu University of China, and other universities are protesting around the universities, oppose the April-26 editorial, saying that the editorial confuses right and wrong (颠倒是非) and that “action must continue”. Some students are shouting a slogan: “Oppose repressions against the student movement”.

At 23:00, the Capital Autonomous Federation of University Students (北高联) issues a notice: “On April 27, the entire city will demonstrate unitedly and converge on Tian An Men Square”, to oppose the April-26 editorial.

At 23:00, the Beijing University (Students) Preparatory Committee (北大筹委会 / 北大学生筹委会) holds a press conference at the Beijing University No. 1 Teaching Building (北京大学第一教学楼), and Kong Qingdong, who is hosting the conference, announces that “the Beijing University Preparatory Committee is neither anti-party nor anti-constitutional; it is here to promote the progress of democracy [or democratization].” He also spells out three conditions for the students’ return to the classrooms:

  1. dialog with the government
  2. an accurate explanation of the 4-20 incident [see here, Wang Zhiyong] and
  3. a press law.

In a brief meeting at 15:00, Li Peng convenes a brief meeting of the standing committee of the politbureau and communicates Deng Xiaoping’s remarks. Yang Shangkun attends as a non-voting participant. The standing committee believes that Deng Xiaoping’s remarks are absolutely important and should be communicated to the lower ranks right away. It is decided that first, it shall be passed on  within the “system of the big three” (三大系统) – to the central committee, to the state council, and to all cadres above vice-ministerial level in the Beijing municipal government, including the transcript of Deng’s remarks today, and the standing committee’s records from the meeting in the evening on April 24.

Wen Jiabao’s instructions to the General Office of the CCP  to communicate the standing committee’s records from the meeting in the evening on April 24, and to promptly arrange Deng Xiaoping’s remarks, are the foundation of communications. Toward the evening, Wen gives Li Peng a phonecall asking for instructions if some sensitive issues in Deng Xiaoping’s remarks should be kept out of the communication at first. To reduce possible vulnerabilities and to get as many points to ralley the comrades around, Li Peng agrees.

The quantity of propaganda material explaining “the situation in Beijing” is growing. At Fudan University, Tongji University, Jiaotong University, and many other universities and colleges, wall newspapers, photos or leaflets emerge, mainly about “the real story of the 4-20 incident” and “the whole story about the 4-21 demonstrations” , and “100,000 students’ peaceful petition” etc..

The rate of students who show up for classes is diminuishing in Tianjin’s major universities, and about one third of students are on strike. There are calls for supporting the students in Beijing. Eighty-seven young teachers at Nankai University put up slogans: “Support the Students’ Strike!”

In the afternoon, the “Jilin Declaration” from Jilin University emerges, with the full wording: “The fate of our nation is the responsibility of everyone. Beijing University has arisen, so has Nankai University, all students are pleading in the name of the people – how can the people of Jilin University stand by and watch? Arise, people of Jilin University. Political corruption, maldistribution, economic chaos, outmoded education and the nation in peril, when will be the time!

Wall newspapers in some universities in Xi’an, Changsha and other places also refute the “People’s Daily” editorial, calling it “a pack of lies”, as the students’ actions were not a political struggle, but a demand for democracy. Some Xi’an students distribute mimeographed leaflets, calling for a demonstration on Xincheng Square on Sunday.

At the Central South University of Technology (中南工业大学) in Changsha, Hunan Province, the chairpeople of seven faculties who prepared a meeting at 21:00 to adopt measures and to support the students of Beijing to escalate the situation, are stopped by the university’s related departments.

The traffic regulations that had been in effect since the 4-22 riots at Xincheng Square, the center of the riots, were lifted at 00:00 today. Large numbers of armed police are leaving the square, but some police are guarding the entrances of the provincial government. The authorities have also ordered a batch of helmeted troops from the people’s Liberation Army 49 Army from their base, twenty kilometers outside Xi’an, into the square.

According to a “People’s Daily” report, 98 people were arrested in the riots of Changsha in the evening on April 22, among them 32 workers, peasants who work in Changsha as migrant workers, six six self-employed/small-business owners (getihu), 28 socially idle people2), six students (five of them middle school students and one of them a secondary specialized or technical school student).

____________

Notes

1) In a partial chronology of 20th century China, Tian’anmen Square TV provides a translation of the April-26 editorial.
2) A stronger translation would be riff-raff.

____________

To be continued

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Weeks before June 4: Struggling for the Ideological Switch Stands

[Cont. April 23, 1911

Main Link: 1989 年 4 月 24 日 星期日

Li Tieying and Li Ximing both agree with Li Peng that strict measures should be taken against the students’ movement. At 8.30 in the evening, Li Peng goes to see Yang Shangkun to analyse the situation. Yang also sees a changing trend and encourages Li Peng to see Deng Xiaoping. Li Peng asks Yang to join him in a visit to Deng, and Yang agrees. During the evening, as Li Peng reads many papers and adds  comments to them, and a flow of public-security bureau, security, education commission staff etc, concerning trends among the students in all places keeps coming in, by phone and cable.

Science and Technology Daily‘s entering into the forbidden area of coverage receives a great echo, and from the morning on, people call this paper to tell the staff that they had written in fair words. However, vice chief editor Sun Changjiang says that they haven’t done something special, and just acted in accordance with professional ethics, in their effort to carry out their duty as the media. Their [Science and Technology Daily] coverage hadn’t been particularly good; rather, he believes, that of some other papers has been particularly bad. The event is authentic, and their attitude is sincere.

Monday, April 24, 1989

Main Link: 1989 年 4 月 24 日 星期一 (same document)

In the morning, sixty-thousand students from some 38 colleges and universities such as Beijing University, Tsinghua University, People’s University (Renmin University) begin a strike. Some students gather within the universities, conduct sit-ins, demonstrations, put up posters, and others shout slogans like “join the strike quickly”, “no end to the strike without reaching our goals”, and “walk out on lessons and exams, not on learning”.

Some students give lectures on societal issues, put up propaganda sheets, propagate “April 20 massacre”, “crying-and-begging to the non-understanding government” information, and still others take to the streets and lanes, for fund-raising and to call on “all the city’s citizens to become active in strikes”. Students from Beijing University, Tsinghua University and People’s University maintain order, and dissuade students from taking part in lessons. Some university party secretaries point out in reports to the next-upper party level that the current situation, if it lasts, will be absolutely harmful, and that one has to fear that this could take still larger dimensions as May 4 is approaching. They express their hopes that the central committee and the municipal committee issue clear guidelines, policies and instructions to end the strikes as soon as possible.

At 14:40, student committees at Beijing University and other universities hold meetings at the May-4 squares on their campuses, with some eighty percent of students attending. They prepare activities to boycott official May-4 activities and to establish autonomous students unions in Beijing and students unions of national unity all over the country. Some papers report that student delegates from Nankai University,  Nanjing University, Fudan University, Guangzhou University and other universities are also attending. Nearly two-hundred students with red armbands are maintaining order. As several members of students committees publicly push and pull each other on stage in a quarrel twice, more than six-thousand students at the meeting are abuzz. The meeting ends at 16:00 in discord, without having made any decisions. Dozens of foreign reporters have been present and recorded the event. A press conference by the preparatory committee, scheduled for 7 p.m., is subsequently cancelled.

Beijing University posts the “Recommendations to the Preparatory Committee, signed by people from Beijing University” poster, suggesting to redraw the slogans and action principles in order to get public support. The slogans should oppose corruption and bureaucracy, actions should be carried out downtown, at broad daylight, so as to broaden their influence, unified action would be needed between the universities and colleges, preparations be made for a long-term struggle, and extensive contacts be built with people from intellectual and democratic circles.

There is also another poster, under the headline “five points”, about “guaranteeing basic human rights, releasing political criminals, opposing party supremacy, checks and balances by separation of the three powers, defining a democratic constitution” and other political positions.

More than twohundred Beijing University teachers jointly call for maintaining the principles of the thirteen universities to consult the students and to have a dialog with them. A similar call comes from the China University of Political Science and Law [Wu Renhua‘s university]. The Beijing Students Autonomous Federation (aka Capital Autonomous Federation of University Students) calls on every student to send ten letters to compatriots all over the country. Between two- and threehundred students are to be dispatched to fifteen large cities all over the nation, such as Tianjin, Jinan, Shenyang, Changsha, Chengdu, Xi’an, Lanzhou, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, Taiyuan, Shanghai, Nanjing and Wuhan  to deliver speeches and to make contacts.

A peaceful petition meeting at Tsinghua University started a peaceful demonstration within the campus, at eight in the morning, with about ten thousand students participating. It’s an orderly demonstration with a length reaching two kilometers.

The Tsinghua University Students Council puts forward four principles concerning the students’ strike:

  1. to maintain the reasonable struggle and the peaceful petition
  2. to maintain unity and the power of all that can be united
  3. to adhere to the strike on lessons, not on learning
  4. to make sure that cool heads prevail among the younger students.

Educational departments from all over the country give their reactions to the State Education Commission, expressing their hope that the situation at Beijing’s universities and colleges can be stabilized soon, as it would otherwise be difficult to control the situation at universities outside the capital.

In the evening, Ren Wanding, who was responsible for the “Human Rights Alliance” time of the Xidan Democracy Wall, speaks on Tian An Men Square. He says: “the people are destitute, robbers arise from everywhere, prices are soaring, and the national economy is in crisis. If the four cardinal principles don’t vanish from the constitution, they will keep hanging over the people’s interests.”

Ren Wanding has also been to the universities of Beijing to speak there, but without much response, as the students didn’t understand him, and because they felt that his views were radical. When Chen Xiaoping and I watched him speaking in front of the dormitory of the University of Political Science and Law, there was only a sparse audience. Both Chen and I felt saddened.

In the afternoon, Li Ximing and Chen Xitong report to National People’s Congress chairman Wan Li. Wan Li was Beijing’s vice mayor prior to the cultural revolution. He suggests that the politburo’s standing committee should analyse the situation in the evening, chaired by Li Peng.

[According to this account by Wu Renhua, this meeting was held on the evening of April 24. This source seems to suggest that this happened on April 23.]

The standing committee, chaired by Li Peng, believes that a variety of events are indicating that under the control and instigation of very few people,  a planned, organized anti-party, anti-socialist political struggle is arranged before their eyes. The decision is made to form a group tasked with stopping the unrest, and requires Beijing’s party and government to stabilize the situation quickly, by winning over the majority of the masses and by isolating the minority, and by calming down the unrest. Standing committe member Li Peng, Qiao Shi, Hu Qili, Yao Yilin, as well as  – with no voting rights – Yang Shangkun, Wan Li, central party secretary Rui Xingwen, Yan Mingfu, Wen Jiabao, (not standing) politburo members Tian Jiyun, Li Ximing, Song Ping, Ding Guangen as well as people in charge at the relevant departments are attending the meeting.

In the evening, Li Peng receives a phonecall from Deng Xiaoping‘s secretary Wang Ruilin, inviting Li Peng and Yang Shangkun to his home at ten a.m. next day for discussions.

The World Economic Herald, a weekly from Shanghai, normally scheduled to appear today, has six blocks of content from a memorial forum held in cooperation with the New Observer magazine (新观察) on April 19. The 25 participants spoke highly of Hu Yaobang’s humanness, as a person of democratic open-mindedness [or liberalism – 民主开明], and of deep humanity. Science and Technology Daily vice chief editor Sun Changjiang [see above, entering into the forbidden area of coverage], Guangming Daily‘s reporter Dai Qing, and Yan Jiaqi of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences political science institute state more clearly that Hu Yaobang was forced to resign, and that he died while being treated unfairly. 300,000 copies of the World Economic Herald were printed by Saturday, some of it already at the post offices, while the remainder is stored at the printing house. But when Shanghai’s municipal party committee is informed about some of the content, it orders the postal offices to stop the dispatch of the papers, and seals the remaining copies in the printing house off. In the afternoon, the CCP municipal committee has a meeting with World Economic Herald chief editor Qin Benli in the afternoon, telling him that what is said in the account of the forum is correct, but that, as May 4 comes nearer, they fear that this could stirr the students’ emotions, add to the pressure on the government, and express their hope that the more sensitive content will be removed. The World Economic Herald does not agree with the cuts and revisions.

At the time, the World Economic Review’s Beijing office is the meeting point for democratic and liberal personalities. The office director Zhang Weiguo has strong campaigning skills and is broadly connected. Because of having led the [memorial] forum and for other reasons, he will be arrested after the June-4 crackdown.

To be continued
Continued here »

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chinese Media Control: Three further Efforts

News from foreign (or outside-border) sources must no longer be used by Chinese press people without prior authorization, Radio Australia‘s Mandarin service quotes a notice from China’s SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television). Also part of a move to standardize editorial behavior are the management of news websites, and of blogging and microblogging – three further efforts combined. According to Radio Australia, editors and journalists are also told to get approval from their work units before registering with a microblogging platform (probably particularly before registering with Sina Weibo).

Reporters without Borders (RSF) published a statement on Wednesday, roundly condemning the SARFT directive. RSF believes that embarrassing revelations about China’s leaders in foreign media – particularly about the alledged fortunes acquired by former chief state councillor Wen Jiabao‘s and current party general secretary and state chairman Xi Jinping‘s families – had triggered the move.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Quality Assurance: How to Cover China?

When David Barboza, a correspondent for the New York Times in China, reported on the Wen Jiabao clan’s wealth, he did what a good reporter needs to do. Beijing seems to think otherwise.  Now, Chris Buckley, one of Barboza’s NYT colleagues, has visa problems.

According to the Guardian, Buckley has reported from China for twelve years. Those who complain that most media send correspondents without great Chinese language skills to China should think again: does it make sense to send correspondents to China who invested heavily into their China-related skills? It may occasionally make sense, but not as a rule. And once a correspondent with a lot of “China background” gets tricked out of the country by “sensitive” authorities, a paper or broadcaster who wants to make sure that their coverage on China isn’t influenced by the CCP should provide such a correspondent with a follow-up stint in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan. There’s too little coverage from Taiwan anyway.

A correspondent won’t necessarily allow the CCP to intimidate him or her anyway. But it’s not only for the correspondents to make sure about that – it’s a task for their employers (i. e. the media), too.

In short: the media should do their share to make sure that their correspondents can’t be tacitly or openly blackmailed by the Chinese “authorities”.

Those who can’t put their correspondents into a sufficiently independent position shouldn’t have permanent correspondents in China at all – and they should state this publicly, to their readers. Quality assurance and building trust is the issue here.

It may be a double-edged sword for correspondents to speak out about the conditions under which they report from China. But their employers – and their readers –  should encourage them to be transparent about the forms of harrassment they encounter.

____________

Related

» An Increasing Number, China Law & Policy, July 16, 2012
» Self Censorship, many forms, FEER, April 2007

____________

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Blogging Break: Plus ca change, plus c’est Deng (or Franco)

If KT takes a break from blogging, why shouldn’t JR? I’m thinking of a duration of ten days or so – but if Jiang Zemin leaves this world, or Deng Xiaoping rises from the dead, or whatever kind of colossal thing occurs, JR will be here to make sense of it for you.

foggy day

foggy day

A look back on the CCP’s 18th national congress: Felix Lee, a correspondent for Germany’s green-leaning daily taz, runs a China blog at a German weekly, Die Zeit. He’s usually very positive about, as we like to say, “China” – certainly from my perspective, but such optimism might sometimes give way to Welsh rats. His latest blogpost refers to Zhang Dejiang and Liu Yunshan as the new pigheads in the politbureau (Die neuen Betonköpfe im Politbüro).

And expectations towards reformers like Wang Yang had been too high. After all, even Wen Jiabao never had his way with more inner-party democracy, during his ten-year tenure.

Well, in fact, Wen Jiabao had his way with very few things (and I’m not sure that I can remember any, now).

I don’t know where many China watchers took their optimism from. The party had documented its schedule very clearly, in fall 2011. Now, I’m not saying that I could have predicted the composition of the 18th politbureau – but whoever would have entered the standing committee, would have had to stick to the line. If Wang Yang had entered the standing committee, it would have meant that he isn’t that reformist after all, or that he’s prepared to become less so.

But of course, Felix Lee doesn’t consider China’s future hopeless. After all, society is changing bigtime, he writes. Three controversial industrial projects had been thwarted by citizens this year, he writes.

Then again, you can discuss industrial plants with anyone, anyway – even with Zhang Dejiang. To object to them is no principal contradiction (主要矛盾).

The party published their line, Hu Jintao re-iterated it a few weeks later, but most correspondents seemed to take that lightly, or as some funny little theater. As if the document had been written (and agreed to by outgoing and incoming dictators) for fun, or out of boredom.

Hint (and, granted, no imperative logical connection): a year earlier, in September 2010, Wen Jiabao had made his last serious foray on those pig-headed fortifications: he talked to journalists from Hong Kong and Macau, about the need for political reforms. That was in New York, apparently. People’s Daily disagreed. Wen insisted. Half a year, there was the cultural decision.

Same with other concepts, such as social management. There weren’t a few Zhou Yongkang‘s sitting around a table and picking that stuff out of their nose.

Either, too many correspondents in China have no sense for political trends, or they don’t report their real assessment, because they wouldn’t sell. Or maybe something else I can’t imagine right now.

Either way: “staff issues” within the CCP are, in my view, hopelessly overemphasized in our press. Yes, it’s a dictatorship. Yes, it’s a totalitarian system. But it’s a collective oligarchy leadership – pragmatic, maybe, but not unideological.

What interested me during the run-up to the 18th national congress was how the system tried to shape their citizens’ perception of their (local) realities. Some of the derivatives from the State Information Office’s publicity work prescriptions were – just my impression – written somewhat tongue-in-cheek by cheesed-off journalists who had to work with those guidelines. But that, too, shapes reality. It shows the small man who he is, and who they are. Dictators aren’t out with baseball bats to hit you every day. Quite obviously, harmony is cheaper.

bright day

bright day

That’s the year that was, I suppose, in terms of China and politics. The American fiscal cliff is moving to the fore, and so is the Euro crisis. Talking about baseball bats, democratic governments seem to know how to use them, too. Henryk M. Broder, not a great friend of demonstrators, I believe, but no great friend of the European project either, contrasted two European “events” on Thursday: Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for justice, basic rights and citizenship, celebrated “a historic day” for womens’ rights in listed companies: by 2020, 40 percent of board seats would have to be for women. Patrician daughters will be delighted to hear that, of course. But some of Ms Reding’s smaller sisters were protesting in Madrid, about very different worries.

Clubbing is so much fun, isn’t it? Maybe Deng is already back from the dead. And if you see Francisco Franco dining and sniffing snow in some hip Madrid institution, don’t be too surprised. Chances are that he’s always been with us.

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