A new era of political reform? Whatever

3 02 2012

If there’s one thing we’ve seen from the last couple of posts, it’s that Hong Kongers quite enjoy a dig at their Mainland compatriots. You might conclude that they also enjoy reading the many anti-CCP magazines stacked across the city’s news stands, complete with paparazzi-style cover photos of Politburo members caught off-guard.

You would be wrong. Your average Hong Kong newspaper reader could not give two hoots about the latest political machinations of the various CCP factions. These magazines are written for, and bought by, mainland visitors. It’s important to bear this in mind when reading them, because while they fulfil a valid desire for uncensored political analysis, they also cash in on a desire to see two fingers stuck up at the Chinese regime. Please administer salt as required.

The Cheng Ming Monthly 争鸣 is just such a publication. In February’s opening piece, ‘The “Four Whatevers” must be smashed’,* the author calls for Deng Xiaoping’s ideas to be abandoned once and for all in what he hopes will be a new era of political reform.  A gist follows:

China is at a junction between the second and third 30-year periods in its modern history. The first period was Mao Zedong’s time, by the end of which Mao Zedong Thought had been thoroughly discredited. The second era was Deng Xiaoping’s time, when economic reforms were brought in to save the country, and the Party itself, from ruin.

It is now the end of the road for Deng Xiaoping thought. It is getting harder to maintain stability through violence and lies, and corruption has become endemic. Conflicts between people trying to protect their rights and officials trying to maintain stability are erupting everywhere. China is a pot about to boil over.

The Wukan incident of 2011 shows how conflicts can be resolved when the authorities make concessions. This is what needs to happen in the next period of political reform: The CCP needs to cede some of its power. But who would give up power willingly? The people need to continue to put pressure on the authorities, in order to avoid revolution, for the good of both the country and the Party itself.

The intellectual prelude to reform has already begun. There needs to be a new thought liberation movement, like the one that preceded Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. This time it needs to throw out Deng Xiaoping Thought, because strengthening one-party rule was at the root of all Deng Xiaoping’s ideas – even the economic liberalisations.

I first saw reference to 30 year periods in modern Chinese history after Wen Jiabao’s (温家宝) August 2011 speech on political reform, coming as it did 30 years after a landmark speech by Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) which set China decisively onto a track of economic reforms. I’m somewhat surprised to see a commentator in 2012 still talking as if the next era of political reform is just around the corner, given that 2011’s crackdown on dissidents has done little to lend weight to the idea. The perceived success of the Wukan villagers is already being called into question, and there is little evidence that democracy in China will go beyond Wen’s warm and fuzzy Internet chat with the people once a year.

Still, if you’re a pro-democracy Chinese citizen you seem to have the choice between optimism verging on delusion, or despair. I have to respect the optimists.

*A link to a note on the ‘Four Whatevers’ and other political terminology will follow soon.

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