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Can It Be that the Chinese People Deserve Only “Party-Led Democracy”?

April 9, 2010

Liu Xiaobo


Translation by HRIC.

On October 19, 2005, the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China released the white paper, “Building Democratic Politics in China.” Although this was the first white paper on democracy building issued by the Communist government since it came to power, except for the fact that it was published, it broke no new ground in terms of content.

At the core of the white paper were arguments regarding the “theory of national conditions,” “theory of Party authority,”and “theory of the wisdom of the CPC.”

The “theory of national conditions” in the white paper no longer stresses China’s economic backwardness and sub-standard quality of the population but rather emphasizes that the central leadership position of the CPC was both a historical choice and the voluntary choice of the Chinese people, that is, it was created by history rather than the will imposed by the CPC on the people. Clearly, the purpose of the “theory of national conditions” is to refute the universal nature of democracy and to conceal the problems of legitimacy of the current CPC regime by invoking special national conditions.

The “theory of Party authority” publicly affirms China’s current system of the supreme authority of the Party. Whether it is the abstract idea of democratic construction of popular sovereignty or the protection of human rights and specific human rights written into the Constitution, whether it is the institution of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the political consultative system or the so-called democratic centralism with Chinese Communist characteristics, whether the grassroots democracy process or rule by law—all of these must follow the guidance of the CPC authority and have nothing to do with popular sovereignty.

The purpose of the “theory of the wisdom of the CPC” is to declare that the credit for all of China’s current achievements is due to the CPC, going as far as to defend a string of failures as great accomplishments. Similarly, whatever little democratic achievement there has been in China since the reforms is also all attributable to the wise leadership of the CPC and is most certainly not the result of spontaneous efforts of the people.

As a result, the white paper is tantamount to a declaration to the entire world: above the democracy of people’s sovereignty, the CPC authority is an even higher authority, and this party authority is supreme, which is to say that “the Party is in charge of the people” and “the Party is in charge of democracy,” and that the NPC is the puppet of the Party authority, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is its ornament, the judiciary is its tool, and the vocabulary of human rights, democracy, etc., is just its window dressing. Like the white paper on human rights released by the CPC authorities, this white paper on democracy is full of lies. For example, the white paper states: “All power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people.” But China’s 1.3 billion people are a flock of sheep herded by the Party authority and have no opportunity to participate in the election of the country’s president. Another example is that the white paper proclaims “development of democracy within the Party.” Yet the great majority of the 68 million party members are no more than Party slaves and, likewise, have no opportunity to elect the party boss.

This is the “Building of Democratic Politics in China” flaunted by the white paper!

So this white paper is not so much an announcement of the “Building Democratic Politics in China” as it is a public defense of “protecting the dictatorial system of the supremacy of Party authority.”

On October 1, 1949, after Mao Zedong ascended Tiananmen Gate, the chorus of “He is the great savior of the people” swept through the country— an enduring song that has to this day remained a nostalgic tool used by the people to vent their dissatisfaction. On October 1, 1984, after Deng Xiaoping descended from Tiananmen to review the troops and accepted the heartfelt support [expressed in the simple greeting of] “Hello Xiaoping,” with one wave of his hand, the “chief architect” bestowed upon the little people the opportunity to make a dash for the small comforts of everyday life, to “let some people get rich first,” and achieved limited economic emancipation. On October 1, 1999, after Jiang Zemin reviewed the troops, despite widespread attacks from all quarters, he was still secure in the key position as the “leading figure in inheriting the revolutionary cause and carrying it into the future.” He embarked on yet another theoretical innovation of vast and mighty imperial largesse and let the capitalists who had amassed great fortunes join the CPC and be politically emancipated by royal decree, so that they were no longer just the United Front partners and political ornaments of the NPC and CPPCC but had become members of the ruling party. I don’t know when the new Party boss Hu Jintao plans to ascend Tiananmen to review the troops and mold an image for his own “dear people.”

I do not deny that within the CPC clique currently in power, there could be high-ranking officials who treat the people well and possess an awareness of modern politics, such as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. When they were in office, they did make quite a few good policy decisions and took risks to advance political reform. But even when this was the case, people had to wait for their rights and benefits as if they were charities bestowed from above, not to mention that such good officials could not survive for long under the CPC system.

Let’s take 10,000 steps back: If our countrymen could come across an enlightened ruler often, or if the imperial bestowing of favors was not incidental behavior but, rather, occurred every now and then, then the national inertia of waiting for these favors, although an insult to human dignity, could be excused because of the tangible benefits received. Sadly however, our countrymen endured great suffering and endless waiting only to encounter a wise sovereign by chance or an exceedingly miserly show of mercy. What they receive are always meager compensation and pathetic consolation that arrive too late, so why is it that they are still only capable of looking up to the crown? Moreover, throughout China’s cyclical dynastic history, every act of the vast and mighty imperial benevolence has occurred either at the beginning of a new dynasty, when everything left undone by the previous regime is taken up, or during the crisis-ridden final years of a reign, and never for the well-being of the people but out of political necessity, to consolidate or maintain political power or save the regime. Our countrymen are still like infants who depend entirely on adult care who know only to wait for a wise ruler to appear. Can it be that Chinese people will never really grow up, that their character is forever deformed and weak, and that they are only fit to, as if predestined by the stars, pray for and accept imperial mercy on their knees?!

There is absolutely no doubt that on the post- Mao mainland, compared with the Mao era, our countrymen have gained tangible benefits in terms of food and shelter and an extremely limited space for personal choices. The pragmatic “cat theory” initiated by Deng Xiaoping,1 compared with Mao’s ideology, which stressed class struggle, had a nimble and soft flexibility. However, none of these changes have fundamentally altered the basic mode of existence of our countrymen; the relationship between the ruler and the ruled on this land has been the same throughout the ages and has been handed down unchanged to this day. Namely, the power to initiate and make decisions about the rights and interests of the people, the fate of the country, any progress in society, and any improvements to the lives of the common people is firmly held in the hands of the dictators. [All improvements] are charity granted from above, requiring the subjects to shout the triple “long live” salute to show their loyalty and gratitude to the rulers, requiring famous public figures to play the part of critics who share their goals, and requiring the hack writers with skillful pens to defend and praise them, in order to demonstrate the wisdom and virtues of the sovereign.

Even though there have been improvements in civil rights defense movements in recent years, we must also look at the grim reality facing the cause of civil rights defense. If not used by the treacherous dictators as a tool to seize power and establish a new dynasty, the bottom-up movement to win human dignity and personal rights and interests gets completely wiped out by the brutal autocratic machine, and there is no way that a succession of large scale movements of popular disobedience, be they the traditional violent rebellions for dynastic change or the modern political opposition movements of peaceful resistance, can arise to shake the foundations of the authoritarian system and the slavish culture.

What is the reason for this?

The repression by the dictatorial authorities is, admittedly, one of the reasons, but the indifference of the populace is an even greater cause. In the minds of ignorant, cowardly, and blind people, being used is no different from being liberated and given a new life. As to the cowardly but smart cynics, being repressed means being subjugated, and thus becoming an accomplice, a lackey, or, at the very least, a silent, docile subject. When have our countrymen tasted genuine liberation that comes with being the master of one’s own affairs? When has China ever broken out of the vicious historical cycle of order and chaos under authoritarian dynastic rule?

For generations, up until this very day of CPC rule, expressions like “after liberation,” “since the founding of the country,” and “after the new China was established,” and excuses such as “without the Communist Party there would be no new China,” have become the most basic common understanding of history and a linguistic habit that has settled deeply into the nation’s collective memory, universally used in people’s speech and writing. Even the intellectuals and liberals within the Party who know the CPC history like the back of their hands habitually use these terms for historical reference when exposing the countless crimes committed after the CPC took power.

Likewise, when common people today bring up the 1989 Movement and the June Fourth Massacre, the vast majority still casually toss around the words “turmoil” or “rebellion.” Even the Beijing residents who personally experienced the great peaceful marches and the bloody massacre by and large use the vocabulary set by the government. And although the authorities have already quietly changed “turmoil” and “rebellion” to “political disturbances” in the public media, the people’s language has not changed much accordingly. Since Jiang Zemin’s regime persecuted the Falun Gong in 1999, the word “cult” has also entered the vernacular, spreading particularly fast among college, high-school and elementary school students. A few years ago, every time I heard acquaintances use the word “turmoil” to talk about the 1989 Movement, I wanted to refute it and correct them. These corrections were at first made angrily, then gravely, and, finally, with resignation. As time went on, I began to let them go. Forceful ideological indoctrination of minds that have been enslaved for a prolonged period inevitably hardens memory and language.

Linguistic philosophy’s sacred monster Ludwig Wittgenstein maintained that language is not a tool of expression in the traditional sense but action itself, and that the way one chooses to express oneself linguistically is the way one chooses to think, the way one chooses to think is the way one chooses to live. Therefore, by extension, if one habitually uses linguistic expressions of deep gratitude, one inevitably creates the savior mentality; the savior mentality inevitably leads to the slavish way of life of waiting for topdown charity and the fear that without the savior one will end up in a situation more desperate and pitiful than that of a homeless dog.

Time and time again, people have pinned their hopes for top-down political reform on those who have newly assumed office, but they end up disappointed each time. The most absurd part is that disappointment after disappointment still has not extinguished what little hope people have in the CPC-initiated reforms. Why? The usual response is that the national conditions make it so. Some people say that such a large country can only be controlled and governed by an authoritarian system. Others say that the CPC is too powerful and that it has too many monopolies on resources, so that unless it transforms itself no other force can challenge it. Some say that opposition groups in popular politics in many ways don’t even measure up to the CPC, and that if they came to power they would be even worse than the CPC. Others say that economic development comes before political reform; to ensure high economic growth one must maintain social stability, and only with the CPC in power can stability be maintained. Still others say that the mainland population is too large, inferior, and ignorant, only fit to receive charitable guidance from the elites, and only capable of carrying out top-down reforms. . . . All of these arguments just go to prove: Without the CPC, or if the CPC were to step down, who could effectively rule China in its place? Don’t democracy activists and people who hold divergent political views in China and abroad constantly run up against this question? And that is why waiting for the gift of happiness to be bestowed from above is the common people’s only option.

At a time when our countrymen do not fight, even not preparing to become their own masters, at a time when they have abandoned all efforts even before the struggle for their personal rights and interests has started in earnest, people can universally concoct a subconscious assumption that without the current rulers, the country would slide into chaos. This type of assumption stems from both the long enforced ideological indoctrination of the CPC, as well as the slavish nature of our countrymen, which remains unchanged to this day. There is a reason why dictators disregard historical facts and raise this type of assumption. That is because every policy decision they make and everything they say have only one ultimate purpose—maintaining absolute power. But there is absolutely no reason for the people to believe in this assumption, because the system that this assumption supports is precisely a system that does not treat people as humans. Once our countrymen forget historical facts and believe in this assumption, they would have no qualms in waiting for the pie to fall from the sky and would look for a wise ruler or a virtuous master even if they have to die nine times looking for it; they would view all bottom-up popular opposition movements and those that fight for personal rights and interests as more of a hindrance than help that only “add to chaos,” and would defend those in power, who have done one insignificant small good and 99 great ills, using that one percent of good policy to defend that 99 percent of bad government. Even when being massacred, starved, imprisoned, exiled, deprived, and discriminated against, the little people still feel eternally indebted and grateful and consider the dictators “great, honorable, and infallible.”

A poem by Bai Juyi2 says: “Wildfire never quite destroys them—They grow again in the spring wind.” In mainland China, this eternal, celebrated verse is decidedly not an apt description of people who have the courage to stand up straight and tall, but, rather, an exquisite portrayal of our countrymen accustomed to kneeling ever so gracefully. Under the imperial throne, civil and military officials neatly fall to their knees as one and shout the salute, “Long live! Long, long live!” three times. Atop Tiananmen, the dictator waves his hand and the largest square in the world becomes a sea of subjects hailing their savior. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty and especially after the CPC came to power, even though our countrymen no longer kowtow physically like the people of old, they kneel in their souls even more so than the ancients.

An admonition on how to be an upright person says: Man is born free and equal. Universal enslavement and inequality are never caused by the ruler’s excessive power or wisdom, but because those who are ruled kneel down. Can it be that today, more than 100 years after the era of imperial power based on triple kowtowing and nine-fold kneeling has been abolished, our countrymen are still humiliating themselves and finding all sorts of justifications to defend their kneeling position? Can it be that the mere favors of a good standard of living and allowing the wealthy to join the Party have made our countrymen capable only of falling to their knees and kowtowing in gratitude for the magnanimity and grace of the dictators?

For the emergence of a free China, placing hope in “new policies” of those in power is far worse than placing hope in the continuous expansion of the “new power” among the people. The day when dignity of the people is conceptually and legally established is the day that the human rights of our countrymen will gain institutional protections.

Translator’s Notes

1. When Deng Xiaoping returned to power after the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1970s, he famously declared, “I don’t care whether a cat is black or white. As long as it catches mice, it is a good cat,” to signal that he intended to put stress on pragmatism, rather than ideology. This landed him in new trouble, and he was once again purged from all his official posts by Mao Zedong. However, after Mao’s death his position won the day, and set off decades of China’s economic reform and opening to the outside world. ^

2. Bai Juyi (772–846 CE) is one of the most celebrated Tang dynasty poets, who used elegantly simple verse to protest the social evils of his day, including corruption and militarism. ^

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