Future of China

Future of China:  Establishment of a Democratic System Outweighs the Discussion of Who would Govern

By He Qinglian on February 23, 2012
(translated by kRiZcPEc)

Since February this year, whether the “Princelings” should take over or senior cadres ascended from the common people (Senior Cadres hereafter) should continue to govern appeared once again to be a big question crucial to the future of China after Wang Lijun, former Public Security Chief of Chongqing, stirred up quite a lot of speculations about his stay at the US consulate-general in Chengdu. All those commentaries published in overseas Chinese media that seemed to have come directly from Zhongnanhai made the water more murky and the two sides strove to give the audience an impression that they support one faction and not the other was because if that other faction rule, grave disaster would happen to the Chinese people.
Similar platforms, Different agents
Given that a branch of the “Princelings”—the old red guards during the Cultural Revolution had written a notorious “couplet” that suggested “Like fathers like sons: heroic fathers breed courageous sons; reactionary fathers, bastard sons” and stressed that the only determining factor for the political status of the Chinese people was their “family origin”, and that there have been repeated accounts of the Princelings making use of their fathers' power and influence to run businesses since reform and opening, the majority of the intellectual class—myself included—prefer not to see them in power. Some penned articles arguing that the Princelings' political experience made them suitable for running the country, though.

Although there are things in this world that look plausible at the first glance, they could not withstand in-depth scrutiny. I gave some thoughts on the possible impacts the Princelings of the faction of the Senior Cadres might have on China should either side rule the country, and came to a shocking conclusion: for the Chinese people—minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang included, there would be no difference whether the country is governed by the Princelings or the faction of senior cadres. To them this would be like what the Chinese idiom says: replace the liquid but keep the medicinal herbs, a change in form but not in content. For example, the Children of Yan'an wrote in their article, “Our Suggestions to the 18th National People's Congress (Ninth Draft): Speech Materials from the Learning Center of the Association of the Children of Yan'an (one)”, that the problem of corruption could be resolved by simply adding twenty percent of directly elected party representatives—members from social communities of the marginalized second generation of the Red that promote Red Culture—to existing party committees of all levels and the Central Committee. They do not see the one-party dictatorship of the Communist Party as the root cause of the problem.

From this we could see the inner-party struggle between different factions of the Communist Party is triggering some noticeable reactions, but all sides in dispute believe the cure for all illnesses comprises those same ingredients, the only difference is who would be the agent to add water to that medicine pot. Hence, the question of which faction should govern is one that has no discussion values.

There are mainly three things to look at to determine which faction would benefit the general public if they rule the country: economic proposition, political belief and how clean the two factions are respectively. It's been said the Chinese people would ask no more once their stomach is full, so lets first examine the economic propositions and practices of these two.

Governing Performance of “Senior Cadres” vs Economic Proposition of the “Princelings”

The third and fourth generations of leaders came mainly from the ordinary people (whoever that are not part of the top level privileged clique are classified as ordinary people), and in theory they should be able to understand the importance of the people's livelihood. However, despite the growth in the country's total GDP in recent years, the Chinese populace did not see any improvement in their livelihood. Instead, they are being crushed by the three burdens of housing, medical care and education costs. To find a job is not easy; and the situation deteriorates to the point that even drinking clean water, eating harmless food and breathing unpolluted air become difficult. Landless peasants and city-dwellers facing forced demolition and eviction could not protect the meager living resource that is left for their family even if they set themselves on fire; and the whole country has to foot the bill of inflation caused by the government's over-issuance of currency. 

Judging from the fact that life is getting harder for the people, we could see that whether a leadership is composed of members from humble background or the elite clique is not relevant to their attention—or the lack of it—to the well-being of the people. Just like former Premier Zhu Rongji, who made no objection to the CPC* practice of prosecuting people for things they said or wrote even though he had been labeled as a Rightist because of his out-of-the-line remarks in his earlier years; he was not lenient in any degree to Rightists who shared his experience of oppression either.

Then, would a leadership headed by the princelings care more about the people’s livelihood? At the moment we could only draw reference from Bo Xilai’s “Chongqing model”, on which opinions are polarized. Leave my personal feelings aside, such a model has no possibility of long-term implementation because Bo's “singing the red” (Mao era songs) campaign is funded by his “hitting the black” (cracking down on corruption and organized crimes) campaign. But economic growth and a restructuring of China’s economy cannot be realized by a “singing the red” campaign.

Bo Xilai's advocacy of “sharing the cake before making it” is pure nonsense. If no cake is produced, then the perfect distribution of it in paper would just be castles in the air. To realize fair distribution through those pieces of cake grabbed from “hitting the black” would be like in the old days when the Communist Party launched the land reform campaign, they were still not able to lift the vast majority of the peasants out of poverty after they had distributed and used up all the landlords’ land and money.
Those princelings who intend to implement new policies after the 18th National People's Congress have not revealed any political platform, except perhaps the so-called “new democracy,” which in fact insists on the state monopoly of resources and some important economic areas, but allows the existence of private economy; and the people's livelihood means nothing more than letting the public have food on the table, no substantial difference from how things are now.

Shared Vision of All Factions inside the CPC: Strengthening its One-Party Dictatorship

And lets look at their political propositions. The Chinese people have experienced for more than two decades the political proposition of the third and fourth generations leaders who ascended from the common people. During the leadership of Jiang Zemin, the CPC did not vociferously criticize Western democratic system, an approach that more or less allowed the international community to have room for imagination: that economic development would without doubt aid China's democratization; that the marketization of the media would eventually bring about freedom of speech in China; and that rural grassroots elections would be the prelude to universal suffrage in China.
Under the Hu-Wen leadership, the CPC shifted back to the left in politics, and lifted the “assurance of the CPC's ruling power” to “a core national interest” that other countries must respect. If at this stage the people were still clinging on to the last illusion [that the regime would reform itself into a democracy], they have entered a politically dreamless era after Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress, announced the “five Nos” political principle in 2011: no multiparty elections, no diversity in guiding thought, no separation of powers, no federal system and no privatization.

Would the political proposition of the princelings differ in any way from those of top officials risen from the common people? Princeling Bo Xilai instigated in Chongqing the “Singing the red and hitting the black” campaigns and stated clearly his longing for the Cultural Revolution—an indication that he worships not just the one-party dictatorship of the CPC but the form of dictatorship that completely disregards law and order. And Zhang Musheng, adviser of the princeling clique headed by Liu Yuan (son of former chairman Liu Shaoqi), advocated the so-called “new democracy” which first [proposition] is to “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China”. Therefore, their political principles are the same as those of the third and fourth generation leaders.
Many think that the Princelings have a democratic mindset and a critical attitude toward the reality, their representative who has been referred to quite often is Major General Liu Yazhou. In 2004 Wang Yi wrote an article on that popular view, and Qian Liqun wrote another last year, their arguments were based mainly on an article that was allegedly written by Liu, “The Gains and Losses of China's Reform”. However, the article they saw as evidence of Liu's outspoken characteristic and possession of a democratic mindset was my earlier writing, published in No.76, Volume One of Modern China Studies in 2002. If anyone want to argue in favor of the Princelings, they need to look for evidence elsewhere. To cite from my article would definitely not work—those were my thoughts.
As for abuse of power and corruption, not much difference can be found between the senior cadres and the princeling factions. Both are corrupt, and differ only in their methods.
The strategies the princelings use to become super rich through the influence and resources amassed by their fathers has always been a hot topic in overseas media, which Beijing cannot control. Widely circulated data says that 90 percent of China’s billionaires are the children of high-ranking officials. The British Financial Times’ March 29, 2010 article “To the money born” is worth reading.
Officials from the common people faction are not much better when it comes to corruption. Some small county-level directors of Land and Resources Bureaus have amassed hundreds of millions of yuan.
Liu Zhijun and Zhang Shuguang, involved in the high profile Ministry of Railways corruption case last year, were both from a humble background. Zhang was able to funnel US$2.8 billion into his offshore bank account.
Huang Songyou, formerly vice president and judge of the Supreme People’s Court, was removed from his post and detained on charges of corruption. He was also said to be a womanizer who preyed on teenage girls. Huang also came from a poor family.
In summary, so long as the CPC's filthy political culture remains, anyone who comes to power under that system will not bring blessings to the people. The factional struggles within the CPC focus only on solving their internal affairs of who will come to power.

Rather than discussing which faction will win and rule China, it would be far more useful to discuss how to establish a democratic system that restricts political power and respects the rights of the people.