Readers may recall that an essay by Yu Keping (俞可平), a key theorist in Hu Jintao’s circle, created waves back in late 2006. Yu’s essay, “Democracy is a Good Thing,” argued that democracy was indispensable if China wanted to build a strong and modern socialist society. Today, just weeks before the all-important 17th National Congress, Yu Keping spoke out once again in the pages of Beijing Daily, in an article praising Hu Jintao and linking the president’s notion of “liberation of thought” (解放思想) – a phrase first used at the 1978 congress, when Deng Xiaoping introduced the Four Modernizations – to such issues as “human rights” and “constitutionalism.”


[Screenshot of Yu Keping essay as it appeared on today]

We have no way of knowing whether Yu’s article represents the reform hopes of China’s top leader (whether Yu, in other words, is airing out Hu’s ideas to gauge public and party response), or whether the theorist is out on his own limb. But the essay should, at any rate, be the subject of lively debate leading up to next month’s congress.
The following are (hasty) excerpts of Yu’s essay as it appeared on Xinhua News Agency’s website:

Since reform and opening, many new concepts like “constitutionalism” (法治), “human rights” (人权) and “people as the foundation” (以人为本) have entered the political and social spheres in our country and been a force pushing progress on democratic politics in China (中国民主政治).
Hu Jintao pointed out in his June 25 speech that “liberation of thought (解放思想) is the basic requirement and character of our party’s course and thinking, a talisman with which we can meet new situations and new problems on the road ahead.” We can say that liberation of thought and the renewal of ideology are a key impetus behind social and political progress. As Comrade Deng Xiaoping said, changes in ideas and concepts are the preconditions of reform work. He said: “If we do not break through rigidness of ideas, there is no hope for the Four Modernizations.” More than 20 years of reform in China have shown thoroughly that conceptual changes have an extremely close connection with social and political progress …
[Brief history of concept of “people as the foundation” in China since 1949]
Just as with “people as the foundation”, so too has the concept of human rights been spurned [in China] as bourgeois ideology and criticized politically. Criticism of the idea of human rights has brought, in the realm of experience, the neglect of citizens’ human rights, the most terrifying example being the ten-year trampling on human rights that was the Cultural Revolution. After the mid-1980s some theorists began talking about human rights and looking with greater interest at Marxism’s views on human rights as well as introducing Western ideas about human rights. But these efforts were seriously impeded by the forces of traditional theory, to the extent that some proponents of Marxist human rights theory were branded “bourgeois free intellectuals” (资产阶级自由化分子) … At the turn of the millennium, the concept of human rights began to enter the language of the party and government, and at the end of 2003 the Central Party formally wrote the phrase “protection of citizens’ human rights” into the national constitution, a move unanimously approved by people’s congress representatives in March 2004 …
China is a country with a more than 2,000-year history of autocratic rule, and one of the toughest lessons of the ten-year Cultural Revolution was the need to move from autocracy to constitutionalism. After opening and reform, the party and government began to emphasize a legal system (法制) and rule by law (依法治国) . . . After the 1980s, some theorists began promoting “rule of law” (法治/以法治国) … From the beginning the idea of rule of law was given a strong priority by party and government leaders. In the mid-1980’s some party leaders pointed out that as China’s only ruling party, the CCP must act within the framework of the law and that party organizations or and individual leaders did not have special rights allowing them to act above the law. In the 1990s, “rule of law” made its formal entry into party and government documents. The political report to the 15th National Congress was the first to clearly state the objective of “building a socialist country [operating under] rule of law” (建立社会主义法治国家). Before long, this objective was written into our country’s constitution, making the transition from a political goal of the CCP to a political goal of the nation.

For more on “liberation of thought” and Hu Jintao’s political report to the 17th Congress, stay tuned for the fourth article in Qian Gang’s “The Insight Track” series, which will appear Wednesday, September 19.
[Posted by David Bandurski, September 17, 2007, 4:20pm]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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