Yesterday we posted a partial translation of an essay by CMP fellow Zhai Minglei (翟明磊) that discussed the failures of CCP leadership, the need for political reform — and singled out Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) for criticism as a leader who has failed to act on his convictions.
A great deal of debate this year over Wen Jiabao’s various remarks on political reform, modernization, anti-corruption, the need for Chinese to live with greater dignity, etcetera, has focused on Wen’s sincerity. Does he really believe in universal values, or in human rights, or in democracy? Or is he just playing good cop for those hard-faced men in China’s politburo? Is he a true reformer? Or is he “China’s best actor“?
A recent piece by Hu Ping (胡平), the New York-based editor of the overseas Chinese publication Beijing Spring and a democracy activist, provides a concise and cool-headed reading of Wen’s recent remarks and his corresponding lack of action on political reform.
Hu Ping’s piece, which we have translated below, reminds us also that the fissures we glimpse in China’s politics today are not necessarily sudden and surprising rifts. They are the very nature of Party politics, and have been for some time.

How Should We View Wen Jiabao’s Words?
Hu Ping
September 8, 2010
Wen Jiabao’s repeated remarks on political reform have stirred up a great deal of debate, both inside and outside China. A number of my friends have remarked that his rhetoric must be backed up with action. It is not enough for Wen Jiabao to speak empty words. He needs to take real and concrete steps. What must Wen Jiabao do for us to trust in his sincerity? It’s simple, some people say. He needs to release the political prisoner Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波). If this is something Wen Jiabao cannot do, he is exposed as nothing more than an insincere cheat.
Of course I support the idea of releasing political prisoners as a basic gesture of justice. But I don’t think we can determine Wen Jiabao’s sincerity on this basis.
I am reminded in particular of two stories relating to the reformist Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦). Back in 1979, when the dissident Wei Jingsheng (魏京生) was arrested, Hu Yaobang is said to have voiced his opposition during an internal meeting. But even through the whole period during which Hu Yaobang served as general secretary, Wei Jingsheng remained in prison.
On the question of the rehabilitation of rightist Li Xiling (林希翎), General Secretary Hu Yaobang issued several declarations saying that Li should be rehabilitated. But by the time of Hu Yaobang’s death in 1989, Li Xiling had still not been rehabilitated. The reason for this was simple. Even though Hu Yaobang was in a high position, he could not enact many of his ideas and positions. His rather liberal positions had many outspoken opponents in high levels of leadership, and in those days the strength of the liberal faction was insufficient to fight off conservative forces to achieve his objectives.
Simply put, on the questions of releasing Wei Jingsheng and rehabilitation Li Xiling, Hu Yaobang did not lack the inclination so much as real ability.
Today, the situation facing Wen Jiabao is much the same as that which faced Hu Yaobang, and perhaps even nastier. The idea that words must be backed up with action — this is something that applies to those who have a real capacity to match words with actions. Only in the following two situations could Wen Jiabao satisfy our expectations: 1) Wen Jiabao is a true dictator; 2) those in the highest levels of power share Wen Jiabao’s convictions. If these preconditions are not satisfied then Wen Jiabao cannot live up to our expectations.
Please note that I am not throwing my hat into the ring on whether Wen Jiabao is sincere or insincere in what he says. What I am saying is that even if Wen Jiabao is sincere, he is nevertheless unable to satisfy our expectations in this regard. So we cannot determine that he is a cheat simply because he has not acted on his words.
If Wen Jiabao were not the only one, if the other eight members of the politburo had made similar pronouncements, then in that case we would certainly be right to demand the release of political prisoners as a token of sincerity. So far, Wen Jiabao is singing all on his own, and that is another matter altogether.
Let’s think about this. Under the current situation, would it be better of us to voice our demands to Wen Jiabao, asking that he release political prisoners? Or would it more productive to demand of the other eight that they make a clear showing of where they stand of the question of universal values?
The answer is obvious. Pursuing Wen Jiabao is of less avail than pursuing those eight others.

[Frontpage photo by citizenoftheworld available at under Creative Commons license.]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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