Lately, the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily has kept us all on our toes, in one breath sternly cautioning Party officials to mind what they say, and in the next speaking up for China’s voiceless. We wrote last month that the language in the People’s Daily can never be read as a simple reflection of consensus at the top of the Party, and that differing agendas or views can be voiced in the paper, or even face off in its pages, particularly when divisions within the Party become more pronounced — and many would argue that that is exactly the case right now.
Over the weekend, we had another hawkish surprise on the front page of the People’s Daily, a piece framed as a lengthy history of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) called, “The Party Commands the Gun, A Fundamental Guarantee of Moving From Victory to Victory” (党指挥枪，从胜利走向胜利的根本保证).
[ABOVE: Saturday’s edition of the People’s Daily, with the article on Party leadership of the army right under the masthead at upper left.]
The piece covers a lot of territory, from the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927, which marked the start of China’s civil war and the organization of the Red Army (later the PLA), to the Long March, and up to the present day and the PLA’s role, for example, in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. But the basic message of the piece is unmistakable: the Chinese Communist Party controls China’s military, and this is a fact that will never be compromised.
There are a couple of possible meanings, or readings, that can be gleaned from the People’s Daily piece as we approach the 90th anniversary of the CCP:
1. The Party is flaunting is military strength before the people, saying, essentially, “Look, the weapons are in our hands.” We will preserve stability, and we have the means.
2. Top Party leaders are sending a warning to military brass — we are your masters and you had better listen.
We won’t speculate any further as to the background of meaning number 2, but the reasons for 1 are clear enough, given successive incidents of violent social unrest in China, such as riots in Zengcheng earlier this month.
Given time constraints, we unfortunately cannot tackle a translation of the People’s Daily piece. But here are a couple of highlights emphasizing the Party’s leadership of the army.
“In September 2004, Hu Jintao emphasized during an important conference of the army that, ‘adhering to the absolute leadership of the army by the Party is the question of first importance in the building and development of the army. We must pay attention to this question throughout, grabbing it and not letting it go. At no time and under no condition can we blur or upset [this fact].”
“Mao Zedong pointed out profoundly: ‘Who made the Long March a victory? It was the Chinese Communist Party. Without the Chinese Communist Party, this sort of Long March would have been unimaginable.’ In his latter years [PLA general] Zhang Xueliang (张学良) was moved to say: ‘Only the Red Army led by the Chinese Communist Party could have created the miracle that was the Long March.'”
[Frontpage Photo: A painting depicting Mao Zedong at the Party Congress in December 1929, at which he emphasized that the Red Army must be under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.]