Now that the sixth plenary session of the 17th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party is history — see our coverage of so-called cultural system reforms announced at the meeting — it’s time to begin looking ahead to next year’s 18th National Party Congress, which will mark a critical transition in China’s top leadership. So much seems bewildering about China’s closed and secretive political system. But we’ll do our best to shed some light on the messy process in a series of posts in coming months.
In a post later this month we’ll discuss the issue of leadership selection and so-called “intra-party democracy” in China, and the (for many) bewildering notion of the “election differential” (选举差额). For now, however, we turn to a recent interview with retired senior cadre Du Daozheng (杜导正), the publisher of the progressive monthly journal Yanhuang Chunqiu (炎黄春秋).

[ABOVE: Du Daozheng appears on the cover of the most recent edition of Guangdong’s Southern People Weekly.]
In the interview, published in the most recent issue of Guangdong’s Southern People Weekly magazine, Du discusses Chinese politics and history in light of its present challenges, offering a good overview of some of the issues at stake in the lead up to the 18th Congress.
For more background on Du Daozheng, we encourage readers to turn to this 2007 interview translated by Roland Soong, and this 2009 interview in The New York Times.

Du Daozheng: I’m optimistic about the China’s prospects
— a conversation with Du Daozheng (杜导正)
Southern People Weekly: You compare China’s political situation to a pressure cooker. Would do you think the people inside the pressure cooker should do?
Du Daozheng: Pressure cookers have a valve, and the more you turn this valve the more pressure builds up, until one day the whole thing explodes. Once the explosion happens everyone falls on hard times, and no one has an advantage. And so, I hope we can take the path of reformism (改良主义).
The tension in China rights now can be summed up in 16 words: “Official corruption, a wide income gap, a collapse of ethics and morals, and poor public security.” [NOTE: The 16 “characters” in Chinese here are, 官场腐败,贫富悬殊,道德滑坡,治安不好]. Chinese now have food on the table and roofs over their heads. They are no longer at war, and feel they can get by. But corruption is so severe, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, and the level of frustration ordinary Chinese feel with the government continues to rise. This is really dangerous.
Southern People Weekly: We’ve just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. How do assess these past 100 years?
Du Daozheng: Sun Yat-sen had a profound influence on China, on the [Chinese Communist Party], on generations of intellectuals. The Xinhai Revolution was a banner, and this is something that even the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan doesn’t dare deny. It’s really regrettable that in mainland China we have failed to use the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution as an opportunity to promote the democratic process.
When we look back on Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Principles of the People” (三民主义), we can see their relevance still. Mao Zedong made many mistakes, but on the issue of national sovereignty, judging historically, what he collectively represents has merit. When I was young we would read the newspapers and be left with the sense that the country was doomed. We lost China’s three northeastern provinces [to the Japanese], and then came Chahar and Rehe [both Mongolian provinces]. National independence, and equal status among nations, this was raised by Sun Yat-sen, it was a concern of Chiang Kai-shek’s, but ultimately the issue was resolved in the era of Mao Zedong.
The leadership position of the Chinese Communist Party has relied upon both “nationalism” and the “people’s welfare,” [two of Sun Yat-sen’s original “three principles”]. But now corruption and the wealth gap has reached such a point that the problem of “people’s power” [or “democracy”] must be resolved. Power must be checked. We cannot rely on morality to provide a check, so this commending of moral principles that we’re seeing right now is of no use. Dealing with internal corruption at the roots is something very difficult for [the Party] to handle itself — it’s like growing a huge boil on one hand and trying to cut it off with a knife in the other. You can’t do it.
There are three things we have to do now. The first is intra-party democracy. The second is reforming the people’s congress system. The third is opening up public opinion [NOTE: in other words, relaxing media policy].
Southern People Weekly: Have the heard the various voices among those now in power [on this issue]?
Du Daozheng: There are good people inside officialdom too right now. A central Party leader stepping down told me that one time he visited a certain province and the situation as introduced to him by the Party secretary [of that province] was one thing, but after the meeting the two of them spoke privately and that provincial secretary said that everything he had just said was said out of obligation only.
If there’s anything I’ve learned through my life of experience it’s that any person, any group, any ruling party, any particular matter, is always very complex, nuanced and changeable. And so when we look at, analyze and handle issues, we must avoid over-simplification and absolutism. I think this applies to all problems.
Southern People Weekly: There are some people who believe that the violent revolution set off by the Xinhai Revolution created a century of unrest for China, that if the self-strengthening movement at the end of the Qing dynasty had been successful, creating a constitutional monarchy, things in China would have gone very differently.
Du Daozheng: The Guangxu Emperor wanted to take the path of Japan’s Meiji Restoration, and if he had been successful this would have been a boon for China. China would not be as it is now, but would be a powerful capitalist nation. But he failed after all. The Empress Dowager Cixi suppressed him. Before her death her own thoughts turned to reform. At the time, forces within the court began to rise [in favor of reform] and many ministers from many parts [of China] had different ideas, that not seeking reform was not an option. She [Cixi] permitted privately-run newspapers, and almost immediately more than 100 publications were launched in Shanghai. But it was too late. The United League had already risen and was calling for revolution. This is the concern in China right now. The lessons of history are rich indeed. All blood and tears.
Southern People Weekly: America is right now experiencing this “occupy Wall Street” movement, and some Chinese have rejoiced in this, saying that the West is in decline and the East is rising.
Du Daozheng: Compared to China the problems facing the West are minor ones. Even if they make a bigger fuss, it won’t come to armed insurrection, because their democratic institutions determine that the people have the right to choose and remove their government. It’s possible under democratic social institutions to constantly reform and correct errors [in society]. There is great vitality, and therefore stability. Internally, they are far more stable that appearances suggest.
Southern People Weekly: Lately, one of the terms that makes governments at all levels of [China’s bureaucracy] nervous is stability preservation. What do you think makes for a stable society?
Southern People Weekly: Lately, one of the terms that makes governments at all levels of [China’s bureaucracy] nervous is stability preservation. What do you think makes for a stable society?
Du Daozheng: Right now large-scale revolution is impossible in China, but small-scale unrest is widespread. In my view, the best thing would be to take a number of quick steps forward while preserving the leadership status of the Chinese Communist Party, preserving current political power, and preserving the present social structure. Recently, a number of sons and daughters of old cadres have talked about how aside from truly advancing intra-party democracy, there is a need to quickly advance the reform of the people’s congress system, including raising the quota of people’s congress delegates for the people by 20 percent. I think this is a good idea.
Southern People Weekly: Recently in Guangdong there was a child who was struck twice by vehicles and then was ignored by 18 passersby who rendered no help at all. How do you see that incident?
Du Daozheng: There is a moral collapse behind this incident, and also weakness in our legal institutions — after I’ve saved you, and you turn and level charges against me, I could face prison time.
Morals are far too weak as a part of our education system. Right now we stop at nothing for scientific and technological development. Just look at how our country places little priority on culture and human affairs, but only awards science and technology. This is not unlike [the situation under] Stalin. Stalin had little regard for the humanities and only cultivated Gorky and a number of intellectuals who would do his bidding. Mostly he supported and cultivate those in the sciences and technology.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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