China’s Premier Wen Jiabao really has been on a roll in the past 8 months, seemingly mentioning the need for political reform and the importance of universal values like human rights, freedom and democracy on every possible occasion, starting with his prominently featured article about his former mentor Hu Yaobang in March.
The reactions have been diverse. Parts of the Western press celebrated Wen as China’s new reformer, weighing the possibility of fundamental change in the country’s political system. In liberal Chinese media too he was applauded for his orientation and determination on further reform, especially in the run-up to the party plenum in mid-October when hopes where running high that political reform might be a central issue – which it was not. Others stayed skeptic. Writer Yu Jie suggested that he was merely putting on a show in an attempt to mollify a public that is increasingly unsatisfied with the practices of officialdom. Others, like Hu Ping, pointed out that he might be sincere, but still in no position to take any kind of action.
Still, support has been pouring out to Wen, especially since it became known that the words of the Premier himself had repeatedly fallen prey to the censorship system, most notably his discussion of political issues (see below) during a CNN-interview in late September, cementing his status as a leading figure of the Chinese liberal wing. He also seems to have gotten a verbal smack on the back of his head: A prominent editorial in the party-mouthpiece People’s Daily dismissed the possibility of introducing Western-style democratic institutions (no surprises there) but also stated that “the idea that China’s political reform is seriously lagging behind its remarkable economic development is contrary to […] objective facts” – which seems to be a direct rebuttal to his words in Shenzhen (also see below).
Maybe the greatest impact of his speeches was that they served as an “ideological beacon” for intellectuals to launch their arguments for political reform and discuss specific steps deemed necessary (see for example here and here), but also to voice their general support for universal values and the ideals of freedom and democracy.
When I first read the article below on Hu Xingdous blog I filed it under the latter category, since it contained no explicit reform suggestions. When I found that the article had been harmonized a few days later, not only from his blog but also from others where it had been re-posted, I started wondering about why it had been deemed censorable. While it seems that a few posts containing parts of Wens harmonized interview have been deleted and the way Wens words were pieced together on Hu’s blog does make him sound like a co-author of the Charta 08, the use of the word “hero” and its implications might also have been a reason.
Once someone is elevated from the status of a normal person – which even Grandpa Wen still is – and is adapted as the hero of a cause, his original words and actions become less and less important. A hero serves as a canvas on which hopes, ideals and expectations are projected. He can become a catalyst for change.
Wen Jiabao, Hero of the Chinese People
Hu Xingdou, October 8th, 2010
Wen Jiabao is a real hero of the people and a true man of modern China. Within the last couple of month he has brought up [the topic of] political reform on six occasions, showing extraordinary courage. Especially the views that he expressed during an interview with CNN on September 23rd were groundbreaking:
- “The people’s wishes and need for democracy and freedom are something that cannot be stopped.”
- “No political party, organization, or individual should be above the constitution and the law. All must act in accordance with the constitution and laws. I see this as a defining feature of a modern political system. I have summed up my political ideals in the following four sentences: to let everyone lead a good and dignified life, to let everyone feel safe and secure, to create a fair and just society and to let everyone have confidence in the future.”
- “Although there are various debates and views in society and in spite of all kinds of obstacles, I will do everything in my power to unswervingly pursue the realization of my ideals and advance the process of political reform. I would like to say the following to underline my determination: ‘In spite of strong wind and harsh rain, I will not yield until my last breath.'”
- “It is the people and the power of the people that determine the history and the future of the nation. The wishes and will of the people are irresistible. Those who will walk along this way will thrive; those who go against it will fail.”
Wen Jiabaos “appeal” represents the conscience of officialdom and the hope of the people. It embodies the determination of the people and is a call out from a developing society. His words resonated with and shook the soul of every Chinese.
Before this interview, Wen Jiabao cited and further developed Deng Xiaoping’s ideas during his recent speech in Shenzhen:
- “We should not only promote the reform of the economic system, we also have to move forward with a reform of the political system. If we don’t ensure a reform of the political system, we are in danger of loosing the advancements we made in the economic reforms and will not be able to realize our goal of modernization.”
- “We must continue to emancipate us from old ideas and dare to explore. We cannot stagnate and even less move backwards. Stagnation and regression might not only ruin the achievements of 30 years of political reform and destroy valuable opportunities for development, it could also suffocate the vital undertaking of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Furthermore, acting against the will of the Chinese people can only be a dead end.”
At the National Work Conference for Legal Administration, Wen Jiabao – referring to the lack of rule of law and the personal rule that has taken hold in China – stressed, that the rule of law is the most important benchmark of a mature and modern political system, we must “govern according to the law and built a government founded on the rule of law”. “In a time of peace and development, the greatest danger to a ruling party is corruption. And the root of corruption is a lack of supervision and restriction of power. If these issues are not sufficiently resolved, the nature of the political power itself can change, leading to a situation where the whole undertaking comes to a stop because the leading figure ceases to exist.”
Wen Jiabao can be described as the direct successor of Deng Xiaoping in the cause of reform and opening-up. He holds up Deng’s ideas and continuously appeals for a liberation from old ideologies and further political reform. He cares about civil rights and peoples livelihood. Sparing no effort, walking into impoverished villages and dangerous mines, he also was the first to appear in the earthquake disaster area and at the location of the mud-slides. Countless Chinese were moved by these actions and history should always remember the name of this great Premier.
In one of his answers, Wen also pointed out that “democracy, rule of law, freedom, human rights, equality and fraternity are not [values] exclusive to capitalism, [but that] these are common achievements of the entire world reached in a long process of civilization and values pursued by all of humankind.” He believes that universal values are the root of the party and the foundation of the republic.
Thousands sacrificed their lives for the universal values of freedom and democracy. But now a group of people – that had once proudly pursued these ideals – has sunken into vested interests. “Freedom” and “democracy” became a thorn in their sides and thus turned into “sensitive” and “filtered” words. Have these people done justice to their predecessors and comrades-in-arms that sacrificed themselves for freedom and democracy? The word “republicanism” itself contains the concepts of freedom and democracy and thousands of corpses have piled up in the building of the republic. So when groups with vested interests and reactionaries try to ban those ideals today, they are essentially trying to subvert the republic and overturn the state!
Fortunately the people’s hero Wen Jiabao defends the founding principles of the party and the republic like a lone soldier and courageous knight. But he is by no means alone, the majority of 1.3 billion people stand behind him.
A small number of people – failing to understand high-level politics – criticize the Premier who is fighting bravely on his own for “showing off and playing nice” and insinuate that he is “all talk but no action”. They do not comprehend that Wen is only one person amongst nine and accounts for only one vote in nine, even less that his policy making power lies in the domain of economics. Expecting him to abolish the reeducation through labor system and to release certain people [is futile since these] are by no means things that he can accomplish. Furthermore [it should be considered] that for politicians speaking actually equals acting. [Speaking] is a form of social mobilization and its power and value might even be stronger than that of some particular actions.
Some people object that Wen is only about saving the existing system, since he always uses [official] terms like “socialistic” and other such concepts in his speeches, and that he hasn’t really pushed for independence of the legal system and freedom of the press as [a realization of] universal values. This understanding is indeed naïve. If Wen Jiabao – who is part of the system but also wants to promote social progress – had abandoned the language conventions of said system (and as a matter of fact, real socialism isn’t such a bad thing), he would have been cast of the stage a long time ago. And where are the opportunities to do something good for the people then? With populists and ultra-leftists accusing him of being a “capitalist roader” he is already being attacked from all sides.Therefore Wens distinctive way of speech actually reflects his great political wisdom.
Some denounce the support for Wen Jiabao as “infantilism” and think that it is a manifestation of a “servant mentality” of relying on wise monarchs and honest officials. Actually, in a people’s society officials can be criticized, but should also be praised, as long as all judgment is passed on the basis of dignity and equality. Indeed, China should not wait for wise monarchs and honest officials, instead citizens have a responsibility to show their appreciation and enthusiasm to the politicians with modern concepts that are here now.
Therefore, we give all our support to Premier Wen and hope that he realizes his aims – “To promote political reform with all one’s strength” and “to let equality and justice shine brighter than the sun.”
At the moment Wen might be the most powerless politician and some people might even rejoice when they see him besieged, but the majority of the Chinese people stand upright behind their hero – Wen Jiabao!
While it remains to be seen if Wen Jiabao is an idle talker, a true reformer or if he will turn out to be China’s highest ranking dissident, there surely are more eyes on him now when it comes to the political direction that China is going to take in the future. If the picture that Hu Xingdou draws of him is any indication, he does have the potential to become more than simply a politician/benevolent grandpa. As a hero, even an accidental one, he would not be so “powerless” anymore – just remember the chain of events that the death of the much revered reformer Hu Yaobang set in motion.