Chinese leaders revive Marxist orthodoxy
By Willy Lam
Two unusual developments in elite Chinese politics have observers wondering if
the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is moving toward political reform and changes
in its policy toward ethnic minorities.
On April 15, Premier Wen Jiabao published an article in the People's Daily -
the party's mouthpiece - that heaped accolades on the late party chief Hu
Yaobang, who was sacked by patriarch Deng Xiaoping in 1987 for failing to deal
harshly with free-thinking intellectuals. On top of that, the hardline "Emperor
of Xinjiang", Wang Lequan, was replaced last weekend as party secretary of the
Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR) by the Hunan party boss, Zhang Chunxian, who
is deemed a moderate.
While noteworthy, these portents of possible liberalization, however, have been
counter-balanced by potent flare-ups of
orthodoxy at the party-ideology level. Senior cadres and theoreticians have
been called on to uphold the mantra of Chinese-style Marxism as the be-all and
end-all of politics. Moreover, instead of relying on political reforms to
defuse socio-political contradictions, the CCP leadership is devoting
unprecedented resources to boosting its security and control apparatus.
Wen's eulogy of Hu has elicited attention in and out of China because the
liberal party leader's death 21 years ago was the immediate cause of student
protests that ended in the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown. In his article,
Wen saluted Hu's "superior working style of being totally devoted to the
suffering of the masses". The premier, who worked under Hu from 1985 to 1987,
also praised his former boss's "lofty morality and openness [of character]".
The article has led to speculation that the CCP leadership might consider
re-introducing reforms associated with Hu - and even reappraising the verdict
on the June 4, 1989, massacre. The day the article appeared, some 20,000
Chinese posted comments on sina.com, a popular portal. Many hailed the article
as a "positive development" in the direction of liberalization.
There is, however, no credible evidence that Wen's intent is to signal that the
CCP is about to inaugurate a cycle of reform. Yang Jisheng, a former Xinhua
News Agency editor and biographer of the late Zhao Ziyang - who was ousted
after the Tiananmen incident - said the piece could "not be interpreted as a
harbinger for the return of reforms".
Moreover, the decision to rehabilitate Hu's reputation had been made by
President Hu Jintao and his Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) colleagues in
early 2005. On the late leader's 90th birthday in November of that year, the
CCP held a commemorative meeting at the Great Hall of the People in which Hu
posthumously received effusive praise for his contribution to the party and
Political observers in Beijing say it is probable that Wen's article is an
effort by President Hu to bolster the status of the Communist Youth League
(CYL) as the dominant - and perhaps most progressive - faction within the
party. Indeed, Hu Yaobang was a founder of the league, and it was owing to his
patronage that Hu Jintao became CYL first party secretary in 1984. It is
understood that in the run-up to the 18th CCP Congress scheduled for 2012,
President Hu has been pulling out all the stops to induct more CYL affiliates
to the politburo and PBSC.
The removal of Wang, who has been the number one official in Xinjiang since
1995, has also been taken as a sign that the Hu-Wen leadership might want to
turn a new page in Beijing's policy toward the Uyghurs. At its just-concluded
Work Meeting on Xinjiang, the politburo vowed to "promote harmonious relations
among masses of different nationalities and different religions, and to
consolidate and develop harmony and stability in Xinjiang society".
Wang's replacement, former Hunan party secretary Zhang, is deemed a pragmatist
who may eventually revise some of Wang's draconian policies against ethnic
minorities. These include suppressing Uyghur identity and cracking down hard on
Uyghur intellectuals who demand that XAR officials vouchsafe to Uyghurs the
degree of autonomy in cultural and religious matters that are guaranteed by the
Yet there seems a higher likelihood that the Hu leadership will continue its
time-honored iron-fisted approach toward taming the restive autonomous region.
The main theme of the Xinjiang Work Meeting is to "uphold national unity and
safeguard national security" and to safeguard the party's proverbial "long
reign and perennial stability" in western China.
Top priority is being placed on buttressing military and security forces in the
SAR. The public security budget for Xinjiang in 2010 was set at 2.89 billion
yuan (US$423 million), up 88% from last year.
Moreover, the policy of Sinicization - facilitating the migration of more Han
Chinese businessmen, technicians and laborers to the XAR - has received a big
boost. This past month, the party secretaries and other top officials from
cities and provinces including Beijing, Guangdong, Liaoning, Jiangxi and
Zhejiang visited Xinjiang under the banner of "assisting Xinjiang in economic
[construction], providing Xinjiang with cadres and talents, and helping educate
Xinjiang [residents]". A record number of state-run and private businesses from
these eastern and central regions are set to move westward this year.
Far from resurrecting Hu Yaobang's famously tolerant and seemingly conciliatory
policies toward intellectuals and ethnic minorities, the CCP leadership has
further relied on its formidable control apparatus to snuff out challenges to
its authority. It is significant that Wang's new posting is as deputy secretary
of the CCP Central Commission on Political and Legal Affairs (CCPLA), the
country's highest-level organ on law enforcement and wei-wen, or
maintenance of political stability.
The powers and establishment of the CCPLA, which has direct control over the
police, prosecutor's offices and the courts, have been augmented the past few
years. Particularly since the July 5, 2009, riots in Xinjiang, which resulted
in the death of 197 residents, the CCPLA has vastly strengthened its network of wei-wen
The National People's Congress last March approved outlays worth 514 billion
yuan ($75.26 billion) for public-security departments this year, which are
almost as big as the People's Liberation Army budget of 532 billion yuan
($77.89 billion). The regional Chinese media have disclosed that this year's wei-wen
budget for provinces and cities including Liaoning, Guangdong, Beijing, Suzhou
had jumped at least 15% over that of 2009.
At the same time, cadres responsible for ideology and the media are sparing no
efforts to push forward President Hu's slogans about "Sinicizing and
popularizing Marxism" as a means to ensuring socio-political stability and
promoting national cohesiveness. At a recent forum on "Promoting Popular
Contemporary Chinese Marxism", director of the CCP Propaganda Department Liu
Yunshan urged cadres to "deeply grasp the laws of Marxist development, and to
better arm the entire party - and educate the people - with the theoretical
system of Chinese socialism". "We must take hold of the people through better
[use of] the latest fruits of the Sinicization of Marxism," said Liu, a
conservative commissar who is also member of the CCP politburo.
Ideologues and propagandists have, since the winter, been waging a campaign
that is focused on "distinguishing four boundaries". In a nutshell, party
commissars are demanding that China's intellectuals, particularly college
teachers and students, make clear-cut distinctions between four sets of values.
They are Marxism versus anti-Marxism; a mixed economy that is led by
Chinese-style public ownership on the one hand, and an economic order that is
dominated by either private capital or total state ownership on the other;
democracy under socialism with Chinese characteristics versus Western
capitalist democracy; and socialist thoughts and culture on the one hand, and
feudal and corrupt capitalist ideas and culture on the other.
According to ideologue Li Xiaochun, "Party members and cadres must buttress
their political sensitivity and their ability in political discrimination. We
must bolster [our] ideological defense line through self-consciously drawing a
demarcation between Marxism and anti-Marxism," he said.
Moreover, in a paper on differentiating socialist and capitalist democracy, the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Center on Socialist Systems pointed out that
Western democracy was no more than "the game of the rich" and "democracy of the
pocket book". The piece concluded that the quintessence of Chinese democracy
must remain "democratic people's dictatorship" - and not Western-style
Meanwhile, politburo member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, who raised
eyebrows last year by spearheading a large-scale resuscitation of "red" or
Maoist values in his west-China metropolis, has persevered with his campaign to
revive policies and norms associated the Great Helmsman.
Apart from staging "revolutionary operas" and putting up Mao Zedong statues, Bo
and company have sought to take better care of disadvantaged sectors in the
municipality by building more "social-security apartments" and providing
near-universal healthcare and pension. "Singing the praise of 'redness' means
supporting what is right," Bo, a leading member of the so-called Gang of
Princelings, said recently. "A city must do a good job of nurturing spiritual
civilization." He added that cadres who are obsessed with gross domestic
product GDP rates - but who lacked spiritual values - may "go down the road of
corruption and degeneration".
With the 18th party congress little more than two years away, PBSC members and
other senior cadres are preoccupied with sustaining socio-political stability -
and paving the way for the elevation of faction affiliates into the new central
committee and politburo. These conditions seem to militate against
liberalization, which is seen as disruptive and destabilizing.
Seen in this perspective, Premier Wen's eulogy of Hu Yaobang and personnel
changes in Xinjiang seem little more than efforts to placate the liberal wing
of the party and the intelligentsia. For the foreseeable future, what party
ideologues call the "leitmotif of the times" will likely remain, boosting the
socialist orthodoxy in conjunction with beefing up the security apparatus.
Dr Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation. He
has worked in senior editorial positions in international media including
Asiaweek newsmagazine, South China Morning Post, and the Asia-Pacific
Headquarters of CNN. He is the author of five books on China, including the
recently published Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders,
New Challenges. Lam is an Adjunct Professor of China studies at Akita
International University, Japan, and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.