Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Zhao lives

Zhao Ziyang died under house arrest two years ago now. And in case you were wondering why, exactly, he was under house arrest in the first place, a new book will remind you:
Zhao Ziyang’s thoughts, available in a new book, point to his vision of change in China. The deposed Party Chief supported more elections, party democracy, and accountability.

Speaking from the grave, a remarkable Chinese political figure is calling for drastic changes in the Communist Party, including the elimination of the post of party chief, the abolition of party branches in ministries and companies, the introduction of independent trade unions and direct popular election of officials up to the city level.

In life, Zhao Ziyang, who was prime minister and party general secretary for nine years until he was purged after he refused to sanction the crackdown and massacre of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, was an unpleasant reality for Beijing, a popular reformer who was kept under house arrest until he died in January 2005.
While certain aspects of Zhao's programs may eventually be adopted by the People's Republic, I'm going to reiterate my belief that the Communist party simply cannot survive local elections at the city level. The moment any kind of crisis came along, you'd have a perfect recipe for chaos -- the mayors of the largest cities in China (certainly Shanghai, Beijing, Nanking, Chungking) would, if directly elected, hold more authority (or legitimacy) than the officials nominally calling the shots.

Further, the idea of delinking the party from government and business is a perfectly rational idea... if your aim is to eventually remove the party from government. I have a hard time believing that these kinds of reforms can be started and stopped to the liking of high officials.

(One of the ideas I like to think about is what kind of country a democratic China will be. There's a lot of factors that would, I think, push other countries towards a weak-federalist model. But national unity has a kind of totemic power in China, and this is a country that still remembers the period of warlordism pre-1949.)

Now, I think elections would be a good thing because I don't think the CPC could coexist peacefully with them for long. But as I say, you can understand why Zhao was under house arrest until his death.

For more backstory, see here.

And this quote from the same article is just priceless, illustrating why exactly Deng Xiaopeng was such a bastard:
“A Communist Party that does not crush the masses is certainly not a Marxist Communist Party,” he once said.
There's an honesty there that you almost have to admire.


Oberlinblogger said...

"I have a hard time believing that these kinds of reforms can be started and stopped to the liking of high officials."

But hasn't Chinese history over the last half century basically involved pushing just this sort of radical reform, and then crushing dissent when it gets out of hand? Which is not to say that it couldn't bring down the country, but I bet an awful lot of people would have said that the CPC couldn't survive introducing price-deregulation, labor "reform", and private enterprise.

I agree with you that there probably couldn't be a stable situation with elected leaders in charge of major cities, though there was a Shanghai Commune running Shanghai independently from the CPC during the Cultural Revolution, wasn't there?

-Sam L.

john said...

In fact, a lot of people said exactly that -- including, amusingly enough, my Chinese politics professor. He had the misfortune of putting it in writing... a decade ago. Haw.

I agree that people tend to under-estimate the capacity of the CPC to adapt. That said, I think having an elected leader of a major city would be quantitatively different. The Shanghai Commune -- like the Cultural Revolution generally -- was tightly controlled by Mao, so "independent" is a bit of a misnomer. Independent of the party itself, maybe...