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Wan Li’s Speech: A Ruling Party Should Establish Fundamental Political Ethics

Recently, an article titled "A Ruling Party Should Establish Fundamental Political Ethics" has been widely circulated among China’s Internet users. [1] The speculation is that this article was compiled based on four consecutive conversations between a former senior leader of the CCP, and a young professor from the Party School of the CCP’s Central Committee. Many Chinese netizens believe the "speech-giver" is Wan Li, who once was the Vice Premier, a member of the Poliburo, and at other top leadership positions. This speech that he allegedly delivered, and which sharply criticized the CCP, has aroused widespread attention. Radio Free Asia, Deutsche Welle, and The Epoch Times, have generated a number of reports, while Beijing denied it as "fabricated" via the Hong Kong China News Agency. The following are excerpts from the speech. [2]

 “It has been sixty years since our country was founded. Still, there are too many things in our country that have not changed. The most fundamental fact is that this country is still led by the Chinese Communist Party; it is a fact everyone knows. What lies behind this fact? For example, our party has over 70 million party members, and it is the largest party. But until today, this party has never registered itself at any of the administrative departments for social organizations. What in turn, lies behind this fact? The thing is, even today, our country does not have any legal provision for political parties. It has been sixty years, but this area is still a blank. Nothing has changed. Our country does not yet have a political party system that complies with contemporary political standards. ‘The state is still the Party’s state,’ and not the ‘Party is a party of the state.’ In the past sixty years, the concept of the ‘party and state leaders’ has never changed. In terms of the financial system, the dividing line between the party treasury and the state treasury has never been established. Let’s take another look. The army with millions of soldiers is still called the liberation army. It has not changed. It is not our nation’s military force in a true sense. The highest leader of the army is still the highest leader of the party. The indistinguishable entity of ‘the party and the army’ has not been replaced by an army under the leadership of the state.  It has not changed even a bit in sixty years. Even within the party, there has been no genuine electoral competition system for sixty years, not to mention at the national level. …The term of consultation that we often speak of, as a matter of fact, is still the secret operation that we have been practicing since the war period. These are the basic facts, and they can be extended to touch upon many basic principles that deserve a thorough discussion. The discussion must be based upon these basic facts. Young people should really learn more about history. I remember at the initial stage of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), several members from different democratic parties wrote a letter to the central CCP committee suggesting that Zhongnanhai (Editor’s Note: the Chinese communist leaders’ compound) be returned to the people. The imperial garden should be preserved as a public cultural memorial. In the early 1980s, the Secretariat of the Central Committee received similar suggestions, with one more item, which was that the organizations of the central CCP Committee should have office signs, such as General Office of the CCP Central Committee, Organization Department of the CCP Central Committee, Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee, and United Front Department of the CCP Central Committee. These are all departments of the ruling party; they are not illegal underground organizations. This suggestion was passed around to several members of the Secretariat, but we never discussed it at any conference. (Editor’s Note: putting up a sign for the party offices is an example that the speech-giver uses here to demonstrate that the party’s operation needs to be more open instead of black-box.) These two issues also have not changed in the least in sixty years.”

“Is this kind of lack of change a political privilege? Or is it a political habit, or a political standstill? They need to be studied and analyzed carefully. Do not draw overly generalized and empty conclusions.”

 “I don’t agree with sayings such as ‘Sixty Glorious Years’ and ‘Fifty Glorious Years.’ That is not true. The hard times of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ lasted for three or four years; the ten years of chaos during the Cultural Revolution cannot be labeled as glorious. Even words used in propaganda should be accurate and comply with fundamental facts. If you don’t eliminate those years, the people will remove them from their hearts and the historians will also eliminate them, (not counting them as glorious). Ordinary Party members will do the same. For several years during the 1990s, I said more than once that political propaganda has strayed too far from reality. What does this mean? This is uncivilized, barbarous propaganda. Some years ago, the stevedores’ mishandling of goods on the wharves was called barbarous loading and unloading, and it was then regulated. This barbarous propaganda should also be regulated. … We should indeed have a good celebration of the sixtieth anniversary, but we should also rethink matters carefully. The whole nation and the whole Party should reflect upon (the past sixty years). A governing party, the only governing party of a great country, a party that has governed for sixty years, should, after all, have the courage to rethink these matters. …Here I am saying things that ancient Chinese preached over one thousand years ago. When I think of that, it makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

“Sixty years have passed since the founding of the PRC. In the early years of the New China, there were some political reasons for some policies, but do those hold true for the entire sixty years? Are those political reasons still valid today? Are they still acceptable? If these political reasons still remain tenable, then how can the word ‘glorious’ be applied to these sixty years of state power development, ideological development, and cultural development? A system that tolerates different views still has not been built up. It simply shows that this bit of Stalinism is floating around, which is, ‘As the development of the revolution becomes more successful, the enemy’s opposition becomes more serious.’”

“In our Party there are many people who like to brag that everything is done correctly now, but they don’t present even a basic accounting of why things were not done correctly in the past. People often say that a prodigal who returns is more precious than gold. The preconditions for being more precious than gold are to reflect and to accept responsibility. Our country is such a great and influential country; our party is such a huge party; how can it be acceptable if we always muddle along like this. When the wrong person has been assigned to an (important) position, the person who recommended him/her does not have to be responsible, nor does the evaluation system, or the consultative system. The disciplinary and inspection committee only cares for the investigations and prosecutions but does not consider the negligence of those who were supposed to appoint and supervise these people. They get these people arrested and executed, and then the case is considered to be closed. Moreover, getting them prosecuted is praised as a great accomplishment. With things operated in this manner, how can a country avoid becoming one in which no one takes responsibility? How can our Party not become an irresponsible Party? If things continue this way, doesn’t it mean there are no political ethics to speak of?”

“For sixty years, our country has not developed a social force that can compete with the Communist Party, and that can send reminders to and supervise our Party. When people express different views, because they do not reflect the correctness of the Communist Party, they fall on deaf ears. But the full power to govern also means taking the entire responsibility. That is not the case either. During these past sixty years, how many times was the development of the country hindered, the opportunities for development of both our nation and our people lost, and the constitutional rights not granted! That situation is very immoral.”

“Starting from the time of the founding of the Communist Party, our Party has said that it represents the peasants and the workers. After 1949, it said it represents all the hundreds of millions of Chinese people. Down to the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the PRC, these claims remain unchanged. Everyone knows that for sixty years, China has not established serious and rigorous political procedures to ensure its right to represent the people, whether through elections or other means.”

“Some provincial governors and city mayors from my home province often come to visit me. I always tell them, ‘One needs to go through the electoral process to obtain a position like yours. You need to rely on your own abilities to get elected. You shouldn’t always rely on the behind the scenes operation of the party organization within the People’s Congress delegation. If you rely on that to get elected, you should blush.’ If you count on Party members with the right to vote by imposing party discipline to implement all the party’s decisions, that is just ‘party activities within the legislature.’ That can be regarded as legal, but still, on many occasions, it becomes a method for suppressing dissident views. What other political party is there that can compare in size with the Communist Party? This is a system of unfair competition. It has been this way for sixty years. It hasn’t changed. This system can hardly be defined as serious and rigorous. According to the present election law, this is not illegal, yet it violates political ethics. It is the same as a single political party controlling the election process. This system makes it hard for the views of the people to be expressed. Anyone should be able to see that.”

“For the past sixty years, in response to various crises, including political unrest, internal disputes, pressure from public opinion, and abnormal personnel changes, the Communist party has come up with a standard pattern of emergency responses. The Party has also built up quite a lot of members with talent. With all these advantages, why hasn’t the Party been willing to engage in open inter-party competition? … Today there are still some people who would say conditions are still not ripe for the Chinese people to have genuine democratic elections. That is just like saying that China has many peasants, many poorly educated people, and China doesn’t have a democratic tradition — all these are disadvantages. However, if these disadvantages were to be turned into advantages, then the advantages of the Communist Party organization would disappear. When that happens, why not have a democratic election? When will this unsolvable knot of political ethics be finished with and untied? Sixty years have already passed. How many more decades will we have to wait?”

“Sixty years have passed since the founding of the PRC. We need to return to a fundamental issue. What do the citizens of this country want? What method should be used so that they can express their true wishes? The Soviet Union didn’t know how to answer that question. The state and party collapsed after 69 years. I have never been a populist. On the basis of my decades of political experience, I dare to say that the expression of popular views is part of the ‘infrastructure’ of the country’s political system and also a measure of the country’s progress and civilization level.”

“Nowadays television broadcasts report how people want to become rich and want to improve their lives. That is progress because before people weren’t allowed to say that openly. Who is to be held responsible for not having allowed people to speak? Don’t people today want to get rich? They want to get involved in more social and political affairs; they want more rights, more opportunities to develop. Why aren’t they allowed to say this openly? Who will take responsibility for not letting them speak? Sixty years have gone by. Shouldn’t we say that those errors in handling public opinion were the most serious errors the Communist Party made, which shall be written into the history books.”

 “Many people vulgarize public opinion and use it for their own personal gains. They distort public opinion and hold public opinion ‘hostage’ to oppose reasonable demands for reform and to oppose calls to revise erroneous policies. The consequences are very serious and are an even more serious violation of political ethics.”

“Sixty years have passed. There are many things that should change and can be changed, but that kind of logic makes the changeable become something that cannot be changed or may not be changed. If fundamental political ethics are to be established, there are many obstacles that we must overcome. The first is that for the past sixty years, our Party has bound itself with the state, so that every one of the twists and turns of all these years were all caused by the twists and turns of our Party itself. These twists and turns of our Party brought disaster to the state and to ordinary people. All these years we told the people that if it weren’t for the Communist Party, there would be chaos. The people are very afraid of these twists and turns and want stability — this has become ‘public opinion,’ as our party has continued to be the only ruling party. When will this cycle end?”

“The second has to do with how to enable the people to understand history and understand the true facts. We need to make clear some basic facts. For the past sixty years, the statements we have used most are, ‘The lives of tens of millions of martyrs paid for the red mountains and rivers.’ This is one of the main reasons for the legitimacy of the Communist Party as the ruling party. Tens of millions of people died for the New China. This is a basic fact. Another basic fact is why they made this sacrifice? They came one after another, taking the place of fallen comrades, because the Communist Party had established goals and ideals.”

“History will eventually reveal the truth to the people. If not in sixty years, then in seventy, if not in seventy years, maybe in eighty years, the people will know. In 1991, some experts wrote a report for the Central Committee, which analyzed the reasons for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. According to the report, Gorbachev’s open policy destroyed the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union. I would put a big question mark after this conclusion. I would say that it wasn’t that his open policy went the wrong way, but that it came too late. In many matters, there are  always people who treat a positive experience as a lesson and treat a lesson as a positive experience. It won’t work if they don’t change their (wrong) thought process.”

“Sixty years have passed and there are still many things that have not been clearly explained to the people. When the ‘Decision’ was drafted in 1980, many comrades raised many doubts. They were silenced by the issuance of an order, which stated that these matters should be dealt with very generally and vaguely. That principle is still used today by some people who want to hide the truth and as a shield from taking historic responsibility. This has made the reform of our Party much more difficult. …  In handling the matter of the ‘Gang of Four,’ the Party’s secret intelligence organs played a special role that is hard to explain, but was indispensable. An old marshal used his own relatives to communicate with intelligence organs. That fact was hidden for thirty-two years. Who bears the responsibility for hiding this fact? A leader of the governing party uses his own relatives and intelligence organs and military force to settle an internal party dispute. As some people said, this kind of thing ‘shall never happen again,’ but will it truly never happen again?”

“Sixty years have gone by, and the governing party still finds it inconvenient to explain matters to civilians. It should at least be explained clearly to the tens of millions of party members that, while it praises this special contribution that enabled the country to achieve a new situation, it clearly condemns the methods they used. Only this way complies with political ethics. Today, we still haven’t heard any condemnation of their methods. A party that has governed the country for sixty years still doesn’t pay attention to this. What good is it if the party simply emphasizes the capacity to govern? What will a capacity become if it is a ruling capacity without political ethics as its foundation? What will that capacity become? I think that everyone will eventually think seriously about this issue.”

“Our party has governed for sixty years. At the beginning it said it would make decision-making and the balancing of powers scientific, but what is the party’s actual performance? It has become obvious that political ethics absolutely cannot be ignored. Talk itself is not enough; methods and a system need to be put into practice. …”

“To say that a political party merely has to swear to ‘serve the people’ and thus becomes the legitimate governing party seems immature to me and does not address some fundamental facts.”

“Sixty years have gone by. Anyone who is concerned with the development of the country will be concerned with how to promote the development of democracy. Our ordinary people and social organizations are unable to express their own independent views with respect to the political activities of our country, unable to truly participate in the political process, and unable to exercise oversight over the governing party. The words of these lowly carry little weight. This ‘three unable’ situation cannot last forever. We cannot just keep going on with our usual way of talking, inspecting, and giving instructions. …”

[1] New Century News, July 30, 2009
[2] Hong Kong China News Agency, August 14, 2009