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Mao Yushi: The Root Cause of Chinese People’s GrievancesûArrogant and Unreasonable Governance

[Editor’s Note: The following report is the translation of an abridged version of a speech that Mr. Mao Yushi, a prominent economist in Beijing, gave on May 11, 2010. Mr. Mao is known for being outspoken and for having controversial views on economic and social issues. His speech was published by the website of Hong Kong based pro-Beijing Phoenix TV, and it has been cited widely in China. The wide spread of Mr. Mao’s speech in China may signal a changing wind in China’s politics. Subtitles were added by the editor.] [1]

“It is said that China has arisen. It has changed from a closed-door dictatorship during the Mao Zedong era into a fully open country where people enjoy greater freedom. Compared to both developed and developing countries around the world, China’s economic success is quite admirable. … Thirty years ago, nobody would ever have dreamed of today’s situation.”

Escalating Social Unrest

“However, it is frustrating to see strong resentment among the people; social tension is particularly high. Reading from online comments, few are satisfied, and complaints are plentiful. It seems the Chinese society will soon collapse. Government leaders probably feel equally bad. Their fear of social unrest is so strong that they view maintaining stability as the top job that dwarfs everything else. During national festivals, such as the military parade on October 1, the Olympics, and the annual People’s Congress sessions, Beijing became a police state. Even elderly women were mobilized to patrol the streets; stores were not allowed to sell kitchen knives. This reminds me of my high school history lessons. During the Yuan Dynasty when the Mongols ruled China, the Emperor made similar rules. I am afraid the government’s fear might be unmatched in the world. On one hand, people’s quality of life has improved; but at the same time, widespread grievances are simmering. What could be the cause?”

The Income Gap and Corruption Are Not the Root Cause

“One popular belief is that the gap between the rich and poor has caused the ire. This explanation has some merit. The contrast between the rich and the poor is obvious; it constantly irritates people’s eyes and nerves. Social grievances have intensified along with economic growth. It is the result of the growing income disparity. Now the whole society is trying to alleviate the economic polarity. People believe that a reduction in the income gap will be a major factor in easing public resentment.”

“But when we make an objective comparison, it becomes clear that this conclusion can not pass the test. While an income disparity can cause resentment, this is not always true. Other factors are at play. Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient is higher than that of the Mainland. It was 0.45 in 2002, and it is 0.5 today. China’s Gini coefficient is 0.45. Therefore China’s wealth gap is smaller than Hong Kong’s, but the Hong Kong’s income disparity does not cause social unrest or major public grievances.”

“Another theory is that official corruption causes public grievances: Government officials steal public property, and they trade power for money, which angers the people. Compared to some other countries, China is not the most corrupt. However, from the observations of a majority of international scholars, we can see that China is indeed one of the most problematic countries. Although the economy is strong, its outlook is uncertain. The issue is not the economy; it lies in social affairs.”

The Government Is Unjust

“Where did Chinese people’s grievances come from? My instinct tells me it is because of the lack of social justice. What does that mean? Simply speaking, it is irrational and unreasonable official behavior. As an ancient Chinese proverb has it, a just person can travel the world undisturbed. In China, the government does not bother to reason with you, so your argument has little use. It is violence that gets attention. The government has the most power and weapons; the mafia is powerful too; and a muscle man has power. The weak people’s lives are tough. Unreasonable people can be found in all countries. But what is unique in China is that the government is unreasonable, and the government refuses to uphold justice, so people cannot help but feel frustrated and angry.”

“Among the many functions of a government, upholding justice is the most important. A government must be reasonable, and set a good example. It then can help the citizens to be fair with one another. This is the service of justice. The reason why the Communists defeated the Kuomintang was mainly because the Chinese people believed that the CCP was more reasonable. The Kuomintang lost the war despite its millions of military forces, because they lost their debate with the Communists. People say that he who has popular support is the king. It is a truth, but now the Communist Party is not interested in reasoning with people. The country is in danger.”

“Every year in China, citizens file tens of thousands of lawsuits against the government, but win less than 10% of them. The courts clearly protect the government, with no guarantee of judicial fairness. Courts and Prosecutors can refuse to accept people’s lawsuits or complaints. Moreover, the government arrests petitioners, detains and tortures them. The government also persecutes human rights lawyers, harasses them, fines them, or simply jails them. People’s struggle for justice is treacherous; their chance of success is slim. Society has fallen into a black hole of injustice and evil. People no longer trust the government. When conflicts between officials and citizens arise, people always blame the government regardless of the facts. The government has to lie to protect its interests, and goes after those who tell the truth. The whistle blowers face great risks. The social order is maintained through deception. If the government, like a pathological liar, suddenly told the truth, people would not believe it. The government is hard pressed to defend itself. Society has lost its ability to distinguish between right and wrong. In addition, because the government cannot win its debate with the people, it resorts to blocking public opinion, and jailing those who dare to tell the truth. The powerless people can only hope the government will listen to their complaints. Some even set fire to themselves to raise awareness, but the government chooses to ignore them. Pushed into a corner, some people use violence against the tyranny. Now both the people and their government have become unreasonable and only believe in force. China is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. The root cause is the government’s reliance on force and its refusal to follow the rules. Such a society is unlikely to last.”

“The income gap and corruption are important aspects of social conflict, but they are not the root cause of China’s public anger. We cannot solve the problem if we fail to recognize the real root cause. I think China’s troubles are all caused by a government that refuses to play fair. Our society must learn to play fair. The government especially must take the lead to be reasonable. We should say that the government wants to be reasonable. That is why it maintains this gigantic propaganda apparatus. Every day from television to radio, from school to government agencies, the Party policies are being broadcast around the clock. Such propaganda has indeed worked. For years it adjusted people’s minds to coincide with the Party line, but when the interests of the Party and the people clash, a crack is seen. When a government official accidentally asked a reporter whom he speaks for, the Party or the people, he revealed that the Party has a different agenda from the people. The Party has its own special interests, which are different from people’s. To make the Party play by the rules again, it must abide by the Party’s Constitution: the Communist Party does not have any special interest other than people’s interests. It must forego its self-interest and begin to be reasonable. This is the only way to ease people’s grievances.”

Violence against People

“In the most developed countries, police and the army are only used for law enforcement and national defense. They have no business participating in politics. Managing the military requires very special knowledge, and it is done by professionals. We seldom see heads of governments come from the military. The less developed a country is, the more its leaders rely on its armed forces. Even civilian leaders have to watch for a military coup. In the most backward countries, the role of negotiation is next to nothing. Arms decide everything. However in the most advanced countries, decisions must be made by fair negotiations.”

“The Chinese government cannot win the debate with its people, and has arms in its hands, so it tends to use force to tackle problems. This propensity has gradually become a habit, and it is also used in foreign affairs. With more than 2 trillion U.S. dollars of foreign exchange reserves on hand, the government feels rich and powerful, so that it dares to use vulgar language. In the international community, reasoning is based on a set of universal values, human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, but we have no stomach for those, and we have our own standards. We interpret these concepts with our own logic. Gradually we have become isolated in the international community, and cannot get along with others. In China, totalitarianism is indeed invincible and can instantly solve any problem, but in the international arena, it is really worrisome to think about the future.”

[1] Website of Phoenix TV, May 11, 2010