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Deng Yuwen: The Political Heritage of Hu and Wen

[Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the transition of power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, Study Times’ Deputy Copy Editor Deng Yuwen published a three-part series on the political heritage of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. In the first part, he praised Hu and Wen’s achievements. [1] In the second part, he listed ten major problems left in their wake and stated, “In their ten years in power, many huge problems were created and the problems outnumbered the achievements.” [2] In the third part, he advocated for a transition in the economic structure and for political reform. [3] Shortly after they were published, his articles were taken down from media sites in China. The following is a translation of part 2 of his article.]

Part 2: The Hu-Wen Political Heritage

In part one of my article, I summarized the achievements of the Hu-Wen leadership. In summary, in the past ten years China’s achievements were significant. Nonetheless, when there is success, there are also problems. Frankly speaking, in their ten years in power, many huge problems were created and the problems have outnumbered the achievements. For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself, the biggest and most timely issue is that, while the Party is leading its people towards a well-off and prosperous standard of living, it also faces the issue of its legitimacy as the ruling party due to the fact that it has not been able to solve the issues of income disparity, aggravated corruption, effectively managing social integration, and meeting the request to return power to the people.

Moreover, in the past ten years, from the perspective of China’s modernization process, the Hu-Wen leadership was not able to make improvements in the areas that I describe below. They even regressed. The problem areas include a lack of development in the transformation of the economic structure, which has prevented the formation of a society that relies on domestic consumption. The government has been unable to come up with an income allocation reform plan, which has resulted in a widening income disparity. Attempts were made to adjust and control the real estate market, but they had no obvious effect. Even though a social security system was developed, it remains at a primitive level. Residential status reform was detached from social services, with the result that peasant workers continue to be prevented from acquiring city residential status, even though urban development is rapidly moving forward. The population is aging, while population policy lags behind reality. No fundamental improvement has been made in environmental pollution; a breakthrough is needed in constructing an eco-friendly society. Education tends to be more administrative driven, and there is a need for fundamental reform in the education mentality. Even though improvements have been made in scientific research, basic research and original inventions are still lacking. China’s social value system is deteriorating and core values have been lost. Social divisions and conflicts between government officials and civilians have deepened and become more frequent. The government’s ability to provide social services and social management remains limited. It has been unable to create and grow a middle-income class. I will analyze ten key points below.

The first issue is that we have not been able to a make a fundamental breakthrough in the transformation of the economic structure and in building a consumer society. In the past ten years, even though GDP reached double-digit growth, it was built on a nonconforming economic structure and followed the extensive development model. With external economic changes, this model cannot be sustained and will damage long-term growth. The model must shift from relying heavily on investment, exports, and resource consumption toward a consumer-oriented market. It must also resolve the issue of imbalances in the domestic economy. However, due to restraints from certain interest groups, including local governments, achievements made in this area lag far behind. In particular, following the economic crisis, in order to maintain GDP growth, we have loosened the requirements needed to continue the transformation.

The second major issue is an inability to effectively develop, nurture, and grow a middle class. We have seen that a nation’s modernization and development demonstrate that the middle class is the foundation of a stable and prosperous society. However, there are a number of requirements for growing a middle class, especially if we want to form a social structure that centers on the middle class. The development of a nation’s policies in income, housing, and the social security system should fit the requirements for growing a middle class. In the past ten years, the size of the middle class has grown because it benefitted from economic growth. However, the growth rate of the middle class is far behind the economic growth rate. The reason is the lack of an effective system to grow the middle class. For example, there have been constant delays in income allocation reform and a lack of improvement in income disparity. It has been extremely difficult for low income families to improve and become middle class. Skyrocketing housing prices have reduced people’s standard of consumption and left them unable to live the life of a middle class family. The stock market has fallen and affected countless investors. They are not only unable to recover their original investment, but have also lost their dream of becoming middle class. There are so many examples. Our government could have done better in these areas.

The third issue is that the household registration system gap remains and the disparity between rural and urban areas continues to grow. The household registration system has been a major method for the government to control people, especially the ability of farmers to relocate. [4] The urbanization rate has grown rapidly over the past ten years and the rate of population relocation has grown rapidly at the same time. However, since residential status is closely tied to the social service system, which has impacted local government finance and economic growth, development is lacking in this area. Some middle and small size cities have loosened up their controls of residential status, yet the farm workers still cannot simply move into the city and change their status. The delay in household registration system reform has also resulted in a series of issues, such as the conflict between rural and urban residents’ farm land lease revenue, and farmers who have lost the land. Farmers’ have been deprived of their rights and interests during urbanization, which has resulted in a two-tiered structure between urban residents and farmers turning into a three-tiered structure consisting of farmers, farm workers, and urban residents.

The fourth issue is that China’s population policy falls seriously behind the reality, while China’s population is aging rapidly. Giving birth is a basic human right. In the past ten years, however, the government has maintained a rigid one-child policy. It has resulted not only in the rapid growth of the aging population, but has also affected our nation’s economic growth and the ability to support senior citizens. It has resulted in other social issues, such as families in which their only child dies and an imbalance in the sexes of newborns. People’s rights are being violated on a daily basis due to the one-child policy.

The fifth issue is that the fields of research and education are becoming more and more focused on administrative functions and are driven by the pursuit of fame and self-interest. Talented people are also limited in their ability to renovate. Research and education are the cornerstones of a nation. Even though we have made some improvements in the past ten years, the focus has been on quantity and not quality. Distinguished scholars and original inventions are few, which does not help our nation create a name for itself as being innovative. In particular, administrators tend more and more to drive education. This mentality tends toward utilitarianism: the number of papers issued is used as a measure of the quality of a university or a scientific research agency. All of these have destroyed people’s enthusiasm and their ability to be innovative.

The sixth issue is that environmental pollution has worsened. Massive development to increase economic growth has occurred at great cost to the environment. In the past ten years, many areas initiated projects that required massive amounts of energy and created a high volume of pollution. They have adversely affected people’s living conditions and done severe damage to our environment. The quality of life has declined. Pollution threatens people’s very lives. Moreover, conflicts and problems resulting from environmental issues keep growing and getting more intense. China’s ability to develop an eco-friendly civilization has been seriously tested.

The seventh issue is that we are not able to establish a stable supply of energy. Based on the current development plan, China requires a large amount of energy. China has a shortage of energy per capita and relies heavily on imports. If we don’t have stable and comprehensive [homegrown] energy channels, the lack of an outside supply will seriously constrain us, which will affect our development plan. In the past ten years, even though China has been actively exploring the market outside of China while putting efforts into developing new sources of energy, we have yet to establish a stable energy supply network. Such a network would also provide assurance to our military. Still, the effort to develop new energy has only just begun.

The eighth issue is the collapse of China’s system of social morality and the corruption of our ideology. We don’t have a convincing mainstream value system. For a society in which the decline of moral values seems endless, and people even have split personalities, people are not constrained by a basic understanding of right and wrong or of shame; instead, everyone is seeking to satisfy his own self-interest. Such a society is at the level of animals that must fight for survival. While the economy has continued to grow over the past ten years, China’s moral values have continued to decline. Our traditional value system has completely collapsed. The ideology developed during the revolution has gone bankrupt. A modern value system that meets the requirement of a market economy and civilized business dealings has not yet been established. We are particularly in need of a guiding value system that everyone can recognize. This is where the moral crisis exists. This dangerous human mindset has formed imperceptively over a long period of time. In the past ten years, we have not been able to stop the trend.

The ninth issue is that, in our foreign relations we are constantly putting out fires and working to maintain stability. We lack a broader view, a strategy, and a precise thought process. We have not been able to capitalize on the opportunities arising from changes in the international climate and have ended up dealing with different situations passively. We have made certain progress in our discourse rights and raised some initiatives and objectives regarding the international order, but we didn’t follow through. The reason for that is because our foreign policy only follows principles and meets goals but lacks strategic planning and the will to follow through. We can’t adjust our foreign policy based on the old international climate and our own abilities. We are limiting ourselves and are unable to demonstrate that we are a growing national power. This is also reflected in our approach to dealing with international conflicts. We use the mentality of putting out fires and maintaining stability. This has resulted in a worsening international environment while hurting the confidence of the Chinese people.

The tenth issue is the lack of ability to promote political reform and the democracy movement. We are far from being able to give power back to our people. This is the most important issue facing China today, and it is the most difficult issue for China to deal with. Based on the experience of political modernization in other countries, as well as on China’s own ability, it is impossible to have complete political and democratic reform. It will take time to return power to the people. We also need to be careful when we execute the plan, but we should at least give our people hope and actively demonstrate the Party’s sincerity. We can’t just stop when we face challenges. In the past ten years, even though the Hu-Wen leadership has emphasized democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and the promotion of political reform, they made limited advances and were unable to promote democracy. In fact, if we want to resolve all the issues listed above, the only solution is political reform and how deep we want to go. Therefore, we should have the courage to move forward in political reform toward democracy.

An end of an era is the start of a new era. For various reasons, the Hu-Wen leadership was unable to progress in these ten areas. How their successors will solve these problems and how much they can accomplish will affect China’s peaceful rise and the speed of our rise. It could even prevent us from moving forward. What is required, therefore, is that we feel a sense of urgency.

[1] China Review News, “The Political Heritage from Hu and Wen (Part 1),” August 31, 2012.
[2] China Review News, “The Political Heritage from Hu and Wen (Part 2),” September 1, 2012.
[3] China Review News, “The Political Heritage from Hu and Wen (Part 3),” September 3, 2012.
[4] “In 1958, the Chinese government officially promulgated the family register system to control the movement of people between urban and rural areas.” For more information on this system see Wikipedia, Hukou system.