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Is Xi Thinking About Political Reform?

Xinhua and other Chinese media recently reported, with great calm, “Putin criticized Lenin. He said, ‘Lenin’s ideas eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.'” [1]

The report of Putin’s statement may turn out to be an event of some consequence in China’s ideological history. Lenin was the founder of Communism in Russia and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) inherited that legacy. To the CCP conservatives, criticizing Lenin is the same as denouncing Mao Zedong, the first generation leader of the CCP. It undermines the very pillar of the CCP’s legitimacy. Thus it is definitely a taboo in China.

Xinhua, the CCP’s official mouthpiece, reported that Lenin had been denounced but did not make any comment or issue an official rebuttal. One had to wonder if there was an underlying message or a hint of something unsaid. After all, to be safe, Xinhua could have handled it in the manner of past unfavorable events and not covered it at all.

Several other events, similarly interesting, have occurred in the past several months.

When Xi Jinping visited the U.S. last September, he donated two ping pong tables and 100 books (the English translation of Chinese writings) to the Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington. Among the books was This History Is Relatively Reliable, written by Yuan Tengfei (袁腾飞). Yuan is a Chinese history teacher known for his criticism of Mao Zedong. [2]

On December 7, Caixin, a media known to have close ties with Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, published an article by Yu Keping (俞可平) on Political Axioms.

Yu listed six Political Axioms that China’s political system has violated. The first one was that “a power holder only recognizes accountability to those who gave him power.” Yu argued that the CCP has claimed officials are the servants of the general public. In reality, however, officials are only submissive to their bosses and treat the general public as nobody. That is because officials are appointed by their bosses. The solution? “If the public elects these officials, they will listen to the public.” [3]

Yu served as the Deputy Director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau that focuses on research into ideology and theory. He resigned from that post to become a political science professor at Beijing University. Caixin introduced him as a “famous scholar and political scientist” and mentioned that his article, “Democracy Is a Good Thing,” [4] had resulted in a lot of discussion in China.

Again on January 5 of this year, Caixin published Global People Magazine’s interview of Yu Keping. When Yu was asked what Western theories can be applied in China, he replied, “(China) has treated certain common values that human beings share, such as democracy, liberty, equality, the rule of law, and good governance, as unique Western factors and has rejected them. … But it should not be because the West has accepted them first that we then do not want democracy, liberty, or the rule of law. We already have deep lessons to learn on this issue.” [5]

From December 9 to 16, 2015, Yu Youjun (于幼军), another official-turned professor at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, gave seven-sessions of lectures reflecting on the Cultural Revolution. Yu is a former Party Secretary and Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Culture. In his lectures, Yu stated that he “negated (the Cultural Revolution) generally and fundamentally” and warned that “the evil spirit of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ is still looming, eroding the body of the people and the Party …”

The Paper, another media close to Wang Qishan, published a lengthy report on this issue. The article started with the sentence, “It was hard to make this a low-profile lecture.” [6]

Jambey Gyatso (降边嘉措), a veteran researcher at the Institute of Ethnic Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) published two articles last December in which he criticize Ye Xiaowen, Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and Zhu Weiqun, Director of the Ethnic and Religious Commission of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee.

In those articles, Jambey Gyatso pointed out that the problems in Tibet in the past decade resulted from the wrong policies that the CCP’s religious management group established. Both Ye and Zhu are key members of this group. Instead of separating religion from governance, Ye set up a theocracy in Tibet where the will of the CCP’s religious management office became the orthodox religion. Zhu tried to stir up ethnic conflicts between the Han and the Tibetans and framed innocent Tibetans as “Tibetan separatists.” [7] [8]

Also, the National People’s Congress adopted a measure that, starting on January 1, before assuming office, all government employees must take an oath of allegiance to uphold the Constitution. In the 70-Chinese letter oath, the employee states he will “be loyal to the Constitution,” “be loyal to the country,” and “be loyal to the people,” but it does not mention he will be “loyal to the (Communist) Party.” This swearing-in ceremony applies to all people who work at the People’s Congress, the government, the People’s Court, and the People’s Procuratorate. [9]

Then on January 22, the CCP Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection’s (CCDI’s) website published Xi’s quote, stating “The ruling party has great power in controlling resources. There should be a power list (for it): what power it can use and what it cannot; what power it has over public resources and what it has over private (owned) resources. They should be separated. (It) should not use the power over public resources for private benefit.” [10]

All these events deviated from the CCP’s traditional stand. In the past, the CCP’s Propaganda Department might have labeled these as “major political incidents (mistakes).”

Officials, former officials, or the media in the ideology and policy area performed all of these acts. All of these people and media know the political rules very well. They know what one can say and what one cannot.

As these events happened collectively over the past few months, people may start wondering whether they were intended to convey a message. Maybe Xi is laying the groundwork for some changes in the political area?

[1] Chinascope, “Xinhua: Putin Denounced Lenin.”
[2], “Xi Jinping Picked Yuan Pengfei’s Book as A Gift to A U.S. High School,” September 26, 2015.
[3] Chinascope, “Former Party Theorist on China’s Political System’s Faults.”
[4] People’s Daily Online, “Yu Keping: Democracy Is a Good Thing,” December 28, 2006.
[5] Chinascope, “Former Party Theorist on Universal Values.”
[6] Chinascope, “Former Party Secretary of Ministry of Culture Voiced His Reflections on the Cultural Revolution.”
[7], “Revealing the Fake ‘Living Buddha’ Must Start from Criticizing Ye Xiaowen.”
[8], “Zhu Weiqun Should Make It Clear – Commenting on Zhu Weiqun’s Speech to CCTV Reporter.”
[9] Chinascope, “Chinese Official’s Oath of Allegiance Omits Loyalty to the Party.”
[10] CCDI website, “The Ruling Party Has Great Power in Controlling Resources. There Should Be a Power List (for It),” January 22, 2016.