Skip to content

On Overseas Chinese Media

In the last couple of years, the Chinese communist regime increased its efforts to exert influence on overseas Chinese media. One example is to invite those influential overseas journalists to mainland China to attend media forums. The First Global Chinese Media Forum and the Second Global Chinese Media Forum were held in Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, in September 2001 and Changsha City in Hunan Province in September 2003, respectively. Each time, local government authorities were the main sponsors.

The Third Global Chinese Media Forum was held at Wuhan City, Hubei Province, from September 11-13, 2005. The China News Agency and Wuhan City authorities jointly sponsored the forum. The forum invited more than 200 high-level journalists of overseas Chinese media from 46 different countries, all of them being presidents, CEO, directors, or chief editors in their organizations. The media included newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV stations, as well as Internet media. According to the Chief Editor of China News Agency, Guo Zhaojin, the forum was meant to provide a platform for promoting the exchange and cooperation of overseas Chinese media with mainland China media.

Below are excerpts from a few articles published on Xinhuanet reporting about the Third Global Chinese Media Forum.

Overseas Chinese Media Have a Special Mission, State Council Official Claims

In an article published on September 14, 2005, Liu Zepeng, Deputy Director of Overseas Chinese Office of the State Council and President of China News Agency, says that overseas Chinese media have the responsibility to dissipate the "China Threat Theory" at the Third Global Chinese Media Forum held in Wuhan. Below are a few paragraphs from the article.

"For the last nine consecutive years, China has suffered the largest number of Antidumping Duty Investigations in the world, which covers almost every category of export products. The technical trade measurement has now become the number one non-tariff barrier instead of antidumping. Each year over 25 percent of exports are affected by the technical trade measurements.

"On this subject, Liu Zepeng, Deputy Director of Overseas Chinese Office of the State Council and President of China News Agency, expressed at the Third Global Chinese Media Forum that, facing the current ‘China fever,’ overseas Chinese media should have the responsibility to dissolving ‘the China threat theory’ in order to reduce the conflicts (of other countries) with China, to expand space for China’s development and to enhance the ‘soft power’ of China on the world stage.
"’China needs a long-term stable international environment to develop and China needs to establish mutual trust in cooperation with neighboring countries,’ said Guo Zhaojin, the Chief Editor of the China News Agency, ‘the international Chinese media should become an important platform to pass the messages of peaceful Chinese development to other countries in the world.’"

Chinese Media—An Important Platform to Showcase a "True China" to the World, Xinhua Reports in Its News Wire

Below are two pieces of news reported by the Xinhua News Agency about the Third Global Chinese Media Forum. It exemplifies how the Chinese communist regime pays special attention to the overseas Chinese media market and strategies that it employs to fulfill its goal.

"Xinhuanet Hubei Channel, September 14, 2005—Over 200 of Chinese media’s leaders from 46 countries and regions attended the Third Global Chinese Media Forum that just ended.

"The representatives present at the Forum all agreed that the Chinese media is now in a period of development and many opportunities. The direction for the development of Chinese media in the new century is to run the newspaper with freedom of ownership, and to influence mainstream society with positive and healthy ideologies.

"China’s development has brought unprecedented space for growth and development for overseas Chinese media. In the past two years, the number of Chinese media in the world has doubled. Nowadays, there are more than 470 active Chinese media in over 100 countries and regions.

"’With China’s continued development and growth, the influence of Chinese media will be more far reaching,’ said Jiang Tianlong, Chairman of the American Asian Culture and Communications Group. While the Chinese media in the world are providing better services to Chinese people and communities, they, through their efforts, should let the world hear a stronger and more powerful voice from China."

In a separate news item titled "Domestic and Overseas Chinese Media Makes Waves of Cooperation and Interaction," it reported that overseas Chinese media were widely seeking cooperative partnership with mainland Chinese media firms.
"Xinhuanet Hubei Channel, September 14, 2005—The Chairman of Taiwan’s Eastern Multimedia Group and Wuhan Broadcasting Television Group formally signed an agreement in Wuhan to establish a strategic partnership. At the Third Global Chinese Media Forum that has just ended, domestic and overseas Chinese media have started to make new strides in cooperation and interaction.

"At this Forum, over 200 global Chinese media leaders from 46 countries and regions were seeking strategic partners. During a short period of two days, the Yangtze River Daily News Group alone signed cooperation and partnership agreements with America’s China Press (Eastern U.S. edition), Canada’s Global Chinese Press, Australia’s Melbourne Daily, Thailand’s World Journal, Japan’s Chinese Leader, France’s European Times and New Zealand’s Xin Bao. Wuhan Broadcasting Television and Yangtze River Interactive Media Net have become the center of attention of broadcast and television media from Singapore, New Zealand, and Canada.

"Wang Linglin, Chairman of Taiwan’s Eastern Multimedia Group who formally signed an agreement with Wuhan Broadcasting Television Group to establish a strategic partnership, said that on the premises of mutual respect of intellectual property rights, both sides will provide news information and programs to each other and exchanges of news page (or time slots), and establish exchange mechanism for senior management, news reporters, editors and broadcasting staff. Earlier, Eastern Multimedia Group had established interactive relations with over 10 of mainland China’s media.

"As reported, Chinese media with the Chinese language as the carrier has not yet become a mainstream media in Western countries. However the burgeoning ‘China fever’ has made China a worldwide topic. Work on enhancing the dynamics of current event reporting on China has become a means of survival and expansion for overseas Chinese media.

"’To broadcast a correct ‘concept of China’ and to create an environment favorable for worldwide Chinese to survive and grow has become a consensus among Chinese media throughout the world. Domestic and overseas Chinese media will eventually be united and become a one body effort,’ said Ren Chuangong, host of Mandarin Chinese programs of 2CR Australian Chinese Radio Station in Australia.

"Zhang Yan, head of Canada’s Global Chinese Press who was nominated for a local mainstream news award for two consecutive years and has long dedicated herself to the cooperation with the mainland’s media, said that thanks to China’s rise, overseas Chinese media has gained an unprecedented historical opportunity of growth while entering the 21st century. This opportunity has expedited the birth of powerful overseas Chinese media and has motivated overseas Chinese media to interact and cooperate with inland media in China."

Translated by SCHINASCOPE

Liu Binyan, a Man Who Said What Had To Be Said and Did What Had To Be Done

Liu Binyan, the fearless Chinese journalist who openly challenged the Chinese communist regime by exposing official corruption, died of colon cancer on December 5, 2005, at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was 80.

Liu was just a common man in China, yet he led an uncommon life. Twice he was admitted to the Chinese Communist Party, and twice the Party expelled him. His early and undaunted efforts to make the Communist Party right its wrongs led him to the conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party would soon collapse.

Liu Binyan was born in 1925 in Changchun, Jilin Province. Like many in Changchun, his father was a railroad worker, too poor to send him beyond the ninth grade. At 15, he went to live with his sister in occupied Beijing and studied Marxist theory and foreign languages. Later, he moved to Tianjin and joined an anti-Japanese student group.

In 1943, when China was at war with Japan, Liu became a member of the underground Communist Party on a secret visit to the countryside, where the communists were organizing farmer resistance.

After the 1949 communist victory, Liu worked as an investigative reporter, editor, and Communist Party Secretary at the China Youth Daily, the leading Communist Youth League newspaper.

In the 1950s his writings were mostly critiques of the bureaucracy and corruption of the Chinese communist regime. In 1956 he published two works of thinly disguised fiction—one, At the Bridge Site, exposing corruption at a construction site and the other, Inside Story, showing how censorship worked at a newspaper.

In 1957, the Chinese communist regime started the "Anti-Rightists" campaign to purge outspoken intellectuals who criticized the system. After endless denunciations at the China Youth Daily, Liu was sent to the countryside to be reformed-through-labor in forced labor camps and "reeducation" facilities, along with hundreds of thousands of fellow "rightist" intellectuals. His family, which he did not see for years at a time, was forced to denounce him. He carted sewage from inner cities to farmers, made bricks, and raised pigs in the countryside. At times, labor camp officials tried to coerce him into recanting his controversial work.

After almost 10 years Liu was finally "rehabilitated" in 1966, only to be denounced again within months as Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution against China’s "class enemies." In 1969 Liu, still officially viewed as a "rightist," was sent to a forced labor camp for eight years.

In 1978, after Deng Xiaoping came to power, the once downtrodden "rightists" were rehabilitated and given government jobs. Liu was re-admitted to the Communist Party and assigned a job as a special reporter for the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party.
Soon he resumed writing articles critical of the communist regime. In 1979 he published his most famous work, Between Men and Monsters. It is the story of a Party secretary in Heilongjiang Province who makes a fortune from bribery. A Second Kind of Loyalty, published in the summer of 1985, praised a former political prisoner who openly challenged a decision by the authorities to shoot a fellow inmate. For a while he was one of the most admired writers on the mainland and was considered to be "China’s conscience."

In late fall 1986, college students in several cities staged demonstrations to demand political reform. In January 1987, the then General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, was accused of being soft on the student protests and on "bourgeois liberalism" and was forced to resign. Liu was singled out by Deng Xiaoping for "advocating bourgeois liberalism" and expelled again from the Communist Party. Liu was denounced by the People’s Daily, his former newspaper, as "the scum of the nation." Deng’s ensuing campaign against Liu and other reformers paved the way for the tragedy of Tiananmen Square two years later.

In the spring of 1988, Liu was allowed to travel to the United States to teach and write at the University of California at Los Angeles and at Harvard. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, he lashed out at the Chinese regime on U.S. national television and predicted that the Communist Party would soon collapse.

After that, the Chinese government refused to allow Mr. Liu to return home.

In the United States, Liu continued writing and speaking out about corruption and greed in China. Among other books, he wrote a memoir, A Higher Kind of Loyalty, in 1990.

Liu was a famous writer. From his earlier writings up to his last, he was very popular, particularly among those who grew up in the People’s Republic. Liu’s works touched the hearts of the Chinese and made them think. That was the power of his writing that the Communist Party feared most. Of the 63 years he lived in China, he was allowed to write as a journalist for only about nine years. Yet, in those nine short years, Liu’s writings inspired many Chinese.

Liu had reportedly asked for the following words to be included on any memorial to his life and work: "Here lies a Chinese who said what had to be said and did what had to be done."
Stephen Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.

Shaolin Temple: Beyond the Martial Arts

Martial Arts. Kung Fu. Wu Shu. The names have varied but the origins lie unchanged, deep in the temple of Shaolin. But, have you ever wondered why a tranquil Buddhist temple would be famous for fierce martial arts? The Shaolin Temple is historically famous for its Shaolin Kung Fu and the popular belief of Zen Buddhism.

Situated in the Songshan Mountain 50 miles southwest of Zhengzhou, at the capital of Henan Province, Shaolin Temple was built in 495 A.D. for one initial reason: to house Batuo. Batuo, an Indian monk, came to China to spread Buddhism. A strong believer in Buddhism, Emperor Xiaowen made orders to build the temple as a sanctuary for Batuo and a few hundred followers to translate the Buddhist works. The temple was built on land that was previously burned, near Shaoshi Mountain. Here, the builders planted new trees. Thus, the name Shaolin comes from Shao, meaning "young," and Lin, meaning "forest."

Batuo had a great interest in martial arts. Conveniently, two of his disciples were already skilled in the art. These two disciples taught the art form to others and soon it spread through Shaolin. The centralized location of the temple attracted other Kung Fu masters who passed by, and served as a refuge for counter militant leaders who were being chased by local armies. As a way of expressing their gratitude for housing, they often passed on battalion tactics and martial art techniques to the Buddhist monks. As Shaolin Temple grew in recognition and prominence, the Buddhist emperors supported the temple by presenting gifts of gold and land. Its growth in wealth has made Shaolin Temple a target for burglars and foreign bandits. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), 13 Shaolin monks saved Emperor Li Shimin from invaders. From that point on, Shaolin was allowed to have soldier-monks to protect the temple’s assets. By the start of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Shaolin Temple housed over 1,000 soldier-monks.

The significance of the Shaolin Temple lies beyond its extraordinary reputation for the martial arts. Thirty- five years after the completion of the temple, another Indian monk arrived, following Batuo. This monk was the legendary Bodhidharma (Da Mo in Chinese). Bodhidharma introduced a new type of Buddhism to the Chinese people—Chan, or more widely known as Zen. Zen Buddhism was less strict and more adapted to the Chinese way of life. Zen spread quickly and widely throughout China and is the prevailing form of Buddhism today.

It is said that Bodhidharma hiked through Tibet’s Himalayan Mountains, surviving both the treacherous weather and bandit attacks. Upon reaching China, Bodhidharma met with the Emperor Wu Di. A Buddhist himself, the emperor asked the Indian monk what good deeds he had accomplished, but Bodhidharma could not respond with an answer. He was then rejected from Shaolin Temple and sought out a nearby cave in which he meditated for nine years. Over the nine years, the shadow of his image discolored the far wall of the cave (this site is now a tourist attraction: Bodhidharma’s cave). When Shaolin monks discovered Bodhidharma, they believed that he had proven himself worthy and accepted him into the temple. Bodhidharma spread a new style of meditation and physical training, benefiting both the monks and the soldier-monks.
Today, the Shaolin Temple continues to symbolize the birthplace of Chinese Buddhism. The Shaolin Temple, over 1,000 years old, comprises 230 separate ancient towers. Sadly, 28 of the 230 ancient towers are currently in critical condition and on the verge of collapse due to deterioration and instability of the foundation. Shaolin Temple’s abbot, Shi Yongxin, says that they are currently conducting a well-rounded analysis of each ancient tower and will take all necessary steps to preserve the traditional essence of each structure. As long as the magnificent structures of the temples are kept alive, the world will be able to witness these Chinese traditional beauties that have endured the destruction caused by the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Lawyer-Witch-Hunt and Blood-for-Land: China’s Lawless Economy

It is tempting to shrug off the ongoing crackdown against prominent lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who boldly supported China’s underprivileged economic classes, as yet another tantrum typically thrown by the Chinese government against its own people stepping outside the lines. It is equally plausible that the killings in Shanwei, a prosperous town abutting Hong Kong, were almost inevitable due to the brewing tensions between the haves and have-nots in China. Larger questions, however, remain, as to the foreboding significance of the two events, especially when they coincided with another familiar announcement of impressive growth in China’s GDP, which put the country on course to pass France to become the world’s fifth largest economy.

In any modern democracy, rule of law and economic freedom forge a symbiotic relationship that sustains its prosperity and growth. Mr. Gao and casualties in Shanwei highlight the glaring absence of such infrastructures in China, notwithstanding its glowing GDP and unusual absorption of foreign capital. If Chinese lawyers had been given a free hand to operate like Mr. Gao, their mediation would ensure tragedies in Shanwei never happen. On the other hand, if the governance in China had improved so much as to rule out a repeat of a Tiananmen-Square-style killing by the military, Mr. Gao and his colleagues would have been free to go about their business—and China would be a better place for investment opportunities.

Wang Jian, a senior economist affiliated with a premier think tank of the Chinese government, found that up to 54 percent of China’s GDP is derived from investment in fixed assets, a percentage that has never been reached by any other country in history before, not even Japan, which, at 46 percent, was the second highest during its go-go years in the 1960s. Mr. Wang forecast a depression in three years, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, triggered by serious overcapacity and overcompetition when the current excessive investments translate into real productive capabilities. Andy Xie, Morgan Stanley’s top China economist, recently argued that China should choose over GDP to use NDP, which stands for Net Domestic Product—calculated by deducting from GDP such social costs as environmental damages and human lives lost due to unsafe production methods—in measuring its economic development. He believes the GDP has misguided local governments to chase unwarranted economic targets, in a manner reminiscent of meeting the quota for rightists or class enemies in past political movements. These targets decide the officials’ promotion and give them the boasting right at Party meetings. Unfortunately, they are also the reason behind the land dispute that led to 20 killings in Shanwei and fatal accidents that occurred to miners represented by Mr. Gao.

Up until now, cheap labor has attracted foreign capital and has been the engine that drives the juggernaut of the Chinese economy. It is, however, dangerously unknown how long this superiority will last. The Chinese population has shown signs of aging due to the success of the family planning policy, and the foreign capital in search of a higher rate of return could go elsewhere, to places such as India, where the social system is more Westernized. In the longer term, sustainable economic development in China will only be possible when transparency and accountability, as has happened in countries with whom China is trying to catch up, are firmly established to govern its economic activities.

Chinese Economy: Hurt by the Lack of Domestic Demand

Lack of Domestic Demand — A Potential Threat to Economic Growth

Since the beginning of this year, the national economy has stabilized at an average quarterly economic growth rate of 9.5 percent, with a 23 to 24 percent monthly growth rate of fixed asset investment. Export growth is above 30 percent, and the trade surplus has continued to enlarge, with the growth of the residential consumer price index (CPI) down to 2.4 percent. All of these are signs of both high growth and low inflation.

However, there is a huge structural imbalance hidden behind the surface stability, and the situation is getting worse. The imbalance is reflected in the fact that, since 1990, there has been a continuous slide of the ratio of residential final consumption to GDP. In 2004, the ratio was at a record low, even substantially lower than the period from 1960 to 1962, the worst time of the planned economy. A conclusion can be drawn that since the late 1980s, income distribution has undergone a gradual change, resulting in a drop in residential consumption demand. The situation has deteriorated despite the year 2004’s overheating of the economy. A few observations can be offered.

Observation 1: Although the economy overheated in 2004 (the January/February growth rate of fixed asset investment was as high as 53 percent), the monthly produce product index (PPI) growth was never higher than 9 percent, and the monthly CPI growth was never higher than 5 percent. Starting from July 2004, the CPI has been declining month by month, with the CPI growth in January 2005 down to 1.8 percent. The retail price index (RPI) growth rate was down to 0.6 percent, with prices of many consumer goods actually dropping. At present, the positive growth rate has been sustained by the prices of housing, recreation and education, and food. High-income households drove the rise in price of the former two items, while the prices of most consumer goods have been falling. The price of food has been affected by fluctuations in the supply and demand of agriculture products.

Observation 2: High savings ratio. At the end of 2004, the residential savings deposited in financial institutions amounted to 120 trillion yuan (US$15 trillion), the equivalent of one year’s GDP. This was double the number at the end of 1999. However the nominal GDP only grew 66.8 percent from 1999 to 2004, while residential savings doubled. There is over saving in comparison with GDP. With the rapid rise of deposits, the ratio of total loans of financial institutions to total deposits was 74 percent in 2004, lower than the 86 percent in 1999, a troubling phenomenon indicating that the utilization of capital was less efficient. At present, the growth in savings deposits is gaining momentum. By the end of May 2005, the total amount of residential saving deposits in all financial institutions was over 130 trillion yuan (US$16.2 trillion), and it will certainly surpass 140 trillion by the end of the year.
Observation 3: A lack of domestic demand puts pressure on exports. Since 2004, the monthly growth rate of total exports has never been lower than 33 percent. By contrast, from January to May 2005, the import growth rate dropped to 13.7 percent. The trade surplus for the first five months of 2005 was as high as US$30 billion, equaling the annual total for all of 2004. At the end of the first quarter, the foreign reserves amounted to a record high of US$659 billion, about US$50 billion more than the 2004 year-end figure. In the second quarter, that number was still climbing. The rapid growth of foreign reserves is posing a serious challenge to the effective use of resources.

Exports have been one of the pillars of economic growth. However, unrestricted export growth will lead to friction between China and other developed and developing countries, and intensified international pressure for appreciation of the Chinese currency RMB. Finally, exports have to slow down in the face of restrictions from the world market, and they have.

Observation 4: Because of the lack of consumer demand, economic growth is more and more dependent on investment. From January of 2000 to May of 2005, the annual growth rate of fixed asset investment (in constant price) is 9.1, 12.5, 16.7, 25, 19.1, and 24.2 percent, respectively. The expanded capacity induced by rapid investment has been assimilated by the low consumer demand. The conflict between drastic expansion of production capacity and slow growth of personal consumption will lead to periodic depression.

Currently, the key elements of high investment are real estate development, public debts and local metropolitan construction projects, and energy and raw material industrial investment. The above are important driving forces for economic growth in the long run. However, without a corresponding growth in personal consumption, those investment projects are not sustainable.

Reasons for the Drop in Personal Consumption

Major reasons for the drop in personal consumption are as follows:

Ever since the late 1980s, with structural change in income distribution, the gap between the incomes of urban and rural residents has been widening. In 1984 the Gini coefficient for residential income was 25.7. That figure climbed to 35.5 in 1990, and was up to 44.7 in 2001. In the 2005 World Development Report published by the World Bank, ranked by the Gini coefficient from lowest to highest, China is 85th out of the 120 countries and regions so ranked. That is, China’s inequality is the 35th lowest (32 of the lowest are Latin American and African countries) of the socially polarized countries.
With such a large income inequality, the consumption level of middle and lower income families is restricted. High-income families have already reached a high level of consumption and are less likely to put more of their income into consumption. The Chinese people have a tradition of high savings. Savings will only increase as the income gap widens.

The high risks during the economic transition have also put a brake on personal consumption. For many years, the rapid increase in the cost of health care, education, and housing expenditures has far surpassed the affordability of many rural and urban residents. Urban employees who face an immediate threat of unemployment, and farmers who have lost their normal income source when they lost their land have no choice but to save more and consume less.

The urban system of lowest living standard security and unemployment insurance, to some extent, has alleviated the burdens of the people mentioned above. However, the other parts of the social security system may not help as they should. Investigations have revealed that the portion of health expenditures that are covered by health insurance for middle and high-income families is higher than for low-income families, who still need to pay for the majority of their own health care costs. The pension system should cover poor and low-income families. However, the current social security system is not hedging against income uncertainty for low-income families, and even widens the gap to a certain extent. Most rural families are not even covered by the social security system.

Unemployment or under employment is still a major reason for the depressed personal consumption of low-income families. Historically, most nonagricultural job opportunities are provided by small enterprises. Because of the poor economic environment, they are creating fewer and fewer jobs. Firstly, the current system of "big banks" is not geared to enable small enterprises to obtain loans; secondly, the policy implementation is usually in favor of middle-size enterprises instead of the small ones; thirdly, the unhealthy legal and institutional environment, causes small enterprises to be faced with trivial, unnecessary, and nontransparent administration; finally, there are few services to provide management, technology, and legal and financial training for small enterprises. The current statistical system does not cover the enterprises that are under a certain size. Thus the government finds no reason to care about the development of small enterprises.

The ongoing gradual consumption drop is leading to an internal balance of the economy, which will not only lead to serious economic slides, but will threaten the sustainability of economic growth. It’s vital to correct the income inequality and increase the percentage of personal consumption in GDP.
Possible strategies can include the following:

• Further reform the taxation system and strengthen the taxation on the high income class

• Advance governmental reform so as to establish a systematic, standardized, and transparent administration

• Improve the operation environment of small enterprises so as to facilitate job creation

• Strengthen the social security system and provide a basic guarantee for low income people

• Introduce a competition mechanism into important sectors such as health care, education and housing, and strengthen the supervision of the public service sector to protect the public’s interests

Wang Xiaolu is the Vice Director of National Economic Research Institute, China Reform Foundation.

Translation by CHINASCOPE from Internal Reference for Reform, Issue 22 , 2005

Why Commemorate Hu Yaobang?

On November 18, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a symposium to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the birth of Hu Yaobang (Hu became general secretary of the CCP in 1980 and CCP chairman in 1981. He was then sacked in 1987). However, the initiator and architect of this commemoration, the incumbent Party Secretary Hu Jintao, not related to Hu Yaobang, was noticeably absent. At the same time the symposium was brief, about one hour, and the attendance shrank dramatically. Many analysts argued that Hu Jintao’s absence was a political compromise—Hu used his APEC trip in South Korea to pacify the opposition.

This has posed an interesting question: Why did the CCP commemorate Hu Yaobang? Was the commemoration a matter of formality or did it have a significant meaning to the CCP leadership?

A Controversial CCP Leader

Among few controversial figures in CCP history, Hu Yaobang was an outstanding one. On the one hand, he was viewed as a civilized leader and one that was inclined toward reform after the death of Mao Zedong. Hu was widely recognized for his sympathy for the 1986 student movement and his role in reinstating millions of Chinese who were purged during the 1957 Anti-Rightist Movement as well as the catastrophic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

On the other hand, for the last 16 years Hu Yaobang had been under criticism by the CCP for his indirect encouragement of challenges to the communist system. Hu was forced to resign in 1987 for his leaning toward "Western, bourgeois" principles of democracy following the 1986 student movement. Hu’s sudden death in 1989 prompted the large-scale Tiananmen Square protests that led to the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre. The ambivalence that Deng Xiaoping held toward Hu was legendary. Evidence showed that Hu’s involuntary resignation was a plot by Deng to remove Hu as a deviator from the conservative CCP lines.

It is not difficult to see that the controversy around Hu came from an irony: As a CCP leader Hu was supposed to regulate the CCP by CCP principles; on the contrary, he took the lead to break CCP principles to what was viewed by the CCP collective leadership as an unbearable peak. It was exactly this "violation" of CCP lines that won him popularity as a civilized leader.

Political Reasons to Reinstate Hu

Hu Yaobang’s name has become a taboo since his death in 1989. Any mention of Hu could elicit unforeseeable consequences. Then why did Hu Jintao, the current CCP chief bother to run the risk of commemorating Hu Yaobang? Why did reinstating Hu Yaobang matter to Hu Jintao?
Some argued that Hu Jintao was repaying Hu Yaobang for the latter’s political favor because Hu Yaobang had helped promote Hu Jintao. A careful examination of Hu Jintao’s political career showed that the two men had a working relationship, but no close personal friendship. Hu Jintao had worked his way up the CCP ladder and proved himself a master of playing CCP internal power games. A seasoned CCP bureaucrat, Hu would never risk his political career by promoting a disputable figure such as Hu Yaobang. Hu Jintao’s decision was an act of political expediency.

There were two main reasons for Hu Jintao to reinstate Hu Yaobang’s reputation. First, Hu Jintao attempted to utilize Hu’s popularity to save the CCP from disintegration. Since the end of 2004, there has been an unprecedented growing movement among CCP members to withdraw from the Party. The movement was a combined result of long-time CCP corruption, its brutalities and killing of the Chinese people, and loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the public. To save the CCP from being abandoned, Hu Jintao tried various measures, such as launching "the movement to maintain the advanced nature of the CCP members" and adopting a slogan of "being kind and closer to the people." However, none worked effectively. Since the aura of a civilized leader such as Hu Yaobang could be attractive to people inside and outside the CCP, Hu Jintao gambled on Hu Yaobang’s esteem in saving the CCP though much of Hu Yaobang’s liberal characteristics could adversely be a double-edged sword against the CCP itself. Hu Jintao’s concern about Hu Yaobang’s liberal inclination partially explained why he conducted the reinstatement half-heartedly.

Secondly, Hu Jintao tried to use Hu’s reputation to consolidate his power base. The rise of Hu Jintao was based on Deng Xiaoping’s nomination in 1992. Jiang Zemin, the retired CCP chief, was quite jealous of Hu’s strong endorsement by Deng and never stopped in finding fault with Hu. In countering Jiang’s residual yet looming influence, Hu put forward a slogan of being "more kind and closer to the people." Many mistook Hu’s slogan as a symbol of political liberalization. In fact Hu was to seek popular support in his power struggle against Jiang, as Hu did not have many personal supporters within the top levels. As a matter of fact, Hu rejected ideas for political change and pursued a sustained crackdown on popular demands, including shutting down the liberal newspapers and suppressing religious groups. Hu thus did not win the battle against Jiang on popular support. Hu also tried to encroach on Jiang’s power base by replacing Jiang’s people with his protégés. However, it took time for this to take effect. Hu Yaobang once reinstated millions of cadres and many of them are at high levels. By reinstating Hu Yaobang, Hu Jintao planned on winning over the supporters of Hu Yaobang, thus speeding up the power consolidation.

Internal Power Politics on Reinstating Hu

Contrary to the popular rumor that Premier Wen Jiabao was among the opponents of the reinstatement of Hu Yaobang, Wen twice supported Hu Jintao’s proposal to reinstate Hu Yaobang in the March and August 2005 meetings of the CCP Political Bureau Standing Committee members. It was Jiang Zemin who wrote a letter to the Political Bureau, in which he strongly accused Hu Jintao of violating Deng’s decision to oust Hu Yaobang.
Hu Jintao’s absence at the symposium to commemorate Hu Yaobang was a calculated political stratagem, using his trip to attend the APEC meeting in South Korea to come to terms with the opposition. As a result, Jiang’s protégé Vice-President Zeng Qinghong addressed the event and Wu Guanzheng, Secretary of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, presided over the commemoration. Zeng’s speech on evaluating Hu Yaobang largely echoed the official CCP conclusion on Hu.

Leading to Democratization? Hardly

What Hu Jintao did was draw a line: reinstate Hu Yaobang, but not Zhao Ziyang. (Zhao succeeded Hu as general secretary of the CCP and was expelled from the Party in 1989.)

There are some key differences between Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Zhao went further beyond the CCP lines than Hu did by claiming he gave up the proletariat dictatorship. Zhao even talked about a multi-party system, something that Hu never did. More importantly, Zhao never admitted that he had committed any mistake in dealing with the student protests while Hu involuntarily admitted his "mistakes."

Given the differences, by drawing a line between the two men, Hu Jintao was sending a clear message to the public: the CCP has no intention and has made no movement to reverse its verdicts on the 1989 Tiananmen Protest and Zhao Ziyang who supported the student protesters. It is thus not far-fetched to conclude that restoring the stature of the late Hu is unlikely to lead to a democratic political change.

Dong Li holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University. He is a China specialist who provides news analysis for New Tang Dynasty Television based in New York City.