Xu Zhiyong | China Change
This article was first published on ChinaChange website on January 1, 2020
This is the New Year’s message from a civil society leader who is, at this very moment, on the run to elude arrest by the Chinese authorities. A report on this new and ongoing wave of the crackdown is forthcoming. — The Editors
Enter 2020 in the march of history: another wave of crackdown against civil society is sweeping across China: NGO worker Cheng Yuan (程渊) in Changsha has been arrested; Pastor Wang Yi (王怡) in Chengdu was handed a heavy nine-year prison sentence; the last few days have seen the detentions of Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhang Zhongshun (张忠顺), Dai Zhenya (戴振亚), Li Yingjun (李英俊), Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强).
Where is China heading? Can it sail through the historical gorges and move towards the broadway of modern civilization without upheaval? What choice is each Chinese going to make? Do we struggle in the quagmire of dictatorship, or rise to the call of a constitutional democracy? I ask each and every member of the Chinese Communist Party and each and every citizen to weigh an answer.
In 1978, China launched the Reform and Opening Up, a step in the direction of where the human civilization had been going, developing, and prospering for more than three decades prior. But over the past seven years, reform has regressed, opening up hindered; the specter of the Cultural Revolution looms over China as though time is flowing backward. This reversal shows no sign of breaking.
In the 1980s, the Party attempted to separate the Party and the government and take the Party interference out of the management of enterprises. Today, “the Party leads everything.” For years, rural China has experimented with autonomy, now the village heads must also be the Party secretaries. Private companies are forced to install Party branches, private entrepreneurs feel as insecure as walking on thin ice. What signals are sent with the retirements of Jack Ma (马云), Pony Ma (马化腾), and Robin Li (李彦宏)? Reform and Opening Up is over as soon as the underlying drive becomes one of discrimination, or even elimination of, private ownership and expansion of the state enterprise — it doesn’t matter in what name it is done, mixed ownership, or public-private joint management.
Also in the 1980s, the Party moved to collective leadership, but today it is again one man dictating all. A young woman threw a bottle of ink on Xi Jinping’s portrait, but it matters little. Xi Jinping heads everything and decides everything. How could he do well even if he’s a genius? The people are silenced, the Party members are prohibited from “wantonly criticizing the Party’s policies.” What kind of era is this? In today’s world of pluralism, Xi Jinping decides to shut down speech, strangle the market, suck the energies out of the society, and subjugate everyone through fear.
Lifelong tenure was abolished in the 1980s. Now, Xi Jinping has blatantly amended the Constitution in order to stay in power forever. Look around the world: how many governments are there that do not have term limits?
How great does he think he is to defy such a universal consensus?
Ideology: What is the “China Dream”? What is the real intention behind its semantic mimicry of the dream of freedom that every American cherishes? Under its pretty appearance is disregard for institutions, values, and culture. The number of “Confidences” has grown from three to four, but is it real confidence? Its guiding ideology is nothing but bogus socialism. Its one-party system distorts the market and impedes economic development. Its path, defined by thirty years of class struggle and thirty years of economic development, is a self-contradiction. As for its culture, it embraces Marxism-Leninism, while thoroughly smashing the Confucian tradition and pillaging the Chinese civilization.
Personnel: Xi Jinping has chosen nepotism over talent, personal loyalty over integrity. His government endeavored to drive the “low-end” people out of the capital to the anger of hundreds and thousands of people; it tried to “clean” the cityscape by using force to remove signs of businesses and was met with all-around condemnation. Without any sense of shame, his administration penned articles denouncing constitutionalism and beating the drum for one-man rule. No theory and no talent, he believes in the personal cult of himself. China has no shortage of capable men and women, how can he possibly enjoy popular support with such a narrow mindset?
Internal affairs: The state has grown stronger by making the people weaker. Reform has been walked back. Power interferes everywhere and the market does not know what to do. Private entrepreneurs have lost confidence, and the elite class is seeing an immigration exodus. The new Xiong’an city possesses no natural conditions for success, but it is promoted as another Shanghai, another Shenzhen, a grand plan for the next thousand years. One day the urge for environmental protection struck, thousands of enterprises were forced to close overnight without regard for reality or the local economy. The costs of stability maintenance have become a black hole sucking up the country’s wealth, while the social security system favors some and offers little to others. Hong Kong has been free and prospering for a hundred years, but the last seven years saw incessant conflicts to which the government in Beijing offers no real solution. Will the situation continue indefinitely?
Foreign affairs: It’s the 21st century, and China held a World Congress on Marxism [in 2018]. What message did it send to private entrepreneurs, and to the world? Aiming to be the big boss of the Communist International? In the U.S.-China trade war, China has morphed from belligerent posturing to grudging acceptance. It threatened an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; it ended up importing swine fever from Russia and incurring total disaster. Xi Jinping admires Putin the strongman, kicking up a fracas in the South China Sea, Diaoyudao Islands (Senkaku Islands), Taiwan, and Doklam, all ending in self-defeat. Taking a page from its past engagement with the third world countries, China has made large loans through the One Belt and One Road Initiative. But it’s the 21st century, these projects have neither economic viability nor popular support. As China abolition term limits, the whole world suddenly turned on communism. Is it just a coincidence?
Inside the Party: Xi Jinping has used anti-corruption to purge dissent and rivalry. He’s made “wanton criticism” a crime with which to suppress opinions. Party members and cadres can be committing a crime just for speaking up their minds. The word “struggle” was used 58 times in a single article, so who is he struggling against? Government entities have been subject to endless brainwashing sessions, while actual work is left undone. In the work units, merit depends on obedience, not performance. Why are government employees indolent and negligent? Because even Party members and cadres can’t stand the oppressiveness anymore, let alone ordinary citizens.
Outside the Party: Speech is increasingly strangled. Every day an untold number of Chinese experience deletion of posts and shutdown of accounts. Some were questioned by police, others were arrested across the provincial borders. Universities have been forced to change their charter or textbooks to root out the last vestiges of freedom of thought. Surveillance cameras and security checkpoints are everywhere, leaving citizens with no privacy and no dignity. Independent organizations have been eradicated, even moderate proposals for gradual change have been stumped out. Suppress Christians. Suppress any independent religion. Private businesses are being appropriated in the name of mix-ownership, forcing entrepreneurs to step down. The entire society feels increasingly oppressed and dispirited. Where will this end?
It took only seven years for a China full of hope and potential to sink into its current lifelessness.
There is no future for a “China Dream” that means a one-party state that incorporates some degree of market economy only for pragmatic purposes. It’s the old road of taking what’s useful to us from the west while rejecting the underlying principles. China had a choice in 2013: follow the example of [Taiwan leader] Chiang Ching-kuo to embrace constitutional democracy, or the alternative: suppress civil society. Many people, myself among them, held high expectations at the time. But China took the other path. Society has been more tightly controlled, the market economy more distorted; dictatorship might have been effective in driving the economy in the early years of reform, but it’s now an obstacle to economic development. The system is so insecure that it throws ever more money to maintain a gigantic stability maintenance apparatus. This will eventually drag down the economy and cause it to cave in on itself.
Sadly we are witnessing this process of Chinese economy contracting, while the juggernaut of stability maintenance consumes the wealth that this country has accumulated over the last three decades. We are getting closer and closer to stagflation and poverty.
China can not go on like this.
I ask each and every Chinese to think seriously: What can we do? What kind of China are we going to leave to later generations?
Communism will end for certain. But China will still be here. When the day comes that the Party vanishes into dust and smoke, China will not want to go down with it.
Our work today has been to seed new hope for the Chinese nation when the totalitarian regime collapses. The citizens’ movement calls on every Chinese national to take their citizenship, their rights, and their responsibilities seriously, bring progress to the country through rational and constructive approaches, and realize freedom, justice, and love in China.
For a better China, we persisted and persevered in our effort to defend freedom and justice and to build civil society. We campaigned for the right of migrant workers’ children to take college entrance exams where they live, not where they came from; we took to the streets calling for officials to disclose their assets. These two endeavors became our crimes in 2013. At the end of 2019, lawyer Ding Jiaxi and several citizens were again rounded up for continuing to build civil society. The government wouldn’t even tolerate such moderate and rational work.
Mr. Ding Jiaxi was a successful commercial lawyer and lived a comfortable life in China. Then, answering a call of duty from within, he decided to join the equal education campaign for migrant workers’ children in Beijing. He took part in the calls for officials to disclose their assets. For this he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. After he was released, he visited the U. S. to reunite with his wife and children. To the surprise of many, he returned to China after a month. He said, I want to change my country. He is a citizen, and the country is ours. We must change her, not escape from her.
I’m ready to go to jail again, anytime. For many years I have been contemplating under which circumstances I’d have more value to my country: inside or outside jail? I keep thinking of the men and women, the generations that had come before me that had suffered and made sacrifices. Today we are following in their footsteps, ready to give up everything we have. But we do not despair, nor will we give up.
My fellow compatriots, if you love China as we do, please take up your civic responsibility for this country. China can’t go on like this anymore. Act to change your own country, act to reverse the decline, act to correct the injustices, act to rise from the state of indifference, act against the suppression, act to fight the long and dark night, act to refuse subjugation, act against unfettered power, and act to break the numbing silence!
If you love China, strive with us. Only by rising up will China escape the fate of going back to the long night of the Cultural Revolution. Only by rising up, will China stop the rot of decline. Only by rising up will the Chinese nation embrace modern political civilization. Only by rising up will the people stand with dignity and will the country have a future. It’s a time of crisis, but we, the Chinese citizens, still believe that history will not stop its march of progress. As 2020 arrives, I wish for China to start on the road to constitutionalism, and I wish for every Chinese to stand up and become a proud citizen.