The politburo of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held a meeting in Beijing on September 25 on cultural reforms, presided over by Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, raising questions over the Party’s political intentions. The meeting heard a draft of a resolution on cultural reforms to be submitted to the forthcoming 6th plenary session of 17th Central Committee to be held in Beijing from October 15 to 18.
The process will finally create a Directive Document of the Central Committee on cultural work. The excesses of the cultural revolution still haunt the people of China. Beyond a point further investigation or research is strictly prohibited. Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution but his wife Jiang Qing used the propaganda and cultural departments of the Party to devastating effect. This is the power cultural work has in a communist state.
The 6th plenum of the 17th Central Committee (CC) will lay the platform for the 18th Central Committee in October, next year. There will be large scale leadership changes. All but one of the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), the highest political body will retire. Similarly, there will changes among the ordinary and alternate members of the politburo, and some of them will move up to the PBSC.
Similarly, there would some change, at least in emphasis on the political and ideological direction. The current leadership, that is, the factions, are already pushing their political preferences, and some of them will be moving up to the PBSC. This is already happening with some reverting to elements of Mao Zedong’s regime, some others are demanding more liberalism and political reforms, including some real freedom of speech. Both factions have the same objective – protection of the party. But they fault each other’s political programme to save the party. It is well known that the Party is under serious strain and the leadership is getting increasingly uncomfortable.
While not even excerpts of the draft of the cultural reforms document have made it to the public yet, it is obvious that this in its final form of a directive document will be the ideological and political platform of 18th CC, and enshrined in the party’s constitution. The last word has not yet been said on the document.
As is known, culture in the Marxist sense has very wide and extremely important political connotations. As the Xinhua report said “culture has increasingly become a major element bringing together the people and the creative power of the Chinese nationality”. It further stressed that culture was the “backbone of the country’s economic and social development”. The theme “spiritual civilization” – honesty, accountability, nationalist, as against “Spiritual Pollution” – basically corruption bereft of high ideology is beginning to reappear. “Spiritual Pollution” established by administrative and legal will be welcomed by the people. But an ideological movement across the country using cultural revolution will be dangerous.
Notwithstanding China’s economic might and a rapidly modernizing armed force which is in the cyber age and space age, the country faces some severe challenges. These were detailed to some extent in typically difficult political language at the Parity’s 90th anniversary on July 1. Hu warned that the easy part of reform was over and China was entering the difficult battle period.
China had entered into a fast changing and difficult world. It had successfully avoided the global economic crisis of 2008, artificially held to its currency value, purchased a huge amount of US Treasury bonds to keep the dollar going and keeping open the US market for Chinese goods. But the situation was pressing and China would have to assimilate more closely with international rules.
China’s economy remains basically state controlled, and its market economic status has yet to be recognized by several important countries though, with US backing it has become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its development model has to change, but it is a major challenge. The State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are the biggest employers. There is strong opposition to any further SOE reform. The gap between the rich and poor is the highest in the world, and it is increasing. For sustained development, an uninterrupted flow of resources and energy are required and they have to be imported. The domestic economy is not large enough. The challenge is to make the economic base much bigger so that the pie could be divided more widely. But how?
Some of the foregoing has led to growing instability in the country. Public protests have neared a hundred thousand a year, especially because of corruption aided by police and security elements. Minorities, especially the Uighur Muslim separatists and the Tibetan followers of the Dalai Lama remain a threat to national integrity. The liberal activists have been increasingly demanding freedom of speech and expression, the right to criticize the government and the party, and demanding accountability. Despite harsh methods employed against them they continue to grow, encouraged by people like Premier Wen Jiabao. China initially encouraged internet blogging to promote nationalism, but a large number of blogs are sharply critical of the authorities.
Hu Jintao advised against too high expectations and reminded the people that China was still a developing country. It ranked 104th globally in per capital terms. One thing is to find jobs now, by 2024 it will be difficult to find young workers to work. China’s population is reaching the greying age.
Although Hu Jintao did not touch on the subject, external relations are a cause of concern. China’s relations with its neighbours starting from Japan to the ASEAN countries involved with the South China Sea is at its lowest point in recent years. Problems with Myanmar (Burma) is coming out in the open, differences and periodic tensions with India are on going. Trust has not been established with Russia. With the USA it is high at some point and low at others. It has, of course excellent relations with some African countries where rule of law are practically nonexistent but satisfies China raw material and energy requirements.
Nationalism is proving to be a double edged sword. The anti-foreign mind set and demand for return of the so called China’s territories can also force the hands of the government, because people include Party members. Pressures arising from within the Party are not easy to deal with because the leadership’s ideology will be questioned.
Recent reports reveal that the Party is exercised with basic pressure of liberal attitude, and a number of internal conferences were being held to tackle what is called “ideological shift” in internet information. The Party propaganda departments at the central and provincial levels have launched their own internet army known as the “50 cents Party staff”. They are paid 0.5 Yuan or 50 Chinese cents for every pro-government postings they make on the internet.
The 50-cent army is not a small effort, attacking those who dare to oppose the CPC. But that is not enough. China has been actively filtering the internet blacking out unacceptable sites and postings. But technology has been one step ahead, and official attacks are generating more negative reactions.
What the Chinese leadership is facing is a cumulative frustration from all the problems. Hu Jintao referred to this in his July 1 speech. That frustration is gradually transforming in to outrage and the blame is placed squarely at the door step of the Party. Many bright young people are joining the Party not because of ideological conviction but the advantages the membership will give them over their non-party peers. This is generating ‘spiritual pollution’ and ‘cultural pollution’ within the Party.
It appears that the new cultural reforms aim at stifling critical voices and impose a strict regimen on the country. Party committees are likely to be forced on all kinds of social organizations and unofficial trade unions. According to Chinese official media (Study Times, August 29), as of 2010, there were 440,000 social organizations registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. There are more than 200,000 social organizations in communities and over 40,000 trade associations in rural areas. These organizations have been working to protect the interest of the people against the corrupt officials and businessmen. The Party and the government at the center are keen to protect the peoples’ interests. They fear that a revolt from the rural base, if they join with the industrial works, will create a wave that will subsume the Party. And they honestly believe that if the CPC is removed from power, or even significantly weakened, the country will disintegrate. Yet, the Party center has failed to discipline the errant officials.
The Party’s apprehension over the threat to the country’s territorial integrity is real. It is the CPC which forced the integration of Xinjiang (of the Uighur Muslims), Tibet, and Inner Mongolia. The history of Beijing’s claim on these three regions remains highly questionable. But possession is nine points of law. China captured the territories, but failed miserably to win over the hearts and minds of the people. This is not likely to change in the next 50 years, unless the Party agrees to the Dalai Lama’s proposal. Force is the only instrument the party recognizes. The leadership is very well aware that most of the Han people are not interested either in Tibet or in Xinjiang. If Beijing conceded to the demands of the Dalai Lama’s autonomy for Tibet offer to start with, China will be a much more firmly integrated country. Taiwan is a different question altogether.
The challenges before China are enormous. It is, perhaps, because of this that the Chinese leaders are in such a hurry to establish their sovereignty on perceived or created territories, secure access to over sea resources, and ensure its place at the high table of the world. In pursuing such an ambition in a limited time it first has to set the internal forces in only one direction, that is, unquestioned loyalty to the Party at any cost.
Hence, “culture” which is the alignment of the thinking of the people in line of that of the Party’s is seen as not only essential but indispensable. No deviation will be tolerated.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email: email@example.com)