Sixty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power after a bloody civil war and established the “People’s Republic” of China. The CCP was able to win the civil war because most Chinese people were disappointed with the Kuomintang government, a corrupt and undemocratic regime, and the CCP made wonderful promises.
Two of them were especially appealing. One was the promise of land reform, made to the peasantry who made up over 80 per cent of the population. The other was the promise of democracy, made particularly to the better-educated urban people.
Before 1949, the CCP styled itself as ardently democratic and made numerous appeals for immediate democratisation. Here is just one example. On April 8, 1945, an editorial in its mouthpiece Xinhua Ribao (New China Daily) stated: “It is time for change! But change for what? In one word, for democracy.”
What happened to these promises?
Immediately after the CCP gained control of the mainland, it introduced a nationwide program of land reform. This was a violent campaign which killed more than a million of the country gentry and annihilated the entire land-owning class.
Hardly had the brutal campaign ended, when the CCP launched its Soviet-styled agricultural collectivisation drive. Peasants were forced to give up their newly-acquired land to agricultural co-operatives and people’s communes. The CCP then imposed a household registration system (known as the hukou system), which forbade peasants to leave their villages.
What about the promise of democracy?
A study of China’s history after 1949 shows it was another big lie. Today, China appears to have the institutions of a modern state – a legislature, an executive branch and even a judiciary. Let us, however, look a little more closely at each of these.
The legislature is called the People’s Congress, which Western journalists obligingly call “China’s parliament”. The members of this so-called “parliament”, or delegate to the People’s Congress, however, are not elected by the people. In fact, they are not elected at all. All the delegates are carefully selected by the CCP, purportedly on behalf of the people, but without bothering to consult the people.
The majority of the People’s Congress delegates are party and government officials, anyway. The rest are celebrities such as film stars, Olympic medallists, prominent academics or successful businessmen, who have proven their loyalty to the party.
To be a delegate to the Chinese People’s Congress is more or less the same as being on the royal honours lists in New Zealand. It’s largely a ceremonial role.
The Chinese parliament meets for only two weeks a year. How could it be possible that the legislative matters of such a huge and complex country be dealt with in only two weeks? This fact alone reveals the true nature of the People’s Congress, namely, it is a rubber-stamp, and a Potemkin-village facade of democracy.
The executive branch of the Chinese government is called the State Council, and its head is the Premier.
But important policy decisions on matters of state are all made by the nine-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP, the Politburo, China’s real power centre. The State Council’s task is simply to implement the Politburo’s decisions and directives. All the government departments receive instructions from corresponding offices in the CCP Politburo.
The Chinese Ministry of National Defence is purely a front for the CCP Military Commission, which is actually the Chinese counterpart of the Pentagon in Washington DC.
By the way, the person who heads both the CCP “Foreign Affairs Leading Group” and the CCP Military Commission is the General Secretary of the CCP, Hu Jintao, who also doubles as the President of the country.
Every level of government is similarly “shadowed” by a corresponding party office, and the government institution is by rule subordinate to the party office.
For example, the Number One – or the real boss of any Chinese province – is not the governor of the province, but the first secretary of the CCP provincial committee, who is appointed by the nine-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau in Beijing, the Politburo.
China seems to have a fully-fledged judicial system with prosecutors and judges, but all of them are CCP members, appointed on condition of their total loyalty to the party.
Important as the control of the state apparatus is, it is not crucial for the CCP’s rule. What is crucial is the control of the armed forces and the propaganda machine, or, in the CCP parlance, the gun and the pen.
Mao Zedong instructed in a famous quotation, “The gun and the pen – we relied on these two for winning nationwide power, and we rely on them for the maintenance of power.”
The source of CCP power ultimately lies in its absolute control of China’s mighty armed forces. In accordance with Mao’s famous adage, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, and the CCP principle of “the Party commands the gun”, the CCP does everything possible to ensure that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is truly a “party army”.
As we know, the Party boss, called the General Secretary, Hu Jintao, is Chairman of the CCP Military Commission and is automatically Commander-in-Chief of all the Chinese armed forces, called PLA (the People’s Liberation Army). As such, he personally appoints every general or admiral of the PLA. It is also ominously declared, time and again, that the PLA has the dual function of national defence and keeping domestic order. The PLA performed the second function effectively on June 4, 1989, in the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The army is the ultimate deterrent to any challenge to the CCP’s monopoly of power, and an extremely effective one.
While the PLA is a deterrent force, the well-equipped People’s Armed Police (PAP) and regular police force are there to maintain everyday order.
If we say the PLA, PAP and the regular police force maintain a physical control over the population, the CCP propaganda departments try to control the people’s minds.
The CCP has always attached enormous importance to the power of “the pen” – the propaganda machine for the manipulation of public opinion or, to use an academic term, “perception management”. Mao Zedong once told his followers in a rare moment of candor, “In order to overthrow a political regime, first of all public opinions must be created and ideological work be done.”
China now has more than 2,000 newspapers, 9,000 magazines 2,000 television channels, as well as 450 radio stations; but they are all, without a single exception, under the watchful eye of the propaganda department in Beijing or provincial propaganda departments. The CCP propaganda bosses issue daily instructions on what may and may not be reported and how to report on sensitive matters.
Chinese journalists are constantly warned that dangxing (the party spirit, which means the interest of the CCP) must be put above anything else. Those who ignore this warning will be suspended from work or even imprisoned.
According to Amnesty International’s 2008 report on the state of human rights in China, “Around 30 journalists were known to be in prison and at least 50 individuals were in prison for posting their views on the internet. People were often punished simply for accessing banned websites.”
CCP propaganda departments also control what is taught and what is not taught in Chinese schools. Political education singing the praises of the CCP leadership is compulsory for every youngster, and a “must pass” subject for school leavers.
All this has serious consequences. Modern Chinese history is being re-written while many participants and witnesses of the events that shaped it are still alive.
Nothing in the CCP’s control of the Chinese minds is more bizarre than its attempt to control religion. China is the only country in the world whose government includes a Religious Affairs Bureau. This bureau supervises the activities of all faiths. Believers are allowed to worship only in state-sanctioned and supervised places of worship.
Any religious organisation that the CCP finds difficult to control will be subjected to ruthless persecution. The bloody crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners is a case in point.
The CCP today has abandoned its communist ideals of public ownership and egalitarian distribution of wealth, and at the same time it has kept its cynical disregard for the universal values of democracy, human rights and rule of law. The Party today is singularly devoid of values.
A study undertaken by Chinese researchers two years ago reveals that the income of party and government officials is 8 to 25 times that of urban dwellers, and 25 to 85 times that of rural people.
Of the 3,200 super-rich in mainland Chinese whose personal wealth exceeds 100 million Chinese Yuan (NZ$ 20 million), 2,932, or over 90 per cent, are adult children of top Chinese leaders. At the same time, 400-500 million rural Chinese, almost 35 per cent of the population, still live on less than US$2 a day, or at subsistence level.
Another important component of the CCP belief system is pragmatism. Deng Xiaoping’s now famous saying “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice”, means anything goes if it can get what you want, or in other words, the end justifies the means.
The CCP has embraced this belief and taken it as the guiding principle of their actions. This can help to explain many of its seemingly irrational policies. Take the policy on the ownership of private cars, for example. In the early 1990s, the CCP decided to encourage family cars.
Why should the CCP encourage private car ownership in the most populous country on the planet? Because they see the auto industry as pivotal to speeding economic growth.
Another perverse policy is the CCP reducing public spending on education and medical care at a time when China has never been wealthier with rapidly increasing tax revenues and the world’s largest foreign currency reserves. Why? By so doing the CCP forces people to put more savings into the state-owned banks so that it can have more public funds for other areas such as military build-up.
Pragmatism, as embodied in Deng Xiaoping’s “white cat/ black cat” dictum, also frees the CCP from any ideological and moral constraint. That is why a party that calls itself communist is pursuing capitalism in its crudest form and more and more of its members are becoming capitalists.
This is also why, in a country that pays lip service to socialism, workers are cruelly exploited, deprived of human rights and despised as the lowest of the low.
The CCP has mutated into a party of the rich, oppressing the workers and peasants, in whose name it governs. The rise of China, in the iron grip of such a party, is not in the interest of the common Chinese people. What will it bring about to the rest of world?
Professor Dong Li is a retired Chinese academic, having taught at universities in China, the UK, the USA and New Zealand.