Xi Jinping on the Prospects for Political Reform:
“From My Cold, Dead Hands.”
by A. E. Clark
Future historians wondering exactly when the PRC entered its pre-revolutionary phase may focus on a series of speeches that General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered behind closed doors to the Communist Party elite after being promoted to the top slot in the leadership. It was rumored early on that his tone was not encouraging to anyone hoping for an incremental transition to the rule of law with wider scope for civil society and greater accountability in government. Now Gao Yu has provided a few quotes from one of these speeches in an essay which Yaxue Cao has translated. In these fragments we glimpse a ruling class that not only is prepared to defend its privileges with force but anticipates the need to do so, and views proposals for reform as threats to its grip on power.
In Gao's excerpts, after warning that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union became confused and feckless when it distanced itself from its authentic values (among which he includes Stalin!), Xi Jinping discusses the control of the military. It is a remarkable fact, perhaps not widely enough known in the West, that the Chinese armed forces are technically not under the control of the national government. They are directly under the control of the Communist Party. Within China, from people who are in no sense dissidents, there have been many calls to change this arrangement.
From Cao’s translation of remarks attributed to Xi Jinping:
“Why must we stand firm on the Party’s leadership over the military? Because that’s the lesson from the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union where the military was depoliticized, separated from the Party and nationalized, the party was disarmed. A few people tried to save the Soviet Union; they seized Gorbachev, but within days it was turned around again, because they didn’t have the instruments to exert power. Yeltsin gave a speech standing on a tank, but the military made no response, keeping so-called ‘neutrality.’ Finally, Gorbachev announced the disbandment of the Soviet Communist Party in a blithe statement. A big Party was gone just like that. Proportionally, the Soviet Communist Party had more members than we do, but nobody was man enough to stand up and resist.”
When Xi describes resisting a people’s calls for change as a test of the leader’s manhood, we sense that compromise is unlikely.
But his self-protective intransigence will not be unfamiliar to patrons of Ragged Banner Press. In Chapter 63 of Hu Fayun’s 2006 novel Such Is This World, there is a memorable conversation between Jiang Xiaoli (a hard-nosed woman who is a Party stalwart) and the more mellow Liang Jinsheng. Jiang Xiaoli rips into Ru Yan, the protagonist who has been spreading accurate information about the SARS epidemic:
“… She’d like to be a rebel; that’s fashionable now. In the more than ten years since the Soviet Union fell apart and the huge changes occurred in Eastern Europe, some people, especially opportunists inside the Party, have been itching to make trouble. . .”
“If you want to talk about rebels,” Liang Jinsheng objected, “then how many of our proletarian revolutionaries were once rebels—”
“No!” she cut him off, agitated. “Rebellion was OK only once, the first time: then it was loyal officials contending for control of the State. The next time, it’s just unfilial sons plotting rebellion.”
Later Jiang Xiaoli adds, more candidly, “This is not about right and wrong; it’s about winning and losing.” And in words that eerily foreshadow Xi Jinping’s two-pronged warning not to repudiate Communist traditions and not to share control over the military, she concludes, “The vital thing is not to let anyone dig up our ancestral grave or cut off our resources.”
The opinions expressed in this piece are mine alone, and should not be imputed to authors published by Ragged Banner Press.