Skip to main content

Two essays, six years of Xi

In 2012, Deng Yuwen 邓聿文, commentary writer and deputy editor of the Central Party School’s journal, Study Times, published a three-part essay titled “The Political Legacy of Hu-Wen” (胡温的政治遗产 hú wēn de zhèngzhì yíchǎn). The second part was called “The Ten Grave Problems” (十大问题 shí dà wèntí) — a critical list of 10 major socioeconomic and political problems left behind by the administration of Hu Jintao 胡锦涛 and Wen Jiabao 温家宝 (2002–2012).

You can read an English translation of it here, with an introduction by scholar Geremie Barmé. I was working with Geremie at the time on a series of yearbooks about China, and the essay struck us as something to be remembered.

Naturally, Deng lost his job at Study Times shortly after the essay was published, although he continues to publish widely. Reading Deng’s essay today with the benefit of hindsight, I think it remains a cogent critique of the decade under Hu and Wen era. The Ten Problems are, in summary:

No breakthroughs in economic restructuring and advancing a consumer-driven economy.

A failure to support and sustain a middle class.The rural-urban income and development gap has increased.

The population policy lags behind reality.The bureaucratization and profit-incentivization of educational and scientific research institutions show no indication of being curtailed and continue to stifle creativity.

Environmental degradation continues to worsen.The government has failed to establish a stable energy-supply system.

The government has failed to build an effective and convincing system of shared values that can be accepted by the majority of its people, with resulting egregious behavior and the collapse of ideology.

Diplomacy focused on “putting out fires” and “maintaining stability” lacks vision, strategic thinking, and a specific agenda.

There have been insufficient efforts to push political reform and promote democratization.

Another thing that struck me as I read the essay six years after it was written: Many of the Xi Jinping era’s signature policies look like attempts to deal with these issues: the loosening of the one child policy, anti-pollution campaign, focus on poverty alleviation, the promotion of a value system based on the Chinese dream and adoration of Xi Jinping, a coherent global foreign policy that includes diplomacy and cash, epitomized by the Belt and Road…

Peak Xi Jinping?

Let’s turn to a second essay. Yesterday, the New York Times published an article by crack China reporter Chris Buckley that begins: “China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, seemed indomitable when lawmakers abolished a term limit on his power early this year… So Xu Zhangrun 许章润, a law professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, took a big risk last week when he delivered the fiercest denunciation yet from a Chinese academic of Mr. Xi’s hard-line policies, revival of Communist orthodoxies and adulatory propaganda image.”

You can find the essay in translation by Geremie Barmé on China Heritage: Imminent fears, immediate hopes — a Beijing jeremiad, or in Chinese here.

Xu’s essay reminds me of Deng’s “10 Grave Problems” — not just because it is critical, but because I wonder if we’ll look back on it in six years’ time and see it as a marker of a political moment — the zenith of the Xi Jinping cult?

Perhaps not: Respected China-watcher Bill Bishop commented (paywall): “Color me skeptical that Xu's letter will do anything other than lead to investigations of and crackdown on anyone associated with it.”

But in his introduction, Geremie Barmé argues that Xu’s essay will not go unnoticed:

Xu Zhangrun’s powerful plea is not a simple work of “dissent,” as the term is generally understood in the sense of samizdat protest literature. Given the unease within China’s elites today, its implications are also of a different order from liberal pro-Western “dissident writing.” Xu has issued a challenge from the intellectual and cultural heart of China, or 文化中國, to the political heart of the Communist Party…

…The content and powerful literary style of Xu’s “remonstrance” as well as its tone of “moral outrage” 義憤 will resonate deeply throughout the Chinese party-state system, as well as within the society and among concerned citizens more broadly.

Unless you read literary Chinese and Partyspeak like a scholar-official, I highly recommend you read Geremie’s translation on China Heritage.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


Popular posts from this blog

Balochistan to establish first medical university

The Newspaper's Staff CorrespondentOctober 25, 2017QUETTA: The provincial cabinet on Tuesday approved the draft for establishing a medical university in Balochistan.Health minister Mir Rehmat Saleh Baloch made the announcement while speaking at a press conference after a cabinet meeting.“The cabinet has approved the draft of the medical university which would be presented in the current session of the Balochistan Assembly,” he said, adding with the assembly’s approval the Bolan Medical College would be converted into a medical university.Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2017

5 Shia Hazara community members gunned down in Pakistan

Five members of the minority Shia Hazara community, including two women, were killed on Sunday in an attack by unidentified gunmen in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province.This is not the first time that members of the Hazara community have been targeted in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan.(Reuters File Photo)Updated: Sep 11, 2017 00:20 ISTBy Press Trust of India, Press Trust of India, KarachiFive members of the minority Shia Hazara community, including two women, were killed on Sunday in an attack by unidentified gunmen in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province.The gunmen targeted a car in Kuchluck area of Quetta while it was coming from the Chaman border crossing area, police said.The firing took place when the travellers had stopped at a filling station to refuel their vehicle. Five people of the Shia Hazara community, including two women, died in …

China’s 'Digital Silk Road': Pitfalls Among High Hopes

Will information and communication technologies help China realize its Digital Silk Road?By Wenyuan WuNovember 03, 2017In his speech at the opening ceremony of China’s 19th Party Congress, President Xi Jinping depicted China as a model of scientific and harmonious development for developing nations. Xi’s China wants to engage the world through commerce but also through environmental protection and technological advancement. This includes Beijing’s efforts to fight climate change with information and communication technologies (ICTs) that it plans to export along its “One Belt One Road” initiative (OBOR). Xi may have ambitious plans, but could China be throwing up obstacles in its own way?In his speech, the Chinese president emphasized the need to modernize the country’s environmental protections. The Chinese state is taking an “ecological civilization” approach to development and diplomacy, with a natio…