Good grief

From Joseph Kahn over at the NYT/IHT:

China paper sees ‘evil plot’ in anti-Japan protests

A major Chinese state-run newspaper has said in a staff editorial that the wave of popular protests against Japan were part of an “evil plot” with “ulterior motives,” suggesting that at least some elements of the Chinese leadership now wish to portray the demonstrations as a conspiracy to undermine the Communist Party.

The editorial, carried by the Liberation Daily of Shanghai on Monday, used the most strident language to date in an escalating campaign against the anti-Japan protests. Officials did relatively little to stop – some say they even encouraged – the protests over three consecutive weeks from late March to mid-April…

Officials are clearly concerned that the protests, if left unchecked, could evolve into a direct challenge to the party, especially as a string of sensitive political anniversaries approach in early May.

The newspaper, whose editorials reflect the orders of Shanghai’s Communist Party leadership, did not name the people behind the alleged plot or reveal how it operated. But the ambiguous wording hinted at one of two possibilities: that the protests were hijacked by antigovernment groups or that elements in the ruling party used them to wage an internal political struggle….

It is not unusual for official propaganda organs to use hyperbolic language against people whom the authorities view as threatening, and allegations of secret conspiracies to sabotage the party’s leadership are also not uncommon.

But the wording in the editorial, which did not immediately appear in other major state-run dailies, was striking because it departed markedly from earlier official descriptions of the protests as spontaneous expressions of popular outrage against Japan. The softer language had been widely viewed as signaling tacit approval.

Are we all getting this? After helping, directly and indirectly, to organize and manage the demonstrations against the Japanese, the CCP is now claiming the whole things was actually the work of anti-party counterrevolutionaries. What next?

An analyst quoted in the article sees the flip-flopping as indicative of deep intra-party conflicts over how to handle the situation, and I’m sure he’s right. One thing that is now beyond dispute is that the demonstrations backfired, and the police, instead of bussing the demonstrators and handing them eggs to throw, will be arresting them next time.

Updat: Good article on the topic of backfiring can be found here (thanks, CDT). Conclusion:

It is possible that equipped with an understanding of how to organize en masse and seemingly under the radar of Beijing’s censors, younger Chinese may begin encouraging others to take to the streets against corruption and government land seizures, to complain about economic inequality or ideological repression. That is to say, with a slight change of focus, Beijing may see a change of course in its internal affairs towards more turbulent political waters.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

You ask “What Next?” Next thing you know, some kook will be saying SARS was a conspiracy invented by counter-revolutionaries to make the CCP look bad! No, I take it back. No one could possibly be that crazy.

April 27, 2005 @ 10:24 am | Comment

The first reaction that I had on seeing that editorial was that some people in the CCP really want to see the situation get out of control. The language in the article was very inflamatory and the similarity to the People’s Daily editorial in 1989 that escalated the Tiananmen protests was beyond striking, even the timing was similar. We all know that protests getting out of control was the reason for the downfall of top CCP leaders Hu Yaobang in 87 and Zhao Ziyang in 89, so could some people be trying the same this time? Hmmm…, what group of people with close ties to Shanghai could possibly want this?

April 27, 2005 @ 11:30 am | Comment

well, how many times did we hear speculation that Hu was still locked in a power struggle with Jiang, thus constraining his actions and any moves towards greater liberalization?

Or at this point, maybe it’s the other way around?

This kind of thing is why I’m reluctant to make too many blanket statements about the CCP – between the different factions there is such a divergence of opinion.

Hmmmm, maybe that’s how China could get around the whole democracy vs. democratic centralism issue – just formalize the splits in the CCP.

I’m kind of kidding, but not exactly.

April 27, 2005 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Brian, very funny!

Lisa, I agree, it’s always a risky think to see the CCP as a monolithic force of good, evil or anything — it’s a splintered, fractious organization of infighters, and it’s nearly impossible to say who is pulling which strings and why.

Hui Mao, I didn’t want to paste the entire article, so thanks for mentioning the comparison it makes with the demonstrations of 1989, where the CCP also blamed “counter-revolutionaries.”

April 27, 2005 @ 11:43 am | Comment

The analyst said there were similarities between the Monday editorial and one that appeared in People’s Daily in late April 1989. It condemned student-led pro-democracy protests that spring as “counter-revolutionary,” and gave early evidence of a power struggle that paralyzed the government for weeks before the military crushed the protests.

Just finished reading the whole article and saw this at the end. I’d have to disagree with the interpretation on the significance of the 1989 editorial. That editorial was an important event not because it revealed a split among the leadership but because the inflamatory wording (calling the student movement “counter-revolutionary”) angered the students and caused them to return to the streets after the initial protests had subsided to demand the government to retract the editorial and officially reclassify their movement as patriotic. It seems like the current editorial is aiming for a near exact repeat of the events in 1989.

April 27, 2005 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

in fact there are those who think that the only peaceful way to chinese democracy (I’m sorry, I am not counting the mob politics of TW as real democracy) is by “formaliz(ing) the splits in the CCP”.

April 27, 2005 @ 12:52 pm | Comment

There was a lot of talk about “inner-party democracy” when Hu first took office, but that seems to have died down.

April 27, 2005 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

in fact there are those who think that the only peaceful way to chinese democracy (I’m sorry, I am not counting the mob politics of TW as real democracy) is by “formaliz(ing) the splits in the CCP”.

It certainly makes sense to me. With the shift to a market economy so much of the CCP is “communist” in name only…

April 27, 2005 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

i believe the former secretary of zhao ziyang (his name again?) hold this view.

April 27, 2005 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

I hope this doesn’t mean a resurgence of the ‘Shanghai gang’.

April 27, 2005 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

My first reaction to that editorial is ‘how can they … how dare they!’. Look I have never approved of what the protesters have been doing and even their view, but they are sincere supporters of CCP. How can CCP use such harsh language to its own faithfuls and betray them?

April 27, 2005 @ 7:30 pm | Comment

Simple answer: because they’re the CCP.

April 27, 2005 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

Well, I think I would say “I told you so”. In another thread I argued that the student protests were more likely to be a product of one faction of the government trying to put pressure on another faction. This newspaper article simply represents the other faction hitting back. Damn, I really wish I knew enough about Shanghai to judge who would have sway over that newspaper. Suggestions, anyone? The wording definately suggests that the newspaper article emanates from those currently holding sway in policy decisions. So who are they? That’s the question people should be asking.

April 27, 2005 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

One faction may have used the student protests, but the students’ passions are real. That’s what’s giving many members of the government pause. Once a bell is rung, you can’t unring it, and all that…

April 27, 2005 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

I wonder how many Shanghainese (much less Chinese) actually READ that editorial.

I would be surprised if it was even one percent.

This is exactly one of those issues that foreigners and China-watchers carefully dissect while most Chinese are completely oblivious.

Makes you wonder which group knows the score better …

April 28, 2005 @ 7:01 am | Comment

Shanghai Slim … I think that you seriously under-estimate the importance of these editorials. They are the ways the government indicates policy changes, or at least that it is seriously considering them. It was in fact a similar editorial that heralded the Falun Gong suppression, and that sect took it very seriously indeed. They mobilised thousands of followers to protest in Beijing. Of course, this only comfirmed the leadership’s worst fears, but that’s beside the point. I’d also suggest (if you’re interested in following this up) looking into the battle of wills going on in the editorials in the period just before / at the very start of the Cultural Revolution. There’s lots more examples too.

If anything, foreigners underestimate their importance, and miss subtle points that are completely obvious to Chinese in the know. Would you, for example, recognise the contemporary significance of an editorial discussing a Beijing Opera about the dismissal of the Ming Dynasty official called Hai Rui? Or what it meant in the Deng Xiaoping era to have editorial discussions about the lack of merit of Li Hongzhang?

April 28, 2005 @ 8:41 am | Comment

FS9 is absolutely correct (the “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” battle is often considered the opening salvo of the CR). And always check the photos to see who is standing next to whom and who isn’t there…

April 28, 2005 @ 11:56 am | Comment

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