Pan Wei, China’s “Visionary Gadfly”

Another “new leftist”-type profile from the ever-unlinkable SCMP, so here it is in its entirety.

China’s visionary gadfly

It is truly refreshing to talk to controversial Peking University scholar Pan Wei, who gained fame – if not notoriety – a few years ago for arguing that the mainland does not need democracy.

The professor, who teaches international studies, is something of a gadfly. Though a member of the ruling Communist Party, he says that the mainland today is “a communist country without any communists”.

For one thing, he thinks Beijing should no longer make economic development the nation’s highest goal. Instead, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary should be considered vital.

“For China,” he says, “an election system is not popular. The common people are highly indifferent.” Even the mainland’s highly touted village elections are not a real success, for him. Villagers are
indifferent to the elections and “have to be paid to vote” – presumably as compensation for lost working time.

Though critical of certain aspects of mainland policy, he staunchly defends Beijing against western critics. Much of the criticism, he contends, reflects western unhappiness over the mainland’s economic miracle of the last quarter century – a miracle that “occurred
under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party”.

He also says the command economy, before Deng Xiaoping embraced the market economy, helped the mainland make significant achievements, such as launching satellites, developing nuclear weapons and greatly
extending life expectancy.

The scholar, who has a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, thinks one of the country’s major problems today is the decline in quality of the members of the Communist Party. Other problems are the widening gap between the cities and the countryside as well as the emergence of a new class of poor people – about 150 million migrant workers.

Surprisingly for someone who often sounds like a Chinese nationalist, he says China could support a Pax Americana. The United States, he says, will find China much more useful than Western Europe.

And while China itself cannot become a global leader, it was in a position to “pull the leader down”. Therefore, the US needs China’s co-operation.

His hope, Professor Pan says, is to “create a new political civilisation different from that of the west”.

He sees the Communist Party evolving into something akin to the People’s Action Party in Singapore which, while allowing an opposition, is able to hold and win elections year after year.

The mainland, he feels, needs political reform. He wants it to become a “consultative rule-of-law region”, held up by these pillars: a politically neutral civil service; independent judiciary; anti-corruption agency; independent auditing system; extensive consultation by both the executive and legislative organs of government; and freedoms of the press, of speech, of assembly and of association. In fact, he acknowledges, his ideal system for the
mainland is the Hong Kong model of government.

Are leaders receptive to his ideas? Premier Wen Jiabao, he says, recently declared that China should recognise the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the prosecution. In order to attract Taiwan, Beijing will have to “improve [the mainland’s]
own political system”.

It is highly unlikely that the central leadership will accept his ideas wholesale. But even if some of them – such as the separation of party and state, independent judiciary or politically neutral civil service – find acceptance among those in power, it would represent a
huge step forward for the mainland. With its economic reforms so strikingly successful, it is high time for China to move towards political reform.

Obviously I have some serious issues with this, but considering it’s coming from a Party scholar, I definitely find it refreshing. I like his idea of the Singapore model, though I have to doubt whether a colossus of China’s size could ever be ruled the way the miniature city-state is. I can’t imagine it, though I think it would be the best thing that could happen to China. It all depends on the emergence of that once-in-a-lifetime Lee Kuan Yew-style leader, and I just can’t see China’s power system allowing one man such sweeping authoriy that he could literally mold the country in his image. It would have to be a benevolent man, maybe a Web Jiaobao-type, but with a bit more ruthlessness. Where is he?

As far as no one caring about elections, I’ve heard that before from those towing the party line. I know it’s true for some, not so true for others. I think Pan might be surprisaed how many would be quite excited about elections if they felt it wpuld result in true representation, and not just a new round of CCP rubber-stamp clones.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Looks like a dud.

July 27, 2005 @ 5:27 am | Comment

It’s just a pity that guys like Pan Wei are rolled over by the juggernaut of “get rich quick”. This is one of the reasons why I despair when I read Simon and others criticism of the New Left. I mean, what the hell is wrong with slightly lowering the “at any cost” priority of making money and instead trying to establish the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary?

At the moment, China’s priorities contain many ‘false economies’ like not bothering to establish a rule of law, environmental protection etc etc. Jesus, imagine how much China would gain in the long term if they had real rule of law and a real independent (bad word in China) judicary?

July 27, 2005 @ 5:46 am | Comment

You’re right AM, unfortunately debate over the future direction that China should take doesn’t appear to inspire most people. Perhaps because it is too much to hope for?

China just can’t go on like this, the economy simply isn’t sustainable in its present form and the CCP now prioritises the continuation of its own rule, totally ignoring the cornerstones of any healthy country like the rule of law, independent judiciary etc. It’s just not a very pretty picture. Things simply can’t continue like this forever.

I mean, who can argue with Mr. Wei when he says that China needs:

“…a politically neutral civil service; independent judiciary; anti-corruption agency; independent auditing system; extensive consultation by both the executive and legislative organs of government; and freedoms of the press, of speech, of assembly and of association.”

However, I just can’t see any of the above happening anytime soon because every one (taken for granted in countries like US, UK, Taiwan, Japan etc) is/can/could be a direct threat to CCP rule and that effectively rules out any hope of ever achieving any/all of the above.

What price is China paying for the continuation of CCP rule, national unity, social harmony? IMO, it’s apying a HUGE price and certainly not one that I would be willing to pay.

July 27, 2005 @ 6:28 am | Comment

Martyn, I was about to call it a day, pack up and go to bed. But after reading your comments, I couldn’t help responding. I don’t know much about the new leftists. But I agree with Simon in pointing out that most of their rhetoric about rule of law, anti-consumerism, etc are government sanctioned viewpoint. And it is this kind of consideration that makes me a bit suspicious about their intentions. I may be wrong. But I’ll keep on watching. In any case, I’ve had it today and will go to bed. Please feel free to comment on what I’ve just written. I’l l read your comments tomorrow. Cheers.

July 27, 2005 @ 7:16 am | Comment

No one is going to listen to him. And he’s very biased to say the only reason anybody criticises China is because of its economic success. Of course it happened under the CCP – so did the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution!

July 27, 2005 @ 7:53 am | Comment

Thanks Fat Cat. My above comments weren’t really much to do with the New Left. I don’t care who says it, the meaning of the words remains the same. It’s also too easy for some people to dismiss talk about the above as rhetoric, a front for the CCP etc.

However, things like the rule of law, ind. judiciary, freedom of the press etc are real and tangible things that are enjoyed by nearly all of the most successful and better functioning nations in the world.

At the moment, I despair because I look and see that China is moving further away from these things…all in the name of maintaining Party rule, social harmony etc.

No one is talking here about UK or US-style democracy. Taiwan, perhaps one of the most divided countries (for historical reasons) has one of the most rampantly free presses in the world. Does the country suffer for it? Is Taiwanese democracy and their way of life threatened by it? Of course not.

Look around the world, places like China, N Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran, Saudi etc all have paranoid and petrified govts that hide behind state-controlled media and strict censorship. Why are they afraid? Because they fear their own people, they fear losing power.

Can anyone really see the CCP allowing an independent judiciary? A free press? Of course not, because they are not directly controlled by the govt.

Therefore, what awful price are the people here paying for economic reforms that hardly touch 80% of the population and where all the power, money and priviledge is tightly held in the hands of a political elite with one of the largest and most indoctrinated standing armies in the world for its protection?

July 27, 2005 @ 8:15 am | Comment

“…a politically neutral civil service; independent judiciary; anti-corruption agency; independent auditing system; extensive consultation by both the executive and legislative organs of government; and freedoms of the press, of speech, of assembly and of association.”

This seems like common sense. Any neoliberal or neoconservative or remotely rational person would agree with this.

I don’t know much about China’s domestic political-intellectual atmosphere, but does this mean the New Left has a monopoly on common sense in China?

July 27, 2005 @ 11:59 am | Comment

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