CCP nervous over 83-year-old Party member’s new book

Du Guang is a good party member, a retired professor from the Central Party School, an 83-year-old man with a serious heart condition. And his book on the CCP and how it has deviated from its original charter has so frightened the party that they called its Hong Kong publisher and warned him not to publish it. Bao Pu, the founder of the publishing house, New Century Press, which also published Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs, saw the call as consistent with the CCP’s obsession with “internal security.”

[T]here is no telling what will stir anger these days in a country that is increasingly prosperous and powerful but also curiously insecure — so much so that China spends more on internal security than on defense and views as a threat an octogenarian authority on Marxism and believer in democracy….

“This is what happens if you give unlimited power to the security apparatus,” Bao said, echoing a widespread view that the party, though the architect of China’s spectacular economic renaissance, is in thrall to retrograde security organs that see flickerings of subversion in every corner.

Du is not your average thorn in the CCP’s side. He is a life-long communist who now accuses the National People’s Congress of being “nothing more than a democratic signboard for a one-party dictatorship.”

Unlike student protesters who enraged the party by erecting a statue modeled on New York’s Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square in 1989 or the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo who championed Western liberties and mocked party dogma, Du is a party member who takes Chinese communism seriously. In some ways, though, that makes him especially troublesome.

His book, an advance copy of which has been reviewed by The Washington Post, doesn’t ridicule the party or call for its overthrow but dissects its theoretical gobbledygook and traces how far it has drifted from its early ideals. The book’s title: “Getting Back to Democracy.”

It’s funny (bizarre) to see the government of the world’s up and coming superpower get twisted into knots over the writings of a sick octogenarian. As China appears to be reforming in so many ways, as Chinese people find new methods to speak out and demand change, as China solidifies its position as a force to be reckoned with, how can they let an old man with a heart condition scare the crap out of them? This is a rhetorical question, as I think we all know the answer. The CCP for all its bluster is as insecure as a frightened child.

Needless to say, the censors have been going into overdrive to delete his writings on the Internet, causing him to post on his blog, “The strangling of free speech is not possible. It only . . . makes you lose face before the whole world.” The post, of course, was deleted, but has been re-posted on other sites by angry Netizens.

Update: Looking at this post a few days later, I found it a bit too self-righteous and outspoken, and edited it accordingly.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 28 Comments

Richard, you may have to sue Du Guang for infringement of copyright. haha

March 9, 2012 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

@ Will

Given Du’s age, fairly certain he had those ideas first. =P

March 9, 2012 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

Dogs always bark out of fear. Super power is a PR campaign along with all the big cities we see with tall (but empty) buildings, which, itself, is a good metaphor for the whole house of cards. GDP a fraction of that of the U.S. and 6 times the populations says it all. Bluster and bluff. As we are fond of saying on Wall Street: don’t believ your won press releases. Yada, yada, yada.

March 9, 2012 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

“The CCP for all its bluster is as insecure as a frightened child. ”
—that sounds about right.

March 9, 2012 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

“China appears to be reforming in so many ways”

Name one meaningful reform instituted in the last ten years.

March 9, 2012 @ 8:36 pm | Comment

Richard
It’s funny (bizarre) to see the government of the world’s up and coming superpower get twisted into knots … scare the crap out of them … insecure as a frightened child.

… going into overdrive to delete his writings on the Internet … self-embarrassing, in revealing its deep-seated inferiority complex.

Do you ever get tired of this hyperbole? Do you REALLY think it takes a lot of effort to pay someone with an entry-level desk job to delete internet postings and call and harass a publisher?

It seems like the corporate department of agitprop is sending memos to all their employees to play up the “China insecure” fantasy. They’re probably acutely aware of how badly things could turn out if the nation were to be destabilized, and simply zapped his postings as part of a broader effort.

But if you want to tell yourself that Hu Jintao is tossing and turning at night because of some old guy go right ahead. Whatever floats your boats.

March 10, 2012 @ 5:28 am | Comment

I don’t even get where the inferiority complex thing comes from. It has nothing to do with anything. You bandy that term around an awful lot, I’m thinking “projection”.

March 10, 2012 @ 5:30 am | Comment

CLM
Dogs always bark out of fear.

Right. And who, exactly, is barking? What China is doing now is just the same thing it’s been doing for the last 2,000 years.

Super power is a PR campaign

Whose PR campaign? The PRC certainly never describes itself as a superpower. It in fact vehemently repudiate the notion because they aren’t one.

along with all the big cities we see with tall (but empty) buildings

It doesn’t matter if they’re empty if they are maintained and will be filled later. Empty buildings are a sign of overcapacity in the developed world, not in the developing world. Common sense is thrown out the window when you have so much rage invested against a nation.

GDP a fraction of that of the U.S. and 6 times the populations says it all.

A “fraction” begs some clarification, and 1,320,000,000/314,000,000 is not six, last I checked.

March 10, 2012 @ 5:35 am | Comment

FOARP
Name one meaningful reform instituted in the last ten years.

I could name a whole host of minor reforms that have been fairly successful over the span of a decade, does that work?

Then there are always things that have been on the books forever but have only recently been properly enacted.

SK Cheung
“The CCP for all its bluster is as insecure as a frightened child. ”
—that sounds about right.

If by the CCP you mean the West and their pundits, you’re right. China neither afraid nor arrogant, they are realistic and pragmatic.

March 10, 2012 @ 5:37 am | Comment

Cookie, they are trying to stop a book from being published. They are worried enough to try to stamp out any mention of it. Doing the stamping out is easy. The issue is, who is telling them to stamp it out, who is calling the publisher? That comes from on high. There is no hyperbole — China is nervous enough about criticism from within to censor, or try to censor, on multiple levels.

FOARP, I agree with Cookie, there have been many minor reforms, socially and economically. I was involved in a government project to bring digital tools to the countryside, for example. Look at the social reforms. Homosexuality was deleted from the list of mental illnesses and there is now near total freedom for gays in the big Chinese cities. Then there’s AIDS. Nearly all of the Henan farmers and their families, after years of shameful neglect from the government, are on free antiretrovirals, as are about 80 percent of other AIDS patients in China. The government launched educational campaigns, overhauled its sex education program (which is still wretched but slowly improving, with huge strides in major cities like Chengdu and Beijing). The government has bent to local pressure in several situations over the past few years (recent examples were the demonstrations in Guangzhou and Wukan); this would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Censorship is still Draconian, but you can now go surprisingly far in criticizing the government, even in the Chinese media, as long as you don’t cross the fat red lines, as Ai Weiwei did.

Of course, for every reform you can come up with anecdotal evidence that contradicts it and horror stories that show the reforms are often ignored. But I don’t believe there’s any denial that China has been on a trajectory of reform, with a lot of ups and down along the way.

March 10, 2012 @ 8:02 am | Comment

@Richard – I’m sorry, but some of those were more than ten years ago (decriminalisation of homosexuality), some of those aren’t reforms per se (Henan blood donors, development projects) and some appear to consist of the government not killing too many people (Wukan).

I can easily point to recent political changes even in my own country which exceed the scale of any reform in China (e.g., Scots and Welsh devolution, reform of the House of Lords, the EU), so the idea that China has seen fast-paced reform in recent years seems like a non-starter to me. Even the US looks to have seen greater political changes during Obama’s presidency.

And yes, given the way things have been going since 2010 especially, I think it is possible to say that reform has become something of a dead letter in China. No prominent politician is pushing it, none of the next generation has made it a priority. You can point to minor changes, you can say that you believe the trajectory is one of eventual reform – but this is pretty far from the kind of hopes that people had ten years ago.

March 11, 2012 @ 1:10 am | Comment

Compared to American state security organs, the CCP is too kind, too gentle, too lenient. If someone tries something like this in America, CIA/FBI would’ve already hit him with a blunt weapon, and throw his body into a cement mixer. No one would even know about it.

March 11, 2012 @ 3:58 am | Comment

I can see where you’re coming from Richard, but I still don’t buy the notion that censorship is some emotionally driven impulse from the CCP. It’s more like standard procedure for them.

March 11, 2012 @ 8:29 am | Comment

“No one would even know about it.”

Indeed. How about enlightening us. What do you know that no one else does?

March 11, 2012 @ 9:33 am | Comment

Again, Richard, we have to be careful here of tarring the entire Party with the same brush as certain elements within the party.

The security elements, the siloviki, of China have to justify their budgets somehow. In committee meetings, individuals like Du (and Ai Weiwei, et al) serve as a useful justification for line items in the budget. Sometimes I think the real reason the Party adopts such a dysfunctional attitude towards perfectly legitimate dissent is because the security organs have to find something to do.

March 11, 2012 @ 11:22 am | Comment

@t_co – My concern here is that it looks like China’s siloviki (to use the Russian phrase) have managed to get some serious backing for creating an extensive censorship/security aparat (to use the German phrase). This, at least, is the conclusion to be drawn from the disclosure that China’s internal security budget exceeds the official defence budget. Whilst this spending obviously includes relatively innocuous activities, no-one familiar with China can think that the money is being spent entirely, or even mostly, on ordinary law-enforcement or the like.

March 11, 2012 @ 6:34 pm | Comment

@ FOARP

That’s a fairly accurate observation. One thing that Western observers rarely focus on when they talk about China are the (often heated) budget debates that happen within the Party. The past excuse that those debates are obscured and opaque is becoming increasingly hollow as Chinese policymaking opens up. Look at the articles that come out of influential magazines like Caijing, or articles in Qiushi (Seeking Truth), or the papers that come out of CASS or other think tanks. There is a lot of detail if one can wade through the text.

Returning to your point, the aparat has gained tremendously in strength in recent years. But my gut tells me that the Wang Lijun affair may have been the high-water mark for the get-tough approach. Note that Wang is a core product of increased security budgets. He and his boss, Bo Xilai, more than any other men in China, are the visible face of an increased internal security presence. Xi Jinping is essentially ambivalent to the aparat. Without a charismatic figure like Bo Xilai to rally around, the only consensus left would be Wang Yang’s emphasis on using NGOs and the forces of civil society to resolve, rather than simply repress, social ills.

One thing to watch for may be increased central government budget items for funding “patriotic social organizations”. This term has been bandied about some Chinese policymaking fora for a while now, but the government has always been reluctant to work too closely with them as it feels organizations that take government money and toe its line will lose credibility while organizations that take money and buck the trend will encourage more instability.

Perhaps a better approach could be used. Several policy wonks I know of in the government have been trying to find a testbed area in Zhejiang, Fujian, or Guangdong province to try out a cooption method of NGO management. Basically they want to find NGOs that are building credibility amongst the population and then gradually replace the NGO’s independent funding sources with higher levels of government funding, while also connecting the local government with the NGO to try and directly address whatever issue is at hand. The thinking goes that most NGOs are only skimpily funded anyhow and would be happy to take a bigger, longer-term source of cash, especially if it was also tied with an opportunity to make a real-world impact. If that fails, the NGOs assets and internet accounts could be frozen without having to actually detain or arrest anyone, while competing NGOs in the same space would see their reputations boosted.

There are indications that this is where China is going. One of the key tenets of Wang Yang’s “civil society” approach is that no outside organization should ever monopolize a social issue, and that while the Party must remain the centerpiece of actually executing a solution, citizen groups are valued partners in bringing issues to light. All that remains is ironing out this general approach into a detailed policy.

March 12, 2012 @ 12:41 am | Comment

@t_co – I’ve never taken the liberalisation-through-NGO idea all that seriously as I could never see how it would result in anything but simply turning NGOs into GOs, but then I also pooh-poohed Wikipedia when it started and as a student wrote an essay on nuclear safety that said the exact situation that occurred at Fukushima last year was essentially impossible.

We’ll have to see how Bo Xilai weathers this one. The Wang Lijun story at the moment doesn’t appear to make any real sense, so personally I think Bo’s far too large a figure to be put out of the spotlight for good, but we’ll have to see.

March 12, 2012 @ 1:58 am | Comment

To #9,
I think most people would have a pretty good understanding of what “ccp” refers to. But then you are not ‘most people’.

China doesn’t have all those hang ups that they need to be fearful of. But the ccp has plenty of those things. It should be inherently obvious that the ccp is not china, nor Chinese people. It is simply a self-serving political party/system that sees shadows around every corner. Hence the overwrought response to a book by an octagenarian.

March 13, 2012 @ 6:28 am | Comment

To #12,
Lol. Nice fairy tale. Actually, the fact that the ccp hasn’t done precisely what you described might be chalked up to progress, middling as it is. Or maybe this guy had accumulated some previous goodwill that he is currently being given credit for.

March 13, 2012 @ 6:33 am | Comment

Sad but interesting story, Richard. Thanks for sharing.

March 14, 2012 @ 3:01 am | Comment

Well, I guess Du Guang will receive a lot more in royalties now that the CCP has brought it to the world’s attention in a way that no advertising agency ever could.

March 14, 2012 @ 5:09 am | Comment

Richard, you should check out this article from Sinocism:

http://www.techinasia.com/chinese-internet-deleted-price/

Key takeaway: People always speak of Chinese internet censorship as some nefarious monolithic entity… but it seems like it’s just a bunch of guys trying to make a living.

March 14, 2012 @ 10:31 am | Comment

@FOARP

I agree, dealing with NGOs will be a very delicate line the Party has to walk. But this line, like so many others the Party has decided to tread, has been walked by numerous other first and third-world governments before it. They will likely draw experience from those cases.

March 14, 2012 @ 10:38 am | Comment

@FOARP

As for Wang, I think the only real lesson that can be drawn is that as No. 2 man in Chongqing, he felt that every single place in that region was so unsafe he had to take shelter in the American consulate over 300km away.

Being as savvy as him, he must have known that with Xi’s visit to Washington happening the very next day, his chances for asylum with probably slim to none. This means he must have been exceedingly frightened of whatever fate Bo’s team had in store for him.

One conjecture is that he had probably already tried other channels of getting his name cleared (usually involving “fixing firms” who charge officials in trouble exorbitant fees) and their prognosis was that his case was a special one that they could not help with. He likely became a pawn between Bo, Wang Yang, and other powerful interest groups in the Chinese state and he wanted out.

March 14, 2012 @ 10:45 am | Comment

People always speak of Chinese internet censorship as some nefarious monolithic entity but it seems like it’s just a bunch of guys trying to make a living.

When people talk about Internet censorship in China they usually mean, individuals being hauled off, questioned and beaten up because of a blog post or poem about the government.

Companies with PR problems paying websites to take down articles about them isn’t really the sort of thing that comes to mind.

March 15, 2012 @ 4:48 am | Comment

Basically they want to find NGOs that are building credibility amongst the population and then gradually replace the NGO’s independent funding sources with higher levels of government funding … most NGOs are only skimpily funded anyhow and would be happy to take a bigger, longer-term source of cash. If that fails, the NGOs assets and internet accounts could be frozen

Faustian bargain.

March 15, 2012 @ 4:51 am | Comment

This was one of my worst posts ever; they can’t all be gems. This thread is closed.

March 15, 2012 @ 10:36 am | Comment

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