Letter accuses China's party of drift

From Saul Thomas <stthomas@uchicago.edu>
Date Sat, 21 Jul 2007 12:12:55 -0500 (CDT)

Letter accuses China's party of drift

The 17 signatories, ex-officials and academics, say
policies make a mockery of Marxism.

By Mark Magnier
Times Staff Writer
July 18, 2007

BEIJING -- A rare open letter signed by 17 former top
officials and conservative Marxist scholars ahead of a
key party meeting accuses China's top leaders of
steering the country in the wrong direction, pandering
to foreigners, betraying the workers' revolution and
jeopardizing social stability.

"We're going down an evil road," says the letter on the
website http://www.maoflag.net . "The whole country is
at a most precarious time."

The challenge is unusual because of the importance of
its signatories and its timing before this fall's party
congress, an event held every five years and a key date
on the political calendar.

Most public dissent in China generally comes from the
beleaguered ranks of human rights activists and minority
religious groups seeking to reduce the Communist Party's
power. By contrast, those who affixed their names to
this document included former government ministers, a
former ambassador to Russia, ex-army officers and
academics from elite universities and think tanks. And
their emphasis was on restoring party control of an
economy that has moved rapidly toward capitalist
practices in recent years.

The letter provides an unusual public view of
ideological differences within the party, which
generally tries to present a unified front.

"This is probably the first time so many high-ranking
people have spoken out like this," said He Husheng, a
professor of party history at People's University. "The
Central Committee is surely not happy at their

The policies advocated by those signing the letter
include reversing a law passed this year that allows
private ownership of property, abandoning rules that
allow entrepreneurs to join the Communist Party,
imposing sharp restrictions on foreign investment,
putting an end to privatization of state assets and
placing a renewed emphasis on Marxist campaigns and

The party's focus on economic liberalization has led to
a dangerous mix of widespread corruption, unemployment,
a growing wealth gap and potential social unrest, the
letter's authors argue.

If China continues down this path, the letter says, the
country will soon "have its own Boris Yeltsin" and "the
demise of the party and country would loom."

The signatories can expect a call from propaganda
officials "strongly suggesting" they delete their
letter, said He, the party history professor. If they
don't agree, it will be deleted for them, he added.

Indeed, by Tuesday afternoon the website appeared to be
blocked, with a "Service Unavailable" notice displayed
on the otherwise blank page, a fate more often reserved
for websites sponsored by human rights activists than
party stalwarts.

The seven-page letter appeared on the website late last
week, about two weeks after a key speech by President Hu
Jintao that appeared to be aimed at silencing critics
within the party. The timing suggests that significant
differences remain as party leaders try to unify their
ranks behind Hu's policies, which have attempted to open
up China's economy while maintaining control of the
political system.

"This shows that the disagreement within the party over
reform is pretty big and perhaps getting bigger," said
Wang Yukai, a professor at the National School of
Administration in Beijing. "This kind of open letter
will put quite some pressure on our leaders and only
have negative effects on proper decisions."

The letter, addressed to Hu and the party's Central
Committee, targets in particular capitalists and
foreigners who have flourished under policies that the
signatories say have eroded socialism, equality and

"Party secretaries have become capitalists, and
capitalists have joined the party," the letter says.
"Foreign corporations are plundering domestic markets
and crushing our national economy." The signatories also
urged competitive internal elections for central party
members and the party secretary, a sign of the group's
displeasure with Hu's leadership.

The views expressed in the letter speak to a
constituency that has seen its power diminish under
China's ferocious economic growth, rapid social change
and growing diversity. The China Daily reported Tuesday
that almost 3 million of the party's 72.4 million
members now work in private business, up from almost
none a few years ago.

In addition to facing dissent from conservatives over
economic changes, Hu has come under fire from liberals
who have pushed for a more open political system. Those
views were aired in a cover story in the latest issue of
the liberal journal Yanhuang Chunqiu, which roughly
translates as History of the Chinese People. It argued
that though China has reformed economically, it
continues to drag its heels on important political
reforms outlined by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in
the 1980s. These include reducing the excessive power of
the party and ending its overarching grip on the

Some analysts denied that such articles were indications
of ideological differences in party ranks, arguing
instead that the diversity of opinion underscored
changes afoot in China.

"This is not significant at all," said Liu Zhiguang, a
professor at Peking University's School of Marxism and
Leninism. "This shows that different opinions can
coexist, or maybe that our leaders are just becoming

Officially, China has no lobbyists, nor does its
monopoly political party consider lightly any outsiders
who attempt to influence its decisions. The Chinese
Communist Party has traditionally handed down policies
fully formed, in keeping with its preferred image as an
all-knowing, unified, paternalistic organization.

As China has become a more diverse society, and the
Internet has made censorship harder, however, the
leadership has been forced increasingly to contend with,
respond to and adapt to public opinion.

Experts said the 17 signatories had sought to influence
top leaders through internal party channels, but they
were rebuffed and, in frustration, decided to go public.

The letter by itself is unlikely to alter party
ideology, which if anything has become more rigid in
recent years as a bulwark against unsettling social
change, they said. But it could intensify divisions.

"These guys want to turn back the clock, but that's
impossible," said Wang of the National School of

"I wouldn't say they're bad people. But we must move
forward. Such outdated opinions are a leftist tumor."


Yin Lijin in The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to
this report.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times