URBAN TIBET UNDER XI JINPING’S NEW “MASS LINE”
Blog 1 of 2 on ideologies and technologies of silencing Tibetans
In a secret internal directive to all 80 million members of the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP has made explicit its many fears and siege mentality.
The central command is to NOT SPEAK of the seven propositions that assail the CCP on all sides. The seven Don’t Speaks, as they are known if one translates directly from Chinese, are a catalogue of what assails a thoroughly institutionalised ruling party that is 90 years old, and has enjoyed power for the past 64 years.
At a time when China is more powerful, more wealthy and successful than it has been for many centuries, one might expect a ruling party with no organised challenger to be confident and relaxed. Not at all. Taken together, this latest list of mandatory slogans, to be memorised and implemented by party members high and low, is a catalogue of ghosts, past and present, haunting the rulers.
Document No. 9, April 2013, issued by the Communist Party Central Committee General Office, the administrative engine room of the central leadership, is worth quoting directly.
1: Don’t speak of promoting Western constitutional democracy. That attempts to negate the contemporary leaders, deny the socialist political system with Chinese characteristics.
Western constitutional democracy includes the separation of powers, a multiparty system, universal suffrage, an independent judiciary, the loyalty of the military to the state rather than the ruling party. This is the bourgeois state philosophy, political patterns and institutional design.
2: Don’t speak of promoting “universal values” in an attempt to shake the ruling party’s ideological and theoretical foundation. Some people say that Western values is beyond time and space, beyond the state, that Western freedom, democracy, human rights are universal, eternal.
3: Don’t speak of promoting civil society in an attempt to disintegrate the social basis of the ruling party. Civil society is a social and political theory from the West, which says that in the social sphere individual rights are supreme, the state must not interfere. In recent years, the concept of civil society has been packaged as a political tool by the Western anti-China forces, but also in our country some people with ulterior motives aired these wrong views..
4: Don’t promote neo-liberalism, attempt to change our basic economic system. Neoliberalism advocates liberalization of the economy, with absolutely, completely and fully market-oriented privatization, opposing any state intervention in the economy and regulation.
5: Don’t promote Western news concept, challenging the principle of party control of the media and the press and the publication management system. Some people call for “press freedom” as a pretext to promote Western news, negating our media party principles.
6: Don’t promote historical nihilism, attempt to deny the Chinese Communist Party history and history of New China.
This negates the revolution led by the Communist Party of China, saying the CCP “only plays destructive role”; deny the socialist road with Chinese historical inevitability of choice, the party’s history and the history of New China was “a continuous series of errors “; is derogatory towards revolutionary predecessors, slanders party leaders.
7 Questioning the reform and opening up, questioning the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
In the incessant talk of reform, some remarks deviate significantly from socialism with Chinese characteristics. Some say “reform and opening up goes too far,” is “a departure from the direction of socialism,” that China is now “capitalist socialism”, “state capitalism”, “new bureaucratic capitalism.” Some say “political reform lag hinders economic reform,” clamour for a so-called Western system as a standard comprehensive overhaul. These arguments, in essence, deny the Party’s line, principles and policies, thereby denying socialism with Chinese characteristics.
This secret (neibu) list of Don’t Speaks was issued in April 2013, the clearest possible sign of the mentality of China’s new leaders, and leaked into the public sphere in August, courtesy of Mingjing, a major media outlet, then the New York Times.
Why is official China so afraid of “constitutionalism”, which simply means calls, by Chinese intellectuals, for China’s leaders to respect and obey their own constitution? What is the underlying fear that unites all these Don’t Speaks?
It is China’s public sphere, and the civil society that creates it, that the CCP fears most, even if the named enemy is the nebulous “anti-China forces” of the West. The “West” that plots and plans to undermine China is, of course, the same West that China’s elite envy, imitate, absorb and consume as much as possible. The West that exemplifies all that is desirable is simultaneously the West that is the greatest danger. This is classic cognitive dissonance, the holding of two opposing viewpoints at once.
The real enemy is closer to home, the millions of bloggers, weibo post writers, intellectuals, peasants whose land was blatantly grabbed for cadre/corporate profit taking and rent seeking, the older workers whose lifetime of work for an egalitarian society is cast aside. The actual enemy is much closer: it is the extreme inequality of China, and the social tensions caused by extremes of wealth and poverty.
According to the best data available, from the World Bank, and Chinese economists, there is now only one country in the world more unequal than China: South Africa. Despite South Africa’s rhetoric of rainbow nation inclusiveness and black empowerment, the legacies of apartheid run deep, and the many millions crowded into the black townships still lack water, electricity and job opportunities. But at least South Africa is moving, if only slowly, towards not only a democratic sharing of political power but also greater economic equality.
The opposite is true of China. Inequality has been widening for decades, ever since Deng Xiaoping famously invited some to get rich first, meaning the best endowed, the best located and the best connected. This is the great selling proposition of capitalism: that by letting some get rich first, eventually the wealth generated will trickle down, lifting all boats. Now it is 35 years since Deng turned China in the direction of capitalist accumulation with Chinese characteristics, and the masses see evidence everywhere that those Chinese characteristics, that enmesh entrepreneurs and party bureaucrats, effectively exclude the trickle down from trickling. What ordinary Chinese citizens see is a corrupt, self-serving elite, of enterprise bosses and cadres, who monopolize wealth accumulation, and criminalise those who attempt to hold the elite accountable. This is the deep anxiety of a ruling party that knows it is no longer trusted by the masses it supposedly represents.
This inner-party directive was meant to be secret, likewise China’s Gini coefficient number, the standard statistical measure of inequality is obscured, fudged, denied and almost secret. Air pollution data are secret. The private lives of the rich are extremely secret, unless they choose to flaunt. The extent of corruption is secret, except for highly publicised cases meant to prove the party is serious about cracking down on its’ own princelings.
The Gini number, once of interests only to economists, is a simple way of comparing the bottom and top brackets. Hypothetically, the Gini could be as low as zero, in a society where everyone is exactly equal. Hypothetically the Gini number could be one, which means a society In which one person owns everything. Most countries have a Gini number around .3, signalling considerable inequality, but not so great that the difference between rich and poor is astronomic. China, which was committed throughout the revolutionary decades to equality, used to score well on the Gini index, but no longer. It has now reached .6 and persists in rising, as the elite persists in monopolizing wealth, and resists the customary role of government, as a redistributor of wealth.
If a national Gini reaches .4, political scientists see this as a threshold for unrest, protests, even a sign that the unthinkable could befall a revolutionary party: it could face a revolutionary revolt. China’s Gini climbed above .4 long ago, and was brushed aside as the growing pains of fast industrialisation, a phase that would right itself once the economy matures, as if an invisible market hand rather than mobilised public pressure, would magically restore balance. That didn’t happen. The Gini continued to grow, and was publicised less, and its calculation fudged. Word did leak out, as it increasingly does, despite the efforts of party central to maintain a monolithic mass line. In 2012 the Global Times, a party paper, announced: “China’s official Gini coefficient was 0.412 for both rural and urban residents in 2000. Since then only the Gini data for rural areas had been released, standing at 0.3897 in 2011. A National Bureau of Statistics report in December 2011 mentioned that the coefficient in 2010 was a bit higher than 0.412, without providing a specific number. China’s wealth gap is widening to an alarming level, a survey showed Sunday, in a report that urged the government to raise welfare and social security to narrow the gap. China’s Gini coefficient, a gauge of the wealth gap, reached 0.61 in 2010, much higher than the international warning line of 0.4, according to a report released by the China Household Finance Survey Center. The coefficient was 0.56 in urban families and 0.60 in rural families, compared with a global average of 0.44 in 2010, the survey said. China’s current income inequality is quite unusual compared with the rest of the world, said Gan Li, director of the center.”
This was not the only dissenting voice from within the elite. “China’s Gini coefficient has reached a shockingly high level as its wealth gap grows, a recent academic report said, calling attention to the equality indicator that the government has not tracked for years. The coefficient was 0.61 for 2010, the report by the Chinese Household Finance Survey Center of Chengdu’s Southwestern University of Finance and Economics said. China’s figure was globally rare, the report says. The National Bureau of Statistics stopped releasing Gini coefficient since 2001, saying that income data for wealthy households was incomplete.”
This means inequality in China is greater than in Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Rwanda or Zambia. In a party-state that defines itself as socialist (with Chinese characteristics) there is much popular pressure to identify those Chinese characteristics that intensify accumulation and resist the redistribution of wealth that constitutes socialism. China’s social scientists have likewise sought to identify the dynamics and drivers of China’s current party-state system, and the pithiest phrases they have come up with are state capitalism and bureaucratic capitalism, both of which capture in two words the enmeshed connections between the business bosses and the officials who control who gets loans at concessional rates, who gets permission to prosper, who gets the government infrastructure construction contracts, and who then gets the kickbacks. These bland phrases encompass the privileged position of the state owned enterprises and private enterprises with good political connections, and the power of dictatorship to suppress dissent, outsiders, investigative reporting and popular protests which demand a fair share.
Now “state capitalism” and “bureaucratic capitalism” are officially banned, as the seventh of the seven deadly sins listed in the mandatory Don’t Speaks. No longer is it permissible to speak of what China has become, only what it is no longer: socialist.
The seven Don’t Speaks are the flip side of the Mass Line, which is what everyone is supposed to speak of, listen to, and believe. The mass line is a Maoist term for the core message, the master narrative, the dominant discourse, or, as capitalists say, the main selling proposition. China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has revived the concept of the mass line, which is all about the China Dream, and how close China is to fulfilling its destiny of creating material comfort for all. The China Dream, the mass line says, is not just for the rich, but for everyone. So long as China is not disrupted by dissent and protest, the goal of comfort can be achieved, if people Don’t Speak what is now decreed unspeakable.
The seven Don’t Speaks have already been put into operation, with a sharp increase in the second quarter of 2013 in official media denunciations of democracy, constitutionalism and nihilism. But a party as entrenched at the CCP does not rely only on making the obvious unsayable. It has a long record of social engineering, especially in Tibet, where there is no organised dissent, no NGOs, no articulate elite, no public protests, and the entire public sphere is filled with official pronouncements.
The party-state in Tibet is on the offensive, launching a new campaign in 2013 to coerce Tibetans, especially monks, nuns and officials, to publicly declare their love for and gratitude to the party. The key slogan has long been “stability preservation” and stability maintenance teams now go to the villages of Tibet to “carry out political education in villages to encourage Tibetans to “feel grateful to the party,” to “feel the greatness of the party, listen to the party and follow the party,”” At village level, these exhortations take up time when villagers, both farmers and pastoralists might be relaxing, and they are seen as a minor tax to be paid. But in towns, offices and monasteries, these stability preservation teams require explicit pledges of gratitude to the party, and explicit denunciation of the Dalai Lama, the latter a requirement Tibetans find deeply offensive, more insulting than being told to spit on your own mother.
How can Tibetans feel the greatness of the party, and feel gratitude on cue, at the command of an official team? Is it possible to make anyone grateful? Can gratitude be forced? If forced, is it gratitude, no matter how effusive the statement elicited? Such questions do not seem to trouble the stability preservation teams, whose objective is behavioural compliance that is documented, on video or on paper, not a change of heart. Those documented assurances of gratitude can then make their way up the official hierarchy, letting higher levels know that Tibetans really do love the party, that the mass campaign has succeeded, and the cycle of self-defeating delusion is completed. That Tibetans deeply love China is mandatory and a historic inevitability, an eternal truth that suoersedes inconvenient trivia like 120 Tibetans who have burned their bodies in protest at China’s heavy handed rule.