In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, a “bottleneck lake” (堰塞湖) formed as a river was blocked by a landslide. Collapse of the dam posed a tremendous danger to those down-stream community, and the Chinese government spent huge resources and risked many lives to erase the lake.
Guangdong provincial party secretary Wang Yang started a mini-landslide of his own, when 3 days ago he spoke to a group of Communist Party cadres at a training course (连接):
We must make democracy a value to be pursued. In governing, we must make sure we use democracy, defend democracy, secure democracy, and develop democracy. We must be sufficiently respectful of, and also open up expressions of popular opinion. We absolutely can not block popular opinion, and form a “bottleneck-on-speech lake” (言塞湖). We must use democratic methods to continuously improve and expand democracy within the Party, and push forward social democracy. We must self-consciously nurture democratic habits, learn to listen and tolerate, and use democratic methods to unite people.
This is a small snippet of a longer speech that also talks about the importance of rule of law, of staying away from corruption. It’s the sort of long-winded government speech anyone in China is experienced with.
But this particular statement about the “bottleneck-on-speech lake” (and I’m really struggling for a better translation here) is some what exceptional because of the widespread coverage it’s been getting. Numerous newspapers have followed up with editorials explicitly supporting this message.
From the People’s Daily (连接):
It’s not that public opinion wasn’t being expressed early on in these crisis events, so how any of these events be described as “unexpected”?
In reality, the origin of these “bottleneck-on-speech lakes” usually comes from giving a cold shoulder to public opinion early on. This is what leads to “public discussion” in the middle stage, and “public anger” in the final stage. When a project affecting the interests of the public is started, or when a public matter is managed.. if the policy maker doesn’t consider things from the people’s perspective, if the people’s comments are ignored while a case is studied… the down-side risk of doing this can be forecast.
From Zhejiang Online, via Xinhua (连接):
This author believes that only through rule of law can the silt blocking speech be removed, and respecting the constitution is the first step towards opening up the “bottleneck-on-speech lake”. The 35th article of our country’s constitution states that citizens have the freedom of speech. The 41st article states that citizens have the right to criticize and offer advice to all government workers and government divisions. But how can these rules, superior to all others, be put aside by some holding public office? The root cause is some holding public office ignore or even abuse the law in order to avoid the advice and criticisms of citizens.
From the Beijing News, via Xinhua (连接):
From “bottleneck lake” to “bottleneck-on-speech lake”, the change of a single character has deep meaning. Public opinion is like water, only when every legitimate public opinion can be effectively expressed, only when every demand for rights can be quickly responded to, will the water of public opinion be kept from being blocked. This will also avoid the sudden flash-floods that risk society’s health.
From the Xinjiang Daily, via QQ (连接):
During a transitional period in society, interests are becoming diversified, and conflicts/contradictions are more concentrated. “Bottleneck-on-speech” will only magnify the conflict. Treating “bottleneck-on-speech” just like we treated the “bottleneck lake” is a key part of using the Party to serve the public, and ruling for the people. When the average people in a place are afraid to speak, afraid to render judgment, are infuriated by the inaction or negative activity of local cadres but still afraid to speak… and can only use a sudden “dam collapse” type of event to express their demands, then the management in that area must reflect: are we not lacking the basic environment that preserves the citizens’ rights? Are we constantly piling up obstacles that only raises the dangers of a sudden collapse of the dam to the “bottleneck-on-speech lake”?
From the Communist Party of China News Net (连接):
Where will advanced thinking come from? Only through study. We must study the advanced experiences in other areas and other countries. We can’t just blindly copy, but we must learn the essence of their policies, erase the fake and focus on the truth, and use it for our own purposes. We must learn from the people, we must be willing to act like little school-children, and feel no shame in asking people under us. We must keep smooth channels for requests, and widely absorb the thoughts, complaints, and advice from the people. We can’t not form “bottlenecks on speech”.
Wang Yang as party chief of Guangdong seems to have made political reform one of his personal missions. The fact that the Southern Metropolis media group has thrived in Guangdong is no coincidence; they’re benefiting directly from his support and protection. (Which in the opinions of some is also why they’re going lighter on political mistakes made in Guangdong…) Wang Yang also defined/started the “liberate your thinking” campaign, another buzz-word which is a key part of Shenzhen’s democratic political reforms. It seems the central government is increasingly making clear its own support for the campaign.
What does everyone think? Are we at a turning-point in “freedom of speech” in China? Is it possible for a government to provide free speech without implementing elections?