Recent events from the rise of Trump and his trade war and vaccine scandal inside China present great challenge to Chinese leadership under Xi. The right which I would characterize the liberals and those intellectuals feeling constrained on their freedom, and of course those felt threatened by the continuing anticorruption campaign embolden to challenge Xi on the direction which China is taking is best exemplified by an article written by professor Xu Zhangrun, “Our Present Fears and Expectations”. Professor Xu is a law professor from Tsinghua University. His article is raising a storm of rumors in Western media on whether Xi’s control is slipping. His article probably will be deleted in China, but I would like to summarize it here and rebut him. Those interested in his original article can go to NYT Chinese edition and follow onto his link.
He raised the question of legitimacy of government on 4 basic bottom lines, 8 worries or fears, and 8 expectations. The bottom lines are maintenance of civil society, protection of private property, civil rights/freedom, and term limit/constitution. The fears are of communism(against private property), politics in command, class struggle, isolation from West(result of trade war), waste of resources for foreign aids, ideological extremism, military spending or war, and stopping reform(his version). His expectations/hopes are stop foreign aids, stop wasting resources on international conferences in China, remove retirement benefits for leadership groups, remove special privilege for party members, sunshine on wealth and incomes, stop leadership worship, return to term limits, and finally accounting for June 4, 89 incident. He finally pleaded that leadership should take advices from scholars and intellectuals like himself.
After reading his article, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but angry nevertheless. I am sure there are many such professors in elite universities in China harboring similar dreams, and angry at what that signify for the education of younger generations.
I will not quibble with the 4 basic bottom lines except to mention term limit is an artificial line totally meaningless. It’s not the length of service as Angela Merkle is serving her 4th term, while Xi is still serving the 2nd, and Donald Trump manage to sow permanent damage to American system in his 1 1/2 years. And Deng managed to dismiss 3 party secretaries while holding no title. As for his fears apparently he hasn’t read the Chinese constitution where communism is the goal. I know the fact that Xi leaded his politburo to study “Communist Manifesto” strikes fear among liberals, and his standing up to Trump’s bullying cause despair among those hoping for U.S. Green cards. Mao has died more than 42 years ago, yet people still recall fondly of him and yes some worship him. History will judge him to be great man and will judge Xi on his leadership, not some propaganda as professor Xu pretends. I am in favor of Sunshine laws, but the corruption Xi is fighting was accumulated since the founding of People’s Republic, or more accurately, thousands of years. No 1 or 10 sunshine laws can suddenly eliminate it all. As for TAM incident I wish Chinese government would teach the lesson not as professor Xu would wish, but as a reaction to the corruption after Mao’s death. Events since then would seem that Deng was correct to restore order with resultant casualties. Mao made the mistake that human nature, selfish tendency can be eliminated by force of will, but if he sees today what professor Xu wrote that China should be selfish, don’t worry about less fortunate people around the world he would want to start another Cultural Revolution.