Ming Pao Interviews Huangfu Ping

(Ming Pao via ChineseNewsNet Part 1 and Part 2)

[in translation]

Former People's Daily deputy editor-in-chief Zhou Ruijin (周瑞金) created a sensation in 1991 when he wrote a series of articles under the penname Huangfu Ping (皇甫平) to lay the groundwork for Deng Xiaoping's southern tour the next year.  Last year, he also received attention with his article "The Reforms Cannot Vacillate" in the debate between the rightwing and leftwing camps in China.  Recently, he was interviewed by Ming Pao.  He said that the 28 plus years of reform in China have been concerned mainly with the economic system.  Things have been very successful, but a number of problems have accumulated.  The main cause of these problems is that the reform of the political system has lagged behind the economic reforms.  This is now the time to go forward with the political reforms, and the object of the reforms is the Communist Party itself.  The Communist Party must seize the moment to advance the reform of the political system in order to lead China down the road of harmonious development and realize the renaissance of the Chinese people by mid-century.

Zhou Ruijin pointed out that the commonly observed problems of corruption within the Chinese Communist party, the inequality of wealth in society and so on are actually related to the delays in the political reform.  The Chinese Communist Party's system is one in which the Party highly concentrates the power over and above the government, the public laws and the legislative bodies.  This system needs to be adapted to the change to a market economy and the contemporary trend towards democracy.

The Chinese Communist leaders recognize this point and they also hope that the problems can be solved through reform.  "But the problem is that it is hard to revolutionize against yourself.  It is easy to say, but hard to do."

He said that there is a consensus within the Communist Party: in political reform, the easy things should be tackled first before the hard things and that is to seek breakthroughs in the administrative and management systems first.  First, there is the change in functionality.  From the former government's "management of everything down to the smallest detail," this now becomes economic adjustments, market supervision and public service.  Secondly, it is necessary to build a scientific and democratic decision-making system as well as a perfect accountability system.

Last year, Zhou Ruijin wrote an article in praise of the election of the Vietnamese Communist Party secretary-general and this drew a lot of attention.  He admits frankly that "he was under some pressure" after the publication of that article.  But he insists that the experiences of the Vietnamese Communists have reference values.  "Obviously, we cannot just transplant it over here.  But it is inevitable that we should expand democracy within our party and increase the supervision and monitoring of our Party, especially with respect to the senior-level cadres."  He believes that the Chen Liangyu affair is related to the personnel system of the Chinese Communist Party and the issue of democracy within the party.

This former party writer with more than 50 years of party membership said: "There is no other political party in China that can compete with the Chinese Communist Party.  There is no need to touch the system of one-party-leadership at this time.  We should continue to maintain one-party-leadership but we should push the Party to change itself."  Zhou Ruijin said that it is possible to give the democratic parties in China more power (such as the rights to publish newspapers, speak out and perform watchdog functions) because this is good for preventing corruption among officials.

Zhou Ruijin thinks that at the forthcoming Seventeenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Part, political reform will be an important point.  He believes that the Party's Central Committee and the Central Disciplinary Committee are equal units.  The Central Committee should become the executive unit, while the Central Disciplinary Committee should become the supervisory unit.  This is the way for supervision and monitoring to be given play.  "This kind of structure will be useful for democratic supervision of the party.  It is worth exploring."

He believes that it is not possible to hold democratic elections of leaders by universal suffrage in China.  Because the population is so huge and the area is so wide, the people do not understand enough about the situation of their leaders.  But universal suffrage can begin with the People's Congress representatives via direct elections, beginning with the county-level and experimenting at many more locations.  "Presently, we won't even permit elections for neighborhood committees.  The system is too backwards.  There is not enough awareness about democracy.  The policy departments need to pay attention."


When Zhou Ruijin (penname Huangfu Ping) was interviewed by Ming Pao, he said that the Seventeenth Congress this coming fall will be an important meeting for the new leadership led by Hu Jintao.  He is looking towards two advances: one is the political reform within the Chinese Communist Party, which will offer solutions to many of the conflicting "deadlocks" that have appeared in the development of Chinese society today.  The other one is to hope that the Seventeenth Congress will reach a consensus about "spiritual reconstruction."  He believes that in the reforms and openings of the past 28 years, society has emphasized the materialistic aspects while ignoring the spiritual aspects.  This has resulted in the degeneration of morality, the distortion of humanity, the erosion of trust and frequent corruption.  "Only by reconstructing the spiritual world of the people based upon the excellent cultural tradition of China will the modernization of China be more harmonious and prosperous."

With respect to the current state in Chinese journalism, Zhou Ruijin expressed regrets about the series of incidents aimed against journalism in recent years.  These included the suspension of <21st Century World Report> for publishing sensitive articles, the chief editor and general manager of <Southern Metropolis Daily> being subjected to party disciplinary measures and even serving prison time for exposing local problems, the suspension of the <Freezing Point> weekly magazine of <China Youth Daily> and so on.  "This shows that the state of Chinese journalism is not optimistic.  It is so faraway from the notion of 'the Party must manage news scientifically, democratically and legally' that the Party Central suggested."

Zhou Ruijin believes that news reform should start with the system.  "At every turn, they just shut down the newspapers, periodicals and websites."  "This type of stiff administrative approach is obviously futile today."  He agrees with introducing laws about news because it is "totally essential" in order to guarantee freedom of press and speech.  He also believes that news reform is part of political reform.  "If there is political reform, then news reform can occur concurrently.  Otherwise, this is all empty talk."

With respect to the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Ruijin said that the Cultural Revolution was a full-scale system-wide mistake in the developmental history of the Chinese Communist Party.  Last year was the 40th anniversary of the start and the 30th anniversary of the end of the Cultural Revolution.  Zhou wrote an article to urge that "the Cultural Revolution should not be a forbidden zone."  Instead, the Chinese Communist should take this opportunity to conduct a full summation, "because a people that cannot properly look at its own history has no hope.  Only if we do not forget the past can the development of China avoid the repetition of the tragedy."  Zhou found it regrettable that "the Party Central did not have the determination."

Today, Zhou believes that the Party Central is still treating the Cultural Revolution as a forbidden topic due to three considerations: First, Hua Guofeng and Wang Dongxing had been instrumental in the smashing of the Gang of Four, but it would be quite embarrassing to bring those people back out again today; secondly, a summation of the Cultural Revolution necessitates a reassessment of Mao Zedong, and this may create a nation-wide controversy; thirdly, a full summation of the Cultural Revolution will involve the political system of the Chinese Communist  Party.

"But I believe that this problem is unavoidable," said Zhou Ruijin.  "There are people now coming out to praise the Cultural Revolution.  This shows that there are still some people (or perhaps people from the new generation) who still do not understand the lessons of the Cultural Revolution."  He said that the experience of the Cultural Revolution is ultimately about the problem of the political system itself, the over-concentration of power in the hands of the leaders and the blind stupidity of the people.  "Therefore a full summation of the Cultural Revolution is actually a turning point for the Party to reform the political system."