How Charter 08 Is Being Received

The document known as Charter 08 has been translated by Perry Link at the New York Review of Books.  How is it being received inside and outside China?  The Christian Science Monitor reports:

... activists say this manifesto is significant in several respects.

First, thousands of citizens of all backgrounds V peasants, teenage netizens, prominent lawyers, former party members V have added their names to the petition, not just the usual gadflies. They reflect a minority unwilling to accept the party's vision for China.

Second, the Internet has vastly expanded the charter's reach, with no central organization. That makes it a new kind of threat to a government concerned about organized challenges to its rule.

"It's a testament to the power of the Internet," says Joshua Rosenzweig, of the Dui Hua Foundation, a group that promotes human rights in China. "[It's] allowed Charter 08 to galvanize and bring together a lot of people from different walks of life and locations."


Zhang [Zhuhua] says more than 300,000 websites now link to the charter, and it's being discussed on blogs, QQ (a popular Chinese instant message service and website) groups, and other chat rooms. "It's impossible to block information in society now," he says.

One user posted the following on the Independent Review, an online forum: "The CCP cannot even accept such peaceful and rational suggestions? I will sign the charter!"

So is this a hot issue?  Or has it gone cold already?  Xujun Eberlein has a review article written for New America Media that has been posted in full at Inside-Out China, but neither she nor anyone else can say for certain what is happening among the general population in China.  Fool's Mountain has an English-language thread on Charter 08, but what English-capable persons think may not reflect what the Chinese masses think.

I looked for "sK宪" on the top Chinese search engine Baidu, I got the message that "the search results are not displayed because they may not suit the corresponding laws, regulations and policies."

I looked for "sK宪" on, and I got the message: "Some of the search results are not displayed in accordance with local laws, regulations and policies."

I looked for "sK宪" on, and I got 328,000 results.  This is most likely the 300,000 number that Zhang Zuhua is referring to in the CSM article. is listing mainly overseas websites.  If you click on the relatively few mainland webpages listed at, you will find that most of them are deleted by now.  If you click on the FLG-affilated websites, the pages come back as blanks.  Xujun Eberlein wrote: "Remnants of posts here and there indicate that FLG originally found 'Charter 08' an exciting sign of the coming revolution and supported it whole-heartedly.  Later, though, they made a 180 degree turn after the FLG leader deemed the manifesto not revolutionary enough, but rather a 'ghost shadow' of the communist party."

So how can you gauge public reaction inside China then?

You can take an overseas website such as DWnews, and look at their bloggers.  They are behaving as a diversified community by articulating different opinions on Charter 08.  This is much better than the "one-message hall" that people from both extremes are demanding.  From one extreme, the Chinese ultra-leftists denounce Charter 08 as a western anti-Chinese ruse to instigate a "color revolution" in China like they did elsewhere in order to partition and divide up China and therefore they oppose it vociferously -- if you support Charter 08, you must be a Chinese traitor.  From the other extreme, the demand is for universal praise and support of freedom, democracy, liberty and rule of law -- if you don't support Charter 08 unconditionally, you must be a "fifty-cent gang member."  Ummpphh, but this is business as usual on such matters.  You just have to get used to it.  You ought to ignore those reflexive messages (which you could have predicted and even written better yourself) and get on with thinking seriously about the matter itself.

I am more interested in why there is no groundswell of popular support flowing from inside China.  It is not true that the relative silence is due to official suppression.  When people in China really feel strongly about something, they can still be heard.  For example, in The Weng'an Mass Incident, netizens kept posting and posting at the largest Chinese forum even though their posts had an average lifetime of 15 seconds before being deleted.

You may insist that the information is being blanked out in China, but there is no groundswell on the overseas Chinese websites either.  Those websites are not subjected to censorship.  For the extremist ultra-leftists, this is good news regardless of the reason.  For the extremist ultra-rightists, this is a question that must not be touched because it affects morale negatively -- after all, freedom, democracy, liberty and rule of law are universal values and therefore the universe (=the people) cannot conceivably be rejecting their own values.  But if you refuse to explore this phenomenon, you will never go anywhere in future.

I don't have a definitive answer, but I am at least willing to think about it.  Let me try to borrow a social class analysis from a DWnews blogger who read about it in a Declaration of Non-violent Revolution and then use it to analyze the reception of Charter 08.  Here is the class breakdown of Chinese society:

  1. The class of those with special privileges.  This class includes all the senior government and party officials at the national, state, city and county levels, the members of the People's Congress and the Communist Party Political Consultative Conferences, the senior officials of the People's Liberation Army, etc.  This class may number only in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but they are the ones who are most opposed to revolutionary changes in Chinese society.  They hold all the powers at this time and they would not want to see the situation change.  Some of them are conservatives, some are reactionary but others have conscience and still believe that they are serving the people.
  2. The class of those who are benefiting from the present system.   These may be entrepreneurs who are raking in money and professionals who achieve high status.  They also include the lower-level Communist Party cadres.  They want to maintain the status quo and they are opposed to basic changes in society.  But they are agreeable to partial reforms within the system that will extend their present benefits.  This class numbers in the tens of millions.  The Chinese Communist Party has a nominal membership of more than 70 million.
  3. The class of middle-class people who have entered into "small prosperity" as a result of the reforms that began thirty years ago.  They are amendable to reforming the political system, provided that their present conditions will not be negatively affected as a result.  This class may constitute more than 100 million people, mostly in the major urban areas.
  4. The class of perpetrators of state violence.  These are the people who work in security, law enforcement, propaganda, etc.  They don't have their own political demands as a class, and they will serve any master.
  5. The class of laborers.  They are the most exploited class in society today, and they are numerous.  But because of their low education, they do not have an autonomous awareness of their civil rights.  They don't have any precise political demands (such as universal suffrage and direct elections) and they don't have a set of demands for their own interests.  Due to the historical circumstances, they are far less attracted to abstract concepts such as freedom, democracy and rule of law and much more attracted to violent revolution.  Their willingness to fight for their existence in an unjust society means that they are more likely to engage in a new violent revolution that will re-distribute wealth.  They may constitute several hundred million.
  6. The class of peasants.  They are the biggest class in Chinese society today.  They have the lowest education, they have the lowest social status and they are most likely to rise up in violent ways.  When they can't subsist on farming, they are forced to become migrant laborers in the cities.  They are most easily attracted by the leftists to engage in a new revolution to "re-distribute the land/wealth."  If social change is to occur through the combined efforts of the laborers and peasants, China will repeat its history from the late 1940's.  They form the majority of the Chinese population (possibly 1 billion out of the total population of 1.4 billion).
  7. The class of criminal figures.  These are smugglers, coal mine operators, debt collectors, direct sales people, etc.  They don't have their own political demands as a class, and they will serve any master.
  8. The class of enlightened intellectuals.  These are the rational forces for social change in Chinese society.  But their number is relatively small.
  9. The class of young students.  They may form the future forces of social change when they move on to the various other classes of society later in life.

Based upon this class analysis, Charter 08 is initiated by Class 8 (enlightened intellectuals) and intended to attract the other classes to join in the call for political and constitutional reforms.  So the key here is how to propagate the message from Class 8 to the rest of society.

In terms of the classes listed above, you will see that Class 1 and Class 2 are opposed to Charter 08, which will directly hurt their present powers and interests.  Some of these people may actually "have a conscience" and see the need for  political reform.  However, Charter 08 is making no provision for their future.  That is to say, if they give up their powers and interests, they may still be put on trial and punished retroactively for their past crimes.  To move ahead, an amnesty of some form is going to be needed.  The Communist Party has more than 70 million members.  How do you intend to get Charter 08 past them, especially since they hold all the powers at this time?  There is no Gorbachev (USSR) figure on the Chinese horizon who can make it happen by force of personality and/or authority.  The Chinese Communist Party works more like groupthink and they will never consent to Charter 08.  Dan Drezner wrote: "The tone of the document also makes it clear that these Chartists do not expect to achieve their goals not through a constructive dialogue. Instead, they appear to be banking on a mass social movement that forces the government in Beijing to capitulate to its demands."  If you declare war, you get war.  It is 303 Charter 08 signatories (plus the several thousand more later) against 70+ million Chinese Communist Party members.  This is clearly not going to get anywhere with these two classes.

You will also see that class 4 (state law enforcers) and class 7 (criminal figures) are not in this fight, because they will serve any master.  Class 9 (students) is not a major force at this time, unlike in 1989.  Mass incidents involving students nowadays have more to do with tuition fees, surcharges, cafeteria food, dormitory conditions, diplomas, job opportunities, relationships, bar brawls, etc.

This means that the forces of change must come from Class 3 (middle-class), Class 5 (laborers) and Class 6 (peasants).

But wait, this is getting too far ahead.  Let us go back to look at Class 8 (enlightened intellectuals).  The assumption here is that they are a homogeneous group.  As the DWnews blogs show, they are far from homogeneous.  There are leftist intellectuals who basically feel that the reforms of the last 30 years have created a capitalist class which is exploiting the laborers and the peasants, and so they want political changes that will result in a more more equitable distribution of wealth.  They are also very distrustful of western influence and the so-called "universal values" which they regard as Trojan horses intended to weaken China (such as slicing it up into Greater Tibet, Greater Xinjaing, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, etc).  There are also rightist intellectuals who basically want an American model of democracy because these are universal values that have created monetary wealth and spiritual fulfillment in the west.

The Chinese leftists and rightists do not see eye to eye, and they have clashed mightily.  A recommended reading is The Aftermath of the White House Meeting, in which Chinese intellectuals were forced to take sides with either Yu Jie-Wang Yi or Guo Feixiong.  Most of you have forgotten how much hurt that brought, if you were ever aware of it  at all.  The first signatories of Charter 08 include Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie, Wang Yi, Jiao Guobiao, etc.  They are 'rightists' (whatever that means) and therefore Charter 08 automatically drew fire from the 'leftists' (whatever that means).  Among the leftist criticisms is the "splittist" recommendation #18 for a "Federated Republic" which they say will lead to Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang independence and a weakened China.  As evidence, they point to the the presence of Tibetan female writer Tenzin Woeser on the initial list of signatories.  Right or wrong, there is an internecine rivalry within the class of intellectuals.  Support for Charter 08 is by no means automatic and universal.  Not all intellectuals will support this Charter 08.

Even if Class 8 (enlightened intellectuals) are split, could the Charter 08 signatories reach out to Class 3 (middle-class), Class 5 (laborers) and Class 6 (peasants) on their own?  Maybe the intellectual Mao Zedong was able to reach out to the peasants in his time, but the Charter 08 signatories have no known influence among Class 5 (laborers) and Class 6 (peasants) at this time.  They are among the intellectual elite.  Charter 08 may claim to have several thousand signatories, but the population in China is 1.4 billion of which more than 70 million are Communist Party members.  There is no Lech Walesa (Solidarity Union, Poland) figure on the Chinese horizon who can command mass support (as in calling out millions of workers into the streets just on his say-so).

So what about Class 3 (middle-class)?  They are amendable to reforming the political systems, provided that their present situations won't be negatively affected as a result.  What guarantees does Charter 08 offer them?  Oh, let's get rid of the Communists, we'll have an American democratic system, we'll have elections based upon universal suffrage and then corruption will be gone and we will all be even more prosperous?  Hmmm ...  Instead of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, we can elect our own presidents and premiers just like they do in USA and Taiwan.  Hmmm ... Do you really think that George W. Bush and Chen Shui-bian will be better for China?

The middle-class Chinese are not going to throw their lot in without more specific guarantees.  Can you name someone (or even anyone) better than Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao at their jobs right now?  Liu Xiaobo?  Yu Jie?  Wang Yi?  Hu Ping?  Jiao Guobiao?  If they actually bother to read the Charter 08 document, they will say, "Very nice but can you tell me that nothing bad will happen to me and my family?"  Such guarantees cannot be made by anyone at this time, because the known data (which do not exist in China and which have mixed results in other country) do not give unequivocal support.  They won't make that leap on pure faith.  Yu Jie and Wang Yi may think that when things go wrong, they can just hold hands and pray to God for help.  But the middle-class won't bet their apartments, cars, television sets, washing machines and hopes on a prayer.

So this is where we are.

This particular essay will probably tick the usual group of people off, because I dared to say that the universal values of democracy, freedom, liberty and the rule of law won't automatically work in China just by invocation.  I am not a professional political activist.  I don't go around handling out flyers and throwing bananas at government officials.  I am just a marketing scientist by profession.  I can tell you what happens in marketing.  You may have a concept that you regard as absolutely brilliant.  But you cannot just issue a press release from the comfort of your office and assume the whole world will pay real money to buy your product/service.  Instead, you need to analyze your market.  Your market out there is not going to be a homogeneous market.  Instead, the market is segmented by a number of factors such as needs, benefits, etc.  If you want to succeed, you study those market segments, tailor your messages and communicate through the appropriate channels accordingly in order to maximize market reach and effectiveness.  This is just as true for a bar of soap as for Charter 08.

For starters, why not take Charter 08 and discuss it with (1) a white-collar worker in a city; (2) a migrant worker in a city; (3) a peasant in an impoverished mountainous village?  See where that gets you.  Maybe then you will understand what the problem is: namely, there is a huge disconnect with the abstract notions espoused in Charter 08 and the daily realities of the masses.  If you don't like their responses, you can always just blame them for having been brainwashed by the Communists.  Or else you can spend some time re-tooling your message and also make sure that it gets out to the intended audience.  This is what they teach in Marketing 101.  Meanwhile, Mutant Palm wrote: "Charter 08 arguably has had a more significant impact on readers of the New York Review of Books than it has on China."  If you want to change things, you have to re-position your message and re-tool your communication channels.  But of course it is far easier to curse me out for hating democracy, freedom, liberty and the rule of law by writing this essay ...

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