It’s so big and so ambitious in so many ways that China keeps making headlines, so it’s no longer uncommon for American news organizations to send reporters there on a regular basis.
Given all the attention being paid to the Chinese, you’d think that by now we westerners would have a reasonably clear picture of the culture and, more importantly, China’s most prized political values. We know the Communist Party is in charge, but what do we know about its agenda?
Well, last week westerners were offered a new and revealing insight into the thinking of the leadership of China’s all-powerful political apparatus when it was disclosed all party members have been sternly instructed to carefully avoid seven “western values” deemed by the party to represent a threat to its survival.
The New York Times reported that these “dangerous” values were identified in a memo “that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader.”
The report described the memo, referred to by the party as Document No. 9, as a warning to its members to avoid being attracted to such values as “western constitutional democracy” and the promotion of human rights.
It’s probably reasonable to most of the party members that their leaders would not want them embracing democracy as it is understood in the west, and nobody in the west should be surprised at that.
But the reference to human rights is another matter. Although Americans must concede that their own nation hasn’t always been pure in protecting human rights — this week, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech reminds us of one regrettable aspect of our own past — but surely any decent governing body in the 21st century should either acknowledge the virtues of universal human rights or at least avoid condemning the concept.
The document practically sneered at “western-inspired notions of media independence and civil society” as well as “ardently pro-market neo-liberalism.” And, in a defensive tone, it denounced “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s often shady past. To those of us who grasp the value of a free press and open political dialogue, these are alarming words indeed.
Xi hopes to introduce reforms designed to boost China’s economy, but he appears to be simultaneously striving to wield his authority in a way that is reminiscent of the party’s previous insistence on rigid discipline. The warnings, the Times report suggests, show that the new Chinese leader’s very public show of confidence tends to distract from his fear that the party might find itself confronted by an economic slowdown that could trigger unwelcome responses from ordinary citizens and party critics.
The party’s political rivals, the document continues, “have stirred up trouble about disclosing officials’ assets, using the Internet to fight corruption, media controls and other sensitive topics, to provoke discontent with the party and government.”
The effects of the party’s warning are already being felt. The Times, which was privately shown the report and had its authenticity verified by political insiders, including one party newspaper editor, reported that since the circular was issued “party-run publications and Web sites have vehemently denounced constitutionalism and civil society, notions that were not considered off limits in recent years.”
And, significantly, there have been intensified government efforts to block access to critical views on the Internet.
In time, the people of China, indoctrinated so thoroughly for so many years, may come to view Document No. 9 as the Communist Party’s unwitting concession that it has far more to worry about than foreign policy and economic challenges.
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