Chinese Leaders Less Nervous Of The Past – Analysis


The Communist Party of China (CPC) and its leaders headed by President Hu Jintao are less nervous about the likely impact of memories of past events on China’s Generation Next.

This has become evident from the observance of two important anniversaries in Beijing. The first was the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution, which overthrew one of the longest spells of autocratic rule in the world by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and ushered in a republican Government, which gave way 38 years later to the one-party rule of the CPC.


It was a genuine democratic revolution which began with an armed uprising on October 10,1911 in the central city of Wuchang, part of present-day Wuhan, resulting in the fall of the Qing dynasty the next year. Since the CPC came to power in 1949, there has been less and less recall of the democratic revolution by the CPC and Governmental leadership lest the autocratic rule of the CPC be challenged by the people by taking inspiration from the struggle against the autocratic rule of the Qing dynasty.

In the light of the concerns of the leadership over the dangers of commemorating an event that led to the end of a long spell of autocratic rule of one kind, different from the autocratic rule of the CPC, many analysts were closely watching to see whether the present leadership would have the political courage and confidence to commemorate the event.

The priority given by the leadership to the observance in June last of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CPC and the silence on the approaching 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution made it appear that the CPC leadership still did not have the courage and confidence to celebrate an event that might remind China’s GenNext that it has had other political role models in past history different from the models of the CPC.

It, therefore, came as a refreshing surprise that the CPC observed in public the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution at a function in Beijing on October 9 chaired by President Hu Jintao and attended, among others, by some of the past leaders of the CPC, including former President Jiang Zemin, the predecessor of Hu, who had disappeared from the public view ( but not from the social media networks) since his participation in the function held in June to mark the 90th anniversary of the CPC. His absence since then had given rise to feverish Net speculation that he was seriously ill or even dead.

In his keynote address as reported by the State-controlled Xinhua news agency, President Hu Jintao described the 1911 Revolution as “a thoroughly modern, national and democratic revolution” which shook the world and ushered in unprecedented social changes in China. He praised Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the 1911 revolution, as “a great national hero, a great patriot and a great leader of the Chinese democratic revolution”. Hu added that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation must be achieved by adhering to socialism with Chinese characteristics, with patriotism, and by upholding peace, development and cooperation. Hu said that the mainland and Taiwan should work together for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and called for the peaceful reunification of China.

While celebrating the event and recalling the role of Sun Yat-sen in seeking to usher in democracy in China, the CPC leadership has sought to emphasise the continuity of the CPC rule by projecting the emergence of the CPC as a natural outcome of the 1911 Revolution and not a distortion of it.

Beijing-based dissident historian Shi Binhai has been quoted by Radio Free Asia, sponsored by the US State Department, as saying that Jiang’s appearance at the function served as a reminder that the Communist Party’s line on historical events, and on Taiwan, would remain unchanged.

Chinese political dissidents and human rights activists have alleged that while holding a strictly-controlled and CPC-sponsored celebration of the 1911 Revolution, the Chinese security agencies stepped up surveillance on suspected dissidents in the main cities of the country—particularly in Wuhan. They also closely monitored the Net due to apparent concerns that the GenNext might exploit the even to revive its attempts for a Jasmine Revolution in China for the restoration of the long-lost democracy.

Radio Free Asia has quoted veteran pro-democracy activist He Depu as saying as follows in Beijing: “It has been 100 years since the 1911 revolution, when they overthrew the Qing dynasty to build a democratic China. We have struggled all these years and we still haven’t made that happen.” Despite the strict surveillance of micro-blogs, some of them managed to post calls for a new democratic revolution in China.

The second important anniversary that has been observed not by the CPC or the Government, but by a group of non-Governmental and non-party activists is the 35th anniversary of the fall of the Gang of Four headed by the wife of Mao Zedong, which led to the rise of Deng Xiaoping with his policy of economic reforms.

The event held in Beijing on October 5,2011, was titled “Remembering the smashing of the Gang of Four, 35 Years On”. It was reportedly organised by Hu Deping, son of late disgraced former Premier Hu Yaobang, whose funeral sparked the 1989 student movement. Participants included the son of HuaGuofeng, Mao’s short-tenured designated successor, and the daughter of Li Xiannian, Hua’s chief economic adviser.

Some of the participants allegedly called for a new Cultural Revolution to put an end to corruption and moral decay, but their call did not find majority support among the about 200 participants from the past. The majority view was that genuine democracy and the rule of law were the only ways of achieving these laudable objectives.

The observance of these two anniversaries—one on the initiative of the CPC itself and the other on that of some political remnants of the past without much political influence—- indicates a continuing confidence in the present leadership that it has the on-going debate on the need for political reforms to buttress the economic reforms firmly under control and that revival of memories of certain past events would not divert the debate in a direction not desired by the Party.

It also reflects the assessment of the present leadership that China’s GenNext, while increasingly articulate and active in the Net in discussing new political ideas and models, would not create instability. China’s GenNext has benefited from China’s economic progress and would not like this to be jeopardised by destabilising political ideas and movements.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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