Zhang Wen: Reflecting on 2008: Democracy Will Prevail

Zhang Wen (章文) calls himself “a media person in the time of China’s transition” on his own blog. The thirty-something writer/editor was head of the editorial department of Xinhua’s Globe magazine, among other important positions in the official media. In the following blog post (already censored), he reflects on 2008 — “a year like no other” — and his hopes for 2009 in his year-end message “Democracy Will Prevail”.

Zhang reflects on bittersweet events that marked 2008, from the catastrophic Sichuan earthquake, to the highly-anticipated Beijing Olympic Games.

2008 also marks the 30-year anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up policy, and Zhang takes the opportunity to point out the increasing need for political reform in China — toward democracy — in addition to the significant economic reforms the country has already undertaken.

Zhang debunks the myth that democracy won’t work in China: “… democracy is suited for Chinese people,” he writes. “Chinese people can ‘experiment’ with democracy just as well as non-Chinese!” (The original post was deleted from his blog, but many copies have reappeared on other blogs. Exceprts translated by CDT):

Globalization is bringing the world closer together, not just economically but culturally and politically as well. Market economies have become a global necessity; even the former Communist countries had to accept this and change with the times. In the political domain the general value system is now democracy. There’s no denying or avoiding it.

What sort of cure does “socialism with Chinese characteristics” offer? I’m afraid that not only is this beyond the understanding of the common man, but even the purveyors of this system don’t believe it’s efficacious. The confrontation between it and democracy brightens and dims, but it is coming closer and closer to being defeated; it is certain to be defeated one day because it’s not popular.

It will remain in place for a short while longer, propped up by every means available to the state machine, especially through propaganda. For the past half century the propaganda machine has not tired of speaking loud, empty, false words, holding fast to the principal that a lie repeated a hundred times becomes a truth. It continues to follow the same old path.

It’s a pity, times have changed, but it’s still unable to close that chapter of its history. The Internet is developing rapidly, the flow of information is becoming freer, and it’s becoming harder and harder to deceive people.

Chinese democracy will be made possible by the Internet and because information flows more freely now. In today’s world, in which information is becoming harder and harder to control, people can access information from multiple sources, not just from the government, and they can understand beyond the basics of issues, and reason on their own.

And we — the intellectuals — have to make sure that we don’t speak in fits and starts; we have to always try to speak genuinely, never falsely, and not pontificate. We must fight against the powerful current of information and strive to be responsible voices, to be a counterweight to the lies.

Information that presents all sides of the issue (it’s not realistic to ask for Truth), in a world of deception and falsehoods, is the only thing that we can be certain of. I don’t dare say that people are fully prepared for this, but people would certainly welcome the chance to receive a brand new opportunity; they would develop the ability to reason, and they would be much harder to deceive.

Expansion of reason among people is the hope of Chinese democracy. People will cherish and defend their legal rights; they won’t sacrifice any individual rights for the so-called “benefit of the state,” nor will they change their attitude because the government tells them to; and as masters of their own destiny they will ensure that their civil servants are acting responsibly and diligently.

Affairs of life are hard to change. The journey is long and hard, and ought to be taken one step at a time. Let us bid farewell to a very difficult 2008 and welcome the long road: 2009. Let us loudly proclaim our most heart-felt wish: Let China do more than flourish; let there be democracy and rule of law as well!

January 7, 2009 10:21 PM
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