Liang Jing: Where Does Wen Jiabao’s Faith Come From?

Thanks to David Kelly, researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, for translating the following opinion piece by overseas political commentator Liang Jing:

Where does Wen Jiabao’s faith come from?*

Since the eruption of the global financial crisis last autumn, the word most frequently used by Premier Wen Jiabao in his speeches has been “faith,” indicating his awareness of the key value of faith in times of crisis. Political leaders who talk up faith may really have none themselves, however; in which case, does Premier Wen Jiabao have any? If he genuinely does, a much more important question is, what is it he has faith in? This matters, because a political leader’s faith based on mistaken values might help tide over the immediate crisis of society, but presage a more profound disaster in the long-term.

As to whether Wen Jiabao really has any faith: he did not, in my view, towards the end of last year. This was shown in his hurried proposal of the 4 trillion investment plan, outmoded in its thinking and containing a great deal of deceit, which sought to copy the large-scale investment in infrastructure to sustain economic growth carried out by Zhu Rongji in earlier times. The fact of massive numbers of failures of enterprises along the coast—and above all the return home of tens of millions of laid-off migrant workers—has brought immense fear to Wen and the entire CPC leadership. They are aware that the rapidly developing crisis can’t be dealt with by the investment plan alone. Wen hence rushed to increase the credit supply on an unprecedented scale, regardless of the serious consequences of doing so.

By March 5 this year, however, when Premier Wen gave the government work report to delegates to the National People’s Congress, he seemed to have genuine faith. One of the main reasons was that one of the Chinese leadership’s greatest fears a year ago—-of a large number of migrant workers returning to the coast after the Chinese New Year couldn’t find work—didn’t turn out to be as serious as expected. On March 6, Wang Yang, the Guangdong leader, said that according to current statistics, of 10.25 million migrant workers who had returned home before the Spring Festival, some 9.4 million had later returned to Guangdong, and by the end of March were expected to number more than 9.7 million. But so far, migrant workers who hadn’t yet found work accounted for only 4.9%, less than 500,000 people, “This is far below the estimated figure of two million people.” [1] This news surely allowed China’s leaders to breathe a great sigh of relief, because all kinds of crisis could possibly break out if millions—not to say tens of millions—of migrant workers came back to find no jobs.

However, the fear of large numbers of unemployed migrant workers had a positive result in the end, in making the CPC’s top decision-makers aware that simply ensuring growth may not ensure stability; for that, the people’s livelihood must be safeguarded. The question is, which has priority, ensuring growth, or the people’s livelihood? Obviously, if the latter were given priority, it would hurt the core interests of the bureaucratic groups, who have therefore strongly resisted calls for it. Their most representative statement has been that “ensuring growth is ensuring the people’s livelihood.” [2]

With regard to this trend, the renowned scholar Sun Liping, who always speaks on behalf of the disadvantaged, published an article pointing out that the belief that economic growth must be maintained at 8% p.a. reflected the serious issue of the difficulty of the Chinese system and the pattern of benefits being significantly adjusted in the long-term national interest. In other words, the correct choice and courage to sacrifice growth and carry out major restructuring, is really beneficial to the people. [3]

But the reality is that unless absolutely forced to, the bureaucratic interests represented by Hu Jintao will not sacrifice their immediate interests to ensure the people’s livelihood. On March 4, Hu Jintao made it clear that economic growth took priority over the people’s livelihood. [4]

Wen Jiabao is too intelligent to have been ignorant of the real meaning of preferring economic growth to the people’s livelihood; why then did he insist on the policy of first safeguarding growth in his Report on the Work of the Government? Was it something he was forced to do so, or a result of his “faith”?

My view is that is wasn’t something he was forced into, but resulted from an article of his faith, namely that maintaining immediate interests of the bureaucracy at the expense of the people’s livelihood is the only correct choice to ensure China’s stability, while safeguarding the people’s livelihood at the cost of bureaucratic interests will necessarily lead to chaos.

While I’m very reluctant to agree with Wen’s article of faith, I can’t dismiss the possibility that he may be right. Indeed, even Ye Tan, whom I have always respected, put out an op-ed in which she accepted the priority placed on safeguarding growth, even though it deeply disappointed a lot of people. [5]

The abnormal development of China’s economy, especially the plight of the Chinese migrant workers, has deep roots in cultural values, namely the general acceptance of social injustice and a philosophy of servitude. The faith of Wen Jiabao and many of China’s elite is profoundly linked to their unshakable faith in these values. The judgment implied by this conviction is that China’s present social injustice has far from reached the limit of the nation’s bearing capacity. While there are many whose identification with these “Eastern values” is hard to shake, not every member of the elite is accepting of servility. In a recent interview, [the artist] Chen Danqing spoke on their behalf of their feelings of helplessness and pain – “We are in endless servitude.” [6]

* Liang Jing, “Wen Jiabao de xinxin lai zi hechu?” [Where does Wen Jiabao's confidence come from?] , 10 March 2009 [梁京: “温家宝的信心来自何处? ”, 2009年3月 10日.].

[1] Cui Chaoyang and Yin, “Wang Yang: Guangdong qingkuang hao yu yuqi” [Wang Yang: Guangdong situation better than expected], Yangcheng Wanbao, 6 March 2009 [崔朝阳、尹安学 、王晓云: “汪洋:广东情况好于预期”, 羊城晚报,2009年3月 6日 (http://news.xinhuanet.com/misc/2009-03/06/content_10956797.htm).].
[2] Gao Cheng, “Sun Jinlong: Bao zengzhang jiushi bao minsheng” [Sun Jinlong: Safeguarding growth is safeguarding the people's livelihood], Zhongan zaixian, 10 March 2009 [高城: “孙金龙:保增长就是保民生”, 中安在线 ,2009年3月 10日 (http://ah.anhuinews.com/system/2009/02/06/002203339.shtml).].
[3] Sun Liping, “Weiji tichule yige zhengzhen de wenti” [Crisis raises a genuine problem], Jingji guancha bao, 10 March 2009 [孙立平: “危机提出了一个真正的问题”, 经济观察报,2009年3月 10日 (Http://www.tecn.cn/data/detail.php?id=25177).].
[4] “Hu Jintao: zuohao bao zengzhang, bao minsheng, bao wending zhongyao yiyi” [Hu Jintao: the key importance of doing a good job in safeguarding growth, the people's livelihood, and stability], Zhongguo xinwen wang, 4 March 2009 [: “胡锦涛:做好保增长、保民生、保稳定有重要意义”, 中国新闻网,2009年3月 4日 (http://www.chinanews.com.cn/gn/news/2009/03-04/1588384.shtml).].
[5] Ye Tan, “Zhengfu gonguo baogao yijing zhichu Zhongguo jingji fusu zhi lu” [The government work report has pointed out China’s road to economic recovery], Meiri jingji xinwen, 6 March 2009 [叶檀: “政府工作报告已经指出中国经济复苏之路”, 每日经济新闻,2009年3月 6日 (http://yetanyetan.blog.sohu.com/111645106.html).].
[6] “Chen Danqing waiguo ganchu: women shi wangbudao bian de nucai” [Chen Danqing’s feelings from abroad: we are in endless servitude], Xinhua wang, 16 March 2009 [: “陈丹青国外感触:我们是望不到边的奴才”, 新华网,2009年3月 16日 (Http://culture.ifeng.com/popular/leisure/200901/0113_4092_966259.shtml).].