The Five Vermin Threatening China

The China Story has posted a translation of ‘Where Are the Real Threats to China?’ by Yuan Peng, which was originally published in the overseas edition of People’s Daily in July. In his introduction, Geremie R. Barmé focuses on the essay’s most controversial element: Yuan’s list of social groups—”rights lawyers, underground religious activities, dissidents, Internet leaders and vulnerable groups”—whom the U.S. would try to use against the Chinese government. As CDT’s Grass Mud Horse Lexicon explains, netizens swiftly homed in on the list, naming it the ‘New Five Black Categories‘ in allusion to the original Five Black Categories of the Cultural Revolution: landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, bad-influencers and right-wingers. Barmé explains, with some sympathy, the context of Yuan’s remarks, and why they caused such offence.

Yuan offers an unsentimental view of the global environment. His particular concern is not the common fear of direct military conflict with the United States (although he also addresses this), but rather the fortuitous advantage that China presently enjoys due to the international malaise in the wake of the post-Global Financial Crisis, one that, given the right leadership, could well work in favour of the People’s Republic. The essay provides, therefore, valuable insights into the canny calculations of one prominent analyst. Its message was, however, not greeted with universal equanimity. For, among other things, Yuan controversially identified what his critics immediately dubbed the ‘New Black Five Categories of People’ 新黑五类 that threaten China’s social stability and party-dominated top-down reform (groups that he claims are being infiltrated and manipulated by the American imperium for its nefarious ends).

[… O]f the ‘New Five Black Categories’ in Yuan’s analysis, four are not new. Nor indeed is the discussion of social anomie or unruly elements, given the fact that the Chinese party-state is presently much taken with the theory and practice of ‘social management’ 社会管理. What caused particular offence (apart from Yuan’s clear identification of perceived ‘threats’) was that ‘vulnerable groups’ 弱势群体 were included in the list. Critics were appalled that in a booming modern China that boasts of its aspirations to achieve global status the groups most deserving of support, protection and care were being identified as an incipient danger. That such a suggestion came from an analyst working for a government think tank that was itself created to protect the Chinese revolution, and its own elevation of the formerly dispossessed and oppressed classes of the country seemed nothing less than confronting. To offer the state policy advice that overtly targets the marginalised and disempowered appeared, to many, as inhumane and in blatant contradiction of the Communist Party’s founding principles and avowed value system.