In recent months, as the upcoming 17th Party Congress has occasioned heightened debate over democratic reform, the party journal Yanhuang Chunqiu has been running feisty articles by liberal geriatrics who advocate picking up the pace. The periodical’s driving force is an 84-year-old Party newsman, Du Daozheng.
This past week, the Economic Observer carried a meaty package on Du, documenting his personal transformation from propagandist to reformist, and his pivotal role while at the levers of party propaganda machine in the reform era. As chief of internal affairs at Xinhua, the Observer’s profile recounts, Du marshaled provincial leaders to endorse the 1978 Guangming Daily editorial “Practice is the Sole Criterion of Testing Truth,” the famed wakeup call marking the dawn of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Later, while editor-in-chief of Guangming from 1982 to 1987, Du presided over the paper’s golden era of whistle-blowing. Even after an abbreviated stint as the inaugural director of GAPP – Du was forced to resign in 1989 after Tiananmen – Du conducted a 45-day investigation into the development in the Pearl River Delta in 1991 that proved prophetic, according to the paper.
In the article there was a sentence that went, “Without the fruits of Guangdong’s reform and opening over the past decade, we could not have withstood [the setback of] ‘June 4th’.” This was virtually identical to words Deng Xiaoping spoke in the south one year later.
But by the end of the article, Du gives himself the highest grade for work at Yanhuang Chunqiu, the reformist monthly he co-founded with “several old friends” among official media elites in 1991. In a Q&A appended to the profile, Du alludes to the calls for reform from his contemporaries that he’s published of late, and makes his own personal case. The paper has not yet posted this interview online. A rough translation follows:
Economic Observer: What have you been concerned about most of late?
Du Daozheng: The 17th Party Congress will be convened within the year. I and friends around me are most concerned about two issues of the congress. One is the political report, one is the personnel arrangements. We are hoping that the experiences and lessons of political system reform in these past few years can be better and more scientifically summarized in the political report. If some of the proposals, slogans, concepts, frameworks, and methods of Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and other central leaders in just the past two or three are written into the political report of the 17th Party Congress, and are adopted and become the legally recognized consensus, then that would be terrific.
China’s democratic politics have already reached this point, and we must move forward. To retreat is impossible. To retreat now would be a disaster. Some left-wing cadres right now, they don’t approve of the Cultural Revolution either, but essentially they admire that stuff before the Cultural Revolution. They advocate going back to using class struggle as the program, the dictatorship of the proletariat and selfless, highly planned economics – namely, the road that preceded the Cultural Revolution.
EO: Do you believe going back is possible?
Du: I have a positive approach toward the future. First, the tide of democracy is vast and mighty, and no one can block it. Second, China’s economic foundations have already undergone revolutionary change. In fact, the non-state-owned economy and the privately owned economy account for around 60 percent. Diversified economic foundations have prepared the conditions for building democracy. Third, China already has more than 60 million intellectuals of university-level education or above, and 8 million university students in school. So today is not the old days. What’s the main distinction between intellectuals and peasants, workers, and soldiers? It’s their way of thinking, their independent minds. Add to that the fact that now this is an information society. Fourth, now the Party Central Committee is gradually promoting the building of democracy. Therefore I believe we cannot possibly retreat. We can only continue going forward.
EO: But in the past few years, new debate has emerged over reform and opening. Differences have even emerged over existing points of consensus
Du: We’ve been working on reform and opening for almost 30 years. The market economic system is a concept that everyone can accept. Our market economy is a mixed economy. In this mixed economy, the non-publicly owned economy is becoming a larger and larger force that accounts for a greater and greater proportion. On this issue, more and more people are in agreement and those who oppose it, or who waver, are becoming fewer and fewer. For example, at present the peasants’ demands on the question of land are to keep on moving forward. If the system of fixed farm output quotas for individual households was to revert to people’s communes, it would undoubtedly affect social stability. And the operation of the country’s market economy is successful overall, or one might say very successful. At present everybody believes that an awful lot of problems have arisen over the past twenty-plus years, yet the lives of the majority of ordinary people have in reality gotten better.
A lot of factors have given rise the numerous current social problems, and the core factor among them is the lag in reform of the political system. In our government, power is highly concentrated. Officials’ promotions and honors are all decided by the higher-ups. They are not bound by those below them, so their eyes are fixed only on those above. The roots of corruption also lie herein. When power is excessively concentrated and everything needs to be approved, this furnishes the conditions for corruption. That’s why Xiaoping said that if the political system is not reformed and democracy falters, good people will turn bad and bad people even worse.
Du Runsheng [the former Director of the Rural Policy Research Office of the CPC Central Committee] has said that China has to pass two great barriers. One is the market barrier. One is the democracy barrier. I very much appreciate Old Du’s opinion.
EO: In what do you think the democracy barrier ought to be passed?
Du: In the early years at Yan’an, [pioneering educator] Huang Yanpei asked whether the Chinese Communist Party could jump out of this vicious circle of dynasties whose rise is so sudden and collapse just as sudden. Mao Zedong said: “We’ve found the way of democracy. We can jump out of this vicious circle.” Our country’s achievements in the economic sphere over the past twenty-plus years have been brilliant. The freedom and democracy that Chinese people enjoy, to put it fairly, is also more and more, though of course it’s still not adequate.
China’s democracy and human rights issues have China’s national conditions. We cannot do be in a rush like Gorbachev in the time of the Soviet Union. China’s “Cultural Revolution”-style great democracy was even more absurd. But under the leadership of the Party Central Committee and the central government, for leaders to push forth gradually in an well-organized way is something that should be done, and can be done. China has already resolved the problem of feeding and clothing the people. Generally speaking, the people support Deng Xiaoping Theory; they trust the Party and the government. Under these circumstances, there won’t be any risks to carrying on democracy a little faster, a little better.
EO: Yanhuang Chunqiu, which you direct, has published many influential articles. People have offered high praise. But there are also people who criticize and say you have gone too far. They even go so far as to condemn you for betraying socialist beliefs.
Du: With regard to those Cultural Revolution-style invectives, we have no choice but to dismiss them with a laugh. Among those comrades who oppose some of our articles are many people who approve of Deng Xiaoping Theory, approve of the “Three Represents”, and approve of the Reform and Opening, but who have a different understanding from us of certain problems, and hold different views. This is very normal.
I’m an old cadre. I entered the Party in 1937 at the age of 14. I began carrying out revolutionary work. I read very little, and the Marxist works I came in contact with did not come directly from Europe to China. They were the things the Soviet Union had accepted, repackaged, and turned into standardized editions, and then passed on to China. In September 1954, while retaining my post, I went to the Marxist-Leninist Institute (a high-level Chinese Communist Party Central Committee party school) to study for two whole years. All I studied was the Stalin’s “History of the All-Russian Communist (Bolsheviks)”. That class of ours was the most formal. The teachers were all Soviet experts, highly up-to-standard. We studied one word at a time, broke down the lines one by one, and took tests once a week. It was extraordinarily rigorous. This form of inculcation caused us to become a “History of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)” school, and history has proven that Stalin and the All-Russian Communist Party had an extreme number of extremely big problems. Science stands in opposition to superstition and blindness, and I suffered from blindness. It’s just that after going through the hardship of 30 or 40 years of painful reflection, I gradually learned to think independently. My mind was gradually liberated. I believed that I had to think through everything on my own, and in particular, had to use science and democracy as yardsticks to judge.
Among old cadres, no small number began to think independently earlier and better than I. There are even more like me, who began to think independently in their old age. Because of this, whether people are for or against Xie Tao’s articles, and Ren Zhongyi’s articles, it’s all normal. Any conversion of thought requires a process, a process of quantitative change.
EO: As a veteran news worker and former director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, how do you think the function of the media can be better brought into play in today’s society?
Du: Speaking the truth has long been a topic of discussion in the news world. At present it still has extremely powerful bearing on reality. Journalists must be protected and encouraged to speak the truth and reflect the true situation. The lesson of news journalists not being able to truthfully reflect the situation is too bitter, too deep! Naturally, to play to the function of the media, we cannot rely on the media self-discipline alone. We cannot just rely on journalists’ personal ethics. We need to strengthen the building of the external environment.