Liang Jing, How Far is China from Revolution?

Overseas political commentator Liang Jing’s new piece, translated by Dr. David Kelly, China Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney:

Hu Jintao did two things over the Chinese New Year. First, he revisited Jinggangshan [legendary revolutionary base area]; [1] and second, he went to Nanchang Railway Station to “look into rail tickets.” [2] Fun was poked at Hu’s visit to Jiangxi; my interpretation is rather that fear of a new revolution erupting has enveloped the hapless Hu.

Could another revolution take place in China? More and more people are pondering this question. No one, however, can have thought about it more and for longer than Hu Jintao. Terror was the main reason for Deng Xiaoping and the CPC patriarchs’ reacting so irrationally to the demonstrating students and public on June 4th 1989, twenty years ago: they feared a revolution breaking out suddenly and divesting them of their power.

It now appears that Hu Jintao, who thanks to June 4 could assume the mantle of “heir,” far back in the decade as “Crown Prince” when he failed to establish anything or advance his knowledge, allowed the fear of losing his “throne” and that of the Communist Party losing control of the nation to merge and suffuse his bloodstream. Seeing the growing split between rich and poor and official corruption out of control, Hu Jintao’s fear of the revolution continued to grow as well. I have been told that, on one inspection visit Hu, noticing the unbridled profligacy of local government, said using a Mao-laced phrase, “this will send them up to the mountains,” meaning that this state of affairs would drive the people into the hills to oppose the Party.

The problem is that someone completely dominated by fear can accomplish nothing; and this is a clue to grasping the trajectory of Hu’s rule. In the last six years, the issues apparent to Hu Jintao prior to his taking power—economic imbalance, official corruption, harm suffered by the peasantry, pollution of the environment—have, far from being resolved, all become more serious. Now, the sudden global financial crisis has claimed the jobs of tens of millions of migrant workers, and it may well be that Hu Jintao’s fear of the outbreak of revolution has mounted to a new level, and revisiting Jinggangshan was an inscrutable choice driven by his subconscious fear revolution. Jinggangshan is symbolic of China’s Red revolution, what exactly was the political message Hu Jintao sought to convey on this occasion? The speculation on this visit is precisely that he in fact failed to convey any message whatsoever.

Going to Nanchang Station to “see about rail tickets” was another none too adroit “show of oneness with the people.” This choice too was connected with Hu’s fear of revolution. Everyone knows that if another revolution were to break out in China, the myriad migrant workers would be the main force. At present, the plight of large numbers of laid-off migrant workers may well become a factor triggering an explosive revolution. Hu Jintao’s concern about large numbers of unemployed migrant workers being stranded in the coastal cities is far from groundless, but the problem can the problem be solved by improving the sale of train tickets? The annual “migrant worker tide” would moreover place an unbearable shock loading on any country’s normal capacity.

What is of real interest is, how many unemployed mainland migrant workers are stranded in the coastal region and major cities? How many of these are unable to return home because they can’t buy tickets? The cover article of the latest issue of Caijing magazine, “Survey of migrant worker unemployment” provides us with important infadriotormation. [3] This investigation report, which Caijing’s reporter took three months and interviews conducted in six provinces and municipalities to complete, reveals the picture of migrant worker survival about which the Chinese government is itself unclear, and which it does not want the outside world to know.

Over 10 million migrant workers have gone home early, the report says, due to loss of employment. But the most shocking fact is that the figure for unemployed migrant workers who have not returned home is many times greater. It says “the migrant workers’ loss of employment seriously hits their income growth, reversing their over 6% income growth since 2004; the new generation of unemployed migrant workers hesitate in the urban-rural margin, bringing factors of instability to both urban and rural society; their return increases disputes and conflicts over rural land, exacerbating the man-land contradiction inherent in the countryside; governments at all levels have failed to make adequate preparation for migrant workers’ employment and training, protection of their rights and interests, support of their business ventures, and so on; their unemployment and return home highlights the lag in urbanisation, and presents an obstacle to transforming China’s economic growth model.”

This means that there are tens of millions of unemployed migrant workers who don’t want to or can’t go back to their hometowns, and for whom governments at all levels in China are unprepared, because for more than a decade, they have always believed that the world demand for Chinese factories could only increase and not decrease; and even if the migrant workers lost their employment, they had a piece of land waiting for them at home, hence there was no need to worry about social problems brought about by large numbers of them stranded in the city.

Hu’s visit to Nanchang “to see about tickets” showed that he can’t accept this fact, preferring to believe they were stranded due to their inability to buy train tickets. History has told us many times that if those in power lack the courage and ability to face real challenges, the possibilities they most fear are quite likely to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Today, the greatest danger of a revolution in China comes, in fact, is terror induced by the leaders’ incompetence.

Following June Fourth, Deng Xiaoping and the CPC patriarchs, in their fear, made their most foolish decision: bestowing an unprecedented concentration of power on an unprecedentedly incompetent successor. If the CPC cannot shed the enormous danger to China brought about by Hu Jintao’s incompetence and fear, another revolution in China is really not far off. This revolution, however, will not proceed into the mountains to wage guerrilla war, but will “first of all occupy the central cities.”

* 梁京: “中国革命有多远?”

[1] See “Hu Jintao chongshang Jinggangshan rang Zhongguo hen niuqi” [Hu Jintao’s revisit to Jinggangshan makes China quite bullish], Hongwang, 26 January 2009 [: “胡锦涛重上井冈山让中国很牛气“, 红网,2009年1月 26日.].

[2] See Bi Xiaozhe, “Zongshuji huochezhan ‘wenpiao’, nai ren xunwei” [General Secretary ‘looks into tickets’ at the railway station, provides food for thought], Zhongguo wang, 26 January 2009 [毕晓哲、毕晓哲: “总书记火车站”问票”,耐人寻味“, 中国网,2009年1月 26日.].

[3] Chang Hongxiao, Ren Bo and et al., “Nongmin gong shiye diaocha” [Survey of migrant workers’ loss of employment], Caijing, 4 February 2009 [常红晓、任波: “农民工失业调查”, 财经,2009年2月 4日 .].


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