A closer look at Mr. Yu provides a small window into the role of those few public intellectuals who have learned to navigate what would appear to be treacherous terrain. They tackle seemingly provocative subjects and can even function as a force for change, but in the end their writings rarely challenge the underpinnings of China’s single-party, authoritarian rule.
Even Mr. Yu’s use of the word “democracy” is not what it seems. China’s leaders frequently talk about it as a worthy goal, but in practice they have virtually no intention of ceding the Communist Party’s monopoly. In fact, Mr. Yu never advocates Western-style multiparty democracy.
“What he writes might sound good, but he is misleading the Chinese people into thinking the government is moving toward democracy,” said Guo Tianguo, a former rights lawyer from Shanghai who was forced into exile five years ago and now lives in Canada. “He owes his job to President Hu Jintao, and if he ever pushed too hard he would lose everything. He’s a coward.”
YET to some who have followed his career, Mr. Yu’s role is far more nuanced. They say that he is a true believer in democracy, but that he walks a tightrope, trying to nudge China’s political elite toward reform without upsetting the apple cart.