Liang Jing: Guo Wengui and China’s ‘Truth’ Revolution
In an article for The New York Times, Chris Buckley looks at the impact billionaire Guo Wengui is having on the political elite in Beijing as he fires explosive, but largely unsubstantiated, accusations of corruption and wrongdoing against them from his penthouse in Manhattan. As Buckley reports, Guo’s sometimes salacious allegations are the talk of the town, despite government efforts to censor them and the lack of hard evidence to back them up:
But it is already near impossible to hold a private conversation with anyone in the Chinese capital who takes an interest in politics without talk turning to Mr. Guo and his unverified insider tales of elite corruption and power plays. People here have followed each unveiling of Mr. Guo’s often long-winded allegations by creeping around China’s barricade of internet censorship.
“I don’t think the party has ever had a big businessman so boldly challenge it like this,” said Bao Tong, a former senior aide to Zhao Ziyang, a former party leader who was toppled from power during the 1989 protests. “How to respond is a dilemma.”
[…] Mr. Guo’s stories have caused a stir in part because he socialized with security officials before he left China several years ago and has shown a familiarity with who’s who in elite party families. But many of his recent claims are unverified and disputed, and Mr. Guo has sometimes left out important details needed to test the accusations.
Yet even without confirmation, the allegations appear vexing for Mr. Xi. [Source]
In the third installment in a series of commentaries about Guo, Radio Free Asia political analyst Liang Jing looks at why Guo’s words are resonating in China and igniting a “truth revolution,” even in the absence of confirmed facts. The first and second installments in the series have been previously posted by CDT; we will post additional related commentaries from Liang Jing in coming days.
Guo Wengui and China’s “Truth” Revolution
Liang Jing, May 23, 2017
Guo Wengui’s daily “Reporting Safe” hour-long live video program has become an internet media classic, drawing unprecedented attention not only in China, but across the world. Many wonder: what should we make of this? What will be its historical impact?
Guo Wengui has in my view ignited a “truth revolution” in China, which has subverted the official version of “truth” as it dominates the lives of ordinary people, drawing China towards a new “politics of truth.” Guo’s “truth” may be far from all true, but he has given hundreds of millions of viewers in China and the world a glimpse of truths never visible before, changing their understanding as to the “truth” of China.
The lethal threat to China’s regime and mainstream elite of Guo Wengui’s “truth” revolution is enormous. Not only has he revealed how the power elite plunder and steal huge amounts of China’s wealth, he has also revealed how China’s political and cultural elite have sunk into deep spiritual and moral decline in the process. People had long seen or felt this decline in real life, but the many details exposed by Guo Wengui still deeply shocked outsiders, and more importantly, some of these details have completely destroyed the “public image” of many of the power elite, meaning they “lack the face to see people,” not only publicly, but privately.
We can imagine the desire for revenge Guo’s “truth” revolution has stirred up among those humiliated and dishonored, and the universal dread and anger it has caused among the elite, but the resulting social and political risks are difficult to estimate. Any cultural and political order depends on the concealment of certain truths. How was Western civilization, which also conceals a number of “truths,” able to establish a more advanced political civilisation than others? This is a question worth Chinese people considering.
My view is that the power games and judicial practices of Western civilization embody a concept lacking in many civilizations: preventing personal humiliation and maintaining everyone’s personal dignity as far as possible, including for political opponents and criminals. Without this idea, Western civilization could not have achieved such breakthroughs in the rule of law and democracy; and it is the lack of this idea that makes it hard for Chinese civilization to emerge from its cultural predicament of cyclical order and chaos.
Reflecting on the case of Guo Wengui from this point of view, it’s not difficult to see that it reflects the individual logic of “disrespect begets disrespect, violence begets violence.” A famous American actress said this in criticizing Trump; pointing, I felt, to the key to political civilization, namely whether it can extract us from this vicious cycle of human nature.
Faced with a situation in which “there is no official whose hands are clean,” the predicament of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is obvious to all. But does this mean that he must humiliate corrupt officials, and use anti-corruption to besmirch his political opponents? Has he absolutely no choice but to rely on such thugs as Fu Zhenghua? Guo Wengui’s opposition may, I feel, have a positive impact in forcing China’s top authorities to think about these issues.
Many people are quite pessimistic, believing that the Chinese people have their own logic: you can treat someone as a person, but he may not treat himself as one. This is indeed a truth about China, but it is not the whole truth. Because China’s internal and external environment has made and is still making a historic change. ordinary people’s awareness of dignity and rights continue to awaken. If people are not respected, if a higher political and judicial civilization is not introduced, China’s economic and social problems can not find a way out. As capital takes flight, so will people.
In the short term, an ant like Guo Wengui cannot shake the great tree of the regime, but seen from the trend of technological development, and on a scale of ten to 20 years, taking Guo Wengui’s remark that “everything has just begun” as a description of the renewal of Chinese political culture may turn out not too far off the mark. [Chinese]
Liang Jing is an independent commentator with a background in official policy research in the PRC, whose current affairs column has been running on Radio Free Asia’s Cantonese website for 20 years.