About 20 minutes of audio in which a retired Central Party School professor sternly criticizes the state of the Party under Xi Jinping, and declares the current system beyond repair, circulated widely online earlier this month. The recording is from an address given by Cai Xia, a legal scholar and longtime internal Party advocate for rights and the rule of law, to a private group online. [Update: CDT has learned that this address was given in mid-May.] Cai is currently outside China. CDT has determined the recording to be authentic. The speech has been translated in full by CDT.
Without directly naming him, Cai’s speech sharply denounces Xi Jinping’s heavy-handed rule of the Party and country, and blames him for turning the CCP into a “political zombie.” Cai is known for criticizing authorities’ breaches of law and crackdowns on individual rights. In 2016, Cai defended businessman and Party critic Ren Zhiqiang after he was banished from social media for lambasting Xi’s domination of the media. In March of this year, after a document criticizing Xi’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic that Ren had allegedly shared with only a few people spread widely online, Ren went missing for nearly a month. He was later revealed to be under investigation by CCP disciplinary authorities.
Two major issues–ones that we must dig up from the root–can help explain how we got to where we are today. The first is our system, and the other is our theory. From the perspective of the system, Xueqin [historian Zhu Xueqin] said a long time ago: the system used by Mao Zedong to engage in the Cultural Revolution was used by Deng Xiaoping to carry out reforms. After reform and opening up, the market economy was used as a technical tactic to rapidly grow the economy.
But the market economy that we are talking about is two-tiered, one is the factor market and the other is the commodity market. Reforms involving factor markets have, to this day, not really moved forward. Therefore, the commodity market that you have cannot be a real commodity market economy. Prices are always controlled and resources are always monopolized because the factor market has not reformed. Why? It has to do with power.
So we have not solved the [main] problem—that is, our system. With this system, we’ve made it to where we are today, we’ve chosen this individual [ruler]—or, I should say, those at the top propped such a person up to the leadership position. What does this tell us? This tells us that this system is going nowhere. It is useless to try and change it. Fundamentally speaking, this system must be abandoned. As for the reform we are talking about, it is no longer about changing within the framework of the current system. This is my primary point. Some people might think when they hear this that we will need to fight a revolution once we abandon this system. That is not the case. This is my first point.
The second point is that our theory is fundamentally problematic. Putting aside whether it was correct or not for the Chinese Communist Party to have accepted Marxism-Leninism at the outset–this we are not yet discussing. The fact is, much of this theoretical stuff needs to be uprooted. Let’s say, for example, that at the time of our 4000-person congress, if Deng Xiaoping hadn’t stopped the Party from reflecting on the Cultural Revolution—not only politically denying it but also theoretically abandoning it—then we wouldn’t still be here trying to reverse the verdict on the Cultural Revolution.
Because the thing about politics is that it changes over time, it can be overturned one way, and then the other. But if you dig out the theory from its roots, destroying the ideological foundation underneath, then it would be very difficult for this Cultural Revolution business to come back. I therefore feel that, since reform and opening up, we have not solved these two most fundamental problems. One is the system, and the other is the theory. So what do we do now? My personal opinion, how should I put this… If we were to talk about the situation, we should start from the revision of the constitution. From that we would be able to see that the Party is actually already a political zombie.
The constitutional amendment is clearly illegal in terms of internal Party procedures. He took the [last] Plenum Session of the 18th National Congress of the CCP hostage. Two days before the [final plenary] session, he rushed to throw out the term limit system. He forced everyone at the [plenum] to swallow the revision like he was stuffing dogshit down their throats. So many Central Committee members were at the session, yet not one dared to raise this issue.
So, the Party itself is already a political zombie. And this one person, a central leader who has grasped the knife handle [police apparatus], the gun barrel [military], and faults within the system itself—that is: one, corruption among the officials; and two, the lack of human rights and legal protection for Party members and cadres. With these two grasped in his hands, he has turned 90 million Party members into slaves, tools to be used for his personal advantage. When he needs it, he uses the Party. When he doesn’t need it, Party members are no longer treated as Party members. He can easily put you somewhere and label you as a corrupt official.
Just take a look at our current situation, at those leading Party cadres who have been dealt with by the National Supervisory Committee recently. I’m not judging whether these people are guilty or not, but that even if they were innocent they will be charged with something. What’s more, the system itself has already corrupted many. The problem is that you should at least check those charges against existing national laws and Party regulations to find out what actions count as violations, and only punish people based on that. Those that are stipulated by national laws—for example, if the crime can be punished under the criminal code—then you can say that so and so has been guilty of this or that crime. Nowadays, not supporting the real economy is a crime, being defiant against the Party is a crime, being dishonest towards the Party is a crime. Where is rule of law? What kind of political party is this? He has become a total mafia boss who can punish his underlings however he wants. That’s why I say that this Party is already a political zombie.
In the current state of affairs, it is impossible for anyone to remedy this dangerous situation, not to mention that he [Xi] is determined to continue down this path until the end. No matter who speaks, it won’t work. I’ve thought about this problem. When he first came to power, he both covertly and overtly wanted to fan his personality cult in order to improve his prestige. But it didn’t work. Sister [Ma] Xiaoli, you may remember, in May of 2016, there was that performance planned at the Great Hall of the People. You took the lead and resisted, and the whole thing blew up. The performance was then halted.
Next, see what happened in November of 2016? Defiance against the Party was put into the Party disciplinary code of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee. After that, the “four consciousnesses” were made into a part of correct political speech, what we call standard political speech. What “four self-confidences,” “four consciousnesses,” and “two maintenances?” Especially the “two maintenances,” about the whole Party revolving around one person. Can you even still call this a political party? It is no longer a political party, and hasn’t been one for a long time. It is just a tool in the hands of a mafia boss.
Therefore, this party has become a political zombie. Right now, it is impossible for anyone to come forward and to change it. If it is possible to replace the person, that would be the first step. I think the best solution is of course to replace the person. As a matter of urgency, I think that is the first step. But you can see what he is doing now: holding military power in his hand, holding the entire Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission and the police in his hands. Putting everyone under surveillance using high-tech tools. Who can come out and say “let’s solve this problem”? It’s impossible. Even at the Central Standing Committee meetings, we say majority rule, but does the majority actually rule? No.
That’s why I think with this current situation, if [there is majority rule] that would, of course, be a good thing. Let me start by saying that if there is a collective resolution from the Standing Committee, with the minority obeying the majority, that you are not doing a good job, that you can’t lead 90 million party members and 1.4 billion people to a dead end to be buried with you, that is not okay. With that said, if these people in the Standing Committee still have a sense of responsibility to the Party, and to the country and the people, then I think these seven Standing Committee members should meet to make a resolution, and just change the person in power. In fact, by changing the person in power, the external environment will start to relax, because this is a signal, telling the outside world that we are moving in a different direction. As long as this person is still in charge, that environment will only get worse, it will not ease up on us. But if you change the person in power, external tensions will then be capable of being alleviated, because you would then have done a thing that shows that you are able to turn around without having to say a word. This would, I think, be the best thing to happen.
But does any member of the Standing Committee have that sense of responsibility to the Party and people? No. Right now, these people can’t even be considered politicians, I think they are just slaves under the command of one person. Of course, my words might suggest that the likes of Wang Yang and Li Keqiang are also included. Actually, they are in a tough spot.
They have been doing whatever they can in their positions to minimize losses and alleviate the crisis, we’ve all seen this. In terms of the Party, I wonder whether–be it retired senior cadres or current Standing Committee members–it can rise up once again for the sake of this country and its people and make a majority resolution to ask this person to step down? Save face, resign from duty, and retire. Don’t intervene anymore. Then, our Party may turn things back around. If this person doesn’t go, then our Party has no chance.
This is the first point I wanted to make. That is, as long as we replace him, external pressure will be eased. Second, if replacing him is a possibility, then right now we shouldn’t be thinking about how to move forward, but rather we should prioritize what to stop doing, what are the things we should not continue. We don’t need to implement new policies, we just want you to stop. For example, we should stop deleting WeChat accounts, stop punishing speech. You can stop doing these things, right? This is how I see this.
Take entrepreneurs as another example, jailing them at the drop of a hat. Not to even mention the arrest of Ren Zhiqiang, the two leaders of Alashan were also arrested. Dong Guoqiang has disappeared for days, and there has been no news at all. They then arrested Qian Xiaohua just a few days ago. On what grounds was this done? It is easy for you to arrest someone, but you have scared away a large group of entrepreneurs. That’s why what we see now is that very few Chinese private enterprises still talk about making money, everyone is first and foremost concerned about their safety. To protect their livelihoods, those who have the means to flee outside of China and move their assets offshore have already done so. Those with money have already left, those who are capable have left. What are we left with? We are left with just the blood-sucking red elitists and a large number of poor working people who would never have the means to emigrate. That’s why I think these are the only two groups of people left here, everyone who can leave has already left. Is there still hope for this country? There is no hope.
That’s why I say that after his removal, we just need to stop [these absurd policies], it’s not about what we need to do going forward. We need to correct past mistakes and set things right–this is a step we must take. Just like when the Cultural Revolution ended, we corrected past mistakes and set things right. But the clean-up this time has to be done from the root. We must completely abandon the theories of the so-called New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. They are nonsense. For something that does not even make sense logically nor read with any sense of flow, it is preposterous that we are making the entire Party study them as if they were some kind of a divine text. I am saying all this with disdain. But we simply cannot be blind to the fact that the Party, this enormous Party, and the country is using these lies to indoctrinate 90 million Party members, and hold 1.4 billion Chinese people hostage. It has let Chinese people become the laughing stock of the world, with its 7 billion people laughing at the so-called members of the Chinese Communist Party.
This is a sign, presented before the whole world, indicating that the Party is moribund. I believe we must correct our mistakes and set things right. If there are a few things that we can do, the following are some that can actually be done quite easily. Because we have to believe that the vast majority of Party members know in their hearts what is right and what is wrong. They have had no choice but to go along with him. I have been thinking about the Party’s political zombies, why is it that officials nowadays are always talking about “required actions”? What “voluntary actions”? No one can perform “voluntary actions.” Everyone is performing “required actions.” Why? Because of the notion that one must toe the line and remain completely loyal. As a result, no Party members or cadres dare to make policies based on local realities. How can you when they can easily find a pretext to label you as disloyal, or defiant of the Party. The Party and the country have been put to death.
That’s why I think Party members know what is going on in their hearts. As soon as we ask that person to step down with dignity, we can correct past mistakes and set things right. There should be no resistance from within the Party. In Mao’s era, quite a few senior Party comrades needed to be persuaded, but that’s not the case now. Everyone knows in their hearts what’s going on. The key is whether our high-ranking officials have the political courage to be accountable to the Party and the people. Whether they have the courage to take that step.
We are just here talking. We are talking because we have no power to change the system. We can only entertain ourselves, and say things that make us feel better, and that is all, isn’t that right?
Because right now society can’t be counted on, he’s already atomized the entire Chinese society into scattered sand. All of civil society and the capacity for self-organization have been shattered. Running the country with the police, violently monitoring the people. Society itself is at the point of death.
Under the current circumstances, the person who comes into power would without a doubt be a devil incarnate, a ruthless character. That’s why I think we still need to talk about whether these people in the Party are capable of saving themselves, of redeeming themselves. I think this is the case. [In terms of] what we are saying about abandoning the system, and about China using the term “reform” to move forward, then hope still lies in the large number of mid and upper-rank members of our Party, or those within the Party, so to speak, because you cannot count on the bottom rung of society. This is what I want to say. If we have this person replaced, what are the things we need to do, what are the things we need to stop doing. *
The fact is, Chinese society is not without vitality. It’s not that we lack energy or talented people. Society is being devastated, the ability to think is being devastated, the Party is being devastated. If this threat can be lifted, I believe everything will get better. Just like in 1976, after Mao’s passing, many believed that was the end for China, yet we’ve come through. That’s why we need to believe in this nation—it is resilient and alive. However, the problem is that this person has blocked the path forward for the country and the Party.
With this current situation, If we don’t get rid of this person, we will witness the political system in free fall. We will wait for a hard landing, for society to collapse, and then start over. I think there is a large likelihood that that is going to happen. I personally think that by the end of this year, or the first half of next year, the economy will completely collapse. When that time comes, we will see what becomes of this country. Although we are feeling a lot of external pressure at this moment, he can probably still weather the storm for a while, because there is still money to squander. But when there is no more money to squander, when he can no longer bear it, when domestic conflicts boil over, then we shall see.
So I think during the lifetime of our generation, within five years, we will witness China go through another period of major chaos. It is difficult to tell how this chaos will end. Chaos breeds ruthless characters. And then we’ll walk that former path all over again.
So much misfortune for the Chinese people. Maybe it’s fate. [Chinese]
Correction: The reference to “historian Qin Hui” was corrected to “historian Zhu Xueqin” due to a translation error.
* This translation has been edited to include a paragraph that was left out of our original publication due to editorial error.