Sun Liping’s “Three Simple Points” About Reviving the Economy Deleted From WeChat

On February 28, a post by Tsinghua University sociologist Sun Liping about reviving the Chinese economy was deleted from WeChat, continuing a trend toward increased censorship of articles about the state of the economy. As a sociologist who studies poverty, inequality, and the social transformations brought about by market economic reforms, Sun Liping is well-placed to discuss the current challenges facing the Chinese economy. CDT Chinese editors have archived and republished Sun’s deleted post, adding it to our extensive archive of content (censored and uncensored) about current economic anxieties, rising unemployment, slowing economic growth, stock market turmoil, and more. 

The increased scrutiny of online writing about economic topics comes amidst China’s inevitable high-stakes transition to a slower growth model; the recent decision to do away with the customary post-NPC (National People’s Congress) press conference on the state of the economy; and the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s repeated warnings against expressing pessimism about China’s economy or markets.

Below is a partial translation of the salient points of Sun Liping’s now-censored post, which appeared on WeChat under the title “What Does It Take to Revive the Economy? Just These Three Simple Points”:

[W]e need to recognize that the extraordinarily fast-paced period of “remedial” economic development has come to an end. China’s future economic development needs to be predicated on a new foundation. But what is this new foundation? I believe that it is based on three salient points: effective rule of law, limitations on the exercise of power, and the functioning of a “normal” society. With this foundation in place, the economy is unlikely to grow by leaps and bounds as it did before, but our economic development will be built upon a healthier and more lasting foundation. Whether this foundation can be established will determine the future of China’s economy.

[…] So what exactly do we mean by “rule of law”? The first thing that springs to mind is the law itself, which is why people often call for the enactment of this or that particular law. On a deeper conceptual level, this implies that the law itself must be sound, or that laws must be strictly adhered to. But it is really not that simple, nor is this even the most salient point.

The “rule of law” and “the law” are not simple equivalents. Firstly, the rule of law can exist even in the absence of legal statutes or provisions. Many countries have unwritten laws, and some even have unwritten constitutions. There are also various unwritten rules, customary norms that govern our daily lives. Secondly, the rule of law can be absent even in the presence of laws. If laws are arbitrarily imposed, arbitrarily interpreted, or arbitrarily enforced, then there is no true rule of law.

So what exactly is rule of law? Rule of law is the embodiment of the supremacy of rules; it is social governance implemented on the basis of the law, rather than on the basis of power.

Let’s talk now about limitations on the exercise of power.

[…] What has been our biggest problem over the years? It has been the rapid expansion of power, the rapid expansion of power across [provincial] borders, and excessive direct involvement in economic affairs by those in power. This is an important driver of many of today’s problems. But what gave rise to this rapid, unchecked expansion of power? It was due to increasing “blind faith” in a nationwide system, which inevitably led people to place more trust in the power of government and less trust in the power of the market. It fueled the erroneous belief that depending on the power of the government was more conducive to attaining economic goals and overcoming market shortcomings.

[…] The third point concerns a “normal” society. This may seem trivial, but it’s actually very important. There are many facets to a normal society, but the most important are that a society should possess vitality, a modicum of tolerance and lenience, and an environment that encourages innovation and new endeavors. [Chinese]


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