Locals read Chinese newspapers displayed on a public notice board in central Beijing. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters).
Over the past year, the world has watched with growing dismay as China’s leaders have orchestrated a relentless attack on political and cultural openness in their country. Ai Weiwei. Liu Xiaobo. Teng Biao. Gao Zhisheng. Zuo Xiao Zu Zhou. China has rounded up its artists, writers, lawyers and musicians, releasing some, and then arresting more. The result? The country wounds itself deeply by depriving itself of some of its greatest thinkers, most creative forces, and most determined seekers of justice.
Premier Wen Jiabao, who has begun to sound like a broken record, clearly recognizes this. He once again gently stepped into the fray, stating at a meeting in mid-April, “We must create conditions for people to speak the truth.” Yet this time he has some back-up—and from a rather surprising place: the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily.
A few days ago, People’s Daily ran an editorial with a number of striking statements, including:
“Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested…”
“…it is inevitable that various values and ideas, traditional and modern, foreign and homegrown, will collide and clash.”
“Because we serve the people, if we have faults, we do not fear the people criticizing them and pointing them out…”
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (quoting Voltaire)
“Seven mouths and eight tongues are not frightening, but most frightening is when not a crow or sparrow can be heard.” (quoting Deng Xiaoping)
What is behind this fresh salvo from the reform flank? Chinese media professionals—particularly ones who have retired—have often been at the forefront of calling for greater political openness. We’ll have to wait to see whether any other media support the People’s Daily or whether the bold editorial staff is simply sacked.
The Chinese frequently, and correctly, remind us that the path of political reform will be decided by the Chinese themselves. The People’s Daily editorial, however, reminds us that the real question is: which Chinese?