2006:Chinese Economists Speak Frankly to Power

Early in spring 2006, two versions of a summary of a meeting of the China Society for Economic Reform  中国经济体制改革研究会 , a group of academics who give frank advice to the PRC’s State Council. The second version left out some of the blunter criticism of the Chinese political and economic system. It is a rare glimpse of Chinese scholars speaking frankly about China’s problems and of the frankness of the advice and criticism that China’s leaders are willing to hear — at least behind closed doors.  An April 7, 2006 report by The New York Times At a Secret Meeting, Chinese Analysts Clashed Over Reforms reported on this conference.

Here is a summary translation of parts of extracts the much longer summary of the meeting of the China Society of Economic Reform that has appeared on the web. The Society provides advice to the ruling State Council. Its meetings are customarily internal and are franker than public discussions. Reports about the meeting have been appearing in the newspapers over the past week. In the body of the email are my notes.

To judge by the differences noted by the Kathy Chen’s Wall Street Journal Chinese language website article, it seems that many items (that is offensive truths) were left in that are worse than what was edited out. Maybe I am not a good enough judge of just what is sensitive. For example: this passage from the Chinese Economic Reform Society meeting, again a statement from Beijing University Prof. He Weifang   贺卫方. I summarize the first part and then excerpts from a longer statement.

Prof. He says that the left wingers (i.e. pro-socialist “conservatives”) can speak up and say what they think, even though what they say does worry the government. The right wingers (i.e. democratizers) are intimidated, always hiding out, afraid to say what they think. But now there is an opportunity that must not be missed.”What direction shall we take? We all have a goal, but a goal that we can’t even speak of today, but we must go down the road towards it.

That road includes for example a multi-party political system, media freedom, real democracy for this country, real individual freedoms, and a country built on the foundation of guaranteeing freedom for everyone. For example, there is the Taiwan model. We think today that China should move in this direction but we can’t say it. In this situation, when we get in an argument with other people, the good guys can’t beat the bad guys and if the good buys are hit by a bad guy, he’ll certainly be killed off and die of his wounds on the field of battle.

Therefore there are just all kinds of crazy right wing things on the web but as for our side of things, we are not able to say clearly and thoroughly just what we mean. Therefore our work these past few years, especially on pushing towards institutional reform, has been very difficult. Our senior scholars and colleagues of the present generation seated here have devoted a tremendous amount of effort to this, but this process is just very difficult.”

China Society of Economic Reform

Summary The Chinese language Wall Street Journal website article compares the Chinese text of a summary of a discussion by the China Society of Economic Reform. The WSJ’s Kathy Chen found that meeting attendees contacted confirmed the account, notwithstanding several typos in the version circulated on the web. The sections of the first deleted in the second version are interesting, most notably:

  • Beijing University Professor He Weifang “I want to state clearly that I hope the Communist Party will divide into two factions…because it is an organization without and legal basis that violates individual freedoms and tramples upon the law…. What kind of system is this? It seriously violates the PRC Constitution which states that any activities must be carried out in accordance with the Constitution.”
  • Citibank’s view that the China Construction Bank is a big mess and very incompetently run.
  • Xie Ping, general manager of the (PRC) Central Finance Corporation said the “China Agricultural Bank [Zhongguo Nongye Yinhang] is the last bank that anyone would want to acquire”.
  • Xie Ping also mentioned that the level of PRC ownership of China’s top four banks would be kept at 66% or above for at least the next decade – the first time that this information had been released, according to an article on the Wall Street Journal Chinese language website.
  • Shi Fulin of the Hainan Province Economic Development and Reform Commission said the Economic and Reform Commission manages the phony, manages the real, manages the cold, manages the hot, manages the long, manages the short, and just about everything else! For example, when the governor of Hainan Province came to wish the Hainan Economic Development and Reform Commission a Happy Spring Festival…. It was done very effectively! We had several course, Ma Kai (of the central government Development and Reform Commission was there along with Zhang Guobao and others, and well some decisions got made there.”
  • China University of Political Science and Law Professor Li Shaoguang said that in 2005, the PRC government received 30 million appeals to correct unjust decisions. According to the WSJ website, this number has never been disclosed before, and compared it to the correction of unfair judgments against the rightists after the Cultural Revolution, when 20,000 appeals to correct judgments were made during 1979 – 1982.


From Beijing University Professor He Weifang’s statement

“I hope that we can create a small group, distinct from the reformers’ group. I have to say to you frankly what my personal objectives are, although you may not want to hear them. Some of my articles have been circulating widely on the web, in which I say things like, I hope the Communist Party divides into two factions, and hope that the PLA will become the national army [note: rather than the army of the Communist Party as it is now.

I hope to resolve some very important issues. I have a constructive attitude, I want media freedom, including the points made in the letter of the 13 scholars, we expressed our own views. We violate individual freedoms, trample upon the law, do not operate on a legal basis. The Party is always clamping down on the media and grabbing power.
What kind of a system is this? It seriously violates the PRC Constitution since all activities must go on in accordance with the constitution. We should box our own ears. The Party Organization Departments Central Selection Bureau and our entire Party should be registered. That is a minimum requirement for a democratic country. An organization must meet have a legal standing so that it can sue and be sued and have rights. I have been in this organization for over twenty years but it has never registered. That is a big problem. What kind of power is it exercising? It is power outside the law. This is a serious violation of the law.

What does ruling the country by law mean? Comrade Hu Jintao said that we must rectify all the unconstitutional behaviors of the National People’s Congress and of People’s Congresses at all levels. Yet the Party itself stands outside of the law so how can it violate the constitution? .. We need to develop a language for talking about reform. Some people say that the reforms are all wrong, and they certainly can find a basis for saying so. Liping was right to say that some people just have the jitters hearing about this reform and that reform and so just want to press forward.

To be fair, there are others who are not the enemies of the system and express their views clearly so that a kind of balance is struck. In the past I thought there being a third kind of person, but now this seems to have become a kind of enemy clique which are in a state of enmity with the system in a tense situation. Many people are saying that foreign enemy forces are seeking to link up with Chinese domestic forces. I want to distinguish myself from enemies, we are friends, I love this Party and so speak frankly. If I didn’t love it I would keep silent. Therefore I want to create this kind of organization.
* First, the power structure is chaotic. We lack a legal and constitutional system. There are serious problems in the relationship between the Party and the legislature, between the Party and the courts and between the Party and the government. The biggest problem? I agree with what Prof. Yang Dongping said a moment ago. The biggest problem is the relationship of the Party to education. There should not be party organizations in the universities. That is the biggest problem. The whole power structure violates constitutional government.

Yang Qixian: There is a report on the web that 650,000 protective personnel were needed for the March meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Consultative Congress.

Prof. He: There are many problems with the finance function of the National People’s Congress as well:
* Thirdly, article 35 of the PRC Constitution guaranteeing the right to political activity is a dead letter. For example, the right to form organizations, the right to demonstrate, and religious freedom are not implemented.

* Fourth, there is no independence of the judiciary. The Chinese judiciary are now in a steady decline. … Recently the intervention of the party in the judicial function is getting stronger and not weaker.

* Fifth, according to the Supreme Court, the courts are refusing to accept cases on houses being torn down and people being moved. This is keeping an important area outside the law. Adminstrative orders are treated as more important than the law.

* Sixth, Private property is the basis of civil law, especially in the case of peasant land. In the future privatization must be promoted, real private property and not a collective rights or else the peasants will suffer.

* Seventh, guarantee of security in commercial transactions. This is related to the lack of judicial independence.

To sum it all up, the legal system is more and more intimately tied to economic reform. It is important that we in this meeting who see this trends do something.


About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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