How do Ordinary People look at Politics in China?
Debasish Chaudhuri

Liang Heng, a renouned journalist of the People’s Daily has recently discussed common man’s notion about politics in the people’s forum of the daily. The author writes on politics and knows the difficulties of publishing political articles in an authoritarian state structure governed by a Leninist party. In 2006, Liang wrote an article on how “three difficulties” and “two specially” influence the writings of political stories (possibly the journalists of socialist countries are not allowed to write stories, they are supposed to report truth emanated from the supreme party leadership). According to him, firstly it is difficult to grasp the content after gathering news, secondly it is harder to find news from the procedural activities of the party and government, and lastly it is hardest to make news items interesting. Liang Heng explains that politicians, by maintaining a specially set standard of responsibility for the media personnel and crafting a specially designed art of editing, control the news papers and periodicals. For a journalist habituated to write stories, it is not easy to evade from being rewarded the title of a dissident in China. Therefore, we may assume that Liang must have learnt the special art of journalistic writings – a skill Liu Binyan, an outspoken journalist who was accused twice by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping for his “rightist” inclination and “bourgeois liberalism” respectively, could never muster.

Liu Binyan was dabbed by the People’s Daily, his former news paper, as the “scum of the nation” in the second half of 1980s. Is there any difference between Liu and Liang other than their survival skills? Is it surprising that the same news paper is allowing Liang to report on politics two decades later? Does politics has a place in the public domain in Hu Jintao’s China? A close reading of Liang Heng’s recent piece of work might provide some clues.

Liang Heng made the writing interesting by beginning with a funny story. He was then reporting from Inner Mongolia the death of Lin Biao in a plane crash while fleeing China in 1971. He wrote in his report that Lin Biao covered himself with a jacket of Marxism (it is a crude literal translation of “林彪披着马克思主义的大衣”). When the production team of his unit assembled in a criticism session, the team leader told that Lin Biao was so spoiled that he had even stolen a jacket of Marxism.

On the basis of his long experience as journalist Liang Heng came to a conclusion that even after forty one years of uninterrupted political education the ordinary people’s view about politics has remained unchanged. Liang is different from Liu in the sense that until his death in 2005 the latter was convinced that the CPC’s basic political ideology did not alter and breathed his last with a conviction that China must change. Moreover, Liu had deep faith on common man’s ability to understand politics.

Some useful definitions of politics can be extracted from Liang Heng’s article. Sun Yat-sen said that ‘politics is an act of managing masses’. Mao Zedong defined ‘politics as something that does more for our people and less for the enemy’. These definitions are still valid and integrated within the official doctrine of socialism with Chinese characters. Since the present CPC leadership draws legitimacy from its performance in economic development, Liang Heng contends that the objective of politics should be conducive to the interest of majority of the ordinary people. Interest of the ordinary people is limited to the basic need of life, education and protection of environment etc. According to Liang’s interpretation, the duty of political managers of the country is to learn the art of making people believe that their interest has been protected.

In recent years China has been experiencing a rise of mass political protests. There are two possibilities – either the party-state is unable to protect the interest of majority of the people or the country’s managers are not able to make masses realize that they are doing everything for the interest of the common people. Last month Premier Wen Jiabao, one of the most important political managers of the country, possibly by mistake, talked about the need of political reform (a taboo in China). That is the reason why Liang Heng wrote this article to establish that the common China man does not understand the ABCs of politics and therefore the country is not yet ready for political reform.



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