Liu Xiaobo points way to gradual PRC reform

By Chen I-chung 陳宜中  / 

Tue, Oct 12, 2010 - Page 8

Jailed Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Last year, just around Christmas, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion” as a co-author of Charter ’08, even though it was little more than a low-key manifesto for the rights of the Chinese people.

The day before the Nobel Committee named him the recipient of this year’s peace prize, several overseas human rights campaigners denounced Liu for being a “moderate,” saying he was not critical enough of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Radicals did not see him as being radical enough, as he advocated a gradual path to constitutional democracy in China, believing that it wasn’t something that could happen overnight.

Nationalists and the New Left also came out in criticism of Liu. These groups attacked the ideals of democracy and democratic reform in the name of anti--Westernization, saying that constitutional government was not suited to China. For them, liberal democracy is “US-style democracy” or “Western democracy” and as such does not conform to Chinese national sentiment or incorporate anything “Chinese.”

Liu’s concept of gradual political reform, however, does have merit. Last year China witnessed just shy of 100,000 demonstrations. This year, spending on maintaining peace and order has actually exceeded military expenditure. The whole national public expenditure would probably not be enough to contain public discontent. The problems stem from China’s political stagnation.

Social stability is certainly important, but the way Chinese authorities enforce order differs very much from a democratically ruled nation. China cannot go on like this forever, and cracks are already showing. Capitalism has not only ushered in rapid economic development, but also an increasing clamor for people’s rights. Maintaining order by suppression alone will not work in the long run. It’s a dead-end policy. The legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty, Yu the Great (大禹), is said to have tamed the floods in ancient China by digging drainage channels to divert the floodwaters, as simply shoring up flood defenses had failed. The CCP would do well to learn from his example.

The anti-democracy rhetoric of the nationalists and New Left is born out of narrow-minded nationalism. As for anti-CCP radicals, they fail to take into account the fundamental nature of Chinese society today. China has to develop the correct social and political conditions over time if it is to transform itself into a stable constitutional democracy. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.

Taking a gradual approach is not an excuse for delaying political reform, which will only lead to ruin for Chinese society. Should Liu’s Nobel Prize be interpreted as an attempt by the West to continue lording it over China, it is China that stands to lose. Liu’s award gives us hope that China can still embark on the gradual road to political reform, and that it will be able to do so without meeting many obstacles on the way. One day we might look back on this as China’s first tentative steps to her “political rise.”