Ever since Chongqing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) was sacked, rumors have spread like wildfire about the political situation in China. The rumor that has received the most attention is the one about Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) proposing restitution for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre during a speech he made to the party’s politburo.
In what seemed like an attempt to confirm these rumors, Chinese Internet censorship was momentarily relaxed. For example, users of the Chinese Web site Baidu (百度) were able to search for pictures of the massacre. Also, many messages posted on the memorial Web site for former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), who was placed under house arrest for 15 years following the massacre, were neither disallowed nor deleted.
Thus, speculation about the possibility of restitution for the victims of the massacre is at an all-time high and people linked to the massacre who are outside of China, myself included, have had the media constantly asking them questions.
The first thing I would to reflect on is what Bo’s resignation might mean for internal rifts within the CCP. However, the focus of these rifts most likely center on the appropriateness of Bo’s extreme-leftist approaches, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, such as his insistence on people singing former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東)-era songs. Just what does this have to do with the issue of the massacre? Not a single appropriate explanation has been offered yet as to the logic of this whole issue, or about the rumors being spread outside of China. This is quite unusual.
Second, we should pay attention to the temporary relaxation of Internet censorship. It would be hard to believe the timing of this was merely coincidental. Obviously, it was planned and implemented by certain individuals who had both the intent and the power to carry it through.
Who are these people and what are their goals? Although we cannot be sure of the answers to these questions, we can assume these recent rumors are a form of political manipulation.
Finally, we should look at what sort of influence these rumors, which caused such a stir abroad, will have on politics within China. We have seen that Wen was very much involved in the recent internal power struggle within the CCP caused by Bo’s dismissal. It is not hard to imagine the deeply ingrained distaste the conservative faction within the CCP has for him.
Wen has already come up against a lot of resistance trying to persuade the CCP to resolve the Bo issue. If, at this time, he proposes other, more controversial issues, like getting restitution for the massacre victims, he will be generating even more pressure. Unless Wen has already made up his mind go all out and play a role similar to former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, I really do not believe he will rush to take care of the Tiananmen issue before he has taken care of the Bo problem.
Also, the talk that these rumors have caused overseas are in fact bad for Wen: It will make different political factions within the CCP feel that his actions are too much, too soon and that they risk causing instability.
As a result, not long after the rumors surfaced, the CCP’s propaganda department hit back hard. They not only severely punished the online media outlets that spread these rumors, but the People’s Daily also ran a series of editorials on the subject of stability for a few days in a row.
We know that Wen already proposed political reform a number of times and “stability” is obviously something that does not fit within the idea of political reform.
With the official media emphasizing how important stability is, it is plain to see how conservative factions within the CCP won a round and the rumors about massacre victim restitution actually provided an excuse for this type of comeback.
I believe the recent rumors about restitution for the victims of the massacre could very well be talk aimed overseas by conservative factions within the CCP and those who are against Wen. Their goal is simple: They want to spread rumors and destabilize the political situation in such a way that Wen will end up taking the blame.
If these methods do not succeed in getting Wen out of office, at least they can stop him from proposing political reform. In this respect, the plot has actually succeeded.
Of course, given the under-handed political deals the CCP is engaged in, we can never be totally sure of the truth.
The reason I have expressed my assumptions is because I hope they can help people look at this affair from a different angle. I also hope that people treat these rumors about restitution for the victims of the massacre carefully and not be overly optimistic about them.
Wang Dan is a visiting assistant professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at National Tsing Hua University.
Translated by Drew Cameron