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We live in interesting times

By Brian Hennessy - posted Monday, 19 March 2012

Last week, in his last official press conference after serving for nine years as China's Premier, Wen Jiabao alluded to serious divisions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the political future of China. His speech was unusually frank, and he surprised everyone when he referred to the 'deadly chaos of the cultural revolution' and the continuing influence of feudalism.

If you know China, you know that this nations' leaders never refer to ideological differences or factional politics in public. The protagonists usually sort out their differences behind closed doors, and after having done so, present a united front to the nation and the world. The sins of the past never get an airing either.

Until now, the cultural revolution has been a no-go area. An historical embarrassment at best, and a bloody indictment of the CCP at worst. There is no way of avoiding the unpleasant truth that modern China's founding father, Chairman Mao, was responsible for this mass distortion of reality and its terrible consequences. Yet China's students never learn the truth about this recent history.


And feudalism? The Communist revolution was supposed to have done away with this unjust anachronism. The reality however, is that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is feudal in practice. The CCP and its undemocratic government rule like the emperors they replaced. There is no equality in China. Only naked power cascading down from the king/emperor/president at the top, to the provincial level barons in the middle, and thence to the local county lords – the meanest and most corrupt rulers of all. All those outside the patronage of this self-serving, corrupt system are modern day serfs.

And yet in 2012 the second most important man in China warns against the possibility of another cultural revolution and points out that feudalism is not dead in China.

Forget the rest of his speech. The economic matters he refers to are known difficulties with known solutions. It's the politics which are unknown at the moment.

Wen Jiabao is warning China of a crisis in the making, and it's serious. Whichever faction gains power in the leadership group (the 10 member Standing Committee) for the next ten years will control China's future.

On the one hand there are the moderates and reformers who want to see China mature into a more socially fair and environmentally responsible society. These people recognise that China's current policy directions are unsustainable, and that social chaos and environmental degradation are inevitable if something is not done to relieve the pressures which are building in Chinese society. To say nothing of the economic consequences. Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintau belong to this faction, and they know that without change, gains which have been made over the past 30 years will be put at risk.

On the other hand there are the radicals who would extend the power of the central government and its control over the lives of all Chinese citizens. They envisage a great leap backwards rather than social progress. Bo Xilai, the Party Secretary from Chongqing has been experimenting with this model and he has factional friends who would love to wield the type of centralised power that a return to the past would offer. Certainly a return to the bad old days.


So things are hotting up. The jockeying for a place in the 10 member Standing Committee of the Politburo is beginning to produce fire as well as smoke.

China's future hangs in the balance. Yet because of the media blackout here, most people have no idea of what is really going on at the moment.

Why? Because they are treated like serfs.

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About the Author

Brian is an Australian author, educator, and psychologist who lived in China for thirteen years. These days he divides his time between both countries.

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