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Two Congresses: A New Mark on History’s Pillar of Shame

March 16, 2012

18th Party Congress Watch (5)

Gao Wenqian, HRIC Senior Policy Advisor

The Two Congresses—National People’s Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference—have long lost any real political function, having been reduced to being rubber stamps for the authorities. What is more, in recent years, in keeping with the times, the NPC representatives and the CPPCC delegates no longer limit their duties to raising their hands to vote “yes” or clapping their hands to praise the Party. The annual Two Congresses have become the political version of an extravagant Spring Festival Gala, an occasion that allows the rich and powerful to flaunt their wealth. It was truer this year than ever before, as representatives rode up in their BMWs, decked out in furs, jewels, 240,000-yuan watches, and 10,000-yuan belts. This fact stands in sharp contrast with the increasingly difficult circumstances facing regular people and has led to intense criticism from the public.

As they indulged themselves in their excesses while exhorting people to learn from Lei Feng (an icon of selfless devotion to the Party from the Mao era), the authorities were in fact slapping their own faces. But Beijing did this because they had no choice: they needed to create a picture of peace and prosperity in order to conceal the social crises threatening to explode; and they wanted to divert people’s attention, downplay the political fallout from the Wang Lijun incident, and stabilize the political situation for the upcoming power transition in the 18th Party Congress. To accomplish this, a government spokesperson raised a smoke screen by saying that there will be new headways in political reform, in order to mislead public opinion and allay social discontent. Of course, the authorities have no intention whatsoever of reforming the political system; they want only to continue the iron-fisted way of maintaining stability that sustains the one-party system. They were also determined to adopt provisions in the amended Criminal Procedure Law that would legalize secret detention (Article 83) and de facto secret detention (Article 73).

However, what the authorities are trying to pull off is just wishful thinking. The Wang Lijun incident remained a key focus of public discussion and concern during the Two Congresses, with NPC representatives publically requesting that progress in the investigation into the incident be publically announced as soon as possible. Wang’s former boss Bo Xilai stole the limelight from Wen Jiabao as his every move was scrutinized by the media.

On the question of armed police surrounding the American consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, where Wang Lijun sought refuge, the authorities in Sichuan and Chongqing each gave their version of what happened with Wang at the U.S. consulate and tried to undercut the other. And to prevent NPC delegate Zhang Mingyu from presenting a report to the NPC on Wang Lijun’s corruption, the Chongqing police secretly escorted Zhang back to Chongqing. When Zhang’s family tried to file a complaint, no one paid any attention.

It has been more than a month since the Wang Lijun incident, and the authorities have yet to issue an explanation. The reason is that the incident involves the power struggle at the highest level of the Party, and directly affects the equilibrium between the princelings and the Youth League Faction[1] in the power transition in the upcoming 18th Party Congress, as well as the question of who will set the direction of policy in the future. Because of this, Beijing is caught in a bind. If Wang Lijun is dealt with harshly, Bo Xilai is bound to be implicated. And if Bo puts up a resistance, everyone will suffer in the struggle and there will be a split in the 18th Party Congress. This would be an unbearable burden for all Party factions involved.

If Wang Lijun is dealt with lightly, there would be no base line for intra-Party conflict in the future and Party infighting would only grow more bloody and brutal—as the incident would set a precedent for others to follow. One can predict that there will be no peace in the country, and no one will “consider the big picture” and “tolerate the other side for the Party’s sake”; and the Party will no longer be able to endure infighting without fissure. This would become the nightmare from which the authorities would not be able to escape.

 At present, threatened by crises from all directions, China is like a powder keg set to explode. Because of the intensification of all sorts of social conflict, the iron-fisted way of maintaining stability is being stretched thin and hard to sustain. If the party-state system is not changed fundamentally but only piece-meal, or if rumors of “reform” are spread only to sway public opinion, then all efforts would be a waste and incapable of turning the country around. If those in power are sincere about reform, they should begin by removing the provisions in the amended Criminal Procedure Law that allow secret detentions. This is the touchstone for whether they mean what they say. In the end, they adopted those provisions and legalized secret detentions. Officials high and low across China should take note: China's laws do not protect you. One day, you may encounter the same fate as Wang Lijun and by then it will be too late for regrets. In legalizing secret detentions, the final Two Congresses in Hu and Wen’s term have become a new mark on history’s pillar of shame.


[1] 1. The Communist Youth League Faction refers to those who rise up through the ranks of the Communist Party as distinct from the princelings, who are born into the power elite. It is generally associated with Hu Jintao.

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