Say it loud, I'm PRC and I'm proud

Asia Times
Sep 23, 2009
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - In preparation for October 1, when grand celebrations will be held in the Middle Kingdom to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the government has released a set of 50 slogans to get people into the right mood.

China has undergone many changes over the past six decades in its march towards superpower status. But the CCP's rule has been constant. The party has changed in some ways, with softer attitudes on revolutionary class struggle, but certain rituals introduced by the founding leaders, such as National Day, are marked each year with grand celebrations.

Following a similarly long-observed ritual, the CCP last week publicized a set of 50 slogans which are to be painted on walls, written on placards and flags and carried by people during the PRC's birthday celebrations.

Since the time of Mao Zedong, paramount leader of the PRC from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976, the party has kept tight control on propaganda. In Mao's view, the party's two key weapons in its struggle for power were the gun and the pen. Mao's teaching is still faithfully followed, with the CCP keeping a tight grip on the military and on state propaganda.

Zhou Enlai, a CCP founder who was Chinese premier from 1949 until his death in January 1976, taught some foreign guests in the early 1970s - amid the Cultural Revolution - how to read between the lines of the thick propaganda in reports and commentaries in the Chinese media. He said that what was hailed and praised was exactly what "we need to devote more efforts to" in order to improve.

His wisdom may be helpful in "decoding" the 50 slogans just released by the general offices of the CCP's Central Committee.

One of the slogans is, "Adhering to and improving the system of regional autonomy by ethnic minorities, so as to consolidate and develop socialist relations among different ethnic groups based on equality, solidarity, mutual assistance and harmony."

This seems a response to unrest in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where rioting killed 197 in July after Han Chinese clashed with Islamic Uyghur people who claimed the central government repressed them. Last year, there was also violent protests by Tibetans in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.

Many analysts inside and outside China have said the CCP's policy towards ethnic minorities, including the so-called regional autonomy policy, is responsible for the unrest. This slogan suggests the CCP knows it may need to find another approach.

Another slogan says, "Safeguarding the overall situation of reform and opening up and stability, and striving for long-term security and stability." This slogan highlights the CCP's concern with potentially destabilizing social trends, such as the growing wealth gap, official corruption and abuses of power by officials.

According to the latest estimate - which has yet to be officially confirmed - last year there were over 100,000 "mass incidents", as protests involving more than 100 people are called by the government, a figure that is 16% higher than the 87,000 cases in 2006 recorded by the Ministry of Public Security. The rise suggests that measures taken by the CCP power center since the Lhasa riots - making social stability a top priority and forming an ad-hoc group headed by Vice President Xin Jinping to oversee the task - are not enough.

In such circumstances, especially after the unrest in Xinjiang, it is no surprise that Beijing has tightened public security measures in the capital ahead of October 1, when grand celebrations, including a military review, are going to take place in Tiananmen Square. The power center has ordered the Beijing government to ensure that the celebrations are "incident free". For Beijing police, this may be a mission impossible.

In addition to threats from ethnic separatists, terrorists from home and abroad and unexpected accidents, they may also need to deal with radical "petitioners" - villagers disgruntled over land disputes or other issues.

Feeling bullied or wronged by local officials, many petitioners travel to Beijing in hopes of asking the central government to address their problems. Many such petitioners have remained in Beijing for years with their problems unresolved.

Last week, two bloody incidents occurred in the Qianmen shopping center in Beijing. On Thursday, a "drunkard" from northeastern Jilin province chopped several pedestrians with a kitchen knife, killing two and injuring more than a dozen. The next day, a person held up a French woman with a knife. In the latter case, the suspect was identified as a long-time petitioner from southern Jiangxi province.

"They [petitioners] have lost everything and are not afraid of death. When there is something big happening they think it is a good opportunity to make their appeals known by taking radical actions," Beijing police chief Ma Chenchuan said in an interview with Hong Kong's Singtao Daily. The central government has asked all provinces to "take back" their petitioners, said Ma, "but there must be thousands still at large in Beijing".

Another of the officially sanctioned slogans, "Salute workers, peasants, intellectuals and cadres all over the country!" has angered some of China's netizens. China's problem with graft has led many to equate the term "cadre" or official, with corruption. "Do they want us to salute the corrupt? No way!" one blogger wrote.

This slogan is not new; it goes back to Deng's time. Indeed, China's reform and opening-up has been led by the government and as such officials have playing a role in the modernization drive. But rampant corruption has led to widespread public discontent that none of the slogans appear to address.

A six-year-old girl in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, even told a television interviewer last week: "I want to become a corrupt official," when asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. "Because mama says a corrupt official can have many, many things at home".

The mother may be blamed for saying such things, but her words may just represent the general public impression of officialdom.

In an apparent move to tackle this discontent, the CCP's central commission for disciplinary inspection issued new rules on the weekend demanding that senior officials declare their assets, the first such law in China. It's a small step, but it's a start.