Social Action
China's number one subversive:
Ultra-leftists, reactionary forces and Twenty-five Taboos


This article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Melbourne journal Social Action, and is reproduced with the gracious permission of Social Action's editor, Gerald Mercer.
BEIJING "Who is the number one subversive, the number one opponent, the number one nay sayer, the number one obstructionist [opposing China]? It is not Taiwan, it is not Hong Kong, it is not corrupt officials, it is not overseas pro-democracy elements, it is not American imperialism, it is not the Falun Gong, it is not the families of the June 4 victims. It is the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party."
With words like these, Professor Jiao Guobiao launched his recent attack on the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China. Predictably, his Internet article was swiftly erased from Chinese websites and did not appear in the press. Professor Jiao, who is at the School of Journalism and Communication at Beijing University, accused the Propaganda Department of stifling press freedom and political reform.
The detailed nature of his criticism, accompanied by some entertaining polemics, is revealed now that a full English translation of his article has become available.
One of the 25 subjects which cannot be reported, the twenty-five taboos of the Propaganda Department, is the question of wages in arrears, a widespread problem in China where enterprises have closed, sometimes leaving the workers owed many months, even years, of unpaid wages. Jiao deals with this in a forthright manner.
"On New Year's Day, Chairman Hu made a short congratulatory speech to the world to call for world peace. I was quite upset when I heard that. How about just calling for arrears of wages to be paid up?"
Jiao says that by preventing public reporting of severe problems like this, which are faced by poorer social groups in China, the Propaganda Department has added to the problems. "The problem of unpaid wages has persisted for many years. Why is it up to Premier Wen now to deal with it? Because the Central Propaganda Department did not permit the media to report on this issue. If the problem of unpaid wages does not become a matter for public discussion, how can it be solved?"
Family planning "There have also been many tragic stories about family planning, but they happen again and again, because the media cannot report on them."
Those responsible for disasters are not afraid of officials, he says. They are only afraid of being reported in the news. "The news media could have solved 10,000 problems and prevented 10,000 disasters. But due to the backwardness and heavy-handedness of the Central Propaganda Department, 9,999 of these reports were suppressed." Jiao says the censorship system acts as an accessory to the disasters experienced by weaker groups in China.
In his 7,500 word analysis, Professor Jiao lists fourteen "illnesses" which he says the Central Propaganda Department has. One of them is the effect they have on senior media people when they are obliged to attend lectures organised by the department. "Every time the media leaders come back from more Central Propaganda Department lectures, they complain that it was like going backwards in time in that meeting room."
Jiao says that they have suffered inside, and their sense of fairness, justice and civility have been deeply injured.
Another "illness" he detects is a sense of jealousy towards those who are law-abiding and motivated by virtue. "They will clamp down on anyone who dares to speak up. They will bury alive anyone who shows a sense of righteousness."
Drying up of creativity He believes this is leading to a drying up of creativity, the disappearance of a sense of virtue, and the corruption of morals. "It is the Central Propaganda Department which has ruined political and social ethics in China."
"What is the stumbling block in the cultural development of Chinese society? It is the Central Propaganda Department. Which is the largest and most powerful protective umbrella for the forces of evil and corruption in China? It is the Central Propaganda Department."
Another "illness" according to Jiao is that the Central Propaganda Department does not allow historical errors to be mentioned in the media. The Anti-Rightist campaign, the Cultural Revolution, the death of tens of millions of peasants in famines, the Tienanmen Square massacre, etc, are all taboo topics.
The Central Propaganda Department is headed by Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, who is a close ally of former President, Ziang Zemin. There has been speculation that this attack is a sign of a power struggle within the Communist Party.
Some of Professor Jiao's analysis lends support to that view. He goes to a lot of trouble to accuse the Central Propaganda Department of having "ultra-leftist roots" and suffering from the legacy of an "ultra-leftist past."
He points out that while political lines may change, and the leadership may change, the Central Propaganda Department never changes. "Its role has not been altered, its thought processes and operational procedures are untouched. Its ultra-leftism and extremism are unchanged."
Jiao claims that within the Chinese news media, people have begun to refer in private to the Central Propaganda Department as a "reactionary force".
"The term 'reactionary force' has political overtones and historical connotations. Although I would prefer not to use this term, it is hard to use any other, given the type of behaviour that the Central Propaganda Department is engaged in."
When he initially released his article, Professor Jiao said he was not acting alone. So far he has not been arrested. Given the Communist Party's obsession with remaining in power and maintaining social stability, it is difficult to see the immediate abolition of censorship, which he advocates. But he does suggest an alternative: for the department to be run transparently according to a strict set of procedures. Whether something like this will lead to a relaxation of China's censorship remains to be seen.

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Copyright 2004 Gerald Mercer, Social Action