Copyright © 2001 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
Still Not the China That Two Heroes Hoped For
Jonathan Mirsky IHT
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
LONDON I recently listened to a speech in London by Zheng Bijian, vice president of
the party school of China's Communist Central Committee. It made me think about
two Chinese named Wang.
Wang Ruowang and Wang Ruoshui have just died. Each lived a heroic life made
agonizing by the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party. Their tragedies were
China's loss. In mid-December, Wang Ruowang, 83, died in New York. Before long,
10 men in Shanghai were detained for planning a memorial service for him. At his New
York memorial service, many Chinese exiles gathered who had no longer been talking
to each other. Yet in their eulogies they showed how Mr. Wang's life and death had
Mr. Wang was a great Chinese. It is part of the history of modern China that he
suffered as much as he did. His distinctions included imprisonment under both Chiang
Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, and two expulsions from the Communist Party.
In his memorial address, Liu Bin-yan, another exile and once China's greatest
investigative journalist, said of Mr. Wang: "He started his life with high ideals and the
vigor of youth; he invested these in the Communist Party, whose leaders soon expelled
him, then banished him, then imprisoned him, then starved and tortured him, then
ruined his family, then "forgave" him, readmitted him, re-expelled him, re-imprisoned
him, and finally forced him into exile."
When we look at China today, do we see the China that Wang and I hoped for sixty
years ago? Mr. Liu asked. "Were we hoping for a China where corruption, deception,
cynicism are rife? Where exploitation, disease, prostitution and gangsterism have their
ways? Where the rural suicide rate is the highest in the world? Where the "smart"
people have no moral values and no interest in them? Where the natural environment
will recover only in decades, if ever?
"Ruled by a regime that still will not look squarely at the tens of millions of untimely
deaths it caused in the Great Leap famine, but still harshly represses any voice or any
organization that speaks - or even might speak - against it? Is that where Wang
Ruowang thought we would end up when he began his life's journey?"
On Jan. 9, Wang Ruoshui, 75, died near Harvard, where he had been a welcome
visitor. He had tried to both serve the Chinese Communist Party and criticize it from
within, sometimes from his position as deputy editor of the party's People's Daily.
He admitted (a rare thing in China) the partial responsibility of people like himself for
the country's cataclysms. "We should not blame Lin Biao and the Gang of Four alone
for all this. Many people including myself took part in propagating the cult of Mao and
did so out of warm feelings."
Zheng Bijian's party school is directed by Hu Jintao, a member of the Politburo
Standing Committee who soon will succeed President Jiang Zemin. Mr.Zheng himself
enjoys the reputation of "liberal" among some American China experts.
China must get rich, he said in London. It must narrow the gap between rich and poor,
it must build a "spiritual" civilization. It must reform socialism, and the party must be
"flexible." It must take a "world view" and be prepared to learn from others.
There was no suggestion that the party could ever stand aside from power or compete
for it. I have heard this sort of speech dozens of times since 1981.
China is now open, Mr. Zheng said. When he paused, I considered suggesting out
loud that if China were truly open it would invite men like the two Wangs and Liu
Binyan to come home and speak and write freely.
If China were open, it would be possible to discuss a multiparty system. If China were
open, it wouldn't arrest and sentence people selling Bibles, or keep Roman Catholic
priests in detention most of their lives.
Then Mr. Zheng came to Tibet. He described its cruelty before China got there in
1949. He mentioned the probably apocryphal torture device that monks once used to
make people's eyes pop out. He said the Dalai Lama was a foreign agent who came
from the upper class, which learned English in India. (Actually, the Dalai Lama came
from a poor family and learned English in Lhasa from Heinrich Harrer, the escaped
German prisoner of war and author of "My Seven Years in Tibet.") Even the diplomats
in the audience squirmed. In 1989, Wang Ruoshui, then living in the United States,
returned to participate in the Tiananmen demonstrations. "We walked to Tiananmen,
where it was a sea of people," he wrote later.
"I remembered how I had joined the demonstrations in the late 1940s, but that was
under the rule of the Nationalists. The slogan we shouted back then was 'We want
freedom and democracy.' I thought, 'My goodness, after so many years we've gone
full circle, and now we're back shouting the same slogan.'"
If Zheng Bijian is the face of reformist "liberalism," I tremble for China. Its real hope
lies with patriots like the two Wangs. The writer, a China analyst based in London,
contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
Copyright © 2001 The International Herald Tribune