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Open Letter from Chinese Students Abroad to Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping in Advance of the 18th Party Congress

July 3, 2012

[Original Chinese posted online on May 30, 2012, on China in Perspective]

We are a group of Chinese students who are studying in the United States. We have been fortunate to receive two different kinds of education and have lived in two different societies. The Communist Party of China is the only long-standing ruling party in mainland China It is completely unimaginable to us that China would modernize and democratize without the CPC. Thus, we have decided to send this open letter to the current and future highest-ranking leaders of the CPC prior to the 18th Party Congress.

1. Completely Covered Up: June Fourth Incident

Since arriving in the United States, we have been able to freely access all kinds of information because there are no news blackouts or Internet filtering. What has been most shocking to us is learning about what happened during the 1989 June Fourth Incident. Honestly, the first time we saw photos of the Incident online, we thought it was a military exercise. When we saw photos of dead students and Beijing residents, at first we thought they had been Photo-shopped. But after watching more related videos, and reading more articles and recollections from people who were there—including books on the most powerful leaders at the time, CPC Secretary General Zhao Ziyang and Premier Li Peng—we could not believe that a massacre of ordinary citizens and students by the national army did occur in Beijing, the capital of modern China! This is the June Fourth Incident that has never been mentioned throughout our education, by our teachers, nor by our media, and has been deliberately covered up for as long as 23 years.

Our education in China taught us that the CPC had committed several major errors after it came to power in 1949, such as the Anti-Rightists Movement,[1] the Cultural Revolution, and class struggle, but all of these errors had been reassessed and corrected afterward. Thus, it is difficult for us to understand why it can be that such a glaring error—one could even say a crime—as the June Fourth Incident has not only not been reassessed or corrected, but also that its truth has been concealed. As a result, we 20-somethings did not know at all that such a tragedy had occurred! What kind of education is this? Are we, China’s young generation, to face China’s future with complete ignorance of its history? This kind of education is totally irresponsible—to our country and its youth!

Premier Wen Jiabao has mentioned political reform several times over these past two years. We hope that the CPC can formally reassess the June Fourth Incident during the 18th Party Congress. Furthermore, we hope that it can make a historical judgment of those responsible for the mistakes made at that time, and provide state compensation to the victims of June Fourth. This would be the first step of political reform, which would allow China to extricate itself from the rule of man and formally move towards constitutionalism, the rule of law, and democracy.

2. The Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai Affair

At the beginning of the year, we saw the Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai Affair play out in the overseas media, which made us recall the Lin Biao Affair during the Cultural Revolution. Before his death, Lin Biao was the second-most powerful man in China and Mao Zedong’s successor. Bo Xilai, the originator of the “sing red, strike black” campaign in Chongqing and the Chongqing Model of “sharing the cake” approach [distributing wealth while pursuing growth], was thought to have good prospects of being made a member of the Standing Committee during the 18th Party Congress, thus becoming a leader of the Party and the country. Forty years after the Lin Biao Affair, a strikingly similar scene played out. China has reformed and opened up. Its economy has made achievements that have impressed the whole world. Yet politically China has made no headway, and continues to replay the same old high-level power struggle game. This is the sorrow of the Chinese people.

Now both Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai are out and may soon be punished and tried for corruption charges. If Wang Lijun had not tried to defect, would Bo Xilai still be running the “sing red, strike black” campaigns of his Chongqing Model? Now that Bo Xilai is ousted, the Chongqing Model has also been criticized. With this kind of governing model—one in which policy changes with the politician—it is no wonder that some believe that Bo Xilai is a victim not of corruption but of a political struggle between Party factions.

In a democratic country, one would never see a “defection” as attempted by Wang Lijun. Even If Bo Xilai and his family had in fact violated the law with murder and corruption, they should still be dealt with in accordance with lawful procedure. They should not just suddenly disappear, as they have now, losing the right to defend themselves.

Now there are people online who have proposed letting Bo Xilai and Wen Jiabao hold a public debate on their respective governing policies.  Even though a public debate is highly unlikely, Bo Xilai should at least have the opportunity to conduct his own defense. In Taiwan, former president Chen Shui-bian was charged with corruption after leaving office. But, he was assumed innocent until found guilty by the courts. And even after he was convicted, he could still continue to voice his own defense. That is true judicial independence. We hope that China can also use the handling of the Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai Affair to forsake political struggles between Party factions and to let the judiciary be truly independent of political power.

3. On Chen Guangcheng

Another incident this month that has attracted attention worldwide was the Chen Guangcheng Incident. Chen Guangcheng is merely a blind, self-taught legal activist for the disadvantaged, yet local authorities used other pretexts to conjure up his sentence. After he was released, they continued to keep him under house arrest and surveillance. In the end, this forced him to flee to the American Embassy in Beijing, where the Chen Guangcheng Incident, entirely created by a local government’s unlawful administrative and judicial persecution, became an international affair.

As political reform lags behind China’s economic development, social conflicts have multiplied and intensified. The emergence of someone like Chen Guangcheng, who is willing to pick up the law as a weapon to defend his own rights, is much better than someone like Yang Jia, who used a butcher’s knife to demand an explanation. China has already drafted and enacted rather comprehensive laws. If every citizen, every local government is willing to use the law to resolve social conflicts and clashes of interests, there would be far fewer mass incidents and no serious incidents such as the bombing of government and judiciary organs. From this point of view, to have more people like Chen Guangcheng would be favorable to the stability of Chinese society, not the contrary. For Chen Guangcheng to have become an “enemy” of Chinese society is the sorrow of the Chinese people.

We hope that, following the 18th Party Congress, there will be a change in the current pattern of using military force and pressure tactics to maintain stability. We must allow the law to have the real authority, making Chen Guangcheng a source of pride for the Chinese people. That Chen could obtain his passport and come to the United States to pursue advanced studies after what occurred is a step forward for China. And we hope that after his studies in America have concluded, he will be able to return to China without hindrances, and continue to use his legal expertise to protect the rights and interests of the ordinary people around him. This would serve as a major sign that China is truly moving toward democracy and rule of law. We do not want Chen Guangcheng to be banned from his own country after leaving, like the students who fled abroad and became stateless exiles after the June Fourth Incident. As signers of this open letter, we also do not want to be made future exiles without a home to return to because we put forth a differing opinion based on our own independent thinking.

4. Elections in Taiwan and the U.S., and Inspiration from the Kuomintang

In the few years that we have been abroad, we have witnessed the elections of the United States and Taiwan. Half a century ago, African Americans were still struggling for equality, yet now the United States has elected a black president. In Taiwan, the Kuomintang lost power after a half-century’s one-party dictatorship, but has returned to power through universal elections after regaining the trust of the Taiwanese people. There has finally been a peaceful transfer of power for Chinese people living in Taiwan.

When the KMT’s Chiang Ching-kuo was lifting the ban on political parties, he said that there is no such thing as a permanent ruling party. Yet in China, we were taught in school that “history has chosen the CPC.” This was our teachers’ reasoning: The Taiping Rebellion[2] failed, the Westernization Movement[3] failed, the bourgeoisie-run KMT failed, and only the CPC won. Thus, CPC rule was chosen by history.

Even if this were historically correct, should Chinese people only have one opportunity to choose their ruling party? If the elected party loses the people’s trust, will the people forever lose the power to choose their ruling party again?

The political reform and governance of the KMT in Taiwan tell us another truth: If a party loses the people’s trust, it will step down after failing to win an election; if that party re-examines itself and reforms, it can gain the people’s trust again and be re-elected into power. Only that kind of country is the true embodiment of the “popular sovereignty” spoken of in our Constitution.

The CPC was once chosen by history to be China’s ruling party, just as the Manchu were chosen by history to be China’s sovereign power more than 300 years ago. But history does not have only one chance to choose; the people also have the power to replace the party which governs on their behalf at any time. That is the true logic of history. The KMT’s reform and governance have set an example for the CPC. The CPC’s political reform and ultimate move toward a constitutional democracy would not only allow the transformation of the CPC but also the continuance of the CPC rule through elections. These steps would also eliminate the political obstacle to the cross-strait issues and ultimately bring about a peaceful and democratic reunification of China and Taiwan. It is only with this that China can achieve a great rejuvenation.

5. Concluding Remarks

Even though we are only in our 20s, we have gone overseas, like the young founders of the CPC—Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping—once did, not only to learn advanced Western technology and management but also to observe and learn from the advanced political system of the West, and to reflect on China’s current situation and future. As students abroad, we appeal to the top leader of the CPC and his successor to boldly choose the political structure of universal values recognized throughout the world, abandon the selfish one-party dictatorship rule, and implement universal suffrage, a system of checks and balances between parties, and an independent judiciary, in order to create a better future for the youth of China both domestically and abroad, as well as provide an improved future for the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This is the only path for the CPC to be reborn and to continue serving the Chinese people.

This letter is open to signatures from all Chinese students abroad who endorse it. One hundred years ago, Liang Qichao[4] wrote in his essay “The Young China”:

“Responsibility today lies not in others, but in China’s youth. If the youth are wise, society will be wise; if the youth are rich, society will be rich; if the youth are strong, society will be strong; if the youth are independent, society will be independent; if the youth are free, society will be free; if the youth progress, society will progress.”

We call out to all the young Chinese students studying abroad to have the courage to take a stand and raise an independent voice for China’s present and her future.

Initial signatories:

Fan Huchang: Student, Film School, Scottsdale Community College, Arizona
Peng Wei: Student, Las Vegas, Nevada
Dong Shihang: Student, University of Detroit, Michigan
Zhu Chenbo: Student, Iowa State University
Bi Tianqi (f): Student, University of Pennsylvania
Yang Mengbi: Student, Laney College, Oakland, California
Wang Min (f): Student, California State University
Hu Jindi (f): Student, University of Northern California

Students abroad, please contact the following fellow students to sign the open letter. Please include your name, school, and e-mail address:

Fan Huchang: 623-606-6219
Dong Shihang: 562-506-3046
Peng Wei: 626-927-8770
Zhu Chenbo: 515-708-1201

English translation by Human Rights in China.

Translator’s notes

[1] The Anti-Rightists Movement was a series of campaigns beginning in 1957 to purge “rightists.” The campaigns targeted scholars and intellectuals who spoke out favoring capitalism over collectivization during the Hundred Flowers Movement in 1956, a movement that encouraged people to speak freely, including criticizing the government.
[2] The Taiping Rebellion (1950-1964) was an uprising against the Qing Dynasty led by Christian convert Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全). It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 20-25 million people. The Taiping forces controlled an area they called the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (太平天国) in modern-day Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hubei, and Jiangxi Provinces.
[3] In the second half of the 19th Century, following China’s defeat in the two Opium Wars, high-ranking officials in the Qing government led a series of institutional reforms centered on adopting Western science and technology in order to save the dynasty. The reforms came to be known as the Westernization Movement (洋务运动, 1861-1895), also known as the Self-Strengthening Movement (自强运动).
[4] Liang Qichao (梁启超, 1873-1929) was a scholar, reformer, and writer during the Qing Dynasty and early Chinese Republic.

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