A group of Chinese intellectuals has urged the country’s communist leaders to come clean about the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“This secret is in fact a toxin poisoning the air around us and affecting our whole lives and spirit,” she said. Cui confirmed to Reuters that as far as she knew none of the participants in the meeting has been detained.
The call comes shortly after the release of purged leader Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs that detail internal party conflicts prior to the violent repression of pro-democracy protests in 1989. He also outlines his advocacy for a gradual transition towards parliamentary democracy.
The communist authorities remain highly sensitive about the suppression of the democracy movement even as they adopt a democratic discourse.
“They would like to talk about democracy with Chinese characteristics [but] no one really can offer a definition of what that is,” said the Carter Center’s Yawei Liu.
“If you look at civic activism, what’s taking place in cyberspace and what’s going on in 600,000 villages in China [grassroots elections] they all seem to indicate there’s still a push from the top and most importantly from the bottom to expand political reform … The problem is how grassroots efforts could be elevated to a higher level and whether the leadership has the wisdom and courage to move forward with an agenda.”
The reality of democracy with Chinese characteristics is detailed by Yao Lifa, a self-educated man from the provinces who won an election as an independent candidate after 12 years of harassment only to be denied his seat by officials.
“But there is no reason to say western democracy does not fit China,” he insists. “Chinese authorities say people’s education level is too low and our economy is still not developed. But how was the economic and educational situation in the west hundreds of years ago?”
With 300 million Internet users, China’s burgeoning ‘digital democracy’ has led some to speculate whether the Web could prompt genuine democratic reform. But the Internet is politically contested terrain, says Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project, which receives support from from the National Endowment for Democracy.
The Communist Party is very active on-line, not only in censorship and surveillance but in seeking to monitor and frame political debates. Similarly, nationalist forces compete with liberal and democratic voices – in fact, they are sometimes the same people. “The same people who are very nationalistic” on issues like Tibet can be “very vocal to support political reform,” he says.
China has witnessed an increasing in social conflict and protests over land appropriations, legal rights and labor issues (officials concede that labor disputes doubled last year with 693,000 actions, a 98 percent increase from 2007). But they do not amount to a challenge to what analysts Yu Jianrong calls the rigid stability of the communist system.
“Unrestrained self-seeking behavior” by the ruling elite is “leading to rapid loss of political legitimacy,” he accepts. The demands of single-issue protesters can generally be accommodated through concessions, and China has yet to see the kind of “ideological social conflict” featuring a national social movement with politically significant “organization, objectives and discourse.”
But he noted that an overly rigid system lacks the flexibility and resilience to adapt to changing circumstances and pressures.