SINGAPORE — China needs stability as it faces one of its most radical economic, social, cultural and political transforma- tions in history. This message was clearly delivered during the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing three weeks ago. President Hu Jintao needs stability to consolidate his own power within the four-generation leadership after ousting Jiang Zemin last autumn from the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Military Commission.
The four features of Hu’s philosophy on stability are underscored by his reshuffle of provincial leaders in December and by Beijing’s insistence on maintaining the value of the yuan:
* The current attempt to revive 2,500-year-old Confucianism gels with Hu’s people-centered philosophy.
Hu is undoubtedly conscious of the current vacuum of ideology — other than “wealth-chasing.” Chinese society could veer toward a moral crisis if left in this vacuum, especially since religion was systematically debased in 1949 and effectively eliminated during the Cultural Revolution. Hu encourages a Confucianist revival not only as a philosophical base for Chinese society but also as a way to consolidate his own political position. In this way, the CPC also hopes to regain its legitimacy.
Although commonly termed “the people’s president,” Hu also wants to be perceived as a Confucianist who puts the ordinary Chinese in the middle of China’s interests and development. Harvard-based Confucianist scholar Tu Wei-ming is believed to have been consulted by Chinese leaders and top academics during visits to Beijing in 2004.
Hu’s move is actively supported by prominent Politburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan, who could be deemed China’s main ideological architect within the CPC. Li is Hu’s strongest supporter today as both are believed to be consolidating their CPC positions against the “Jiang/Shanghai clique.”
On Nov. 12, a worship ceremony was organized with great pomp at Tianjin’s Confucius Temple for the first time since its suspension 66 years ago — when Japan invaded northern China. It was banned in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution.
The Confucianist revival is deemed significant not only for Chinese but also as a means of seeking commonality with China’s neighbors — Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The first Confucius Institute officially opened in mid-November in Seoul, to teach the Chinese language and civilization to South Koreans. More government-sponsored Confucius Institutes will open around the world.
* Second, in March 2004, the NPC approved the “socialist theory of development,” which emphasizes “a shift from hardware alone toward a more balanced development of both hard and software.”
This theory underscores the development of China’s people resources to complement its growing infrastructure, which the previous team of Jiang and Premier Zhu Rongji had placed at the heart of China’s economic development.
The present team of Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao wants to emphasize education, health and social reforms, poverty alleviation and environmental protection, all deemed to be the “softer aspects of development and growth.”
Hu’s theory of development focuses more on social justice through education reforms, health and welfare programs, and the revamping of the civil service, the judiciary and legal systems. The aim is to “attack the root social evil” of corruption and social injustice in Chinese society.
* Third, the CPC’s Fourth Plenum in September 2004 took another political step toward interpreting the theory of “scientific socialism.”
By this theory, Hu and his entourage believe that the failures of the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites should not be attributed to socialism’s failure but rather to its poor implementation in those countries. Hu has stressed the “proper implementation” of socialism in China, asserting the primacy of the CPC in the future of Chinese politics under him. No political loosening can thus be envisaged as long as the CPC faces inherent political risks and China’s stability remains at stake.
Of greatest concern for Chinese leaders is the risks posed by the linkage between socio-economics and politics. Sporadic unrest and small-scale uprisings because of anger and frustration have increased lately. Professor Niu Wenyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has postulated that the “social ignition point” (trigger for massive protests) lies somewhere between a per capital gross domestic product of $1,000 and $3,000. China’s per capita GDP at present is $1,200.
The latest NPC highlighted widening and uneven wealth distribution in Chinese society as a “fragile point” in China’s socio-economic development. The rising aspirations of the Chinese people could be a powder keg beneath Hu’s scientific socialism.
* Fourth, Hu’s China appears to be anchoring its stability on Chinese nationalism, especially the revitalization of Chinese history. Hu is encouraging the rise of a “new and glorious Chinese civilization” commensurate with China’s status as an emerging economic power.
Yet rampant Chinese nationalism could negate Hu’s success in promoting stability if the Beijing leadership eventually loses control over it. Nationalistic trends could, in turn, inflame the Asian region.
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