By Aaron Rhodes, August 29, 2013
Disparagement of democratic ideas betrays a fear of their power Chinese leaders have inadvertently produced a strong endorsement for human rights and liberalism by articulating how they threaten the hegemony of the Communist Party.
According to The New York Times, a “secret warning” is being disseminated to party members, apparently authorized by Xi Pinping, China’s new leader, admonishing in exhausted Stalinist language about the dangers of “Western constitutional democracy,” “universal” human rights, “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of past Communist Party problems.
In explicitly focusing on specific “Western” ideas, the Chinese leaders have acknowledged their potency. While the warnings might be considered simply to show party leaders’ fears about how public anger might be mobilized in the face of an economic slowdown and widespread corruption, the document reflects something more important: that Chinese leaders recognize the power of ideas to defeat stagnant ideologies backed by an oppressive bureaucracy. The Chinese Communist Party, posing as the world’s largest remaining bastion of Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism, has produced a deeply idealistic tract.
Of course, the document accuses those promoting human rights and democracy of using those ideas as a Trojan horse to disguise their ultimate goal of dislodging the ruling party from power. However, young party members receiving the message surely will see its inverted meaning: It is the leading members of the Communist Party themselves who cling to power by promoting a belief system that their actions betray at every step. The party has become the apologist and protector of ruthless forms of unregulated capitalism that make 19th-century American captains of industry look like Mother Teresa.
The Chinese Communist Party apparently cannot argue against constitutional democracy and human rights as ideas. Instead, ignoring the content of these ideas, the party claims they are nothing but fraudulent pretenses aimed at achieving political domination. Mr. Xi thus stated, “Promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership.” Other leaders accused the United States of “colluding with dissidents to make slanderous attacks” against the leadership. These are classic examples of ressentiment as elucidated by the German philosopher Max Scheler: the urge to tear down and degrade high and noble aspirations and transcendent ideas because they reveal one’s own moral deficits.
The warnings reportedly have been accompanied by renewed official denunciations of constitutionalism and civil society, and more human rights advocates have recently been detained. The government is clearly terrified by individuals, groups and institutions motivated by ideas and beliefs.
On Aug. 8, authorities detained the human rights leader known as Guo Feixiong, who is associated with the New Citizens’ Movement. Another leader of the movement, Xu Zhiyong, was arrested several weeks earlier. The New Citizens’ Movement is, in fact, focused largely on exposing corruption and standing for integrity, not promoting any political ideology.
The Chinese government is systematically persecuting Christian groups, which are not political but whose members contradict the government’s insistence on total loyalty to the state simply by adhering to theological beliefs. The government has driven underground Chinese Catholics who remain overtly loyal to papal authority, and has established a so-called Patriotic Church, which has forgone any public show of allegiance to official structures of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestant denominations are growing and are increasingly persecuted despite their disinterest in political opposition; most are forced to worship in “house churches.” According to reports, Li Shuanping, a leader of the Linfen “house church,” was abducted and beaten by local government agents on the night of Aug. 13. It is just one of scores of similar examples of religious persecution.
Of course, the Chinese government has reserved its most brutal subjugation for members of the Falun Gong, a largely decentralized spiritual movement promoting meditation and various physical exercises. A widespread crackdown on the movement began in 1999, when it was declared a “heretical organization.” Its members are regularly arrested, tortured in attempts to force them to renounce their beliefs, and executed — practices that reportedly have affected hundreds of thousands of victims.
Two highly respected human rights advocates, former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and David Matas, a founder of the Canadian Helsinki Committee, have produced credible research demonstrating that the Chinese government has sold the organs of executed Falun Gong practitioners. A Chinese official eventually admitted the practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners. Organ harvesting, including from those executed on politically motivated charges, can be profitable, considering that China reportedly executed as many as 3,000 people in 2012, which is considerably lower than in previous years.
The overbearing Chinese regime is clearly frightened by ideas like human rights and democracy, and any beliefs disconnected from its own propaganda. Its denunciations of universal human rights, constitutional democracy and fundamental freedoms show not only the fragility of its authority, but also the power and resilience of those ideas despite censorship and repression. Aaron Rhodes is a founder of the Freedom Rights Project and was executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 1993-2007.
Aaron Rhodes is a founder of the Freedom Rights Project and was executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 1993-2007.