Do the right thing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am

The November 15 white paper on the mainland's political party system, which emphasises the role of the eight so-called 'democratic parties', comes at a historically appropriate time. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the anti-rightist movement, during which the leaders of these minor parties were denounced, persecuted and purged.

In 1956, Mao Zedong launched the 'Hundred Flowers Campaign' in which intellectuals were encouraged to speak up and criticise the Communist Party. They were assured that there would be no reprisals.

However, the next year, Mao reneged on his promise and cracked down on those who had spoken out, saying that all he was doing was 'luring snakes from their holes'.

There then followed a nationwide campaign to seek out and denounce so-called 'rightists', who had vented their dissatisfaction at the communists. Hundreds of thousands of people were purged.

Among the prominent victims was Zhang Bojun, then minister of communications and chairman of the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, one of the eight 'democratic parties'. He was classified as the 'No.1 rightist' by Mao and stripped of his ministerial post.

Another major victim of the purge was Luo Longji, a founder of the China Democratic League - another of the 'democratic parties' - who had been minister of the timber industry.

In 1981, five years after Mao's death, the party issued a 'resolution on certain questions' in the party's history that held Mao responsible for the Cultural Revolution. However, it skipped lightly over the anti-rightist movement, saying simply that there were 'serious faults and errors in the guidelines of the party's work'. No doubt the party was more concerned about the victims of the Cultural Revolution - who were Communist Party members, after all - than victims who were members of the 'democratic parties'.

Now that 50 years have gone by, it is time for the Communist Party to openly apologise to these eight political parties and compensate the victims or their descendants.

It is good that, this year, Wan Gang of the political party China Zhi Gong Dang has been named minister of science and technology, and Chen Zhu , who is not a party member, is now minister of health. But the Communist Party should explain why it took 50 years to appoint such people to high office and why it purged their predecessors.

In 1978, after his return to power, Deng Xiaoping convinced party members at a key meeting that they should make economic development, rather than class struggle, their main focus. And he put forward the guiding principle to 'emancipate the mind, seek truth from facts, and unite as one in looking to the future'.

At a talk to the Central Party School in July, the current party leader, Hu Jintao , again gave top priority to emancipation of the mind.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of Deng's crucial guideline, and the party should demonstrate that it is truly adhering to this principle by conducting a thorough reappraisal of the anti-rightist movement.

Clearly, however, it is not ready to do this. It still preserves Mao's image and legacy, and does not allow public discussion of his mistakes. This is, no doubt, because too many other people would be implicated. Mao, after all, did not act alone. Deng was his hatchet man in the anti-rightist movement, although he did try to make amends later in life by posthumously rehabilitating some of the victims.

But, as long as the Communist Party is reluctant to face its own past truthfully, others will have difficulty believing that it is different from the party of 50 years ago, and that the views of the leaders of the 'democratic parties' will be given credence.

To begin with, the Communist Party must abandon the requirement that all other political parties have to support its leadership. As long as this remains the case, there is no chance that other parties will feel comfortable about expressing their views truthfully.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator