Sorry state of affairs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 March, 2010, 12:00am

Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, has apologised for his nation's role in sending more than 150,000 children to former colonies such as Australia, a policy that resulted in the separation of families and abuse of children, who suffered emotionally all their lives.

The apology came after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised last year to surviving British children who were forcibly shipped to Australia, many of whom suffered abuse.

A new period of governmental apologies seems to have dawned. The United States Congress has apologised for the institution of slavery and for the suffering of African-Americans. The Vatican has apologised to Jews for failing to speak out against the Nazi holocaust during the second world war.

Chinese whose forefathers were discriminated against have also received apologies. Last year, California apologised to Chinese-Americans for racist laws in the 19th century. Canada has apologised for the discriminatory poll tax levied on Chinese immigrants.

In this part of the world, the Taiwan government has apologised for the Kuomintang's massacre of Taiwanese on February 28, 1947. Japan has apologised for its invasion of China and other countries in Asia.

Amid this orgy of self-reproach, one thing stands out: the Chinese Communist Party has not issued any apologies for the way it has conducted itself during the 60 years that it has been in power. This is despite the fact that communist misrule, beginning in the 1950s, resulted in the deaths of countless numbers of people.

Instead, the party has described itself as 'great, glorious and correct'. In other words, the party has never made a mistake. There is nothing to apologise for. History, however, records that, during the Maoist era, the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s and 1960s - and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s - resulted in tens of millions of deaths. Countless others were exiled into gulags, imprisoned, tortured and suffered indescribable pain and privation.

When Deng Xiaoping was China's paramount leader, there was the Tiananmen Square massacre and subsequent political crackdown.

Never once has the Communist Party admitted a mistake. Even after the decade-long Cultural Revolution was repudiated, the mistake was not ascribed to the party but to an individual, chairman Mao Zedong . Even then, Mao was protected - being described as having been right 70 per cent of the time and wrong only 30 per cent.

But why wasn't the party protecting the Chinese people when Mao was making these mistakes? Answer: because the party had promoted the cult of Mao so that he was worshipped as a god. The party should be held accountable for his misdeeds.

Of course, it is much easier for governments to apologise for their predecessors' mistakes. It would be extraordinarily difficult for the Chinese Communist Party to apologise for its mistakes, which occurred relatively recently. Besides, the current leaders consider themselves the political heirs of Mao and Deng.

But that makes it even more important that they should apologise for what their predecessors did. An apology for the Cultural Revolution would be a good start, and a great and glorious day for the Communist Party.

Acceptance of responsibility is a sign of maturity. And, in the modern world, when governments apologise not only for what they did but for what their predecessors did, the Communist Party should stop pretending that it has never been wrong.

Refusal to admit wrongdoing is not great and glorious. It merely diminishes the party's credibility in the eyes of the people.

Next year will mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the party in Shanghai. This would be a good time for the party to consider how and when it should offer a public apology. It would not demean the party. On the contrary, it would give the party more reason to celebrate its anniversary.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator