Party mouthpiece offers mixed message on theme of openness

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am


Nothing better illustrates the split personality of the People's Daily than its own commentaries - sometimes presented in a highly insecure and intolerant tone while at other times showing a willing-to-listen attitude.

On May 25, the official mouthpiece raised many eyebrows by running a commentary saying that Communist Party members should be banned from making and spreading any comments contrary to the official dogma.

But the next day, it ran another commentary calling for openness and urging officials to be sensitive to citizens' opinions and to try to 'listen to the voices of the unheard'.

That liberal piece was just one of five open-minded commentaries rolled out since late April on 'society's emotional state'.

The first in the series, published on April 21, said that knowing how to nourish a peaceful and reasonable attitude in society had become a challenge for mainland officials.

China could not expect to have a peaceful and reasonable society if laws and regulations were frequently broken. Neither could society learn tolerance given the intense envy of the rich and well-connected over the opportunities reserved for them, the party mouthpiece said.

The second commentary, run on April 28, was reported widely by the domestic and international press because it called for tolerance of 'different ideas'. Political wisdom, the People's Daily said, must be based on collecting various opinions from society, allowing criticism and working to bridge differences.

The third commentary, which appeared on May 5, dealt with the distribution of opportunities, saying that society's inequality hurt people more than their own inadequacies.

The feeling of belonging to a disadvantaged class were spreading across China, the newspaper said.

The fourth commentary, on May 19, was about how to handle rising social discontent. While not encouraging extreme, and sometimes violent, forms of self-expression, the People's Daily said officials, as society's managers, should work harder to inject more reason into society, along with more openness, understanding and patience.

In the last commentary, on May 26, the paper acknowledged that many conflicts on the mainland were driven by interests that had been previously ignored or simply unheard.

Guaranteeing the public's right of expression would do a great service to stability, it said, and it was officials' duty to try their best to listen to previously unheard voices, to protect the rights of expression for disadvantaged groups and to provide them with reliable channels to express their views.

Citizens speaking out about their interests would contribute to society's lasting stability.

It is difficult to explain why the newspaper ran such a harshly worded commentary just a day before its final part of the series calling for openness. In the May 25 commentary, it warned that 'a handful of party cadres and members have gone their own way and made irresponsible comments on important political issues concerning the party's basic theory and party line'.

But just a few days later, on June 2, it printed yet another commentary calling for openness from officials when reacting to growing public criticism.

The backdrop of the commentary series is a spreading crisis that has been greatly worrying top leaders.

The Politburo has held three meetings on the subject of 'social management' since September - the latest one on May 30.

Another remarkable thing about the People's Daily commentary series is that it is so different from the 'decorous, boring, unreadable, and incomprehensible' style of the party newspaper's regular commentaries, according to an analysis by the Qilu Evening News, based in the city of Jinan, Shandong.

Zhou Ruijin, former deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper, was quoted by mainland media as saying that he believed the People's Daily had never had a character of its own. So the recent commentary series must represent 'a new line of ideology'.

But what exactly is that new ideology? Who is leading it? Will it be followed by officials who habitually brand any protest as being instigated by enemy forces? Will it grow into a set of transparent rules for all citizens?

The People's Daily could still have a lot to talk about.