Hu Jintao

Lessons of the revolution unfulfilled

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am


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As Chinese on the mainland, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan and elsewhere in the world mark the 1911 revolution that ended imperial rule and eventually led to China emerging from more than a century of national humiliation inflicted by foreign powers, they have much to celebrate.

As they look towards the future, they also have much to reflect upon and ponder, particularly over the practical implications of the revolution. Dr Sun Yat-sen's dream of national reunification and rejuvenation is still a distant goal as the mainland and Taiwan remain politically far apart, despite their strengthening economic ties.

Sun's much-heralded Three Principles of the People - nationalism, livelihood, and democracy - have yet to be fulfilled, particularly on the mainland, where the Communists' one-party rule is met with serious challenges in a fast-changing society.

At a grand ceremony at the Great Hall of the People yesterday, President Hu Jintao hailed the party as the most loyal inheritor and carrier of Sun's causes and said one-party rule was critical to China's economic prosperity and political stability, as well as to reunification with Taiwan.

To achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the mainland must 'uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and stick to socialism with Chinese characteristics', Hu said. However, debates between the forces of the country's right and left over the mainland's development model and political system have become increasingly public and controversial.

While those debates are signs of openness and progress, there have been rising concerns that their increasing ferocity could stunt China's decision-making process and economic transformation for the short term. This is worrying at a time when China's economy is at a critical juncture for rebalancing and restructuring amid the worsening global financial crisis.

To add to worries, the mainland is entering its own political cycle, which will result in top leadership changes at the 18th party congress scheduled for next autumn. As history has shown, the decision-making process tends to be slow and less responsive as top officials tend to avoid making mistakes that could be used by their political rivals in the run-up to the leadership reshuffle.

On one hand, the mainland's liberals have been pushing for bolder political and economic reforms, more open government and official accountability, arguing that a lack of political liberalisation is to blame for the country's multitude of social problems, including rampant official corruption and widespread social unrest.

The leftists, on the other hand, have taken advantage of the popular dissatisfaction over the widening income gap to call for tougher regulations over the private sector and say it is time for the authorities to give a bigger slice of the economic pie to poorer people, stressing social equity over development.

There have been signs that the debates have already begun to affect the country's policymaking process, as liberals have argued that the leadership has not undertaken any major meaningful political or economic reforms in the past few years.

In fact, similar ideological debates have occurred on and off since the beginning of China's opening up in the late 1970s. The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping managed to prevent the debates from escalating, by largely supporting the reformers in putting development as the top priority, paving the way for China's economic take-off.

Historian Lei Yi was right on point when he reportedly told Reuters 'a key lesson of the revolution is that the country's fate depends on whether the rulers make the right choices about advancing reforms'.