Bo Xilai

What propaganda against constitutionalism tells us about China's 'new' government

Chang Ping finds it disturbing that recent official propaganda attacking constitutionalism in China is fronted by some of the same pro-government voices who once supported Bo Xilai

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 5:54am

The latest attack on constitutionalism by its opponents in the Chinese Communist Party appeared this month in three commentaries in the overseas edition of the People's Daily. The articles, which ran over three consecutive days, were all written under the pen name Ma Zhongcheng : "Constitutionalism is a weapon in the war for public opinion", "American constitutionalism is incompatible with socialism", and "Constitutionalism in China is futile and bound to fail".

Writing such articles under a pen name is a time-honoured party practice. No one knows who Ma Zhongcheng really is, but most people can guess what the name means. Ma refers to Marxism, and Zhongcheng is a homophone for the term loyalty; so Ma Zhongcheng is a pledge of faith in Marxism.

How is it that the followers of Bo have now become the foot soldiers of the new government?

Tong Zhiwei , a scholar of constitutional law, pointed out that the ideas in the three articles were copied or adapted from a article that was published in May on the Red Culture website, titled "Destroying the myth of constitutionalism: An essay on constitutionalism as a weapon in the war for public opinion".

That was written by Zhong Cheng - another homophone for "loyalty". According to "Zhong Cheng", both advocates of Western constitutionalism like He Weifang and supporters of a socialist constitutional system, like Tong Zhiwei, share one goal, which is nothing less than the "overthrow of the Chinese socialist system through all kinds of ways and means", and the "ousting of the Chinese Communist Party leadership".

Tong said another pen name for Zhong Cheng is Ren Ping, which some believe means "a People's Daily commentator" or "a commentator for the people".

Ren Ping was the author of an article that appeared late last year in defence of Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai , titled "The last days of the anti-communist forces: analysing and understanding the public opinion war behind the Wang Lijun Incident".

The article says the "persecution of Wang" and the "smearing of the Chongqing experience" were the work of a conspiracy. "Spies in the higher echelons of the party have laid bare their naked collusion with foreign enemies", it said, while claiming that Bo, Wang and others similarly tainted were in fact "the least corrupt and the most trustworthy officials in the Chinese political system".

How is it that the followers of Bo and his Chongqing model have now become the foot soldiers of the new government of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang ? This was a surprise to Chinese netizens. But in fact, even without Tong's careful study of anonymously written editorials in the party mouthpiece, we know this to be true. After all, many scholars and journalists who once unabashedly supported Bo and his Chongqing model remain active members of the media today, under a new government.

Last week, the Global Times published a commentary calling on China's most popular microbloggers - who wield incredible influence in Chinese public opinion because of their millions of followers - to develop a sense of social responsibility that is built on national identity. The author was Guo Songmin.

Guo said China must agree on and decide for itself what is politically correct, and that this political correctness must be based on support for a national identity, including support for the Communist Party leadership. Any violation of this politically correct line should see an opinion leader lose his or her right to speak.

Before Bo's downfall, Guo had written several articles praising Bo's Chongqing model. In one, he said he believed Bo would one day have the opportunity to "fully exercise his wisdom, experience and influence to bravely raise the red flag and lead the revival of socialism, and even become the key leader in bringing the international communist movement from its ebb to a new climax".

Notable scholar Wang Shaoguang, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was also one of Bo's admirers. In several articles, he extolled the Chongqing model as "Socialism 3.0". But with Bo in disgrace and awaiting trial, Wang has become a cheerleader for the new leaders.

His latest article is "Civil society is a needed myth in New Liberalism". At a time when the government is trying to suppress development of constitutional rule and a civil society, while promoting the development of a "people's society", Wang obligingly argued in his article that "a society for the people" is a more worthy goal for the Chinese people.

I am not suggesting that scholars and journalists who once supported Bo should now be black-marked and silenced.

I merely point out that such "rehabilitation" is rare in a political culture that prizes above all the qualities of loyalty and staying in line. That these writers have been allowed to continue serving the new party leadership, by modifying and recycling ideas from their old essays, may seem like social progress. At the least, it seems like China is no longer in thrall to the vindictive cycle of political revenge.

But, more likely, the real reason is that the new government is following the "Bo Xilai line", without Bo.

Chang Ping is a current affairs commentator writing on politics, society and culture. This commentary is translated from the Chinese