The New York Times reports on a memo, “Document No. 9,” that has circulated in China, bearing the “unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader.” It identifies “seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society” that, unless arrested, could lead party leaders to lose their grip:
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The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.
Even as Mr. Xi has sought to prepare some reforms to expose China’s economy to stronger market forces, he has undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s periodic calls for discipline. The internal warnings to cadres show that Mr. Xi’s confident public face has been accompanied by fears that the party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown, public anger about corruption and challenges from liberals impatient for political change.
“Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere,” says Document No. 9, the number given to it by the central party office that issued it in April. It has not been openly published, but a version was shown to The New York Times and was verified by four sources close to senior officials, including an editor with a party newspaper.
Opponents of one-party rule, it says, “have stirred up trouble about disclosing officials’ assets, using the Internet to fight corruption, media controls and other sensitive topics, to provoke discontent with the party and government.”
The warnings were not idle. Since the circular was issued, party-run publications and Web sites have vehemently denounced constitutionalism and civil society, notions that were not considered off limits in recent years. Officials have intensified efforts to block access to critical views on the Internet. Two prominent rights advocates have been detained in the past few weeks, in what their supporters have called a blow to the “rights defense movement,” which was already beleaguered under Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.
Mr. Xi’s hard line has disappointed Chinese liberals, some of whom once hailed his rise to power as an opportunity to push for political change after a long period of stagnation. Instead, Mr. Xi has signaled a shift to a more conservative, traditional leftist stance with his “rectification” campaign to ensure discipline and conspicuous attempts to defend the legacy of Mao Zedong. That has included a visit to a historic site where Mao undertook one of his own attempts to remake the ruling party in the 1950s. . . .
“Promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership,” Cheng Xinping, a deputy head of propaganda for Hengyang, a city in Hunan, told a gathering of mining industry officials. Human rights advocates, he continued, want “ultimately to form a force for political confrontation.” . . .
Condemnations of constitutional government have prompted dismayed opposition from liberal intellectuals and even some moderate-minded former officials. The campaign has also exhilarated leftist defenders of party orthodoxy, many of whom pointedly oppose the sort of market reforms that Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang have said are needed.
The consequent rifts are unusually open, and they could widen and bog down Mr. Xi, said Xiao Gongqin, a professor of history at Shanghai Normal University who is also a prominent proponent of gradual, party-guided reform.
“Now the leftists feel very excited and elated, while the liberals feel very discouraged and discontented,” said Professor Xiao, who said he was generally sympathetic to Mr. Xi’s aims. “The ramifications are very serious, because this seriously hurts the broad middle class and moderate reformers — entrepreneurs and intellectuals. It’s possible that this situation will get out of control, and that won’t help the political stability that the central leadership stresses.”
The pressures that prompted the party’s ideological counteroffensive spilled onto the streets of Guangzhou, a city in southern China, early this year. Staff members at the Southern Weekend newspaper there protested after a propaganda official rewrote an editorial celebrating constitutionalism — the idea that state and party power should be subject to a supreme law that prevents abuses and protects citizens’ rights.
The confrontation at the newspaper and campaign demanding that officials disclose their wealth alarmed leaders and helped galvanize them into issuing Document No. 9, said Professor Xiao, the historian. Indeed, senior central propaganda officials met to discuss the newspaper protest, among other issues, and called it a plot to subvert the party, according to a speech on a party Web site of Lianyungang, a port city in eastern China.
“Western anti-China forces led by the United States have joined in one after the other, and colluded with dissidents within the country to make slanderous attacks on us in the name of so-called press freedom and constitutional democracy,” said Zhang Guangdong, a propaganda official in Lianyungang, citing the conclusions from the meeting of central propaganda officials. “They are trying to break through our political system, and this was a classic example,” he said of the newspaper protest. . . .
Since the document was issued, the campaign for ideological orthodoxy has prompted a torrent of commentary and articles in party-run periodicals. Many of them have invoked Maoist talk of class war rarely seen in official publications in recent years. Some have said that constitutionalism and similar ideas were tools of Western subversion that helped topple the former Soviet Union — and that a similar threat faces China.
“Constitutionalism belongs only to capitalism,” said one commentary in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily. Constitutionalism “is a weapon for information and psychological warfare used by the magnates of American monopoly capitalism and their proxies in China to subvert China’s socialist system,” said another commentary in the paper. . . .
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Chris Buckley, “China Takes Aim at Western Ideas,” New York Times, August 19, 2013