22 October 2016
Xi Jinping's strangling of free speech runs counter to the strong belief of his father, Xi Zhongxun (left) that everyone should be able to speak out freely.
Xi Jinping's strangling of free speech runs counter to the strong belief of his father, Xi Zhongxun (left) that everyone should be able to speak out freely.

Why Xi Jinping is a traitor to his own father

President and Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) has never wavered in strangling free speech and thought, even within his party.

The party’s Central Committee, on Xi’s go-ahead, has promulgated a new version of its disciplinary regulations, with a slew of amendments to the 2003 edition.

The most notable offense added is “making irresponsible comments on the central leadership and distorting key party policies by straying from the official line” (妄議中央大政方針).

There’s more.

Article 46 of the party disciplinary guidance specifies penalties depending on the seriousness of the violation: any party member will be served with written warnings, removed from his official post, put on probation or ultimately expelled from the party for issuing, posting or expressing in public any comments that vilify the image of the party and the nation, defame or besmirch the reputation of party and national leaders or twist or misrepresent the history of the party and that of the People’s Liberation Army.

Xi’s latest move to smother free speech reminds me of Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), who became China’s first emperor after his kingdom, Qin, conquered other warring states and obtained control of all of China more than 200 years before Christ.

The emperor was the first to punish his foes or outspoken intellectuals for speeches that he disliked.

The Records of the Grand Historian, a monumental history of ancient China, says Qin Shi Huang once arrested hundreds of scholars and buried them alive in the Qin capital. He subsequently framed up charges against his critics, many of whom were sentenced to death.

Now, with Xi’s new party rules, people can only bewail the fact that the white terror and suppression that occurred more than two millennia ago are back again.

Xi has overtly warned that, though Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) reformed and liberalized the party rules since the late 1970s, the party’s policies and stance before Deng’s reforms must never be repudiated.

He has also reiterated that the “ideological struggle” to fend off assertions from the West, in particular with regard to universal values, must be further stepped up.

Xi has made himself a traitor to his own father.

His father, the late Xi Zhongxun (習仲勳), once a vice chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and vice premier, was known and respected for his liberal thinking and sympathy for the people’s suffering.

He strongly opposed the idea of deploying troops to quell student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

While his son is reining in free speech, the elder Xi once tried to enact legislation to protect different views.

The party has, throughout its history, undergone calamities that started with its suppression of different opinions.

It has turned out that many of the dissenting views were correct, earnest and sincere.

“That’s exactly why we need a law to protect and accommodate different views, even ‘wrong views’,” the elder Xi said.

There were already proposals back in Xi Zhongxun’s time that no one should be made liable to criminal prosecution simply for advocating certain political or social thoughts as long as he hasn’t taken any substantive action.

The elder Xi even thought that apart from criminal charges, no one should be denounced, detained, demoted or expelled for his belief and speech, and a dissident should be protected from any form of penalty so that everyone can and dares to speak out freely.

When some insisted that there must be a prerequisite that any speech or thoughts must not go against the party’s rule and socialism, he warned about the danger of politicizing everything, as ambiguities exist.

“I was the party secretary of Guangdong province when the reform and opening-up started in 1978, and when we lobbied the central government to set up special economic zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou, some cadres castigated us for kneeling down to the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system,” Xi Zhongxun said.

“There will be no reform, none whatsoever, if we rush to label any different views as anti-party or anti-socialism.”

One can only lament the chasm between the elder Xi and his son. 

How would Xi Zhongxun have felt if he knew what his son would end up doing?

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A rare picture of the Xis, father and son, together. Photo: internet

Xi Zhongxun (center) spent his last few years in Shenzhen after he was suspended from official posts following his strong opposition to the crackdown on dissidents in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Photo: CCTV

Senior journalist with The Straits Times and political commentator

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