No Country for Old Men

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Back in the day, reporters in Beijing used to spend a fair chunk of time on the often frustrating task of trying to follow the Byzantine struggles over power and ideology in the Communist Party. This used to even more of a preoccupation when it was very difficult to get out into the field. Now, of course we are much freer. and, between the Olympics, Tibet, the earthquake and lately the financial crisis (did I miss something? It’s been a busy year) many of us haven’t been watching what’s happening in the CCP as closely as we used to. But the debate—broadly speaking between a broad mass who support the status quo and a group of vociferous reformers who feel the Party needs to introduce more democratic practices if it isn’t to sign its own death warrant—continues. (There’s also a very small group that thinks China should go back to the days of Maoist glory but their influence is negligible). I was reminded that the debate/struggle is still very much alive by an article today in the South China Morning Post about Du Daozheng, a former senior cadre under reformist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, famously purged after Tiananmen. The 85 year old Du is publisher of Yanhuang Chunqiu, a magazine (pamphlet really) that argues for more reform and opening in the Party, re-examines controversial historical incidents, usually casting reformers in a favorable light, and so on. The article says that current propaganda chief Li Chanchun has ordered Du to step down as publisher because of article saying nice things about Zhao back when he was governor of Yunnan. Du seems to be refusing to follow orders, which is characteristic. I interviewed him a couple of years ago in the magazine’s dingy offices and he was totally unapologetic—and unafraid—about his pro-reform/democracy views. But the fact the authorities feel the need to slap down an octogenarian who is certainly no revolutionary (he thinks the CCP should remain in power, just thinks their legitimacy will be threatened until they open up) is a reflection of the fact that the political atmosphere remains very cool indeed. It seems, as we have written in the past, that the hardliners have been boosted by the success of their pre-Olympic crackdown and are now firmly in the ascendancy.