Wen Jiabao’s recollection of Cultural Revolution upsets CCP|Lui Yue

Published (HKT): 2021.04.22 10:22

This year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding. It also marks the first of the “Two Centenaries” proposed by Xi Jinping. Nevertheless, not even four months have passed and several controversial incidents have already happened and grabbed international attention. The repercussions of some of the incidents that involved certain individuals have been growing. Not long ago, netizens found that young Chinese director Chloé Zhao made a remark that “insulted China” a decade ago. Her film “Nomadland”, previously scheduled to be released in China this week, has been pulled out. Now there is this controversy surrounding an essay written by former premier Wen Jiabao to commemorate his mother, who passed away at the age of 99 in December 2020. WeChat and Weibo prohibit users from sharing the article, and NetEase and iFeng.com have deleted it.

It is said that Wen’s essay was sent to Macau Herald by someone who had read it. As a media outlet, Macau Herald is not well known, and this suggests the essay might have failed to meet China’s rules on state leaders publishing their articles, books and autobiographies. Or perhaps Wen himself does not want the essay to be published in the mainland. The piece contains more than 6,000 Chinese characters and is divided into four parts. The first two are about the hard life of Wen’s mother and family during the Chinese Civil War and the Second World War, as well as his mother’s strong, independent and progressive character. No fault can be found with these parts. But note that the article was written between March 25 and April 15. It was around this time that the book “A Simple History of the Chinese Communist Party” was released, and Xi called for the whole party and people to study the history of the CCP, and the Ministry of Education revised schools’ extracurricular reading lists lest problematic books should make their way into schools.

The problem of Wen’s essay lies in the third and fourth sections. In the third part, dated April 9, Wen recalled his parents’ experience during the Cultural Revolution. He said: “During the ‘Cultural Revolution’, my father was detained at his school and often suffered from brutal interrogations, verbal abuse, and beatings. At one point, a red guard slapped my father’s face and my father’s face was so swollen he could barely open his eyes to see things... My mother always spent the modest salary she earned on food for my father. She delivered the food to the school herself.” In 1970, Wen’s whole family was sent to the Xiaodian Commune in a northern suburb of Tianjin. They stayed there for six years until the Gang of Four fell, after which his father resumed teaching. The part about the Wens’ suffering during the Cultural Revolution carries merely several hundred words. But regardless, it is at odds with the century-long CCP history described in “A Simple History of the Chinese Communist Party”, as well as the crimes of Mao Zedong that are squeezed into one page with fewer than 1,000 words. Wen’s description is considered disproportionate, and in violation of the CCP member discipline.

In the fourth part, published on April 15, Wen quoted two letters written by his mother. One was written in November 2003, shortly after he became premier. “Today, you are in such a high position. You have no backing, not to mention your family background. You have come a long way,” she said. The other letter was dated October 2007, when Wen was about to get a second term: “Your achievements over the past five years are the hard-won fruits of your work. Things in the five years to come will be tough and complicated. It will not be easy to keep up. How much can your shoulders bear it all? It takes all the people to be united to weather through the challenges in the next five years,” she wrote. Wen also summed up his 28-year career at Zhongnanhai. “I have been told to be careful, like walking on thin ice and heading into an abyss. Ever since I started, I had always been prepared to retreat.” To the CCP, these words reek of a lack of gratitude.

“Second generation reds’” sense of entitlement

As with Hu Jintao, Wen became the protégé of Gansu CCP Committee first secretary Song Ping after he graduated from university. After becoming the head of the Organization Department, Song departed from the norm and promoted Wen. As a matter of fact, it takes more than one’s hard work to get into Zhongnanhai. As the late statesman Chen Yun famously said: “The country was founded by us, and so the ones inheriting this country should be our offspring.” The 10 years led by Hu and Wen were merely a period in which the top servants temporarily held the key to the house. After Xi took power, members of the so-called “second generation reds” (children of revolutionary-era CCP leaders who founded the People’s Republic of China) got together with excitement at one point and described the Hu-Wen era as “the lost decade” during which they “held a time bomb while playing the pass-the-flower game”. This reflects the deeply rooted mentality among the second-generation reds that they are entitled to rule the country.

On April 19, when Tsinghua University marked its 110th anniversary, General Secretary Xi, who was a member of the worker-peasant-soldier team of Tsinghua during the Cultural Revolution and a PhD student two decades later, inspected the university in the capacity of somewhat of a “big student leader” of Tsinghua students today. CCP-run media outlets published an article recalling Xi’s experience of taking the matriculation exam. Xi had also mentioned that episode previously. “When I applied to study at universities, Tsinghua had two places in Yan’an. Both were given to Yanchuan County. I chose Tsinghua’s programs for my three program choices. I thought that ‘if you accept me, I’ll go ahead; if not, forget it’. The county reported me to the related district. The leader of the county’s education bureau spoke up for me. The Tsinghua staff who recruited students did not dare to make a decision. They sought instructions from the university... Then, Luoyang Fire-Resistant Material Manufacture Factory, to which my father was sent to work as a worker, issued me a certificate, which said ‘Comrade Xi Zhongxun was involved in inner-contradiction among the people and his children’s education should not be affected’. With this certificate, I was able to go to the university. When I left, the local educated youths who remained there were envious of me.” Note that Xi played down the two quotas assigned to Yanchuan County. It was actually Li Liqun, then director of the Student Department of the Ministry of Education, who gave one of the quotas to Xi. Li was the wife of CCP leader Gao Gang. Such was the kind of treatment enjoyed by the offspring of revolutionary-era CCP leaders.

When inspecting Tsinghua, Xi called for “all young people to love the country, love the people, have their faith invoked and be inspired through studying the party history, acquire strength, keep reinforcing the ‘four self-confidences’, keep strengthening the ambition, backbone and inner strength of being a Chinese, and highlight the unwavering ideal of struggling perpetually for the motherland and the people and of making contributions wholeheartedly.” At the end of his essay, Wen reiterated his universal values. That contradicts the Xi Jinping Thought in the new era. This is surely another reason why the essay has to be deleted.

Fortunately, apart from Wen, Li Keqiang also had his writing removed by mainland media before. In the debate triggered by Wen’s essay, some people said the decade led by Hu and Wen, which saw remarkable growth of the Chinese economy, was China’s best decade. Meanwhile, in response to Ta Kung Pao’s call for the SAR government to shut down Apple Daily, DuoWei News published an article saying that “although Apple Daily, whose survival is under serious constraints, has not died, in practice it has already met its demise and there is no need to push it to the dead end”. Apple Daily is one of the few remaining “one country, two systems” symbols. If the CCP suppresses the paper further, it will gain nothing but hurt itself, just like what happened after it censored Wen’s essay.

(Lui Yue, veteran Chinese journalist)

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