Publication: China Brief Volume: 5 Issue: 13

President Hu Jintao has redoubled efforts to crack down on dissent and other destabilizing forces despite the decreased frequency of large-scale anti-government riots after a spate of serious outbreaks last winter. In internal deliberations, both Hu and his predecessor, ex-president Jiang Zemin, have cited Chairman Mao Zedong’s classic dictum, “A spark from heaven can light up an entire plain.” This is a reference to the fact that one single instance of insurrection, unless muffled quickly at the source, could spread across the country and wreak havoc on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) administration. And Jiang, who now spends most of his time in Shanghai, reportedly convinced his successor that it was still imperative to abide by late patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s teaching about “maintaining stability being the party’s overriding task.”

Beijing sources close to the security apparatus said apart from the now-familiar demonstrations by laid-off workers and peasants who had been evicted from their homes to make way for developmental projects, the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) had cited two instances as worthy of particular attention. One was the fact that during the three-week long anti-Japan protests recently, “anti-government hooligans” had mixed with the nationalistic protestors and had chanted anti-party slogans. The other was turmoil in Central Asian countries in China’s northwestern backyard, particularly the insurrection in Kyrgyzstan, which led to the fall of the pro-Beijing regime of former president Askar Akayev. After the Kyrgyz crisis, Hu indicated in a Politburo meeting that to prevent similar disasters in China, state security and police must raise their guard against “underground organizations as well as NGOs” in the country that might be in a position to undermine the party and government’s rule. According to a well-placed Western diplomat in Beijing, last month Chinese authorities provided logistics and other support to Uzbekistan authorities to help Tashkent quell anti-government rallies in the country’s northeastern region.

It was against this background that Hu late last month gave stern orders on forestalling unrest and ensuring stability in a national meeting on the “comprehensive treatment of social law and order.” The president and party chief noted that while social conditions were generally good, the authorities must bolster efforts to “synthesize [the dual strategies of] cracking down as well as prevention – with more weight being given to prevention.” [1] In long-standing CCP parlance, “law and order” refers to not just crime but also anti-Beijing activities by underground political groups, separatist cabals as well as “agents of hostile foreign forces.” Luo Gan, PSC member in charge of security matters, also spoke at length in the conclave. Once an aide to former premier Li Peng, Luo underscored the importance of the “enthusiastic prevention and effective diffusion of different kinds of social contradictions…so as to minimize conflicts at the source.” He noted, however, that the party’s long-standing practice of “striking hard” at agents of instability must never be shaken.

The goal of defusing socio-political contradictions at the source is behind attempts made the past year by Hu and his ally, Premier Wen Jiabao, to tack together a “harmonious society.” The harmonious-society concept, which is an extension of the Hu-Wen team’s slogan of “putting people first,” is aimed at conciliating disadvantaged sectors of society such as unemployed workers and farmers. For example, Wen has accelerated the rate at which agriculture taxes will be curtailed. While the premier had announced in early 2004 that agrarian levies would be abolished over five years, a dozen-odd provinces have already achieved this objective. And the CCP’s propaganda machine recently kicked off a mini-campaign on zunzhong laodong, or “paying due respect to labor.” This is to ensure that at an age when the “red capitalists” and other nouveau riche bosses are calling the shots in cities ranging from Shanghai to Shenzhen, the lowly workers – once the “vanguard of the proletariat” – won’t feel marginalized.

Moreover, the party leadership has tied the on-going ideological movement to “preserve the advanced nature” of CCP members to what Vice-President Zeng Qinghong called a new “[social] engineering project to keep the masses satisfied.” [2] “Various party units must raise the quality of party members and strengthen grassroots organizations [so as to better] provide services for the people,” said Zeng on a recent tour to the western city of Chongqing. Analysts said Zeng, also President of the CCP Central Party School, was responding to criticism that the Maoist-sounding “campaign to preserve the advanced nature” of the CCP was nothing more than another old-style ideological exercise that had no bearing on the people’s livelihood.

Equally significantly, the Hu-Wen administration has announced a series of economic dispensations for areas with heavy concentrations of ethnic minorities. One reason is Beijing’s fear that as a result of instability in countries including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, it may be easier for Muslim organizations in Central Asia to supply money and weapons to underground anti-Beijing groups in the restive Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR). At a late-May Politburo meeting devoted to work among ethnic minorities, Hu vowed that central authorities would adopt more effective measures to “develop the culture, education, technology and hygiene” in areas with ethnic minorities. [3] However, the president also called upon cadres in areas including Tibet and XAR to “resolutely maintain social stability and to safeguard the unity of the motherland.” This essentially meant that more police and People’s Armed Police would be deployed to lock up trouble-makers and separatist agitators.

That the Hu-Wen leadership is extremely wary about anti-CCP conspiracies is evident from the fact that five months after the death of former party chief Zhao Ziyang, party authorities are still pulling out the stops to prevent Zhao-related mishaps. Friends of Zhao’s family members said as soon as the health of the former liberal leader took a turn for the worse last autumn, the PSC set up a crisis management leading group headed by Luo Gan. Luo’s mission was to prevent “anti-CCP elements in and out of the country” – which according to Chinese intelligence, had organized themselves into a conspiratorial ring – from trying to exploit Zhao’s demise to make trouble for the regime. The Hu-led Politburo remembered only too well that the death of another revered liberal party general secretary, Hu Yaobang, in April 1989 was a major factor behind the massive student demonstrations that took place immediately afterwards. Fortunately for the authorities, Zhao’s passing away last January caused just a few ripples in the carefully controlled political landscape of Beijing.

However, Luo’s group has not been dissolved – and it is still hard at work pinning down the membership of the anti-Beijing “cabal of conspiracy.” Since March, one of its major tasks has been to prevent any “last testimonies” of Zhao from being printed and disseminated overseas or within China. For example, state-security agents working under Luo knew that Zong Fengming, an old friend and confidant of Zhao’s – who was able to see the old man up to about one year before his demise – had prepared a manuscript based on the liberal leader’s remarks on politics, including political reform. During a couple of conversations with Zong, Zhao reportedly excoriated conservative cadres in the CCP, including those responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre. Luo’s group is determined that this manuscript must never see the light of day.

In late April, state security officials arrested a Hong Kong-based journalist of Singapore’s Straits Times, Ching Cheong, on vague charges of “providing classified information to overseas intelligence units.” According to Ching’s wife, Mary Lau, Ching, a veteran China specialist, he had gone into China to pick up a manuscript based on Zong’s last conversations with Zhao. Lau said Ching might be prepared to help publish the text in Hong Kong. However, Kong Quan, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, insisted that Ching’s case had no connection with Zhao. Professor Wu Guoguang, a Sinologist at the University of Victoria, Canada, who is familiar with Zhao’s political-reform agenda, said it was likely that the current CCP leadership was “very nervous” about seeing in print Zhao’s criticism of the conservative line that leaders including Jiang and Hu have been taking on domestic reform. “Unfortunately, the authorities have the past few years adopted tougher measures to control intellectuals as well as the mass media in general,” he added.

Also last week, Beijing authorities confirmed the detention of two more intellectuals: renowned sociologist Lu Jianhua and Chen Hui, an official at the government think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. While the two are held by state security agents for allegedly leaking state secrets, liberal scholars and cadres in Beijing fear that this is part of a national crackdown on dissent that could last for a while. A forward-looking academic with extensive connections with the Hong Kong and overseas media, Lu is known for his open-minded views on political reform as well as Beijing’s relations with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Paradoxically, Lu told interviewers as late as last year that it was possible for the Hu-Wen team to carry out gradual political reform as the economy was developing fast and much more attention was being paid to underprivileged classes in the country. The Hu leadership’s lack of tolerance for unorthodox ideas will necessarily detract from its ability to use new — and more thorough-going — methods to solve the nation’s age-old problems.


1. “Do well the work of the comprehensive management and treatment of social law and order,” People’s Daily, Beijing Edition, May 24, 2005.

2. “Zeng Qinghong on the correct way of waging the campaign to preserve the advanced nature of the CCP,” Xinhua News Agency, May 25, 2005.

3. “Politburo calls meeting on work on areas with ethnic minorities.” Xinhua News Agency, May 31, 2005.