Farming is Ugly: Reform, Friction and Bishan Commune

From 2014, Anhui Province will pilot a reform of the residential land market in China, thus integrating rural Anhui in the national housing market. On the opposite note, artist and activist Ou Ning has proposed the Bishan time money currency, intending to establish an alternative economic circuit in Bishan Village.


Bishan Village. A new and an old Hui-style house side by side, fronted by a very blue tele company commercial.

Bishan Village. A new and an old Hui-style house side by side, fronted by a very blue tele company commercial.


Bishan Village, Yi County, Anhui Province

At first sight, Bishan village doesn’t come across as a poor village; the traffic conditions are good, the small county seat is only 15 min away on electric scooter, the preferred vehicle of most villagers, and the county seat can boast of a new hospital, a new school, rows of new townhouses and apartment blocks, construction sites and smaller factories. There are similarly plenty of newly build houses in Bishan. Nevertheless, the wealth represented by these new houses, does not come from the local economy, but is almost entirely based on young people going to the city to work, sending money home, building houses they do not themselves reside in. Old people and small children constitute the actual population as most young people have left to work in the more developed urban areas. Furthermore, many families, who have migrated to the city, have had no legal way of selling the land they no longer reside on, leaving the village dotted with empty houses.

Yi County is renowned for its well-preserved Hui-style villages, and the growing reliance on tourism through the past ten years has altered the economic foundation of these villages considerably. Bishan is, however, not one of these tourist sites. Even though Hui-style remains the predominant architectural feature, the many newly build houses cause a lack of visual, rural authenticity so crucial to urban tourists. Nevertheless, Bishan has become attractive to investors, mainly within the hotel sector, who wish to take advantage of its proximity to famous tourist destinations and good traffic conditions.

In this Huizhou village on the foot of the Yellow Mountain range, artist, curator and editor Ou Ning and his colleague Zuo Jing initiated Bishan Commune in 2011; a call for a return to the countryside and a renewed relationship between urban and rural areas, countering the official line of further urbanization.


Ou Ning's house Buffalo Institute

Ou Ning’s house Buffalo Institute


A house for Bishan Commune

An old compound in traditional Hui-style in the centre of Bishan constitute the headquarters of Bishan Commune. Ou Ning bought the house in 2010 and called it Buffalo Institute. In the spring of 2013, he moved permanently to Bishan with his family (mother, younger brother, nephew, girlfriend and her son). The move indicates a significant turning point for Bishan Commune, entering a phase of action and interaction.

A constant flow of visitors, foreign and Chinese, urbanities and local villagers, pass through the house and stay for longer or shorter periods, either to work and discuss with Ou Ning, to do smaller projects like investigations of the local folk music or handicrafts, fieldwork studies of the countryside or, as many do, experience the traditional Hui-style houses in a new condition.

The house occupied by Buffalo Institute used to be the dormitory of the sent down youth during the Cultural Revolution. A story that now somehow repeats itself, albeit under very different circumstances. Buffalo Institute is a gathering space of free, independent learning and sharing and where elaborate discussions on the unfolding of Bishan Commune and the future of Bishan village continuously take place, which is also the result of Ou Ning and his family’s warm curiosity and generosity.


Informal land market

Ou Ning was not legally allowed to buy the house in 2010, so the proof of ownership still carries the name of the previous owner. In the countryside there are roughly three categories of land: farmland (collectively owned by the villagers), state owned land and residential land (the land your house is built on). Farmland can be expropriated and converted into state owned land and then sold or leased to developers and the like, but residential land can so far not be traded within the law. However, circumvention of state regulations unofficially sanctioned by local officials has created an informal residential land market in Bishan and Yi County making it possible for Ou Ning, Zuo Jing and others to purchase houses in Bishan. Due to the unofficial character of this residential land market and the consequential lack of real estate agents, it still requires good connections with the villagers to purchase a house, since you need introduction to the farmers who are willing to or can be persuaded to sell. Moreover, not many people dare to undertake the costs of buying a house without the necessary legal protection in case of expropriation or the like, further limiting the scope of this informal residential land market.

To address these issues, Anhui Province is from the beginning of next year piloting an official market for residential land in a selected number of counties (, including Yi county under whose jurisdiction Bishan is placed. This pilot residential land market makes it possible for external actors to purchase or lease houses and land within Bishan village legally, something which can potentially transform the appearance and demography of Bishan once again.


Zhang Yu, to the left, from Young Official's Garden visit a local horseradish farmer.

Zhang Yu, to the left, from Young Official’s Garden visit a local horseradish farmer.


Farming is ugly

Ou Ning explains that it is often urban people of wealth who are able to buy the old houses and undertake the high costs of restoring them. Mrs. Liang, who has recently purchased a house in Bishan, expresses that she wants to convert the land in connection to her house into a flower garden, since “it is not pretty to look at cultivated farmland”.[1] This statement suggests a problematic attitude towards the rural cultural landscape.

If the further opening up of the housing land market implies an invasion of unscrupulous capital with no consideration for and appreciation of the existing rural cultural landscapes and practices, then Bishan might be on the path of a dangerous development, turning the village into an urban playground, designed to fulfill the ever-expanding needs of urban residents and tourists. When not properly integrating the rural residents in the decision making process, this kind of development tends to neglect the needs of the rural population by not creating any real job opportunities for often uneducated farmers and causing a fluctuation in housing prices and general living costs.

This is also an aspect where the presence of Bishan Commune in Bishan can be a significant factor. Bishan Commune and their like-minded continuously make an effort to influence newcomers to the area as well as local villagers and officials of the importance of preserving rural culture as a visible feature of Bishan and direct the development in a more sustainable direction. If they succeed, then Bishan might be able to change for the better, providing job opportunities that will allow young people the possibility to choose to stay in Bishan. The need of Bishan to develop economically is a stated priority of many of the local residents, who generally support expropriation of farming land, since it allows capital to enter. Ongoing discussions with the villagers on this subject, make the economical aspect a concern Bishan Commune have had to take into consideration. Even though they might not always agree with Bishan Commune on the terms of development, local villagers and officials show great support for the initiative.


The common space at Han Yu's Pig's Inn no. 3, which used to be an old oil station. Most of the furnitures are second hand, bought or found in the area.

The common space at Han Yu’s Pig’s Inn no. 3, which used to be an old oil station. Most of the furnitures are second hand, bought or found in the area.


Alternative economic circuit

As a means to establish an alternative economic circuit in Bishan, Ou Ning recently proposed the Bishan time money currency, where smaller tasks such as housekeeping at the local guesthouse Pig’s Inn or helping in the fields of Young Village Officials Garden, can be exchanged for a meal at the local hotel Tailai, books at the soon-to-open branch of the Nanjing bookstore Librairie Avant-Garde, or second hand artifacts donated to the shop Ou Ning will open at Buffalo Institute and so forth. All the Bishan time money members listed above agree to this system of exchange. Even though the system valorize labour in a manner maybe not entirely consistent with Kropotkin’s  concept of “mutual aid” advocated by Ou Ning and maybe won’t bring any direct job opportunities, it still provides an important alternative to the existing model and manages to incorporate the villagers’ concerns for some sort of economic possibilities. Furthermore, Bishan Commune can be an important marker of identification and will give Bishan a special standing in relation to the neighboring villages, providing that “something different”, which will be important when attracting the right kind of “caring” capital to the village.

The Bishan time money has yet to be put into effect, but Ou Ning expects it to be set in motion sometime around next spring. In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of the Bishan time money, is how the villagers will embrace this new system, if they will make it their own, thus creating the possibility of this alternative currency to exceed the core members and entering the village society as a whole. When asked whether Ou Ning has discussed making an independent monetary system in Bishan with the local officials, he answers: This I do first, and then I ask.

The coming years will show, how the presence of Bishan Commune in the village and the introduction of Bishan Time money combined with a reformed residential land market will affect Bishan and which direction the development will take. But to answer the question Tom Cliff asked in his introductory article on Bishan Commune: Is intention sufficient? I think it is safe to answer, that with this kind of project intention can never be sufficient. But intention is an important trigger for agency, and in Bishan Commune’s case it is an agency that is constantly reinvented and renegotiated in collaboration with local actors, thus aiming at creating new spaces of possibilities in Bishan and beyond.

Mai Corlin is enrolled as PhD fellow at Aarhus University, Department of Culture and Society, China Studies. Her project is entitled Utopian Imaginaries in Rural Reconstruction – Urban Artists in Rural China and is concerned with socially engaged art in the countryside of China.

[1] Informal conversation with Mrs. Liang, Yixian, October and November 2013.

Unearthing the Past: From Independent Filmmaking to Social Change

Wu Wenguang, considered the father of independent Chinese documentary film, has since 2005 slowly but surely been handing over the camera to people on the margins and to younger generations of Chinese documentary filmmaking. In 2010 Wu and Caochangdi Workstation initiated the Folk Memory Documentary Project, where young filmmakers go to the countryside to gather and document memories of the Great Famine (1959-1961) from elderly villagers.


Wu Wenguang introduces his film "Treatment".

Wu Wenguang introduces his film “Treatment”.

Bumming in Beijing

Wu Wenguang is known as one of the first to make independent documentaries in China. His first documentary film, Bumming in Beijing – The Last Dreamers, aired in 1990 and soon after the film toured the international film festival circuits. Wu started out in 1988 filming five artists, a writer, some painters and a theatre director all involved in the production of art on the edge of Chinese society. The artists had, for the most part, no Beijing registration and they stayed with friends or in shabby courtyard houses on the outskirts of Beijing close to the old summer palace while trying to practice their art in the China of the late 1980s. Only one of the five artists portrayed in the film remained in Beijing, by 1990 the other four had left China to pursue their dreams elsewhere in the world.  Wu’s documentary was the first in China to give the characters of a documentary a space to voice their concerns and dreams of the future, letting the narratives of their stories weave together presenting lives on the edge of Beijing, both figuratively and literally.

For the next ten years, Wu produced several documentaries concerned with people living on the margins of Chinese society and films related to sensitive historical issues. Meanwhile, he toured the international film festivals and presented and discussed his work with international filmmakers and audience. In 2000, when he again found himself at an international film festival and was yet again asked the question: What will your next film be about? Wu realized that he was not interested in ‘the next topic’, making ‘the next film’ or filmmaking in general for that matter. What he wanted was to make change possible by creating the conditions for change in people.  Wu believed the camera could be instrumental in this process: by giving people the opportunity to record and re-experience their lives through the lens of the camera, there was maybe a possibility of creating awareness of the marginalized person’s own position and thereby a possibility to empower this person.

Initial steps

The initial steps in the direction towards engaging in possible social change were taken in 2001, when Wu and the dance choreographer Wen Hui made the performance and documentary film Dance with Farm Workers. 40 migrant workers, originally from Sichuan Province, were hired to be part of a dance performance in collaboration with Wen Hui’s international dance troupe. Nine days of rehearsing culminated in a public dance performance which took place in an old, empty factory in Beijing. The process was intended to establish a relationship between the people who build the city (the migrant workers) and the people living in the city (in this case the dancers and documentarists), while it also directed attention to the poor conditions migrant workers often worked under and the local urbanities prejudice towards them.

Even though the intentions were sympathetic, and the film features moments of sincere interaction between the migrant workers and the dancers, the performance still seemed to reproduce an existing hierarchical relationship between migrant workers and urbanities. The workers remained workers in this new context. Nevertheless, Dance with Farm Workers represented a new attitude in Wu Wenguang’s documentaries moving towards a more engaging kind of filmmaking.

Handing over the camera – the Village Documentary Project

In 2005 Wu Wenguang initiated the Village Documentary Project – an EU-funded initiative projected to document the village self-governance system introduced in the 1990s with democratic elections at village level. Instead of going to the countryside himself, Wu decided to hand over the camera to the villagers themselves. The idea was that the villagers, by looking at their own community through the lens of a camera, would see the community with fresh eyes and reach another level of awareness. Wu advertised nationally for villagers willing to participate in the pioneering project and in the end ten villagers from all over China were chosen. They were given a camera and taught to use it through intensive workshops at Wu Wenguang’s Caochangdi Workstation in the north eastern corner of Beijing. Each villager made a film which related to the village self-governance system in their own village. The ten villager films feature very different perspectives on and circumstances for democratic elections in rural China, presenting diverse rural communities full of good-will, corruption, laughing children, misunderstandings, close relationships, stubborn village elders, younger generations with new views on society and in some cases seemingly democratic elections in village China. Wu Wenguang has with the Village Documentary Project taken a step back in order to provide a platform for the villagers from where it is possible to transgress social barriers and present rural problematics to a greater audience.

Collecting memories – The Folk Memory Documentary Project

Building on the experiences from the Village Documentary Project, the Folk Memory Documentary Project was initiated in 2010. Young people, some still in school and some recent university graduates, were engaged to go to the countryside to gather and document the memories of the Great Famine from 1959-1961 from elderly villagers, telling the previously untold stories of the millions who died because of the famine. Most young people in China today are taught that the famine was caused by natural disasters and debt to the Soviet Union, a narrative the filmmakers and the villagers come to question once they unearth the memories of the people. Each of the young filmmakers went to a village with which they had a personal connection, either they were born there themselves, their parents or grandparents had grown up there or a family member had been sent there as ‘sent down youth’ during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The young filmmakers spend three months every winter in each their village collecting memories of the troubled and agonizing years of the great famine and being part of the rural community. The interviews with the elderly villagers are used in the documentaries and are gathered in a memory archive at Caochangdi Workstation.

At Lund University. From left to right: Zou Xueping Wu Wenguang Zhang Mengqi and Shu Qiao

While the young people are in the villages to shoot their documentaries they are advised by Wu Wenguang and Caochangdi Workstation to set up small scale, socially engaged projects. The young filmmaker Zou Xueping organized screenings of the Folk Memory Project films and arranged garbage collecting activities, to address one of the more pressing problems in many Chinese villages. Another participant of the project, Zhang Mengqi, made a public library to make books more accessible in the village and to create a place for sharing. A third participant, Shu Qiao, raised funds for a monument to commemorate those who died during the great famine, a way to create awareness in the village of the wrongdoings of the past. Furthermore, he engaged a school class (11-12 year olds) and had them collect and document the memories of their village elders. In this way, the memories of the great famine were transferred to younger generations and thus seized to be the taboo it had previously been. These films collects memories of a forgotten past of suffering and a the same time document young people’s journey into this past as they rediscover themselves through a process of interaction and engagement in an effort to dissolve taboos and traumas of the past.

With the Folk Memory Project, Wu Wenguang has handed over the camera to villagers and young people of China using the camera as a tool of unearthing the unknown and of transforming the present by rewriting history.

Mai Corlin


Wu Wenguang and the three young filmmakers Zou Xueping, Zhang Mengqi and Shu Qiao visited Lund University, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) and University of Copenhagen in April 2013 where they presented Caochangdi Workstation’s Folk Memory Documentary Project. Most of the films of the project can be viewed for a small fee on China Independent Documentary Film Archive: For more about Caochangdi Workstation please visit their website


Mai Corlin is enrolled as PhD student at Aarhus University, Department of Culture and Society, Asia Section. Her project is entitled Utopian Imaginaries in Rural Reconstruction – Urban Activists in Rural China and is concerned with socially engaged art in the countryside of China.



Wu Wenguang presents the Folk Memory Documentary Project “Memory: Hunger – Protest Amnesia through Documentary and Theater”:

 Clip from Bumming in Beijing – The Last Dreamers:

 Clip from Dance with Farm Workers:


Another China – other inequalities

By Mai Corlin, Ph.D. student, Aarhus University

Gender inequality is not simply the unfair treatment of men and women. It is a complex issue tied to a whole range of disparities in society at large, argues Professor Min Dongchao, who has just been awarded a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship and will be a guest professor at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies for the next few years. Her object of study is the travels of gender theory between the Nordic countries and China.



Professor Min Dongchao

Just another day at the factory

Like many other researchers and academics of her generation, Professor Min Dongchao was young during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Most of China’s schools and universities were closed down during that period, and the youth were sent to the countryside or to factories to learn from the working class. Professor Min spent the Cultural Revolution as a worker at the Tianjin Machinery and Tool Factory, beginning her factory career at the age of 15 in 1969 and staying there for eight years.

“During the Cultural Revolution, society was turned upside down. We grew up in a transformed environment with no language to talk about gender or differences between the sexes, because there wasn’t supposed to be any difference. Everybody wore the same kinds of clothes, did the same job, got the same pay, and so forth. There was basically no sexual division in society — at least not on the surface,” says Professor Min Dongchao.


The open door

It was only after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 that schools and universities reopened, and it became possible for at least some of the so-called “sent down youth” to return to the education system. Once again, society was turned upside down: Foreign cultures and influences entered the country, spurring an irreversible development of Chinese society.

“Suddenly we could watch films and television from abroad, films that often demonstrated a clear gender differentiation, where men looked like men and women looked like women. So we wanted to look good, and we wanted to look different from men. Women started wearing makeup, and clothes in general became more colorful. Suddenly, a more diverse expression and mode of behavior were allowed again,” explains Min.

But there was another side to the new developments. It soon became more difficult for women to find employment, and they were paid gradually less, as men were generally favored in job situations. The factories started to lay off workers, and women were often the first to go. Other problems such as prostitution and men taking second wives also resurfaced and, according to Professor Min, this laid some of the foundation for why women and gender studies started taking off in China in the 1980s.

Professor Min returned to China in 2004 after almost ten years in the UK, and discovered a country in rapid transition. The new generations of young girls had reversed the Cultural Revolutionary tradition of going to the countryside. Instead, they were heading to coastal cities to work in factories — a mixed experience, to most. On the one hand, they experience the freedom of getting their own job, earning their own money, and freeing themselves from the pressure of country life. On the other, they work under exploitative conditions, are paid very little, and without any unions to protect them.


The introduction of gender

United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Opens in Beijing, September 1995. Photo: UN Photo/Milton Grant
United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Opens in Beijing, September 1995. Photo: UN Photo/Milton Grant

United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Opens in Beijing, September 1995. Photo: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Gender as a concept was introduced into China in connection with preparations for the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in 1995. There was growing awareness of increasingly visible gender inequality, and a new conceptual language to discuss these issues was made available to concerned academics and activists.

One of the gender-related issues under discussion in recent years is quotas. During the Mao era, the sex ratio was 50-50 in most party and government organs. In 2008, the government introduced gender quotas stipulating that 22% of the congress should be female, and last year, in collaboration with the All-China Women’s Federation, it was decided that there should be at least one woman on village committees. Professor Min, however, argues that the solution to gender inequality issues doesn’t lie only in quotas or the recognition of gender issues. Rather, it is a matter of general inequality in society at large:

“Gender equality should be addressed as a very important issue, and by this I don’t just mean gender difference — it is not a matter of achieving complete similarity between the sexes. Gender inequality has to do with general inequality in the society at large, the gap between rich and poor, inequality between the regions, between city and countryside. There are males and females of all classes and walks of life, so there are very rich females and very poor males. Gender inequality exists and can only be understood in the context of all levels of society, and within all classes. The inequality gap in general is growing bigger, which in turn affects gender inequality. When you conduct your research you may forget this, you may think in different categories, but you always have to see the society as a whole. The conditions for life in China are so dependent on geography and class. In many rural places, there are no proper schools, and children run around hungry. And then you have Shanghai with its multimillionaires — even billionaires. If you only look at one class or one geographic location, you get a skewed picture of what is actually going on in China,” Professor Min emphasizes.


The local is not subordinate to the global

Many academics agree that you cannot separate globalization and the local; they are two sides of the same coin. In other words, you cannot take the local out of the global. Globalization happens in the local. Professor Min argues that this is the case even for places with myriad global connections, like London: Even though all the money flowing through the financial center influences London from abroad, there is still a feature of something “local.” Understanding the global in relation to the local is a way to give prominence to people, because they are the ones who experience the changes on an everyday basis, and they are the ones who actually “practice” globalization.

As Professor Min notes, “We often see the railway as a symbol of globalization, because it links places together, but what we tend to forget is that there are places and people in between the stations. As with railways, there are different routes for gender studies in China. Some people go to Beijing and Shanghai and read Judith Butler, and then others go to the poor areas, like Yunnan. In Yunnan they have gradually changed the gender discourse and related practice, and as a result, the Yunnan Province Women’s Federation has managed to obtain more funding for larger projects than they have in places where they have not yet incorporated the new discourse.”

“Yunnan Province Women’s federation is a good example of how the global and the local are linked, of how things change in a local environment,” she argues.


The next generation

female students protest

Female students protest gender quotas at Guangzhou University. Photo from

The new generation of women has begun to stir up radical performances and protests in the big cities. One example is a domestic violence protest last year in which young women painted their faces so it looked like they’d been beaten, and posted pictures of it on the Internet. Another incident was the Occupy Toilet Movement, where women occupied men’s rooms to protest the lack of women’s toilets in most public places.

“They might have gotten the idea from Taiwan or Hong Kong,” Professor Min adds.

Last year, some universities refused female applicants even though they had the same scores as their male counterparts. The Ministry proclaimed that for the sake of the country the universities needed more men, not girls. The women reacted by staging a happening where they shaved their heads and stood out on the street in defiance.

“Because of the Internet, this protest became a big deal. I think it’s good that young women have started to react to society’s gender inequalities; it is a good sign. I think it’s important that they protest, that they fight for something. My generation is about to retire, and we need the younger generation to take over and do the job. I hope that is what we’re seeing now,” Professor Min concludes.


Professor Min Dongchao, director of the Centre for Gender and Culture Studies at Shanghai University, has received the Marie Curie Actions International Incoming Fellowship and will be a guest professor at Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) at the University of Copenhagen from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2015.

Professor Min’s project is titled “Cross-Cultural Encounters — The Travels of Gender Theory and Practice to China and the Nordic Countries” and is concerned with the cross-cultural translation of knowledge and practices that may or may not take place when different cultures interact, and the resulting production of new knowledge. Taking the travelling routes of gender theory and practices to, and also between, China and the Nordic countries as the empirical object of study, the project will focus on the crucial questions of why and how knowledge travels or fails to travel.


This interview with Professor Min Dongchao can also be found on – Blogging on Denmark and China.

Slaget om Kinas framtida ledarskap av Johan Lagerkvist

Med början den 8 november ska det kinesiska kommunistpartiet hålla sin 18:e nationella partikongress. En hel värld som har blivit samberoende med Kinas ekonomi kommer att påverkas av det förestående maktskiftet. Omgivningen svävar dock i ovisshet om den nya politbyråns sammansättning och framtida politik, i en atmosfär där datum för kongressen offentliggjordes först den 28 september. Kina må vara öppnare än någonsin sedan revolutionen 1949, men inte ens i en tid när sociala medier, trots omfattande censur, läcker mer och allt snabbare framkommer särskilt trovärdig information om den nya ledaruppställningen.

Det är paradoxalt. Om tio år kan Kina vara världens största ekonomi, och mer transparens kommer att vara en nödvändighet. I en globaliserad, ömsesidigt beroende och allt mer direktkommunicerande värld, med Folkrepubliken som en av de viktigaste noderna, framstår kommunistpartiets mörkande som mycket märkligt. Varför så mycket förtegenhet om den 18:e partikongressen och vad säger hemlighetsmakeriet om Kinas nya ledarskap?

Redan kommunistpartiets allra första nationella möte 1921 organiserades i skymundan på en båt i en sjö i Zhejiangprovinsen. Den första generationens kommunister, som Mao Zedong småningom blev ledare för, greps ofta av myndigheterna eller utsattes till och med för attentat i städer som Shanghai, Wuhan och Kanton.

Att verka i det fördolda är därför en gammal tradition, närd av tanken och erfarenheten att landsförrädare och utländska makter griper varje tillfälle att förgöra partiet. Och faktum är att under åren 1934–35 lyckades Maos bondearmé endast med nöd och näppe undkomma nationalistpartiets elittrupper, som var dem i hasorna under den kanoniserade långa marschen genom inlandsprovinserna.

För ett parti som var förföljt från 1921 fram till segern i inbördeskriget 1949 var alltså diskretion en ren överlevnadsstrategi. Men förmågan att dölja information blev under 50- och 60-talen också allt nödvändigare för att manövrera mellan vänner och fiender också inom de mot omvärlden slutna partileden. Kinesisk elitpolitik har visserligen alltid handlat om en balansgång mellan olika partifalanger, men dagens avsaknad av en karismatisk senior ledare bidrar till mindre jämvikt.

Att obalans råder i partitoppen är just nu tydligt. Det nya ledarskap som ska stega in framför kamerablixtarna på partikongressen borde vara fastställt vid det här laget. Slutgiltigt beslut brukar fattas när den avgående politbyrån och ännu äldre partiveteraner samlas på badorten Beidahe under sommaren. Men uppenbarligen fanns i år ingen enighet om hur de sju eller kanske nio platserna i politbyråns ständiga utskott – Kinas de facto högst beslutsfattande organ – skulle fördelas på olika partifalanger. Maktkampen är med största sannolikhet inte avslutad.

I samband med det förra maktöverlämnandet, 2002, från Jiang Zemin till Hu Jintao kunde forskningen skönja en viss institutionalisering av denna process, ibland kallad midnattstimman eftersom leninistiska politiska system historiskt haft ytterligt svårt att skapa legitimitet för en arvtagare. Kanske är det ännu för tidigt att tala om institutionalisering? Eller är kanske leninistiska politiska system inte alls kapabla till att effektivt institutionalisera ledarsuccession?

Eftersom 80-talets partipatriark, Deng Xiaoping, före sin död 1997 bestämde att Hu Jintao var näste man vid statsrodret efter Jiang Zemin, och inga skuggkandidater fanns, överfördes legitimitet till Hu. Efter Hu Jintao skulle normer om mandatperioder, åldersgräns och röstning inom centralkommittén kompensera för förlusten av högste patriarkens välsignelse. Men denna önskan om jämvikt materialiserades aldrig helt och krypskyttet mot Hus position har tilltagit med åren.

En av dem som har forskat mest om de stridande partifalangerna är Bo Zhiyue, verksam i Singapore, som i boken ”China’s elite politics: Political transition and power balancing” (2007) ingående belyser maktbalansen inom kommunistpartiet. En viktig poäng är hur lite den starka men väldigt nischade falang som brukar beskrivas som ”furstesönerna”, det vill säga barnen till partiets adel av revolutionära hjältar, egentligen har gemensamt. Kartläggningen av kinesisk elitpolitik med dess myriader av personrelationer är nog mest fascinerande för ett fåtal besatta av ”pekingologi”. Dock intresserar denna systematiserande forskning sig sällan för vad falangerna faktiskt representerar ideologiskt.

Men i Bo Zhiyues bok framkommer ändå att partiets i dag tre viktigaste falanger kan läggas på en vänster-höger skala: ortodox gammelvänster som delvis övergår i en nyvänster, mittenfalangen som önskar ekonomisk tillväxt men begränsad politisk liberalisering, och en allmänt reforminriktad grupp med nuvarande premiärministern Wen Jiabao som språkrör. Falangerna består av olika personliga nätverk som till exempel den förra presidenten Jiang Zemins ”Shanghai-gäng”, Hu Jintaos falang med rötter i det kommunistiska ungdomsförbundet eller den tillträdande nye ledaren Xi Jinpings mer amorfa maktbas av ”furstesöner”.

I den politiska tideräkning som börjar med Mao Zedong lämnar alltså nu den fjärde generationens ledare, med president Hu Jintao som ”det kollektiva ledarskapets” kärna, över makten som partiets generalsekreterare till den femte generationens centralfigur, den 59-årige Xi Jinping. Även runt honom, vars far Xi Zhongxun innehade höga poster under ordförande Mao, har informationen varit tunn på senaste tiden. När han oväntat ställde in ett möte med USA:s utrikesminister Clinton och därefter försvann helt ur kinesisk medierapportering under två septemberveckor kom ryktena snabbt i rullning. Hade Xi hjärtproblem? Var han offer för intern maktkamp? Eller befann sig Hu Jintaos efterträdare på hemlig ort för att förbereda politiska reformer? Efter hans återkomst och möten med bland annat USA:s försvarsminister Leon Panetta har ryggont efter simträning varit den officiella och mest trovärdiga förklaringen till Xis frånvaro.

Men en hård maktkamp inom kommunistpartiet har verkligen pågått under hela 2012. Parallellt med hemlighållandet av all information rörande den 18:e partikongressen har statspropagandan serverat noggrant förpackade nyheter om den under våren utrensade vänsterpopulisten Bo Xilai. Den tidigare handelsministern Bo började 2007 bygga upp en populistisk flank genom att främja ”röd kultur” i Chongqing som är en av Kinas största städer.

Tillsammans med sin hårdföre polischef Wang Lijun krossande han mäktiga maffiagrupper utan att själv bry sig om lagen, beordrade stopp för tv-reklam, och ansåg att statstjänstemän skulle leva med fattiga och tillsammans med dem sjunga maoistiska revolutionssånger. Den populism som kom att kallas för ”Chongqing- modellen” liknande allt mer Bos personliga kampanj för att inväljas i politbyråns ständiga utskott. Självaste Xi Jinping besökte Chongqing och betygade krafttagen sin vördnad. Men reformfalangen och premiärministern Wen Jiabao oroades av Bo Xilais stigande popularitet som börjad anta drag av personkult.

Men så uppstod ett gyllene tillfälle att komma åt honom! Hans polischef Wang Lijun flydde plötsligt till det amerikanska konsulatet i Chengdu den 6 februari i år. Han sökte asyl och lämnade information om att Bos hustru Gu Kailai hade giftmördat den brittiske affärsmannen Neil Heywood. Premiärminister Wen varnade då inför statsmedierna om de risker för kaos som flirten med maoismen innebar. Kort därefter fråntogs Bo Xilai sina poster inom partiet, hans hustru Gu har sedan dömts för mord och polischefen Wang dömdes den 24 september till 15 års fängelse för sin inblandning. Och efter att kommunistpartiet rensat ut Bo ur såväl partiet som den nationella folkkongressen är det troligt att en rättegång mot Bo själv kommer att hållas under hösten.

Faktum är att processerna kan uppfattas som knytnävsslag riktade mot hela Kinas nyvänster och dess krav på ett jämlikare Kina. Slagen kan anses besvarade under de mycket uppmärksammade antijapanska protesterna över hela Kina under september. På ytan handlar det om den territoriella konflikten om ögruppen Senkaku i Östkinesiska havet. Men förekomsten av bilder i demonstrationstågen på den första generationens ledare landsfadern Mao Zedong var något nytt. Mao är en central del i kinesisk nationalism eftersom han symboliserar Kinas motstånd mot Japan under det andra världskriget.

Men Maoporträtten är också ett starkt uttryck för längtan tillbaka till ett ekonomiskt jämlikare Kina. Två tydliga signaler går från gatunivån till politbyråns höjder. För det första: Mao stod upp för fosterlandet och det förväntar vi oss av er också! För det andra: många av oss känner otrygghet inför den ekonomiska inbromsningen och ilska över att välfärd bara är för de rika!

De hårt regisserade rättegångarna mot klanen Bo utmynnade trots allt i relativt milda domar, vilket antyder någon form av kompromiss mellan olika intressen. Så även om Bo Xilai kanske är ute ur bilden, är nyvänsterns krav på ökad ekonomisk jämlikhet tillsammans med folklig nationalism definitivt starka krafter att räkna med under kommande år.

Under Hu Jintaos nu tioåriga maktinnehav har kinesers dröm om stormaktsstatus befästs, genom allt från eget rymdprogram till en moderniserad armé. Landet som nu är världens andra största ekonomi har fått en större betydelse för avgörande frågor om global handel, klimatförändring, och utvecklings- och säkerhetsfrågor.

Men i kölvattnet av global finanskris hopar sig allt fler problem för kinesisk ekonomi och sysselsättning. Såväl den skoningslösa maktkampen inom partiet som de framtida socioekonomiska utmaningarna faller i den inkommande generalsekreteraren Xi Jinpings knä. Han kommer som centralfigur att försöka inta en mittenposition liksom generalsekreterarna före honom sökte – för att kunna stabilisera både kommunistpartiet och ett mer spänningsfyllt samhälle.

Vid det vägskäl som Kina och det nya ledarskapet står inför måste ändå en ny vision formuleras. Xi Jinpings företrädare Hu Jintao myntade idén om det ”harmoniska samhället” och hans premiärminister Wen Jiabao har talat många gånger om nödvändigheten av att bryta de statliga företagens strypgrepp på ekonomin samt förordat politiska reformer. Men på grund av motstånd från andra partifalanger har deras mål inte uppnåtts. Det är därför högst osäkert om Xi kommer klara av att balansera en starkare nyvänster, en nationalistisk militärmakt, statskapitalistiska särintressen och den marginaliserade reformistfalangen. Som Bo Zhiyue hävdar i sin bok om den kinesiska elitpolitiken är Xi Jinping inte heller kärnan i den lösa konstellation som furstesönerna utgör. Han har alltså behov av allianser med många olika nätverk och även om han skulle sitta på en hemlig reformagenda åstadkommer han inte några reformer i en handvändning.

Det finns alltså historiska förklaringar till det kinesiska kommunistpartiets hemlighetsmakeri runt den 18:e partikongressen. I stället för en vidare utveckling mot en interndemokrati inom kommunistpartiet tog en mer kampanjande kinesisk elitpolitik sin början med Bo Xilai i Chongqing 2007. Vissa bedömare tror att Kina efter en lång period av tråkiga teknokrater på kommandobryggan behöver mer karismatiska politiker som kan samla folk kring en gemensam agenda igen. Problemet är bara att den tydligaste sammanhållande visionen stavas kinesisk nationalism. Om den nye ledaren Xi Jinping lyckas hantera alla starka repellerande krafter i samhället och inom det politiska systemet kanske han lyckas sitta tiden ut för sina två partikongresser – fram till år 2022.

Johan Lagerkvist är docent i kinesiska och forskare vid Utrikespolitiska institutet i Stockholm.


Detta är en uppdaterad version av en artikel publicerad i Svenska Dagbladet 29 September 2012

Xi Jinping: My road into politics

An interview from 2000 with China’s Vice President Xi Jinping
Translated into Western language for the first time

At the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China to be held in November 2012, China’s Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to be elected as the new Secretary General of the party.

In August 2000, Xi Jinping gave a rare interview to the Chinese magazine Zhonghua Ernü. NIAS, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies hereby issues a translation of the interview in Danish and English. To our knowledge this the first time the interview has been translated into a Western language. The Danish version is a translation of the original interview in Chinese while the English version is translated from the Danish version. The translated interview was published in the Danish newspaper Politiken on Sunday 28 October 2012.

In the interview Xi Jinping tells about his background, his upbringing and his perception of good governance. In a personal and at times riveting way Xi Jinping explains how he during the Cultural Revolution only 15 years old was sent to the countryside for 7 years – 1,000 km away from Beijing – in order to learn from the peasants while his father was under political criticism. Moreover, Xi Jinping talks about the promotion of officials and corruption.

The interview is translated by the sinologists Carsten Boyer Thøgersen and Susanne Posborg. Carsten Boyer Thøgersen is a former Danish diplomat and Consul-General in Shanghai, posted for 20 years in China and now an associate of NIAS. Susanne Posborg, University of Aarhus, is the most often used Danish translator of Chinese novels and literature.

Researchers and news media are welcome to quote from the English translation if NIAS is stated as the source.

Geir Helgesen,
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies,
University of Copenhagen



On the Xi Jinping interview in 2000.
By Carsten Boyer Thøgersen and Susanne Posborg

Officially, the interview has never been promoted by the Chinese authorities. Neither in 2000 nor today. The interview is accessible on Chinese web-sites and was in February 2012 once more published in another Chinese commercial magazine, owned by a Xi’an based Chinese shareholding media company.

If interviewed today, Xi Jinping would probably have phrased himself differently. But the interview was already published 12 years ago, has been available since then and known to an increasingly larger Chinese public. What can the Chinese authorities do? They do nothing and do not comment on the interview.

Xi Jinping was 47 years old and governor of Fujian province when he gave the interview in 2000. At the time he was relatively unknown and not even a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. It is not often but neither unusual that a governor of a Chinese province gives a long personal interview to a Chinese magazine. Looking back Xi Jinping gave the interview two years before the party leadership –known for its long-term planning – was to decide on younger candidates to be promoted at the party congress in 2002 and later – at the following party congress in 2007 – to select the possible successor of Hu Jintao in 2012. In 2007 Xi Jinping became a member of standing committee of the Politbureau, indicating he was to become Hu Jintao’s successor in 2012.

Giving the interview back in 2000, the purpose of Xi Jinping was hardly to make himself known as a potential young candidate for promotion. The party itself is fully aware of possible candidates for the party’s top positions and does not welcome reminders. Most likely Xi Jinping wanted to make sure that his background was fully understood, told properly and to stress three things: 1) During the Cultural Revolution he stayed for seven years in the countryside under difficult conditions and only by his own efforts became a member of the party and enrolled at university. That is to say not by political connections and in spite of the fact that his father at the time was under political criticism. 2) In 1982, he chose to give up a comfortable career in Beijing and instead started from the bottom as deputy secretary in a small provincial district. 3) To appear as a person in close contact to ordinary people.

The extraordinary thing about the interview is to hear what China’s new leader said in 2000 in an open and direct conversation. There is nothing unusual in what Xi Jinping said in 2000. Neither read in 2012. But we hear Xi Jinping tell about personal experiences in words he hardly would use today. We hear about his views on good governance, promotion of officials and corruption. The interview gives the reader a more authentic and unfiltered picture of the person to become China’s next leader.


Translators reply September 2013

Xi Jinping: My road into politics.

Interview from the summer of 2000 in the Chinese journal Zhonghua Ernü.

Xi Jinping at the time was 47 years old and governor in the Fujian province.

Yang Xiaohuai was the editor of Zhonghua Ernü.


Copyright © 2000 by中华儿女,北京市朝阳区东三环南路98号韩建丹阳大厦15层,邮编:100021


Xi Jinping: Welcome here.[1] I have previously said no thank you to personal interviews innumerable times. We all have different tasks. If you do not mention everybody, then you are only emphasizing yourself. You can also put it differently: When we are all doing our duty within our respective area of responsibility, then it is the community that creates the results. Therefore it makes no sense mentioning the individual. That is the reason why I have refused giving personal interviews. There are also people who write autobiographies. I do not do that either.

Yang Xiaohuai: I thought so. That kind of thing can easily lead to misunderstandings.

Xi: Particularly if you look at the popular media. You write about a person’s background. Who are his parents? Who is he married to? He is such and such a person. What’s the use of that? That kind of information is not news. It is something everybody knows already. You make a little soup of it. It is immaterial.

Yang: Obviously that kind of publicity is immaterial and superfluous. But as a high-level official you are in the focus of the formation of public opinion. The press and the media can help people better understand your work. That kind of public mention I think is important.

Xi: Of course you can write about leading officials. To a certain extent. But you must preserve the sense of proportions. There is a tendency to write that a leading official is so and so perfect and so and so excellent, but in reality nobody is perfect and consummate. Take a person and describe him as excellent. Nobody will believe it. An individual’s ability to get results on his own is limited. Without the community and without cooperation you will achieve nothing. Therefore I believe that it is better to focus on the community and cooperation.

Yang: You recently took the post as governor of the Fujian province. What new political initiatives did you consider, and what parts of the politics in progress did you wish to continue?

Xi: When I became governor in August last year, the members of the provincial government emphasized two points: Firstly that I was to continue working on the foundations laid by the previous governor. It was my task seeing to it that the plans laid down at the beginning of the year were carried through. In addition I could come with my own plans. When you have just taken over a new job you will also want to set your own agenda in the first year. But it must be on the foundations of your predecessor. It is like a relay race. You have to receive the baton properly and then yourself run it in goal.

The second point: Of course a provincial governor has an important position. But he is just one person. A provincial government consists of a governor, several deputy governors and many colleagues in the various departments. If you are to achieve results, everybody must pull in the same direction. Furthermore it is important that you make sure you have the cooperation and back-up of the whole province.

Yang: When you were sent to Ningde county[2]as a leader, I have heard that you did not tear along ostentatiously, as many other leaders do when they come to a new place. You did not come sweeping with new brooms to make room for your own special projects. You did not use big words but proceeded slowly and patiently.

Xi: When I was sent to Ningde, I had been vice mayor in Xiamen[3] for three years. For a brief period I was also acting leader of the city. I had worked to develop Xiamen’s economic reform policy and to build the city’s large industrial zone. The provincial leadership was happy about my efforts and my experiences getting things going, so they decided to appoint me leader of Ningde county. At the time Jia Qinglin[4] was deputy secretary of the party committee of the Fujian province. He called me for a meeting and said: “We want you to go to Ningde county to get things going and change the profile of the county. The level is low and development has been far too slow. We have had many meetings, bur Ningde is still the poorest county of the province. There is no spirit there, just empty words. You must do something extraordinary, so that the situation in the county will be changed.” Both the party leader of the province Chen Guangyi[5]  and governor Wang Zhaoguo[6] supported me with much advice.

The first thing I did in Ningde was familiarizing myself thoroughly with things. I was filled with admiration for its people. They had for several years worked hard and laboriously and had made a great effort. In Ningde they had built the first medium-sized hydroelectric power station of the province. From here electricity was led on to the whole province and to the urban centres. You could see that people in Ningde had diligently given their contribution to the economic development of the province. It wasn’t that people did not work, but the natural conditions of the county had its limitations. Of course there were also things that could be done better. Many things were still in the old grove, and original thinking was lacking.

But just as I had come to Ningde inflation rose, the economy became overheated, and the central government implemented a strict economic policy. The economic situation allowed no extraordinary economic initiatives. Everybody wanted a change and hoped that I could contribute to it. But I had no smart theoretical solution and did not come with a miracle. Therefore the only thing I could say was that the economic crisis was an occasion and a motivation for everybody to join hands. My greatest worry was that we should plunge into unsafe projects. The time was not for that. It would have been easy to make a rousing and enthusiastic speech, arouse their enthusiasm and utilize everybody’s motivation to pitch into work. But that might easily have resulted in grave disappointment. So that wasn’t what I did.

My procedure was to light a small fire to warm up the water, keep the fire burning and now and again pour some more cold water in, so that the kettle did not boil over. People told me that they wanted to get three great projects going: Building a harbour at Sandu´ao[7], establishing a railway-line to Ningde and putting greater emphasis on developing the cities in the county. I answered that that kind of project needed developing slowly, as our economic foundation was still weak, and that we should not aim too high. At first we had to analyse the facts and create a robust economic foundation. Even if it takes a long time even ‘a drop can hollow out a stone’.

The last thing I have heard is that my plans for the development of the county did not miss the mark. After 12 years of thorough preparations the State Council has now approved prioritizing developing the cities. A railway line has been projected, while building a harbour is still being made researches into. Praxis has shown that with Ningde’s conditions no miracle will happen overnight.

There were several challenges, and it was a steady pull. But as in the race between the tortoise and the hare you may finally reach the goal and win. Carrying out the plans took a long time, and I myself did not count on leaving Ningde at once.

I set four goals for myself: To encourage thinking along new lines, building a solid group of leaders, taking initiatives to fight poverty and exploiting Ningde’s special economic possibilities as a mountainous area near the coast.

I left Ningde after two years because the provincial government wanted me back here in Fuzhou. Even if my time in Ningde was brief, I came to love the place very much. Now many years later, Ningde is still one of the places that I am greatly attached to.

Yang: These years several people talk about many officials coming with ‘new brooms’ to a new job, get a couple of new projects going to leave again after a short period. You yourself have talked about how important it is having patience. I have visited a good many places but have only met very few officials thinking like you. Many people believe that officials first and foremost aim at a success to get promoted and to create results to further their own career. Do you have any comments on that?

Xi: Promotion is only something external. If a promotion is well founded, it is only one of several signs that the individual has achieved results in his work. A promotion can be seen as an expression of recognition from management and colleagues. But you must remember that promotion in itself is not the full and true assessment of an official as a person. Promotion alone does not tell the whole story about an official. Our system of assessment is still not perfect and makes evaluating an official very difficult. Both subjective and objective factors come in, and in the final analysis that means that the assessment is imperfect.

When I have left a post, I have always thought back on my colleagues, I have summed up my impressions and found that I also sometimes have posted my colleagues wrongly. Some were posted wrongly because I thought they were better than they actually were, others because I thought they were poorer than they actually were. That was because I did not compare their efforts and immediate progress with their personal motivation. Therefore one may easily happen to promote the wrong colleagues if one does not view their efforts in a larger perspective. As an organization and as management we do not have a final set of criteria when it comes to assessing a colleague and deciding if the person in question is to be promoted.

Yang: Of course I do not know your entire background, but you have had a career as an official for over 20 years. Is it not true that – unlike some officials who have promotion as their ultimate goal – you have a fundamental wish to do something good for society?

Xi: That is true. It is a highly relevant question. It is about a decisive choice in life, which I myself – already before I went into politics – thought a lot about. First and foremost over such questions as: Which way do you want to go? What do you want to do with your life? What goals do you want to achieve? Personally I set several goals. One of them was doing something important for society. When that is the goal of your life, you must at the same time be aware that you can’t have your cake and eat it. If you go into politics, it mustn’t be for money. Sun Yatsen[8] said the same thing, namely that one has to make up one’s mind to accomplish something and not go for a high position as an official. If you wish to make money, there are many legal ways of becoming rich. Becoming rich in a legal way is worth all honour and respect. Later the taxation authorities will also respect you because you are contributing to the economic development of the country. But you should not go into politics if you wish to become wealthy. In that case you will inevitably become a corrupt and filthy official. A corrupt official with a bad reputation who will always be afraid of being arrested, and who must envisage having a bad posthumous reputation.

If you go into politics to make a career, you must give up any thought of personal advantages. That is out of the question. An official may not through a long career have achieved very great things, but at least he has not put something up his sleeve. He is upright. In a political career you can never go for personal advantages or promotion. It is just like that. It can’t be done. These are the rules.

You do not promote a person just because he has good qualifications and experience. Of course qualifications are important, as are a great sense of responsibility and a great knowledge. But it must be seen in a larger context. When you are to choose a person who is to get an important position, and who can make a difference, you must also see it in connection with the time, place, other colleagues and the situation in general. So there is no definite formula which you can use to figure out who is to get promoted.

If throughout your career you have unsuccessfully tried to achieve success, it may be a great personal disappointment that you fail to get promoted. But as the old Master Guan<[9]said: Do not try to do the impossible, do not strive for the unobtainable, do not rest on the transient, do not do what cannot be repeated.

You should not be afraid of difficulties and challenges when you have prepared yourself thoroughly. Politics is both unsafe and risky, and wilfulness is no passable road. Many who have experienced failures are hit by self-reproaches thinking: “I have helped so many people, I have done so much, and all I get is ingratitude. There are so many people who do not understand me. Why must it be like that?” Some of my colleagues who started at the same time as I have given up their jobs for that reason. If you have a position somewhere, the thing is to stick to it and continue one’s work. Then, in the final analysis, it will give results. The germ of success is to fasten on and continue one’s work. Once you have gone into politics, it is like crossing a river. No matter how many obstacles you meet, there is only one way, and that is further on. I myself have also come across many difficulties and obstacles. That is simply inevitable.

Yang: I have been told that you originally worked in The Central Military Commission in Beijing. For many people this would be an ideal job. But nevertheless, after a brief employment, you chose to leave your job to work at grass-roots level. Why?

Xi: There were many who did not understand me at the time. Before I went to the county of Zhending in the province of Hebei, I worked as a secretary for defence minister Geng Biao,[10] who was also a member of the Politbureau. He said that if I wanted to work at a grass roots level, I might follow the army on its exercises. I did not have to work for a local government.[11]

Before leaving Beijing I was around saying goodbye to friends and acquaintances. Many of them had been sent to the countryside during the “Cultural Revolution” – to all kind of places – and were now at length back into town again. Some of them thought that they had had a very hard time. There were also those who thought that now their time had come. Now it was their time to live a good life. It disappointed me to hear that. They would not move outside a radius of 50 kilometres from Beijing, for then they would lose their official register address in Beijing. But I said that we should go out with the same commitment and enthusiasm as generations of officials before us had done.

During the “Cultural Revolution” we were sent out into the countryside. We had no choice; it was something we were forced to. It is a part of our history from which we have learned a lot. Today we have good times and have put that kind of ‘leftist’ policy behind us. But we still need to go to the countryside, be diligent and do a good job.

The old poet and calligrapher Zheng Banqiao[12]wrote in his first poem “when your roots are deeply anchored in the mountains, no storms from any corner of the world can blow you down or make you surrender.” I would like to change some of the words based on my own experiences from my stay in the countryside saying: “when you are close to the grass roots and close to the people, no storms from any corner of the world can blow you down or make you surrender.” My seven years in the countryside have meant a lot to me. I have gained a deep knowledge of people, and that has been a decisive precondition for my later work. If I again am to work at grass roots level, I will not hesitate for a moment and do it with great confidence. Even if much always will be unpredictable, every day will be rich in experiences and challenges. I would certainly again like to work at grass roots level if I am asked to and my health is all right. In the final analysis anyone can assess my work and my successors will be able to evaluate my achievements. I need not think of that.

Yang: I have understood that through more than 20 years – whether it was at a village level, in counties, in regions or in cities like Fuzhou – you have always had a very good cooperation. How did you manage to achieve that cooperation?

Xi: Cooperation was something I learned at home as a child. My father often talked about it, telling us children already when we were quite small that we should be good at cooperating. “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.” “Behave decently to others and then you yourself are a decent human being.” These were the phrases he would use to emphasise that you should not just think about your own view of things but also about what others believed. When you live with other people and only follow your own opinion, things will go badly. What my father said has meant a lot to me. No matter whether it was at school or when Í worked in the countryside, I have had a strong feeling that if everybody cooperates, then you will achieve good results. If cooperation is bad, it is bad for everybody.

But I have also made mistakes that I have learned from. When I was sent to the countryside, I was very young. It was something I was forced to. At the time I did not think very far and did not at all think of the importance of cooperating. While others in the village every day went up the mountain slopes and worked, I did as I chose, and people got a very bad impression of me. Some months later I was sent back to Beijing and placed in a “study group”. When six months later I was let out, I thought a lot about whether I should return to the village. At last I called upon my uncle, who before 1949 had worked in a base area in the Taihang Mountains.[13]  At the time he, my aunt and my mother were active in revolutionary work. All of them are people who have meant a lot to me. My uncle told me about his work then, and about how decisive it is to cooperate with the people among whom you are.

That settled it. I went back to the village, got down to work and cooperated. In a matter of a year I did the same work as people in the village, lived in the same way as they and worked hard. People saw that I had changed. They accepted me and began passing by the cave in which I lived,[14] which soon became a rendezvous. It must have been around 1970. Every night people of all ages would turn up. I would tell them what I knew of China’s history and the history of the world. They would like to hear someone from the city tell them about something they did not know about. At last the leader of the village came and listened. He said that young people knew much more than he himself. Slowly the village gained confidence in me. Even if I was not more than 16 or 17 years old, several of the old people began asking for my advice. Today writers write about how miserable lives the young students led in the countryside then. It wasn’t like that for me. In the beginning it was hard, but I got used to life in the village, and as people got confidence in me, I had a good life.


Yang: I have been told that while you were in the village you joined the production brigade[15], then you became a member of the party’s youth league[16], then a member of the party, and finally promoted to the position as secretary of the production brigade’s party branch. With your family background this was unusual at that time. Could you tell me more about how you experienced this period?

Xi: It was around 1973. The entrance examinations to the party were taken place, but those who had a family background like mine – as you just mentioned – were not accepted. At last I was permitted to go to the Zhaojia He production brigade in the Fengjia Ping people’s commune to study. It was very exciting. At the time I had become a member of the youth league but not yet a member of the party. I had already written ten applications for membership of the party, but because of my family history my application was not approved. The people’s commune then sent my application on to the county’s party committee to hear their opinion. The secretary of the party committee said that my family background as reported by the village indeed was complicated and it was no wonder that the local people had found it difficult to reach a decision. On the other hand he also thought that the village needed me to lead the work, so he ended deciding that my father’s situation should be of no importance for my admission into the party. He approved my application and then sent me back as party secretary of the production brigade of the village.


Before that I had also had great difficulties becoming a member of the party’s youth league. I only succeeded after having applied eight times. When I had written the first application, I invited the secretary of the production brigade’s party branch home and offered him omelette and steamed wheat balls. After we had eaten I asked:

“Have you sent my application on?”

“How sent on? From above everybody say that you should teach children.”

“What do you mean by saying that I should teach children?”

“From above they say that you have not distanced yourself clearly from your family.”

“So what is the decision? It is about a human being. There must be a decision. What is the decision about my father? What documents have you had from the central authorities?”

“No, the application has not been sent on, but now it will be.”

When he came back from the people’s commune he told me that the party secretary of the people’s commune had scolded him saying that he had not understood a thing, and had asked if he really wanted to send the application on from such a person? I asked:

“Such a person? What does that mean? Have I written something reactionary or shouted reactionary slogans? I am just a young man who wishes to move forward. Tell me what is wrong with that?”

I was not knocked out and wrote my second application in the next days, gave it to the secretary of the party branch asking him to send it on. I continued like that until I had written eight applications. I did not lose heart and had no feelings of inferiority. I just thought that there were more good than bad people in the party and the youth league. I really wanted to join the youth league and told the party secretary that I needed his support. When I had written eight applications I was finally approved as a member. But it only happened after I had had the support of the secretary of the people’s commune’s youth league. He came to the village and talked to me for five days. We came close and became really good friends. When shortly afterwards he took over the job as the leader of the out-of-school education of the people’s commune, he was also the one who took the “black material’’ about me and simply burned it. It happened in the way that he took me up into the mountains to a small ravine. We sat down, and he said:

“I have all the “black material” about you right here.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I’ll burn it.”

“You must be out of your mind.”

“May be, but I can see that it was sent from your school in Beijing.”


That was true. For I had been expelled from the high school for children of high ranking party members and then caught by Kang Sheng’s[17]wife Cao Yi’ou’s red guard group, who accused me of all manner of bad things. I was called a gang leader because I was stubborn, and because I said that I had done nothing wrong. I did not want to be kicked around and did not give in to the red guards. I was only 14. The red guards asked:

“How serious do you yourself think your crimes are?”

“You can estimate it yourselves. Is it enough to execute me?”

“We can execute you a hundred times.”

To my mind there was no difference between being executed a hundred times or once, so why be afraid of a hundred times? The red guards wanted to scare me saying that now I was to feel the democratic dictatorship of the people, and that I only had five minutes left. Afterwards they said that I was to read quotations from Chairman Mao[18] every single day until late at night. Then they decided to send me to a youth prison. But it turned out that the youth prison did not have a study program for “black gangs”, and moreover, that there were no vacancies until a month later. At the same time – it was in December 1968 – Chairman Mao issued a new instruction: Young students should be sent into the countryside to learn from the peasants. I immediately went to the school to be sent into the countryside so that I could follow Chairman Mao’s instruction. They considered that at the school eventually deciding that I was to go to Yan’an. It was like being sent into exile.


After many difficulties one way or another – problems because of the “Cultural Revolution” and problems with the decision to send students to the countryside – it turned out that the village actually needed me and would not do without me. So I felt at ease in the village. If at the time I had been in the cities, as a worker or anything else, I would have been criticized every single day, as the “Cultural Revolution” was a lot more violent in the cities.

In the village in northern Shaanxi we also participated in meetings criticizing Liu Shaoqi’s and Deng Xiaoping’s[19] representatives in north-western China “Peng, Gao and Xi”, Liu Lantao, Zhao Shouyi and others. “Peng, Gao and Xi” were Peng Dehuai, Gao Gang and Xi Zhongxun.[20] During these daily meetings of criticism the praxis was that those who could read were asked to read aloud from the newspapers. I was asked to do that as well. That was all. The villagers were very understanding. It was my father’s old base area. Before 1949 he had – 19 years old – been president of the “Shaanxi-Gansu Soviet.”[21] Therefore many people would care for me and help me. I myself was also very motivated. That was what it was like.

Yang: You have told about your seven years’ experiences in the countryside. Can you tell me about the most important experience you have had?

Xi: I grew up in the seven years I was in Shaanxi. I learned two important things. First I had the opportunity to understand what real life looks like, what is right and wrong, and who ordinary people are. These were experiences for life.

Right as I had arrived at the village, many beggars would often appear. As soon as they turned up, the dogs would be set on them. At the time we students had the opinion that all beggars were “bad elements” and tramps.  We did not know the saying “in January there is still enough food, in February you will starve, and March and April you are half alive half dead”. For six months all families would only live on bark and herbs. Women and children were sent out to beg, so that the food could go to those who were working in the fields with the spring ploughing. You had to live in a village to understand it. When you think of the difference there was at that time between what the central government in Beijing knew and what actually happened in the countryside, you must shake your head.

Second, I had my self confidence built up. As they say: the knife is sharpened on a stone, people are strengthened in adversity. Seven years of hard life in the countryside developed me a lot. When later in life I have encountered challenges, I have thought about the village, and that then I could do something in spite of hardships. When later I have come across problems, I have never experienced them as big as then. Every man is to find his own strength. When you meet hardships you mustn’t panic, no matter how big the challenge is.

Yang: How did you manage to get admitted into university while you were in the village?

Xi: At the time I was one of the leaders in the village, but all the time I thought that I would study further. Although I read far too few books, I had not given up my greatest wish – to go to university. At the time the Tsinghua University[22] had given two places to the Yan’an prefecture. One of them went to Yanchuan country where I lived. There were three of us who applied. I said that If you choose me, I will go, if not, never mind. Yanchuan county reported my application to Yan’an prefecture[23] and the leadership of the education committee of Yanchuan county supported my application. But the people from Tsinghua University who had come to Yan’an, and who were responsible for the procedure of admission, dared not make a final decision and asked for instruction from the management of the university. At the same time – it was from July 1975 and three months on – a political campaign had started against what was called “the attempts of the right wing to change the foundations of the Cultural Revolution”. While Chi Qun and Xie Jingyi were absent from the university because of the campaign, Liu Bing[24] was in charge. Liu said there was no problem for me to enrol. At the time my father worked in a factory in Luoyang. The factory submitted a document stating that the political question ofXi Zhongxun was a contradiction within the people and should have no influence on his children’s careers. The document meant that I was admitted into the university. When I left the village, some of the other students were envious of me. They were all of them top students, but they did not have a case that needed re-opening, and all of them were admitted later.

The experiences from my time in the countryside have left a deep impression. They have given me an understanding of the concept of The yellow earth.[25] When later I have had problems and thought of The yellow earth, then these problems have all become smaller.

Yang: That is to say that the most important thing in life is the conviction that you have a clear purpose with your life. That you know what to do and what not to, so that you never go the wrong way?

Xi: That is very true. You have to make your own decisions yourself. You can only make the right choice if you are true towards your own ideals and your convictions. If you are not, your surroundings may easily lead you in a wrong direction.

Yang: As far as I know, you are still in close contact with the group of former students who are closely attached to The yellow earth. With them you do what you can for the local people, and the group has done a lot to promote local development.

Xi: In my village there was no electricity. After I had left it, I helped seeing to it that a transformer station was built, so that they had electricity. Some years ago I also helped the village repairing the school and a bridge. I did not have the money to help them myself, but I helped them formulate and introduce the projects and discuss them with local leaders, so that they could understand how important the projects were. Later on they decided to carry them through. Even if poverty was massive in the village, they cared well for me for many years. Therefore it is natural that I should do something for the peasants in Yan’an.

Yang: I noticed that as Fujian’s provincial governor, in your speech to the people’s congress in January this year – according to the media – you emphasized that the government must make sure that every single official must remember that the power of the People’s Government comes from the people, that they must represent and be of benefit to the people, and in particular that they should not forget that before the word “government” there is another word “the people’s”. The applause of the assembly was great. The media also emphasised the fact that you were re-elected with a large majority.

Xi: To us communists it is so that ordinary people[26] are like our father and mother. They are the ones to feed and clothe us. We must understand the full significance of the expression Serve the people. The total policies and directions of the Party and Government must be in full agreement with the people’s interests and be of the highest standard. We must always remind ourselves that we are the people’s servants, that we have the people’s need for clothes, food and decent living conditions at heart, and that we have the people’s support, backup and approval in everything we do. As you love your father and mother, you should love the people, be of use and create a good life for everybody. We should not be above the people, but should make sure that the people lead decent lives. Even in the old feudal society they said that “an official must create progress for the people.” So it cannot be too much to demand that we communists must be aware of the welfare of the people, can it?

Yang: It has been an interesting conversation. Thank you very much for the interview.


Translated from Danish into English by Torben Vestergaard©, professor in English Literature and Language, University of Aalborg, Denmark

The Danish text was translated by Carsten Boyer Thøgersen and Susanne Posborg© from:



陕西华商传媒集团有限责任公司ISSN: 1009-8747, CN: CN61-1381/C.

Around 95 per cent of the full interview is translated. Expressions and concepts which are primarily only understood by Chinese readers have been either omitted or modified. Footnotes have been added by the translators.

Click here for Danish  version

The original text in Chinese


The interview takes place in Fuzhou, the provincial capital of Fujian.


Ningde is one of the nine counties of the Fujian province. Ningde has a population of 2.8 million and an area of 13,500 km2.


Xiamen is the biggest commercial city of the province of Fujian with a population of 3.5 million and an area of 1,700 km2.


Well-known leader in China. In 2000 Jia Qinglin was Beijing’s party secretary. From 2002 to 2012 Jia Qinglin was member of the communist party’s politbureau’s standing committee of 9 members, Chinas topmost leadership organ.


Chen Guangyi, born in 1933, was a member of the Central Committee of the party from 1982 to 2002.


Wang Zhaoguo, born in 1941, was a member of the Politbureau from 2002 to 2012.


Sandu`ao is an island off Ningde.


Sun Yatsen (1866-1925) founded the Kuomintang  Party/KMT (Guomindang) and in 1911 became China’s first president.


Guanzi (also known as Guan Zhong) about 720-645 bC. High Ranking civil servant and reformer in the stat of Qi.


Geng Biao, 1909-2000, joined the communist party in 1925. After 1949 Geng had leading posts in the army, the government and the diplomacy.


Xi Jinping did not follow the advice but precisely got employment with a local government.


Zheng Banqiao (also known as Zheng Xie) 1693-1765 was a well known poet and calligrapher in the Qing dynasty.


A mountain range in the southern part of the Shanxi province.


It is normal in Northern Shaanxi that villagers’ dwellings are dug or hewed into the loess slopes.


From 1958 to the beginning of the 1980s and thus during Xi Jinping’s stay in the county side of Shaanxi province 1969 to 1975, the main village-level organisations were: People’s commune 人民公社, the highest of three administrative levels. Production brigade 生产大队, the larger basic accounting and farm production unit in a people’s commune. Production team 生产队, the smaller basic accounting and farm production unit in a people’s commune.


中国社会主义青年团. In English The Communist Youth League of China”, (CYLC).  At the start of the Cultural Revolution, officially from 1966 to 1978, the functioning of the Communist Youth League of China largely stopped and its Central Committee was disbanded. However, from the early 1970s CYLC’s functions were partly resumed. Only in 1978 CYLC’s functions were fully normalized.


At that time China’s minister of security.


Mao Zedong, 1893-1976, chairman of China’s communist party 1935-1976.


At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping had the posts as China’s President and Secretary General of China’s communist party respectively.


Xi Zhongxun, 1913-2002, was Xi Jinping’s father.


The Shaanxi-Gansu Soviet was a large area in North Western China Controlled by China’s Communist Party.


The Tsinghua University in Beijing is one of China’s leading universities.


China’s administrative levels are province, prefecture, county, township and village (省,地区,县,乡,村)


In 1975, Chi Qun was the party secretary of Tsinghua University while Xie Jingyi and Liu Bing both were deputy party secretaries at the university. Chi and Xie were cultural revolutionaries. Liu Bing was associated with Deng Xiaoping. What Xi Jinping wants to tell with his short side-remark is this: While the cultural revolutionaries Chi and Xie, respectively party secretary and vice party secretary at Tsinghua University, were busy attending an important political campaign outside the university, daily management of the university was transferred – following normal administrative procedures – to the other vice party secretary Liu Bing, an alley of Deng Xiaoping. Still, administrative decisions as always would follow established procedures. Therefore, Liu Bing could not make an administrative decision on Xi Jinping’s enrolment until the university’s administrative office had received an obligatory document from the working unit of Xi Jinping’s father. When received, Liu routinely confirmed Xi Jinping’s application, already requested by Yan’an Prefecture and endorsed by Yanchuan County. Xi Jinping probably made this side-remark with a drop of irony: while the cultural revolutionaries Chi and Xie were busy elsewhere, they missed a chance to complicate, if they had wanted to, the admission to Tsinghua University of a student whose father had been criticized by the cultural revolutionaries. But as Xi Jinping right after says, the document from his father’s work unit was the very document allowing him to enrol at Tsinghua University. If the cultural revolutionaries Chi and Xie had been in charge of daily management at Tsinghua University, they could have made noises but hardly side-lined established administrative procedures.


The poor loess plateau in the Shaanxi province.


Lao Bai Xing. (The old one hundred family names = the man in the street).

Mo Yan på tryggt avstånd från politiken av Johan Lagerkvist

Svenska Akademiens beslut att 2012 års Nobelpris i litteratur går till den kinesiske författaren Mo Yan är ett val som får enorm uppmärksamhet i Kina. Det är svårt att överskatta Nobelprisernas betydelse i ett land och en kultur där dessa utmärkelser – i synnerhet de naturvetenskapliga – varit stora nyheter alltsedan reformpolitiken inleddes 1978. I en kultur som kännetecknas av konfuciansk lärdomstradition har mytbildningen runt priserna och ceremonierna i Stockholm och Oslo befunnit sig i ett avlägset stjärnsystem dit man innerligt önskat att en kines någon gång skulle nå.

Denna längtan är starkt förknippad med erkännande och upprättelse. Ända sedan den kommunistiska revolutionen 1949 har generationer kineser genom skolböcker och av statligt kontrollerade nyhetsmedier internaliserat ”de hundra åren av förödmjukelse” som tiden från det första opiumkriget 1842 via kejsardömets fall 1911 till Mao Zedongs bonderevolution har beskrivits.

Kina och den kinesiska kulturen som västerlandet dömde ut som ”Asiens sjuke man” i slutet av 1800-talet hade visserligen rest sig, som Mao yttrade när Folkrepubliken Kina utropades den 1 oktober 1949 på Himmelska fridens port i Peking. Men kineser drömde fortfarande om att komma ikapp väst på alla de sätt om utmärker en moderniserad och avancerad kulturnation, inte minst inom litteraturens domän.

Döm därför om den besvikelse som det officiella Kina och kommunistpartiet kände när Nobelpriset i litteratur år 2000 gavs till den regimkritiske författaren Gao Xingjian, som har franskt, inte kinesiskt, medborgarskap. Det priset har regimen länge tigit som muren om, även om det inom intellektuella kretsar visserligen finns de som uppskattar Gaos författarskap. Tio år senare tillfogade den norska Nobelkommittén enpartistaten en än värre kalldusch, när man beslutade att tilldela Nobels fredspris till regimkritikern och dissidenten Liu Xiaobo.

Sedan 2010 har det verkat som att Kina närmast gett upp hoppet om att få ett ”riktigt” erkännande av kinesisk kultur trots de senaste årens allt starkare ekonomiska och politiska ställning i världen. Bara några dagar innan Svenska Akademiens ständige sekreterare Peter Englund stegade ut inför den samlade världspressen och den kinesiska statstelevisionens kameror, kritiserade kommunistpartiets populistiska flaggskepp Global Times de humanistiska Nobelpriserna, det vill säga fredspriset och litteraturpriset, för att vara bemängda med västerländska värden, per definition endast sken-universalistiska och egentligen diskriminerande av andra världskulturer.

Efter beskedet om att 2012 års litteraturpristagare blir den 57-årige författaren Mo Yan syns den negativa kritiken och dåliga stämningen vara som bortblåst. I kommunistpartiets språkrör Folkets Dagblad, den statliga centraltelevisionen CCTV, temasektioner på kinesiska nyhetsportaler och i deras kommentarsfält kan man bevittna den stolthet och glädje som helt självklart följer på erhållandet av ett så oerhört prestigefyllt pris.

Frågan är om Kinas Nobelkomplex slutligen har övervunnits. I varje fall fylls de traditionella massmedierna och de sociala medierna som till exempel mikrobloggarna med nationalistiskt färgade yttringar i stil med ”Otroligt glädjande, grattis Mo Yan, grattis Kina” och ”För ett gammalt land och en gammal civilisation som Kina är detta stora pris alltför sent kommet. Men trots det – mina varmaste gratulationer till Mäster Mo Yan”.

Hur ska man tolka denna stolta nationalkänsla – som andas ett ”äntligen” och ”till slut” – som är såväl folkligt förankrat som statssanktionerat? Betyder somligas suck av lättnad och glädjen över att icke-västliga värden, den kinesiska ”verkligheten” och kinesiska sanningsanspråk erkänns av en länge ointresserad, okunnigt, och ovänligt sinnad västvärld? Kanske upplever de röster i de officiella medierna som har uttryckt att Kinas ekonomiska och politiska uppstigande medför att utlandet måste intressera sig mer för allt kinesiskt nu viss upprättelse?

Dessa frågor är ytterst angelägna när Kinas inflytande i, men också starka nationalism gentemot, omvärlden ökar. På Kinas största nyhetsportal Sina toppade nyheten om Mo Yans Nobelpris nyhetsagendan den 11 oktober, och som nummer två fanns nyheten att kinesiska utrikesdepartementet hårt kritiserar Japans ”illegala kontroll” över Senkaku-öarna som Kina anser vara en del av Kinas territorium.

Under hösten 2012 har den territoriella konflikten mellan Kinas och Japans regeringar om ögruppen trappats upp, ivrigt påhejad av nationalistiska hetsporrar i både länderna. I kinesiska städer demonstrerade under september tusentals människor som brände japanska bilar och manade till bojkott av örikets varor. På kinesiska internet fällde hundratusentals människor hatfyllda uttalanden mot grannen i öst. Många hävdade att krig med Tokyo inte alls var otänkbart, utan tvärtom nödvändigt och till och med önskvärt.

Denna nationalism har inte uppstått ur tomma intet. Som i många andra kinesiska författares och konstnärers verk finns också hos Mo Yans ”Det röda fältet” realistiska skildringar av den japanska arméns grymma frammarsch över den kinesiska jorden under motståndskriget mot Japan mellan 1937 och 1945. Inom kommunistpartiet gillas kanske inte hur Mo beskriver partiets relativa, och alls inte absoluta, betydelse för de kinesiska styrkornas militära framgångar mot japanerna. Men ändå framstår hans ämne som patriotiskt korrekt, i en tid och samtidskontext när nationalism alltmer blir det kitt som håller samman både kommunistpartiet och det omgivande samhället. Det går därför inte heller att bortse från den nye Nobelpristagarens medlemskap i kommunistpartiet.

Bortsett från hans obestridliga litterära kvaliteter och den kritik mot sociala strukturer, lokalt maktmissbruk och ekonomisk vanskötsel som finns i Mo Yans verk, finns det någon vidare politisk betydelse i författarskapet för Kina i dag? Hur ser han som författare i ett auktoritärt styrt land på brännande frågor om censur och kontroll av massmedier och internet? Finns det alls ett moraliskt ansvar att utkräva eller är det endast en störande fråga som skymmer hans bokproduktion?

Den världsberömde konstnären och ständige nageln i ögat på den kinesiska regimen, Ai Weiwei, uttryckte på sitt Twitterkonto att ”Författare som inte förmår stå upp för sanningen inte kan skiljas från lögnare”. Den kände bloggaren Bei Feng var ursinnig över den kinesiska internetcensur som helt spärrade ut honom ur internetlandskapet efter kritik av Mo Yans Nobelpris: ”Efter en avvikande åsikt på Sina Weibo om att Mo Yan tilldelats priset utraderades mitt konto – medan Mo Yan sade att priset illustrerar en tid då man kan yttra sig fritt. Jag anser de här händelserna bäst illustrerar nivån på den Svenska Akademien”. Troligen kommer åsikterna mellan liberala konstutövare och mer systembevarande nationalistiska intellektuella att brytas hårt under kommande månader – på internet där de i väntan på censurens näve ibland kan mötas i debatt.

Vissa hävdar att man ändå bör vara försiktig med pekpinnar. Och det finns förutsättningar för att kinesisk politik kan förändras också genom reformsinnade krafter som verkar inom kommunistpartiet och genom det som den amerikanske sinologen Timothy Cheek har kallat för ”de etablissemangsintellektuella”. Men om dessa personer utomlands får frågor om arbetsläger, dissidenter och mänskliga rättigheter blir det förstås plågsamt. Att yttra sig kritiskt om tillståndet för mänskliga rättigheter i Kina skulle innebära utraderade möjligheter för dem att verka för det fria ordet inom etablissemangets strukturer.

Detta gäller också för Mo Yan. Ombedd att kommentera statens behandling av Liu Xiaobo, mottagaren fredspriset 2010, blev svaret att han ”visste för lite om det hela”. Vid något anat tillfälle ska han ha uttryckt att ”skrika på gatorna är något för vissa, medan andra försöker förändra genom arbete på kammaren”. Det är en hållning som den berömde kinesiske idéhistorikern Wang Hui i ett samtal med mig anslöt sig till: ”Vad tycker ni i väst att vi borde göra, springa ut på gatorna och demonstrera? Inte säkert det är mödan värt!” Inte bara kan offentliga protester innebära slutet på en yrkeskarriär, menade Wang, det kan också vara mindre effektivt än att gradvis påverka partikulturen inifrån.

Och även om en författare som Mo Yan helst håller sig på armlängds avstånd från dagsaktuell politik och frågor om dissidenter, är han i romaner och noveller starkt kritisk till sociala missförhållanden på landsbygden i Shandongprovinsen. Bitande sarkasm och beskrivningar av lokalt maktmissbruk och översitteri finns också i ”Vitlöksballaderna”. Landsbygdens kvävande patriarkala ordning är något som Mo Yan kritiserar i sina verk, liksom hur ettbarnspolitiken i inlandsprovinserna leder till överskott på pojkar.

Dessa förvisso vassa skildringar av Kinas sociala liv och lokala pampvälden gör honom dock inte till en subversiv samhällsskildrare. Kritik mot samhällsfenomen som korruption, maktmissbruk, miljöförstöring och landkonfiskation är möjlig att framföra i dagens Kina bland fler än författare. Den subversive kritiserar kommunistpartiet som ”samhällets ledande kraft”, organiserar religiösa, politiska eller arbetarintressen i syfte att genomdriva politiska reformer för sin sak. Men kritik mot kommunistpartiets maktutövning på landsbygden är faktiskt relativt vanligt inom statskontrollerade medier och det finns reformsinnade krafter som premiärminister Wen Jiabao till och med i politbyråns ständiga utskott.

Mo Yan får Nobelpriset i litteratur när Kina befinner sig i en brytningstid mellan gammalt och nytt. Kommunistpartiets ömsar ledarskinn i år. Ekonomin är skakig och spänningarna mellan olika grupper och intressen i samhället ökar, inte minst mellan stad och landsbygd. Den nya politbyrå som tar form efter den 18:e partikongressen som inleds den 8 november kommer att regera landet och influera världspolitiken fram till år 2022. Det kommer att bli ansträngande. Under detta decennium ska svåra utmaningar hemmavid och från omvärlden pareras.

Den kanske största och svåraste frågan är hur länge ett alltmer pluralistiskt samhälle och dess intellektuella – konstnärer, författare och forskare – kan begränsas i sitt sanningssökande av den leninistiska enpartistaten. Kommer kraven från ett framväxande civilsamhälle med rötter i både arbetar- bonde-, och medelklass mötas med våldsam repression – eller med ny vilja till kompromisser, dialog och reformer? Kommer förväntningar från utlandet på ett ansvarstagande och än öppnare Kina mötas av lyhördhet, eller mer av det nationalistiska trummande som ljudit under den senaste tiden?

En stor berättare och skildrare av den kinesiska samtiden som Mo Yan skulle ha mycket intressant att säga om dessa viktiga frågor. Men troligen tiger han hellre, som när han tillfrågades om författarkollegan och numera Nobelpriskollegan Liu Xiaobos belägenhet i fängelse. I så fall ger det eftertryck åt pseudonymen som mannen som föddes som Guan Moye 1955 bär. På kinesiska betyder nämligen Mo Yan ”tala inte” eller om man så vill – ingen kommentar. För två år sedan stod Liu Xiabos stol tom under prisceremonin i Oslo. När Nobelpriset åter tilldelas en kinesisk medborgare kommer någon att sitta på avsedd stol, men vad kommer den som sitter där att säga? Vad kan han säga?

Johan Lagerkvist är docent i kinesiska och forskare vid Utrikespolitiska institutet.

Denna text är ursprungligen publicerad i Svenska Dagbladet 12 oktober 2012 .

What happened to political reform in the second term of China’s Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao administration?

In a recent blog-article by Deng Yuwen the outgoing leadership of Hu-Wen was given its score-card, titled “Ten grave problems”. Number ten was the problem of lack of political reform, after the original promising start. While we are waiting for the change of leadership to come in the 18.Party Congress in November, let us look at this aspect.

It is true that political reform efforts have stalled since 2008. As late as 2007, Wen had said: “Political reform, with the development of democratic politics as its goal, is one of the great reforms China is carrying out, the other one is economic reform.” Yet this year he is still only talking about it.

If we accept that there has been a lull in progress towards political reform, how can we explain it? I think many factors may play a part, whether historical, cultural, political, societal or international.

First of all, a lot has happened over the last 30 years, and the system may be in the process of digesting not only the five elections carried out in 660.000 villages since 1988, but also the reforms of elite politics introduced by Deng (rotation, age limits, etc), the increasing pluralism of institutions, the increased channels for political participation, the demise of the danwei, and the rise of associations and societies. Add to this the many local experiments with further reform, whether in transparency, more consultative elements, anti-corruption or intra-party democracy. Even the legal system has been strengthened by many different measures, and in spite of the persistence of party interference, there were 11 million ordinary and unremarkable court cases in 2010 in which people settled their differences, with the state too. The result is a changed political atmosphere, in which a wide range of opinions and lobbying compete, and the spectrum of debating positions rivals that of the US: from the strongly neo-liberal to the orthodox maoist. With the change to collective decision-making, away from one- man rule, an element of checks and balances has also been introduced. In the view of some researchers the result is a kind of “shadow pluralism”.

Secondly, the huge economic success China has had since 2003, with GDP increasing five-fold, and real income per capita 3-4 times, may also have delayed democratic reform. The increased self-confidence may have stimulated the view that China should find its own institutions, in the political sphere too. It takes more time, if you want innovation that is adapted to tradition, history and culture, rather than to copy somewhere else, like some East Asian states have done. Economic success is also a success for ‘incrementalism’, gradual reform, and so this is likely to be the preferred method. China is generally less hurried than is the case for western politicians plagued by short-term goals and impatient for immediate results. It is also likely to look for its own variant of democracy, probably a non-liberal, elitist democracy, a la Singapore, particularly after the disappointing recent performances of existing Western systems. Additionally, both its big philosophies, Confucianism and Daoism, stress stability and balance in the development of society. My point being that there are cultural factors affecting our perception and evaluation of China’s progress in the area of political reform.

Thirdly, a number of political factors may be affecting the progress of political reform. The ‘shadow pluralism’ and the existence of at least two different main factions may have had the effect of ‘representing’ interests and channelling important demands into the political system, in spite of its non-democratic character. The wide use of surveys, hearings, consultations, even deliberative democracy, has enabled the regime to be responsive. In David Shambaugh’s view, it has moved towards being an “eclectic state”, pragmatically drawing on a wide range of experiences, in an almost Darwinist “adaptive authoritarianism”. The fairly competent leadership and the ‘performance legitimacy’ maintained over the last decades: showing in economy, infrastructure, urbanisation, poverty reduction, global profile, etc. has increased regime legitimacy from other sources than democratic credentials.

Fourthly, more socio-politically grounded explanations of the delay in major political reform would look at its constituencies, the forces that would carry democratisation. The first problem is that there is low public interest: both winners and losers of reform and globalisation look to the Communist Party to protect their interests, whether in protection of private property, or in provision of some welfare. Their no. 1 priority is the legal system, equality before the law. The many justified local protests do not challenge the party or the system as such. The progressive parts of the middle class, which could be expected to champion political reform, ask what it would do for them. They are willing to demonstrate for their own interests, but not to riskily empower the 1000 mio people below them. In this way they are reminiscent of the elites in century Europe: “Democracy is a good thing, but let’s wait”. Class-alliances among Chinese workers, or across the urban-rural divide are also notoriously difficult. Actual opponents of democracy are perhaps mostly found among ministerial level functionaries and in government in the provinces. They are not pressured by the grass-roots, and would prefer to remain unaccountable technocrats. The leadership at the top can have a variety of interests in democratic reform: soft power, fighting corruption, surviving in power by adapting to the democratization of information, easing unification with Taiwan, stability in succession,etc.

Fifthly, international factors can also help understand the stasis in political reform efforts. A regime that feels safe and unthreatened is more likely to reform. Authoritarian regimes democratize when they do not feel threatened, like Taiwan and South Korea did. In the post Cold War period ‘liberal internationalism’ with its financial and other support of ‘colour revolutions’ and its military interventions, has delayed reform and strengthened hardliners. It seemed clear to the leadership that China was on the US list for ‘regime change’ too, and the result was extreme vigilance towards NGO’s and civil society phenomena. As late as April 2008, a White paper on political democracy was published, but then came the Tibet crisis, the Olympic circus, and finally the US financial crisis, which in itself was an argument for delaying reforms. There may also be an aspect of learning, namely from the experience of the “East Asian Model” prescribing economic modernisation first (under authoritarian or 1-party rule) and avoiding premature democratisation which has meant collapse in a number of countries, but waiting till it has a prospect of holding (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore?)

Summing up, democracy in China’s context is not an ideology, but a tool. It is likely that incrementalism will continue and that perhaps the most likely scenario for successful political reform is via the direct parliamentary elections in the 2600 counties becoming ‘real’ free from party meddling, then gradually moving upwards to national level. As for a multiparty system, one seasoned observer sees the appearance of powerful groups, each lobbying for the interests of their own group or region, these groups coalescing into permanent and open lobbies, and the lobbies one day converting themselves into full-blown parties. In any case, it will happen because an adaptive regime sees that it will advantage its own (elite) survival.

There could also be much less optimistic predictions of course. The reform-drive being bogged down by vested interests of the remaining big SOE (State Owned Enterprises), of leading families or of the middle class. The driving forces for reform –intellectuals, the private sector, the ‘new men’ of the presumed ‘Communist Youth League faction’ – weak because lacking a strong policy-entrepreneur and faced with a generally content urban population. In this case the most likely scenario is not collapse, but rather ‘muddling through’ – unless faced with a severe crisis which could affect legitimacy and make a platform for a renewed reform-drive.

Clemens Stubbe Østergaard
Aarhus University and NIAS Associate, Senior Research Fellow