Author: John Tkacik John Tkacik has spent four decades studying and working on China, Taiwan and Mongolian affairs in academia, in the U.S. Department of State, in private business, and with The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He was the editor and primary contributing author of two books, “Rethinking One China” (2004) and “Reshaping the Taiwan Strait” (2007), both published by Heritage.
Reports of the death of communism in China are greatly exaggerated. As the 21st century moves into its second decade, the Chinese Communist Party retains a tight monopoly on political power, unquestioned authority over economic power, and legitimates it all with the "universal truth" (pubian zhenli) of Marxism-Leninism. Its "totalitarian" character, not as horrific as it was between 1949-1979, has softened. But insofar as the Party claims total authority over all aspects of societal behavior (i.e. all political, religious, labor-organizing, community activist, educational, even reproductive rights are under the authority of the state, and must have the license of the state or Party), it is "totalitarian".
So, it was startling that a courageous document appeared in the Chinese internet on December 10, 2008 marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1. Over three hundred Chinese scholars and academics signed their names to “Charter ’08,” a comprehensive manifesto against tyranny inspired by a similar effort by Czech intellectuals in 1977. It drew attention to the failures of China's totalitarian regime and called for dismantling the Chinese Communist Party’s constitutional monopoly on political power in China. 2
The appearance of Charter '08 was startling because the day before its issuance, its organizer, Liu Xiaobo, was arrested by a dozen police who carried off his computers, cell phone and documents. He remains jailed. A second organizer, Zhang Zuhua, also arrested, had his savings removed from his bank account. Within days, over one hundred Charter signatories had reported harassment, threats and interrogations by state security police. No doubt scores, if not hundreds, more were also harassed and were dissuaded from complaining in public. But if police intimidation was meant as a mere warning shot, it seems not to have worked. By January 29, over 7,900 more Chinese signatures had been added to the original three hundred. 3
Responding to the Charter in the opening weeks of 2009, China’s communist leadership cautioned the population that the consequence of “counterrevolutionary” thought could be unpleasant. On January 15, Jia Qinglin, the fourth-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party published a lengthy tract in the Party’s main theoretical journal Qiushi (‘Seeking Truth’) that outlined the CCP’s glorious tradition of including “all democratic parties” under the “leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.” Jia called on China’s intellectuals to "build a line of defense to resist Western two-party and multi -party systems, bicameral legislatures, the three-branch separation of powers and other kinds of erroneous ideological interferences," He demanded they adhere to "ideological unity.” 4
Charter '08 is a stark reminder to the rest of the world that despite China's undeniable improvements in living standards and its new status as a global superpower, China is still a communist dictatorship. And the state's response to the Charter is a reminder to China's intellectuals of their fragile status under communist rule.