Saturday, December 11, 2010

Liu Xiaobo and Neoauthoritarianism

Generally speaking, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo does not have much to do with neoauthoritarianism, except for the fact that the latter is part of the reason that he is in jail.

Briefly, neoauthoritarianism is a political ideology that postulates economic growth under authoritarian rule. This was the ideology that Zhao Ziyang held when he lost the political battle with the hardliners amid the1989 pro-democracy demonstration, as pointed out by Ruan Ming, a former aide to Hu Yaobang.

Dissidents from 1989 often blame Zhao for failing to ally more firmly with the demonstrators and take the initiative of media freedom, thus possibly turn the demonstration into a successful democratic revolution. But if one understands Zhao’s political position at that time, i.e. neoauthoritarianism, one could see that such scenarios were just not going to happen.

For Zhao simply never really believed in democracy or freedom of press. As much as he wanted to liberalize the market, he had no intention to liberalize the political system. Zhao, like pretty much all party leaders, who might have different views regarding how to hold onto the party’s monopoly of power, firmly supported the one-party rule. They don’t believe Chinese people are ready for democracy, free election and free speech. They see political liberalization as simply the cause of chaos and turmoil.

As Liu Binyan, one of the media freedom advocates from the 1980s, stated, China is unique in some way. When the communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed like dominos in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party hurried to tighten its grip of power. The entire China was on fire in the spring of 1989, demanding more freedom in politics, thoughts and expression, only to cause the party re-realize that ideological control was the very lifeline of the party rule. Despite the outcry and demonstration from millions of people, including journalists, there turned out to be less, not more, freedom for the media in political discourse.

In other words, people like Liu Xiaobo, who have fought with their lives for democracy and freedom for the Chinese people, keep getting disappointed, or worse, jailed. The answer, at least in part, still lies in neoauthoritarianism.

Zhao Ziyang was down, but the political ideology he was trying to practice is still strongly upheld among the CCP leaders, only that today’s ruling group is savvier in both propelling economic growth and maintaining political control through control of media and expression.

This is not to say that neoauthoritarianism is all bad and evil. Whether China is ready for a political overhaul does merit a big question mark. At the same time, Liu Xiaobo and his comrades deserve all the respect and honor for pursuing their dream of a better country for the Chinese people. But unless there is a substantial number of members of the party elite actually believe in democracy, civil liberty and media freedom, grass-root dissidents like Mr. Liu would probably have to spend more time in jail.

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