By Peter Zhang
A video showing policemen in Shenzhen walking into a young woman’s apartment last month and taking her away in the middle of the night went viral in China.
The police had no arrest or search warrant, and when the woman demanded an explanation, the police responded by asking, “What have you posted on the internet lately?”
This video clip, which was subsequently removed by authorities, has angered many Chinese netizens who were able to view it, and sparked the mocking of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doctrine of the so-called “Four Self-Confidences” as being so fragile that an online post could undermine the regime.
The ‘Four Self-Confidences’
At the CCP’s 18th National Congress in November 2011, then-Party General Secretary Hu Jintao came up with the doctrine of the so-called “Three Self-Confidences” —namely, self-confidence in China’s socialist path, theories, and system. In 2016, current General Secretary Xi Jinping added self-confidence in socialist culture.
The doctrine of “Four Self-Confidences” has become so crucial that, in May 2017, the China State Council Information Office, in an unusual move, distributed an article titled “The Four Self-Confidences Are the Spiritual Foothold for the ‘China Dream,’” which was originally published in a journal of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The Information Office said that Xi’s “China Dream” can’t be achieved without the doctrine of “Four Self-Confidences.”
Plato once said, “An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers.”
No other ruling party on the planet boasts of anything such as the “Four Self-Confidences.”
Apparently, the CCP leadership has paid no heed to Confucius’s precept, “One must stop when one’s act borders on shame.”
People might wonder where the CCP’s self-confidence in the socialist path comes from. Former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who opened up the Chinese economy, said on a number of occasions that his “socialism with Chinese characteristics” was an uncharted course.
In Deng’s own words, his socialist journey was like “wading the river by feeling the stones underneath”—a description that gives little indication of self-confidence. Many Chinese netizens, accordingly, have mocked Deng’s socialist adventure.
In one cartoon online, a CCP official is shown standing on a boat ashore while ordering everyone to line up and step into an uncharted river. Two people waiting in the line ask, “Why aren’t we using the nearby bridge and boat instead?” Another shouts back at the two, “What do you know?! Had we used the bridge and the boat, there wouldn’t have been any Chinese characteristics, would there?”
Such Soviet-styled dark humor perhaps exemplifies vividly how much faith the public truly has in China’s socialist path.
As for the CCP’s self-confidence in socialist theories expressed by their Party leaders—from Mao’s thought to Deng’s theory, Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” Hu’s “Scientific Development,” and now Xi’s new thought—these hollow propositions are at best self-deceiving.
No matter how they are labeled, all aim to maintain the CCP’s dictatorship in a changing world environment. Yet each CCP leader has been eager to leave a legacy of his own by incorporating his peculiar doctrines into China’s constitution.
Mao’s familiar calligraphy “Serve the People” might be the most visible slogan on the wall at the entrance of Zhongnanhai, the seat of the CCP’s headquarters in Beijing, but few Beijing residents who pass by this Ming Dynasty imperial gate would seem to be particularly impressed.
In Beijing, people are familiar, however, with this joke: A customer once complained to a restaurant owner, “Why can’t I find any beef in this bowl of ‘roasted beef noodle’?” The owner shrugged and said, “Why are you so fussy about the name of the food we serve here? Do you expect to get a wife from eating a ‘wife cake’ (lao po bing)? Or better yet, have you ever seen any everyday people in the Great Hall of the People?”
Qin Hui, a former Tsinghua University professor, wrote about how the CCP hasn’t moved out of the shadow of the imperial system, in the insightful best-seller “Moving Away From the Feudal System” in 2015.
Drawing lessons from major events in modern Chinese history, Qin argued for a republic based on constitutional democracy that respects fundamental freedoms and protects diversity. Not surprisingly, his book was banned soon after it was published.
A journalist teased, “Had his book been called ‘Moving Into the Feudal System,’ it would have all been fine.” Qin is now teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Socialist ideology is a foreign import, and certainly not part of China’s 5,000-year civilization. It is totalitarian and repressive by nature. With China now becoming part of globalization, more people are being exposed to and hailing Western liberal democracy.
While boasting its self-confidence in socialist culture, the CCP might have a difficult time explaining to avid Chinese fans of Winnie the Pooh why this popular cartoon figure and the movie “Christopher Robin” are banned in China. Unlike leaders in open societies, the CCP rulers are thin-skinned and certainly aren’t to be teased by the masses on the internet, let alone when being compared to a puffy-looking bear, cute or not.
The CCP is paranoid about all sectors of society. On Aug. 6, Shaolin Temple, one of the best-known Buddhist pilgrimage sites in China, raised a national flag for the first time since the temple’s establishment some 1,500 years ago, to pledge loyalty to the CCP.
In some places, people must show personal identification cards to purchase a kitchen knife, reminiscent of what was required in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1638), when the Mongols ruled the Chinese.
Lessons From History
King Li, the 10th king of China’s Zhou Dynasty, was known for his tyranny during his reign from 877 B.C. to 841 B.C. He sent agents to spy on people’s private conversations and would execute those who dared to air any negative views about his rule by terror. As a result, people would hesitate to express themselves.
With much satisfaction, King Li told Zhao Gong, one of his senior ministers, “Now, I am finally able to gag all critics.”
Zhao Gong replied, “Muzzling the public is much more dangerous than attempting to block a deluge. A deluge can be best handled by guiding it to flow away, not by building a dam—and this is true with governing your people, who should be allowed to express themselves one way or another.”
King Li didn’t listen and later ended up living in exile when his people rose up in revolt.
The collapse of the USSR in the 1990s is another example, as few Russia experts in the West anticipated its fall, given its powerful appearance. Interestingly, dictators, in China and elsewhere, aren’t good students who learn lessons from history.
A European diplomat once pointed out, “If you wish to know which country or political system is better, just look where immigrants are heading.”
Despite the CCP’s relentless propaganda against Western democracies, CCP officials appear to be among the most zealous about sending their children and assets to America.
Multiple Chinese media sources reported that Beijing is hoping to seek cooperation from foreign governments to retrieve some $21 trillion in hidden assets and unpaid taxes overseas. No one, however, seems to know the exact amount of capital flight from China since Deng Xiaoping pioneered his economic reforms in the 1980s.
If one looks at the long line every day outside the U.S. consulate visa offices in China, one can’t help but wonder about America’s self-confidence on multiple levels, which goes unproclaimed.
Propaganda posters touting the “China Dream” might be visible everywhere in China, but for many Chinese—and young people in particular—their dreams might actually include an opportunity to come to the United States, the land of the free, where they hope to fulfill their American dream.
Instead of transitioning to an open society so as to better address a variety of social ills, including widespread unrest, corruption, income disparity, and social injustice, the CCP often, by its predatory instinct, resorts to repression or even violence against dissenting voices. What the CCP leaders don’t realize is that their suppression, in turn, amasses still greater retribution that will shorten their rule in the end.
Perhaps, one should never have expected to turn a wolf into a vegetarian.
Genuine self-confidence originates in compassion. As wisely put by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
These appear to be the last things on the minds of CCP rulers.
Peter Zhang contributed this article which was previously published on EET. He is a researcher on political economy in China and a graduate of Beijing International Studies University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the Harvard Kennedy School.