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Reflecting on Chongqing
Summary: The tragedies of Chongqing were based on serious systematic flaws that made it easy to sweep away the rule of law and descend into Cultural Revolution ideology. Chongqing’s problems are national problems that were concentrated and exposed in one municipality. The whole nation must reflect on them.

By Chen Youxi ( 陈有西)
Issue 598, Dec 10, 2012
Nation, page 14
Translated by Emily Zhu
Original article:

The author is a Chongqing attorney who represented defense lawyer Li Zhuang after he was charged with coercing false testimony from accused gangster Gong Gangmo. Gong hired Li to represent him, but then a few days later told prosecutors Li had instructed him to falsely claim he’d been tortured for eight days. Li says he was framed amidst a backdrop of  suppression of the rule of law under Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun in order to crack down on organized crime and seize assets from rich, often innocent, people.

The article is part of a new series published by the paper called China Conversations (中国谈话). The topic of this week’s discussion was “Lessons from Chongqing and the road to rule of law in China” and it also includes a piece written by Li Zhuang (李庄) and  Tong Zhiwei (童之伟),  a professor of law from East China University of Political Science and Law. 

After two years of observation and deep thought, I believe that the underlying social foundations that led to the tragedy that occurred in Chongqing, continue to exist and flourish in China today. If we don't seriously reflect on what happened in Chongqing, the soil which cultivated the tragedy in Chongqing will continue to exist, and if it doesn't happen in Chongqing again, it just might take place somewhere else.

Why the Chongqing Model Almost Had its Way

It was a coincidence that I defended Li Zhuang (李庄)'s case in court. I took the case thinking I would just be a “lawyer for a lawyer.” I had no idea how complex the situation was in Chongqing.

Back then, many people participated in “Singing Red”(referring to patriotic singing events). As for Chongqing’s “Smash Black” (referring to the crackdown on organized crime), public security bureaus in different provinces sent staff to learn from Chongqing and Wang Lijun’s experience.

If Wang Lijun hadn’t defected to the U.S. embassy and set off a series of other problems, it’s likely the Chongqing Model would have been copied across the country. If that happened, what would China’s rule of law be like? The more we think about it, the more we still feel have fears even after the events in Chongqing.

I think there were a few reasons the Chongqing Model almost succeeded. 

One is that the ideological foundation behind “Singing Red” hadn’t been completely dispelled yet. We still hadn’t fully reflected and settled memories of the Cultural Revolution.

In the mainstream consciousness, Bo’s practices had a strong traditional basis. We once learned Soviet ideology and ideological manipulation. Stalinism took strong root. This reached its climaxduring the Cultural Revolution. 

After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, after many years of thinking, our constitutional government concept had some recovery. In the 1990s, it slid backward again in many places though and the achievement of ideological emancipation was denied. Wanting to return to a planned economy, pure public ownership, thought control and personality cults - the basis of these thoughts was very strong.

The second reason the model almost succeeded is the legal basis for the “Smash Black” campaign. Our extensive criminal legislation led to criminal law tools easily being used to persecute people. On this point, those who aren’t criminal defense lawyers may have difficulty recognizing this.  

The Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law have both experienced 30 years of development since their implementation in 1979. With the development of a free market economy we’ve amended the Criminal Law eight times. It has developed more than 450 charges, including more than 110 relating to the market economy. Finding more than a dozen charges on an enterprise or a business owner is as easy as blinking. If the head of the public security bureau has evil intentions and wants to make trouble, no entrepreneur can escape. 

At the initial stage of a market economy, we have an “omnipotent view of law” (法律万能论). If a problem arises, then a law will be made to solve it. If a social problem that needs to be managed emerges, then a new charge will be established. I’ve worked in the public security system before. I deeply felt that the omnipotent view of law does severe damage to our country’s market economy. 

Using public security organs, procuratorate organs and people's courts to deprive an enterprise or a rich person of wealth is a piece of cake. Our constitution is based on public ownership and has always discriminated against private property. This way of approaching criminal law has constitutional basis. Chongqing was able to shake down innocent entrepreneurs on a large scale, convict them of felonies and even deprive them of life. This derives from this ideology of constitution and criminal law.

The third reason is the guiding principle of “maintaining stability.” Taking a hard line to maintain stability was Wang Lijun’s style. “Let those who comply with me thrive and those who resist me perish” (“顺我者昌,逆我者亡”). Within the police, those who agreed with him were defended and those who didn’t were attacked. A special task force was set up, courts were suppressed and the reeducation through labor system was abused. There were no legal principles.

A confession could be extorted through torture. There was no separation of interrogation room and detention room and there was no record of who entered prisons. And there was nobody there to supervise anything. That’s why Gong Gangmo could be hanged and beaten for eight days. This kind of “stability maintenance” mentality resulted in the disregard of law and justice.

The fourth reason is that the ideological direction of Reform & Opening Up was denied. Deng Xiaoping said let some people get rich first, then those who got rich first can help the others get rich later. This allowed a variety of forms of ownership to co-exist. But the Chongqing Model wasn’t to help the poor catch up to the rich and achieve common prosperity. It was to promote populism and eliminate those who had become rich first.

On the other hand, it also cultivated new powerful officials and let them make big money in assets transfer and reorganization. This aimed to return to the Cultural Revolution and deny the success since Reform & Opening Up.

Finally, the Chongqing Model hijacked public opinion. They knew how to put on a publicity stunt and that a lie repeated enough times becomes truth. Therefore, they spread “Red Culture” through the internet and media with a great flood of propaganda. They spent a large amount of government money to hire a team to write books and compelled local television not to show advertisements. Chongqing’s extreme-left went to extremes in every measure to grab public opinion.

The Harm of the Chongqing Problem

What harm has the Chongqing experience done to the country’s political power and people’s interest? There are nine aspects.

The first is the method of governance: To rule by power or by law? It’s very clear that Chongqing chose to rule by power. It appeared to rule by law, but it was just an appearance. Public authority was made subservient to the interests of a few and the rule of law was destroyed. 

The second is the development orientation: Going with the direction of development or counter to it? Should the Reform & Opening Up since the Party’s 12th and 13th Congresses be continued? Return to common poverty and focus on dividing the cake, or make the cake bigger by allowing some people to get rich first through support of the private economy and competition?

The third is political orientation: Dictatorship or Democracy? Bo’s style of a law unto himself was completely exposed while governing Chongqing. Democracy within the party, political democracy and collective leadership have been severely damaged.

The fourth is the economic base: Planned economy or market economy? The expansion of the state-owned economy and the retreat of the private sector, along with government intervention in the market economy, were the basic characteristics of Chongqing’s economy.

Chongqing’s crackdown on the underworld criminal gangs was all done on private enterprises; none of them were state-owned enterprises. If the Chongqing Model prevailed and a crackdown on underworld criminal gangs was promoted across the country, many private enterprises would be destroyed.

The fifth is the development orientation: Long term or short term? In order to achieve his personal goals, [Bo] produced a political performance with the whole city’s effort. The importance was presenting a good image then, whether or not it could be sustained beyond the 18th Party Congress.

According to current investigations and research, there are a large number of outstanding bank loans and investments in Chongqing, as well as hundreds of billions of yuan in assets seized from private enterprises during the crackdown on criminal gangs. These are now lost and unable to be recovered.

Some of it is cash, some is stock rights and some is property. This practice received support from some ordinary people. Those who could get funds for Chongqing’s construction were deemed good officials no matter how they got the money or how they planned to repay it in the future.

The sixth is the organization direction: Democracy or monopolized power? Chongqing adopted the policy of all cadres in public security units being reshuffled. More than 2,300 middle-level cadres were re-instated and consolidated under one command, which was decided by [Bo] completely.

The seventh is ideology: Diversify or follow blindly? “Sing Red” has fully demonstrated the evil consequences of Chongqing carrying out thought control and enslaving people’s education. Huge amounts of money were spent in forcing people to carry out cultural and entertainment activities resembling the Cultural Revolution. There was direct intervention and control of TV programs. Newspapers and websites were manipulated, and sometimes false news was even issued. Monks, nuns, schools, communities, and cleaners were all called to “Sing Red.”

The eighth is the value of law: Fair or repressive? Legal proceedings became a show in Chongqing. The procuratorate and the court became tools to carry out senior officials’ will. They ignored basic facts and lost the function of a legal guardian.

The ninth is political morals: Justice or personal gain? A leader’s wife, who holds no official post, could order the head of the public security bureau, a district party secretary and guards to help her to murder and destroy evidence.

[Bo] was a two-faced person - able to fool around with the opposite sex and wantonly make money for himself and relatives while publicly flaunting himself.

The restoration of public confidence in Chongqing depends on the revelation of the truth. Whether it’s the economic situation, the expenses and effects of “Singing Red,” or the damage done by the organized crime crackdown, the truth needs to be revealed. I think reflecting on these lessons isn’t just important for Chongqing, but for the whole country.

What Lessons Chongqing Gave Us

What lessons can we learn from the Chongqing events? How do we prevent such things from happening in other places in China?

I think we must first to solve the problem of autocracy with heads of local governments and democratization within the party. Top leaders of local governments have too much power creating feudal politics (诸侯政治). This trend has become more and more serious. The issues of separating party and government and separating government functions from enterprise management need to be brought forward again.

The second step is to resolve the status of private enterprises. This is an area where Chongqing particularly caught our attention. The private economy is an important achievement in Reform & Opening Up. In some places the private economy occupies a very important position and is an important support of the national economy.

If we don’t give the private economy its due status ideologically, politically and legally, then the current national economy base will be badly impacted. It will result in a huge outflow of private capital and those who “got rich first.” 

The third step is to solve development issues of regions with a weak economic foundation. Over 30 years of Reform & Opening Up, the driving force of economic development and focus of investment has gradually moved inland. There are lots of opportunities in the development of western regions and there’s also a habit of rushing for quick results. But the method of using political resources to drive unnatural development is unsustainable. 

The fourth step is to solve the problem of judicial independence. The damage from the Chongqing Model on social structure, fairness, human rights and rule of law stemmed from the strong police power. The adjudicative power of the court, supervision power of the procuratorate and the right of lawyers to defend all gave way to the strong police power. In fact, it gave way to personal dictatorship and personal autocracy. The judicial review function and final gate-keeping functions were lost. 

A country that wants long term peace and stability must take the road of judicial independence. An independent, objective and detached judicial system without arbitrary intervention from political parties, government and individuals must be established.

The Chongqing lesson tells us that China’s political system reform is of great urgency.

In fact, the Chongqing’s problems are national problems that were concentrated and exposed in one municipality. It showed us the serious consequences of not continuing to deepen reform and also the great possibility and danger of the extreme-left making a comeback.

Reflecting on Chongqing is meaningful for the whole nation.





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