Journalist Yang Jisheng reflects on China’s reform in CMP lecture

By Xie Yuan – Speaking to a packed house at Hong Kong University on Monday, veteran journalist Yang Jisheng said China’s leadership would have to make a clean reckoning of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and pursue “democratic politics” before China could enter the “post-Deng Xiaoping era.”

But Yang stressed democratic change in China would be a gradual process.

“We have seen so many casualties from radical revolutions in our history, and we need to look for moderate, not radical political improvements,” said Yang.

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Yang Jisheng’s talk, “China’s Reform: Reflections and Looking Forward”, was hosted by the China Media Project of the Journalism & Media Studies Centre, where Yang is currently a visiting fellow.

A retired senior reporter for China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Yang was one of just a few journalists to interview Zhao Ziyang while the ousted reformist premier was under house arrest.

Yang Jisheng is also the deputy editor of Chronicles of History (炎黄春秋), a journal that drew attention earlier this year for an essay by Marxist theorist Xie Tao calling for deeper political reforms.

The post-Deng era, said Yang, has been marked since the mid-1990s by a combination of authoritarian politics (权威政治) and market economics. As economic growth has surged and political reforms lagged, a number of problems have worsened. These include abuse of official power for business ends, a growing gap between rich and poor, and a host of other social problems such as the lack of affordable housing, education and medical care.

To solve these and other problems, future reforms in China would have to focus on separating power from the market economy, a task only democratic politics could achieve, said Yang.

“Democratic politics is the only way to have strict checks and balances on power,” he said.

Yang said democratic politics were also necessitated by changes in the nature of power in China. Leadership of charismatic men of the past, or qiangren zhengzhi (强人政治), has given way to leadership by ordinary persons, or changren zhengzhi (常人政治), he said.

Political leftists in China have advocated a return to Stalinist policies to resolve growing social problems, and Yang said he expected leftists to propose a slowdown of economic reforms at the upcoming 17th National Congress. But Yang said such a turn back was unlikely to garner support.

Yang is author of three books, including The Deng Xiaoping Era, Analysis of Chinese Social Strata and the recent Political Struggles in China’s Reform Era.

[Posted by Xie Yuan, October 9, 2007, 1:30pm]

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