China's Dissidents Reopen Debate on Political Rights as Economic Reforms Return, Chinese Writers Urge Entrepreneurs to Take Up Democracy Cause

By Sheila Tefft, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 29, 1993 | Go to article overview

China's Dissidents Reopen Debate on Political Rights as Economic Reforms Return, Chinese Writers Urge Entrepreneurs to Take Up Democracy Cause


Sheila Tefft, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


CALLS for democracy are creeping back into China's political and economic debate.

Dissidents Hu Jiwei and Xu Liangying openly urged democratic reform in recently published local newspaper articles, a sign that China's controls on political discussion are loosening in the wake of economic change.

The reopened political debate comes as China's ruling Communists wrestle with fears of inflation amid rising economic growth. Some Chinese analysts suggest that conservative opponents of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping could use the threat of inflation to slow down the economy and his market reforms in coming months.

Public anger over high prices helped fuel popular discontent that culminated in the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. After the crackdown, the gradual opening up of China to free-market ideas and foreign contact was halted.

In recent months China has stepped back from hard-line communism to foster market reforms, and political activists have tried to use new economic freedom to renew calls for intellectual, cultural, and political openness.

In the most daring clarion call to date, Mr. Hu urged China's growing legions of prosperous entrepreneurs to mobilize for democratic change. The article by Hu, a former chief editor of People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, appeared Jan. 11 in a full-page article in Factory Director and Manager News, an official but independent-minded newspaper in Sichuan Province.

Calling for direct elections and the dismissal of leaders through a popular vote, the former party propagandist exhorted the new business class to "become the main army of establishing China's theory of democracy and promoting the building of democracy.

"In the past, studies and explorations of democracy were limited to intellectuals or circles that are not corporate," Hu wrote. "This is something abnormal. Economic prosperity depends on whether entrepreneurs can have the right of taking part in administration and discussing politics."

Hu was the official in China's National People's Congress in charge of press and publication when he threw his weight behind the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989. He was removed and retired from the post for attempting to convene an emergency session of the Congress's standing committee to overturn martial law.

"If China is to rejuvenate her culture and to accomplish political reform and economic prosperity, China has to have democracy and progress," he wrote. "Without the establishment of democracy, there can't be healthy and happy lives for the Chinese people."

Hu's essay is one of a series of commentaries by Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese scholars to be published throughout the first half of 1993, said Chen Bing, an editor at Factory Director and Manager News. In a telephone interview from Chengdu, the Sichuan capital, Mr. Chen said there had been no reaction so far from Beijing ideologues although the Hu article had stirred a response in the province.

"Some Chengdu journalists had come to the paper, and they were excited that the issue of democracy has come up again," Chen said.

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