（2008-12-29 MI ）
The Thorny Road Ahead
– For the New Year 2009
◎ Jin Zhong
We stepped into the year 2009 with Beijing’s high-profile celebration of the 30th anniversary of reform and opening. The New Year is going to be a year of implication, portend and expectation for the Chinese people. It has been 60 years since the Communist Party took control of China in 1949. According to the traditional Chinese calendar, 60 years equal one major “jiazi” or major cycle of years; 1949 was a “jichou” year, and so is 2009. Years move in cycles, and everything is renewed with the arrival of the New Year. Today’s Chinese people, though modern and westernized, are still no different from those ruled by imperial power in the previous thousands of years. They have no rights and may only pray to God for help. They are thus particularly sensitive to historical cycles and retribution.?
Today people tend to divide the past six decades into two portions. In the first 30 years, millions of lives were lost in the struggle against despotism for a new way of life. The last 30 years have now become part of history. Should Chinese people seek a new way again? When Mao was dying, the famous verses “I don’t believe the sky is blue, I don’t believe the echoes of thunder, I don’t believe the dream is untrue, I don’t believe in death without retribution” were on every teenager’s lips. Now 30 years have passed. Where is the dream? Is there any retribution? The nation is wealthier than ever, but among China's 1.3 billion people, only 500 families enjoy real privilege, and 80 percent of the wealth is owned by a mere 4 percent of the population. Most of the people suffer hardship while bureaucrats embezzle public assets to support luxurious lifestyles. So we see a district government building constructed to resemble the “White House,” and those who report it to the authorities are jailed or worse. Many have been persecuted for offending members of the elite cliques. They lose their jobs or are exiled for no reason other than because they are dissidents. Even poets are not allowed to return to their homeland.
The elimination of despotism has not returned freedom, dignity and rights to the people. Prosperity is mere window-dressing while the people remain slaves of authority. A new way of life remains out of sight, leading to the birth of “Charter 08,” which inherits the theme of Czechoslovakia's “Charter 77” and echoes the Tiananmen Square protests. The 1989 protests in Beijing, as the first strike against communist autocracy, were regarded as a “negative example” by the CCP. The authorities have endeavored to prevent nightmares from coming true and turn crisis into opportunity. We should never underestimate their confidence. Hu Jintao has announced his “three don’ts”: “don’t waver, don’t slacken and don’t get sidetracked.” The government intends to maintain its grip over the next 30 years. Compared with 1989, it has reserved sufficient capital, manpower and technology, as well as enough hard principles and unspoken rules.?
China is inevitably affected by the current economic crisis due to its dependence on foreign trade. But the government doesn't see this as the greatest threat; the privileged have already set up “firewalls” for self-protection, and those who suffer most will be members of the general public with no welfare and protection. China may even take advantage of the recession in the West as the Soviet Union did in the 1930s. Internally, it has employed high technology and elites to build its management system for national security. This system has matured in the last two decades, stretching its reach beyond China's borders. More importantly, Beijing’s united front policy towards Taiwan has made great strategic progress. With military threat and growing cooperation between the KMT and CCP countering calls for Taiwan independence, the launch of the Three Links and Chen Shui-bian’s corruption case have successfully transformed cross-Strait confrontation into internal conflict in Taiwan. This trend may not only dispel worries of warfare across the Strait, but may also change the political relations between China, the U.S. and Taiwan. In addition, it has encouraged conservatism within the CCP leadership, including their obdurate attitude toward the challenges of dissidents, unlike the serious internal split that existed in 1989.
As pointed out by Vaclav Havel, the human rights campaigns launched in China will have the same fate as those launched by the Czech people 30 years ago: the rejection of dialogue with the government and even suppression. But Havel and others in the free world believe that Chinese human rights activists are prepared with countermeasures to face the thorny road ahead, and that they will persevere in striving for ultimate victory.
(Translated by Isabella Lam)