The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that requests universal suffrage in this special administrative region of China have stepped into the third week. Though the series of protests dubbed now as the Umbrella Revolution seem to become a weird game of police dissembling barricades in the morning and protesters re-constructing at night, the movement can be said to have already suceeded, if raising public awareness counts.
What’s happening in Hong Kong in the past few weeks has stirred up heated discussions on democracy and political reform, even in mainland China. But as anyone who regularly follows news in China knows, it’s not always easy to openly discuss sensitive words like “democracy” or “universal suffrage” behind the Great Fire Wall. Netizens from several mainland cities have been reported to be arrested for showing support for Hong Kong protesters online.
But mainland netizens, after years of experiences fighting censors, always have a way – they turn to old quotes from the Communist Party of China (CPC) before they took power in 1949. A fact seldom mentioned now is that the CPC won hearts of millions of Chinese exactly by promising democracy during the rule of the Republic of China by KMT who now governs Taiwan.
CPC was once itself a fighter for democracy, rising out of student movements – the Party probably has a whole playbook of how to do student protests. Talking about someone who has become what he hates? That’s exactly the case with CPC.
“Chinese students’ patriotic movements won’t stop until democracy is realized.” Vowed Xinhua Daily in December, 1945, CPC’s official voice at the time.
“The students act out of their love of the country. Why is it a crime for them to fight for democracy and against civil war using their bare hands?” Xinhua Daily asked. Later in 1946, the newspaper summarized: “At the current stage, youth in China should fight for national independence, economic equality and political democracy. Those who fight for these three goals will be remembered by history.”
Instead of criticizing the hypocrisy of “Western democracies”, Xinhua Daily argued that “Democracy and freedom of speech are inseparable. We should use Western democracies as an example of how we can realize democracy in China.”
On July 4th, 1944, Xinhua Daily hailed: “Long live July 4th! Long live US democracy!” That’s the same US who now is the mother of all “Western hostile forces” behind unrest in China.
More ironically, in another piece in 1946, Xinhua Daily blamed KMT government for not having rule of law: “The government has failed to implement law that benefits ordinary people. What’s worse, these laws don’t apply to the government. The government is asking its people to abide by the law, but is violating laws itself every day.” Exactly the same thing that activists are complaining about the CPC government right now.
How about the argument that “Western-style democracy” won’t work in China given the country’s unique historical and cultural backgrounds? Again, in 1944, Xinhua Daily argued, “They [the KMT government at the time] say that [democracy] is a Western concept that will never work in China. But universal truth knows no country…Some conservatives are still using years old argument to oppose universal truth, saying that no democracy is better than democracy. It’s like saying that machines produce less than hands….There isn’t such a problem as democracy’s fitting issue. Someone argues that democracy in china should be special, i.e., no real freedom for the people. That’s absurd. It’s like arguing that the Chinese people can only use the lunar calendar because the solar calendar is for Westerners only.”
Nothing speaks louder about the fact that media, at least official media, were, are, and will continue to be CPC’s political tool to shape public opinion in China. Many Chinese netizens joked: “Everything makes sense if you read official newspapers like the People’s Daily separately. But nothing makes sense when you read them in bound volumes.”
Two weeks ago, People’s Daily called pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong “a setback in the country’s democratic progress,” and blamed US for orchestrating the protests. Two months ago, the newspaper argued that “vote-based Western democracies” are “short-sighted democracies” that only know to “go after short-term benefits”.