Chinese rule of law and democracy advocator Qiao Shi returns

Qiao Shi

Bo Xilai said, “I will return.” According to Japanese reporter Mr. Udagawa, that was what Bo said to him in an exclusive interview in early May, when Bo was under house arrest.

Mr. Udagawa is a Japanese reporter who is the first to successfully contact Bo after Bo was placed under house arrest. According to him, he exploited the State Security Department’s request for his assistance in the investigation to gain the opportunity to have lunch with Bo and heard Bo’s side of the story (see my post “‘I will return,’ says Bo Xilai to his Japanese friend”).

People would have hit Bo’s head and asked him, “Are you crazy?” though they previously had regarded Bo as a rising star. At that time, international media were busy digging deep for stories of Bo’s corruption and other irregularities such as womanising. They certainly would not believe that Bo might be allowed to meet a Japanese friend and speak in self-defence before him, when Bo had been deprived of freedom. They all ignored the report.

However, since Bo had the ambition to rise to the top and perhaps establish his own dynasty, he certainly knew he would have lots of ambitious competitors who would try hard to find any trace of irregularity to stop his rise. Why should he leave his enemy an excuse to stop him? Did he not know that if he rose to the top and obtain the monopoly of power like Mao, the whole country would be his assets?

There was rumour that he had accumulated assets worth one billion yuan (US630 million), but the country’s tax income alone exceeded US$1 trillion a year. Did he not know what was at stake? Bo appeared extremely clever and able to control himself.

On June 18, at the opening of Chongqing Party Congress, Chongqing Party Secretary Zhang Dejiang, a Politburo member, called Bo “comrade” in his speech, a clear sign that so far no serious irregularity had been found through months of investigation to deprive Bo of Party membership so that Bo remained a comrade to Zhang.

We do not know whether Bo will really be able to return to power, but anything is possible for a high official fallen into disgrace if he has lots of followers. That was the reason for the cruelty of the power struggles in the past. Mao knew his enemies might come back to power so that he had to kill them and destroy their power base. He killed Liu Shaoqi, Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao. Still, he could not prevent Deng Xiaoping from coming back to power.

The power struggle after the Cultural Revolution was not so cruel. The Gang of Four got only imprisonment instead of death penalty. Hua Guofeng remained a Central Committee member after being deprived of power. Zhao Ziyang, though under house arrest, lived a comfortable life.

Qiao Shi’s surprising return after laying low for 15 years

In my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievement”, I say Qiao Shi even said in an interview published on the front page of the Party’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, that according to China’s Constitution, all power in the country belongs to the people, and the people were to exercise state power through the NPC (China’s parliament) and local people’s congresses at various levels. Jiang Zemin thought Qiao was challenging his power as the core. Jiang then secretly asked a powerful elder Bo Yibo to force Qiao Shi to retire. Bo Yibo, Bo Xilai’s father, was the most powerful elder then.

In my book, I say, “I do not think that Qiao Shi had the ambition to replace Jiang and become the core. Perhaps, Qiao simply had the democratic idea of collective leadership and wanted the NPC to constrain Jiang Zemin and avoid the repetition of an autocracy like Mao’s.”

Qiao, though retired, has kept on striving for rule of law and democracy. People praise the improvement in the system of retirement of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and regarded it as institutionalisation. There is in fact no written law about that. Even if there is such a law, China is well-known for its poor implementation of law. Why then can such a system be implemented so well?

Retired leaders with Qiao Shi as their most powerful leader have been supervising that. It seems that Qiao accepted retirement on the condition that it would become an established practice that leaders should retire when reaching certain age limits. Where has Qiao obtained such great power to lead other retired officials to enforce the retirement rules?

For many years before his retirement, Qiao Shi had been in charge of China’s national security department, an organisation that plays the role of both CIA and FBI in China. He was in charge of spying on all the domestic officials. In China, an official in charge of this kind of job usually does not retire. No one knows whether Qiao retired from that position when he retired from all other government and CCP positions.

We all know that the national security department, including the secret police, is a very powerful secret network. Its head performs his leadership mostly in secret. A top official may be spied on by him in secret, and brought down when the evidence collected by him has been submitted to the CCP Politburo Standing Committee. In Russia, the communist party has lost power, but the KGB remains powerful and has one of its members as Russian president.

In my post “Victory of Rule of Law over Despotism” on March 31, I said Bo Xilai was brought down by those who advocate rule of law and democracy within the CCP. Well-known journalist Nathan Gardels sent me his post “Rule of Law Worries Behind Bo Xilai Purge” as his comment on my post.

Mr. Gardels says, according to the New York Times and the South China Morning Post, a key meeting was held on March 7 in which Party elders made the decisive push to dismiss Bo.

Mr Gardels says, “Key among those elders was Qiao Shi — a former security chief and former head of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and member of the Politburo Standing Committee who is known as a champion of the ‘rule of law.’

“This March 7 meeting, and its results, reveal the sway that the Party elders, though retired, still hold over the political process. Qiao and his allies may not be in power but they continually strive to ‘guide’ the long march of China’s political system away from any path that might lead to a repeat of the catastrophic Cultural Revolution.”

In addition, Mr. Gardels recalled that in his rare interview with Qiao when Qiao was NPC chairman, Qiao told him: “An important reason why the Cultural Revolution took place and lasted 10 years was that we had not paid enough attention to improving democracy and the legal system.

“It was from this bitter experience that, by the end of the 1970s, we began to stress the need to improve the legal system and laws, to maintain the stability and continuity of this system of law and make it very authoritative.

“According to the constitution of China, all power in the country belongs to the people, and the people exercise state power through the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses at various levels.”

As Qiao didn’t mention the Party at all, Mr. Gardels asked: “In this vision of a ‘democratic system of law’ in accord with Chinese socialism, will the law ultimately be above the Party, or the Party above the law?” To the audible gasps of his handlers seated behind us, Qiao replied: “No organisation or individual has the prerogative to override the constitution or the law.”

Now, Xinhua, the CCP’s another mouthpiece, reports that Qiao Shi, 87, published on June 20 a book on democracy and rule of law to promote the political structural reform that seems to begin after Bo’s downfall. That will be a precious legacy he leaves to the Chinese people.

The book contains 440,000 characters in 102 speeches, reports and articles by Qiao between 1985 and 1998. Most of them have not been published before. Editors in the People’s Daily spent two years in preparing the book entitled “Qian Shi on Democracy and Legal System”. The book is published by the People’s Publishing House and a press conference was held at the Great Hall of the People to promote the book.

Categories: Politics & Law

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11 replies


  1. June 23 2012 China Daily Mail Headlines « Craig Hill
  2. Bo’s power base has not suffered much in Chongqing « China Daily Mail
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  4. Qiao Shi’s book rouses demand for judicial independance « China Daily Mail
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