The Missing Modernization


New York Times
December 5, 1997


Since I was released from a Chinese prison a few weeks ago, I have heard the same statement over and over. "At least in China's special situation," people say to me, "there's no need for democracy in order for modernization to be realized."

That statement was not true 19 years ago, when I posted an essay on a downtown Beijing street corner known as Democracy Wall. In that poster I stated that the policy of Four Modernizations (in industry, agriculture, defense and science) advocated by Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese Communist Party would be inadequate without the addition of a fifth -- democracy.

That bit of truth landed me in prison, where I spent nearly 18 years. And in that time, my prediction -- that modernization cannot occur without democracy -- has been fulfilled. What has happened to China in the last few years proves that.

I remember that the year I was arrested, Deng Xiaoping told the Chinese people in a speech that, "Important national matters are the consideration of the Communist Party leadership. Ordinary people need not say too much; they should just keep their heads down and work hard."

To put this another way: A billion Chinese people should give up their fundamental human rights and freedom of expression if they want to enjoy the Four Modernizations promised by the Chinese Communist Party. This, of course, will satisfy their most primary need: the modernizations of life.

But I have never known the Chinese Communist Party to demonstrate any sincere willingness to modernize people's lives.

The glorified economic accomplishments of China in recent years are actually filled with holes. China's economy miracle is already being eaten away by a new class of corrupt bureaucratic capitalists.

Those public enterprises are now debt ridden. To compensate for them, the Government has delayed paying workers' wages and used bookkeeping chicanery. Many people have lost their jobs and rural areas are not being economically developed.

Meanwhile, the dictatorial political system is protecting the extraordinarily corrupt bureaucratic class. All manner of legal and illegal means are used to soak the people dry and deplete the resources of Chinese society as a whole.

What kind of economic miracle is this?

All this makes me feel very heavy. I would prefer that my predictions about the four modernizations was wrong, but unfortunately it is now a reality.