This is something I didn’t expect to happen anytime soon:
‘A group of 23 Communist Party elders in China has written a letter calling for an end to the country’s restrictions on freedom of speech.
The letter says freedom of expression is promised in the Chinese constitution but not allowed in practice.
They want people to be able to freely express themselves on the internet and want more respect for journalists.
The call comes just days after the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.’
Many commentators on China have predicted that the country’s increasing prosperity would lead to a liberalization of the political system there, and some have gone so far as to say that China cannot sustain its unbelievable economic growth without instituting political and social reforms. But I’ve always felt that these commentators were just projecting the Western model of development onto China. I figured that China, because of its specific history and social situation, would keep on growing without necessarily becoming more democratic.
Looks like I might be wrong! Of course, just because this chunk of the senior Party leadership is speaking out doesn’t mean that democratic reforms are on the way, but it probably does mean that there are divisions within the party about how best to handle the issue of free speech. And I’m willing to bet that for each of the 23 people who signed this letter there are many more within the party who feel the same must remain silent for the time being. (If you’re interested, you can view the text of the letter at the end of this post. There’s some fascinating stuff in there – apparently even Premier Wen Jiabao has been subject to the censors!)
I don’t know a whole lot about Chinese politics, but my guess is that we’re likely to see some kind of struggle between the more liberal faction of the Communist Party and the more traditional ones. Let’s hope the free speechers win the day.