Former secretary under Mao Zedong, Li Rui (李锐). Picture from People’s Daily Online
Is reform for China coming even sooner than we previously thought? Jumping on the timing of Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent censored CNN interview and dissident Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize win (or perhaps just updated because), CCP elders Li Rui (李锐) and Hu Jiwei (胡绩伟) have written an open letter to the National People’s Congress calling for an end to censorship.
Notably, they quote President Hu Jintao and Wen’s own words regarding freedom of speech and how China has failed to live up to those words. They compare the mainland to Hong Kong, and argued that even though they were “master” of their own nation, ” the freedom of speech and of the press we now enjoy is inferior even to that of Hong Kong before its return to Chinese sovereignty, to that entrusted to the residents of a colony.”
The entire letter has been helpfully translated by China Media Project.
Some choice paragraphs include Li Rui’s essays being censored, despite having appeared in People’s Daily in 1981:
Not only the average citizen, but even the most senior leaders of the Communist Party have no freedom of speech or press. Recently, Li Rui met with the following circumstance. Not long ago, the Collected Works in in Memory of Zhou Xiaozhou were published, and in it was originally to be included an essay commemorating Zhou Xiaozhou that Li Rui had written for the People’s Daily in 1981. Zhou Xiaozhou’s wife phoned Li Rui to explain the situation: “Beijing has sent out a notice. Li Rui’s writings cannot be published.” What incredible folly it is that an old piece of writing from a Party newspaper cannot be included in a volume of collected works! Li Rui said: “What kind of country is this?! I want to cry it out: the press must be free! Such strangling of the people’s freedom of expression is entirely illegal!”
…and the demand that the censorship system be dismantled “in favor of a system of legal responsibility.”:
We recommend that the National People’s Congress work immediately toward the creation of a Press Law, and that the “Ordinance on Publishing Control” and all of the local restrictions on news and publishing be annulled. Institutionally speaking, the realization of freedom of speech and freedom of the press as guaranteed in the Constitution means making media independent of the Party and government organs that presently control them, thereby transforming “Party mouthpieces” into “public instruments.” Therefore, the foundation of the creation of a Press Law must be the enacting of a system of [post facto] legal responsibility (追惩制) [determined according to fair laws]. We cannot again strengthen the censorship system in the name of “strengthening the leadership of the Party.”
With so many within the party calling for a fundamental change to the apparatus, it will be interesting to see how Hu Jintao responds. My bets are on him ignoring it all together, perhaps condescendingly having another spokesman insist that China’s speech is in fact free, and we really don’t know what you’re talking about when you say it isn’t.