Class Conflict May Lead to Civil War
-- By Wei Jingsheng (Advocate for human rights and democracy in China.
Sentenced to jail for more than 18 years due to democracy activities,
including his 1978 essay, "The Fifth Modernization". Author of "Courage
to Stand Alone -- Letters from Prison and Other Writings," a
compilation of essays written initially on toilet paper in jail.
Recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award in 1996,
the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the
National Endowment for Democracy Award in 1997, and the Olof Palme
Memorial Prize in 1994. Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize more than ten
When people talk about China today, they talk about its economic growth
and the luxury enjoyed by its upper class. Some people have noticed the
misery of the people in the lower classes, as well as the social
conflict that characterizes their way of life. But very few people have
acknowledged the danger of these conditions. Fewer still are willing to
associate poverty in China with the potential for wars and lawlessness.
In China, this is first and foremost a legitimacy issue. Many people
have become wealthy through their monopolization of power, while others
have not had a fair opportunity to subsist, much less get rich. So the
general perceptions among China's lower classes are that all wealthy
people obtained their wealth illegally and are liars and thieves. This
opinion drives a wedge between the classes, a wedge amenable to
manipulation by Maoist extremists and Qi Gong groups alike, heightening
the potential for open social conflict.
Moreover, China's current elite cannot hold a monopoly on wealth and
power forever. Every political changing of the guard produces power
struggle, a struggle fought out through illegitimate means. Dissenters
are intimidated, imprisoned and tortured, while disfavored politicians
are arrested and repudiated. Today those in power use illegal methods
clothed in the trappings of legitimacy, methods that could be
called "illegal methods in legal jackets". This produces a sense of
unfairness even within the ruling class.
The recent arrest of the Shanghai City Communist Party Chief, Chen
LiangYu, is but one example. His flagrant graft and abuse of power was
exposed several years ago by a Shanghai lawyer, but Chen remained in
office while the lawyer was imprisoned. Now Chen is in trouble once
again: last September the Communist Party dismissed him from office for
corruption, making him the highest Communist official to be removed
from office in more than ten years. Yet the government is not dealing
with the real corruption at hand. Rather, they are using Chen as a
convenient scapegoat: apart from being corrupt and heavy-handed in his
abuse of power, Chen was also one of President Hu's major political
rivals. Thus Chen's dismissal reveals that "anti-corruption" under a
one-party dictatorship is not anti-corruption in earnest, but rather
vice paying tribute to virtue. It is only a means of managing a
political power struggle that is growing ever stronger.
In addition to the division within the ruling class, Chinese society is
characterized by burgeoning resentment between the classes in general.
This resentment is bringing the potential for civil war closer to its
breaking point. From the perspective of China's leadership, the best
way to avoid civil war is to guide conflict outward - to start a war
elsewhere. To do that, it is essential to ascribe a legal cause to this
outward war. The "legal jacket" the Communist Party will use is
the "Anti-Secession Law" of 2005, which stipulates that China may
use "non-peaceful means" in the event that Taiwan declares
independence. A war against Taiwan would really be just an outward
projection of China's internal civil war, and the intervention of
foreign countries such as the United States would be characterized as
illegal in light of the Anti-Secession Law. This would present an
opportunity for Hu Jintao's clique to consolidate its power under the
pretense of upholding Chinese law, an opportunity too great to pass by.
There are two roads China can take to escape its current difficulties.
One is to build genuinely democratic legal institutions that supplant
legal pretense-the "legal jackets" in which Chinese officials clothe
their abuses of power-with independent legal institutions governed by
fair procedure. At the least, this reform would give some hope to the
masses who feel that they are at the mercy of the arbitrary and self-
serving decisions of Communist Party officials. Enforcing a rule of law
would also bring the possibility of ameliorating the conflict within
China's ruling clique, a conflict that is presently resolved by the
occasional public repudiation of "problem" officials. However, Hu
Jintao would never undertake the widespread anti-corruption campaign
that this sort of reform would necessitate since it would compromise
the power monopoly he enjoys. Consequently, there is only one choice
left: to direct the struggle brewing within China outward, to start a
Without initiating a war over Taiwan, the current leaders of the
Communist Party will surely lose their monopoly of power, either at the
hands of rivals within the Party or at the hands of the disfranchised
masses. Should China declare war on Taiwan, the conflict would
destabilize China, the region, and, indeed, a peaceful world order.
(Translated and modified by HUANG Ciping of the Wei Jingsheng