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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Open letter from Party elders calls for free speech

October 18, 2010

David Bandurski
China Media Project
October 11, 2010

On October 11, 23 Chinese Communist Party elders
known for their pro-reform positions, including
Mao Zedong’s former secretary Li Rui (??) and
former People’s Daily editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei,
submitted an open letter to the Standing
Committee of the National People’s Congress,
formally China’s highest state body, calling for
an end to restrictions on expression in China.

The letter urges the Communist Party to abolish
censorship and realize citizens’ right to freedom
of speech and freedom of the press. Seizing on
the opportunity afforded by the awarding of
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with the Nobel Peace
Prize last week, the letter refers explicitly to
prior statements on reform and free speech made
by both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao

[CORRECTION: It is premature to conclude that
this letter has any connection whatsoever to Liu
Xiaobo's Nobel Prize. The letter is dated October
1, one week before the announcement from the Nobel Committee.]

Enforce Article 35 of China’s Constitution,
Abolish Censorship and Realize Citizens’ Right to Freedom of Speech and
Freedom of Press: A Letter to the Standing
Committee of the National People’s Congress

Written by Li Rui, Hu Jiwei and others
Dated: October 11, 2010

Dear members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress:

Article 35 of China’s Constitution as adopted in
1982 clearly states that: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China
enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of
assembly, of association, of procession and of
demonstration.” For 28 years this article has
stood unrealized, having been negated by detailed
rules and regulations for “implementation.” This
false democracy of formal avowal and concrete
denial has become a scandalous mark on the history of world democracy.

On February 26, 2003, at a meeting of democratic
consultation between the Standing Committee of
the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of
the Chinese Communist Party and democratic parties
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China],
not long after President Hu
Jintao assumed office, he stated clearly: “The
removal of restrictions on the press, and the
opening up of public opinion positions, is a
mainstream view and demand held by society; it is
natural, and should be resolved through the
legislative process. If the Communist Party does
not reform itself, if it does not transform, it
will lose its vitality and move toward natural and inevitable extinction.”

On October 3, America’s Cable News Network (CNN)
aired an interview with Chinese Premier Wen
Jiabao by anchor Fareed Zakaria. Responding to
the journalist’s questions, Wen Jiabao said:
“Freedom of speech is indispensable for any
nation; China’s Constitution endows the people
with freedom of speech; The demands of the people
for democracy cannot be resisted.”

In accord with China’s Constitution, and in the
spirit of the remarks made by President Hu Jintao
and Premier Wen Jiabao, we hereupon represent the
following concerning the materialization of the
constitutional rights to freedom of speech and of the press:

Concerning the Current State of Freedom of Speech and Press in Our Country

We have for 61 years “served as master” in the
name of the citizens of the People’s Republic of
China. But 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.

Before the handover, Hong Kong was a British
colony, governed by those appointed by the
Queen’s government. But the freedom of speech and
freedom of the press given to residents of Hong
Kong by the British authorities there was not
empty, appearing only on paper. It was enacted and realized.

When our country was founded in 1949, our people
cried that they had been liberated, that they were not their own masters.

Mao Zedong said that, “From this moment, the
people of China have stood.” But even today, 61
years after the founding of our nation, after 30
years of opening and reform, we have not yet
attained freedom of speech and freedom of the
press to the degree enjoyed by the people of Hong
Kong under colonial rule. Even now, many books
discussion political and current affairs must be
published in Hong Kong. This is not something
that dates from the [territory's] return, but is
merely an old tactic familiar under colonial
rule. The “master” status of the people of
China’s mainland is so inferior. For our nation
to advertise itself as having “socialist
democracy” with Chinese characteristics is such an embarrassment.

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!”

It’s not even just high-level leaders — even the
Premier of our country does not have freedom of speech or of the press!

On August 21, 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao gave a
speech in Shenzhen called, “Only By Pushing Ahead
With Reforms Can Our Nation Have Bright
Prospects.” He said, “We must not only to push
economic reforms, but must also to promote
political reforms. Without the protection
afforded by political reforms, the gains we have
made from economic reforms will be lost, and our
goal of modernization cannot be realized.” Xinhua
News Agency’s official news release on August 21,
“Building a Beautiful Future for the Special
Economic Zone,” omitted the content in Wen
Jiabao’s speech dealing with political reform.

On September 22, 2010, (U.S. local time) Premier
Wen Jiabao held a dialogue in New York with
American Chinese media and media from Hong Kong
and Macao, and again he emphasized the importance
of “political system reforms.” Wen said:

“Concerning political reforms, I have said
previously that if economic reforms are without
the protection to be gained by  political
reforms, then we cannot be entirely successful,
and even perhaps the gains of our progress so far will be lost.”

Shortly after, Wen Jiabao addressed the 65th
Session of the United Nations General Assembly,
giving a speech called, “Recognizing a True
China,” in which he spoke again about political
reform. Late on September 23 (Beijing time),
these events were reported on China Central
Television’s Xinwen Lianbo and in an official
news release from Xinhua News Agency.

They reported only Wen Jiabao’s remarks on the
circumstances facing overseas Chinese, and on the
importance of overseas Chinese media. His
mentions of political reform were all removed.

For these matters, if we endeavor to find those
responsible, we are utterly incapable of putting our finger on a specific
person. This is an invisible black hands. For
their own reasons, they violate our constitution, often ordering by

telephone that the works of such and such a
person cannot be published, or that such and such
an event cannot be reported in the media. The
officials who make the call do not leave their
names, and the secrecy of the agents is
protected, but you must heed their phone
instructions. These invisible black hands are our
Central Propaganda Department. Right now the
Central Propaganda Department is placed above the
Central Committee of the Communist Party, and above the State Council.

We would ask, what right does the Central
Propaganda Department have to muzzle the speech
of the Premier? What right does it have to rob
the people of our nation of their right to know what the Premier has said?

Our core demand is that the system of censorship
be dismantled in favor of a system of legal responsibility.

The rights to freedom of speech and the press
guaranteed in Article 35 of our Constitution are
turned into mere adornments for the walls by
means of concrete implementation rules such as
the “Ordinance on Publishing Control.” These
implementation rules are, broadly speaking, a
system of censorship and approvals. There are
countless numbers of commandments and taboos
restricting freedom of speech and freedom of the
press. The creation of a press law and the
abolishment of the censorship system has already
become an urgent task before us.

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 [determined
according to fair laws]. We cannot again
strengthen the censorship system in the name of
“strengthening the leadership of the Party.” The
so-called censorship system is the system by
which prior to publication one must receive the
approval of Party organs, allowing for
publication only after approval and designating
all unapproved published materials as illegal.
The so-called system of legal responsibility
means that published materials need not pass
through approval by Party or government organs,
but may be published as soon as the
editor-in-chief deems fit. If there are
unfavorable outcomes or disputes following
publication, the government would be able to intervene and

determine according to the law whether there are
cases of wrongdoing. In countries around the
world, the development of rule of law in news and
publishing has followed this path, making a
transition from systems of censorship to systems
of legal responsibility. There is little doubt
that systems of legal responsibility mark progress over systems of censorship,

and this is greatly in the favor of the
development of the humanities and natural
sciences, and in promoting social harmony and
historical progress. England did away with
censorship in 1695. France abolished its
censorship system in 1881, and the publication of
newspapers and periodicals thereafter required
only a simple declaration, which was signed by
the representatives of the publication and mailed
to the office of the procurator of the republic. Our present system of
censorship leaves news and book publishing in our
country 315 years behind England and 129 years behind France.

Our specific demands are as follows:

1. Abolish sponsoring institutions of [Chinese]
media [NOTE: This is the controlling organization that exercises Party
control over the media], allowing publishing
institutions to independently operate; Truly
implement a system in which directors and editors
in chief are responsible for their publication units.

2. Respect journalists, and make them strong.
Journalists should be the “uncrowned kings.” The
reporting of mass incidents and exposing of
official corruption are noble missions on behalf
of the people, and this work should be protected
and supported. Immediately put a stop to the
unconstitutional behavior of various local
governments and police in arresting journalists.
Look into the circumstances behind the case of
[writer] Xie Chaoping. Liang Fengmin, the party
secretary of Weinan city [involved in the Xie
Chaoping case] must face party discipline as a warning to others.

3. Abolish restrictions on extra-territorial
supervision by public opinion [watchdog
journalism] by media, ensuring the right of
journalists to carry out reporting freely throughout the country.

4. The internet is an important discussion
platform for information in our society and the voice of citizens’ views. Aside
from information that truly concerns our national
secrets and speech that violates a citizen’s right to privacy, internet

regulatory bodies must not arbitrarily delete
online posts and online comments. Online spies
must be abolished, the “Fifty-cent Party” must be
abolished, and restrictions on
“tunneling/[anti-censorship]” technologies must be abolished.

5. There are no more taboos concerning our
Party’s history. Chinese citizens have a right to
know the errors of the ruling party.

6. Southern Weekly and Yanhuang Chunqiu should be
permitted to restructure as privately operated pilot programs [in
independent media]. The privatization of
newspapers and periodicals is the [natural] direction of political reforms.

History teaches us: when rulers and deliberators
are highly unified, when the government and the
media are both surnamed “Party,” and when [the
Party] sings for its own pleasure, it is
difficult to connect with the will of the people
and attain true leadership. From the time of the
Great Leap Forward to the time of the Cultural
Revolution, newspapers, magazines, television and
radio in the mainland have never truly reflected
the will of the people. Party and government
leaders have been insensible to dissenting
voices, so they have had difficulty in
recognizing and correcting wholesale errors. For
a ruling party and government to use the tax
monies of the people to run media that sing their
own praises, this is something not permitted in democratic nations.

7. Permit the free circulation within the
mainland of books and periodicals from the
already returned territories of Hong
Kong and Macao. Our country has joined the World
Trade Organization, and economically we have
already integrated with the world — attempting to
remain closed culturally goes against the course
already plotted for opening and reform. Hong Kong
and Macao offer advanced culture right at our
nation’s door, and the books and periodicals of
Hong Kong and Macao are welcomed and trusted by the people.

8. Transform the functions of various propaganda
organs, so that they are transformed from
[agencies] setting down so many “taboos” to
[agencies] protecting the accuracy, timeliness
and unimpeded flow [of information]; from
[agencies] that assist corrupt officials in
suppressing and controlling stories that reveal
the truth to [agencies] that support the media in
monitoring Party and government organs; from
[agencies] that close publications, fire editors
and arrest journalists to [agencies] that oppose
power and protect media and journalists. Our
propaganda organs have a horrid reputation within
the Party and in society. They must work for good
in order to regain their reputations. At the
appropriate time, we can consider renaming these
propaganda organs to suit global trends.

We pressingly represent ourselves, hoping for your utmost attention.

October 1, 2010

Sponsors (23 people):

Li Rui – former standing vice minister of the
Organization Department of the CCP Central
Committee, member of the 12th Central Committee of the CCP
Hu Jiwei — former director of People’s Daily,
standing committee member to the 7th National
People’s Congress, director of the Federation of
Chinese Communication Institutes.
Jiang Ping – former head of the China University
of Political Science and Law, tenured professor, standing committee

member to the 7th National People’s Congress,
deputy director of the Executive Law Committee of the NPC
Li Pu — former deputy director of Xinhua News Agency
Zhou Shaoming  — former deputy director of the
Political Department of the Guangzhou Military Area Command
Zhong Peizhang — Former head of the News Office
of the Central Propaganda Department
Wang Yongcheng — Professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University
Zhang Zhongpei — Research at the Imperial Palace
Museum, chairman of the China Archaeological Society
Du Guang — former professor at the Central Party School
Guo Daojun — former editor-in-chief of China Legal Science
Xiao Mo — former head of the Architecture
Research Center of the Chinese National Academy of Arts
Zhuang Puming — former deputy director of People’s Press
Hu Fuchen — former director and editor-in-chief
at China Worker’s Publishing House
Zhang Ding — former director of the China Social
Sciences Press at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Yu You — former editor-in-chief of China Daily
Ouyang Jin — former editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s Pacific Magazine
Yu Haocheng — former director of Masses Publishing House
Zhang Qing — former director of China Cinema Publishing House
Yu Yueting — former director of Fujian Television, veteran journalist
Sha Yexin — former head of the Shanghai People’s
Art and Drama Academy, now an independent writer of the Hui ethnic minority
Sun Xupei — former director of the News Research
Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Xin Ziling — former director of the editorial
desk at China National Defense University
Tie Liu — editor-in-chief of Wangshi Weihen
magazine (Scars of the Past). Legal Counsel
Song Yue — Chinese citizen, practicing lawyer in the State of New York, U.S.
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