Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The national hoopla on "Eight Virtures and Eight Shames"

Ba Rong Ba Chi
by Andrew Swerdloff

Earlier this month, President Hu Jintao declared the importance of developing an "advanced socialist culture" when he met with members of the Tenth National Meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's political advisory body. President Hu explained his socialist value system by laying out a list of do's and don'ts:

1. Love, do not harm the motherland. Serve, don't disserve the people.

2. Uphold science; don't be ignorant and unenlightened.

3. Work hard; don't be lazy and hate work.

4. Be united and help each other; don't gain benefits at the expense of others.

5. Be honest and trustworthy, not profit-mongering at the expense of your values.

6. Be disciplined and law-abiding instead of chaotic and lawless.

7. Know plain living and hard struggle; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.

The system aims to refresh and define China's values by amalgamating traditional Chinese values with modern virtues. It also aims to "add to efforts by communist leaders to assure the public that they are fighting corruption and trying to close the gap between an elite who have profited from China's economic reforms and the poor majority". Hu made it clear that he intends to promote this concept to the masses, especially young people, and "make it part of social norms." On the same occasion, Hu further proclaimed, "In our socialist society we must not allow the boundaries to be blurred when it comes to right and wrong, evil and kindness, beauty and ugliness. What we support, what we resist, what we oppose and what we promote all must be crystal clear" (China Daily, March 13, 2006).

So far, Hu's "socialist concept of honor and disgrace" appear to be well received and supported by government officials, scholars, members of the PLA, and the media. For example, Wu Guangzheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, during an inspection tour to Jilin Province, urged all to uphold the new concept of advanced socialist values and to increase officials' awareness of clean governance. He especially encouraged leading officials to play an exemplary role in implementing Hu's new concept of values.

Another government official, Liu Yunshan, a member of the Political Bureau and the Secretariat and head of the Publicity Department of the CCP Central Committee, supported Hu's socialist concept and sponsored the incorporation of these principles into textbooks to better popularize the concept across the country.

Members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) also expressed their acceptance and appreciation of Hu's socialist values. Upon hearing about Hu's morality system, two musicians from the PLA even turned the so-called "eight virtues and eight shames" (or eight honors and eight disgraces) into a song. According to military sources, these musicians taught the song in a PLA barrack in Beijing, and it became a huge hit. One possible reason why Hu's new value system has been so widely accepted, according to Sheri Liao, an environmental activist and former philosophy teacher, is that "the nation is starting to take an interest in and adopt a friendly attitude to traditional culture and values" (China Daily, March 13, 2006).

Besides leaders from the Party, government and military, Hu's socialist virtues also received support from businessmen, religious leaders, and scholars. For example, during the CPPCC annual session of 2,280 delegates, businesspeople, religious leaders, and dignitaries in various fields closed out the annual session with a resolution praising Hu's list of virtues and pledging to "make it part of social norms." Zhang Kangkang, a novelist and a CPPCC delegate, voiced her approval of Hu's socialist values. She believes that the Party's earlier campaigns to induce the youth to embody certain socialist virtues were not effective and that Hu's newly defined principles are better suited for the Chinese people. Sheri Liao, one of China's best-known environmental activists, also approved of Hu's socialist value system because the language used to describe it is neutral and apolitical and the concept is very populist and middle-of-the-road. This makes it appealing to many of the Chinese people. She believes that the Chinese people have lost the moral compass since Deng Xiaoping initiated his aggressive economic reforms and that Hu's socialist virtues will help restore some of that lost bearing.

Chinese print, televion and online media have created a hurricane to publicize Hu's new moral guideline. For example, the People's Daily published a commentary that praised and advocated Hu's "advanced socialist culture". The commentary stated that the thorough implementation of the "socialist concept of honor and disgrace" is a significant and pressing task for the country. It further stated that people should grasp the essence of the concept and learn how to tell right from wrong, good from evil, beauty from ugliness, and to apply it to their daily work. Other news sources such as China Daily and Xinhua have also described Hu's new concept as a theoretical new high in applying Marxism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory to China's ongoing political and economic undertaking.

In a sense, Hu Jintao's new emphasis on socialist values is relevant. After two decades of reforms, the importance of morality in Chinese society has been replaced with a desire to become rich at all costs. Hu's formal explanation of a new, clearly defined socialist system reflects this change and the desire of the Party to address this issue. It is high time to contemplate when old ideologies, mission statements and goals are becoming increasingly irrelevant, what will be the new substitutes?

However, it remains to be seen if such top down mobilization and intensive campaign will work. In fact, the CCP itself is still in the middle of a 28-month long campaign to get its 70 million members to maintain the zeal and purity so as to better lead the Chinese in her peaceful rise. While the report card on the "baoxian" is yet to come out, indications are it is not working. All the funds and time that have been poured into the campaign seem to have generated little to make the Party and government more responsive and less abusive in the name of serving the people.

It is understandable why the elite stakeholders have expressed support for their "visionary" president and determined general secretary of the Party. It is also noticeable that we do not know how ordinary Chinese feel about this new campaign to distill yet another set of values that have all the rhetoric license and no legal deterrence at all. There is nothing wrong to purify the morality of the Chinese people but it seems to be a huge blunder to only focus on ideological fermentation and neglect installing other much more effective mechanisms that can better reduce corruption, abuse and unaccountability. A responsible government does not teach her people how to think and behave but asks her people to choose the best leaders, seeks approval of her people for her decisions, and makes it easy for people to find fault with her.

Another English version of the eight honors and eight shames is as follows:

1) The honor of loving the motherland ; the shame of endangering the motherland

2) The honor of serving the people; the shame of turning away from the people

3) The honor of upholding science; the shame of ignorance and illiteracy

4) The honor of industrious labor; the shame of indolence

5) The honor of togetherness and cooperation; the shame of profiting at the expense of others

6) The honor of honesty and keeping one's word; the shame of abandoning morality for profit

7) The honor of discipline and obedience; the shame of lawlessness and disorder

8) The honor of striving arduously; the shame of wallowing in luxury

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