Despite speculation that senior leadership was looking to move away from the thorny legacy of Mao, both the historical bedrock of the party and a man whose policies led to the deaths of millions, the importance of “Mao Zedong Thought” remained enshrined in Hu’s words.
Hu’s report, the result of an extensive party review process, hewed a familiar line of calling for both economic growth and “social management,” an approach that has brought national wealth while leaving social issues to fester. The document asserted that “we must, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and basing ourselves on China’s realities, take economic development as the central task.”
Hu’s report recognized the need for people to have a way to voice their complaints, especially about corrupt officials. But there was no word on precisely how that would be accomplished in a China where party officials wield almost absolute power. In provincial settings, local leadership’s latitude to do whatever it wants at times appears feudal.
Hu’s report said that “people’s democracy should be expanded. The institutions of democracy should be improved and its forms enriched.” Hu stressed that there should be “regular and open channels for the people to voice their demands.” He added that “no one in a position of power is allowed in any way to take one’s own words as the law, place one’s own authority above the law or abuse the law.”
As the party congress continues, many will be watching for changes in “intra-party democracy,” the concept that party posts be obtained through actual elections instead of decisions made in secret and then rubberstamped in public.
After Hu’s presentation, Liao Zefang, one of the congress’ 2,268 delegates and a lawyer from southern Jiangxi province, was asked how competitive the election process will be for getting onto the central committee this year.
“This is not a question for me to answer,” he said.
Zhao Guangjun, a social worker from coastal Guangdong province, said, “The time has not come yet, I cannot say.”
A third delegate, who did not give his name, walked off, saying, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
During a press conference the day before, congress spokesman Cai Mingzhao was queried about intra-party democracy.
His response was thick with jargon and suggested there could be movement, though only under the very careful control of the party.
“We must combine centralism on the basis of democracy with democracy under centralized guidance,” Cai said, “so that we will create a political situation within the party in which we have both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom.”
At the Great Hall of the People on Thursday, Yu Jingzi, a delegate and hospital administrator from Shanghai, gave a straightforward answer for how long she hopes one-party rule can last in China: “Forever.”