- Testimony before the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
- September 18, 1997
- by Harry Wu
- Executive Director, The
Laogai Research Foundation
- Research Fellow, Hoover
- Today China is a nation standing at the
crossroads of history. It is a nation that, as its people
collectively ponder which way to go, will become most
important international issue the United States will have
to deal with in the next century.
- As you think of China, I ask you to
picture China's Communist regime as a gigantic building.
For most of the past four decades it looked ugly and
terrible from the outside because of its disastrous
poverty, red horror and uncooperative attitude toward
Americaan attitude which made it our enemy in Korea
and Vietnam. But the ugly building was stable, its
pillars were strong and the majority of the Chinese
people believed that living in it, under the Communist
partys leadership, was their best hope for future
- Communism in China can be divided into two
stylesDengs (from 1979 to the present) and
Maos (from 1949 to 1979). Much has been made of the
differences between the system Deng created and the one
Mao Zedong left behind. True, the two did differ in their
methods of rule. The biggest of these differences is that
Mao never allowed a restoration of
capitalismsomething which Deng permitted in his
later years. But, in essence, the two systems do not
differ. At its core, the Chinese communist system of
today relies on the same politics of totalitarian
despotism and the economics of public ownership that Mao
used to impose his will on China.
- Deng gave the Chinese people a break
economically because Maos disastrous policies left
him with no other choice. The economic and political
relaxation that Deng allowed has caused some to think
that his rule was fundamentally different from
- It was more than 70 years ago that Deng,
then a factory worker living in France, joined the
Communist Party and vowed to devote his life to fighting
for communism in China. In the last 20 years of his
liferoughly the years he spent as Chinas
paramount rulerhe did violate basic doctrines of
communism. Under the slogan of "socialism with
Chinese characteristics," and in the name of
"developing a system of a socialist market
economy," Deng and his Communist Party permitted a
restoration of capitalism and invited foreign capital to
flood into China.
- But todays Chinese communist system
is still characterized by totalitarianism and a massive
bureaucracy which oversees the public ownership of the
primary means of production. Todays China remains
under the firm control of the Chinese Communist party.
China is no "former Communist country," as
President Clinton has been quoted saying. Even with the
continuation of Dengs economic reforms, the average
Chinese enjoys no right to free speech. Consider the
plights of Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan. Both are currently
serving their second terms in prisonone for 14
years, the other for 11 yearsjust for speaking the
- Under Dengs rule the appearance of
this Chinese Communist building has changed. As Western
technology and capital have flooded in, the building has
taken on a colorful appearance, but the pillars that
support it are cracking because the concept of Communism
as a guiding principle is already on the trash heap of
history. This ideological void constitutes a crisis in
the minds of ordinary Chinese. For thousands of years,
dynasty after dynasty, the Chinese have maintained a
tradition of following a leader with "the mandate of
heaven." Todays communist leaders have no such
mandate. The pillars continue to crumble.
- Other cracks in the buildings
pillars are easy to see. Today Chinas urban
unemployment rate stands somewhere between 7 and 10%.
This high figure stands to rise as the government moves
ahead with plans to address debt problems at its banks by
cutting lose unprofitable state-run enterprises.
- Compounding this unemployment problem is
another crack that runs through the agricultural sector,
where 70 to 80% of the population lives. Agricultural
production has come to a bottleneck. If the communist
leaders can not solve the ownership problemwho owns
the landthen the peasants will no longer be
interested in developing and improving production. Yet if
there is too much improvement in production, millions
more agricultural workers will lose their jobs and
migrate to the urban areas. Some 150 millions have done
so already. These people, the government knows, are a
threat to stability.
- This question of domestic control reveals
another crack in the pillars. The Chinese Communists
believe in Maos saying that "power comes from
the barrel of the gun." The person who controls the
gun is the boss. Mao and Deng were both soldiers who
naturally commanded the respect of the Peoples
Liberation Army. Jiang Zemin has had no career with the
PLA, but he is trying to control it. It is a hard job.
Can he succeed?
- Since the establishment of the Chinese
Communist Party in 1921, its internal power struggles
have never ceased. Most of the CCPs leaders have
been killed, not by foreign enemies, but by their own
comrades. Because the CCP is a dictatorship system, the
concept of one country, one party, one leader, follows.
Recently party leaders have tried to present themselves
to the world with the friendly face of a collective
leadership. We believe this at the risk of ignoring
history. Jiang could be on his way to becoming
Chinas third generation communist leader, but if he
shows weakness, others will try to topple him. I
dont think we can predict what the outcome of the
partys internal power struggle will be, but it is
clear that it will become more heated. As the central
planning economic system continues to break up and
regional power bases grow, the political crisis will
become more apparent. I think it could lead to a civil
war in the next century.
- Another crack in the pillars runs through
the people themselves. Having endured decades of
oppression under the communists, the people, sooner or
later, will cry out. Today there is a lot of underground
literature being circulated in China. Such publications
are deeply critical of the ruling authorities.
- The final crack I would like to point out
to you can be followed out of China to nations such as
this one. Chinas economy has become heavily
dependent on foreign trade and investment. Today, 48 % of
the goods China produces for export are made by foreign
or joint-venture enterprises. These foreign and joint
ventures employ some 17 million people. In a nation that
has traditionally prided itself on its self-reliance,
this sort of foreign involvement in the economy has no
- Considering all of the cracks in this
colorful communist building, it could, just like the
Berlin Wall, collapse in one night. But even if this were
to happen, it would not mean that a free, democratic and
peaceful nation will rise out of the rubble. I believe
that tyrannical systems will persist in China for at
least the next 100 years.
- To understand why this will happen, one
need only to take a close look at the current regime and
see the line connecting it with Chinas ancient
past. Marxist-Leninist ideology in todays China is
but a thin coat covering the body of a traditional and
tyrannical Chinese dynasty. Communist political
dictatorship system is in many ways the same as the
former dynasty systems. Despite his reforms, a Communist
emperor-without-a-crown like Deng Xiaoping controls the
government, military forces, media and education
systemthe whole country.
- Today, "nationalism" and
"patriotism," instead of communism/socialism
have become the major political slogans of the regime.
- Today the state ownership system is
beginning to break a little. Such changes could are
taking the Chinese into unknown territory where economic
diversity could lead to the creation a diverse political
environment. "Could" if the despots in Beijing
would allow it.
- Think of China as a bird with two
wingspolitics and economy. The bird cannot fly with
either of its wings tied up. The Soviet bird, with its
economic wing bound up, desperately flapped its political
wing, only to crash. What about the Chinese communist
- Early reports from the current Communist
Party congress show a leadership that wants to institute
new economic reforms, but not at the expense of its
monopoly on power or its control of the primary means of
- Genuine economic transformation can only
be achieved through the transfer of ownership of means of
production to the private sector, but it is clear that
the party leaders are not considering allowing the 800
million peasants who live in rural areas to own the land
they farm or giving all the ordinary people of China more
say about where they live and work.
- In other words, the Chinese bird is
struggling and will continue to struggle. There are
people in this country who argue that it could gradually
fly upwards if the political wing begins to move in
unison with the rapidly beating economic wing.
Personally, I believe that as long as the Chinese
communists maintain their system of tyrannical, one-party
rule, the two wings will resist cooperation and that this
bird will die of exhaustion.
- Still, to many of the people who have who
have business interests in China, this is not apparent.
They will happily tell anyone who will listen that China
is well on its way to becoming an economic giant. I have
to agree with these people when they make this argument.
They, in turn, usually agree with me when I say that
China is also on its way to becoming a military giant in
the next century. If the totalitarians in Beijing have
their way, these conditions of ready cash and military
power will someday make them into a communist giant. If
this comes to pass, American policymakers in the next
century will have to make difficult decisions regarding
emerging communist giant.
- I find it highly ironic that the United
States can project such strong intolerance toward the
regimes in North Korea and Cuba and yet seem to find the
dictators in Beijing acceptable. If the Soviet Union was
the "Evil Empire," then China is the
"Angel Empire." As such, China can enjoy the
Most Favored Nation trading status which the Soviet Union
was never granted.
- The shrewdness of Deng Xiaoping and his
successors cannot be denied. The rapid growth of
capitalism they have allowed has given Communist China
enough economic leverage to buy off all external
pressure. This means Western money and technology are the
fuel in the tank which is driving the Chinese Communist
- As they make deals for more of this fuel
with Western CEOs, Chinas contemporary leaders are
quick with a handshake and a smile for the cameras. But
behind this fašade of openness, underneath their Western
suits, Chinas leaders keep in their hearts a
deep-seeded fear of real democracy and the human rights
that go with it. When they are confronted about this
question, these leaders reflexively say that Asian
concepts of human rights differ from those of the West.
It is a sad but all-too-common thing to hear their
Western partners echo this convenient lie.
- Another convenient lie is the one I am
hearing in some American intellectual and political
circles. It has to do with the absurd idea that
village-level elections in China are somehow leading the
nation toward democracy.
- Elections in China are not new. They
actually were taking place as early as the 1950s to
select delegates to the Peoples congress. Everyone
there understands that elections can be held. They have
given the people the impression that there is some
measure of democracy.
- The Chinese government, of course, loves
to hear these claims repeated in the West. They may hear
them more often as they move ahead to expand their
village election programs.
- This brings me to what I believe is the
fundamental question about the village elections: If they
are such a good idea, why arent there elections in
the cities? Why not hold the elections only in the
- The answer is that the Chinese Communists
have not relaxed their grip on power in the cities, while
in the countryside they need to do so because of the
crisis they are facing there.
- In the villages, people live under
Peoples Commune system that controlled their lives
and the economy completely. In term of political control,
the Peoples Communes model is a good thing for the
Communist Party. All the peasants work and lived like
slaves, with no rights to say anything about production.
This caused a crisis for production. Deng addressed this
crisis by creating a so-called "contract"
system by which the peasants could farm individual plots,
which the state still owns. So the Peoples Commune
no longer controls everything, as it did in Maos
day. Farmers can even borrow money to support their
- The planned economic system in agriculture
has been broken. The Chinese Communist leaders, clever as
they are, have realized that they need a new system to
manage and control this pressure in the countryside. This
is what leads them to the concept of village elections.
- The conclusion is very simple: Under the
current dictatorship system, the party controls the
economy, the militaryeverything. If you believe
these village elections are spreading democracy, you are
actually helping the communist propaganda machine and
helping the Communist Party stay in power.
- There were also elections in the Soviet
Union and more recently have been some in Iraq. I know of
no one who believes these exercises constitute steps
toward freedom. So why do some people today claim that
village elections in China will lead to true democracy?
- The only thing clear about the current
U.S. strategy to engage China comprehensively is that it
is not working. The idea is to talk to China on many
fronts so that no single problem dominates. But this
piecemeal approach has been easy for the Chinese to shrug
off. Whatever the issue, from software piracy, to weapons
proliferation to Taiwan, the U.S. is not having much luck
at influencing Chinese behavior.
- After the United States, China has become
the worlds number-two nation in terms of foreign
investment. The money not only benefits common Chinese
but also supports the communist government. It gives them
the hard currency to hire hundreds of laid-off military
experts from the former Soviet Union.
- In China, the only force that will really
change things is internal pressure. China's leaders know
that it was the coalition of intellectuals, workers and
the church that brought down Communism in Poland. In
other words, the most important pressure for change on
China's leaders is not external pressure, which China's
economic growth deflects, but internal pressure, which
Chinese leaders have learned to control to a large
- But this control of internal pressure does
not happen completely in the dark. As China has opened
its doors to the world, the full truth about the
criminality of Chinese communism has begun to emerge.
- At the heart of this system to control
internal pressure is the Laogai, which means, literally,
"reform through labor." I think
"politically imposed slavery system," is a
better definition. The Laogai shares many characteristics
with Stalins gulag and Hitlers concentration
camps. If this was 1937 and somebody here wanted to talk
about rumors of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, how
many people would be interested?
- From 1933 to 1937 Germany's economy
expanded by 73% and most of the Germans generally agreed
with Hitlers policies. The West, meanwhile,
cooperated with Germany companies and nobody boycotted
the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. It was not the until
the liberation of the concentration camps and the opening
of the Nazis own files that world fully understood
the horrors on those camps. Then the world learned the
high price of appeasement.
- But while the gulag and concentration
camps have passed into history, the Laogai camps remain.
The Laogai camps are proof that what the Beijing
authorities really fear is democracy and human rights.
The Laogai is the point at which American engagement with
China should begin.
- If we want to see the end of Communist
system in China we have to talk first about the Laogai.
The Laogai is the Beijing regimes most fundamental
tool for controlling internal pressure.
- And to those who would argue that the
United States has no leverage with which to push for
changes in the Laogai or anywhere else in China, I say
that the Chinese have done an excellent job creating the
illusion that they have the upper hand.
- The truth is that today China needs the
United States much more than the United States needs
China. While some American feel they need access to
Chinas markets to ensure future success, the
Chinese nation as a whole must keep the American dollars,
the American technology, flooding in to maintain growth.
It is this growth which allows the average Chinese to
forget about the Communist Partys lost moral
authoritywhich allows the Chinese Communists to
prepare their troops for the day when the growth stops.
- There is a danger that the world's most
populous nation and the U.S. could wind up in a kind of
21st century cold war. That would pose an enormous
strategic problem for the U.S. and put billions of
dollars invested by American companies at serious risk.
Nearly fifty years ago there was a debate in the U.S.
about "who lost China." I believe we will have
another debate soon. The question will be: "who
rebuilt Communist China."