China was a very different China before 2013. Sadly, many people didn’t really take notice of news behind the Great Wall until China Daily, CGTN and TikTok started making waves. This means that these folks do not have the benefit of hindsight.
Yes, as the video reveals, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has even talked about democratic reforms. Someone who once stood behind Zhao Ziyang could become Prime Minister. Not anymore. Things too a drastic turn after the “emperor” took over. The focus of this video is a character who is still active on YouTube after being virtually killed off on Chinese platforms.
A historian, Yuan Tengfei was initially an opportunist who managed to make it big while pandering to the anti-communist and anti-Mao intellectuals about 10 years ago. Years of economic and educational reforms have bred a middle class capable of critical thinking. Nothing happened to Yuan even when conservatives accused him of maligning martyrs and national heroes.
While most foreign websites and international platforms were already shut down after the Beijing Olympics in 2008, self criticisms were still generally tolerated. Under the leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, Yuan had a field day and so did publications like 炎黄春秋 edited by Xinhua Agency’s top journalist Yang Jingsheng. China at that point in time, was indeed on the path towards political reforms and even democracy.
When a docile seat-warmer suddenly turned dictator, events took a drastic turn. Yuan Tengfei crossed the line when his fans celebrated Mao’s death. He was fired from his job and his social media accounts were all deactivated. One of his biggest fans, property tycoon and senior communist party member Ren Zhiqiang was sentenced to 18 years’ jail for making fun of the “emperor” during the pandemic.
The very popular and thought-provoking topics that these intellectuals touched on merely 10 years ago have now become totally unthinkable taboos. Yes, China has taken great strides forward both economically and intellectually since 1976, but it’s equally obvious that the reverse gear has been engaged in recent years. It’s quite perplexing to note that so many people are still living in the past, thinking that the country is still moving in the right direction.
“We are now at a critical juncture in reforming China. Without reforms in the political system, it would be impossible to realise the full potential of our economic reforms. The gains we have made in the past could be lost. The tragedy of the Cultural Revolution may happen again.”