By Anjan Roy
In China, a dead man is always more dangerous than a living one. A death of a Chinese leader has brought on the country a realisation of a fork in the forest road. W.H. Auden had written a poem “Fork in the Road,” where he talks of a traveller coming to a fork in a forest road. He took one road and leaving the other untrodden. That untrodden path would always hold its secrets and its treasures from the traveller. China is today in that W.H. Auden mode, at least mentally.
Since China’s recently-retired prime minister Li Keqiang, suddenly died in Shanghai, last Friday, the Chinese citizens went into a deep public grief. People are mourning Li Keqiang’s reformist dreams which he could not introduce. They are not celebrating Li achievements but what reforms and liberalisations that Li could not pursue.
Li’s path, it is widely believed, could have possibly taken China onto a much less harsh and regimented end, as it is now, and to a more open, a more sensitive and less machine-like entity. The fear of a backlash from such sense of deprivation is so strong among the powers that be, that they are going the extra mile to obliterate all inconvenient traces of public mourning.
So much so, the Chinese Communist Party and the government, headed by president Xi Jinping, are extraordinarily cautious in controlling the outpouring of condolences and messages with floral tributes. Government men are removing little cards expressing sentiments from the floral tributes.
There are precedents for being extra cautious. The death of Zhou Enlai, erupted into a massive outpouring of popular discontent about the depredations that followed Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution. Mao introduced Cultural Revolution which had brought in a regime of repression and tight control of lives of the Chinese people.
Millions of people had suffered from the gross policy blunders of Cultural Revolution. Zhou had differed from Mao on pursuing Cultural Revolution as such huge human toll. Millions careers had perished. Mourning for Zhou, who was a pragmatist, was the medium for expressing discontent which could otherwise not be let out. Zhou died in 1976.
A decade later, death of Hu Yaobang, a reformist leader who was side-lined, calcified the strains of deep dissatisfaction over the regimented society that the Communist Party bosses had imposed on the people. It unleashed a pent up sense of grievance for lack of personal freedom and heavy handed government control over their lives.
The feelings widespread among the student community gradually coalesced into what became an iconic struggle for freedom, culminating in the Tianan Men square sit-ins by students demanding a freer society and country. A single student standing in front of a Chinese tank and the slow movement of the armoured tank — a symbol of state power — crushing that lone unarmed student became the insignia for the student uprising.
The present-day leader, Xi Jinping, is reputed to have welcomed the crushing of that revolt of the Chinese students. Years later, Xi had regretted the downfall of the Soviet regime, saying that the ideological weakness of the Russian Communist Party had led to its downfall.
Today, XI is intensifying his iron control over the lives of the ordinary Chinese. In the face of a slowing economy and its tolls, instead of showing empathy with the suffering of the people, particularly, the young, Xi had advised them “eat bitterness”. That is a Chinese way of admonishing the youth for not being ready to undergo hardship.
Once beaten twice shy, the Chinese top is seeing nightmares in the expression of grief over the reformist Li’s unrealised dreams about how Chinese society could have been more open, market friendly, and integrated with the world under Li. The government policemen are going to the extent of examining every bit of handwritten notes with the floral bouquets that people are placing.
And grief has spread. Loads of floral tributes are being offered across Chinese cities and places associated with Li. His birth place in a remote villages in Anhui province even attracted mourners.
The Party has swung into action to wipe out any admiration for Li Keqiang on the social media and internet platforms which might reflect adversely on the current supreme leader, Xi. Some experts are pointing out that the condolences and mourning is camouflaging the deep anger people are fuming to expressto the policies that the Xi regime had imposed in the last two decades.
The underground faultiness are coming up to the surface. Li Kequiang was a highly educated person, having attended the Peking University. He visualised more reforms in China, saying in pithy words that the waters of the Yellow River or Yangtse will never flow backwards, meaning that the process of opening up and liberalisation would eventually triumph.
Li was a humane leader, according to reports circulating about him and in memorials. He had openly admitted that no less than 600 million Chinese earned just about 1,000 yuans, or about $135. He was sympathetic toward the youth who were looking for a “dream” job and starting their new life.
He had empathy and could articulate the people’s feelings and grievances. The greatest tribute to him came from an ordinary Chinese: “Only he could understand me. I did not have a stable job for last four years”.
This was a social media entry, which was quickly removed by the government officials But not before it was on the lips of every ordinary Chinese. (IPA Service)