Communist Party’s old guard bitter over being muzzled


BEIJING — Once-powerful senior Communist Party figures are, ironically like many dissidents, complaining bitterly about being muzzled.

Former National Bureau of Statistics chief Li Chengrui is among a group of 170 retired senior cadres who are staunch defenders of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong’s socialist values and say the current regime is silencing them.

“Before I die, I want to express my views… why can’t we debate freely? Marx was not afraid of debate,” Li, 85, told AFP in an interview ahead of the party’s five-yearly Congress that began Monday.

The group, many of whom were government ministers or held other senior posts, have called for a return to a socialist economy based on public ownership and a reverse of the policy allowing entrepreneurs into the party.

Their calls were made in a recent letter addressed to the elite Standing Committee of the Politburo, which is the party’s top organ, and Congress delegates.

It was posted on leftist Web site, but the site was shut down for a couple of days last month and the letter taken off under orders of the younger cadres now in power.

“The only response we got (from the authorities) was ‘Stop publishing it on the Internet,’” Li said.

The letter criticized past Chinese leaders who ushered in capitalist values, which the group blame for a host of social ills in modern China such as rampant corruption, a widening wealth gap and serious environmental degradation.

“It makes me want to shed tears when I see a Communist Party like this… they don’t have to listen to us but history is ruthless, only regimes which respect their people will last,” Li said. He said that, with the opinions of the old guard banned in the state-run media, it was “very sad” that they could only express their views publicly by speaking to the overseas media.

Speaking to the foreign press is also a desperate tactic for human rights activists and other dissidents who have been muzzled under the rule of President Hu Jintao.