Friday, March 18, 2005

Falun Gong causing CCP decline?

Brain Droppings caught a post from Daniel Drezner's site on a report by Epoch Times of 200,000 resignations from the Chinese Communist Party recently and what to make of it. Drezner's report was clarified somewhat with an e-mail from Stephen Gregory (the Epoch Times reporter) that the resignations are of a wide variety and the rapid increase was seen after the Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi also publicly did so:
"Second, the resignations, or perhaps more accurately, renunciations, are from any association with the Party, even if that association is many years in the past. Thus, former members of the CCP and former members of the CYL are posting their withdrawals to organizations of which technically they are no longer members. Third, in order to protect those who are withdrawing from harm, the website accepts resignations made under assumed names. Fourth, the relatives of deceased family members are allowed to post withdrawals on behalf of their now dead relatives. Finally, while the pace of resignations has increased rapidly all along, it really shot up after the founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, published his own withdrawal from the CYL on the Epoch Times."
There was an indication in the comments section that there was a Falun Gong connection to "Epoch Times" and a media organization called "The New Tang TV"(Actually New Tang Dynasty TV".) That is correct if this reference (obscure source and is a tranlated link) to an April 14, 2004 WSJ story by Susan Lawrence is accurate, though at the end Lawrence notes some others are willing to give ET and NTDTV some benefit of doubt:
"In the David-and-Goliath-style struggle between the Falun Gong spiritual movement and China's government, Falun Gong is fielding two new weapons: a small New York-based, Chinese-language television production company -- New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) -- and the Epoch Times, a New Jersey-registered Chinese-language newspaper. In 1999, Beijing declared Falun Gong an evil cult and launched a brutal crackdown on its practitioners in China that continues. With followers in China so besieged, believers outside China, particularly in the U.S., have steadily escalated their propaganda assault against the government. In its first full year of operation, a not-for-profit New Jersey group called Friends of Falun Gong USA raised slightly less than $2 million in 2002. Among its media efforts is an advertising campaign on San Francisco buses featuring a photograph of two meditating women and the text: " Imagine being persecuted for doing this. " But the most ambitious media initiatives by Falun Gong followers are NTDTV, broadcasting 24 hours a day via satellite since February 2002, and the Epoch Times, a free newspaper launched last September that claims a global distribution of 690,000. The paper is published at least weekly in more than 30 countries and daily in some places. Both give prominent coverage to Falun Gong, which Beijing still suppresses because it sees it as a major challenge to its rule. Where the paper and TV company are controversial is in their unwillingness to identify themselves as having any association with the group, despite ample evidence to the contrary. " Right now we are labeled a Falun Gong TV station, even though we are not, " says NTDTV's President Zhong Lee. NTDTV " really has nothing to do with Falun Gong at all, " he adds. Yet tax records show that a top spokesperson for Falun Gong in the U.S., Gail Rachlin, is one of three directors for NTDTV, officially registered as Universal Communications Network. As for the Epoch Times, Editor in Chief Annette Jun Guo says to call it a Falun Gong media organization would be " completely wrong " and dangerously " misleading " because Falun Gong, she says, has no political goals. Yet tax records show the chairman of the paper's board is another top Falun Gong spokesperson, Kangang Xu. Executives at New Tang Dynasty and Epoch Times say their organizations are simply independent voices in a Chinese-language overseas-media landscape increasingly influenced by the deep-pocketed Chinese government and its allies. Both media describe their core missions in neutral terms as educating the Chinese community about universal values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. An impressive roster of prominent Chinese dissidents outside and inside China, who are not Falun Gong followers, are willing to give New Tang Dynasty and Epoch Times the benefit of the doubt. U.S. -based exiles such as Harry Wu and He Qinglian are frequent NTDTV interviewees. Respected mainland-based writers Liu Xiaobo and Yu Jie write regular columns for Epoch Times."
I suspect that the a large proportion of those resignations are from Falun Gong members, particularly since George notes a big uptick in resignations after Li Hongzhi publicized his. And I wouldn't be surprised if the resignations are a result of an underground request being fed to Falun Gong members in China. The Falun Gong is in a fight with the government and to an extent it is a fight for FG's life, if only a fight to be left alone. This effort to publicize resignations can be seen as pump priming strategy to put heat on the Chinese government, as can the publication of the Nine Commentaries. I'll even guess that the publication of the resignations is being used to advertise the Nine Commentaries in the hope of bringing on resignations beyond the bounds of the Falun Gong.

That aside, the strategy is not made without a basis for being successful in riding what is possibly an unassociated decline in CCP membership anyway, a membership which was never very big to begin with. There are only about 66 million CCP members. In addition, there were only 63.7 million members in the Chinese Youth League (CYL) as of 1995. Those numbers likely may not be additive, either, as membership age for CCP is 18 while that for the CYL is 14 to 28. But even if it is, that only constitutes 10% of the population and maybe 7% of the electorate. From a voting standpoint there is no advantage in being a CCP member. And it wasn't automatic membership, and still isn't, either.

The main advantage of being a CCP member was recognition and that helped in getting a good job, or a better living space, among other perks. In other words, it was a way to get ahead. And when I say get ahead, I mean both legitimately and illegitimately. Corruption was rampant in the CCP -- you could make good money being an official, if you wanted to.

But the advantages of being in the CCP is waning. The government is dropping people, left and right, from the public teat, and with the government's slow embrace of private market reforms, people have less and less reason to join. And the government is cracking down on corruption with the big fish in the corruption market getting hanged after being tried and convicted which, who knows, may be considered being lucky by those in that situation.

But as a practical people, many I know, both in the fast growing middle class as well as those on the first rung of the ladder, do not have a great desire to rock the boat. A lot just ignore whatever the government is doing so long as they can be employed, make a reasonable RMB and get ahead or have some picture in their mind of a better future. I could point to a lot more on this meme but only reinforces a picture of a CCP in decline, it doesn't add to the picture.

Back a few years ago, the government decided to allow some freedom to elect local officials. As a result, CCP members have lost the certainty of being elected. With the CCP having the taint of corruption associated with it, those wanting the prominence of holding elected office will probably not want to run as a CCP member.

And the leadership of the CCP (aka the government) sees the loss in interest. They've taken steps to counteract it by dropping restrictions to membership. A few years ago, the CCP allowed in their first capitialist leaning members. In addition, the CCP can now boast members with known religious affliation or beliefs.

So, the CCP is changing. It will probably continue to change in pace with whatever reforms it makes, just so the party remains relevant and so that it has a combined good reputation and large and steady membership when the time comes to allow other political parties. You can be sure, however, that not a lot will change until Taiwan is again part of the whole.

And that's what makes China's growing insistence on the Taiwan coming back into the fold soon so interesting.

Update: Added a title. (Ugh)

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