By Frank Ching
China's release of a white paper on the country's political party system purports to show that it has a system of ``multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China."
This, presumably, is meant in part at least to counter criticism that China is nothing but a one-party dictatorship.
The Chinese Communist Party's working relationship with eight minor parties ― dubbed ``democratic parties" by the Communists ― goes back to before the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
The Communists called a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in September 1949, which was attended by the eight small parties and led to the establishment of the People's Republic.
In fact, the CPPCC became the de facto legislature of the newly established government in the following five years, approving the national anthem and flag and drafting the Constitution.
But while the Communists say that they consult the ``democratic parties" and accept supervision from them, in reality the Communist Party calls the shots and the minority parties dutifully support its decisions.
These ``democratic parties" ― the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang, the China Democratic League, the China National Democratic Construction Association, the China Association for Promoting Democracy, the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, the China Zhi Gong Dang, the Jiu San Society and the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League ― in effect serve a primarily decorative purpose.
In fact, after the mid-1950s, for 20 years, leaders of the ``democratic parties" were subjected to vicious persecution. As the white paper itself acknowledges, ``After 1957, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the multi-party cooperation system suffered serious setbacks."
The white paper does not say who was responsible for these ``serious setbacks." In fact, the Communist Party in 1957 launched the ``anti-rightist movement" in which intellectuals were viciously persecuted.
The movement itself stemmed from the Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which non-party personages were encouraged to speak up and criticize the Communist Party and point out its shortcomings. And after they did that, Mao Zedong purged them through relentless campaigns of political persecution.
One prominent victim was Zhang Bojun, a founder of the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party (CPWDP). He was named minister of communications by the Communist regime and was spectacularly successful for a while.
Then, because Zhang suggested during the Hundred Flowers Movement that the Communist Party share power with the other parties, he was viciously attacked, labeled China's ``No. 1 rightist" and removed as minister and as chairman of the CPWDP.
It was not until this year that non-Communists, after an absence of 50 years, were again invited to serve at senior levels of the government, with Wan Gang of the China Zhi Gong Dang being named minister of science and technology and Chen Zhu, a non-party person, being named minister of health.
Thus, it is slightly inaccurate, to say the least, to describe China's political system as ``multiparty cooperation" since the minority parties were all but destroyed in the 1950s and 1960s and have only been rebuilt in recent decades.
Still, any move by the Communist Party to widen its base or to listen to other views is to be welcomed. It would be even better if the Communists do not insist that the ``democratic parties" must support the leadership of the Communist Party. After all, what the Communist Party needs is competition, not a blank check from the non-Communist parties.
It is true that when the Communists gained power in 1949, they had the support of the Chinese people _ and of the minority parties. However, this support needs to be reaffirmed periodically in free elections, but these have never been held.
In any other part of the world where elections are held, the Communist Party would have been thrown out of power after the disasters of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
It is not enough for the party to simply ``rehabilitate" Mao's victims posthumously. The party must be willing to offer compensation to their surviving family members and to apologize for inflicting such suffering on so many innocent people.
In view of the party's past performance, it is a wonder that it now insists that these ``democratic parties" should still support the leadership of the Communist Party.
In fact, if the Communist Party now regards the persecution of the non-Communists in the 1950s as a mistake, it should make amends by accepting their suggestions at the time, the most important of which was that the party should share power with the non-Communist parties.
So far, however, there is no indication that General Secretary Hu Jintao and his colleagues are willing to do that.