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BC's Tales of the Pacific | 7 dangerous topics

HAVE you ever been in a conversation and someone said they won’t talk about something, that the subject is taboo?

In China, a remarkable document was leaked to the outside world, known as “Document Number Nine,” which sternly told that there were seven topics that should never be discussed in all of China, at any time, under any circumstances.  What are these seven topics and why are they so dangerous?

Document Number Nine, officially titled “Briefing on the Current Situation in the Ideological Realm,” circulated among communist government officials beginning in 2012.  In the summer of 2013 it was leaked to the press by a Chinese dissident journalist named Gao Yu, who was subsequently arrested and sentenced to a long prison term.

The document warns of too much Western influence in China, especially in the realms of politics, economics and journalism, and warns of serious consequences if government officials allowed these things to be discussed.  What is so dangerous that statesmen could be arrested, college professors could be fired, and newspapers could be shut down for even mentioning them?  Here is the list of the Seven Dangerous Topics:

Promoting Western Constitutional Democracy:  This is seen as an attempt to undermine China’s one-party, communist political system.  Such ideas as multiple political parties, free and open elections and a judicial system independent of the political rulers are forbidden.

 Promoting “universal values”:  All values are the product of the culture in which they were created, therefore there is no such thing as a universal value, good for all peoples and places.  What the West refers to as universal values are actually Western values, packaged and promoted for a larger audience.  The hidden message in the propaganda of universal values is that China will only have a future when it accepts Western values and abandons Chinese values.

Promoting individual rights:  This is seen as attempt to undermine the authority of the state over the individual.  Any increase the rights of the individual will naturally involve a decrease in the power of the state.

Promoting Capitalism:  This includes ideas of open competition, free markets, and private ownership.

Promoting Western ideas of journalism:  The Chinese government believes that the media should rightly come under party control.  What the West would call a free press is anathema to communist ideology.  The primary goal of the journalist is to promote the interests of the state, which means the interests of the party.  Journalistic opposition to the government will not be tolerated.

Promoting a marketplace of political ideologies.  Chinese must not refer to things such as “American-style democracy” or the “liberal approach to reform” and certainly never use such expressions as “Chinese-style communism” or “Russian-style Marxism.”  These terms imply a smorgasbord of political ideologies, as if there are different ways of governing that all carry some measure of legitimacy and relegates Chinese socialism to one of many competing philosophies.  Instead, in China it is only proper to speak of the correct way and many incorrect ways of doing things.  Obviously, the Chinese way is the correct way.  

Questioning the path of reform taken by the Chinese government:  Chinese leaders are trying to modernize their country and economy while avoiding the mistakes made by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union 30 years ago.  Gorbachev allowed too much criticism and  journalistic freedom, allowing people to question what the government was doing.

If Tiananmen Square and Document Number Nine teach us anything, it is that the political leadership in China has no intention of traveling down the Soviet road to oblivion.  There is consensus in the West that China’s economy has reached its growth potential under the restraints of socialist thought.  For continued growth, China must liberalize and that scares them.  Where is the breaking point, and when will it be reached?

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.