China's congress throws away its rubber stamp

A delegate from Inner Mongolia complains about the lack of autonomy in his supposedly autonomous region. A delegate from Shanghai urges newspapers to be bolder in their exposes. "So far they have only dared to expose flies, small cats, and small tigers."

A delegate from the People's Liberation Army -- the chief of staff, no less -- admits that some cadres "under the remnant influence of feudalism, substitute their own subjective will for the law."

This is a sampling of some of the comments that surfaced during the National People's Congress, China's legislature. More than 3,000 delegates from all walks of life attended the congress, which opened Aug. 30 and closed Sept. 10.

Once it was a docile rubber-stamp affair. Now its delegates, cautiously but unmistakably, are beginning to test the limits of permissible criticism and suggestions.

On Sept. 8 Chairman Hua Guofeng of the Communist Party made a two-hour speech , a large portion of which was devoted to the need to uproot bureaucratism. Mr. Hua also asked to be relieved of the premiership and asked for the appointment of Zhao Ziyang to be his successor.

It would have been unthinkable for the congress to reject the request, backed as it is by the authority of the Communist Party Central Committee. Nevertheless, at least in form, request was voted on Sept. 10, along with numerous other measures submitted by the government.

The real fireworks of the congress, however, took place during the group sessions, in which delegates broke up into small units to discuss the various government reports and recommendations. The delegate from Inner Mongolia used one such occasion to complain that the government only gave his region "special consideration, not autonomy."

He and other delegates from the vast grasslands region complained that they were regarded as a minority people -- that their region was treated as a source of raw materials, not as a center for industry; that it has to pay more than other regions for goods and services imported from more developed parts of China; that they are losing their lands to unauthorized immigrants, unspecified but obviously from the dominant Han race.

The delegate from Shanghai asked for a newspaper law defining the limits of responsibility for reporters and editors, so that newspapers can fearlessly carry exposes of corruption and wrongdoing in high places.At present there is no such law, and reporters who sniff out evidence of wrongdoing must first submit their stories for vetting by local party committees.

The invariable result is that stories are made more vague, the delegate charged. When newspapers uncovered mistakes by "the former responsible person" for a county in shansi Province, "why was not the name of the person revealed," the delegate asked.

(The responsible person was in fact Chen Yonggui, who subsequently became vice- premier and a member of the Politburo. Mr. Chen has just lost his vice-premeirship and is not expected to stay on the Politburo much longer.)

Yang Dezhi, chief fo staff of the People's Liberation Army, told his fellow delegates that "among our cadre fighters, including a few leading cadres, the concept of democracy and law is weak. Some of them cannot distinguish what is right from what is wrong, what is glorious from what is shameful, do not know what is law-abiding and what is law-breaking."

There is little question that the present leadership, although intent on maintaining ultimate party control, is trying to evolve a more open and responsive style and that this in turn is encouraging people to speak up who in the past would have never dared to do so.

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