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Are Chinese people capable of telling the truth?
Fu Guoyong
2/18/2004

An article appeared at the end of last year in the People's Daily advocating truthful speech, especially from the people in official positions. I really doubt the practicality of this article, because of the following reasons: First, in the current Chinese system and society, people are not allowed to tell the truth.

In recent decades, numerous people were punished for telling the truth. In 1957, 550,000 people were willing to tell the truth and were labeled “anti-government” radicals for suggesting government improvements. In 1959, head of the Defense Department in China, Pong Dehuai, disclosed the substandard living conditions of Chinese farmers during Mao Zedong reign and was sent to jail and later tortured to death. During the “Cultural Revolution” tens of millions Chinese people were jailed and persecuted by offering suggestions for government improvements. Many were murdered. Even today, a young man, Li Luseng, of Shanxi province was forced to cut his tongue simply because he disclosed the truth of the government. Persecution of reporters, like Gao Qingrong, can be commonly seen everywhere in China. Since the Chinese system and society cannot guarantee the safety of the people telling the truth, less and less people are willing to jeopardize their safety to do so.

Secondly, the morality in Chinese society is very low. In ancient China, proverbs such as “being rich, poor, or threatened will not change a righteous people’s mind” and “although finding something upright is almost impossible, a righteous person will continue to persist” were followed by Chinese people for thousands of years.

These proverbs used to be the moral standard of Chinese people and the most precious elements of the Chinese culture. However, people in China totally threw the moral standard away in recent decades. Instead, they do whatever is needed to get rich or be promoted to gain some profit. For example, the manufacturing and selling of fake brand name products is commonly found everywhere in China. Telling lies is nothing compared to the manufacturing and selling of fake products.

In a society, if telling the truth could benefit the teller, most people would follow suit. However, in China, telling the truth could bring about major problems or could even be murdered by being the teller. Therefore, people in China normally avoid telling the truth. If this situation lasts for a long time, people gradually lose the desire to tell the truth.

Advocating truthful speech for high level officials is almost impossible. Before his verdict of guilty, the ex-assistant deputy governor of Anhui province, Wang Huaizhong, was on a fast track of promoting himself. It was not because he was an honest person, on the contrary, he told many lies. Only in this way could he easily get ahead in the Chinese system and receive a lot bribes. He is not the only case. There are millions of other Chinese officials like him. All of the Chinese officials know that in order to survive in the Chinese system, truthful speech is impossible.

Unless there are some fundamental changes in the overall Chinese system, advocating truthfulness is as useless as the article in the newspaper.

Editor's Note: People's Daily is the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. Its editorials often reflect policy positions of the government.

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