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Interview: ‘You can criticize the CCP, but you must not criticize Xi Jinping’

Xi Jinping speaks to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2017. (Ma Zhancheng/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
August 19, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Cai Xia, a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, following recent public criticism of CCP chief Xi Jinping, was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party with her pension stripped on August 17 for “serious violations of political discipline of the Party.” Widely known as one of the “Hereditary [Second Generation] Red,” descendants of founding members or important figures of the CCP, Cai Xia told RFA that she has no intention to remain on board with the current CCP leadership and is happy to be back with the ranks of the people. In an interview with Jane Tang of RFA’s Mandarin Service late on Monday, the 68-year-old Cai discussed attitudes toward  Xi Jinping within the CCP, under a system in which party members also face authoritarian surveillance, and shared updates of another elite critic of Xi, real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who was detained by the CCP last month.

RFA: The Central Party School claimed that you were expelled from the Chinese Communist Party because you have seriously violated CCP discipline. How did you learn of the decision? What is your response to the decision?

Cai Xia: They had spoken (with me) at 10 on Monday morning. I was not aware of the decision prior to the conversation. During the communication they read two decisions to me: One, my expulsion from the Chinese Communist Party, and two, my pension has been stripped. The conversation lasted for less than nine minutes. They did not say anything more. I said I will appeal the decision. I may have held a different political point of view, but you cannot take away my pension.

I have worked for my entire life, for more than 40 years. The pension is my right. What you have done is a violation of human rights. I have no objection to the expulsion from the party. I was already prepared for that to happen; it was just a matter of sooner or later.

RFA: As a former professor of the CCP Central Party School, you are now expelled from the party. Do you ever regret criticizing the CCP leader, calling him a “gang boss” who is continuing on this path down to the end, and for saying that China’s only way out is to have a new leader?

Cai Xia: No (regrets). When the country makes wrong decisions on critical issues, the party must be responsible. The top leader of the CCP must shoulder the responsibility–not to mention nowadays there is no democratic decision-making process within the party. Xi Jinping is calling all the shots on major issues. I call him a gang boss because there is no transparency, and there is no decision-making mechanism. When different opinions surface, coming from people like me, they can expel you from the party and take your pension away.

As for other individuals in the party, they can use measures like what they have done with Ren Zhiqiang: that is, to accuse him of corruption. They (the Communist Party) use this tactic to silence those who are critical of the party. How does this look like a modern political party? So, he (Xi) deserved it when I called him a gang boss. He only talks about “democracy” as lip service, but fundamentally he has no idea about what democracy is.

RFA: What is the sentiment within the CCP that Xi Jinping faces these days? If someone like you, who was once so loyal to the Party and who has studied the CCP for decades, is now stepping forward to express your criticism, is there strong opposition to him within the Party? Are there channels for CCP members to express their opinions?

Cai Xia: Between 2001 to around 2006, there were active discussions within the CCP, because everyone hoped, through theoretical studies, to promote intra-party democracy, to solve issues of political system reform in China, and to promote the perfection of the socialist economy system and of the market economy.

However, after he (Xi Jinping) took office, the room for discussion has gradually shrunk. For instance, I was invited to be a special research advisor of the National Society for Party Building Studies (NSPBS). They would consult with us for yearly research topics, which are distributed across the CCP, for party members to conduct research. At the end of the year, we would review the research papers and identify the good works.

In 2013, “Intra-Party Democracy” was not included in the list of research topics, and I raised the question of why it was not included. Ever since the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2002, fundamental democracy within the party has been an area of focus. The hope was that through progressive development of fundamental intra-party democracy, the CCP could promote democracy in the party and reform, and then the Party could further improve the country’s political environment. In 2014, there was still no mention of the “Intra-Party Democracy” system. No one commented about this. Eventually, the explanation was, “It was a decision from the top.”

RFA: You may have observed a major shift in the CCP’s direction since 2008 and that the momentum began picking up speed since Xi took office. What were the critical reasons that prompted you to speak up now?

Cai Xia: The initial trigger was the passing of (Wuhan coronavirus whistle-blower) Dr. Li Wenliang. I signed the petition calling for freedom of speech after Li Wenliang died. The Central Party School called me for a conversation. Then there was the imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. I was of course furious about it, so I wrote an article to express my view on the National Security Law in Hong Kong.

I did not expect the recording of the private conversation to be leaked, though.  (Originally) I did not intend to make it public, so I was very blunt in that talk. I pointed out that what the CCP has done is against the human civilization and that Xi Jinping is the biggest fool of all who made a very foolish decision. Once the recording was leaked, the school made a point to call me and ask, “Did you make those comments?” And I said, “Yes.”

We all know there is an (unspoken) rule: You can criticize the Chinese Communist Party, but you must not criticize Xi Jinping. After my comments (went viral), I knew it would be difficult for me to go back (to China). I did not intentionally leave China to be in the United States.

RFA: Within the Chinese Communist Party, what is the volume of calls for a new leadership?

Cai Xia: First, I want to make it clear that it is not an organized movement but more of a commonly shared sentiment. And it is not a new idea that only started today. We already discussed  it when we entered the second half of the phase I of the US-China trade war. Not only was the 2018 Constitution amendment a mistake, on some levels, it was also a crime. What (Xi) has done has brought the entire country backwards more than a century.

RFA: In your opinion, do you think Xi is likely to be replaced in the next few years?

Cai Xia: For the moment, it is hard to tell. I think it is unlikely to depend solely on the CCP, because he (Xi) has broken up the entire party. There is no room and atmosphere to allow normal exchanges of opinions among people, so it is not possible for it to happen.

He has a tight grip on everyone. The advanced surveillance technology is not only utilized in monitoring Xinjiang and Tibet, but it is also applied to monitor CCP members as well as mid- and high-level officials. Around 2013, Xi Jinping also announced a policy that forbids the formation of any alumni associations or hometown associations; additionally, gathering after work is also not allowed. He was worried that such gatherings may provide room for cliques or political factions to grow within the Party.

Not only is normal socialization forbidden, but he also requires everyone to be debriefed on what has happened under their own roofs. It is never stipulated in any laws, but you should know better. If you fail to report as required, then it proves that your “Party Spirit is weak.”

Some practices within the party are not laid out in black and white, but he claims that these are the “norms” of the party, and we shall see whether your actions demonstrate “strong Party Spirit,” and whether you conform to the “norms.”  Can you imagine language like this coming from a modern political party? Rhetoric that is usually heard in gangs and in the underworld is now prevalent within the Party.

RFA: In the short run, do you plan to return to China?

Cai Xia: Of course not. Under the current circumstances, how can I go back? I would be thrown into jail as soon as I got back.

RFA: Are there any updates on Ren Zhiqiang?

Cai Xia: A while ago I heard that Ren wanted to defend himself in court, and it was entered into the procuratorate for review. However, up until now, the attorney retained by his family has not been able to meet Ren. In other words, no one from the outside has seen him since he was disappeared and arrested. As good friends of Ren Zhiqiang, we are very worried and concerned about his safety.

RFA: Does the case of Ren’s forced disappearance serve as a warning to silence outspoken critics like you?

Cai Xia: Indeed. Therefore, all my friends are telling me, “Do not come back. If you come back to Beijing, then you will be put in jail like Ren Zhiqiang.”