Q. Did you read what member Zhang Weiqing said about "how it is harder and harder for government officials to tell the truth"? How do you feel?
A: I saw his speech. I agree. I feel the same way.
Q. In some places, there are fewer truthful words and more officialese jargon. Why is that?
A. My personal view is that there are serious problems with work styles, writing styles and thinking styles in some places. The problem of corruption has become the focus of society. Each year, the central government ratchets up its anti-corruption efforts, but they still find many provincial-level corrupt cadres. The reforms may have achieved some major results, but social development has been uneven, the superstructure and the economic base are unevenly balanced and political reform is stuck. These are the basic problems.
Also, the sense of royal authority still persists after several thousand years in China. Some officials think too much about their positions without being consciously aware.
Q. When you were the Minister of General Administration of Customs, did you dare to speak the truth?
A. I was daring by comparison. Let me add that the corruption problem could not be solved because of the hiring system. I told the organization department that the various rules and regulations were fine, but they were not being followed. Under the current system, the locals and the departments hold all the power, especially with respect to hiring people. I was at the General Administration of Customs for ten years, including eight years as the leader. I feel that the leader had too much power, especially with respect to hiring people. If I say something, very few people dare say no to me. Once I discovered this problem, I paid attention to it.
Q. How important was the word of the leader to select/promote a cadre?
A. It is decisive. When a leader is in his position after a while, he did not have to articulate his wishes directly because someone will take his hint and act accordingly. This system is very dangerous. Once I recognize that, I paid special attention. Later I found out that some people were not what they appeared to be. Some cadres are two-faced people -- they act one way in front of the boss and another way in front of the people. My rating of them and the ratings by the masses were completely different. I paid special attention. The decision of the leader is the key factor
As long as this problem is not solved, many things cannot be solved. This is especially obvious in the hiring of people. The system is the system, but you say something and you do something else -- the hiring list is determined by a small group of people, mainly from the leader. The vista is not broad enough.
Q. Zhang Weiqing also spoke about the authenticity of the leader going down to inspect and investigation the conditions at the base level. How do you see it?
A. This problem definitely exists. For example, when the leader goes down to visit, the locals will make very detailed and meticulous preparations. The leader becomes a 'machine' and this is very tragic. Sometimes a leader goes to inspect with dozens of people around him. But most of them are police officers and cadres in disguise. They pretend to be the masses. This is the truth. Some leaders know about these practices and often conduct surprise visits. But that is rare.
Q. The writing style is another issue of concern for society?
A. I hold some sharp views on writing style. Presently, in the speeches of certain leaders, the first half is laden with clichés and only the second half contains any substance. The mountain has been covered up by the mists. The "party talk" is too overwhelming. Sometimes, something can be explained succintly in one sentence, but you have to beat around the bush many times before you get to say it. Many of the speeches and writings of the leaders are written by secretaries. Sometimes, they run out of ideas.
Q. When you were secretary-general, did you write your own speeches?
A. To tell the truth, I wrote my own speeches for the party organization meetings. For the general meeting of the Customs directors from all over China, I did not write the speeches because the report is on behalf of the general assembly. I and my assistants held a few discussion forums first to gather opinion, we came up with an outline and we listened to the opinions of the bureau-level cadres. I gave an oral outline which my secretary wrote up. The document is sent out for feedback. After the text was written, it was sent out again for discussion and amendment before being finalized. But I will write my own speeches for most meetings.
Q. What about other cadre leaders?
A. I understand that many cadre leaders do well. They are pragmatic and they write their own speeches, even including scribbling on their worn-out small notebooks. Some leaders may be using prepared speeches, but you can tell that they are using their own materials. But there are also some cadres who read off printed copies. Overall, I estimate that one-third of cadre leaders insist on writing their own speeches.
Q. How can the situation be changed?
A. I agree with the recommendation of Zhang Weiqing. I suggest that the cadre leaders show by example to tell the truth. Only if they lead the way will their underlings speak out. At the same time, we have to criticize untruthful speeches. This is the way to change habits. I should say that most cadres want to tell the truth, but there are situations in which they dare not or cannot.
Q. You mentioned that one worker changed your speech once upon a time, causing you to rip up the summary?
A. At one meeting, I gave a speech and a worker made a summary. The summary said that I agreed with something or the other. They were all standard clichés. It did not contain a single thing that I actually said. So I ripped up the summary, causing a great deal of embarrassment. But I really couldn't stand it. I always feel that if we don't want to listen to different opinions, we shouldn't bother to hold meetings. The improper practice of officialdom is shown in its lack of democracy. I like the atmosphere at the National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting. The summary reports whatever you say. You feel that your words mean something.
Q. What prescriptions do you have for changing habits?
A. First and foremost, we must enhance demoracy, we must cultivate habits and we must avoid officialese because our writing style reflects our thinking. At the Fourth Plenary of the Sixteenth Congress of the Communist Party of China when they asked for ideas, my suggestion was that if you seriously want to solve a problem, then you should let people speak their minds. Our social environment is different nowadays, and we cannot have a closed system anymore.
My view is that Chinese society has reached a new stage which requires a new liberation of thinking as well as genuine internal reforms (especially the reform of the political system). The key to these reforms is to subject public authority to a legal system. First, we must increase democracy and change our styles. When the political atmosphere improves, social atmosphere will improve as well.
Secondly, the reform of the political system requires new ideas. At present, economic progress is going quite well which makes social problems even more urgent to deal with. I think that the central government is aware of this because they are paying attention to the problem of income distribution. I am happy to see that. The key is to come up with concrete measures that can be implemented.