Wen won't solve China's crisis of faith
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG  While the world is increasingly convinced that China is bound to rise to a global power in the next couple of decades, enlightened Chinese leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that growing domestic problems may jeopardize the country's modernization.

For, these Chinese leaders are fully aware that behind the shining statistical figures about the country's economic expansion, there are tears, sweat and blood. China's impressive economic achievements in past three decades have cost the Chinese society an arm and a leg.

For example, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has recently pointed

out that the ''degradation of morality and lack of integrity'' in society has become such a serious problem that it would hamper the country's rise eventually. ''A country without the improved quality of its people and the power of morality will never grow into a real mighty and respected power," he said.

Wen cited a spate of widely reported food safety scandals in recent years as example for ''degradation of morality''. These include the melamine-contaminated infant formula, clenbuterol-contaminated pork, the rampant use of oil retrieved from drainage gutters for cooking by restaurants, and recently discovered steamed buns dyed with unidentified chemicals (so they would look like made from a mixture of wheat flour and corn flour, as the latter is more expensive).

''These virulent food safety incidents have shown the grave situation of the degradation of morality and the loss of integrity,'' the premier said in an April 14 meeting members of the Counselors' Office and the Central Research Institute of Culture and History (CRICH), two advisory organs to the State Council - China's cabinet. Wen's speech was reported on Sunday by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

This is not the first time Wen has addressed the loss of morality and integrity in Chinese society. Last month, he indirectly blamed property developers' greed for causing sky-rocketing housing prices, saying that ''what flows in the veins of an entrepreneur's veins should be moral blood''.

In his April 14 speech, Wen admitted that in the past decades, the fostering of a moral culture ''is lagging behind the country's economic development''.

Wen called for reconstruction of morality to help safeguard normal production, life and social order, as well as to eradicate the stain of swindling, corruption and other illegal conduct. ''China should incorporate the concept of rule by law into the moral and cultural construction so as to make ethical firms and individuals be protected by law and be respected in society, while the immoral be punished in accordance with law and be condemned by the people,'' he was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

How to do this? Wen called for deepening reforms and, for the first time, for increasing freedom of speech. He said ''the government will create conditions to encourage people to speak truthfully.'' However, Wen offered no concrete measures toward this goal, just like in his repeated calls for political reforms in the past.

This suggests Wen's helplessness in dealing with these thorny problems despite his capacity as head of the Chinese government and No 3 leader in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hierarchy. Without fundamental changes in the existing politico-social systems, it is impossible for China to have real freedom of expression for the reconstruction of morality. Apparently, the collective CCP leadership has yet to reach a consensus on making such changes, which may eventually end its monopoly of political power.

The degradation of morality and loss of integrity is a result of the ''crisis of faith'' in the past three decades of economic reform and opening up. To pave way for capitalist-style economic reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping had to abandon the orthodox Marxism and Maoism. Deng, unlike Mao, was not a great thinker but a pragmatist, as illustrated by mottos such as ''It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice'' and ''To cross a river by touching stones at the riverbed.'' As such he offered no new ideology for the nation. The ''vacuum of ideology'' thus resulted in a ''crisis of faith''.

Deng's successor Jiang Zemin and current President Hu Jintao both have acquiesced or even encouraged the restoration of Confucianism in the hope that it may help partially fill the ''vacuum of ideology''. But so far, the effort seems unsuccessful, largely because the CCP, in order to maintain its rule, still has to stick to ''Marxism and socialism'' - even just in name. Thus, when CCP members and Chinese still have to pay lip service to socialism, how can Confucianism or other ideology take root in the nation? Besides, as atheist body, the CCP imposes restrictions on religious freedom.

Without any spiritual faith, the Chinese however have quickly learned to worship money. And without spiritual faith, there is no moral restraint on their pursuit of money. As a result, Deng's cat and mouse motto seems to be turned into ''It does matter if a method is moral or not, so long as it helps bring in money.'' As a result, irregular and unlawful commercial activities have become increasingly rampant in past three decades - cheating, frauds, or production of fake goods - you name it. So much so that some cynical critics have changed a sentence in China's anthem from ''The Chinese nation is at its most critical time (during the Japanese invasion)'' to ''The Chinese nation is now at its most immoral time.''

So much so that many enlightened intellectuals inside China cry with alarm that the nation is in peril of a loss of its morality. In this regard, Wen is right in saying that ''A country without the improved quality of its people and the power of morality will never grow into a real mighty and respected power.'' From this perspective, there is still a long way for China to rise as a world power.

Apparently, to restore social morality and integrity, China needs to solve its ''crisis of faith''. To solve this crisis, new ideology must be established to fill the current ''vacuum''.

A famous Chinese scientist once sighed ''How come China produces no great scientist or inventor?'' in spite of its miraculous economic progress. One may also say China now needs some great thinkers to produce a new ideology. But can any great thinker be born in a country where people with dissent voices are arrested and jailed?