Zhu Yuan

People-first principle points to proper path

Updated: 2011-07-27 07:37

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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I better understand the significance of the people-first principle after reading My Korean War A Prisoner of War's Memoir of 60 Years.

The writer Zhang Zeshi was detained in a prison camp for two years during the Korean War before he was sent back to China, where, to his surprise, he, along with more than 6,000 other returning prisoners, were politically persecuted. Being a returned prisoner of war was a stigma, which made it hard for him to get a job. Even his girlfriend was forced to leave him.

People-first principle points to proper path
The question of whether being a prisoner of war meant he should be labeled a traitor weighed heavily on the mind of this writer, and many others who suffered the same fate, in the past decades.

It is imperative that we redress the biased perception of these prisoners of war that was created by the political ideology of the times. An ideology that dictated a soldier was supposed to sacrifice everything unconditionally, including his life, to the cause he was fighting for.

When I put down the book and thought about what had happened to these poor prisoners of war, who had fought hard for their dignity and belief in the camps, only to be persecuted on their return home, what struck me most was the unattainably high moral standard held by the authorities at the time when judging these soldiers.

Such a high moral standard was unrealistic. It was such ultra-leftist ideology that resulted in the tragedy of the prisoners of war from the Korea War. The hundreds and thousands of those who suffered in the various political movements including the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976) were also victims of this ideology. The campaign to emancipate the mind and the public debate about practice being the sole benchmark for gauging truth in the late 1970s were meant to break such rigid political thinking.

The people-first principle, which was put forward as the key principle of the Scientific Outlook on Development at the third plenary session of the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October 2003, went even further, proposing a brand new concept for the CPC to govern the country - both the central government and its local counterparts are supposed to serve the people they govern.

This principle dictates that the people's interests and rights, both long-term and immediate, are supposed to be placed at the top of the government's work agenda.

As a result, the priority for policies has shifted from the question of whether it is politically correct to whether it is in the interests of the people.

As theoretically sound as the principle is, it seems there is never a lack of stumbling blocks when putting it into practice. Political correctness is still the justification that some authorities use when they feel it necessary to ignore the interests and rights of residents. It is economic development that is the new political correctness.

That explains why forced demolitions in the name of development, though in violation of the interests and rights of residents, frequently take place, with local government departments as the major culprits.

The people-first principle needs to be implemented in practical ways rather than just being a slogan on the lips of some leaders.

What is particularly noteworthy is the blind worship of gross domestic product figures. The sole pursuit of economic growth without giving enough thought to how individual residents feel about it can be as dangerous as the pursuit of unrealistic political ideals in estranging a government from the people it is governing.

The people-first principle is meant to guard against both extremes and it should be the theoretical weapon to prevent the country's development from being led astray.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 07/27/2011 page8)


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