Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom - But, Don't Plant Weeds

“Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” With these words from a classic Chinese poem, former Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung opened the way for the people of China to level criticism at the government and the ruling party. In this he was supported by Zhou Enlai, who said, “The government needs criticism from its people. Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Now, I have a bit of a problem with including ‘democratic’ and ‘dictatorship’ in the same descriptive phrase, but Zhou had a point that applies to all governments. He further stated, “We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms.”
Unfortunately, the “Hundred Flowers” campaign failed, and led to a crackdown on dissent. Some intellectuals who study China have claimed that the campaign was designed to fail, and that it was just a ruse to smoke out dissidents. Others, and I am among them, disagree. I believe it was truly designed to attract criticism, but it failed because the party and government failed to do one fundamental thing before it was launched – listen, truly listen to the people.

Having not listened, or perhaps not heard, the voices of the common people, it then came as a shock when there was not the popular support that was envisioned.

Any government, regardless of the type, if it is to govern successfully and peacefully, must have the pulse of the people; all the people, and not just those with a certain pedigree. Even dictatorships, and the so-called “People’s Democracies,” must have at least tacit consent of the people in order to stay in power. Without it, such governments must rule through fear and intimidation. As a short-term strategy, the rule of the iron fist can be successful. But, such rule sows the seeds of its own demise in the end. When people cower in fear, often they opt out of the system; they don’t participate or contribute to the fullest of their ability; and in so doing, everyone is the loser.

Parents who fail to listen to their children are often surprised and disappointed later in life when those children follow unexpected paths, or simply, in adulthood, reject their parents and everything they stand for.
Listening takes an effort. Not just listening to what you want or like to hear, but listening to unpleasant things. If a government is to rule effectively, however, listen it must. But, it must not stop there. It must also make an effort to learn from its mistakes, and make an honest effort to answer the criticisms.
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When you allow a ‘hundred flowers’ to bloom, the garden is a much nicer place.