Editor’s note: Comrade Jiang Zemin passed away in Shanghai on November 30, 2022, aged 96. He once visited Henan Province in February 1991, June 1996 and June 1999, and Zhao Derun, as a reporter of Xinhua News Agency, had the honor of accompanying him three times throughout the trips. Zhao treasured a large amount of written and photographic materials while completing his reporting tasks. At this time of commemorating Comrade Jiang, he could not help but recall a report he wrote 31 years ago, General Secretary Meets with a Young Monk, about a wide-ranging, profound and philosophical conversation between Jiang and Monk Yin Zhong at the White Horse Temple in Luoyang on February 8, 1991, which is still enlightening today. The report by Zhao published in 1991 in Outlook Weekly and the interview notes written later are republished in memory of beloved Comrade Jiang.
General Secretary Meets with a Young Monk
Author: Zhao Derun
Spring rain was falling in Luoyang, an ancient capital of nine dynasties.
On the afternoon of February 8, Jiang Zemin, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, accompanied by Hou Zongbin, Secretary of the CPC Henan Provincial Committee, and Li Changchun, Governor of Henan Province, came to the White Horse Temple in the east of the city, just after a seminar for factory directors and managers of large-and medium-sized enterprises in the province in the city. The temple was first built in 68 AD (the 11th year during the Yongping reign in the Eastern Han Dynasty). It is the first Buddhist temple in China, with a history of over 1,900 years.
Guided by the deacon monk Yin Shan, the delegation led by General Secretary Jiang visited the Sui Monument, the Grand Hall, the Hall of Heavenly Kings and the Hall of Guidance, and climbed the Qingliang Terrace where Emperor Mingdi of the Han Dynasty once studied and two Western monks translated Buddhist scriptures. Jiang discussed the history and religious doctrines of Buddhism with the monks as they walked around. Jiang stopped in front of two couplets in the temple. One reads, “A big belly can tolerate things that are hard to tolerate in the world; the kind face always smiles, laughing at the ridiculous people in the world” and the other reads, “Though the rain of heaven is heavy, it does not moisten the rootless grass; though Buddhism is vast, it does not help the unscrupulous.” Jiang asked his entourage to write them down.
Yin Shan invited Jiang and his delegation to take a break in a guest hall in the temple.
A young monk whose religious name was Yin Zhong came in to serve tea just as everyone was seated. General Secretary Jiang greeted him kindly, asked him to sit down and talked with him.
“May I ask what your family name is?”
“My family name is Tao. I’m Tao Cuizhong.”
“How old are you and where are you from?”
“I’m twenty-four, from Guiyang, Guizhou Province.”
Jiang asked with concern, “It’s not easy for you to come from Guizhou to Henan at such a young age. Could you tell us why you want to become a monk?”
The monk wanted to say something but stopped on a second thought. Jiang said sincerely, “It’s all right. It’s only a casual chat. Feel free to tell us any difficulties or disappointments in your life. Just speak out.”
Encouraged by Jiang who looked at him with expectation kindly, Yin Zhong spoke his mind. He used to have a happy family. His father was a government officer and his mother a worker. He himself graduated from a technical secondary school before he was assigned to work in Guiyang, the provincial capital.
“I was very satisfied with my job and wanted to do something good for the people. However, when I was exposed to various phenomena of corruption and undesirable tendencies in society, I felt disheartened. I did not want to go with the stream, but I was unable to fight against the reality and thus often felt disappointed and at a loss. For this reason, I came to the White Horse Temple last year to seek spiritual emancipation.”
Jiang looked grave as he listened to those words. He looked around and said with a serious expression, “There is a line from an ancient poem that says, ‘If you ask about the rise and fall of dynasties in the past and present, please look only at the city of Luoyang.’ Luoyang is an ancient capital of nine dynasties, and its rise and fall is an epitome of the rise and fall of China’s feudal dynasties. Throughout China’s history, no single dynasty is free of corruption or struggles against corruption. What does it mean to be loyal? What does it mean to be treacherous? To work for the people is loyalty; to engage in corruption is treachery. We must be especially wary of those who ‘speak good words but do evil deeds’, or double-dealers who say yes and mean no.”
“The purpose of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is to serve the people wholeheartedly,” Jiang continued, “and the Communists have always been resolute in combating corruption. Long before entering Beijing, Comrade Mao Zedong had put forward the ‘two imperatives’ to the entire Party at the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the CPC, warning us to be wary of attacks by sugar-coated bullets. Tricentennial of the Collapse of the Ming Dynasty written by Guo Moruo is also a summary of the lessons drawn from Dashing King Li Zicheng. The experience of history tells us that there is no hope for building socialism with Chinese characteristics if the fight against corruption is not won.” Speaking at this point, Jiang Zemin said sincerely and earnestly to Yin Zhong, “Over the years, some phenomena of corruption and undesirable tendencies have indeed emerged in our Party and in society. Please believe that the CPC has the determination and ability to combat corruption. I can’t interfere with your choice, but the undesirable tendencies in your hometown haven’t been resolved just because you’ve become a monk. Trust in the Party and the government that we’ll wage a determined fight against corruption and undesirable tendencies!”
Yin Zhong’s face lit up. He then asked tentatively, “Should Buddhism, as a religion with a long history, be recognized for the value of its existence?”
Jiang said: “In China, in addition to Buddhism, there are other religions including Taoism, Christianity, Catholicism and Islam. Our constitution provides that citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief. Moreover, the Party and the government will train successors to do religious work. Knowledge in the world is boundless. Religions have a long history of evolution and offer some knowledge about history and culture. My hometown Yangzhou is a city with ancient culture. I once read the works of Master Su Manshu when I was a teenager and I can still recite some of the wonderful poems. I’ve also heard the carols of the Virgin Mary, which are very beautiful music. It is not contradictory that Communists are atheists and that the Constitution states that citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief. Some people say that we regard religion as heresy, which is a false statement. In our country, there is both freedom of religious belief and freedom to propagate atheism. The use of religion by hostile forces at home and abroad to infiltrate and engage in peaceful evolution, on the other hand, is something we will not allow. That is our view. I wonder if you agree with it.”
Hearing this, Yin Zhong nodded with satisfaction.
Jiang paused briefly and said with emphasis: “Although there is an essential difference between belief in communism and that in religion, we should both love the great Chinese nation and the socialist motherland. Our nation and country boast a long history and a splendid culture, and it is only in modern times that it fell behind. As long as we unite as a nation, we can build our country better. We should all work for the benefit of the people. The mission of the CPC is to serve the people. I believe that if we all unite under the banner of patriotism, we are sure to be able to get things done well in China. You agree with this, too, don’t you?”
Yin Zhong smiled heartily and said happily, “Yes, I totally agree!” The atmosphere in the guest hall came alive at once.
On one side is the General Secretary of the CPC; on the other is a young monk who chose renunciation due to confusion and bewilderment. Between the leader and the commoner there is a cordial and calm conversation.
As it was getting late, Jiang rose and took his leave. Together with other monks, Yin Zhong saw Jiang out of the temple gate with great reluctance to part. As the car went further and further away from the White Horse Temple, Jiang was still thinking about the conversation. He repeatedly instructed the cadres around him: “This incident should prompt us to think deeply, and we must strive to build a clean and honest government.”