Discover more from Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality
READING: MacFarquhar (1992): Deng’s Last Campaign
MacFarquhar's final prediction turned out to be true: "Communism in China... end[ed] not with a bang but a whimper"
Roderick MacFarquhar (1992–12–17): Deng’s Last Campaign: ‘China had its own form of grueling political campaign this year, which ended when the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party (CCP) took place in October. There, too, the issue was “change” and the main concern the economy. But in China the economy has been in good shape: it was the aged incumbent who wanted ever more change to keep it that way, and he won.
Of course, Deng Xiaoping is a very peculiar sort of “incumbent.” The “patriarch,” as some Hong Kong papers like to call him, no longer has any formal post. At eighty-eight, he reportedly spends much of his time amusing his grandchildren and playing bridge with his cronies, leaving the daily conduct of affairs to the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, the premier, Li Peng, and their colleagues in the Politburo standing committee (PSC). It is only on major matters of national policy, such as voting in the UN on the use of force against Saddam Hussein, that the PSC consults Deng and does what he “advises.”
But this year has been different. Deng campaigned outside the capital (as Mao sometimes did), advocating a controversial policy: drastic change to promote economic growth, the key issue for Deng during the past fourteen years in which he has been China’s paramount leader. Since the Cultural Revolution, when the CCP almost committed hara kiri, Deng has consistently seen rapid economic development as the only way for it to recover its authority. Using one of those numerical formulas particularly beloved by Chinese and relentlessly used by the Communists to help their officials to keep policies straight, Deng’s motto has been the “one center and the two basic points.” The central task is economic development; one of the two basic points is persevering in Deng’s policy of economic reform and opening up to the outside world (I will deal presently with the second, more ideological point). Translated into Chinese terms, this means maintaining the system of privatized agriculture that replaced collective farms, closing or eventually privatizing much unprofitable state industry, dismantling central planning generally in favor of private entrepreneurship and the market, and fully integrating China into the global economy.
The old guard that re-emerged with Deng after the Cultural Revolution agreed with him on the need to elevate economics above the class struggle, which Mao had made the nation’s “key link” or central guiding principle. But they wanted a return to the ideas that their economic guru, Chen Yun, had circulated before the Cultural Revolution, when Chen himself seemed like a radical right-winger to Mao for disdaining the voodoo economics of his Great Leap Forward. Chen never abandoned his views, preferring silence to selling out, obscurity to holding office.
Now, after the shift of China’s political spectrum to the “right” under Deng, i.e., toward privatization and a market economy, Chen’s advocacy of a “birdcage economy”—allowing the market freedom only within the central plan, like a bird in a cage—puts him on the conservative left. Chen’s supporters are engaged in what is overtly a semantic debate—should the market economy be called “socialist” or “capitalist”?—but behind the talk they are fighting a rearguard battle to recapture the Party.
Where “left” and “right” come together is on political values. Deng’s second basic point consists of another numerical formula, the four cardinal principles of Chinese communism: Party leadership, socialism, proletarian dictatorship, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. Adhering to them, he argues, will ensure political stability by maintaining the legitimacy of the CCP and preventing “peaceful evolution” toward bourgeois democracy. Deng and Chen undoubtedly agree, for instance, on putting pressure on Hong Kong to prevent Chris Patten, the new governor appointed by John Major, from nudging the colony toward democracy.
But the crux of the Chinese political argument has been over whether or not there is a “contradiction” between Deng’s two basic points: Will economic change solidify or subvert Party leadership and other Communist political values? Deng believes that radical economic reform and opening up to the outside world are the only way to prevent the CCP from following the Soviet Communist Party into the dustbin of history. But Chen is convinced that it is precisely capitalist economic practices and foreign influences that are undermining Communist rule in China. Chen’s follower, the ideologue Deng Liqun, has proposed that the official formula should be revised to embrace “two centers,” the second being the class struggle against peaceful evolution.
The views of Chen and Deng Liqun and their allies were reflected in a flurry of leftist articles in nationally circulated newspapers a year ago. Deng Xiaoping was probably particularly provoked since they were attacks on articles extolling his views which were published following his visit to Shanghai, China’s main industrial center, in the city’s principal paper. Indeed, Deng went campaigning this year mainly to combat the views of Chen and Deng Liqun.
In mid-January, Deng suddenly turned up in the southern province of Guangdong and revisited the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on the border with Hong Kong. Set up in 1980 along with three other SEZs, Shenzhen was entrusted with working out a model for China’s absorption of foreign capital, technology, and management practices. When I visited Shenzhen, in the mid–1980s, it still had the look of a frontier town: unfinished streets and houses, much construction, eager young men and women flocking in from all over China. The local motto was “time is money, efficiency is life.” Foreign firms were having their difficulties, but much was happening and hope was in the air. But when I flew over Hong Kong earlier this year in a helicopter, Shenzhen looked like just one more distant high-rise suburb of the British colony, which in a very real sense it now is. Hong Kong entrepreneurs employ three million workers in south China in industries ranging from plastics to plate glass, three times as many as in Hong Kong itself.
Shenzhen has gradually been transformed from an experiment into the chief model for economic reform and for opening up China to foreign investments. But for Deng’s conservative colleagues, it has continued to symbolize the dangers of those policies. A century ago, opium came in through the treaty ports; today the Special Economic Zones attract the modern opiates of the masses, materialism, corruption and, once again, drugs. Periodically, attempts have been made to stamp these out, and an 86-kilometer fence was constructed between Shenzhen and the rest of China to localize the infection. Deng went to Shenzhen to give the SEZ system his final blessing:
I came to Guangdong in 1984. At that point, rural reform had been going for a few years, urban reform was just starting, and the special zones were taking their first steps. Eight years have gone by and I would never have believed that on this visit I would find that Shenzhen and Zhuhai special zones had developed so fast [the Zhuhai special zone borders on Macao]. Having seen it, my confidence has increased. Clearly he had seen the future and it worked. The revolution had been the first step in liberating the country’s productive forces, Deng said, and reform was the second; with reform, Guangdong could catch up with Asia’s “four little dragons”—South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore—over the next twenty years. Deng admitted that opening up to the outside world had exposed parts of China to drugs, prostitution, and corruption and called for a crackdown on these “repulsive things.” China, he said, had to emulate and surpass Singapore’s strict civic discipline.
In striking ways, Deng’s rhetoric echoed Mao’s at his most headstrong. Deng warned against moving slowly to make reforms, like women with bound feet, precisely the simile used by Mao when he launched his big collectivization drive in 1955. Deng called for a spirit of “rashness,” using exactly the word over which Mao and Chen Yun had fallen out on the eve of the disastrous Great Leap Forward. Like Mao, Deng emphasized that the human factor was critical to all progress, and he showed a tendency to minimize economic problems very typical of Mao:
In ‘89 we began to implement adjustment [of the economy]. I supported it, and what’s more it was necessary. The economy was “overheating” and that really caused a few problems. For instance, there was a bit too much currency in circulation, prices had risen a bit, and duplication of construction was quite serious and had caused some waste. But how should one appraise the speed of development of those five years overall? The speed of development during those five years could be termed a flying leap.
But of course it was different from the “Great Leap Forward”; it didn’t harm the economic framework or mechanism. Indeed, it is possible that Deng actually went even further than this, but that his remarks were laundered in the propaganda department. According to a Hong Kong Chinese paper, Deng actually stated that reform and the need to open up China demanded a “great leap forward.”
Deng’s remarks reflected an argument going on behind the scenes: Had it really been necessary for the economic ministries to damp down growth during the past three years in order to counter inflation and over-investment? Deng’s ambivalent position in Shenzhen confirmed that on this question he was a doubter who considered that the official target growth rate of 6 percent was too slow. Chen Yun could be forgiven if he had a familiar frisson on hearing this. Had China survived Mao only to fall under the spell of the sorcerer’s apprentice?
As he traveled through Shenzhen and Zhuhai, and later Shanghai (which is undergoing major expansion), Deng reserved his strongest attacks for leftists like Chen Yun. He made it clear that his old opponents, who criticized the reforms as promoting capitalism, were even more likely to ruin socialism than people on the “right,” whose liberalism had made possible upheavals like the one in Tiananmen Square. Deng’s message was that throughout its history the CCP had suffered quite enough from leftism.6 His problem was how to get it across.
Even Mao in his heyday sometimes had trouble getting controversial views published nationally. “Shit, or get off the pot,” he once told a foot-dragging chief editor of the main CCP organ, the People’s Daily, and later sacked him. Deng had the same problem this year with the conservatives who took control of the propaganda apparatus after the Tiananmen crackdown. His praise of the Special Economic Zones was carried by the local press, including Communist-run papers in Hong Kong. But it was a month before his remarks were incorporated into a document that was to be distributed internally throughout the central government—and even that was held up—and a second month passed before the People’s Daily and the national television station publicized his words and deeds.
The reaction to Deng’s remarks fully justified the worries of the conservatives. A wave of euphoria seems to have swept through the reformist think tanks of Beijing when rumors of Deng’s southern expedition first began to circulate in the early spring. Everyone knew that Deng was battling to ensure that the CCP’s Fourteenth Congress would be held amid a renewed upsurge of fervor for reform, so that the group of leaders he wanted to succeed him would emerge dominant, ready to lead China into the twenty-first century. Party leaders were quick to support him. The central committee and State Council issued directives for speeding up reform and growth. Premier Li Peng’s report to the annual National People’s Congress in March was criticized there as insufficiently enthusiastic about economic reform and had to be revised in line with Deng’s Shenzhen pronouncements. The respected Party historian Liao Gailong, a long-time supporter of Deng and reform, warned against leftist attempts to rehabilitate the extremist views of Mao’s later years. Tian Jiyun, a vice-premier and follower of Deng, ridiculed the leftists in a speech given at the Central Party School, which became a best-selling videotape. Reportedly Tian was heartily applauded by his supposedly conservative audience when he sarcastically suggested the leftists should be given their own territory in which to practice command-economy socialism:
Let us carve out a piece of land where policies favored by the leftists will be practiced. For example, no foreign investment will be allowed there, and all foreigners will be kept out. Inhabitants of the zone can neither go abroad nor send their children overseas. There will be total state planning. Essential supplies will be rationed and denizens of the zone will have to queue up for food and other consumer goods….Some leftists have derived immense material benefit from the policy of reform and the open door, but they still bad-mouth the policy.
All seemed set for a reformist sweep at the Fourteenth Congress. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Great Hall of the People, where it was to meet. Battered but unbowed by the repression since the Tiananmen Square events, the dissident intellectuals spoke out.
In April, a book of articles by mostly obscure writers was rushed off the press under the portentous title The Tide of History. Though edited by a Peking University lecturer who is suspended from teaching for his alleged part in the Tiananmen events, the book had the imprimatur of an aged conservative official, Bo Yibo, who was somehow persuaded to put a motto in his calligraphy at the front of the book. The official later indicated he did so because the authors did not put forward any radical ideas—the radicals are either abroad, in prison, or lying low—but were concerned rather to give whole-hearted backing to Deng’s attack on leftism. Among the book’s contributors, the former People’s Daily editor Hu Jiwei gave a critical account of the recent upsurge of leftism. Mao’s onetime secretary, Li Rui, writing under a pseudonym, warned that many of today’s leftist theorists were radicals during the Cultural Revolution and had attacked Deng then too.
The leftists, who are still powerful in the Party, were deeply troubled by the book, and the CCP’s propaganda department quickly had it suppressed. The Tide of History was a damning indictment of their activities, and they did not want conferred on it the respectability of the open circulation of 30,000 copies. What was particularly alarming was that, for the first time since June 4, 1989, reformist intellectuals had defied the heavy pressures to which they had been subjected since the Tiananmen Square events and taken spontaneous, collective, and public action against the left. Nor were the reformists cowed by the book’s banning. The editor filed a suit against the publisher and the press authorities, and in June, he and about a hundred other anti-leftists held, in Beijing, a symposium favoring reform, at which another disgraced People’s Daily editor, Wang Ruoshui, argued that the widespread corruption which the left attributed to decadent capitalist ideas was in fact produced by the absence of democracy and the rule of law.
As if all this were not enough, a devastating broadside was fired from California by Xu Jiatun, the onetime central committee member and chief Communist emissary in Hong Kong, who had chosen exile in the US in 1990 for reasons that are not entirely clear. On the eve of the third anniversary of the Tiananmen Square repression, Xu broke his two-year silence with a long article in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, urging his former colleagues to “shake off the shackles of the Leninist and Stalinist models and choose a new path to socialism that fits China’s special conditions and has Chinese characteristics.” Xu presumably thought he was being helpful to Deng Xiaoping by arguing that borrowing from the best of capitalism could ensure the survival of communism, because that is what Deng is trying to do. But Xu’s claim that China’s Leninist polity needed to be reformed, and his characterization of “equality, freedom, democracy and a democratic political system” as the “common wealth of mankind” were as much anathema to Deng as to Chen Yun.
With supporters like these rocking the boat, Deng knew he could expect renewed opposition from the conservative gerontocrats. Indeed, Deng Liqun made a southern tour of his own to drum up support for the conservative position, and ordered that an anthology of unorthodox statements from 1978 to the present be prepared as a counterblast to The Tide of History. In this heated atmosphere, Deng Xiaoping decided to make an example of one of the reformers. His unfortunate victim was Bao Tong, the chief aide of the reformist Party secretary Zhao Ziyang when the Tiananmen demonstrations occurred. Both he and Bao Tong were then detained and put under house arrest.
For a long time now, rumors have circulated in Beijing that Zhao might be rehabilitated. Deng, it has been said, wanted him back in some ceremonial position to show that the former general secretary’s disgrace after June 4 should not be taken as casting doubt on the reform program with which Zhao had been closely associated. On his southern tour, Deng Xiaoping made a point of saying that he had not been critical of Zhao’s handling of the economy. Deng and Zhao apparently could not agree on the terms under which Zhao would return to public life, but early this year some said Zhao would be appointed as chairman of the powerless People’s Political Consultative Conference. Bao Tong, according to some other accounts, was to be used as a scapegoat to justify Zhao’s rehabilitation. If any such scheme were in the works, the plan to punish Bao Tong was the only part of it that remained after the controversy surrounding The Tide of History.
In January this year, Premier Li Peng had asked for Bao Tong’s formal arrest, and this took place in February. But Li’s PSC colleagues reserved their views on Bao Tong’s fate, knowing that Deng would have to have the last word on so sensitive an issue. In May, Qiao Shi, the PSC member in charge of public security, circulated a note to his colleagues saying that Bao Tong’s case should probably be settled within the Party rather than by formal trial. Both General Secretary Jiang Zemin and Li Peng drew circles opposite their names on the memo, the CCP way of signifying assent, probably because of the implications of Deng’s southern tour. Unexpectedly, Deng’s office intervened to say that Bao Tong was a bad person and should be punished. And so he was. On July 21, after a “trial” lasting less than six hours, Bao Tong was sentenced to seven years for leaking state secrets; in fact he did no more than give a few junior colleagues three days’ advance notice of the declaration of martial law. As for Zhao Ziyang, the Politburo confirmed its condemnation of him in 1989, but formally put an end to any further examination of his case. (He continues under effective house arrest but has some freedom of movement.)
A more critical decision by Deng concerned the fate of Premier Li Peng. While allowing Zhao’s return might reasonably have been seen as a gesture in favor of reform and not as reversing the regime’s verdicts on the Tiananmen Square massacre, the simultaneous removal of Li Peng, the front man for the hard-liners who suppressed the students with tanks, would have given immense encouragement to a far wider constituency than the authors of The Tide of History. In August, Deng apparently decided that there had been enough turbulence at the top levels of government and that the balanced team of Jiang Zemin and Li Peng should be kept in power, at least for the present.
Li Peng has been on his best behavior for some time, concentrating on economics and paying lip-service to reform. He learned the hard way after Tiananmen that it would be immensely damaging economically, and therefore politically, to try to turn the clock back to the Stalinist command economy model. Li’s ability to run the Chinese economy is widely derided in Beijing. But at least under his premiership, the price system has been given greater flexibility and there have been privatizing reforms in the real estate market which, earlier this year, have resulted in the leasing of 1,500 parcels of state land for rents totaling over three billion yuan. Local governments see the new policy as a major source of revenue and foreign exchange in the years ahead; the new island province of Hainan, for example, has leased an area of seventeen square kilometers to a Japanese corporation, which will have total control of the land and its use for seventy years, except for policing.
After much debate, stock markets have also been opened in Shanghai and Shenzhen. In August, there was a large-scale riot in Shenzhen by would-be stock purchasers who felt they were not being allowed a fair chance to invest and who attacked government property and police. It was the reformist vice-premier, Zhu Rongji, not Li Peng, according to Chinese sources, who then floated the idea that the Shenzhen exchange be closed for a cooling-off period. Deng Xiaoping, whose earlier praise of the progress in Shenzhen had been made to look overenthusiastic, vetoed the idea. No more embarrassments could be allowed to mar the preparations of the Fourteenth Congress.
Fortunately for Deng, the Shenzhen riot was soon over. His position was strengthened by the booming economy, largely the result of the changes he has presided over during the past fourteen years, and by his 1992 campaign. China’s GNP grew 12 percent in the first half of 1992, and on the eve of the Congress, Chinese economists were predicting 10 percent growth for the entire year, as compared with 7 percent in 1991. The result was closer to Deng’s target of 12 percent than Li Peng’s of 6 percent. Industrial output had gone up 17.5 percent by the end of June, with the most spectacular increases being registered in the nonstate sectors, and the summer harvest was the best in history. During the first half of 1992, foreign investors made commitments worth $14.6 billion, over 300 percent more than in 1991, and foreign trade, at $68.7 billion, was up over 20 percent. China’s foreign exchange reserves, about equal to those of the US last year, are predicted to top $50 billion this year.
After all the alarms and Deng’s excursions, and his behind-the-scenes manipulations, the Fourteenth Congress could have been something of an anticlimax. In the Leninist tradition, the leaders of the 51 million-member CCP like to have the Party’s congresses carefully prepared in advance, with all potential problems ironed out at the customary summer work conference at the seaside resort of Beidaihe. But Deng still had some surprises in store. Having compromised with the conservatives on the top of the ticket, he apparently hoped that the momentum for reform built up by his campaign would accomplish two goals. First, he wanted the Fourteenth Congress to result in the Party Standing Committee being reinvigorated with more dynamic and reform-minded officials than Party Secretary General Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng; and, second, he wanted to have his political and economic philosophy enshrined in the Congress documents. By and large he succeeded in both aims.
In his political report to the Congress, Jiang Zemin proclaimed that China’s modernization had entered a new phase as a result of Deng’s tour, and he gave the current view of the patriarch’s place in history. This boiled down to the proposition that while Mao won China, Deng developed it.
Comrade Deng Xiaoping is the general architect of the reform and opening up as well as of the modernization related to socialism in China….Inheriting from the predecessors but also breaking down the obsolete, he demonstrates a tremendous political courage in opening up new paths in socialist construction and a tremendous theoretical courage to open up a new realm in Marxism, thereby making an important and historic contribution to the establishment of the theory on building socialism with Chinese characteristics.17 Jiang reaffirmed Deng’s theory of the single center—development—and repeated Deng’s dictum that leftism, not rightism, was the principal danger within the CCP. In a sinister phrase that recalled Mao’s warning hints to his colleagues on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang added that this was the case, “particularly among the leading cadres.” At least while Deng is alive and able to function politically, the careers of leftists are at risk unless they toe the line.
This was made clear at the Congress itself. The Central Advisory Committee (CAC) headed by Chen Yun was disbanded. This group of distinguished political veterans was set up by Deng ten years ago in order to persuade his colleagues to retire to a prestigious but largely powerless committee, but they had refused to fade away. Under Chen, the CAC’s conservative gerontocrats had made use of their constitutional right to sit in on meetings of Party leaders, and at the time of Tiananmen their support of Deng was crucial. As late as August, the CAC drew up a ten-point memorandum for the Congress stressing the problems of reform and expressing skepticism about rapid growth. Without Deng to offset its conservative influence, the CAC could be a serious threat to a reform leadership and it had to go. Deng also ensured that leading leftist ideologues were dropped from the central committee, including the director of the CCP’s propaganda department, the acting minister of culture, and the director of the People’s Daily.
Preliminary analysis of the new leadership suggests that there has been an influx of reformers and officials, though many members of the new central committee are difficult to categorize. Eight Politburo members retired for a variety of reasons, including age, leftism, and, probably, incompetence. The sixteen newcomers include the Party bosses of the fast-growing Guangdong province and of the coastal province of Shandong, which hopes for development capital from South Korea as a result of Beijing’s recent normalizing of relations with Seoul. With the departure of two leading conservatives from the PSC, the new seven-man line-up of the Party’s formally supreme policy-making body is tilted in favor of Deng, who still holds decisive power on the sidelines. Zhu Rongji, like Jiang Zemin once the boss of Shanghai, is widely seen as the emerging economic overlord who could replace Li Peng as premier next year. In the central committee, there has been considerable turnover: 47 percent of the members are newly elected this year, and only 3 percent have been members for more than ten years.
There were two surprises. The minor one was that members of the “princes’ party,” the children of the elite, fared badly. Deng’s daughter did not make it into the central committee, and Chen Yun’s technocrat son was not even elected a delegate to the Congress. After the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, some of the aged Chinese leaders argued that their legacy could be entrusted only to their children. But Deng presumably remembered that a significant element in the protests against official corruption in 1989 was disgust with the way some Communist princelings had benefited from corrupt deals, especially with foreign companies hoping to profit from their connections.
The more significant surprise was the way Deng dealt with the problem of the military. Since generals won China for the CCP, the army has been a far bigger factor in politics in Beijing than the Red Army ever was in Moscow, reaching the height of its power at the Ninth Congress in 1969 when the defense minister, Marshal Lin Biao, was named Mao’s heir apparent. Two years later, the ill-fated marshal died in a plane crash in Mongolia, allegedly fleeing after an abortive plot on Mao’s life. But it took another fourteen years, well after Mao’s death, before Deng was able to retire the military to the barracks. Then the Tiananmen crisis brought the army back into politics and underlined the critical importance of its loyalty to the survival of the CCP and its leaders.
While Jiang Zemin is nominally chairman of the Party’s Military Affairs Commission, during the past three years it has seemingly been controlled by two prominent members of the Yang family: PRC President Yang Shangkun, a close ally of Deng’s, and his half-brother, General Yang Baibing. Throughout 1992, Yang Baibing has attempted to demonstrate his loyalty by using his position as head of the army’s political department to give wide circulation to Deng’s latest pronouncements. But at the Congress, Yang Shangkun was retired from the Politburo on grounds of old age; Yang Baibing took his place, but in doing so he lost his command post in the Military Affairs Commission. In place of the politically ambitious and younger Yang, Deng has called back into service Admiral Liu Huaqing, a retired civil war subordinate of his whom he presumably considers too old or too disciplined, or both, to challenge the civilian leadership. When Admiral Liu, who joined the Communist forces sixty years ago at the age of fifteen and took part in the Long March, was suddenly appointed to the PSC, nobody could mistake who ran the army.
All in all, the Congress seemed a highly successful conclusion to what is surely Deng’s last campaign. He did not attend the week-long sessions, and was able to put in only a twenty-minute cameo appearance the day after they ended to receive applause and silently signify approval. And yet Deng must be well aware that his triumph is as fragile as he himself seemed during his brief visit to the Great Hall of the People. One difference between his victorious campaign and Governor Clinton’s is that the president-elect is guaranteed four years in power, whereas Jiang Zemin and his colleagues, whom Deng has put in office, are guaranteed nothing. The failure to institutionalize the succession process remains a crippling weakness at the top of the CCP. Since the People’s Republic of China was founded forty-three years ago, there have been six heirs apparent, but none held that position for more than one Party congress. Even Hua Guofeng, who actually did succeed Mao, as Mao intended, found that combining the chairmanships of the CCP and the Military Affairs Commission, and the premiership of the State Council, was insufficient to keep him in power.
To hold high office is only one source of authority in China, as the aged and nominally retired Deng demonstrated this year. The very fact that Deng felt it necessary to campaign in the provinces shows how weak he considers the “power-holders” in the Politburo to be. So if Deng is the first of the remaining gerontocrats to “go to meet Marx,” as Mao used to put it, his more conservative colleagues could upset the carefully calculated leadership arrangements made at the Fourteenth Congress, especially if the great economic leap which Deng has launched goes awry. Today’s leaders could become yesterday’s men tomorrow. Even if Deng lives longer than the others, the unsettling problem of “After Deng, who?” will remain.
Nor is there any guarantee that, by putting a serving officer in the PSC, Deng has finessed the military problem rather than simply trumped his own ace—the apparently loyal Yang Baibing. Liu Huaqing may be loyal to Deng, but if the going gets rough, will he be any more obedient to Jiang Zemin than earlier generals were to Hua Guofeng? Would he order troops to fire if workers rioted because their factory was being closed down as a result of reforms?20 The army has become far more professionalized during the reform period, and officers may genuinely desire to stay out of politics. But so long as the main civilian institutions and their leaders require military men to help prop them up, the answer to the question whether the Party or the army will prevail “after Deng” will not be finally settled.
Does it matter? Is the reform program so successfully entrenched that it cannot be changed, even if the conservative leaders who distrust reform regain power? Clearly Deng does not think so or he would not have left the bridge table to tour the country. He knows from CCP history that realism has never been an obstacle to determined ideologues convinced of their rectitude.
Moreover, in the great debate over change and political values that has raged in China this year, it is almost certainly Chen Yun whose assessment is accurate, not Deng Xiaoping’s. In a country with stable institutions, Deng’s belief that the people support governments that deliver economic growth and punish those which do not would normally be true, as was demonstrated in the 1992 American presidential campaign. But the CCP was gravely wounded by the Cultural Revolution, and Chen Yun has grasped that the wind of change endorsed by Deng is rapidly weakening the Party, an institution which already lacks legitimacy. Few in China know much about Marxism-Leninism today or care what Deng’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” means. The traditional Leninist party is increasingly irrelevant to economic life and, as the Tiananmen episode showed, its monopoly of power is unacceptable to many in a China that is undergoing economic reform and opening up to other countries. The CCP, if it continues on its present course, is unlikely to long outlast the Long March generation of leaders.
That is why the remaining leftists will continue to try to mobilize the silent minority of older state employees, and to subvert some of the reformers, in order to regain control of their Party and change its policies, and so preserve the threatened values summarized in the four cardinal principles. The Fourteenth Congress can be seen as a battlefield in which Deng and his faction had a formidable success, but the victor’s successors still have to win the peace. If they are to stay in power they will have to be prepared to sacrifice their commitments to the old “socialist” values in order to permit China to continue to change and prosper. Communism in China will probably end not with a bang but a whimper.
(Remember: You can subscribe to this… weblog-like newsletter… here:
There’s a free email list. There’s a paid-subscription list with (at the moment, only a few) extras too.)