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9-08-2015, 22:49

THE REVOLUTION CHANGES COURSE

In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, the Chinese communist leaders acted like a caste of high priests. They alone could delineate the right path to be followed by a billion of their fellow Chinese. Yet since 1949 Chinese history had been marked by abrupt changes. The correct line at any one moment was determined by the ascendant group among the elite. After Mao’s death in 1976, no one carried enough prestige to assume his mantle, though Deng Xiaoping managed for a decade to exert overriding influence. When there was a change of policy, the leader turned on his erstwhile supporters, who were now revealed as deviationists, enemies or counter-revolutionaries – exposed by the vigilance of the victorious faction. The rest of China, from the regional cadres to the humble peasant, was coerced into following the new line. The imprisonment of opponents was commonplace, as was the execution of criminals. This structure, however, in no way inhibited power struggles among China’s leadership, which occurred right through to the 1990s. But the tensions and conflicts within the Politburo could only be guessed at until the victory of one group and leader brought them out into the open. The party could ‘reform’ only from the top down. Reform from below or outside the party – that is, democracy – would undermine this selfperpetuating system. So any radical change in the way China was ruled had to be effected by the leadership itself. For any Chinese leader, control of the army was thus as vital as control of the Politburo. The chairmanship of the Military Affairs Commission was a key position of great power; its occupant ensured that posts held under him, such as the deputy director, the chief of staff and the director of the Political Department, were filled by his supporters. Yet the decades following Mao’s death witnessed a transformation. Oneparty control remained. Might not otherwise China have succumbed again to regional disintegration and chaos during the years of great change. Yet year by year the people did gain more freedoms, with one proviso; they could not fundamentally challenge party rule without risking incarceration. Party leaders in big cities down to small rural communities enjoy unchallenged power. Corruption was rife despite constant campaigns to check its spread and the threats of draconian punishment. At first there were few signs of a new dawn. Until his death in 1976, Mao continued to dominate China whenever he chose to set the line of policy to be followed. The violent changes from 1949 to 1976 reflected his perversion of the Confucian doctrine of the Golden Mean – a radical move would be followed by consolidation and relaxation only to be succeeded by the next step forward. The demise of the Red Guards in 1968, however, was succeeded not so much by consolidation and relaxation as by a change in the direction of the revolution. The student Red Guards had experienced real and heady power; in the name of Mao they had taken the law into their own hands, believing that they should lead Chinese society through revolution to communist utopia. They had ventured forth with Mao’s blessing, causing mayhem and attacking not only the local officials, as Mao had instructed in his Big Character Poster of August 1966, ‘Bombard the Headquarters’, but also anyone belonging to the traditional establishment. Their bitterness and disillusionment when Mao and the party leadership suppressed them and forced them to labour in the countryside were fierce indeed. Paradoxically the Cultural Revolution also gave rise to the Democracy Movement, whose ideals of individual rights and liberties were the exact opposite of the Red Guards’ cry of submission to Mao’s doctrines and vision. During the last years of his life Mao acted more and more autocratically. He found it useful to maintain in power a Politburo in which the extreme left group (Gang of Four), which included Jiang Quing, his actress wife since 1938, was balanced by the reformists, led by Deng Xiaoping, who returned to the central stage in 1973 as one of the vice-premiers. Premier Zhou Enlai, who had weathered all the turns of policy, moving just sufficiently in whatever direction the wind blew, was a moderating influence. His unqualified loyalty to Mao and his flexibility help to explain how he alone among China’s political elite had remained at the centre. The attempts by the Gang of Four to undermine his position only earned them Mao’s reproof, but they too retained considerable influence until the chairman’s death. It was Mao’s way of balancing rival forces. Nonetheless, a victim had to be found who could be blamed for the excesses of the Red Guards. From the highest ranks of the Politburo, Mao chose his intended successor, Lin Biao, minister of defence since 1960. Accused of plotting to assassinate Mao, Lin Biao was never brought to trial, and died conveniently in an air crash in 1971, allegedly while trying to escape. In 1975 Zhou Enlai fell seriously ill. Mao, who recognised Deng’s abilities, delegated to him the running of the state, despite the hostility of the Gang of Four. Zhou Enlai died the following year, in April 1976, but Deng’s ascendancy was short-lived. Thousands of people demonstrated in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, ostensibly to mourn the death of Zhou Enlai but in reality protesting against the repression of the ultra-left. There were scuffles with police and the square was cleared by force, an uneasy precedent for what was to happen there thirteen years later. Between 1970 and 1974 the economic recovery was proceeding in fits and starts. This did not deflect the party leadership from making grand plans for the future. At the Fourth National People’s Congress in January 1975 Zhou Enlai proclaimed that the country’s objective now was to catch up with the developed world by the end of the century by concentrating on the ‘four moderns’: the modernisation of agriculture, of industry, of national defence and of science and technology. But within the constraints of Mao’s ideology such results could not be attained. It would be left to Mao’s heirs to try new ways of achieving the necessary growth. What has subsequently been called the second phase of the Cultural Revolution continued to disrupt China. Some 12 million students, professionals and intellectuals had been sent into the countryside to be educated in the realities of Chinese peasant life. Many unjust imprisonments were upheld. Education and science were disrupted; schools and universities only gradually reopened in the 1970s. The see-saw policies of Mao’s hierarchy inflicted untold hardship and suffering on millions of Chinese. They would remember the decade from 1966 to 1976 as the years of great turmoil. Yet there were also, at least in principle, some beneficial aspects. The relocation of industrial activity throughout China, away from the manufacturing cities of the southern China coast spurred a more even development and mitigated the Third World phenomenon of developing mega-cities unable to cope with the population influx. Had there been more rational planning, with transport and communications keeping pace and with the older urban centres being maintained and renewed as necessary instead of suffering from neglect, China’s economic development would have suffered less from Mao’s Cultural Revolution. As it was Mao’s faith in the power of ideology created a fatal impediment. It is remarkable that one branch of technology nevertheless held its own during the decade when intellectuals were most fiercely persecuted: that was the missile and atomic-bomb sector. After Russia’s withdrawal from the nuclear programme, Chinese scientists went ahead on their own, and in October 1964 China exploded its own atomic bomb, becoming the fifth nuclear power in the world. Two years later guided missiles provided a delivery system. By 1967 China had built the even more terrible hydrogen bomb. Three years later it sent up its first satellite and in 1975 launched a retrievable model. Chinese missiles are among the most reliable. One of the most startling developments of Mao’s last years was the reorientation of China’s foreign policy. Relations with the Soviet Union had gone from bad to worse after Khrushchev’s fall, and in March 1969 there was actually handto- hand fighting over an insignificant island in the middle of the River Ussuri claimed by both the Russians and the Chinese. But the border dispute on the Soviet Pacific along the Amur and Ussuri rivers was less a cause than a symptom of Sino- Soviet hostility, with Brezhnev in the 1970s stationing some of Russia’s best divisions on the border, complete with nuclear-missile installations. The Chinese anyway knew that they were no match for the Russians. Mao interpreted Soviet foreign policy as entering a new imperialist era, and he could cite as evidence the Brezhnev Doctrine, which was used to justify the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The US by contrast had in Mao’s view become overstretched and in the early 1970s was looking for a way out of Vietnam. Mao saw in the American–Soviet rivalry a contradiction that China might exploit: he was now prepared to seek agreement with the country that had hitherto been China’s main antagonist – the US. In Washington, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger also saw a chance to create a better balance of power against the Soviet Union by playing the China card. It began in a characteristically Chinese fashion with an agreement early in 1971 for a US tabletennis team to visit China. This was the first direct link between the two countries. The US still recognised Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Taiwan as the legitimate Republic of China, and its representatives occupied China’s place on the UN Security Council. In July, Kissinger, President Nixon’s national security adviser, journeyed secretly to Beijing. This paved the way for one of the most momentous U-turns in the history of international relations. President Nixon, Mrs Nixon, William Rogers, the secretary of state, and Kissinger flew to Beijing for discussions and negotiations with Mao and Zhou Enlai in February 1972. The outcome was incorporated in a joint US–Chinese communiqué published in Shanghai on 28 February in which the American and Chinese signatories declared that they wished to normalise relations between the two countries. They reviewed the world situation, and the Americans and Chinese each issued a statement of their own. Despite different ideologies, the US document declared, no country was infallible. The US stressed its commitment to freedom and to support for South Vietnam and South Korea. The Chinese countered that oppression bred resistance, that strong nations should not bully the weak: ‘China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind.’ The Chinese expressed their firm support for the peoples of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia (here the Chinese took the opposite side to the US), but declared they both wished to reduce the danger of international conflict and did not seek hegemony. The touchiest and most crucial difference was over the future of Taiwan, so long allied to the US. The Chinese uncompromisingly declared Taiwan to be an internal question and insisted that Taiwan as a province of China should return to the motherland. They also demanded that US forces be withdrawn from the island. The Americans agreed that there was but one China – a point, they added tartly, that Taiwan and Beijing had in common. The US wanted to see a peaceful settlement and gave a momentous if somewhat vague undertaking: ‘it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan’. In December 1978 full diplomatic relations were resumed between Beijing and Washington. America’s trade embargo had long ended and China had taken its place fully in the international community, replacing Taiwan’s representative as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Relations with the West were normalised, a process that began with the Soviet Union only in the late 1980s. Thus the opening to the West had begun under Mao’s auspices in the 1970s. It was to reach a high point in the 1980s, with many thousands of Chinese students being sent abroad – most to the capitalist US, where over 20,000 were sent to study advanced technology and management. Deng’s younger son studied for his doctorate at Rochester University. It was an ironic reversal: in the 1950s it had been the Soviet Union that had provided the education. Mao’s immediate successor, chosen as chairman by the geriatric Politburo, was an orthodox Maoist, Hua Guofeng. His most significant contribution was to drive the Gang of Four, that is the extreme left, from the most powerful positions. We can only guess at the struggles within the Politburo that led to Deng’s recall to his former posts in 1977. Natural disasters, which struck the countryside in 1977 and 1978, slowed down the economic recovery then under way and probably helped the reformist section of the Politburo. A distinguished Chinese historian has called the third plenary session of the Eleventh Party Central Committee held in December 1978 ‘a turning point of far-reaching significance’. Hua was dismissed from his position as party chairman in 1978, accused of persisting in the ‘two whatevers’ – that is, of wanting to uphold whatever policy decisions Mao had made and whatever directives Mao had sent down. A main plank of Marxist strategy was now abandoned with the dropping of the ‘class struggle’ as the key to development and the shift to ‘socialist modernisation’. What this meant in reality, despite lip service to Maoist thinking, was a break with Mao’s revolutionary drives, founded on the belief that the creation of communist man must come first through education and the organisation of the peasantry in collectives and workers into state-managed enterprises. The benefits of well-being and economic progress were supposed to follow automatically. It was now thought that the prime task was to modernise China, to do whatever was necessary to increase production on the land and in industry as rapidly as possible so as to raise within a generation the Chinese standard of living from one of the lowest in the world to rank with that of the West. The new line (which had to be sloganised to conform to political practice) was called ‘Seeking truth from facts’. Where Marxist ideology proved a hindrance it would be jettisoned. This indeed was a revolutionary change of course, though gradual in execution. The party, whose standing had reached rock-bottom during the Cultural Revolution, was to be restored to pre-eminence, to ensure that the reforms decided by the leadership would be carried through; and the People’s Liberation Army was cosseted to ensure that it would remain the loyal instrument of power and preserve order, unity and obedience to the party leadership. Democracy in the Western sense of pluralism and of a leadership chosen by the people played no part in this programme – indeed, demands for such things were seen as jeopardising the aims of modernisation, as destroying the essential unity of purpose. Deng Xiaoping, the man who represented the new line and who had already played a significant role in attempting to make China more modern economically, belonged to that elderly group of revolutionaries who had been active in the 1950s. The open distancing from Mao’s supposed infallibility was signalled by subjecting the Gang of Four to a televised trial in 1980 in order to expose the wrongdoings of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Quing, Mao’s widow, alone offered a spirited defence, refusing to admit any guilt: ‘You can’t have peaceful coexistence in this area of ideology’, she spat out. ‘You coexist, and they’ll corrupt you.’ She was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to life imprisonment. As a symbol of the Cultural Revolution she became the most hated woman in China. Meanwhile, a younger generation of politicians had been placed in the top positions: Hu Yaobang became party leader and Zhao Ziyang the head of government, both of them reformist followers of Deng. Deng himself eschewed Mao’s personality cult, though as a member of the Politburo in charge of the army he was careful to counter the ‘old guard’ of conservatives, who remained powerful and strong, ready to make a comeback should his reforms fail or loosen party control or threaten China’s unity. So it can be seen that Deng’s position could not be compared to Mao’s. When public protests became too strong, Deng himself was ready to back a more conservative line. Deng’s reforms of the political structure were never intended to create a Western-style democracy, which he condemned as ‘bourgeois liberalism’. But without some reforms of the existing structures his economic programme would fail. For years he manipulated the factions in China with the skill of a poker player. Just so much criticism had to be encouraged to galvanise corrupt or inefficient party bureaucrats and the patronage system which placed a premium on who you knew. Between 1982 and 1985 slow but steady progress was made in weeding out those who had become too old or were too incompetent, usually by offering generous retirement terms. At a special national party conference in September 1985, half the Politburo was retired and a fifth of the Central Committee. Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang now had a majority vote in the Politburo. At this point Deng had probably reached the height of his influence and power. Deng could also look back on a remarkably successful start to his programme of economic reform in education and technological progress, but most especially in agriculture. Socialism was gradually modified and the peasant was given the incentive of growing some of his crops for profit and of engaging in handicraft industry. The people’s communes were replaced between 1979 and 1984 by a new system which, in practice, returned the land to the peasantry under a contract, called a lease, hardly distinguishable from private ownership. The contract had been used before for short periods to revive agricultural output, but now it became the system adopted in place of the collectives. Contracts were made with individual households: taxes had to be paid and an agreed amount of grain had to be sold to the state, but beyond this the household (or groups of peasants) could keep whatever they could earn. Efficient households soon became quasi-landlords, employing sometimes as many as a hundred peasant labourers. Prices were raised. There was a boom in some regions of China as the successful farmers built themselves large houses and bought consumer goods never before seen in the countryside – colour television sets and refrigerators. Rural enterprises and factories also developed and some owners became rich. What mattered most to the state, however, was the increase in agricultural production, which in the years after 1979 was spectacular, starting as it did from the low base of the collectives. By 1984 Deng’s agricultural reforms appeared to have vindicated his approach. The reform of state factories and urban enterprises took off later, in the mid-1980s, Deng having given priority to the agricultural reforms. The reformers now turned to free industry from state shackles and to devolve responsibility to the factory manager; here, too, the profit motive was designed to provide incentives. Small, privately owned enterprises were encouraged. By 1987 20 million one-family undertakings had been started. But the most startling reform was the development of what were called ‘special economic zones’ – capitalist enclaves within socialist China. Though the West had exploited China in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, establishing Western enclaves in China, the treaty ports and concessions, these had also been a channel by which Western management and technology were transferred to China. The most successful of these international concessions had existed in Shanghai, whose trading and commercial pre-eminence in China was due to the presence of the Westerner. But the communists had reasserted Chinese sovereignty and driven out the West from all the enclaves. For a decade the Soviet Union had filled the gap as educator, but then it also withdrew. Deng and the reformers wanted to bring Western knowledge and capital back to China. That was the purpose of the Special Enterprise Zones. One such, Shenzhen, was placed strategically across the frontiers of Hong Kong, the prime example of what a combination of Chinese skill and the capitalist system could achieve. Favourable condi- tions and the availability of cheap Chinese labour attracted large-scale investment from Hong Kong. No doubt Deng was trying to kill two birds with one stone. By showing that capitalism and socialism could exist side by side he furthered the reunification of all of China – the British colony of Hong Kong, the Portuguese enclave of Macao and hostile Taiwan. Most of Hong Kong would revert to China when the British lease ended. In 1984 the British and Chinese governments concluded an agreement that embodied Deng’s formula ‘one country, two systems’. After the British lease ended in 1997 Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain its capitalist system and its freedoms for fifty years as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic. While it seemed that Deng and the reformers were transforming China, opening the country to the West, attracting tourists and foreign capital, developing new joint enterprises and placing orders for machines and whole factories with the US, Britain, West Germany and other countries, problems were emerging which, in 1989, were to place question marks over Deng’s decade of reform. Free-enterprise agriculture was concentrating on the production of more profitable crops than grain, such as jute and tobacco. In 1985 grain production fell as China’s population, despite intensive birth-control campaigns enforcing ‘one couple, one child’, inexorably grew. Greater productivity on the land meant less need for labour. China’s urban population almost doubled between 1980 and 1986 – another 180 million mouths to feed in the cities. There was underemployment and unemployment in the cities; housing shortages grew more severe. The mixed state and free market encouraged corruption. Favouritism and bribery became widespread. Price rises unsettled the population, more used to the stability of stagnation. Economic development has been uneven, fastest in the last 1980s in the coastal cities. Agricultural output from what are predominantly small farms has little scope to increase and so match China’s population growth. With an economy in which prices are not yet market-oriented there is confusion and dislocation. Corruption is rife and China is still overburdened with a vast bureaucracy, whose planning functions continue to shrink. Vested interests damaged by these changes did their best to slow up or undermine Deng’s reforms. The biggest problem was Deng’s recognition of the need to transform the attitudes of the individual Chinese, to make them more independentthinking, responsible and enterprising. To the extent that he succeeded he also raised expectations beyond what the party could fulfil. Educational reform created a larger professional class and more idealistic students, who demanded new freedoms and ‘democracy’. This set Deng’s reformers and the party leadership on a collision course with a vociferous, educated, urban minority which wanted political reforms on the Western model. The West had come to expect more from the Chinese leadership as China’s economic and diplomatic involvement with the rest of the world had grown. Tourists visited China and found its people generous and friendly; Beijing even allowed discreet nightclubs to open, offering the services of hostesses. It looked as if China would adopt the Western way of life, importing not only Western capital and goods but also some of the West’s values. But in 1989 the Chinese leadership showed a different face that should have been expected. The West recoiled with horror but only for a short time. In the China of the twentieth century there is a tradition of student and intellectual protest. The calendar is marked by events such as the antiforeigner demonstrations of 4 May 1919, which became the focus for new demonstrations in the 1980s. Student idealism and frustrations were manipulated from time to time by the aged party leadership against their rivals, not least by Mao himself, with the launch of the Red Guards in 1966. It was a dangerous tactic and those who used student protest for their own purposes then had to contain what they had helped to arouse. Deng and his chosen successor, the man he had placed in the position of party leader, Hu Yaobang, together with the head of the government Zhao Ziyang, decided to allow freer expression of views. Deng, however, kept his lines open to the more conservative aged Politburo in deploring decadent Western ‘bourgeois’ influences. It was not surprising that China’s students were in the forefront of protest and demonstrations. They lived in bad conditions and were rigidly controlled by their elders. Their future usually lay in the hands of the state or party machine, which would assign them to a job somewhere in China – possibly in the wildest, most remote regions. Added to the instinctive desire of youth to be free of the restrictions imposed by an older generation, to find new solutions to longlasting problems, was a growing impatience with party politicising, with corruption and with repression. The old certainties enshrined within Mao’s infallibility had been replaced by a jumble of ideas. The rapid pace of economic change and contact with foreigners, with foreign literature and with some of their teachers, who bravely spoke their minds, all created a ferment of unrest. In the winter of 1986 the students took to the streets and gathered in Tiananmen Square. Economic reforms were not enough – they wanted control over their own lives. The demand was for ‘democracy’, symbolised on their banners by the Statue of Liberty. It was a spontaneous expression of feeling; but the students had no notion of how a transition to democracy might be managed in the prevailing conditions of China. They were brave and impetuous, and rejected Deng’s cautious approach to greater freedoms and prosperity which was then producing more dislocation than progress. The student protest was contained and dispersed without undue violence. The hardliners in the Politburo may well have regarded this as misplaced tolerance. Deng’s economic reforms, which encouraged more choice and freedom in the lives of the Chinese, were blamed for these dangerous demands for political freedoms, which challenged the role of the party and its leaders. Deng could not stop halfway on the road of economic reform, but he agreed with the conservatives that liberty of expression could not be allowed at this critical stage to affect the leadership’s firm control of policy decisions. The man he was thought to have chosen as his successor, the pragmatic reformist Hu Yaobang, was removed from the leadership of the party but not from the Politburo. In the course of 1987 Deng managed to readjust the balance between reformers and conservatives while pressing ahead with economic modernisation and encouraging Western capitalism to invest in China. Hu Yaobang’s position was taken by Zhao Ziyang, whose administrative skills were intended to help reform the party and to rid it of corruption. A younger Politburo member, Li Peng, a colourless Moscow-educated technocrat, was placed at the head of the state administration. In a wily masterstroke Deng retired from his posts and thereby persuaded many of the ageing conservative members of the Politburo to retire with him. But a secret party agreement acknowledged that he would continue to take major party decisions. Rapid change caused increasing economic problems in 1988 and 1989. Price inflation reached 30 per cent; with the new economic freedoms, some did well, but the army, the hundreds of thousands of party and state officials and all who derived their income from state salaries were left behind. The disadvantaged began to see Chinese society as increasingly unjust; food queues in Beijing were painful evidence of agricultural shortfalls and corruption. It was the example of Gorbachev’s bold policy of glasnost and his impending visit to Beijing that enthused the students in the spring of 1989 to demonstrate and to demand political reform. Countless banners in Tiananmen Square celebrated the ‘Pioneer of Glasnost’ and hailed the Soviet leader as an ‘Emissary of Democracy’. Gorbachev’s arrival in May was, in itself, a turning point in China’s international relations. At the end of a chaotic four-day visit, Deng and Gorbachev announced that after thirty years of hostility the relations between China and the Soviet Union had been normalised. But no very specific evidence of collaboration emerged. The visit was in any case overshadowed by the dramatic events outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square. Such turmoil had not been seen in China since the Cultural Revolution twenty years earlier. The students, who had been demonstrating since April, occupied the square throughout May and attracted growing attention. China’s advances in technology – television and satellite links – vividly conveyed this mass protest, with its demand for democracy and an end to the exclu- sive role of the corrupt party, to the whole world. Buoyed by public support, the students escalated the confrontation, humiliating to the Politburo holed up in the Great Hall, by going on hungerstrike. For seven weeks the Chinese leadership tolerated the students’ occupation of the square. China seemed truly to have changed. Inside the Great Hall of the People a power struggle was going on between the party leader Zhao Ziyang and the more hardline premier Li Peng. The proclamation of martial law on 20 May and the recall to the Politburo of four octogenarian revolutionaries indicated that Deng was ready to use as much force as necessary but needed to wait until the crucial Gorbachev visit had ended. He was also aware of the immense damage a bloody crackdown would do to the image of a reforming China, just when with its economic troubles mounting he needed Western help more than ever. Might the army prove unreliable, even though he was head of the Military Commission? An early attempt to use troops stationed in Beijing failed. More ominously workers went on strike and the students began to secure mass support. In a final show of defiance they erected in the square a plaster Goddess of Liberty, which looked much like the American Statue of Liberty. Deng ordered thousands of troops from outlying parts of China to Beijing. These young recruits had no idea what was really at issue; still less had they any idea who they were being ordered to suppress as dangerous revolutionaries. The students massing in the square could not believe that the People’s Liberation Army could be prepared to harm their fellow Chinese, young men and women the same age as they. In a dramatic last bid Zhao Ziyang tearfully tried to placate the students. During the early hours of Sunday, 4 June 1989 the army with tanks and guns fired on those unarmed students who would not leave the square. The massacre, in which hundreds were killed, was witnessed by the world as courageous television crews and reporters provided live coverage of the bloodshed, of students rushing corpses and the wounded on their improvised bicycle ambulances to Beijing’s hospitals. The hospitals, unable to cope, simply stacked the corpses in the corridors. All Sunday the soldiers fired indiscriminately, killing men, women and children, often bystanders unconnected to the demonstration. For days Beijing was at the mercy of the military. The striking workers were threatened and made to return to work. In the Politburo the students were condemned as revolutionaries, and a conspiracy manipulated by outside forces hostile to China was ‘uncovered’. The massacre was simply denied and the demonstrators were accused of killing the soldiers – it was true that in their fury the crowds had savagely burnt some trucks and killed the few occupants they could lay their hands on. The troubles had spread to other cities as well. In Shanghai there were massive demonstrations, but there bloodshed was avoided. In the immediate aftermath student leaders and demonstrators were arrested. The universities emptied as students and staff dispersed, their future uncertain. A number of public trials were televised and sentences of execution pronounced. A hunt for student leaders and supporters of the democracy movement, now branded revolutionaries, began. Zhao Ziyang was ousted as party chief and placed under house arrest. Li Peng became the spokesman for the hardliners. But the power struggle was not over even as China outwardly returned to normality. Deng, as an octogenarian, could not be expected to retain power for much longer. With the population still growing despite birth-control campaigns – it had increased from 540 million in 1949 to 1,300 million by the year 2000 – the need to increase production through modernisation was indispensable. China was poised between free enterprise and socialist planning, between some fragile individual freedoms and party control, governed by a small band of political leaders locked in strife with each other. Despite the progress made since 1949, it still faced a very difficult future. Thousands of the best-educated Chinese had been alienated into secret opposition, yet they were the very young men and women most needed to make modernisation possible. The brutal use of the People’s Army against the people had opened up a breach that would take time to heal. The issue of whether economic reform and modernisation had to precede fundamental political change, as Deng believed, or whether economic reforms had reached the stage where they could be carried no further without political reform, had been decided. What China’s leaders believed was that to have given way to demands for ‘democracy’ would have plunged China into chaos and disruption, and quite probably bloodshed on a large scale. Control and discipline would be needed as the precondition of material progress. They saw no reason why one-party control could not sit comfortably with the expansion of what has come to be called the socialist market economy. The economic progress achieved since 1989 has proved many a pessimistic Western theorist wrong. Politically, the events of 1989 dispelled much facile optimism in the West. For some months the West cut off relations with China. In Hong Kong there was greater anxiety about what the Anglo-Chinese settlement held in store. But China was too important a vast country with prospects for profitable business, a player in Asian international relations also hopefully able to restrain North Korea, its vote on the Security Council too crucial, for the West to maintain the ostracism. So, despite everything, realism demanded a gradual normalisation of Western dealings with China in 1990. The Chinese leadership was careful to avoid further offence and demonstrated goodwill towards the West by backing the Security Council resolutions against Iraq after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The Chinese leadership managed to insulate their country from the upheavals that had swept communist Eastern Europe and brought enormous changes to the Soviet Union. In China the pace of reform is set from above. In China’s vast interior, trials of dissidents, sentences of execution and incarceration were meted out as a harsh lesson after June 1989. Obedience to party and leadership were not to be challenged. China would continue to be ruled politically by the Communist Party and its leaders as before. The leaders would decide on the limits of debate and intellectual freedom. There has been liberalisation since the 1990s; visitors were welcomed and students continue to study abroad. The intellectual ferment in China settled down surprisingly quickly. Dissent is kept under wraps. One explanation is the booming economy and rising standards of living, faster since the 1990s in the cities than in the countryside. The senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, observed with satisfaction that he had chosen the right course. Political liberalisation, perestroika, in the Soviet Union had accompanied economic reform, and made commercial modernisation infinitely more difficult and led to conflict and the disintegration of the Soviet state. The Chinese people would be less concerned with notions of Western-style democracy if the party could deliver higher standards of living, and a plentiful supply of enticing consumer goods. Beijing has been transformed, with its modern hotels, department stores, foreign goods, Benetton sweaters and monied inhabitants. China’s immense land mass is divided between some wealthy regions and impoverished lands. The Fourteenth Communist Party Congress which met in October 1992 confirmed the policy the 89-year-old Deng had tenaciously followed for fifteen years: the transition to a mixed socialist market economy, called for appearance’s sake ‘the socialist market economy’, presided over by a communist party with a monopoly of political power. China was going its own way yet again. The spectacular growth of China’s economy represents a tantalising opportunity for Western business; a whole new frontier appeared to be opening up. But Western governments have had to grapple with the dilemma of dealing with a regime whose human rights record is at the same time condemned by them. Can moral principles outweigh national interest when the furtherance of trade contributes to prosperity and employment at home? The Clinton administration faced this issue by granting Chinese exports unhindered access to the US market in order to secure improvements in the way the Chinese authorities treated their dissidents. Success has been limited. For Britain, compelled to hand over the colony in 1997, Hong Kong was an Achilles heel. Belated attempts to introduce democratic elements in government were met by a furious reaction in Beijing and threats to dismantle what had been done without China’s approval. With the death of Deng in February 1997 China’s leaders have to grapple with China’s enormous problems of modernisation, with the uneven development of the regions, with corruption, but also with millions of people who for the first time have access to information about life in the West. Satellite dishes and the Internet may in the end prove more powerful than tanks. The Fifteenth Congress gathered in September 1997. The vast Hall of the People was filled to capacity with delegates applauding in unison and voting as one. Flanked by flowers, China’s leaders delivered their speeches from the raised platform. This stage-managed scene, transmitted throughout China and all over the world, demonstrated the unity of purpose of a monolithic nation. However, these images were a distortion of the truth. China has had to cope with serious tensions. A rapid and uneven transformation, the reult of Deng’s drive to bring about accelerated development, widened the gap between the coastal regions and middle China and created differences even between neighbouring districts. Rapid growth caused inflation in the early 1990s and was followed by austerity before growth could be resumed. The path followed in politics, by way of contrast, was steady repression. With the crushing of the Tiananmen Democracy Protest movement in 1989, the search for political reform was over. Deng believed that the Chinese people would be diverted and reconciled to party rule by increased prosperity. As long as criticism was judged ‘constructive’ within narrow limits a small measure of individual freedom of expression was allowed – but only if the fundamental aims of the party and the leadership remained unchallenged. Democracy, the toleration of an opposition, has remained anathema. Amid all the problems caused by China’s transformation, the Politburo in Beijing feared that if it lost its grip chaos would ensue – provinces would take their fate in their own hands, Tibetans, Mongolians and the non-Han Chinese in border regions would rise up and fight for independence, and in the heart of China tensions could escalate into rural rebellions. There have been large economic gains since the 1990s but they have been unequally shared. Of China’s 1.2 billion people, 850 million live in the countryside. Heavy taxation, corruption and nepotism have resulted in a breakdown of trust between peasants and the party. In the 1980s and early 1990s John Gittings, one of the bestinformed China-watchers, made several journeys into the interior, far from the burgeoning ‘special economic zones’ and coastal cities. His findings have been collected in a remarkable book, Real China, in which he describes the chaos caused by China’s rapid development particularly in its impact on the peasantry. Some 80 million peasants, driven by poverty, migrated to the cities where they form a virtually inexhaustible cheap source of labour; those who don’t find work aggravate the many urban social ills, especially vagrancy and crime. In the countryside unemployment remains the most serious problem; here the directives from Beijing were often ignored by local officials, and the peasants resorted to massive protests and riots. In 1993 alone 750,000 ‘incidents’ were officially reported. Under such conditions the response of the Chinese leadership appeared almost reckless. It was given at the Fifteenth Party Congress by Jiang Zemin, president of China since 1993, who emerged as China’s strongman; backed by the Politburo, he seemed set to follow in the footsteps of Deng. China plans to accelerate the pace of market reforms and to privatise the 17,000 medium and small state-owned industries that were creating huge deficits. Those that could not be made to pay their way would be shut down. Only a number of large key industries, such as those manufacturing military hardware, would remain in state hands. Millions of workers will be thrown out of work and join the unemployed, a recipe for unrest that will test the iron hand of state control. The hitherto unswerving support of the army, which is to be reduced in size but modernised, will be a critical factor. China’s policy of rapid economic development also depends on access to world markets on equal terms and on the continuing inflow of Western investment and technology. China had not yet been accepted as a member of the World Trade Organisation, not granted permanent ‘most favoured nation’ status by the US; the annual renewal of this concession requires congressional approval, which meant that China’s human rights record and its role in assisting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme (despite having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992) could be called into question. Clinton was prepared to be helpful. Eager to promote trading opportunities for American companies, he believed in engaging China rather than isolating it. In 1994 he had already uncoupled threats of trading sanctions from the issue of human rights. When, three years later, in September 1997 Jiang Zemin paid an unofficial state visit to the US, the first made by any leader since the Tiananmen Square massacre, a deal was struck. Jiang Zemin gave no ground publicly on human rights; he undertook only to supervise more carefully the export of nuclear materials and missiles. Such assurances fell short of prohibition, but Clinton achieved his objective of winning an order for fifty Boeing jets and authorised the profitable sale of American nuclear reactors to China. Authoritarian China was ready to master, if necessary by force, the dislocations caused by its dynamic industrial development. The party maintained its controlling role. After the Tiananmen Square killings any thought of political reform, which was limited in any case to creating more separation between the government and the party, has quietly been dropped. The party derived its legitimacy from bettering living standards and economic growth. Deng’s path of economic liberalisation, the gradual move toward a market economy was continued and internationally China is opening to global competition. An important step forward was joining the World Trade Organisation. The huge country with its ethnic minorities and disparities of wealth between the booming coast and the interior where two-thirds of the population, 1.2 billion people, live faces the risks of instability not least from the economic course chosen which has created 25 million unemployed as inefficient state industries shed workers. In China personal freedoms have increased as long as they do not challenge the party. That material aims and dry Marxist dialectic was not enough, however, was demonstrated by the aston- ishing growth of a cult in the 1990s, the Falun Gong which mixes Buddhist and Taoist beliefs with traditional physical involvements, to lead people on the path of enlightenment. It is a peaceful spiritual movement which, according to some estimates, at its height gained 60 million followers. They protested and ‘exercised’ in Beijing’s parks when the party ordered their suppression. The basic consensus among the party leaders did not exclude rivalries between them over the spoils of office, of power and material benefits. The price of one-party rule over the decades has been endemic corruption reaching down to the lowest party officials in the countryside. Periodic campaigns to eradicate it have only temporary beneficial effects while the cronies of those in power continue to enjoy protection. Thousands less fortunate were sent to trial and labour camps. In China the movement has been destroyed in the open and only persists underground among the most determined of its followers. The cult, however, is popular especially among ethnic Chinese, in the US attracting devotees who publicly exercise in parks without hindrance. Internationally Taiwan remained a focus of conflict. The US is anxious to restrain both sides from turning a war of words into real conflict. Taiwan invests indirectly in business ventures in mainland China and personal contacts, people to people, are growing. Taiwan as an economic model of success has much to offer mainland China. For the People’s Republic good relations with its two most powerful neighbours Russia and the US are essential to ensure its economic progress. The People’s Republic has become an influence for peace in the region out of selfinterest. A good example was Beijing’s efforts to facilitate a resolution in 2003 over the clash between the US and North Korea when its leaders announced their nuclear weapons programme. In the midst of momentous change, China’s leaders are haunted by the fear that they could lose control, and instability and chaos would result. They certainly look like being able to maintain the edifice in the forseeable future. At the top there is a consensus on China’s priorities: first comes the need to maintain unity of this vast and varied country which looks back on the first half of the century as the disastrous era of division and foreign domination, decades of misery. During the four months between the Communist Party Congress in November 2002 and the (State) National People’s Congress in March 2003 there was a change in the leadership, less complete than it appeared. Jiang Zemin stepped down as secretary-general of the Communist Party and his deputy Hu Jintao replaced him. All but one member of an increased nine-member Politburo Standing Committee were newly promoted. Jiang hung on to power ensuring that two-thirds of the Standing Committee were his allies and he remained head of the Party Central Military Commission, in fact, supreme head of the army. Jiang had the party adopt his addition to its ideology, his theory of the ‘Three Represents’, which for the first time allowed private businessmen to join the party. In March 2003 at the National People’s Congress, the State Presidency passed from Jiang to Hu, in 2004 Jiang gave up his remaining positions of authority. Zhu Rongji who had experience at directing the economy was replaced by Wen Ziabao as prime minister. Wen owed his appointment to having shed the pre- Tiannanmen Square sympathy with reform. Aged seventy-six, Jiang remains the paramount leader seeking to follow the example of Deng without enjoying anything like Deng’s standing. The new team has to face the formidable problems of an economy that grows fast, unevenly on a weak infrastructure, with an inadequate commercial legal system, state banks overloaded with loans in default and non-performing state industries. There is corruption that is hard to limit, a rural population that is backward and will have to face world competition in foodstuffs, whose standard of living has advanced little if at all, and a middle class on the coast, which in cities such as Shanghai can consume luxuries ordinary Chinese people can only dream about. In recent years a new problem that has to be faced is the spread of AIDS. China cannot at the same time follow an aggressive international policy that would jeopardise investment from abroad and hinder trade. The rhetoric is fierce about Taiwan, the ‘renegade’ province, but action is limited to threats and warnings. The possibility that the Chinese will attack Taiwan has lost credibility. When the US recognised the People’s Republic as China’s legitimate government it did not abandon Taiwan. The US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act promising to ‘resist’ any resort to force. The commitment was dramatically tested in the Spring of 1996. The Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-hui, elected in 1988 was seeking re-election. He was a change from the old-style authoritarian leaders, his aim to move Taiwan out of the time warp, the pretence that it represented the whole of China and that the communists on the mainland lacked all legitimacy their victory in 1949 notwithstanding. He appeared to be on the verge of declaring Taiwanese independence if re-elected. Beijing opened a campaign to intimidate the Taiwanese and frighten them by firing missiles into the sea. The US countered by moving two aircraftcarriers into the South China Sea. The message was clear: the Chinese use of force against Taiwan would meet armed resistance. The stand-off was diffused as quickly as it had begun. China backed off. Following the return of Hong Kong on the 1 July 1997, China has sought to win back Taiwan on the same basis – ‘one country, two systems’. However, Taiwan’s 22 million people could not be won over either by threats or by blandishments pointing to the continuing prosperity of Hong Kong. Per head of population the Taiwanese were many times more productive than the Chinese on the mainland and their high standard of living reflects their economic success. Politically, too, Taiwan has advanced, allowing a somewhat disorderly multi-party system. In July 1999 the earlier crisis was repeated when Lee tried to bolster his chances of another electoral victory declaring he no longer accepted the ‘one China’ ambiguity. A declaration of independence would open up the carefully crafted compromise Washington had devised to paper over the cracks. Lee did not win, Washington stood firm. Both sides calmed down.

 

 

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