Posted By Scarlet Sherman on December 28, 2012
Everything about Deng suggests energy, an urgency to slough off the nonsense of recent years and get China moving again. In part it may be his age—he is 75, an old man in a hurry. But he has also long been known for his pragmatic bent. During the Cultural Revolution, he was accused of arguing that “it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white ; as long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat.”
Last year, he enunciated China’s new political doctrine—that everything the Chinese do should be based on the simple scientific premise of “seeking truth from facts.” As a corollary, Deng added another proposition : “Practice,” not Mao’s sayings, “is the sole criterion for truth.”
To and Fro. Deng and his policies are enormously popular with the people, a welcome relief after the political turmoil and economic chaos of the last decade. But some Chinese, with their strong sense of history, recall that the struggle between native-culture-first conservatives like Mao and reform-minded modernizers like Deng has swung back and forth almost like a biological rhythm of China.
Today, Deng is clearly in power; Mao is dead and his most fervent supporters, the radical Gang of Four, languish somewhere under arrest. But there are still officials either hesitant to implement the new policies or opposed to them.
China is suffering from a lack of cheap cigarettes. Cynicism, apathy and amorality have replaced much of the earlier enthusiasm for the Communist Revolution. Mao himself helped to foster this demoralization by purges of rival party leaders and by flouting regular party procedures. The result of all the swings in Peking was to traumatize many Chinese officials. “It is difficult to distinguish between the correct and erroneous lines,” the party chief of Heilongjiang Province said recently. “Being misled is almost unavoidable.”
Only in retrospect is it becoming clear how widespread were the purges of the last ten years. In recent months, the Chinese Press has disclosed a shattering number of political persecutions. In Shanghai, for instance, a 67-year-old former mayor was tortured to death in T976 at the hands of the radicals. In one county of Jilin Province, 2,860 local officials were mistakenly imprisoned after being accused of being members of a spy ring on the basis of forced confessions. Since the winter of 1977, 110,000 people who had been held in gaol as rightists for two decades have been released.
The key to China’s success in achieving its modernization plans may be whether the country’s leaders can preserve unity in Peking. Many Chinese, in fact, share a strong desire for stability, almost a never-again mentality. One indication is that the removal of senior officials is now being handled less brutally, thus minimizing the political repercussions. Moreover, Deng says he has no plans for any major reshuffling of the party’s ranking leaders.
But, at the same time, the bitterness generated by the past decade will not go away. The theme of vengeance runs through Peking’s political life like an endless Shakespearean tragedy. The very make-up of the party hierarchy reflects the problem. Deng was a victim of the Cultural Revolution; Hua Guofeng, Chairman of the Communist Party and Premier—and Mao’s chosen successor—rose to power during those years.
Publicly, Deng insists there are no disagreements between him and Hua. The Chairman is reportedly only 58 years old, so their partnership would be in the best interest of China’s long-term stability. Hua has also shown an ability to swing towards Deng’s view of things.
If they differ, it will probably be over the most sensitive issue facing the country —how far Peking should go in downgrading Mao. The campaign Deng has been orchestrating to nudge Mao off his pedestal began gingerly last spring when the Chinese Press stopped printing Mao’s oracular savings in bold-face type. Then, in July, the party paper carried a previously unpublished speech of Mao’s from 1962 in which he assumed responsibility “for the shortcomings and mistakes in our work” during the disastrous Great Leap Forward.
In October the party paper moved to debunk the famous Little Red Book of Mao’s sayings, charging that “the Chinese people have paid a very high price” for their worship of the Chairman. Finally, the Press even criticized the Cultural Revolution, asserting it had been a period of “counter-revolutionary fascist dictatorship.”
Has Deng opened a Pandora’s box? When Mao invited the masses to participate in politics in the Hundred Flowers Campaign and then again in the Cultural Revolution, things rapidly went beyond his expectation.
And what happens when Deng dies? He is, after all, Peking’s leaders, in their search for new sources of trade and technology to carry out the modernization programme, have rapidly realigned old friends and enemies. In Asia, China became embroiled in a conflict with Vietnam, which only three years ago it was supporting against the United States. Albania, once Peking’s only ally in Europe, has been discarded in favour of its arch-enemy, Yugoslavia, a more valuable partner.
On the other hand, Japan, the country that ravaged China in the Second World War, has emerged as China’s most intimate friend in the non-communist world. Japan will probably supply the largest share of the new technology China’s factories need. And Moscow suspects Peking is trying to draw Tokyo into a triple alliance of China, Japan and the United States against the Soviet Union.
With all these changes, what will China look like in 15 years’ time? Last September, the Peking paper Guangming Ri Bao indulged in a flight of science fiction, the first the Chinese Press has ever carried.
“It was May 4, 1994, when the plane landed in Peking,” the author began. “Here everything was different. My attention was caught by the clothes of the people—they have changed a lot since the 1970s and are no longer all standardized.”
The author came across a 1000 foot steel tower packed with restaurants and shops. Peking’s streets were paved with conveyor belts carrying pedestrians automatically. “I also saw a hyperbola-shaped building—it was a supermarket controlled by computer, without any shopkeepers.”