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A Special Feature: What Is Happening in China?

In May of 1966 a volcanic movement erupted in China. Starting with a series of blasts against “anti-party and anti-socialist elements” by the Army newspaper Liberation Army Daily, it soon led to huge demonstrations in China’s high schools and universities where the center of the anti-Mao conspiracy was alleged to be. University officials were fired; students mounted huge demonstrations. Classes were cancelled, and a major revision of the curriculum was announced. So disrupting were the changes that no new students were accepted for the Fall 1966 semester. As the uproar intensified, prominent Party leaders were purged one after another. In June and July the movement slowed down somewhat and the Central Committee met in its eleventh plenary session (the first plenary meeting since September 1962). But hardly had the meeting ended and a communique been issued when a new mass movement erupted. Thousands of young students swarmed into the streets and formed “red defense guards.” Their most startling slogan was “defend Mao Tse-tung,” implying that his power had been seriously threatened. Mao Tse-tung, who for over six months had been absent from the public scene, reappeared among the crowds and was greeted with delirious enthusiasm. The young guardsmen pinned the armband of the red defense guards on his sleeve.

The press, which printed virtually nothing but news of the great upsurge, ridiculed the “old men” who had wormed their way into positions of power, and gangs of young people swarming out into the streets began attacking anything that appeared old, bourgeois, or foreign. Religious institutions, both Buddhist and Christian, were attacked; old people were reviled in the streets; foreigners and overseas Chinese were mistreated; party officials, including some in high positions, were severely criticized. As the movement got out of hand, the leaders called for discipline and the use of persuasion rather than force. This vast movement, officially called the proletarian cultural revolution, was publicly proclaimed as a great attack on feudal and bourgeois vestiges in Chinese life.

The outside world was shocked and puzzled. Neither it nor the Chinese themselves had anticipated anything of the sort. During the Spring tourists had continued to come into China and more were expected during the Summer; they had generally reported a relaxed atmosphere (though less so than in years past because of the Vietnam war) and had been free to wander about. Suddenly Peking terminated all tourist programs, withdrew visas, and China began to draw into itself. Reporters stationed in Peking cabled details of what had happened, but could not figure it out.

There have been scores of big campaigns in China’s past, but no convulsion like the “proletarian cultural revolution.” Party officials have repeatedly been subject to criticism from the masses, but never before have the leaders called directly on the masses to support them against their internal enemies. Moreover, the new red defense guards appeared to be overwhelmingly made up of students from the high schools and universities. It was also clear that widespread purges in the party had gravely weakened the structure of authority and discipline, and thus the young red defense guardsmen had been mobilized to create a substitute source of power窶馬ot as a permanent organization, but as an organizational weapon to re-mold the party along the lines laid down by Mao Tsetung and his co-leaders. For decades Mao had been preaching the “mass line,” warning that concentrated bureaucratic power is the greatest enemy of the party and the revolution. Now he has made unprecedented use of the masses to fight entrenched power interests within his own party. A close analogy to what has happened in China may be found in the Jacobin appeal to the people of Paris to support them in their struggle against their sectarian enemies during the French Revolution.

IN RETROSPECT, we can now see that the first signs of the purge appeared in November 1965 when a play by the writer and official Wu Han was attacked by the Shanghai Party Central Committee. Those of us who follow events in China did not attach any special importance to these attacks at the time, but the July 1966 issue of Red Flag has now made it clear that the “criticism of Wu Han’s play窶ヲstarted by the Shanghai City Party Committee, under the direct leadership of Comrade Mao and the Party Center, sounded the trumpet of the proletarian revolution.” The target, as the Red Flag article stated openly, was really the Peking City Party Committee, for reasons that I shall attempt to explain later in this essay. But last autumn this was far from evident. Even the abject self-criticism of Kuo Mo-jo, China’s leading intellectual, did not seem very meaningful at the time. Ideological criticism and self-criticism have been so much part of the Chinese scene, and the constant stress on “socialist education” was so prominent during the preceding years that it did not appear strange that even men of the highest cultural achievement were guilty of serious spiritual short comings.

There was no further sign of a purge until January, when Hsiao Hua, head of the army’s General Political Department, published a major article indicating dissension within the army (People’s Daily, January 25, 1966). However, none of us at the time saw anything more in this than an indirect linkage to the campaign against Wu Han and his colleagues. In the middle of April, the first of what were to be many articles reprinted from the Liberation Army Daily appeared in the People’s Daily, urging an intensification of the criticism of Wu Han. But it was not until early May that the volcano erupted. Suddenly the People’s Daily was filled with violent attacks against “anti-party, anti-socialist” elements, “monsters” who had insinuated themselves into positions of power within the Party. As before, all the attacks were couched in “cultural” terms, and they have continued to be so.

There can be no doubt that such language expressed a deep conflict over men, issues, and policy. But to understand what men, issues, and policies are involved, we must try to penetrate the “Aesopian” barrier by grasping the words and phrases that are significant. “Aesopianism” is a phenomenon of bureaucratic politics in many countries, including our own: People must be told something about the struggles going on behind the closed curtains of government, but detailed presentation of the issues is too dangerous. It would give information to the enemy, polarize the struggle, and reveal the secret politics within the bureaucracy. Unlike our own government, where “Aesopianism” is still developing, Communist governments have for years had a systematic ideological language. None in fact has been more systematic in this respect than the Chinese, and now they have chosen to use “cultural” language to communicate to their people what the struggle is about.

An outsider can not be certain that he has put his finger on the key terms of this language. The Chinese themselves have a better idea, for the discussion leaders expound orally on ideological documents and make more or less directly clear what is involved. We know, for example, that long before it was plain that “modern revisionism” meant “Khrushchevism,” Party cadres were openly attacking Khrushchev in discussion meetings. We can assume that people in China know much better than we do what really is going on. As an outsider, I can therefore offer only my experience and intuition as a basis for the following analysis.

THERE HAS BEEN a general tendency in the American press to treat the “proletarian cultural revolution” as a purely internal Chinese phenomenon: a power struggle, an attempt to continue the revolution, the crisis of succession, and so on. I cannot accept such a Sinocentric approach to the problem. With war moving closer to China’s borders, the rapid growth of American military power in Southeast Asia, the complex politics of the socialist camp (China’s relations with Russia, the other Asian socialist countries, and the policy conflicts over Vietnam), we must assume that foreign policy is an issue in the conflicts behind the “proletarian cultural revolution.” Even if it has not been a causative factor in the struggle itself, surely the men coming to power out of the struggle will influence foreign policy. In the following analysis, I put considerable weight on foreign policy as an issue in the struggle. This does not mean that domestic power, revolution, and the succession to Mao are issues of secondary importance. In my opinion, a wide range of men, issues, and policies both domestic and foreign, have come together in the present events.

The Purge Within the Party

The editorial in Red Flag, July 1966, accused “a revisionist clique of old men” of having taken control of the Peking City Party Committee, of capturing the country’s mass media, and of trying to constitute themselves into an “independent kingdom.” The phrase “independent kingdom” was last used in 1955, when Kao Kang, the Party boss of Manchuria and chairman of the State Planning Commission, and Jao Shu-shih, Party boss of the Shanghai region (Manchuria and Shanghai are China’s two most important industrial regions), were accused of trying to create an independent power base. “Independent kingdom” then meant not only that Kao, Jao, and their adherents were building a regional power base, but that they had attempted to gain control of the major bureaucratic agencies within the Party and Government. Specifically, both had tried to capture the vast apparatus of state economic administration, and by this means gain control of the Party center. The use of the term “independent kingdom” again in July indicates that something similar must have happened. In 1966, however, the bureaucratic agencies involved were not economic but political.1

The Red Flag editorial stated that Mao Tse-tung used the Shanghai Party organization to attack entrenched power groups within the Peking Party organization. The attack on Wu Han, who was a deputy mayor of Peking as well as a prominent writer and historian, and on Teng T’o, former chief editor of the People’s Daily, must be understood in terms of the Chinese practice of openly criticizing second echelon leaders as a way of covertly criticizing first echelon leaders. When it became clear that P’eng Chen and Lu Ting-i were the real targets, interest in Wu Han and Teng T’o waned.

One can only conclude from this that Mao had lost control of Peking. The head of the Peking Party organization was P’eng Chen, who was purged in June and has not since reappeared in public life. P’eng was the second most powerful man in the Party Secretariat, just below the General Secretary, Teng Hsiao-p’ing. P’eng’s power was rooted in Peking, which meant essentially within the immense apparatus of the Chinese central government, whereas the overall functions of the Secretariat and the type of men close to him seem to indicate that Teng Hsiao-p’ing’s power depended mainly on provincial and local Party organizations. In May, Teng, the General Secretary, seems to have emerged, along with Lin Piao, as one of the supreme leaders of China. Thus, given Mao’s openly stated use of the Shanghai Party Committee to attack Peking, we can surmise that he used Teng’s regional power to mount an assault against P’eng’s central power. The situation is similar to that in Russia in May 1957, when Khrushchev faced a mortal threat from old Stalinists who controlled the central organs of party and government power; he survived by mobilizing the regional Party organizations whose members were quickly summoned to an extraordinary meeting of the Central Committee.

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    With the possible exception of the liberal critical economist, Sun Yeh-fang, and some others, no leading economic figure has been purged; indeed, the moderate Ch’en Yun, who opposed the Great Leap Forward, reappeared on the public scene on August 18 during a vast demonstration in support of Mao Tse-tung just after the conclusion of the Central Committee’s eleventh plenary meeting.

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