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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—not 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…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.

The Purge in the Schools and Press

The purge not only cleaned out the Peking Party Committee, but reached into two other major organizational sectors, dominated by the Peking Committee: the high schools and universities, and the mass media. Newspaper and radio staffs throughout the country were purged, and by May it became clear that the Peking People’s Daily (the equivalent of Pravda and Izvestiia) was being attacked for having come under anti-Mao influence. It had been virtually impossible to detect any overt revisionist influence in Chinese newspapers, for the line propounded before the purge was not so different from the now current line. But the newspapers now publish almost nothing except praise of Mao and reports of the great demonstrations2 No doubt the real sin of the People’s Daily and of others in control of the mass media was not so much propounding errors or neglecting the thought of Mao Tsetung, but that they were part of a political group that wanted to gain control of the highest policy-making positions.

The campaign against the high schools and universities was more dramatic and equally thorough. In June, it was announced that a number of top university officials, in Peking and in other major cities, had been dismissed. Since none of those ousted were ivory tower academics, but leading Party officials mainly concerned with the training and placement of young leaders of “cadres,” it became obvious that a revolution in the cadre-training system was in the making. By June the People’s Daily was once again under “proletarian” control. It railed against academic power cliques and urged “left wing” students to seize control of the universities (June 18, 1966). Students, mainly of poor social origins, mounted great demonstrations in which Party cadres were personally denounced. The campaign also turned against other students, notably those who had been favored by earlier educational practices. Since China’s schools educate a disproportionate number of children of urban bourgeois origin, the revolution aimed at nothing less than changing the prevailing patterns of student selection and cadre appointment. Mao, in line with his confidence in the masses, appeared determined to bring the young and the poor into the organizational system.

THE CAMPAIGN against revisionism, bureaucratism, and bourgeois and feudal elements reached a point of frenzy; teenagers committed acts of desecration and even of violence against anything that smacked of the old. In this atmosphere the Yenan cult of austerity was preached as the model for all Chinese to follow. For a few weeks in August it seemed as if all political power in Peking had passed into the hands of the red defense guards. Yet, it does not appear that the red defense guards are to become a permanent organization supplanting either the Party or the Youth League. They arose in the high schools and universities as instruments in the struggle against Party vested interests there. When Mao Tsetung and Lin Piao felt that they had not completely carried the day in the plenary meeting of the Central Committee, they were called on to spearhead the campaign against Party oppositionists in all sectors of organization. Behind the red defense guards stands the army, always ready to back them with force if necessary and to restrain them if they get out of hand. Mao, unlike Stalin, has long since learned that the use of instruments of violence, such as the army and police, to resolve political disputes can create a chain of escalating violence without end. The use of these teen-age red defense guards, with the army in the background, thus avoids the appearance of military power emerging as the leading organizational force of the country. Presumably as the Party and the Youth League have been cleaned out and new cadres have taken the place of those ousted, the red defense guards will disappear from the scene.

The Struggle Over Training and Appointments

Up to this point, we can draw a few conclusions. We know that three main organizational sectors were thoroughly cleaned out: the Peking Party Committee, the cadre training system, and the mass media (notably the all important newspapers). Let us look at the cadre-training system more closely. Chinese universities generally are divided into two main parts, one roughly technical and the other political. Graduates of the former go into administrative, operational, and research fields of science and technology. Graduates of the latter go into the state administrative system. Obviously, the group which controls the training and appointment of personnel wields considerable organizational power. Among the most important branches of Party organization are the so-called “political-legal sections,” which have control over cadre training and appointment (anyone familiar with the importance of the nomenklatura in the Soviet Union understands the importance of personnel control in a Communist country). The ousted university officials were obviously a part of this system, and, given P’eng Chen’s long career in the political-legal field, it is safe to assume that this is precisely where one of the major sources of P’eng’s power lay.

There has always been conflict over personnel control in China and for the past few years there appears to have been conflict between the political and military bureaucracies over cadre training and appointment. The military wanted its ex-officers to gain greater entry into the administrative system. On the other hand, give the “expert” trend in Chinese education since the great economic crisis, we can presume that the political-legal sections of the Party preferred taking talented students, which meant a large number of urban and bourgeois young people. The struggle over cadre training and appointment is really reflected in the phrase “cultivating a revolutionary successor generation.” As a consequence of the present purge, it would seem that the army—the proponent of the “red” line and the force of the country’s young and poor—has won out over the Party bureaucrats.

Winners and Losers

In the recent purge there can be little doubt that cadre training and appointment were a major issue. Yet it is hard to believe that this volcanic eruption was the result of a struggle merely over the immediate issues described. I can see why the young red guardsmen would lash out in anger against the “old fogies” in power. After all, this has happened in the past; Party cadres have several times submitted to withering criticism from the masses. I can also see how the high schools and universities were split between the privileged and less privileged students, producing a veritable class war. But had there not been deepest dissension at the highest levels of the political system (as there was in 1957 when the “anti-rightist movement” broke out), there would not have been such violence and upheaval at the lower levels.

The slogan “defend Mao” and Mao’s dramatic re-appearance among the youth in the streets of peking indicated that a great power struggle was in progress. Leading Party names disappeared from the lists of participants in public demonstrations, making way for a new leadership group. Most prominent in the new group is Lin Piao, acclaimed with Mao as a leader of the Chinese people. Lin Piao is one of China’s great military heroes, yet until now he had not been associated with politics. After relinquishing his command of Chinese forces in the Korean War he receded from the scene, supposedly because of illness. He re-emerged again in the autumn of 1959 when his successor in the Korean War, P’eng Te-huai, was removed as Minister of National Defense. In late 1960 he played a prominent role in reinforcing military discipline in the face of the economic crisis. He has since become well known in the West as the author of an article on “People’s War” (September 1965), widely interpreted in America as a blueprint for world revolution.

IT IS SURPRISING that Chou Enlai emerged next, after Lin Piao, as one of the new leaders. He is the Chinese leader best known abroad. Like Lin, Chou is hard to place in the political spectrum of “right” and “left” (or “soft” and “hard”). He has been identified with many different issues, and has always emerged on the winning side. In general, however, he has the reputation abroad of being a reasonable man (a reputation which was established during his residence in Chungking during World War II).

During the great mass demonstration of August 17 which launched the red defense guards, the three most prominent figures appearing in public were Mao Tse-tung, Lin Piao, and Chou Enlai. Next to them, judging from the order in which they were ranked, were T’ao Chu, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, and K’ang Sheng. T’ao Chu had been Party boss of Kwangtung and was known as an authority on agricultural problems. His rapid rise in the hierarchy of power had already been noted by students of China, but his sudden prominence is surprising. Aside from domestic politics, T’ao Chu has not been known for any stand on major issues. Teng Hsiao-p’ing’s work appears to have been mainly organizational, running the extensive network of the country’s Party organization. K’ang Sheng’s work and career also seem obscure. K’ang Sheng has a long record of association with the Soviet Union, though his “opinions” are not known. In July 1963, K’ang went with Teng to Moscow for major Sino-Soviet summit talks, to try to dissuade the Russians from signing the Test Ban Treaty. It is significant that Peking did not at that time send P’eng Chen or Lu Ting-i, who were in the forefront of the anti-revisionist (i.e., anti-Soviet) campaign.

Among the most prominent figures purged were leaders in the Peking City Party Committee, in the universities, and in the mass media. P’eng Chen himself had been the former mayor of Peking and a member of the Politburo. Lu P’ing was the former President of Peking University. Lu Ting-i and Chou Yang were the chief Party propagandists. Lu Ting-i, in April 1960, wrote one of the first major articles attacking “modern revisionism” (i.e., the Soviet Union). P’eng Chen continued the attack during his visit to Bucharest in the summer of 1960. Chou Yang wrote prominently on China’s revolutionary politics in the third world. All those purged had a long record of anti-Soviet activities, whereas the group now in prominence, T’ao Chu, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, and K’and Sheng, are not associated with particular positions on foreign policy.

That all those purged played prominent roles in domestic power politics is of course evident, but their association with foreign policy issues would suggest that more was involved in the purge than just a struggle over political power. This is further suggested by the purge of a figure even more prominent than those I have named: Lo Jui-ch’ing, former head of the Secret Police and chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army.

The emergence of Lin Piao and the ouster of Lo Jui-ch’ing indicate that the purge had struck at the military as well as the other organizational sectors I have mentioned. Obviously Peking was not going to let the world know what issues lay behind the military purge, since national security factors were involved. Certain clues seem helpful in explaining what has happened, although some of them do not carry us very far. There is evidence, for example, that a conflict has taken place over the control of the People’s Liberation Army. In an article published last January, Hsiao Hua, the head of the army’s General Political Department, announced that henceforth the army was to share military command with the principal party committees, at least in the provincial command areas. In the past, the military professionals have opposed the sharing of power with Party committees (as they would in any country). But the principle of shared command was reaffirmed on August 2 in an editorial in Liberation Army Daily: “We must positively aid regional work, earnestly learn from the regions, and strengthen solidarity between the military and the regions.”

IF WE RECALL that Lin Piao is the leading exponent of Mao’s principles of guerrilla war, then Lin’s advocacy of decentralization makes sense. On the other hand, the purged Lo Jui-ch’ing was formerly the chief of one of the most centralized of all organizations in China, the public security forces, and he was obviously therefore a proponent of centralization. We may presume P’eng Chen shared his views on this question.

But this explanation hardly seems sufficient. The issue of centralization vs. decentralization is an old one in China, and Mao’s normal method would be to navigate between the contradictory positions and find some sort of balance. Yet nothing could be more unbalancing than the present purge where one leading figure after another has fallen from power. Is there anything in the voluminous literature of the “proletarian cultural movement” which might give us some deeper understanding of what has happened? In my opinion this literature does provide some “Aesopian” hints in the form of historical analogues to the present. One must read them, not as accounts of the past, but as a Chinese way of presenting the issues of the day. Let us remember that Lin Piao’s article on “people’s war” was mainly an analysis of the Sino-Japanese War thirty years ago, yet the deliberate analogy to the present world situation is clear. In the same way, I would suggest that the Chinese have made current use of two famous historical episodes—the rectification campaign of 1942 and the conflict over military strategy in 1929.

The Analogies With 1942 and 1929

On July 1, the anniversary of the founding of the Party, and on August 1, the anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, the newspapers usually publish major editorials which recount the history of the two organizations; these often provide clues to current Chinese policies and problems. Some of the commentaries published this year seem to me of great significance. On July 1, 1966, for example, the People’s Daily made the following statement in reviewing Mao’s struggles with deviation:

During the entire period of the democratic revolution, the correct line of the Party as represented by Comrade Mao Tse-tung carried on a serious struggle twice with rightist opportunist lines and three times with “left” opportunist lines. The Tsun-i Conference of January 1935 confirmed the leadership position of Comrade Mao Tse-tung within the whole Party. From 1942 when the all-Party rectification movement began to the Seventh Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1945, the Thought of Mao Tse-tung was made into the guiding thought of our whole Party, and became the guidelines for all the work of the Party.

Most readers in China would conclude from this statement that in the current purge Mao Tse-tung had again struck out against opponents both to the “right” and to the “left.” And indeed the rectification campaign of 1942 bears some similarity to the present “proletarian cultural revolution.” Furthermore, the recent republication of Mao’s writings of that period on art and literature make it more certain that people in China today are expected to see the parallel between 1942 and today.

The rectification campaign was launched shortly after Pearl Harbor when the Japanese were winning one victory after another, and the Communists were in grave external and internal peril. They had every reason to expect even worse blows in the future, and therefore decided to consolidate their base areas by means of intensive ideological mobilization.

ACCORDING TO the official historical literature, such as Ho Kan-chih’s History of the Modern Chinese Revolution, the Party was at that time made up of diverse elements—peasants, intellectuals, soldiers—and without real ideological unity. In the “rectification campaign” some members were found guilty of “dogmatism,” that is, literal application of principles; whereas others were found guilty of “experientalism,” that is, resolving problems pragmatically without bothering about ideology. Again others were found guilty of “sectarianism,” that is, forming cliques which tried to seize leadership positions. The rectification was followed, in 1943, by the great cooperative movement, which not only helped solve the production problems the Communists faced but strengthened Communists organization by giving it roots in the villages. The Seventh Party Congress (April-June 1945) was ideologically a personal triumph for Mao. While Marxism-Leninism and the Soviet Union were brushed off with a few words, China’s national spirit and the Thought of Mao Tse-tung were celebrated in resplendent fashion.

Of course the analogy to 1942 does not wholly apply to the present situation. In 1942 there was no struggle for power. Mao Tse-tung was firmly in command, and the main tasks were organizational: consolidating the base areas, strengthening the Party, and preparing for a protracted war against enemies (the Japanese and the Nationalists). Now, however, all signs indicate that a major power struggle was taking place, and that Mao Tse-tung was intervening personally, with all his strength and prestige, to eliminate one group of leaders and pave the way for the accession of others.

Another historical example may further enlighten us. On August 1, the Liberation Army Daily published an editorial celebrating the thirty-ninth anniversary of the establishment of the P.L.A. (the editorial was re-published on August 2 in the People’s Daily). This editorial referred to certain analogous historical situations, particularly the Kut’ien Conference of December 1929: It notes that in a major article written in 19603 Lin Piao “continued and developed the spirit of the Ku-t’ien Conference.”

The reference to the Ku-t’ien Conference does not appear to be gratuitous; for in January Hsiao Hua’s article concerning the decentralization of military command referred to Ku-t’ien in much the same way: “In the 1929 Ku-t’ien Conference, we fought against pure military viewpoints which saw ‘the military as governing politics,’ and argued that ‘if the military is all right then politics will be all right too.” According to official Communist histories, at the Ku-t’ien Conference in 1929, and at the Tsun-i Conference of January 1935 as well, the issue was “left adventurism.” Moreover, in both cases Mao Tse-tung was involved in a great power struggle in which his position was at stake.

LATE IN 1929 the Red Army had already established itself in Kiangsi and Hunan, but the Central Committee was still in Shanghai, under the leadership of Li Lisan. Chiang Kai-shek was pressing his “bandit extermination” campaigns with all the forces at his disposal. An argument broke out between Mao Tse-tung and Li Li-san. Mao Tse-tung took the position that base areas ought to be established, the agrarian revolution deepened, and the Red Army gradually expanded. In short, Mao was in favor of conserving strength and preparing for protracted warfare. Li Li-san, on the other hand, demanded immediate armed insurrections in the cities, ridiculed the reliance on the peasantry, and wanted the Red Army to attack the cities. He argued that the masses wanted action on a large scale. At that time, Li Li-san’s line won, and the Red Army twice attacked Changsha, capital of Hunan province, where it was disastrously defeated (see Jerome Ch’en, Mao and the Chinese Revolution, pp. 154-159).

Let us now hazard some conclusions from these two historical analogies. The 1942 rectification movement appears to have direct relevance to the present situation, as the present republication of Mao’s writings on art and literature of 1942 would seem to show. In 1942 a kind of “proletarian cultural revolution” was started to mobilize the population, and the Party in particular, for a long struggle with the Japanese, at a time when the prospects for victory seemed bleak. If we look at Mao’s writings, we find every reason to assume that he thinks armed conflict with America inevitable; the rapid escalation of the Vietnam war probably has made him conclude that the moment of confrontation is closer at hand than he thought in January 1965 when, in an interview with Edgar Snow, he foresaw no American escalation of the war in North Vietnam. His prescription for the present situation would be, as it was in 1942, to mobilize ideologically, to dig in and prepare for the coming attack, hoping for final victory through a protracted war. I would conclude that the deliberate references to these historical analogies mean that foreign policy was a major issue in the recent power struggles, and that Chinese expectation of an attack on China emerging sooner or later from the Vietnam war was the most important specific issue of foreign policy.

But the recent references to Ku-t’ien and to Tsun-i (where “left adventurism” was the issue) suggest something more, namely that there is a deep split within the top leadership as to how China should meet this threat, and which group of men shall control the fateful decisions on national policy. Here men, issues, and policies are closely linked; for whoever “succeeds” Mao will determine China’s policies on major issues. Specifically, the men who win out in the power struggle will determine China’s response to the growing war threat.

The Dispute Over Military Policy

So far we have tried to link historical references from before 1949 to the present situation. We can also learn something from recent official references to disputes over military issues since 1949. The Liberation Army Daily editorial of August 1 cited three great disputes over military policy during the last sixteen years. The first was said to have begun just after the conclusion of the Korean War and to have ended only late in 1958 when Mao Tsetung “struck down slave ideology and buried dogmatism”; thus, by implication, the dispute ended just after the Quemoy-Matsu crisis in the fall of 1958. Alice Langley Hsieh, in her study of Chinese military doctrines (Communist China’s Strategy in the Nuclear Era, p. 130), notes that in 1958 “the Chinese had accepted a strategic estimate that recognized, temporarily at least, China’s weakness and the limitations on military activities that such weakness imposed, and subordinated immediate military goals to the long-range achievement of political, economic, and military objectives.” Perhaps the world has forgotten how close it was at that time to a major clash between China and the United States. Khrushchev flew to Peking to dissuade the Chinese from moving against Quemoy, implying that the Chinese could not fully count on Soviet aid if that occurred. What “slave ideology” means is therefore not difficult to guess: major military reliance on Soviet aid in the case of war. The publication of Mao’s “paper tiger” theses late in 1958, in spite of their deprecating tone toward American military might, further underscored their policy of caution (“the enemy must be tactically respected”).

The second great dispute, according to the editorial, took place in 1959 and 1960. The issue clearly was professionalism, involving an attempt by military men to reduce political power in the armed forces. That dispute was said to have ended in the triumph of the ideas of Mao Tse-tung and Lin Piao. The dismissal, in September 1959, of P’eng Te-hui and Huang K’o-ch’eng made it clear that a factional struggle had in fact taken place. But we must remember that in June 1959 the Sino-Soviet nuclear sharing agreement was terminated, which greatly endangered China’s entire strategic position. This would indicate that a grave issue was involved in the dispute: the future course that China should take. Alice Hsieh concludes (op. cit., pp. 178-179) that, while Mao and Lin reaffirmed their commitment to maximum enhancement of China’s military power through the building of weaponry systems, they also demanded Party control over the military program.

The third great dispute, the editorial stated, took place “just recently,” and involved opposition to the Party center and to Mao Tse-tung personally on the part of anti-party elements. These were said to be advocates of a policy of “the military first, technology first, and operations first.” Obviously this third great dispute brings us down to the present purge, and presumably those military figures, such as Lo Jui-ch’ing, who have disappeared from the public scene must have been at the core of these anti-party groups.

THE THREE DISPUTES DISCUSSED are not merely historical analogies. The Liberation Army Daily clearly implies that essentially the same basic issues underlie all of them. Unless we take the Sinocentric position that the “red versus expert” controversy in the military field relates exclusively to domestic problems, then we must assume that they concern the most vital question in the national security of any country: the manner of response to an armed threat from abroad. I would suggest that a group of high-ranking political and military leaders who were moving into positions of power advocated a military and political response to the threat of armed attack in sharp disagreement with Mao. Let us remember that once policy decisions are made, it is hard to turn them off again. Wheels are set in motion, and where military measures are involved, with ever intensifying acceleration. But this has political repercussions, for the men who make these decisions are confirmed in their power by the actions they unleash. “Seizing power” is not just capturing a seat in the government and sitting in it. It means gaining the power to do something you advocate. Power makes action possible but action in turn strengthens power.

The Threat of Vietnam

We must try to imagine the international situation as the Chinese saw it last Winter and Spring. Americans are fond of believing that they threaten no one and point to the many soothing assurances that come from Washington. Yet experience has taught the Chinese not to trust anyone’s words. What they base their judgments on are the actions of their adversaries.

The Winter and Spring of 1966 witnessed a great intensification of the war in Vietnam. After the resumption of bombings of North Vietnam on January 31, 1966, the air war accelerated, especially late in March and in April. Moreover, it spilled across the borders, and a Chinese plane was shot down over Chinese territory. Late in April the American government made it clear that China could no longer be considered a sanctuary for enemy aircraft as had been the case in the Korean War.

The dangers of war were high on the list of Chinese concerns during the Winter and Spring of 1965-1966. Let us here quote from a People’s Daily editorial of April 6, 1966:

At present, American imperialism gradually is shifting the center of its “global strategy” from Europe to Asia and the Pacific region. Obviously America has not placed such a large amount of military force in Asia and the Pacific region to play games. It is a major strategic deployment, preparing to unleash an aggressive war of even greater scale in Asia…It is becoming increasingly clear that American imperialism is now preparing to impose war on the Chinese people…The Chinese people are prepared to respond instantly to any sudden attack [my italics] that American imperialism may unleash.

As Alice Hsieh indicates, the response to “sudden attack” has for a long time been a matter of dispute among Chinese military leaders (op. cit., pp. 34-41). In the mid-1950s, for example, a group of military leaders, notably Liu Po-ch’eng, Yeh Chien-ying, and Su Yu, the chief of the PLA’S General Staff, represented a professional outlook: They stressed the external threat posed by the United States, called for an indigenous Chinese defense capability based on modernized armed forces, and refused to put undue reliance on the Soviet deterrent and on Soviet aid. In sum, they advocated the maximum development of counter-force as the only way to meet the threat of “sudden attack.” This meant, in effect, pre-attack mobilization of forces. But Su Yu was dismissed in October, 1958.

ON THE OTHER HAND, P’eng Te-huai had advocated a very different policy of “post-attack mobilization,” that is, mobilizing the country’s population only in the event of a direct attack. His approach was apparently based on the conviction that China’s armed forces had a major role to play in domestic economic development, a role which would be profoundly disturbed by intensive peace-time mobilization. P’eng also stressed China’s security arrangements with the Soviet Union. But he was dismissed in September, 1959, three months after the Russians tore up the nuclear sharing agreement.

It is obvious that these and other changes in military leadership in the early and middle Fifties must have involved the issues that were being debated at the time. (The same can be said of the recent purge of Lo Juiching.) The issue most discussed was, of course, what China should do when faced with an American attack. P’eng Te-huai had advocated post-attack mobilization, a tactic generally espoused also by Mao and Lin, but, at that time, he still called for reliance on the Soviet Union. Liu Po-ch’eng, Yeh Chien-ying, and Su Yu, on the other hand, had argued strongly for an independent modern defense force, a notion in line with Mao’s and Lin’s views on “self-reliance.”

The debates in the Fifties on military response to armed threat from abroad thus contained three different lines of approach: (1) pre-attack mobilization (interim defense measures, “active defense”), (2) post-attack mobilization, and (3) reliance on Soviet aid and deterrent force. Now let us try to link these real issues with the historical analogies discussed above, and with the present war in Vietnam. At the time of Ku-t’ien, in 1929, and Tsun-i, in 1935, the Communists were facing the threat of immediate attack, and the main question was how to respond. Mao’s opponents were accused of “left adventurism,” namely advocating active counter measures to meet the threat immediately. Mao himself advocated a strategy of building up base areas, mobilizing ideologically and organizationally, and preparing for protracted war. I would suggest that those who advocated pre-attack mobilization in the spring of 1966 were guilty of “left adventurism.”

HOW DO WE reach this conclusion? If the Chinese did indeed believe that they were facing imminent attack by the United States in the Spring of 1966 (presumably through a spilling over of the air war into China), then surely there must have been intense debate among the top leadership as to what course to take. In May 1965, Lo Juich’ing wrote a major article on war which Washington officials described as “one of the most serious and systematic discussions of military doctrine to come from Communist China in many years” (New York Times, May 13, 1965). The core of his argument was that China, when faced with the dangers of war, must pursue a policy of “active defense,” namely pre-attack mobilization. On the other hand, a careful reading of Lin Piao’s article on people’s war indicates complete advocacy of Mao’s ideas on protracted war, and, by implication, espousal of a policy of post-attack mobilization. In view of the obvious competition for power between Lin Piao and Lo Jui-ch’ing, we may infer that Lo’s approach lost out to that of Lin, in what must have been a major debate, in the Spring of 1966, as to how to counter the growing threat from the war in Vietnam.

It is apparent now (September 1966) that a large-scale program of ideological mobilization is going on in China. But the Chinese have not yet made any move to take more positive military action with respect to Vietnam, even though the situation is as dangerous as ever. There are no reported signs of military mobilization in the country. What Mao is now doing is in line with what he did decades ago at Ku-t’ien and Tsun-i, when he won out over “left adventurism.”

On the other hand, the references to “right opportunism” in the available literature also suggest that there must have been prominent figures among the leaders who advocated a more moderate and careful course. Among the earlier Party leaders now cited as an example of “right opportunism” is Wang Ming (still prominent in China today under his real name Ch’en Shao-yu). During the mid-1930s, Wang Ming was accused of “capitulationism,” that is, advocating complete collaboration with Chiang Kai-shek. Wang Ming was closely associated with the Comintern and echoed Stalin’s support of Chiang Kai-shek as the chief leader of resistance against Japan. If the present “left” deviationists advocated pre-attack mobilization, then it would appear that the “right” deviationists advocated a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Let us not forget that the Russians have been continuously calling for “united action” against the United States in support of North Vietnam. The Russian appeal has had considerable effect: the Korean, Japanese, and North Vietnamese parties have drifted away from Peking. There can be little doubt that there were high leaders in China who also suggested this course of action.

The Chance for Peace

It is quite conceivable that a political conflict between “hawks” and “doves” developed last Spring as China’s leaders considered the possibility that the Vietnam war would spill over China’s borders. The Chinese hawks argued for a policy of counter-force, preventive mobilization, and possibly even military action, whereas the doves argued for a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Of the three military policies discussed, we can be sure that Mao Tse-tung, true to his (and Lin Piao’s) principles of warfare, advocates post-attack mobilization, that is, essentially a cautious tactic based on a strategy of protracted war.

Mao Tse-tung’s “theory of contradictions” fits well the type of hawk-dove politics we have been accustomed to seeing in high American bureaucratic circles: In such organizations, men and issues tend to polarize between extremes. Indeed, a major hawk-dove contradiction must have been in the making in China last Spring. As the war in Vietnam became more bitter, so did the arguments. Mao was absent, spending much of the time in his favorite Hangchow. Rumors spread that he was ill and may very well have died. yet Mao sprang back and cut a wide swath through the entire structure of top policy makers in the country, much like the breast-stroke swimmer of his famous recent photograph. In sweeping away those to the “right” and the “left” of him, he has come close to eliminating virtually all the top leaders of the country. To give him support in this dangerous power vacuum, he mobilized the masses, particularly the red defense guards, to support him. He called to his side Lin Piao, a man who generally stayed outside the great military debates of the 1950s and was known largely as an able commander and a devoted follower of Mao. And he once again summoned the flexible Chou En-lai, a man who was neither hawk nor dove.

If this is what has happened, then one wants to know who are the “right” (soft) and the “left” (hard) men who were purged. The hardliners, in my opinion, are easier to identify. Lo Juich’ing, judging from his May 1965 article, came close to advocating preventive war (“in order not to take up arms, we must take up arms”), and, contrary to Victor Zorza’s interpretation (Look, July 1966), bitterly attacked the Soviets for their revisionism. P’eng Chen, Lu Ting-i, and Chou Yang were closely identified with the anti-Soviet and the national liberation policies of the period 1960-1966. It is more difficult to identify the softliners, that is, those who wanted a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. The violence of the present campaign against the Soviet Union, however, clearly suggests that there were advocates of such a course.

The campaign against the Soviet Union, strongly reiterated late in April, at the time of the visit to China of the Albanian leader Mehmet Shehu, makes it clear that there is to be no rapprochement with the Soviet Union. On the other hand, one must also note the lessening of attention given to Vietnam in the Chinese press, compared to earlier this year. Repeated reports from “authoritative sources” in Washington that there are no signs of an impending Chinese intervention in Vietnam at least indicate the absence of any large-scale military mobilization.

Just as China is the “middle kingdom,” so Mao, once again, has asserted himself, as he has done in the past, as the man of the middle course, avoiding both the extremes of the right and the left.

What this suggests about the problem of succession remains to be seen. New leaders are coming to the fore, and old leaders are receding into oblivion. The lists of prominent names undoubtedly will continue changing. Moreover, it is by no means certain that the great struggle is over. The issues remain, and even if the old advocates of “right” or “left” have fallen from power, new men will arise to espouse these positions. But if my analysis is correct, there are obvious implications for the great international issues in which China is involved, particularly the Vietnam war. Again, we might ask: Are there “Aesopian” clues which might suggest some of these implications? One of the top leaders who has fallen from the heights of power is Liu Shaoch’i, once Mao’s heir apparent. Given his prominent association with the tenth plenary meeting of the Central Committee (September 1962), which pronounced a tough anti-Soviet line and which presumably worked out plans for the attack on India, we might place him to the “left” of Mao. During his travels abroad last Spring (he was out of the country when the purge began), he took the toughest stand on negotiations in the Vietnam war: There must be immediate withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam before negotiations can take place.

ON THE OTHER HAND, during Shehu’s visit to China, Chou En-lai took a more moderate line, calling simply for the withdrawal of American troops and bases, without adding the significant word “immediate.” Anyone who has followed the tortuous line on negotiations elaborated by North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front knows that the word “immediate” relates to one of the most fundamental issues surrounding negotiations: whether America agrees to withdraw before or after negotiations. If the word immediate should henceforth disappear from official Chinese statements on Vietnam, it would indicate a significant softening of the Chinese position.

There has been a distinct tendency in the American press to see the “proletarian cultural revolution” as a sharp swing in the direction of radicalism, ergo, aggressiveness on the international scene. Men like Lo Jui-ch’ing and P’eng Chen have surprisingly been painted as “moderates,” though there is no evidence to indicate this and a lot of evidence to contradict it. Without any doubt, there has occurred a swing to radicalism within China. In some ways, the situation now is reminiscent of Russia during the mid-1930s, although so far nothing presages the bloodletting in which Stalin engaged. Then in Russia, as now in China, opponents to the “left and right” were eliminated, nationalism intensified, young men were brought in to replace those purged, and the country was subjected to severe ideological mobilization. The Russian purges of the mid-1930s brought the sons of workers into cadre positions at all levels of the organizational system, as now the sons and daughters of the poor are coming into leadership positions in China. Stalin’s purges were followed by the killing of millions of people. In China, those purged appear simply to recede from public view, much as has been the case with Khrushchev in post-Stalin Russia. So far Mao has found enforced obscurity as effective a weapon in eliminating political opponents as Stalin’s practice of execution, if not more. In spite of the occasional excesses of the red defense guards, there are no signs that Mao yet intends to change his methods.

Yet along with the domestic purges, Russian foreign policy shifted toward a more flexible direction, as was evident from Litvinov’s activities at the League of Nations. That was the period of the popular front (we might note Lin Piao’s strong advocacy of united front tactics in his article on people’s war), and growing Russian participation in international diplomacy. Is it not possible that China may now do the same, that the “proletarian cultural revolution” may have greatly improved the chances for peace in Vietnam? If so, the time to act is now, before the war escalates further in a direction that, once again, will arouse the voices of preventive action in China.


An Exchange on China January 12, 1967

  1. 1

    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.

  2. 2

    True, several years ago during the period of economic recovery, the People’s Daily began to devote considerable space to literary productions and less to ideology, but this was because ideology was not of much use to the practical problems of the times. In fact, although the “non-party” newspapers such as the Kuang-ming Daily and the Wen-hui pao published many articles that by present standards would be considered revisionist (e.g., on economic problems), the People’s Daily was generally careful to do so only when an opinion had received official blessing. It is ironical that these “non-party” newspapers served along with the Liberation Army Daily as a springboard for attacks against the People’s Daily.

  3. 3

    Concerning the Resolution to Strengthen Political-Ideological Work Within the Army.”

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