Ideology and Organization in Communist China
Professor Schurmann is not modest. Near the beginning of his book he writes: “translations from Chinese, Russian and Japanese are my own, and hundreds of articles had to be read in the original Chinese with precision and at the same time extensively. It was important to interview people…and this required a fluent knowledge of Chinese as it is spoken today.” These statements, daunting to the layman, are terrifying to anyone involved with Chinese studies. Yet he is not exaggerating. Not only has the author steeped himself in contemporary Chinese sources, and read virtually all the secondary material available, but he has brought his formidable understanding of history and sociology to bear on this vitally important subject.
Unlike many writers on the modern period, Professor Schurmann, a distinguished historian of traditional China, is both informed and informative on historical background. Nevertheless, in spite of this vested interest in Chinese history, he takes the slightly unfashionable view that the changes of the Chinese Revolution are more significant than the continuities. As he sees it, traditions have been irretrievably destroyed: The Confucionist ethos of the past has been replaced by Communism; the status once held by the gentry belongs now to the Party; the traditional “model personality,” the paterfamilias, has been superseded by the cadre. This makes contemporary China fundamentally different from any other previous society. He finds the persistence of earlier modes of thought among Chinese peasants, workers, and intellectuals an important but not essential factor. Thus for Professor Schurmann the main problem is not to understand the old China but to grasp the new Communism, and for this he often refers to Soviet parallels. This does not mean that he in any way accepts the useless abstraction of “World Communism.” His fundamental concern is with the interaction of Chinese Communism with Chinese realities.
Ideology and Organization in Communist China does not pretend to be a comprehensive study of China since 1949. Even within the purview of its title there are some serious gaps. The author himself points out that he has not attempted to describe the army, although it is obviously crucial to both the ideology and the organization of the new society. And although touched upon in various sections, neither academic nor political education is treated directly. However, to my mind, the most serious omission is chronological. It is now five years since the beginning of the policy of retrenchment after the “Great Leap Forward.” Yet Professor Schurmann, like other writers on this subject, says little beyond the fact that in some ways recent policy is a retreat to earlier policies. Perhaps this is inevitable. It is always difficult to write about the very recent past, especially in China where for the last six years virtually no political or economic statistics have been published. At no stage in Soviet development has the situation been so difficult in this respect. Nevertheless during these years a limited amount of material has appeared on Chinese organization and a great deal on ideology. Professor…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.