“A revolution is not a dinner party,” Mao Zedong declared. Rather, as he helpfully clarified in 1927, it is “an insurrection, an act of violence.” He might have warned that nation building is no picnic, either. Mao rose to supremacy within the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), through several bloody purges of “revisionists” and “rightists.” After long years as a marginal peasant leader, he finally brought his revolution to all of China, forcing his great rival Chiang Kai-shek to flee to Taiwan (then called Formosa). Founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao exulted, “The Chinese people, comprising one quarter of humanity, have stood up.” He soon knocked them down, overwhelming the gradual processes of China’s modernization with the frenzy of permanent revolution.
Modernizing autocrats elsewhere in Asia—Turkey’s Atatürk, Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi, and Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek—also dragooned their peoples into traumatic social and political experiments. But Mao tormented the Chinese on a far bigger scale, condemning tens of millions to early death with the Great Leap Forward, and then exposing many more to persecution and suffering during the Cultural Revolution.
Just five years after his death, the C.C.P. officially blamed the “mistaken leadership of Mao Zedong” for the “serious disaster and turmoil” of the Cultural Revolution, and the garishly consumerist and inegalitarian China of today seems to mock Mao’s fantasies of a Communist paradise. Nevertheless, China’s leaders today continue to invoke “Mao Zedong Thought.” Taiwan, now rowdily democratic, has begun to dismantle the personality cult of Chiang Kai-shek, removing his statues and erasing his name from major monuments. But Mao still gazes across Tiananmen Square from the large portrait hanging on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Visitors from the countryside often line up all day for a fleeting glimpse of his embalmed corpse south of the square, and in folk religions throughout China Mao is revered as a god.
This persistence of Mao in official discourse and popular imagination may seem an instance of ideological pathology—the same kind that makes some Russian nationalists get misty-eyed about Stalin. Indeed, the Communist state’s vast propaganda apparatus first exalted Mao to divine status. But then a non-ideological view of Mao has rarely been available in the West, even as he has gone from being a largely benign revolutionary and Third Worldist icon to, more recently, sadistic monster. This is largely due to China’s ever shifting place in the Western imagination. Three new books—Patrick Wright’s “Passport to Peking” (Oxford; $34.95), Frank Dikötter’s “Mao’s Great Famine” (Walker & Co.; $30), and Timothy Cheek’s anthology “A Critical Introduction to Mao” (Cambridge; $27.99)—attest to the difficulty of definitively fixing Mao’s image, a project that amounts to writing a history of China’s present.
Early visitors to Mao’s guerrilla base camp in Yan’an in the nineteen-thirties—notably the American writer Edgar Snow—managed to project onto the revolutionary the ideals of American progressivism. Snow’s popular report “Red Star Over China” (1937) presented a “Lincolnesque” leader who aimed to “awaken” China’s millions to “a belief in human rights,” introducing them to “a new conception of the state, society, and the individual.” More perceptively, Theodore White, then a reporter for Time, who visited Yan’an in 1944, concluded that the Communists were “masters of brutality” but had won peasants over to their side. Other “China Hands”—an assortment of journalists, American Foreign Service officials, and soldiers who succeeded in meeting the Communists—preferred Mao to Chiang Kai-shek, who, though corrupt and unpopular, was receiving enormous amounts of military aid from the United States. “The trouble in China is simple,” Joseph Stilwell, the commander of U.S. Forces in China-India-Burma, told White. “We are allied to an ignorant, illiterate, superstitious, peasant son of a bitch.” But, as the Cold War intensified, the China Hands found themselves ignored in the United States. Following Chiang Kai-shek’s defeat and flight to Taiwan in 1949, the Republican Party angrily accused the Truman Administration of having “lost” China to Communism. Then they berated it for hindering Chiang Kai-shek’s reconquest of the mainland. The China Hands in particular came under sustained fire from early and zealous Cold Warriors for their supposed sympathy with the Chinese agents of Soviet expansionism. Henry Luce, who saw the Christian convert Chiang Kai-shek as a vital facilitator of the “American Century,” fired White from Time.
The Korean War, which China entered on the side of North Korea, fixed Mao’s image in the United States as another unappeasable Communist. The Eisenhower Administration now vigorously backed Chiang Kai-shek, signing a mutual-defense treaty with him in 1954, and threatening China with a nuclear strike the following year. The State Department imposed a full trade embargo on China and prohibited travel there. Sinologists were reduced to speculating from afar whether Mao was more nationalist than Marxist.
The god of Communism had failed for many admirers of the Russian Revolution by the time Mao reunified mainland China, in the early nineteen-fifties. Still, many Western intellectuals, recoiling from the excesses of McCarthyism, and hampered by lack of firsthand information, gave the benefit of the doubt to Mao in the decade that followed. Travelling to China in 1955, Simone de Beauvoir drew a sympathetic picture of a new nation overcoming the aftereffects of foreign invasions, internecine warfare, natural disasters, and economic collapse. Neither Paradise nor Hell, China was another peasant country where people were trying to break out of “the agonizingly hopeless circle of an animal existence.”
The British visitors to China described in Patrick Wright’s entertaining “Passport to Peking” tried to maintain a similarly open mind. Then as now, plenty of liberal as well as left-wing Brits resented their government’s reflexive adherence to Washington’s foreign policy. When China’s urbane Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai made his first public appearance in Europe, many were persuaded that China was more than a clone of Soviet totalitarianism, and that “peaceful coexistence” was a real possibility. “Come and see,” Zhou said, and a motley bunch of politicians, artists, and scientists took up his invitation in 1954. Among them were a few fellow-travellers, most notably the artist Paul Hogarth. Some, like members of the Labour Party delegation headed by former Prime Minister Clement Attlee, were seasoned anti-Communists. Others were simply self-absorbed tourists, routinely stumbling into comic misunderstandings. The British artist Stanley Spencer first accosted Zhou Enlai with a rapturous account of his native village of Cookham, and then went on about the delights of a little island in the Thames called Formosa, not realizing the name was shared by his hosts’ fiercest international adversary.
The Chinese, who, Wright says, “had learned a lot from Moscow about the art of seducing foreign visitors,” laid on extravagant banquets for the British. (The headline in the Daily Mail was “SOCIALISTS DINE ON SHARK’S FINS.”) The mammoth Chinese construction of factories, canals, schools, hospitals, and public housing awed these visitors from a straitened country that American loans and the Marshall Plan had saved from financial ruin. They were impressed, too, by the new marriage laws that considerably improved the position of Chinese women, by the ostensible abolition of prostitution, and by the public-health campaigns.
Yet no “useful idiots” of the kind who had made the Soviet Union under Stalin appear the savior of humanity emerged from the trip. The parade held in Beijing to mark the fifth anniversary of the People’s Republic reminded the philosopher A. J. Ayer of the Nuremberg Rallies. Though impressed by the “dedicated and dignified” Mao, the trade unionist Sam Watson was dismayed by Chinese talk of the masses as “another brick, another paving stone.” Mao asked Attlee to help reverse the American policy of encircling his country through defense treaties with Southeast Asian countries and the rearming of Japan. Attlee firmly informed Mao that “two-way traffic was needed” for peace, and asked Mao to help persuade the Soviet Union to free its satellite states in Eastern Europe.
Other European visitors to China were relative pushovers. François Mitterrand, who visited China at the height of the devastating famine in 1961, denied the existence of starvation in the country. André Malraux hailed Mao as an “emperor of bronze.” Richard Nixon, who consulted Malraux before “opening up” China to the United States in 1972, and Henry Kissinger were no less awed by Mao’s raw power and historical mystique. Two decades after Nixon himself denounced China as Stalin’s puppet state in the East, the country seemed to the United States a likely counterweight to the Soviet Union. Accordingly, American attitudes to China in the nineteen-seventies were marked by what the Yale historian Jonathan Spence characterized as “reawakened curiosity” and “guileless fascination,” followed soon by “renewed skepticism” as travel and research in China became progressively easier.
In the seventies and eighties, American scholars and journalists could finally experience the realities they had only guessed at, and they began compiling a grim record of China under Mao—a task that was speeded up by Deng Xiaoping’s repudiation of the Cultural Revolution after Mao’s death, in 1976. More Chinese also began to travel outside their country. Some, safely settled in the West, published memoirs of the Cultural Revolution. This fast-growing genre, which flourished particularly after the brutal suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square, in June, 1989, described the violence and chaos suffered by ordinary Chinese during Mao’s quest for ideological and moral renewal. One émigré Chinese writer, who had previously been Mao’s private doctor, published the first intimate account of the Chinese leader, “The Private Life of Chairman Mao” (1994). It depicted a luxury-loving narcissist who was at once autocratic, whimsical, and calculating.
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s best-selling biography “Mao: The Unknown Story” (2005) went much further, describing a man who was unstintingly vile from early youth to old age. Far from Edgar Snow’s champion of human rights, this particular Mao was working toward “a completely arid society, devoid of civilization, deprived of representation of human feelings, inhabited by a herd with no sensibility.” In Chang and Halliday’s account, Mao killed more than seventy million people in peacetime, and was in some ways a more diabolical villain than even Hitler or Stalin. The authors claimed—among other comparisons they made to twentieth-century atrocities—that the victims of the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) were worse off than the slave laborers at Auschwitz.
In “Mao’s Great Famine,” Frank Dikötter, a professor of modern Chinese history at the University of Hong Kong, deepens this trend in Mao studies. Boldly and engagingly revisionist in his previous books—which stressed the benefits of opium smoking to the Chinese and judged China under Chiang Kai-shek to be vibrantly cosmopolitan—Dikötter hopes that his new book will help make the famine “as well known as the two other man-made catastrophes of the twentieth century, the Holocaust and the Gulag.” Drawing on fresh research and a new tally, Dikötter revises upward the commonly accepted estimate of thirty million deaths in these four years, exceeding the thirty-eight million proposed by Chang and Halliday. His conclusion: out of a total population of six hundred and fifty million, “at least 45 million people died unnecessarily between 1958 and 1962.” This is still a conservative estimate, he judges, and by the end of the book Dikötter speculates that the body count could be as high as sixty million. Not only that: Mao also precipitated the biggest demolition of real estate, the most extensive destruction of the environment, and the biggest waste of manpower in history.
How did this come about? Dikötter is not much interested in a wide-ranging account that would necessarily include China’s internal political and economic situation in the nineteen-fifties, the shifting hierarchy of the C.C.P., or the Chinese sense of siege following the Korean War and the sharpening of Cold War divisions in Asia. He describes in some detail Mao’s personal competitiveness with Khrushchev—made keener by China’s abject dependence on the Soviet Union for loans and expert guidance—and his obsession with developing a uniquely Chinese model of socialist modernity. Hence the Great Leap Forward, which Mao designed to boost China’s industrial and agricultural output and move the country ahead of the Soviet Union as well as Britain in double-quick time. An urban myth in the West held that millions of Chinese had only to jump simultaneously in order to shake the world and throw it off its axis. Mao actually believed that collective action was sufficient to propel an agrarian society into industrial modernity. According to his master plan, surpluses generated by vigorously productive labor in the countryside would support industry and subsidize food in the cities. Acting as though he were still the wartime mobilizer of the Chinese masses, Mao expropriated personal property and housing, replacing them with People’s Communes, and centralized the distribution of food.
Organized in very short chapters, Dikötter’s book takes its reader through a brisk tour of the follies, inefficiencies, and deceptions of Mao’s commandeered economy: impossible targets, exaggerated claims, maladroit innovation, lack of incentive, corruption, and waste. Ordered to go forth and make steel, Chinese flung anything they could find—pots, pans, cutlery, doorknobs, floorboards, and even farming tools—into primitive furnaces. Meanwhile, fields were abandoned as farmers fed furnaces in giant coöperatives, worked in similarly wasteful irrigation schemes, or migrated to urban factories in their millions.
Having mobilized the masses, Mao continually searched for things for them to do. At one point, he declared war on four common pests: flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows. The Chinese were exhorted to bang drums, pots, pans, and gongs in order to keep sparrows flying until, exhausted, they fell to earth. Provincial recordkeepers chalked up impressive body counts: Shanghai alone accounted for 48,695.49 kilograms of flies, 930,486 rats, 1,213.05 kilograms of cockroaches, and 1,367,440 sparrows. Mao’s Marx-tinted Faustianism demonized nature as man’s adversary. But, Dikötter points out, “Mao lost his war against nature. The campaign backfired by breaking the delicate balance between humans and the environment.” Liberated from their usual nemeses, locusts and grasshoppers devoured millions of tons of food even as people starved to death.
While food shortages deepened, the Chinese regime continued to insist on huge grain procurements from the countryside. The aim was not only to maintain outstanding export commitments but also to protect China’s image in the world. According to Dikötter, Mao ordered the Party to procure more grain than ever before, declaring that “when there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.” In 1960, the worst year of the famine, which was exacerbated by drought as well as flash floods, grain was sent, often gratis, to Albania, Cuba, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Poland.
Not all Chinese died of starvation or of the diseases that accompany malnutrition. “Coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward,” Dikötter writes, estimating that at least two and a half million were worked, tortured, or beaten to death or simply executed by Party officials, and between one and three million people committed suicide. Some of those who survived did so by selling or abandoning their children or by digging up and devouring the dead.
Dikötter closes his vivid catalogue of horrors with the “turning point” of the Party meeting in early 1962, where Mao’s colleague and head of state Liu Shaoqi admitted that a “man-made disaster” had occurred in China. Dikötter evokes Mao’s fear that Liu Shaoqi could discredit him just as completely as Khrushchev had damaged Stalin’s reputation. The book ends with a chilling foretaste of the next catastrophe to overwhelm China: “Mao was biding his time, but the patient groundwork for launching a Cultural Revolution that would tear the party and the country apart had already begun.”
This narrative line is plausible: exhorting young Chinese to assault the allegedly expanding bourgeoisie within the Party, Mao hoped to preserve his power and revolutionary legacy from bureaucratic “revisionists” like Liu Shaoqi, who was among the leaders who died at the hands of the Red Guard. Yet Dikötter’s account of Mao’s inner life scants some crucial details that would give a richer picture of his motivations and his constant maneuvering within the Party, while also undercutting the image of him as an indefatigable megalomaniac; for instance, the fact that Mao, after resigning as head of state in 1959, was unhappy with his diminished role in day-to-day decision-making, or that he had already called for a major change of course in November, 1960, and criticized himself at the Party Conference in 1962.
Dikötter is, indeed, generally dismissive of facts that could blunt his story’s sharp edge. Explaining Mao’s well-known defense of farmers’ evading grain procurers in 1959 and his advocacy of “right opportunism,” Dikötter writes, “Mao took on the pose of a benevolent sage-king protective of the welfare of his subjects,” but, he says, historians have erred in seeing this period as “one of ‘retreat’ or ‘cooling off.’ ” This would be persuasively contrarian if Dikötter hadn’t mentioned four pages previously that while Mao was pretending to be a “benign leader,” from November, 1958, to June, 1959, “the pressure temporarily abated.”
Focussing relentlessly on Mao’s character and motivations, Dikötter confirms the man’s reputation as sadistic, cowardly, callous, and vindictive. Yet his bold portrait bleaches out much of the period’s historical and geopolitical backdrop (the uprising in Tibet in 1959, anti-American riots in Taiwan, border clashes with India, the Sino-Soviet rift), and he misses, too, the abusive relationship between Mao and the Chinese people: how sincerely and deeply, for instance, they trusted and revered their leader before being betrayed by him.
Dikötter’s explanation of the Great Leap Forward omits the fact that—despite the damaging effects of the Korean War and the American trade embargo—China had, by 1956, made remarkable progress in securing social stability, achieving economic growth, and improving living conditions. According to Roderick MacFarquhar, a leading historian of Mao’s China, “what Mao accomplished between 1949 and 1956 was in fact the fastest, most extensive, and least damaging socialist revolution carried out in any communist state.” The distinguished expatriate writer Liu Binyan recalled the early nineteen-fifties as a time when “everyone felt good . . . and looked to the future with optimism”; most were eager to do their bit for their country.
Little did these enthusiasts know that they were about to be kicked in the teeth. Dikötter doesn’t make the imaginative move into ordinary people’s lives, their longings for stability and dignity, which Mao’s utopianism so cruelly trampled. The manifold victims in “Mao’s Great Famine,” keenly computed but cursorily described, remain a blur. And Dikötter’s comparison of the famine to the great evils of the Holocaust and the Gulag does not, finally, persuade. A great many premature deaths also occurred in newly independent nations not ruled by erratic tyrants. Amartya Sen has argued that “despite the gigantic size of excess mortality in the Chinese famine, the extra mortality in India from regular deprivation in normal times vastly overshadows the former.” Describing China’s early lead over India in health care, literacy, and life expectancy, Sen wrote that “India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame.”
The discrepancy between democratic India and authoritarian China is due to a complex interplay of political, geographical, and economic factors. Certainly, it cannot be explained through the fantasies and delusions of an Oriental despot. Mao’s individual pathology goes only so far in explaining China today, and it is pretty much useless in figuring out the Chairman’s enduring, even growing, influence outside China. What, for instance, is one to make of the irruptions of Maoism in the age of globalization? The Maoists of Nepal, who overthrew the monarchy in 2006 and won nationwide elections in 2008, remain a formidable political force. The Indian Maoists, whom India’s Prime Minister describes as the country’s gravest internal-security threat, are ranged against mining corporations and security forces in a vast swath of central India. Consisting largely of forest-dwelling peoples and landless peasants, these insurgent groups mouth a Mao-inspired rhetoric against foreign imperialists and local “compradors.” But, like Che Guevara and the Vietcong, they also adopt Mao’s tactic of marshalling rural populations against the cities, establishing, in addition to a cohesive party and militia, their own administrative structures and organizations.
This model of mass mobilization was Mao’s singular contribution to the making of the modern Chinese nation-state, though it also nearly unmade China after 1949. The most stimulating chapters in the academic collection “A Critical Introduction to Mao,” edited by Timothy Cheek, discuss Mao’s “Sinification” of a European tradition of revolution. Mao belonged to a Chinese generation of activists and thinkers who developed a fierce political awareness at the end of a long century of internal decay, humiliations by Western powers and by Japan, and failed imperial reforms. Whatever their ideological inclinations, they all believed in a version of Social Darwinism—the survival of the fittest applied to international relations. They worried about the social and political passivity of ordinary Chinese, and were electrified by the possibility that a strong, centralized nation-state would protect them from the depredations of foreign imperialists and domestic warlords. As Sun Yat-sen, China’s first modern revolutionary, explained in a speech shortly before his death, in 1925, “If we are to resist foreign oppression in the future, we must overcome individual freedom and join together as a firm unit, just as one adds water and cement to loose gravel to produce something as solid as a rock.”
Others took on the arduous task of welding a defunct empire into a nation-state, most prominently Chiang Kai-shek, whose urban-based Nationalist Party first brought a semblance of political unity to postimperial China. But it was Mao who, helped by a savage Japanese invasion and Chiang Kai-shek’s ineptitude, came up with an ideologically like-minded and disciplined organization capable of enlisting the loyalty and passions of the majority of the Chinese population in the countryside. More enduringly, Mao provided a battered and proud people with a compelling national narrative of decline and redemption. As he stressed shortly before the founding of the People’s Republic, “The Chinese have always been a great, courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind. And that was due entirely to oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary governments.” This would change: “Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. . . . We will have not only a powerful army but also a powerful air force and a powerful navy.” Unlike India and Nepal, China contains very few active Maoists today, but strains of Mao’s anti-imperialist rhetoric grow more potent every year. As Timothy Cheek, a historian at the University of British Columbia, explains, “Most people in China appear to accept the assumptions in this story about China’s national identity, about the role of imperialism in China’s history and present, and about the value of maintaining and improving this thing called China. Increasingly, moreover, China’s middle classes accept the additional story in Maoism—the story of rising China: China was great, China was put down, China is rising again.”
Though better informed about Mao’s calamitous blunders, Chinese intellectuals today are far from united in their assessment of him. Attacked for his despotism by liberal-minded scholars, Mao is admired by New Left intellectuals for his assault on Communist bureaucracies and advocacy of “extensive democracy” during the Cultural Revolution. Summing up the diverse and contested meanings of Mao in China, Xiao Yanzhong, a professor at People’s University in Beijing, describes Mao scholarship as “a bellwether that can indicate changes in China’s politics, economy, and society, as well as the states of mind of the Chinese people.”
Certainly, the C.C.P., which remains as opposed to free elections as ever, has no choice but to derive its legitimacy from Mao Zedong even as it drifts further away from his ideals. Shortly after the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic last year, the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, visited the tomb of Mao Anying, Mao’s favorite son, who died in the Korean War. Laying a wreath, Wen abruptly addressed a stone statue of the dead soldier. “Comrade Anying,” he said, “I have come to see you on behalf of the people of the motherland. Our country is strong now and its people enjoy good fortune. You may rest in peace.”
Comrade Wen surely realizes that, absent Mao’s exploits, the Chinese people would have started to enjoy their present good fortune three decades earlier. But would China have found a strong political basis for its prosperity without Mao? This is the harder counterfactual question. Asked for his views on the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai replied that it was too early to say; and he must have hoped for a similarly delayed verdict on the Chinese Revolution, the human costs of which truly did make the Reign of Terror look like a dinner party. Zhou, in pleading for the long view, was not being entirely shifty (nor is George W. Bush, who, after unleashing violent revolution in Iraq, has also entrusted his score sheet to future historians).
We have surely made up our minds about Mao. But the Chinese judgment on Mao’s revolution has been complicated and deferred by the longevity of the Communist regime and the country’s extraordinary economic successes. Another revolution, such as the one that has occurred in Taiwan, could bring, along with political freedoms, a new self-image to China, which would likely disown Mao. But it is also possible that the Chinese nation will continue in the decades ahead to acknowledge Mao as its father—disgraced, discredited, and irreplaceable. ♦
China since 1949. The Mao Years and Post-Mao China. *
I. The First Years of the People's Chinese Republic (PRC): 1949-1957.
a. Domestic Policy.
Mao's three proclaimed tasks were: 1. national unity; 2. social and economic change; 3. freedom from foreign interference.
The CCP set out to revolutionize the countryside south of the Yangtze river. This meant land reform and educating the peasants to support the revolution. At this time, peasants were given land. In some cases, they also killed their landlords, but this was a more general occurrence in the second, more radical wave of land reform that took place after 1949. ( It is estimated that one million were killed). In the first phase, the rich peasants were allowed to keep their land, or most of it, in order to help restore food production and avoid alienating them from the new regime. (Compare Soviet Russia under NEP, 1921-29, and Eastern Europe, 1944-48). At the same time, party committees were established in every village to help the peasants carry out the reform and maintain party control over the process.
In the cities, which were new territory for the CCP, Mao followed a policy of "alliance" with the intellectuals and middle class, including the merchants. Again, the goal was to restore production and avoid alienation. The state took possession of heavy industry, banking and transport but private enterprise was allowed both in the towns and in the countryside. In general, the PRC economic policies and political toleration of the first two or three years resembled the NEP period in Soviet Russia, as well as the first postwar years in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. The goal was the same, i.e., conciliation of most sectors of society in order to rebuild the economy. As in the USSR and E. Europe, this did not mean that the communists gave up their goal of creating a "socialist" society.
One radical reform introduced in 1950 was the new marriage law, giving women freedom of choice. As mentioned earlier (ch.9), the liberation of women had been advocated by reformist thinkers from the late 19th century onward. It was embraced by the May 4th movement of 1919 and then taken up by the CCP. The marriage law was a break with the past; it was also the first step in the CCP policy of undermining the traditional power of the family in China.
* I wish to thank Dr. Terry Weidner for his help in revising this chapter, Oct.1996.
b. PRC - U.S. Relations.
Before the Korean War, Mao showed great interest in establishing friendly relations with the United States, provided it recognized the territorial integrity of China, including Taiwan, and thus gave up its support of Chiang Kai-shek, who had established his government as the Republic of China (Free China) in Taiwan. However, the U.S. government viewed the PRC as a satellite of Moscow and advised its allies not recognize it, but to form a common front against it. Thus, when Mao invited J. Leighton Stuart, U.S. ambassador to Chiang since July 1946, to visit Beijing, he was not allowed to go. Furthermore, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on the PRC and advised its allies not to trade with it, or at least not to export "strategic goods" for its use.
From the perspective of time, this policy seems unwise. We must, however, bear in mind that it was formulated in the atmosphere of the Cold War. American opinion was deeply affected by the expansion of Soviet power in Eastern Europe and its threat to Western Europe (the Berlin Blockade, 1948-49). As we know, NATO was the response there. The communist victory in China created the fear of communist expansion in Asia, which was heightened by the French Indochina War, and then the Korean War. Therefore, the U.S. footed the bill for great quantities of military equipment used by the French in their war against the North Vietnamese communists (see ch. 12) and supplied arms to Chiang-Kai-shek in Taiwan. This political climate prevented the establishment of good U.S.- CPR relations for a long time to come.(1) At the same time, in acknowledging Mao Zedong's overtures and their rejection by the United States we should keep in mind that as a communist Chinese leader he was bent on eliminating western influence from China. Furthermore, Stalin made it clear to Mao, that he did not want him to risk a war with the United States. For all these reasons, Mao's moderate stance toward the United States in the years of the Civil War and immediately after it was a matter of tactics, and not of desire for a real understanding with Washington.
c. PRC-Soviet Relations.
Mao paid a long visit to Moscow in late 1949 and early 1950. Finally, in February 1950, he signed a Treaty of Friendship and Assistance with the Soviet Union. In this treaty, the USSR promised assistance against Japan, if this was necessary. It also gave the CPR credits amounting to $300 million repayable at 1% interest, but Mao had to recognize the Soviet occupation of Dalien (Darien) and Lushun (Port Arthur) until 1952 (it was to last longer). Finally, he had to recognize the existence of Soviet Mongolia. These were bitter pills for the Chinese, but they needed Soviet economic aid so they accepted them.
Recently published Chinese documents as well as recently declassified Russian documents allow a comparison of the two records of the Mao-Stalin conversations in Moscow in December 1949-January 1950. While the Russian record shows a business-like approach to the talks by Stalin and does not indicate any bullying on his part or objections by Mao, the latter's account, paints a different picture. It also suggests that Stalin deliberately left Mao to cool his heels in a "dacha" (country house) near Moscow between the first conversation of December 16, 1949 and the second on January 22, 1950, when Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai was also present. Perhaps Stalin wanted to teach Mao a lesson? Whatever the case may be, Mao resented this treatment deeply. He gave his version of the conversations and expressed his feelings on March 31, 1956, in a talk with Soviet ambassador Pavel Yudin, in which he also vented his resentment against Stalin's support of Chiang in the civil war. It is worth noting that according to the Soviet record, Mao did not object to Stalin's demands for keeping some Chinese territory under Soviet control, but in Mao's version, the latter did not agree to them. Perhaps the second version is nearer to the truth; if so, it would explain why Stalin kept Mao waiting 5 weeks between the two conversations. (2)
d. The Impact of the Korean War.
We know a great deal more about the origins of this war since the opening of Russian documents on this subject in summer 1994. It is not longer a secret why the outbreak of the war in June 1950 caught Mao by surprise, for it is clear that Stalin did not keep him informed on his agreement to Kim il Sung's plan to attack South Korea. (See ch. 11). It is also clear why Mao at first followed a cautious policy - he did not want to risk a war with United States. Finally, under presssure from Stalin - who also wanted to avoid a war with the U.S - fearing that U.N. troops would cross the Yalu river into China; and after securing Stalin's promise of Soviet air cover, the CCP leadership decided to move. Therefore, in early November 1950, Chinese troops launched some attacks on U.N. troops in North Korea when they approached the Yalu river, the border between China and Korea, but then melted away into the hills. This was meant as a warning to the United States that the PRC would not tolerate U.S. troops on its border with Korea. This warning was also conveyed to the U.S. government through Asian diplomats.
The Chinese troops had massed in the difficult mountainous terrain on their side of the Yalu river. But they were so well camouflaged that they were not be detected by U.S. aerial reconnaissance. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964, Supreme Commander U.N. Forces, Korea, 1950-51), after landing troops at Inchon, approached the bridges on the Yalu, the Chinese attacked on November 26th and drove back the American and ROK troops. MacArthur had the agreement of President Harry S. Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take over the whole of North Korea. However, they did not agree to his suggestions of bombing China, including use of the atomic bomb. President Truman dismissed him in April 1951.
U.N. troops, in which the U.S. predominated, finally drove the Chinese and North Koreans out of South Korea. The result was the existence of two Koreas: communist North Korea and anti-communist South Korea (see ch. 11). It is worth noting that during the war the Soviets sent the PRC a great deal of military equipment, such as artillery and MIG fighter planes - but the Chinese had to pay for the Soviet arms they obtained. The USSR also provided advisers and military hardware, especially T-34 tanks and some tank units to the North Koreans. Furthermore, Soviet pilots flew MiGs against U.S. planes. However, it is clear that Stalin was just as unwilling to become involved with the United States in a war over Korea as Truman was to become involved there in a war with the USSR. In fact, Truman not only opposed using the atomic bomb against China, but also opposed sending U.S. troops into China.
The Korean War led to more radical reforms in China. Terror and coercion were used to eradicate all opposition. In the first campaign against "counter-revolutionaries," which began in February 1951, an estimated 1 to 3 million people were killed.
The next campaign was a purge of the party bureaucracy. It targeted the 3 antis: corruption, waste, and bureaucracy. The aim was to rid the party of many allegedly unreliable members who had jumped on the bandwagon in 1949 and after.
Next came a campaign against the former ally of the PRC, the Chinese middle class. The slogan was now the 5 antis: bribery, tax evasion, fraud, theft of government property, and theft of government secrets. Since there was no definition of what constituted a government secret, it was easy to accuse anyone viewed as an enemy, or potential enemy of the regime. In fact, the campaign was designed to break the middle class, make them give up their property, and agree to become salaried managers in state enterprises. They were forced to "confess" their misdeeds in front of their former employees. This was designed to humiliate them and make them pliant tools of the regime. Those who refused were often given long terms of imprisonment, which many did not survive.
e. The First Five Year Plan (FYP).
The first FYP was launched in 1953, with the aim of developing the Chinese economy on the Soviet model. This was quite logical, for the USSR was the only existing communist economic system and was the only source of technical aid for the PRC. Thus,.
The first FYP gave priority to heavy industry. Indeed, China was far more backward economically in 1953 than the USSR had been in 1928-29, when Stalin launched his industrialization and collectivization drive. As in the USSR, so in China, all industry and larger commercial enterprises were nationalized. Soon, all private property was abolished as well.
In the countryside, Mao avoided the shock tactics of Stalin's collectivization and its resulting massive peasant resistance by proceeding more gradually, at least until 1955. Thus, he began with the establishment of semi-socialist peasant cooperatives whose members were paid according to the amount of land and capital they brought in, as well as according to their work. This reform progressed slowly; by July 1955 only 15% of peasant families had entered the cooperatives. At this time, Mao made a speech calling for a sharp increase in collectivization and rapid acceleration followed. However, this drive slowed down in 1956, partly because of peasant resistance, and partly because of a poor harvest.
II. 1956-1965: The Sino-Soviet Split and the Evolution of an Independent Foreign Policy; the Great Leap Forward and Inner Party Struggles.
a. The Background to the Sino-Soviet Split.
Under Mao's leadership, Chinese communism had conquered China, mainly by focusing on the peasants and implementing moderate land reform up to 1949. At the same time, its military strategy was guerrilla warfare called "people's resistance." Victory had been achieved without Soviet aid. No wonder that as early as 1946, one of Mao's closest collaborators, Liu Shaoqi (Shao-ch'i, 1898-1969), claimed that Mao had created "a Chinese or Asiatic form of communism" and that China's example would influence all Asian countries. In 1949, Liu again said that Mao's way was the way for all Asia - a statement that was criticized in Moscow.
Khrushchev's famous anti-Stalin speech, delivered at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, is generally seen as the start of the Sino-Soviet split. It is clear, however, that it was not the beginning, but rather an important contribution to Mao's growing distrust of the USSR. Shortly after the speech,. Mao complained to Soviet ambassador Yudin that Stalin had treated him as a "Chinese Tito." As mentioned earlier, he also expressed his resentment at Stalin's support of Chiang Kai -shek during the civil war. Indeed, this support went further than historians suspected. A recently discovered document in the Japanese Foreign Ministry archives shows that on October 3, 1940, Soviet and Japanese diplomats reached an agreement that stipulated: "The USSR will abandon its support of Chiang [Kai-shek; Jaing Jieshi] and will repress the Chinese Communist Party's anti-Japanese activities; in exchange, Japan recognizes and accepts that the Chinese Communist Party will retain as a base the three (Chinese) Northwest provinces (Shanxi, Gansu, Ningxia)." One may well wonder how Stalin could "repress" CCP activities, since he did not control Mao. Still, the agreement seemed to preserve some space for the CCP in provinces close to the border of Soviet Mongolia - even though the Japanese did not control these areas either! Thus, Stalin's "concession" to the Japanese and their counter-concession to him constituted bargaining counters that concerned their interests in other disputed matters elsewhere. (2a) Nevertheless, the agreement is a good illustration of Stalin's policy toward Mao at this time.
As far as Khrushchev was concerned, he sometimes supported the PRC and at other times considered it an obstacle to his policy of coexistence with the United States. Already in 1954, he told Western statesmen that China was a liability to the Soviet Union because of the danger of a conflict between the PRC and the U.S. over Taiwan. Moreover, it was also at this time that the PRC began to compete with the Soviets for the leadership of the Third World. This competition was evidenced by the Sino-Indian Treaty of 1954 and by China's role in the Bandung Conference of Third World Countries in 1955. When Khrushchev and Tito effected a reconciliation in that same year, Albania feared renewed Yugoslav domination (as in 1945-48), and turned to the PRC for help; it became China's East European satellite for many years to come. Finally, Mao's 4 concepts of unity, equality, comparison, and learning were quite unacceptable to Soviet leaders as a basis for mutual relations. They often treated the Chinese communists as somewhat backward and wayward younger brethren, who had to be kept in their place and follow the Soviet lead.
It is true, of course, that Mao resented Khrushchev's attack on Stalin in February 1956, for the Soviet leader had not bothered to consult his Chinese colleague. Worse still, Khrushchev not only set out to destroy the Stalin myth, but also attacked the "personality cult" as alien to communist practice -- and there was, after all, a growing Mao cult in China. Thus, it is not surprising that Mao called Khrushchev's attack on Stalin "a gunshot (character) assassination."
Above all, however, Mao deeply resented Khrushchev's policy of coexistence with the United States, which threatened the PRC with isolation. At the Moscow Conference of Communist Parties in November 1957, Mao contradicted Khrushchev's line that no one could win a nuclear war. He said that such a war would not be the end of the world, because half its population would survive. From other statements by Mao, it is clear he thought that a large part of the huge Chinese population would survive an atomic war. However, both leaders tried to keep up an appearance of good relations. Thus, Mao used Albania for attacking the USSR, and Khrushchev attacked Albania as a proxy for the CPR.
The first open Sino-Soviet clash over foreign policy came in 1958. In July of that year, Khrushchev proposed a summit meeting between the representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, the USSR, and India to settle a Middle East crisis (U.S. troops had landed in Lebanon, on the request of President Camille Chamoun, who was trying to put down a revolt). However, three days later, when Khrushchev was on a visit to Beijing, he withdrew the conference proposal, probably to conciliate Mao.
In August-September 1958, there was a crisis over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Straits between the PRC, on the one hand, and Chiang Kai-shek, supported by the United States, on the other. It is clear from recently published Chinese documents that Mao launched the attack on purpose to show his independence of the USSR. Khrushchev wrote a letter to President Eisenhower supporting China and even brandishing the nuclear threat. It is equally clear, however, that Khrushchev's "nuclear threat" was to serve as a demonstration of his support for China - not of readiness to fight the United States. In fact, he did what he coule to defuse the crisis . In any case, the show of U.S. naval power in the area forced Mao to retreat. (2 b).
In September 1959, there were border clashes between the PRC and India, and the Soviets called on both sides to desist, which Mao saw as a betrayal. Even worse from Mao's point of view, was Khrushchev's behavior when he visited Beijing on September 30 that year after his visit to the United States. During a formal banquet in his honor, Khrushchev attacked those who wanted to test the stability of the capitalist system - meaning a war with the United States. Thus, he criticized Mao's risk-taking in the Taiwan Straits' crisis. Also, Khrushchev now supported the seating of both Chinas in the United Nations: i.e., Mao's PRC and Chiang's Republic of China. As it turned out, this policy was unacceptable both to the PRC and to the United States.
To add insult to injury, at the Romanian Party Congress in Bucharest in June 1960, Khrushchev openly attacked the PRC leaders as "madmen" who wanted to unleash nuclear war. In July, he decided to withdraw all Soviet experts from China. As we know, this included the experts who were helping the PRC develop its own nuclear bomb. Shortly thereafter, Khrushchev reneged on the promise of giving the Chinese a sample bomb, thus delaying its production by China for several years.
Mao reacted by sending Premier Zhou Enlai to the Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow in November 1960 to protest the Khrushchev policy. Zhou not only insisted that all Communist Parties were equal -- thus implicitly denying the Soviet claim to leadership of the world communist movement -- but also expressed the PRC's independent position by laying a wreath at Stalin's grave by the Kremlin wall. (Khrushchev had removed Stalin's body from the mausoleum, where it had lain alongside of Lenin's since 1953).
The final straw for the PRC was Khrushchev's behavior during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. This war broke out over disputed territories, but was characterized by considerable Chinese restraint. Khrushchev. however, used the opportunity to establish closer relations with India by sending aid, including MIG fighters for the Indian Air Force. (3)
In October of that year came the Cuban missile crisis, after which Mao criticized Khrushchev first for "adventurism," and then for capitulating to the U.S. "paper tiger." (see ch. 13).
In January 1963, the Chinese and Soviet press began a public exchange of recriminations. In July, the Soviets signed the First Test Ban Treaty with the United States. The PRC's reaction to Soviet policy came in the Nine Comments, written at least in part by Mao and published in 1963-64. Among other things, they included the statement that "The present-day Soviet Union is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, a dictatorship of the big bourgeoisie, a dictatorship like German fascism, a Hitler-type of dictatorship; they are a pack of ruffians, even worse than De Gaulle." (General Charles De Gaulle was the leader of the Free French in World War II; he was head of state in 1945-46, returned to power in June 1958, and was President from 1959-67. In the early 1960s, he was seeking a special relationship with the USSR, which made him an enemy of Red China).
The Nine Comments also claimed that in 1954 (when the Soviets had returned Dalian Lushun to China) Mao had asked Khrushchev and Bulganin whether Outer Mongolia would also be returned to China. He reminded them that over the last hundred years, Russia had seized the area east of Lake Baikal from China and that the Chinese had still not "billed" Russia for it. Thus, by 1963, Sino-Soviet relations were very bad indeed. (4)
b. "Let 100 Flowers Bloom" and "The Great Leap Forward," 1958-59.
In February 1957, Mao suddenly launched a campaign for freedom of speech, though "within the bounds of discipline." He encouraged open criticism. Interpretations differ as to what he expected from this; did he really expect to find out what people were thinking, or was his encouragement of criticism directed at abuses with the goal of using this criticism as a weapon against the party leaders he wished to remove? Or was he perhaps concerned that Chinese intellectuals might follow the path of the Hungarians? (Revolution of October-November 1956).
Mao's long-time doctor, Li Zhisui claims in his memoirs that Mao used the campaign to "rectify" or purge the party. He did not trust it; therefore, he turned outside for criticism. Li writes that Mao also distrusted intellectuals, but thought that few would be critical of him so most would play along with his game. When the intellectuals remained quiet, Mao repeated his message in March 1957. What happened next was a revelation. Once the press was allowed to publish criticism of the party, that lattert was even attacked as an institution and its right to rule was questioned. Indeed, even Mao himself was criticised. Li writes that "Mao was shocked." He was furious and retired to bed .(Li writes that Mao often retired to bed at times of crisis to think out his response). He told Li: "I handle opponents by letting them strike first. I have three rules: First, I follow the ancient philosopher Laozi. I, the father, do not initiate action. When under attack, I retreat, doing nothing, remaining silent. We let the enemy feel he has scored a few points. " Mao said the Confucian way to do things was to wait until enemies exposed themselves, and then retaliate.
Thus, Mao decided to launch a campaign against the "rightists." In May he told Li: "I want to coax the snakes out of their holes. Then we will strike." On 8 June, the People's Daily printed Mao's article: "What is this for?" He accused a small number of people of trying to overthrow the "socialist" government and called on the masses to launch a "counterattack." (4a) Thousands of intellectuals, as well as some party leaders, were sent to labor camps and to the villages to be "re-educated" through heavy manual labor. This experience disillusioned many communist intellectuals, including a famous future dissident, the physicist Fang Lizhi. It is also significant that one of the leaders of this attack on the "rightists" was Deng Xiaoping (b.1904), who would later be a victim himself. (He survived to succeed Mao, began a great economic reform in 1978, and was to crush the Chinese democratic movement in June 1989).
In 1958, Mao launched a new economic policy: the "Great Leap Forward" (GLF). This meant the reorganization of state and collective farms into huge communes. Furthermore, the peasants in these communes were ordered not only to work the land, but also to make their own tools out of the iron that they were to smelt into steel.. What were Mao's goals? He said he wanted to establish a "free supply system," i.e. that everyone would have enough to eat in both town and country. He also said that China must catch up with Gt. Britain in fifteen years. Finally, he wanted to free China from its economic dependence on the USSR.
Some historians speculate that the creation of large militia forces in the communes was to provide Mao with a weapon he could use against moderate CPR leaders. The latter, after all, controlled the army, favored slower reforms, and wished for improved relations with the USSR. Whatever the case may be, by January 1959, the militia numbered about 220 million, or one-third of the entire population. It seems, however, that the militia was a by-product of the GLF.
The Great Leap Forward turned out to be a great disaster. The peasants could not smelt iron into steel for tools in their backyard furnaces. At the same time, this work took away the time needed to work the land, so that crops rotted in the fields. After a wave of initial enthusiasm, they reacted badly to the loss of all individual incentives as well as personal and familial freedoms. Furthermore, the extreme decentralization of economic control not only led to chaotic distribution, but also helped mask huge shortfalls in production that local units were too afraid to report. All these factors were aggravated by bad weather, which led to crop failure in several provinces. The combined result of political and natural factors was widespread famine, resulting in millions of deaths. (Some estimates go as high as 30 million out of a population of some 500 million, i.e., 6%). Strict rationing had to be imposed in 1959-61, and this helped to reduce the loss of life.
Li Zhisui wrote later about the beginnings of this catastrophe: "Psychologists of mass behavior might have an explanation for what went wrong with China in late summer 1958. China was struck with a mass hysteria fed by Mao, who then fell victim himself. ..Mao began believing the slogans, casting caution to the winds. Mini-steel mills were being set up even in Zhongnanhai (the former "Forbidden City," or imperial palace grounds in Beijing where Mao lived and key offices were located, A.C), and at night the whole compound was a sea of red light. The idea had originated with the Central Bureau of Guards, but Mao did not oppose them, and soon everyone was stoking the fires - cadres, clerks, secretaries, doctors, nurses, and me. The rare voices of caution were being stilled. Everyone was hurrying to jump on the utopian bandwagon. Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou-Enlai, and Chen Yi, men who might once have reined the Chairman in, were speaking with a single voice, and that voice was Mao's. What those men really thought, we never will know. Everyone was caught in the grip of this utopian hysteria."
Li Zhisui also wrote that the crop displays at the communes visited by Mao were staged. In one region the First Party Secretary had ordered rice to be transplanted to that Mao would see it on his route. In another, a brand new furnace had been brought in to the Commune from a factory. Likewise, the high production figures given out by the communes' "good news reporting stations" were faked. Every provincial party leader wanted to please Mao and avert accusations of slacking.. When disasters truck, "no one, not even the closest to him, dared to speak." (4b)
As Li Zhisui tells it, Mao visited his home village, Shaoshan in Hunan province, where he heard many complaints about the GLF. Nevertheless, he still thought the GLF line was right and did not want to dampen the enthusiasm of the people. However, by fall 1959, there was criticism of the GLF by some members of the the party leadership. Marshal Peng Dehuai (P'eng Te-huai, 1898-1974), then Minister of Defense - who had visited Eastern Europe and met with Khrushchev - attacked the GLF at the Politburo meeting held in Lushan (Port Arthur) in late July and early August 1959. Some historians have theorized that Khrushchev might have encouraged Peng to attack Mao and then establish a new leadership more friendly to the USSR. Others, however, stress Peng's genuine alarm after visiting his own part of the country, and seeing the catastrophic famine there.
According to Li Zhisui, Mao allowed free discussion of the GLF at the Lushan meeting. He did not take part in this, but waited. Peng Dehuai sent him a personal letter stressing the disastrous situation in China. Indeed, Li Zhisui writes that by the end of 1958, a large part of the huge harvest lay rotting in the fields because the peasants, busy with their "backyard furnaces" - producing useless iron ingots from their pots and pans - did not have the strength to harvest the crops. Also, the provinces which had declared exaggerated crop figures had to give a much larger percent of their real produce as taxes to the state. In 1959, food shortages were on the rise in towns and there was famine in some parts of China. Mao heard of this state of affairs not only from Peng Dehuai, but also from personal emissaries he had sent out to investigate the situation and who reported honestly what they saw. Nevertheless, while Mao acknowledged errors in the execution of the GLF at Lushan, he still insisted that the "general line" was correct and that criticism of it was "bourgeois.". This fitted in with his criticism of Khrushchev's policy in the USSR as "bourgeois" - and we should note that Khrushchev had strongly criticized the GLF, especially the huge communes. Furthermore, according to Li Zhisui, on July 21, the Soviet-educated deputy Foreign Minister, Zhang Wentian had made "a stunning, lengthy attack on Mao's leadership and the Great Leap." He concluded "by arguing in favor of democracy and free speech." When others rebuked him, he declared that "he would rather die telling the truth than live in misery." (4c) If Li Zhisui's account is correct, Mao could have suspected a Khrushchev-backed "conspiracy" to overthrow him.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that Mao identified the GLF "general line" with his own prestige and authority. Although he had resigned the chairmanship of the CPP to Liu Shaoqi , this was a move agreed on earlier. Mao remained chairman of the PRC, and had no intention of giving up power. Therefore, after allowing free discussion, he attacked Peng Dehuai and his supporters as "bourgeois democrats.". Mao also said that if the party split in two, he would found a new one among the peasants, and if the army split apart, he would raise a new one. (4d) Peng Dehuai,was condemned as a "right opportunist." He was replaced as Minister of Defense by Lin Biao (Lin Piao, 1907-1971), who was a stalwart supporter of Mao and made the army a power base for him. (Peng was arrested in 1966, and died in prison in 1974).
You may access the outline for Chapter Ten by clicking HERE.
III. 1961 - 1968: The Coming of "The Great Cultural Revolution".(GCR).
Various dates are used to date the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Some historians date it from the failure of GLF, i.e., 1959, while the post-Mao leadership in China uses the dates 1966-76. In fact, although the greatest turmoil took place in the years 1966-68, the GCR had its roots in the failure of the GLF and the subsequent criticism of Mao at the Lushan party summit, while Mao took the more steps toward it in 1962-64.
a. Background to the Cultural Revolution.
While foreign policy played a part, it is clear that internal CCP disputes were more important than external questions in spurring Mao's attack on his rivals. We know that after the failure of the GLF, economic policy was mostly in the hands of moderate leaders, the most prominent of whom were the Chief of State Liu Shaoqi, Premier Zhou Enlai, and the CCP Secretary General, Deng Xiaoping. Like most party bureaucrats, all three wished to follow moderate economic policies, avoiding a repetition of such disasters as Mao's GLF. In fact, there was much discussion of the economy in early 1962. In January of that year, Mao again acknowledged that he bore the primary responsibility for the mistakes of Central Committee, i.e., the GLF. Furthermore, a party committee of investigation confirmed the criticisms made by Peng Dehuai in 1959.
At an enlarged Politburo meeting in February 1962, even the veteran bureaucrat Chen Yun (b.1905), who had been the leading expert on the planned economy, emphasized the magnitude of the economic crisis. He even suggested that land be redistributed to peasant households, though he agreed with Deng Xiaoping that this would mean the restoration of private farming. In July, Deng made the famous statement that "[W]hether cats are white or black, so long as they catch mice, they are all good cats." This statement marked him out as a pragmatist, and he was to repeat it when he came to power after the death of Mao.
Thus, as in Poland, Hungary, and to a limited extent in the USSR, so also in China, Deng and other like-minded party leaders realized as early as 1962, that the old Stalinist economic model - particlarly as it had been adapted by Mao - was unsatisfactory and needed reform. However, by September 1962, Mao began to oppose the suggested reforms. He justified his opposition by stressing the permanence of "class struggle." (We should note that Stalin had used this theory to justify purges in the USSR). Mao also warned against Soviet-style "revisionism," by which he meant Khrushchev's attacks on Stalin and Stalinism. Finally, he said that the real successors of revolution would come from among China's youth. In his words, they "come forward in mass struggles and are tempered in the great storms of revolution." (5) In fact, it was Mao himself who was to release such a storm over China.
Meanwhile, a new problem arose for the CPR with the beginning of active U.S. involvement in Vietnam.. The question for the CCP now was: what policy should the CPR adopt toward this war, fought in an area that had traditionally belonged to the Chinese sphere of influence in Asia? Clearly, the CPR could not support the United States, but neither did it want to see the growth of Soviet influence in the region. In spring 1962, there was an important debate on this issue within CCP leadership over the possibility of another world war, or of peaceful coexistence with capitalist states, and of the extent of Chinese support of national liberation movements, particularly in Vietnam. Foreign policy specialists advocated peaceful coexistence, but Mao chose confrontation. This "turn to the left" in foreign policy also accorded with Mao's stress on class struggle and radical policies in Chinese domestic affairs. According to some China experts, this decision also meant a lost opportunity to prevent later Sino-American hostility in Indochina. (5a)
In spring 1965, Luo Ruiqing (Lo Jui-ch'ing, 1906-1978), who had been Minister of Public Security between 1949 and 1958 and had been one of the critics of the Great Leap Forward, proposed that the CPR side with the Soviets against the United States. However, he was opposed by Lin Biao who spoke for Mao. (Lin Biao had commanded the Fourth Army in the civil war, and now controlled the whole People's Army). While Luo Ruiqing advocated a reconciliation with the USSR as the best way to aid North Vietnam, Lin Biao said China must follow an independent line. (September 1965).
In fact, although the CPR allowed Soviet railway transit to North Vietnam, this transit was often impeded by slowing the trains. Furthermore, in the years 1965-67, the English-language CPR weekly, The Peking Review, often attacked the Soviet Union more rabidly than the United States. Therefore, the Soviets were compelled to send most of their military supplies to North Vietnam by sea from Vladivostok to Haiphong. The CPR sent aid also, but it was in the form of small arms, machine guns, bicycles, and railway construction crews, who helped rebuild the track destroyed by U.S. bombing. (On the Vietnam War, see ch. 12).
Thus, we should see both the internal debate on economic development, and the debate on the Vietnam war, as factors leading to the Great Cultural Revolution.
b. The Great Cultural Revolution (GCR).
This term is totally inadequate to describe the turmoil that engulfed China in 1966-68, a turmoil that sometimes verged on civil war. In the course of the GCR, the party apparatus was almost destroyed; defense capabilities were severely weakened, and higher education was set back by about 10 years. According to official CCP figures given at the (posthumous) public trials of Lin Biao and The Gang of Four (Mao's widow, Jiang Qing & Co.), in November 1980 - January 1981, 729,511 people were "framed" and persecuted, of whom 34,800 died - though the real figures for both categories must have been much higher. In any case, the GCR had a profoundly traumatic effect on the people of China, especially party members and intellectuals, just as the Stalin purges had in the USSR in the period 1930-38. As in the USSR, so too Chinese literature was later to portray the turmoil and suffering involved, though much of it was to be published outside of China.
There are different interpretations of how and why this terrible upheaval came about. Was it caused, as Mao claimed, by his desire to rid the party of its bureaucratization, oligarchic structure, and its economic "revisionism," in order to restore communist egalitarianism? Or was it Mao's weapon of choice in a struggle to regain power over the party - but a weapon that went out of control?
The GCR was probably a combination of these two factors, but it seems that Mao's primary goal was to regain total power, have China pursue radical policies, and thus "save the revolution." as he saw it. Here we should note that Stalin's purges and terror of 1935-38 were triggered by criticism within the party leadership of his brutal collectivization policy. Once he had eliminated all real and potential rivals as well as all their relatives and friends, he had absolute power and could implement his policiies. It is true that after the failure of the GLF, Mao had seemed to go into semi-retirement. However, he soon indicated his opposition both to moderate economic policies and closer relations with the USSR.
Mao launched the offensive against his opponents within the party by attacking first on the fringes, i.e., by encouraging attacks on the intellectuals, particularly writers and academics. He had always distrusted intellectuals, and now the moderate party leaders defended them and worked for the rehabilitation of those persecuted after the the "100 Flowers" campaign of 1957. Therefore, Mao decided to fight his party opponents by attacking the intellectuals. To do this, he set out to build up a new force of his own outside of the party, in the cities. As his weapon he chose young, particularly frustrated high school students. These students had been raised as loyal supporters of Mao, so they were considered trustworthy. At the same time, they were dissatisfied with the existing elitist educational system, which favored the children of party bureaucrats and high military officers. They studied in the best high schools and had automatic access to university studies, while others had very little chance to pass entrance exams. This interpretation of the origins of the GCR was presented in the Resolution on CCP History (1948-81), adopted under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping by the 6th Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP on June 27, 1981.
The Great Cultural Revolution acquired its name from the fact that it began with an attack on a play dealing with the dismissal of a loyal bureaucrat. Hai Rui under the Ming dynasty in China. He was an honest man who told his ruler the truth and was punished for it. This play, titled; "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office," was written in 1961 by the deputy mayor of Beijing, Wu Han , who was also a distinguished historian of the Ming period. He also supported moderate economic policy . It was an old Chinese tradition -- which had always included censorship -- to criticize present policies by writing about similar policies followed in the past. Chinese intellectuals read the play as an allegory to Wu Han's old ally, the former Minister of Defense, Marshal Peng Dehuai, who had been punished for his criticism of the Great Leap Forward. Furthermore, Wu Han not only favored moderate policies and defended intellectuals, but also had far more influence in Beijing than Mao himself.
The attack on Wu Han soon turned into an attack on "bourgeois influence" in art and literature, and then on intellectuals in general, but academics in particular. The attack was first led by party cadres, headed by Mao's wife Jiang Qing, who was now dictator of Culture in China . Certainly, it was not of her own volition that a young female professor of philosophy at Beijing University put up a poster calling for the Cultural Revolution to become a mass movement. In fact, we know that Mao had her poster reprinted and put up everywhere. He also supported -- and more likely inspired -- the formation by the students of a Red Guard, and allowed them to attack their professors, whom Mao rightly viewed as supporters of moderate party leaders. Furthermore, in their fervor to destroy all vestiges of the "old" -- a favorite target of Mao's -- the Red Guards (predominantly high school students) went on to attack and destroy treasures of Chinese culture, i.e., temples, books, art, etc.
They also went on to attack anything representing both Soviet and Western capitalist influence; by the same token, they supported Mao's criticism of the moderate party leaders who favored improved relations with the USSR. They also savaged people wearing Western clothes and mistreated, or even killed Chinese who had been employed by Western firms before they left China. We should note that the police and the military had orders not to interfere with these "Red Guards." At one point, the Red Guards laid siege to the Soviet embassy and also sacked the British embassy in Beijing. Indeed, at the height of the GCR, China withdrew its ambassadors and diplomats from all countries except Egypt, thus virtually isolating itself itself from other world governments.
In August 1966, Mao finally turned the movement against his real objective: the moderate CCP leaders, whom he charged with "bourgeois" policies. The major targets were the exponents of moderate economic policies, the Chief of State, Liu Shaoqi, and the General Secretary of the CCP, Deng Xiaoping. The attack was led by Lin Biao., who headed the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Many former party leaders were either killed, or died from beatings, or were sent into the villages to be worked nearly to death. Some, like Liu Shaoqi, died in prison for lack of necessary medical care. (Indeed, as Li Zhisui points out, Mao had taken care beforehand to abolish the privileged medical care that had always been given to party leaders - though he preserved it for himself and his supporters). Above all, thousands of China's university teachers were first humiliated, by being paraded in dunces' caps, then beaten and either killed or sent out to the countryside as forced labor in the communes. The universities were closed down during the fighting, after which workers and peasants were admitted without having to pass entrance exams. This, of course, helped to bring down the level of education even further. Party leaders were also sent down to the villages, including Deng Xiaoping and his family. Deng's son was so mistreated that he became an invalid.
The Red Guards were told to travel around China and continue their attacks on intellectuals and party leaders. Central control broke down as various factions fought each other for power in the cities. China was in chaos. The prisons were full of prisoners, many of whom died either from beatings or from lack of proper medical care.
Was Mao really intent on restoring the purity of the revolution and the power of the masses? Perhaps this is what he made himself believe, but he used these slogans to justify the reimposition of his own total power over the party, for in his view only he knew which way China should go. However, he clearly miscalculated his ability to check the movement when it had carried out his wishes. At any rate, he was unable to check it before it threatened to disintegrate the country. In the end, he had to use the army to restore order.
At the height of the GCR, a Cultural Revolutionary Group of Five emerged, headed by Mao's ambitious second wife, the former actress Jiang Qing. She became the dictator of Chinese culture, subordinating all artistic and literary productions to serve the cause of "revolution." All Western culture was banned. She persecuted not only so-called bourgeois artists, i.e., all those who did not hew to Mao's view of the party line, but also those who had known her as a young and promiscuous actress in the 1930s. (6)
IV. From the End of the Cultural Revolution to Mao's Death.
l. The CPR's Relations with Moscow and Washington.
The Cultural Revolution began to peter out in 1969, after Mao had used the army to restore order in the provincial cities. It was high time. In March 1969, there were violent clashes between Soviet and CPR troops over Damansky Island on the Ussuri River in Manchuria. Even before this event, Mao perceived that the balance of power had shifted in favor of the USSR. Therefore, this confrontation made both the CPR and the USSR seek closer relations with the United States.
As it happened, President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) had long advocated improving relations with China. He was particularly interested in securing Soviet aid in ending the Vietnam War, while his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, believed the United States should play China off against the USSR and vice versa. In April 1971, a U.S. pingpong team visited China; in July, Kissinger went secretly to Beijing to prepare a summit meeting, and Nixon himself came in February 1972. The visit seemed to be a success. The American delegation did not realize that Mao had been rescued from death due to heart failure just a few weeks earlier. He had been resuscitated and had received special medical care to make him fit for his meeting with Nixon. (6a)
The U.S. paid the price for normalizing relations with Beijing by abolishing its trade embargo on the PRC, supporting its admission to the U.N. and agreeing in principle to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Taiwan. Nixon considered these concessions well-worth the advantage of using good relations with the PRC to pressure the USSR into better relations with the United States, and, hopefully, of obtaining both PRC and Soviet help to end the Vietnam War on conditions acceptable to Washington. As for Mao, he was only too pleased to tweak Moscow's nose by improving relations with the United States, thus greatly strengthening China's security. (7)
2. The Lin Biao Affair.
Lin Biao had developed the cult of Mao in China. He had produced The Little Red Book of Mao's sayings and distributed it all over the country. He was the head of the army. However, in August 1970, Mao began to suspect him. According to Li Zhisui, Lin Biao made the same mistake as Liu Shaoqi before him - he wanted the post of chairman of the party. After Liu's fall, the post had been abolished - now Lin Biao wanted to restore it. He proposed that Mao resume it, but expected Mao to refuse - Mao was 77 years old - so that it would fall to him (Biao). Mao now suspected that Lin Biao was plotting to overthrow him. He thought Lin would use the army. He said he did not think the army would go against him, but if it did, he would go back to Jinggangshan and start another guerrilla war. (This is where Mao had launched his war against Chiang-Kai shek in 1927).
In mid-August 1971, Mao set out south by train to rally all party, government and military leaders. The message was that at the Lushan party conference the previous August: someone had been in a big hurry to take over as chairman of the republic. That person was trying to split the party and grab power for himself. The problem had not yet been solved.Li Zhisui cites Mao as saying: "There is someone who says he wants to support me, elevate me, but what he really has in mind is supporting himself, elevating himself." Clearly, this someone was Lin Biao. At the same time, he also said "we should try to save Lin Biao." It is hard to determine what Mao had in mind - he said he was concerned with party unity. He returned to Beijing on September 12, 1971 and immediately met with municipal and military leaders.
At midnight that day, Li Zhisui, who was at Mao's residence in Zhonanghai received a phone call from the deputy commander of the Central Garrison Corps who said:Lin Biao's daughter had called to say her mother and Lin Liguo (Lin's son) had kidnapped Lin Biao and were forcing him to flee. This was interpreted as the daughter's attempt to exculpate Lin Biao. Mao and his staff moved for safety to the Great Hall of the Peple and an extra battalion was sent to guard him there. Soldiers went off in pursuit of Lin Biao's limousine which was headed for the airport, but could not stop him. However, news soon came that the plane carrying Lin Biao, his wife, son, and a few others, had taken off with inadequate fuel and had lost its right landing gear after striking a fuel truck. Also, there was no co-pilot or navigator on board. A few hours later, the Chinese ambassador to Outer Mongolia reported that a Chinese plane with 9 persons on board had crashed in Undur Khan area. Three days later, he reported that dental records had identified Lin Biao as one of the dead. (7a) The official Chinese reaction at this time was to accuse Lin of having plotted to make China a "colony" of the Soviet Union and of planning to overthrow socialism in China (!). It was not until 1988 that the Chinese press printed the ambassador's report. According to him -- and he had visited the site -- the plane had made a crash landing; one wing must have touched the ground, and the plane burned. Most of the bodies were also burned beyond recognition. There was no mention of bullets. Thus, it seems most likely that the pilot had to land, and that the plane was destroyed in the attempt
Did Lin Biao really plot to overthrow Mao? This seems rather unlikely. He seems to have hoped to succeed Mao as party chairman, but with Mao's consent. It is possible that when he realized his life was in danger, he fled. Perhaps we may never know the truth of the matter.
Whatever the case may be, Deng Xiaopeng led the action to put Lin on trial posthumously in 1980-81 on the charge of plotting to assassinate Mao. (8) Since Deng had opposed Mao's extreme policies - which Lin Biao had supported - and had suffered for this, we may assume that the trial was staged to discredit the remaining radicals.
3. The Death of Zhou Enlai and the Reappearance and Fall of Deng Xiaoping.
Zhou died of cancer in January 1976. In March, during an annual festival to remember the dead, thousands of people came to honor Zhou.. As Deng Xiaopeng admitted later, these demonstrations - which he helped organize - were directed against the radicals, i.e., Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and her supporters. Indeed, Deng was a staunch follower of the moderate Zhou Enlai, who had brought him back from exile in 1973. Furthermore, Deng had given a eulogy of Zhou at the funeral, on January 15, 1976. The government's attempt to remove the flowers from his memorial in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, led to further mass demonstrations there, which were suppressed by the police. This event is known by the Chinese as the "lst Tiananmen Incident." In featuring the violent suppression of a political movement instigated by the death of a popular leader, it has uncanny parallels with the Tiananmen masacre of June 1989.
Mao, leery of moderates, appointed Hua Guo-feng (Hua Kuo-feng, b. 1921) as Premier. Hua had risent rapidly due to Mao's patronage and embraced many of Mao's radical policies. On April 1, 1976, the Central Committee of the Party voted to strip Deng of the posts of Deputy Premier and Chief of Staff. He was villified in wall posters and newspapers as "China's new Khrushchev," while Jiang Qing called him "an international capitalist agent." This was clearly an attack on Deng's moderate policies. Hua was confirmed as Premier and Deputy Chairman of the Partt; this meant he was the designated successor of Mao. Deng was demoted again - but not for long.
V. The Death of Mao Tse-tung; Jiang Qing and "The Gang of Four"; The Return of Deng Xiaoping and His Policies.
Mao died on September 9, 1976. Within a month, Hua Guo-feng moved to arrest Jiang Qing and her supporters. However, Deng had more support among the bureaucrats and army commanders than Hua, particularly because of Hua's continued favorable assessment of the Great Culturual Revolution. Thus, in July 1977, Deng was reinstated in all his positions plus a new one: Chairman of the Central Military Commission. He quickly emerged as the most powerful leader in China.
Deng reaffirmed Zhou Enlai's program of the "Four Modernizations," i.e., of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. He proclaimed that China must begin to catch up with the West in technology and must reform her inefficient, antiquated, Stalinist economic system. He also showed himself willing to use incentives and to create a less repressive environment. However, almost from the outset, he also showed that he would not tolerate any political liberalization which he did not control himself. This was made quite clear by the fate of those who dared to demand democracy.
1. The Democracy Wall and Its Fate.
Deng clearly wanted a show of popular support for his policies and thus to undercut his radical opponents. Therefore, he relaxed media controls and encouraged the free expression of opinion. This led to the criticism of Hua Guo-feng that Deng wanted - but also to criticism of the party itself. Such opinion were expressed in articles and "large character posters" which were pasted on the Democracy Wall in Beijing in December 1978 - January 1979. Like Mao in 1956, so Deng in 1979 put a stop to the posters and articles when they began attacking the communist party and system . Wei Jinsheng, who demanded democracy as the "fifth modernization," attacking the existing political system and even Deng himself, was severely punished, as were others who had dared criticize the system.
Here we should note that Wei Jingsheng expressed the views of many young, educated, Chinese who had become disillusioned with communism as it existed in China. He had been raised as a loyal Maoist by his father, who was a revolutionary. He was a Red Guard during the Great Cultural Revolution, but was jailed when his group clashed with rival gangs loyal to Jiang Qing. He then read a great deal on international affairs, worked as an electrician, and served four years in the army. He also fell in love with a young Tibetan woman, whose father had been persecuted for his politics. (China had forcibly imposed its rule on Tibet in 1959, and the Dalai Lama had fled, taking up residence in India ).
Wei demanded free elections of representatives by the people, and said that socialism was flawed because it left no room for the independent individual. Wei's demands coincided with a demonstration by 28 young people in Tiananmen Square on Dec. 17, 1978,to protest the living and working conditions in south China of some 50,000 young people who had been "sent down" and had been striking there. (Thousands of young people had been sent into the countryside for "re-education.") On January 8, 1979, several thousand of these people demonstrated with signs that read "We don't want hunger," and "We want human rights and democracy." Later in January, some 30,000 workers and their families, who had also been sent down, came to Beijing to petition the leaders for help. There were similar demonstrations in other cities.
At this point, Deng ordered a crackdown. Many underground writers were arrested and accused of weakening the state with the aid of foreigners. In March 1979, Wei Jingsheng was tried and convicted. The specific charge was that he had leaked information on the war between China and Vietnam to a foreign journalist. He appealed the verdict on the grounds that he had no access to such information, but his appeal was rejected. (9) As we will see later, Wei and other writers who were repressed in 1979, were the heralds of later protest movements, up to and including that of spring 1989. Wei was sentenced to 15 years; he was released just 6 months before his sentence ended, in September 1993, as part of Red China's bid to host the Olympic Games in the year 2,000. (But it was decided that they will be held in Sydney, Australia, see "The Games China Plays," Newsweek, September 27, 1993, pp. 62-63).
We should note that during the "Democracy Period," the Party was sending out mixed signals. This resulted from the existence of three different groups in the leadership. One group, led by Hu Yaobang (1913-89), who became General Secretary of the Party on January 3,1979, believed that economic reform had to go hand in hand with democratization, by which he seems to have meant liberalization under party control. Hu also took the line that all that was proved to be wrong should be corrected. A second group stood for combining the party's autocratic rule with a free economy; they were led by Zhao Ziyang (Chao Tzu-yang, b. 1919), formerly the First Secretary of Guandong Province, who became a member of the Politburo in February 1980. A third group wanted to retain party autocracy, plus some cautious, economic, adjustments falling short of creating a market economy; this group was led by the former economic planner, Chen Yun (b. 1905). Deng Xiaoping seemed to be playing these groups off against each other.
Deng also developed closer relations with the United States and Japan. He sent Chinese students to study abroad and welcomed foreign, especially American, students to China. Several U.S. universities, including K.U., established exchange programs with Chinese universities. Even Western music was allowed back on a restricted basis. However, Deng's chief goal was to educate thousands of Chinese in modern Western science and technology, and so catch up with the West.
Here we should note that despite the crackdown on Wei Jingsheng and other critics, Deng allowed the release of thousands of academics, writers and artists who had been imprisoned or sent down to the farms. It is likely, however, that his primary aim in this action and in rehabilitating all those unjustly condemned since 1957, was to bring back into service bureaucrats who shared his ideas. This was also the goal of the trial of Jiang Qing and the "Gang of Four" (see below).
2. Some Condemnation of the Past.
Jiang Qing and her supporters were publicly tried in 1980-81. Jiang firmly denied any wrongdoing and insisted she had always carried out Mao's will. All members of the group were condemned to death, but their sentences were commuted to long prison terms. (When Jiang became sick with cancer, she was released from prison, but lived under house arrest; she died in summer 1991). As mentioned above, Jiang had lorded over the cultural scene for years, and had been responsible for the death and exile of many artists whom she disliked, or whom her supporters happened to dislike. But what was most important, she stood for the fanatical radicalism which had flowered so disastrously in the Great Cultural Revolution, and which Deng wanted to condemn in Chinese eyes. (10)
Meanwhile, Hua Guo-feng gradually faded from the political scene. In July 1981, he was replaced as Party Chairman by Deng's man, Hu Yaobang. The Party Central Committee, which also met in early July, approved a resolution condemning most of Mao's policies since 1950, particularly the Great Cultural Revolution.According to the Central Committee resolution, the Great Cultural Revolution had been responsible for "the heaviest losses suffered since the founding of the People's Republic." It was charged with purposely decimating the Party, ruining the careers of many loyal party workers, and of undermining the economy of China. Deng spoke for himself and for many thousands of party members in the words of the resolution that "It was us and not the enemy who were thrown into disorder by the Cultural Revolution." Finally, the resolution also criticized Mao for dismissing Deng from high party office and appointing Hua as his successor. Hua was made a junior deputy chairman of the Party. (11)
Thus the CCP Central Committee resolution of July 1981 can be seen as the Chinese equivalent of Khrushchev's anti-Stalin speeches of February 1956 and 1961. Just as Khrushchev had praised Stalin for his policies of industrialization and collectivization, so the Dengist leadership praised Mao not only as the great leader of the CCP in the period 1927-49 but also for his economic and social policies in the early 1950s. The Great Leap Forward was strongly criticized, and the Great Cultural Revolution was condemned - although it was presented as an aberration of Mao's thought.
Indeed, while it was admitted that Mao knew what was going on, the purge of the CCP and the repression of academic and cultural life of China were blamed on Jiang Qing and her "gang," who were publicly tried. It is most likely that Deng avoided a wholesale condemnation of Mao because he did not want to alienate the old guard who were loyal to Mao's memory, and whose support he would need, or whom he would at least have to neutralize in order to rule China.
Finally, we must bear in mind that for the Chinese, Mao was Lenin and Stalin rolled into one; he was both the great revolutionary leader and the builder of the Chinese People's Republic. Neither the people nor the Party were ready to accept a total condemnation of Mao's policies, nor could any Chinese leader attempt to formulate such a drastic judgment at the time. For these reasons, Deng did not go as far in repudiating Mao as Gorbachev was to go in the USSR in repudiating Stalin after 1987.
Instead, Deng set about reforming the Chinese economy. At the same time, he purged the party of Maoists in order to carry out these reforms. (About 5,500 members were purged in 1983). He also ordered about 700,000 party members to undergo "ideological training," which focused on the need for moderate change. (At this time, the CCP numbered about 40 million). Deng also purged the army, though he was very careful not to remove the veterans of the Long March. Instead, he tried to persuade them to retire.
3. Economic Reforms and Problems.
The first, and one of the most important of Deng's economic reforms took place in agriculture. In order to increase food production, Deng implemented the "contract responsibility system," i.e., support for private farmers. First, private plots were restored and enlarged; next, the great farm communes were dissolved, and the government leased the "subsoil" to farmers. They, in turn, could rent it out to others if they wished to leave the farms and work in village industries.
After fulfilling the government quotas, the farmers could sell the rest of the produce for their own profit. This led to a swift and significant increase in food production. In fact, between 1979 and 1984, agricultural output grew by at least double that of the preceding 20 years. Also, cotton output jumped threefold in six years, making China the largest textile producer in the world.
Although food production increased, new problems arose. Many farmers preferred to raise cash crops i.e., vegetables and fruit -- especially watermelons, beloved by the Chinese -- rather than the labor-intensive and low priced staples, rice and grain. Also, in some years there was an overproduction of grain, so that prices fell steeply and led to reduced production. The government decided to manipulate prices upward to encourage farmers to grow grain.
Another constant problem is the continuing loss of scarce agricultural land to village industry and housing. Freed by new policies that allowed them to engage in sideline occupations, many farmers abandoned farming for work in small local industries, producing tools and other goods for the villagers. While beneficial in itself, this trend has removed land from food production. This is very dangerous, since China's total cultivated land is usually given as 110 mln hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres), and the total loss in 1981-85 amounted to 2.23 mln. hectares.
Furthermore, the rise in food prices, i.e., inflation, hurt the city workers, so the government decided to manipulate prices. Urban discontent was aggravated by the import of manufactured goods from Japan, Taiwan, Hongkong, and elsewhere. These goods were bought by the rich farmers and city entrepreneurs, but were initially beyond the reach of industrial workers. On top of this, the imports led to highly visible corruption, for many party members grew rich from buying imported goods at low prices and reselling them at enormous markups. This violated the egalitarian ethos of socialism and was greatly resented by all Chinese people: workers, academics and students.
Agricultural reform was, of course, only the first of the "four modernizations," the others being the modernization of industry, science-technology, and national defense. Deng also allowed a certain amount of private enterprise in the cities, e.g., private restaurants and shops. Western businessmen were encouraged to invest in China, particularly in joint ventures; at first the terms were too rigid but were modified later. Most of these joint ventures were initially located in special economic zones in the coastal cities, particularly along China's south-central coast. Here, managers of state enterprises and private entrepreneurs were allowed great freedom in dealing with Western business firms, and in developing private businesses. However, these special economic zones have been criticized for increasing the gap between the standard of living in these areas and inland China.
The CCP Congress of October 25 - November 1, 1987 endorsed further economic reforms, and also elected a new and younger leadership, but the government cracked down on corruption in 1988. Not only were private entrepreneurs buying party support and toleration, but as noted above, high party members themselves profited greatly from the resale of foreign goods. As we shall see, blatant corruption among high party members continued, and would be one of the evils protested by the students in spring 1989.
Unlike agriculture, reform of existing industrial enterprises made very little headway. It is all very well to preach accountability and profit, and therefore propose that industrial plants operating at a loss should be closed down. But what is the government to do with the workers? The same problem faces the new, non-communist, governments of the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe with their outdated Stalinist "rustbelt" industries.
In 1987-88, China stood at an economic crossroads. There was a huge budget deficit, the result of excessive investment and huge subsidies. The trade deficit was the largest in all of Chinese history. Inflation reached 12% in 1986, and went up another 7% in 1987. But these are official figures and Chinese economists estimated that inflation in 1985-86 would reach 30%. Finally, there was widespread corruption, which included party members, and a high crime rate. These trends continued into 1989 and must be seen as the background for popular support of the student democracy movement in Beijing in April-June 1989.
Even in agriculture there were serious problems, particularly stagnation, which was largely due to insufficient investment in the infrastructure, especially water resources.
There was lack of capital, energy shortages, bottlenecks of all kinds, especially in transportation, and inflation. But on the positive side, there was a great increase in textile production, a developing electronics industry, especially computers, and a modern defense industry including aviation and missiles, e.g., the Silkworm missiles sold to Iran and used by it in the war with Iraq. (12)
In the early 1990s, economists asked:where is China to get the capital for large scale modernization, and how is she going to square profit and wealth with socialism? As it turned out, in 1994-96, foreign investment in China amounted to about $100 billion. This constituted half of all foreign investment in the developing world and was second only to investment in the United States. However, the second half of the question still requires an answer.
4. The Background to the Student Democracy Movement of Spring 1989.
At first, Deng seemed to espouse the idea - first expressed in the Prague Spring of 1968, and taken up by Gorbachev in the USSR almost twenty years later - that economic reform cannot succeed without free discussion of problems and their possible solutions. This view was most strongly expressed by Hu Yaobang. In fact, this veteran soldier and bureaucrat of the Chinese Communist Party (b. 1913) came to express humane and democratic ideas. Toward the end of his life, and particularly after his death, he became, for Chinese students and other liberal intellectuals, the symbol of democracy and decency in public life.
Hu Yaobang seems to have been more of an idealist than a politician. Although he had had Deng's support for a while -- he had, after all, done the most to achieve Deng's political rehabilitation -- this could not last. Deng believed that the party must keep total control of every sphere of life, and, most of all, political life. Indeed, on March 30, 1979, at the time of the arrest and trial of Wei Jingsheng, Deng proclaimed that China must modernize, but within the framework of the Four Cardinal Principles of: socialism; the dictatorship of the proletariat; party leadership; and Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought. There was certainly no room for democracy in this framework.
At the same time, however, Deng did speak of the need to abolish "feudalism" within the Party. He meant the feudal control exercised by provincial First Secretaries and other high bureaucrats. But these statements were likely aimed at the conservative faction in the party led by Chen Yun. It is interesting to note that in late 1980, Chen pointed out the dangerous implications for socialism posed by the Solidarity movement in Poland (1980-81, see ch. 8). He warned that changes in China might bring about similar developments there. On this basis, Chen opposed "bourgeois liberalization," i.e., free speech and democracy, as well as radical economic reforms. In 1983, he and his supporters also began a campaign against "spiritual contamination," i.e., Western ideas - especially democracy.
In the meanwhile, Hu Yaobang continued to give open support to political and ideological reform. This, of course, aroused the opposition of conservative hardliners. But the real reason for Hu's dismissal seems to have been a bold move against corruption in high places. Thus, Hu Yaobang obtained the necessary papers for the arrest of the son of Hu Qiaomu, the head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, whose son had embezzled a huge sum of money. Hu Qiaomu appealed to Deng for help.
At this point, Premier Zhao Ziyang, who was in overall charge of economic reform, allegedly told Deng that he could no longer cooperate with Hu Yaobang. In this way, Zhao, who stood for significant economic reform, made use of the support of the Old Guard, led by the conservative Chen Yun, to strengthen his own position. Then, the members of the ad hoc Standing Committee of the Politburo indicated they did not want Deng to resign, i.e., they did not want Hu Yaobang to succeed him. This decision was made before student demonstrations in favor of democracy took place at the turn of 1986-87, although Hu Yaobang was later accused of fomenting them.
Large student demonstrations began in early December 1986 at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui Province. The students demanded better living conditions and freedom of the press. On December 23rd, students at Beijing University demonstrated calling for freedom and democracy. On December 31st, the media proclaimed there was a "plot" to overthrow the government and the Beijing Municipal Council imposed limits on all demonstrations. However, on January 1, 1988, over 2,000 students demonstrated in the capital.
On January 16, 1988, Hu Yaobang, who had opposed the party decision to suppress student demonstrations, was removed as General Secretary of the Party, and replaced by Zhao Ziyang. Also in the course of the month, three leading "liberals" were expelled from the Communist Party; they were the physicist, Fang Lizhi (b. 1936), who had been Vice-President of the University of Science and Technology and had supported student demands; the dissident writer, Wang Ruowang, and the daring journalist Liu Binyan, who had -- with Deng's blessing -- publicized widespread corruption among high party members in northern China.
Although student demonstrations died down in 1988, this did not mean the end of the movement. Indeed, at many universities discussion groups, known as "salons" sprang up, in which students discussed the country's problems. The authorities kept an eye on them, but did not harass them unduly.
Fang Lizhi, who was barred from visiting the United States in 1988, expressed biting criticism of communism and gave information about these student groups to the Western press. In an article published in the New York Review of Books, in early February 1989, he stated that communism had failed in China, and also criticized the "Four Basic Principles" proclaimed by Deng in March 1979. Fang noted the establishment of many informal dissident groups and listed thetopics most commonly discussed as: (1) the need to guarantee human rights and the release of all political prisoners; (2) the establishment of a free economic system; (3) support for education; (4) the supervision of public officeholders and the use of "glasnost" to root out corruption; (5) an end to China's state of civil war and promotion of peace in the Taiwan straits; (6) establishment of rule by law; and (7) revision of the constitution, so as to provide for democracy and freedom.
In the same month, February 1989, Fang Lizhi wrote an open letter to Deng Xiaoping, urging him to respect human rights and release Wei Jingsheng, who had, by then, languished in prison for almost ten years. The poet Bei Dao also sent a letter to Deng, urging a more flexible policy. Then, 33 intellectuals sent an open letter to the Central Committee and the State Council, urging the release of Wei Jingsheng on humanitarian grounds. Despite party leaders' attempts to get the writers to retract, 42 more scientists and social scientists signed it, while a third open letter was signed by young writers and scholars who demanded democracy.
As we know, 1989 was a year of great anniversaries -- the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, the 70th anniversary of the May 4th Movement, and the 40th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. At the same time, it was the year which saw the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. However, it was the death of one man which sparked the explosion of public dissent in China. (13)
5. The Student Democracy Movement, April-June 1989.
On April 15, 1989, Chinese TV announced the death of Hu Yaobang, who had been hospitalized after a heart attack and died from a second one. The students of Beijing immediately saw demonstrations of mourning as a tool for pressing their political demands. After all, there was a recent precedent in the demonstrations at the funeral of Zhou Enlai in January 1976, which Deng had used to criticize Jiang Qing and her "Gang of Four." Although Deng had been punished, he "rehabilitated" the demonstrations after returning to power. The difference was that in spring 1989 the demonstrations were not headed by party leaders.
On April 16, several universities in Beijing spontaneously changed mourning sessions for Hu into meetings criticizing corruption and bureaucratization in the Party. Students from Qinghua University even demanded the resignation of Li Peng, who had been in charge of higher education and became Premier on April 15.
On April 17, Wang Dan, a graduate student in history at Beijing University, emerged as the leader there and led a demonstration. When the crowd swelled to some 5,000, they decided to march to Tienanmen Square. As they went, they shouted "Down with Bureaucracy. Long Live Democracy. Hu Yaobang will never die!" Posters went up, praising Hu for his support of democracy and economic reforms.
At dawn on April 18, over 100,000 students gathered in Tiananmen Square. They demanded a re-evaluation of Hu's achievements; the rehabilitation of Fang Lizhi, Wang Ruowang and Liu Binyan; the publication of the finances of party and state leaders and their children; freedom of the press; increased funds for higher education; improved treatment of intellectuals; the cancellation of limits on demonstrations; and that the public be informed about the goals of the student movement.
The people of Beijing were delighted to see that the students were demanding reform and the end of corruption. They gave the students food and drink. They shouted "Long live the students," and the students replied "Long live the People!" The people also helped the students by forming human barriers to block them off from the police.
On April 19, some 10,000 students gathered in Tiananmen Square and called for Premier Li Peng to speak to them, but he refused. The next morning, 5,000 students asked government officials to enter into a dialogue with them. The students then broke into small groups and talked to the people, explaining why they were demonstrating. People collected money and food for them.
On the evening of April 21, the government announced that Tiananmen Square would be closed for Hu's funeral on April 22. Fundraising and speeches were forbidden.
However, on the afternoon of April 21, Wuer Kaixi, a freshman at Beijing Normal University (Teachers' College), announced the creation of a provisional student association. This was the beginning of an umbrella organization for students from the 16 universities and colleges in Beijing. That evening, over 40,000 students and teachers set off from Beijing University for Tiananmen Square; by midnight about 200,000 had gathered there. The leaders were Wang Dang, Wuer Kaixi, Zhou Yongjun and Zhang Boli. They all settled down for the night, and were supplied with food and drink by the people.
At the same time, while a Party memorial service was held for Hu Yaobang inside the Great Hall of the People, student representatives were kneeling in front of the hall, asking Li Peng to come out and talk to them. He refused.
The party leadership was divided on what to do. Also, Party Chairman Zhao Ziyang was away on a visit to North Korea. Finally, on April 24, hardliners on the Beijing Municipal Council apparently forced through the decision to adopt a hard line, and a report was made to Deng Xiaoping on April 25. He is reported to have said:
It is a planned conspiracy, a political rebellion. We will not have a moment's rest if we do not stop it. We should try to avoid bloodshed. It is hard to shed no blood at all. Don't be afraid of international public opinion.
On April 26, the People's Daily accused the students of violating the constitution; of encouraging opposition to the Communist Party and socialist system; and of a planned conspiracy and rebellion. This editorial was broadcast on the radio.
It is very interesting to note that on April 24, Deng Xiao-ping was also alleged to have told Party members that:
These people have come under the influence and encouragement of Yugoslavian, Polish, Hungarian and Russian elements who [agitate for] liberalization, who urge them to rise up and create turmoil. They will cause the country and the Chinese people to have no future. We must take measures and act quickly, without losing any time. (14)
Indeed, we know that some of the student leaders -- for example, Wang Dan -- spoke of the changes in Eastern Europe. They most likely heard of them from Chinese language broadcasts of Voice of America, or by way of friends in Hongkong. Whatever the students may have known, Deng Xiaoping certainly must have been following the progress of "glasnost" in the Soviet Union, the Round Table talks in Poland, and the liberalization of the Hungarian Communist Party (see ch. 8).
On the morning of April 27, the students of Beijing University defied the Party and started to march again to Tiananmen Square. The citizens of the city used their bodies to break the police lines and so let the students pass. Hundreds of people recorded the events with their cameras.
Some units of the 38th Army were already in Beijing. However, they did not shoot, probably because thousands of people had turned out in support of the students. The latter were also shouting slogans praising the party. Some people blocked a troop transport at one of the overpasses - but 25 trucks full of troops were parked only a few blocks from the square.
Now students also came out into the streets in Shanghai, Wuhan and Changsha.
On April 29, Yuan Mu, spokesman for the State Council, was allowed by Premier Li Peng to talk with 45 students from the 16 college and universities in Beijing. However, the government would not recognize the students as representatives of the new, freely elected, student associations, but only as individuals. Wuer Kaixi, therefore, refused to enter into talks. Indeed, the government spokesmen openly hinted that people "with long beards," i.e., intellectuals like Fang Lizhi, were behind the demonstrations. Still, the meeting with the students was shown on Chinese TV and the government stated that the People's Daily editorial of April 26th was not aimed at them.
The authorities' backtracking and apparent hesitation to use force were due to a split within the leadership. While the hardliners, led by Deng and the Old Guard favored a crackdown, this was opposed by Zhao Ziyang, who returned from North Korea on April 29. At this time, Li Peng told him that his (Zhao Ziyang's) eldest son, Zhao Dajun, was reported to have engaged in illegal trade. Zhao's reply was that the Central Committee should open an investigation and publicize it throughout the country. This was no doubt seen by Deng and the hardliners as a gesture of support for the students, who were demanding the punishment of corruption among high party members and their children. Indeed, Deng's invalid son, who headed a "charitable foundation," was widely suspected of using its tax free status to fill his own pockets.
As for Zhao Ziyang, he declared at several party meetings that he did not believe the student movement was manipulated by conspirators. He said the students acted from love of country and desire to speed up reform. He also wanted the government to admit that the People's Daily editorial was mistaken. The newspaper's partial retraction noted above must have been the result of Zhao's stand.
Zhao then went further by making his views public. He had stressed the need for "stability" on the evening of May 3rd - but next day, at a meeting of the board of the Asian Development Bank, he said publicly that the basic slogan of the student movement supported the Communist Party, the constitution, the speeding up of reform and democracy, and opposition to corruption. He said he believed the Party should acknowledge its mistakes and recognize student demands as reasonable, but that reforms should be implemented in a peaceful and orderly way. He wanted all problems solved by democratic and legal means. (15)
Meanwhile, on May 2, a delegation from the Beijing universities and colleges, led by Wang Dan, appealed again for dialogue. On the following day, the government spokesman said that students could not talk with the government on an equal basis.
On May 4, the 70th anniversary of the May 4th Movement, some 200,000 students were in Tiananmen Square. They read the May 4 Manifesto and demanded a dialogue with the government. They also said they would resume classes on May 5. As noted above, it was also on May 4th that Zhao Ziyang had publicly acknowledged the demands of the students were reasonable, and that all problems should be resolved peacefully.
Whether Zhao's public statement was decisive in this or not, Chinese journalists now joined the students. Some 500 reporters and editors marched carrying banners proclaiming that the media must speak the truth. Also, a group of People's Daily reporters received great applause for carrying a banner that read: "We reject the editorial of April 24th" - i.e. the editorial that had condemned the student demonstration as a subversive attack on the Party. The reporters and editors had demonstrated in this way for the first time in 40 years of communism in China. The press and TV informed the people of what was really going on. Many scholars now gave their support to the students and, for the first time, workers began to appear in numbers in the square.
However, despite Zhao Ziyang's speech of May 4th, the government still refused to talk with the students. Therefore, on the morning of May 13, some 200 students gathered at Beijing University and pledged to fast in order to speed up the process of democratization. They were joined by 600 more students from Beijing Normal University. Wuer Kaixi led the group to Tiananmen Square. There was also a young female student leader, Chai Ling, By 4 p.m. that day, 4,000 students were fasting. They wore headbands reading Fasting, and Give Me Liberty, or Give me Death.
An important factor in the dramatic events in Beijing and the struggle within the party leadership was the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev on May 16-17. This was the first visit by a Soviet chief of state since Khrushchev came to talk with Mao in September 1959. Gorbachev's car was cheered by the students, who obviously knew something about his "glasnost" policies in the USSR, but he was not allowed to speak to them.
What was more important, however, was the fact that Zhao Ziyang informed the Soviet leader of what had been hitherto kept strictly secret, i.e., the 1987 decision of the Central Committee of the CCP that though Deng had resigned from his party posts (except for the Chairmanship of the Central Military Commission), the Poliburo would let him make the final decisions on all major issues. Thus, Deng's charade of giving up power was revealed. (16). This must have infuriated Deng and the Old Guard.
Especially important was the arrival of a whole army of foreign media to record the Gorbachev visit. People gambled that the party leadership would not risk a crackdown with the whole world watching what was going in Beijing. In an astonishing mass protest, one million city residents marched to Tiananmen Square on May 19th, and a second million - many of them workers - was to follow the next day.
On May 19, at about 5 a.m. Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng came out to the students fasting in Tiananmen Square. Zhao begged them to stop. He was in tears, but Li Peng showed no emotion and said nothing. In a statement that was puzzling at the time, but gained meaning from subsequent events, Zhao apologized to the students saying he had "come too late" to assist them.
At 9 p.m. that day, the student radio announced that the fast had ended and a sit-in had begun. It was high time, for many of the 3,000 fasters were at death's door. Ambulances rushed in to take them to hospitals around the city.
At 10 p.m. high ranking party members left their official residence, the Zhongnanhai for a decisive meeting in the General Logistics Department, located in the southwestern part of the city. Here, Premier Li Peng stated that Beijing was in the throes of a serious rebellion which must be put down. Yang Shangkun, one of the Old Guard (b. 1909) and Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission -- of which Deng was chairman -- said that troops were coming into the city to implement martial law. Then, official loudspeakers announced the speeches of Lin Peng and Yang Shangkun, and proclaimed that a state of martial law would exist in Beijing as of May 20. It was a signal of how irrelevant the Party had become that the announcement was ignored when carried by loudspeakers in Tiananmen Square.
On May 20, the people of Beijing formed human barriers to stop the trucks carrying soldiers; then they built barricades. This popular movement lasted for two weeks. On May 24, even the thieves declared they would not ply their trade, but would block military vehicles.
Perhaps encouraged by the popular support given the students, which was blocking the imposition of martial law, Zhao Ziyang presented a six-point plan to the Standing Committee of the Politburo; he argued that its adoption would reduce student discontent because student demands really agreed with the Party's goals. The six points were: (1) investigate all major companies run by children of high ranking officials and publicize the results; (2) publicize the experience and accomplishments that qualified important officials for their positions; (3) abolish special supplies of goods for officials below the Vice-Premier and under the age of 75; (4) the People's Congress would establish a supervisory committee to investigate accusations of criminal activities by children of high-ranking officials; (5) the freedom of the press was to be expanded as soon as possible; (6) the judiciary should be made independent [of the party]; and all problems should be solved in accordance with legal procedures.
Zhao's plan was apparently distributed to the vice-chairmen and members of the congress. However, Li Peng was allegedly opposed, saying the plan was only Zhao's personal opinion. Indeed, Deng and the Old Guard furiously opposed Zhao. He was now accused of being the head of an "anti-Party clique" and, indeed, two of his supporters were high military officials with significant power. It seems that at least three of the eight military commanders opposed the use of force, as did many civilian officials. (17)
Here we should note that from May 20 onward, student demonstrations spread beyond Beijing; they took place in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzen, Chongqing, and nearly eighty cities throughout the country. Chinese people in Hongkong and Macao also came out into the streets to express their support for the students. Chinese students in the West, especially the large contingent in the United States, also expressed their enthusiastic support; they phoned or faxed Western press reports to their friends at home.
However, toward the end of May, the student sit-in in Tiananmen Square began to peter out. This was not surprising; after all, many had been there on and off since mid-April and they were tired. Many Western observers thought the government was wisely planning to "out-sit" the students, the last of whom were expected to leave shortly.
Furthermore, the National People's Congress opened on May 22, and many Chinese hoped it would support student demands. Indeed, the chairman, Wan Li, had expressed his sympathy with the students and returned from Canada two days later. However, he was detained in Shanghai for "health reasons" after landing there. This was ominous. Likewise, 38 members of the Standing Committee of the Congress were ready to call for an emergency meeting, but they lacked the requisite majority to do so.
On June 2 and 3, there were movements of armed troops in the city and some people were killed. However, on June 3, some 300,000 people blocked troops and police in Tiananmen Square.
That evening, radio and TV stations warned people to stay home, but they did not listen. Some 3,000 people were in the square when great numbers of troops marched toward it at 9 p.m. They shot people standing in their way and killed many. A bloody battle took place on Changan Avenue, east of the square. Some people angered by the killing, killed a few soldiers. The troops stopped ambulances from going to pick up the wounded.
After more fighting, the students in the Square decided to leave at 4:20 a.m. on June 4th. Just then, a flare lit up the scene and the soldiers attacked the students, beating and killing them. Accounts differ, but it seems that between 1,000 and 3,000 people were killed in Beijing, while many were also killed in other cities. The world watched in horror. At the same time, peaceful elections for a new legislature took place in Poland, where the communists suffered total defeat.
6. The Aftermath.
Thousands of people were arrested between June 4 and August 1989 for involvement in the student movement. We don't know how many were tortured to death and executed. Some student leaders escaped to the West. Western opinion was shocked, but after a while, the United States resumed business with China.
In spring 1990, the Chinese government finally allowed Fang Lizhi