Five years ago China’s Deng Xiaoping sat uncomfortably on the rostrum of the 11th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. He had been allowed to return to prominence as a party vice-chairman, and the previous year’s campaign against him was condemned as the work of the Gang of Four, the group of zealots who tried to seize control of China when Mao Tsetung was dying. But Mao’s designated heir, Hua Guofeng, still controlled the party. And reports to delegates still stressed strong support for Maoism. The party hierarchy was also critical of the more pragmatic approach with which Deng had long been associated. Last week, however, as the 12th party congress opened, China’s political pendulum completed another of its epochal ^swings—and Deng sat comfortably àamong his peers, secure in the knowledge that his primacy in the party is znow generally acknowledged.
True to his reputation as a tactician, Deng has manoeuvred carefully during the past five years. In the process, though, he has managed to gradually dislodge the underpinnings of Maoism while preventing China from sliding into chaos. Now 78, Deng is expected to go into semiretirement as dean of a council of party elders after a new constitution is adopted by the congress. But he has achieved what he and most of the current leadership want: an almost complete break with the postrevolutionary theories of Mao. At the same time, he has helped engineer the installation of a stable, somewhat more youthful leadership, spearheaded by such protégés as new party Chairman Hu Yaobang and Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang. Old-guard leaders, who were considered to be sympathetic to Maoism, have been deftly manipulated into the background. Where Mao was the master of swift and violent shifts in the party order,
Deng has relied on patience and subtlety.
Few people in China still support the radicalism of the Gang of Four. But centrists, such as former chairman Hua Guofeng and party vice-chairmen Ye Jianying and Li Xiannian, have a long history of compromising with the Maoist left and they are resistant
to China’s new direction. Deng, a rightist, has managed to keep the nation on a stable course by co-operating with the moderates. But he is convinced that a party run by a coalition of rightist and centrist elements has no long-term future. For Deng, the centre—a key factor in smashing the left— has outlived its usefulness.
By offering to be the first to retire to the “second line,” Deng has compelled his last remaining opponents to do so as well, offering the face-saving device of an advisory panel on which they will all hold seats. But, with his own protégés in position—and perhaps holding onto his post as military commander-in-chief— there is little doubt that Deng will remain the most powerful man in China.
While the exact details of the latest shifts in party organization will probably not be known until after the congress closes on Sept. 10, the reforms are likely to force a transfer of power from the Politburo to the Secretariat, a bastion of Deng supporters. The posts of party chairman and vice-chairman are expected to be abolished with a secretary-general, likely to be Hu Yaobang, emerging as the central figure.
Some Politburo members may find themselves stripped of power in the newly created advisory group (probably no one over 65 will stay in day-to-day positions of power). But it is unlikely that any will come in for major political criticism. A senior Chinese spokesman commented recently that even Hua Guofeng, despite his mistakes, was still a good man with leadership capabilities. That, apparently, is the approach Deng would like to see prevail, in order to avoid the kind of recriminations and purges that have so frequently disrupted China’s development. The congress is also expected to ensure future collectivity of leadership and to reaffirm the historic analysis, made at a key meeting of the central committee last year, of Mao’s accomplishments and errors.
The path to the 12th congress was not smooth. In fact, Deng has been trying to convene it for two years. But the difficulty of oachieving a consensus jon Mao’s role and the ^Cultural Revolution forced postponement. arlier this year Deng
disappeared from sight for several weeks amid rumors that he had suffered a decisive setback. In fact, he said on his return, he had been banging heads together in the provinces. More recently, it was rumored that he wanted the congress to abolish the Politburo altogether. If that, indeed, was his goal, he clearly was forced to compromise.
Despite the pitfalls, Deng and his allies were able to count on substantial grassroots support. That was predictable. Changes in agricultural policy have allowed peasants in some parts of China to double their incomes in the
past two years. Urban Chinese, meanwhile, are enjoying a consumer revolution with significant increases in disposable income. Chinese consumers now dream of the “three big pieces”—televisions, refrigerators and well-sprung beds—rather than yesterday’s “little pieces”—bicycles, sewing machines and radios.
Indeed, many Chinese intellectuals say that the country is currently enjoying its most prosperous time in several years. Says Zhao Fusan, a highly regarded senior member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: “When I look at the changes, even though I’m impatient for more rapid change, I look on what has happened with amazement.” For the first time, says Zhao, many intellectuals are free to pursue their work and there is serious giveand-take about “what is the rational limit of the government apparatus in regulating people’s lives.” Says Wang Meng, a popular contemporary novelist: “People in literary circles don’t feel nervous anymore about publishing their work. Of course there are criticisms, but we now have a situation where there can be criticism without a
political campaign.” In the natural sciences, party appointees have relinquished considerable power to the specialists in an effort to stimulate technological growth. Says Tang Dunjing of the Shanghai Biochemistry Research Institute, where Chinese scientists several years ago made a historic breakthrough in synthesizing +RNA: “To put it simply, now is the best time ever for science in China.”
There are more cynical voices, but the pace of progress has kept them from gaining influence. Western observers have long believed that the only real
threat to Deng came from the old-guard leftists’ ability to exploit a situation in which much-ballyhooed economic reforms did not bring about a rapid enough rise in the standard of living. A second concern was that the growing influence of Western ways might trigger a xenophobic backlash of the kind occasionally seen in Chinese history.
Neither fear has been realized. For one thing, the scaling-down of the dreams of quick modernization, which were aroused at the last congress, appears to have been accepted without excessive demoralization because people are better off and because the party has been diligent in its attack on corruption. For another, Deng again appears to have stage-managed the situation masterfully. China has just won a major compromise with the United Sfates over Taiwan and has asserted its right to eventually incorporate Hong Kong into the People’s Republic. Clearly, the leftists will not be able to argue very persuasively that China’s modernization is being achieved at the expense of its national pride.
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