China Table of Contents

Chairman Hua Guofeng presided over the historic Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress in December 1978, his authority rooted in his generally acknowledged claim to be Mao Zedong's chosen successor. Viewed in historical context, Hua's role was that of a relatively minor figure temporarily bridging the gap between the radical leadership associated with Mao and the Cultural Revolution and the emergence of new political leaders who could consolidate national policy and assert credible authority. Hua's political weakness was most graphically illustrated by the rehabilitation--for the second time- -of Deng Xiaoping, in July 1977, and Deng's subsequent successful elevation of his proteges and initiation of a comprehensive reform program to realize the Four Modernizations.

This transitional period moved toward far-reaching reform and even a reassessment of Mao Zedong Thought. Economic development and material rewards to motivate producers replaced the Maoist emphasis on ideological goals and incentives. A stress on political stability supplanted the call to "continuing revolution." In Chinese academic circles, efforts were made to restore and raise academic standards, and party leaders stressed the importance of science and technology and the contribution of intellectuals in realizing modernization. The liberalization of expression in intellectual and cultural circles led to further questioning of the Cultural Revolution, Mao's role, and Mao Zedong Thought.

Between 1979 and 1981 it became necessary to "readjust" some of the reform programs and initiatives to effect a balance between reformist and conservative forces. The major issues dividing these forces were China's capacity to sustain rapid economic development and the political and cultural consequences of opening up to the world and allowing liberalization of expression and behavior. The retrenchment that followed was a readjustment and not an end to Deng Xiaoping's reform agenda.

Deng Xiaoping Consolidates Power

Deng XiaopingDeng's second rehabilitation marked another milestone in the career of one of the party's most remarkable leaders. Born in Sichuan Province in 1904, Deng was the son of a wealthy landlord. A bright student, he went to France on a work-study program in 1920. There Deng, like many other Chinese students, was radicalized and joined the nascent Chinese Communist Party. He had returned to China by 1926 and, after the party was forced underground in 1927, became involved in guerrilla activities. Eventually he joined the main body of the party and Red Army in Jiangxi Province. Deng participated in the Long March and rose through the ranks of the Red Army to become a senior political commissar during the war against Japan (1937-45) and the Chinese civil war (1945-49). After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, he was assigned his home province of Sichuan, where he was made first secretary of the Southwest Regional Party Bureau. In 1952 Deng was transferred to Beijing and given several key positions, the highest of which was vice premier of the State Council--a remarkable development that he probably owed to Mao's favor.

In 1956 Deng was promoted over several more-senior party leaders to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and became secretary general of the party, that is, head of the party Secretariat. As secretary general, Deng became involved in the dayto -day implementation of party policies and had immediate access to the resources of the entire party bureaucracy. Consequently, Deng's power grew immensely. Because he perceived Mao's radical economic policies to have been harmful to China's development after 1958, Deng began to work more closely with State Chairman Liu Shaoqi. Deng's behavior irritated Mao, and his stress on results over ideological orthodoxy struck Mao as "revisionism". During the Cultural Revolution, Deng was branded the "number-two capitalist roader in the party" (Liu Shaoqi was the "number-one capitalist roader," having allegedly abandoned socialism. In 1967 Deng was driven from power and sent to work in a tractor factory in Jiangxi Province.

After the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the shock of an attempted military coup in 1971 by Lin Biao, Premier Zhou Enlai apparently recommended that Deng be brought back to aid in dealing with increasingly complex domestic and international issues. Mao agreed, and Deng returned in April 1973 as a vice premier. He rejoined the Political Bureau in December, becoming more active in national affairs as Zhou Enlai's health weakened. By early 1975 he was in charge of the work of the Central Committee as one of its vice chairmen. From this powerful vantage point, Deng concentrated on moderating the effects of the more radical aspects of the policies introduced during the Cultural Revolution and on focusing national attention on economic development. He also continued to build his own political influence through restoring to high office many old cadres who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution. Mao again began to distrust Deng and, after Zhou's death, decided that Deng should once again be removed from his positions.

Deng has been described as aggressive, brash, impatient, and self-confident. He inspired respect among Chinese officials as a capable administrator and a brilliant intellect. He did not, however, inspire loyalty and devotion, and he admitted that his hard-driving personality often alienated others. In contrast to Mao, Deng offered no expansive socialist vision. Rather, Deng's message was a practical one: to make the Chinese people more prosperous and China a modern socialist state. Deng's pragmatic style arose primarily from his dedication to placing China among the world's great powers.

Deng consolidated his power and influence by removing his opponents from their power bases, elevating his proteges to key positions, revising the political institutional structure, retiring elderly party leaders who either were hesitant about his reform programs or too weak and incompetent to implement them, and raising up a replacement generation of leaders beholden to him and apparently enthusiastic about the reform program. As a first step toward achieving these goals, Deng set out to remove Hua Guofeng, apparently a firm believer in Mao's ideals, from the three pivotal positions of chairman of the party and of its powerful Central Military Commission and premier of the State Council. At that time, Deng was on the Political Bureau Standing Committee, vice chairman of the party Central Military Commission, and vice premier of the State Council.

At the Third Plenum, four new members were elected to the Political Bureau, all to varying degrees supporters of the reform program. Hu Yaobang, an energetic protege of Deng Xiaoping, was elected, as was Wang Zhen, a Deng stalwart. Also elected were Deng Yingchao, widow of Zhou Enlai, and Chen Yun, architect of China's 1950s economic policy. Chen also became head of the newly established Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Following the plenum, Hu Yaobang was appointed secretary general of the party and head of its Propaganda Department. Further personnel changes beneficial to Deng occurred at the Fifth Plenum, held February 23-29, 1980. Hu Yaobang was elevated to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, as was another Deng protege, Zhao Ziyang. With these promotions, accompanied by the forced resignations of members associated with the Cultural Revolution, the Standing Committee was comprised of seven members, four of whom were strongly committed to party and economic reform.

Hua Guofeng's position was eroded further in mid-1980, when he was replaced as premier by Zhao Ziyang. A fast-rising provincial party official, Zhao spent his early career in Guangdong Province, where he gained expertise in managing agricultural affairs. Unlike Hua, whose political status had improved during the Cultural Revolution, Zhao Ziyang was purged in 1967 for supporting the policies of Mao's opponents. After his rehabilitation in 1972, Zhao worked briefly in Nei Monggol Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia) and then returned to Guangdong Province. In 1975, a peak period in Deng's influence, Zhao was sent to troubled Sichuan Province as party first secretary. Under Zhao's leadership Sichuan Province returned to political and economic health. Zhao believed firmly in material incentives, and he promoted experiments in returning decision-making authority to the local work units, rather than centralizing it exclusively in provincial-level or central administrative bureaus.

Hua Guofeng's political isolation deepened when at the Central Committee's Sixth Plenum, in June 1981, he was replaced as party chairman by General Secretary Hu Yaobang. This key meeting reevaluated party history, including the Cultural Revolution, and charged Mao with major errors in his later years. Hua, having been identified with the "two whatevers" group ("support whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made and follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave"), was marked for political oblivion. At this same meeting, Deng Xiaoping assumed Hua's former position as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, advancing his goal of ridding the top military ranks of reform opponents. With these developments, Deng was poised for an even more thorough consolidation of the reform leadership at the upcoming Twelfth National Party Congress.

Institutionalizing Collective Leadership

Following the Third Plenum, one of Deng Xiaoping's major reform goals had been to produce an institutionalized and stable political system that could promote economic development. Economic reform was to be accompanied by political reform that would permit a greater range of personal and intellectual choices and include the opening up of debate on key issues of local and national concern.

A major part of this political reform had to do with implementing the concept of collective leadership. The cult of personality cultivated by Mao and those associated with him had made Chinese society subject to the whim of an aging and increasingly irrational revolutionary personality. To counter this style and project an image of political maturity and regularity, Deng declined to assume the party chairmanship. Even Hua Guofeng's demotion from senior leadership positions was done gradually and was cushioned by allowing Hua to retain his membership on the Central Committee. Overall, Deng's objective was to invert the practice of having power vested more in individuals than in institutions and to modify a decision-making process that operated by fiat, without regular procedures or an adequate information base.

A major step toward institutionalizing collective leadership was taken with the re-establishment of the party Secretariat in 1980. Its formation permitted the emplacement of promising younger leaders to manage and master dayto -day party affairs. Having supervisory authority over the various Central Committee departments, the Secretariat could provide the Political Bureau and its presiding Standing Committee with additional expertise in making decisions. By 1987 the Secretariat included eleven members, six of whom also served on the Political Bureau. The broad experience of its membership covered all major substantive areas, including party, government, and military affairs, agriculture, the national economy and planning, culture and propaganda, and industry and trade. In addition to drafting the major policy resolutions for Political Bureau deliberation and then supervising the implementation of party policy, the Secretariat used its expertise and organizational standing to exert pressure on the cumbersome Chinese bureaucracy to achieve the desired results.

The 1982 Party Constitution abolished the post of party chairman and expanded the base of political authority to include the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, party general secretary, chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, first secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and chairman of the Central Advisory Commission. The premier also served on the Standing Committee, which thus included in its policy-making ranks representatives of the three major institutions--party, government, and military.

Another measure that promoted a more balanced distribution of power was the strengthening of senior governmental bodies. As premier, Zhao Ziyang presided over the State Council, a body crucial to the implementation of economic reform measures and, like the party Secretariat, supported by an abundance of research institutions to aid in decision making. By 1987 the State Council, the chief administrative organization of government and clearinghouse for government actions, was composed of twenty-two members, including Premier Zhao and five vice premiers who also served on the Political Bureau. Its Standing Committee of seventeen included senior members with long and recognized experience in all aspects of government. The State Council directed the work of the various government ministries, commissions, and agencies and verified that relevant party policies were being implemented.

The process of easing out unwanted leaders was institutionalized at the Twelfth National Party Congress in September 1982. Deng Xiaoping developed and headed the new central body, the party's Central Advisory Commission. Qualified members with at least forty years of party service were honored by being named to this body as consultants to the party and the government. This institutional innovation was intended to remove the superannuated veterans from real power positions while allowing them to remain at least at the fringes of power.

Besides providing for the graceful retirement of old revolutionary heroes and elderly leaders, at the Twelfth National Party Congress the reform leadership successfully consolidated its control of the party. Sixty percent of the members and alternate members on the newly elected Central Committee were newcomers and probable supporters of the reform program. Most of those elected had professional and technical qualifications, fulfilling another reform goal of infusing the bureaucracy with competent and talented officials.

A Successor Generation

An even more remarkable shift in the composition of party leadership occurred at the National Conference of Party Delegates in September 1985. Over 100 senior party leaders submitted their resignations, including 10 members of the Political Bureau and 64 members of the Central Committee. The officials reportedly gave their reason for retiring as a desire to make way for younger and better-educated leaders who were more equipped to lead China and guide the reform program. In fact, these retiring leaders were a mixed group, some of whom lacked the vigor and skills necessary to handle the complexities of reform, while others had reservations concerning the direction and pace of the reform program. Some even may have believed that it was best to turn over responsibilities to a younger leadership. In spite of this trend, Deng, who was himself eighty-two years old, and several other senior leaders continued in office. Officially, he maintained that his requests to retire had all been turned down. In fact, the progress of the reform program was heavily dependent on Deng's continued central role.

Hu Yaobang's demotion in 1987 also raised questions about the quality of the selection process for top positions and even about the stability of the reforming Chinese political system. Hu had been viewed as Deng's successor as party leader, but he came under attack from within the Political Bureau for what was described as indirectly encouraging questioning of the communist system, for pushing the economic reforms beyond their intended limits, and for speaking out abruptly in international circles. Although Deng reportedly apprised Hu of his errors, Hu was said to have failed to change and thus was demoted in accordance with party disciplinary rules. Obvious attempts were made to ease the general shock of Hu's demotion, including allowing him to retain his seat on the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and having him shown in the press in attendance at key meetings. It seemed likely that Hu would be demoted further, at the Thirteenth National Party Congress scheduled for October 1987. This would correspond to the treatment a few years before of Hua Guofeng and preserve the appearance that the party was handling leadership affairs rationally, in clear contrast to the era of Maoist purges.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress