The Purge in China

FOR nearly a year now Communist China has been a land of seemingly incomprehensible convulsions. Towering political figures have been toppled. Eminent scholars have been verbally lashed and sent into obscurity. Bands of teen-age militants called Red Guards have been unleashed against everything smacking of the West or China’s traditional past. In short, the country has been shaken to its political, social, and economic foundations. And the image of China as a monolith, a nation of unquestioningly obedient citizens being led inexorably forward by an omnipotent, unified leadership, has been shattered.

Such developments as the fall of Party Politburo member Peng Chen, or literary don Wu Han, or the rampages of the Red Guards represent momentous changes for China. The purge within the Party has created considerable uncertainty about the makeup of the current Chinese leadership. The banishment of the intelligentsia has left a vacuum in the classroom and has eliminated creative thought from the literary and artistic scene.

The cyclonic sweep of the Red Guards has battered and destroyed many of the remaining vestiges of old China. Yet more significant than all these changes, wrought by what Peking calls its “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” is evidence of the fact that large segments of the Chinese population remain tenaciously bound to their old ways. Therein lies Mao Tse-tung’s principal failure, and the hope for a more reasonable China in the years ahead.

Seventeen years have passed since Mao led his troops triumphantly through the streets of Peking and took up the challenge of 2000 years of Chinese tradition. The struggle between Mao’s new ideology and China’s old habits has been long and frequently bitter. Yet the humanism, pragmatism, and seemingly innate common sense of the Chinese have turned aside attempts to impose Maoism on the country. Years of intense indoctrination and sometimes brutal regimentation have failed to win acceptance for Mao’s code. And for at least ten years, the opposition to his doctrine has grown.

The depth and degree of that opposition have become clear only in the past eight to ten months as the “Cultural Revolution” has spread across China. The number of individuals who have been publicly condemned, and the charges leveled against them, leave little doubt that Mao’s prestige and support have fallen precariously low.

This is true of officials at all levels of Party, government, academic, and military work. Certainly Mao Tse-tung has long been aware of this situation, for it obviously was a crucial factor in his decision last winter to plunge the nation into a frantic political housecleaning.

Resistance to Mao

At the heart of the issue, then, is the stubborn resistance that has built up to Mao’s policies. Much of what has happened in China in recent days centers on the nature and scope of that opposition. Thus it is useful to ask: Who is it that has resisted the spread of Maoism? What is it they have opposed? Can they weather the onslaught of the cultural revolution? And if so, what might that mean for China’s future?

Although Mao and his ardent supporters have never been completely free of critics, it was not until 1958, with the introduction of the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Communes, that serious policy disagreements began to develop within the leadership itself. Mao’s first major political challenge came to a head in the fall of 1959 when, at a meeting of the Party’s Central Committee, then Defense Minister Peng Teh-huai denounced the Great Leap, the communes, and the policy that was rapidly leading China to a break with the Soviet Union. Mao resisted the challenge and won. Peng and his supporters were dismissed from their posts.

In the months that followed, however, Mao was forced to ease up in his attempt to leapfrog China into the mid-twentieth century. With the controls relaxed, the country began to recover from the disastrous effects of the Great Leap attempt. Of all the damage resulting from that period, however, perhaps the most significant was the loss of confidence in Mao’s wisdom, especially among the intelligentsia. As the world was to learn last summer when the cultural revolution began unfolding in earnest, China’s men of letters had used the period of relaxation between 1959 and 1963 to criticize the policies and person of Mao Tse-tung.

In the manner of protest used during the days of imperial rule in China, writers turned to historical allusion in condemning the Maoist line. Dramas with historical settings and veiled anti-Mao themes were staged. Films of the same nature were cranked out. Numerous books were written subtly attacking the extremist nature of Mao’s approach to building a strong nation. Newspapers, such as the Peking Daily and the Peking Evening News (the former has been placed under new management and the latter has ceased publication), carried articles belittling the Great Leap, the communes, the whole sweep of Mao’s policy, and by innuendo, Mao himself.

At colleges and universities throughout the country, professors patiently listened to Party instructions to promote the thought of Mao and turn out students who were both “red” and “expert.” But in their classrooms, they taught as they saw fit. At the same time, historians and philosophers began publicizing interpretations of Marxism-Leninism that, when carried to their logical ends, were antithetical to the doctrine espoused by Mao. Economic specialists, though cautious in their choice of language, began suggesting that material incentives might be useful in spurring production — a direct affront to the Maoist belief that proper political motivation could produce the same result.

Although a tightening of the political screws in China during 1964 and 1965 forced such dissidents into silence, there is no reason to believe they had altered their views. Thus when Mao and his close supporters launched the cultural revolution, it was necessarily directed against the obvious opposition in literary and artistic fields, in journalism and the academic world.

Since early summer, the Party organization, from central to provincial and country levels, has been seriously ruptured. In part, the breakdown in the organizational structure has resulted from the confusion caused by the cultural revolution itself. Yet there are myriad cases cited in the Chinese Communist press of Party officials having opposed Mao’s directives and refused to propagate his thought.

The drums of discord

For a brief period early this year, the Peking Municipal Party Committee resisted, apparently as a unit, the decision to launch a nationwide purge of non-Maoist intellectuals. That a leading Party committee stood firmly against Mao is unique in the history of the Communist regime.

The People’s Liberation Army, under the leadership of Mao’s new heir-apparent, Defense Minister Lin Piao, has played a leading role in the cultural revolution and has been held up for emulation by the rest of the nation. Yet even in that highly exalted body the drums of discord have rolled. The dismissal of Chief of Staff Lo Jui-ching, and presumably his close supporters, indicates that not even the most politically proper organization in China is without its doubters.

Though the specific issues that arouse opposition vary, there is in all the dissension a common factor, the rejection of basic Maoist policies, and the expression of less drastic approaches to the political, social, and economic development of China. Specifically, the writer and artist, proudly aware of China’s glorious cultural tradition, find it difficult to swallow mass-produced art and literature stuffy with political overtones. The academician views long periods devoted to political instruction a waste of the student’s time. The military dissenter shudders when told that a guerrilla army imbued with Mao’s thought can meet the challenge of a modern army in this nuclear age.

Such opposition, however, has been forced for the moment into silence. Those who have been purged are branded and watched. Those who have avoided detection must necessarily move with caution. As long as the political storm over China maintains its strength, dissidents will be exposed and purged. But will that opposition die under the weight of Mao’s cultural revolution? There are numerous reasons for believing that the answer is no.

The purge as it works in China, to begin with, is not an exercise in bloodletting. The men who have been disgraced and sacked from positions of authority often suffer little more than relegation to a life of inactivity, or subjection to a period of manual labor as a means of remolding their thinking. It is easy to force them into silence. Getting them to change their views is a considerably more difficult task.

China has experienced many political campaigns like the current one during its years under Communist rule. And after each, the opposition has reappeared.

Mao’s doctrine tends to breed opposition: the idea that a man with high political motivation can conquer any obstacle, including nature, ignores human nature. And yet ironically, the years of Mao’s rule have produced conspicuous evidence of human nature at work. The Great Leap Forward led the nation to the brink of economic collapse. It was only when the controls were relaxed and the self-interest of the peasants was brought into play that the economic backsliding ceased. Furthermore, although the Chinese people have long been removed from direct capitalistic influences, the nation continues to experience what Mao calls a “spontaneous tendency toward capitalism.”In addition, Mao’s call for the Chinese people to sacrifice their own comforts and pleasures for the sake of creating a strong China for future generations is equally removed from reality. As the country grows economically Stronger, the people are bound to desire some improvement in their own welfare.

A final reason for believing that the cultural revolution cannot eliminate the kind of opposition that has grown in recent years is that a new generation of leaders must soon begin to appear. When Mao leaves the scene, there is no one in the wings with his charismatic qualities. In the process of reaching for power, those who aspire to leadership might well find themselves making political concessions for the sake of their advance.

The “Proletarian Cultural Revolution" has created new leadership openings in the Party hierarchy. But the men who have come forth to fill those vacancies invariably have been of Mao’s generation, of his school of revolutionary hard knocks. They represent, as one China analyst puts it, “simply old wine in new bottles.”The failure of younger men to appear even in the second echelon of leadership suggests that Mao is uncertain where they might eventually lead the nation.

Changes in China

The indications are thus many that China is nearing the end of the era of Mao Tse-tung and on the threshold of change. What will a changed China be? How will its domestic policies differ from those today? What can be expected in its posture toward the rest of the world, and particularly the Soviet Union and the United States? Contrary to the hope of some in the West, it seems unlikely that China will experience a quick shift in position like that which occurred a little more than a year ago in Indonesia. Those who today harbor doubts about the radical approach of Mao Tse-tung do so not from the perspective of Western liberalization but from that of Communist liberalization. Though their views are certainly less radical than Mao’s, they are no more removed from the context of a Communist state.

In the period immediately following Mao’s demise, there seems little doubt the new leadership will govern in the Chairman’s name, if not in his spirit. The changes that come will come gradually as the nation is maneuvered through and around the doctrine of Mao.

Domestically, this might mean more freedom of expression in China’s literature and art. In education, it is likely the emphasis would shift to academic achievement over political purity. As for agriculture and industry, they seem certain to remain in the hands of the state, though the workers and farmers might profit from the recognition that material incentives are useful to production. With all these changes, there would necessarily be an easing of political pressures on the population.

In the area of foreign policy, speculation is considerably more hazardous. There must certainly be those in China today who view the country’s increasing isolation in the world with dismay. But indications of this are scarce. The rare cases appearing in the Chinese press of opposition to Mao’s foreign policy invariably concern Sino-Soviet relations. Such criticism suggests the existence of at least some feeling that China should not cut itself off from the Soviet Union, and specifically Soviet assistance. How this feeling might manifest itself under new leadership remains uncertain.

With the United States, too, there are few indications of how the opposition to Mao’s policies might view the situation. Certainly, there are real and lasting barriers to rapprochement that transcend the general differences between Mao and the dissidents. The question of trade, with both the West and the Communist world, would be an early concern. A move toward more realistic economic development policies at home could rapidly create a need for more markets and sources of raw materials and equipment abroad. Trade, in fact, might offer the United States an easier opportunity for re-establishing contact with China than the currently promoted exchanges of journalists, scholars, scientists, and technicians.

All these projections, of course, represent no more than possibilities at some future date. Yet they do have relevance to what is happening in Communist China today, for they are extensions of the views espoused by Mao’s opponents. The “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” seeks to remove that opposition. But the chances that it will succeed seem slim.