The Chinese Communist Party has just completed a kind of peaceful revolution that has important consequences for China's billion people and for the global community.
The Deng Xiaoping line of single-minded emphasis on the economic modernization of China has triumphed over conservative forces that would have tried to keep the country in an ideological straitjacket.
The party greets its 60th anniversary today with a new chairman, Hu Yaobang, who is a friend and protege of Mr. Deng, and with a 138,000-word resolution that severely criticizes the party's most celebrated leader, Mao Tse-tung.
Mao's anointed successor as party chairman, Hua Guofeng, has not been violently purged but peacefully demoted to the most junior of the party's six vice- chairmanships. Mr. Deng, his allies, and followers now occupy all the most important party and government posts. Mr. Deng himself has taken over the key chairmanship of the party's military commission, which controls China's armed forces.
The "four modernizations" -- agriculture, industry, defense, and science and techonology -- espoused by the Dengists require a long period of peace for their achievement. They also require an innovative approach -- not dogma but "seeking truth from facts."
They will not succeed without the active and enthusiastic participation of scientists, technicians, and millions of ordinary workers. Deng and his associates -- the venerable economist, Chen Yun; the activist prime minister, Zhao Ziyang; and the sparkling, bantamweight new party chairman, Mr. Hu -- have been tackling the job for several years.
But within and without China, the question most frequently raised was: How long will the new policies last? what guarantee is there that there will not be a return to the chaos of the so-called Cultural Revolution precipitated by Chairman Mao in 1966?"
In a way, everything Mr. Deng has done since achieving near-predominant power in December 1978 has been designed to answer this question. Politburo members known to be hostile to Deng's approach were gradually forced out. Rehabilitation of leaders who gave priority to economic modernization in the past -- notably former chief of state Liu Shaoqi -- took place. The "gang of four" headed by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, were tried and convicted to show that the excesses of the Cultural Revolution would never be repeated.
But Hua Guofeng, whom Mao designated with the words, "With you in charge, I am at ease," remained party chairman. And the knotty question of how to evaluate Mao himself, his merits and his mistakes remained unanswered.
The sixth Central Committee plenum, which was to address itself to both questions, was postponed time and again while Mr. Deng and his friends sought to win a consensus for the principle of peaceful change and for an evaluation of Mao that would acknowledge the leader's revolutionary merits without glossing over his egregious errors.
For a long time Mr. Hua himself refused to cooperate. After making a self-criticism and agreeing to step down at the end of last year, Mr. Hua apparently had second thoughts and dug in his heels, refusing, for instance, to make a symbolic appearance at the traditional New Year tea party.Hu Yaobang, then still general secretary of the party, was forced to substitute at the last minute, after all the guests had already arrived.
Elements within the armed forces, traditionally loyal to Mao, are said to have supported Mr. Hua.
But in the end Mr. Hua gave way, as did apparently one of his most influential supporters, the octogenarian Marshal Ye Jianying. Marshal Ye, who retains his vice-chairmanship of the party, attended the sixth plenum and acquiesced in it s conclusions.