Rejuvenation of party and government caddres at all levels is one of the most pressing tasks confronting China's new Communist Party leadership, headed by Chairman Hu Yaobang.
In the United States and other societies with adequate retirement benefits, "old soldiers" may be content just to "fade away." In China, loss of position may mean not only loss of power and status but the giving up of car and telephone and the access to official documents.
But the introduction of some new faces into the rigid cadre structure of party, government, industry, and commerce is essential if Mr. Hu is to realize his goal of economic modernization. This is a goal shared by Premier Zhao Ziyang, as well as their mentor, Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping, and others in the national leadership.
"It is now a pressing strategic task facing the whole party to build up a large contingent of revolutionary, well-educated, professionally competent, and younger cadres," said Mr. Hu in his July 1 speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Mr. Hu, who is barely five feet tall but strong and wiry, is considered a tough administrator. Less autocratic and more consensus-seeking than Mr. Deng, he is nonetheless determined to rid the party of its deadwood and thus to rejuvenate national and local leadership.
A recent front-page commentary in the official People's Daily laid out the dimensions of the problem. China has 20 million cadres, that is, people qualified to play some leadership role at the various echelons of party, government, and enterprises.
Sixty percent of these are young or middle- aged, which means that 40 percent are what in Western societies would be considered senior citizens. Some 4 to 5 million are people who have been educated since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949. These people -- trained in the 1950s and early 1960s -- that is, before the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) devoured China , are the ones who most need to be promoted now. Yet, says the June 26 commentary, government statistics show that in enterprises directly under the control of the State Council (i.e., the Cabinet), on the average only one member of the leadership is middle-aged or younger.
When it comes to leadership groups at party headquarters, state organs, provinces and cities, the proportion is even smaller. "Once a young or middle-aged cadre who everyone recognizes to be very good is proposed to join the leadership group," the commentary says, "all kinds of nit- picking censures and reproaches come pouring in."
Meanwhile veteran cadres cling to the posts. Some of them are senile, chronically ill, or otherwise unable to work a normal eight-hour day. To retire from the front line to the second or third line, there to play the role of honored counselor, should be considered a "glorious revolutionary endeavor," the commentary says.
And cadres who succeed their elders should treat them with respect, so that they have no worries about medical treatment, housing, use of cars, or the right to peruse documents, the commentary says.
A play entitled "A Heavy Duty" now running here takes a sympathetic look at cadres who suffered for the communist cause during the revolutionary wars, who should today give way to younger, better-trained engineers or management specialists, but who fear that once they surrender their posts they will lose evertyhing.
In one scene, a cadre is forced out, and almost immediately workers come to his house to take away his telephone. The process has to begin with the Communist Party itself, the focus of power at every level from central government ministries to the humblest enterprises. But the resistance is enormours. Though Mr. Hu and his associates recognize the dangers of delay, they are going to have to expound and persuade, threaten and cajole with every ounce of their energies in order to pry open the doors of promotion for the generation of the 1950s and '60s.