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China's anniversary: festivity and debate. Deng's reforms are under close scrutiny this year

Autumn in Peking means mounds of just-harvested produce in the street markets; delightfully clear and crisp weather; and preparations for the National Day celebrations, which start today. There will be no parade (the rule is: anniversary parades only once every five years) to fete the day Mao Tse-tung declared the founding of the People's Republic of China.

But this year's low-key celebrations of fireworks and banquets suit the occasion, as party leaders wrangle over how to stem the influences of ``bourgeois selfishness'' and corruption that they publicly admit have afflicted the party in the past 12 months.

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The open enthusiasm for senior leader Deng Xiaoping and his reforms that filled the air during last year's parade in Tian An Men Square has given way to open discussion about corruption and other so-called ``unhealthy tendencies.''

The reforms are still remarkably on track, and Mr. Deng's political position seems unassailable, as shown in the success of the recent leadership shuffle. But he is not without opposition.

Last week, two stern speeches by Chen Yun, Deng's colleague on the Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo and one of his leading critics, left no doubt about what was at stake on the political and social side of the reforms: the party's supremacy and the maintenance of social order. His speeches, as well as Deng's own more positive summing-up remarks to the party conference, were reported on the front pages of the People's Daily, the party's national newspaper.

The contrasting language in the speeches' printed versions has sparked differences of interpretation among Chinese and foreign residents here. Is there serious conflict between the two men, both among the last of the ``first echelon'' leaders, who have presided over the party for almost half a century? Or are the two octagenarians in fundamental agreement?

At a National Day reception Monday night (where, in a rare opportunity, a number of the just-promoted young leaders mingled with reporters), Hu Qili said that Mr. Chen's remarks did not indicate a reversal of party policy. Mr. Hu, a new Politburo member who is believed to be slated to succeed Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang (no relation), then compared the party's progress on the reforms with that of a moving car.

``Sometimes you have to steer to the right, sometimes to the left,'' he said, ``but the important thing is that you stick to the course.''

But for some Chinese observers, it is not so easy to regard Chen's remarks -- or those of Deng's other critics as mere fine-tuning of party policy, as Hu suggested.

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As Deng himself told last week's national party conference: ``Some evil things that had long been extinct after liberation [1949] have come to life again.''

The next day, Chen related some disturbing specifics in an address to the party's Discipline Inspection Commission, which he heads.

Among other things, he pointed to some 20,000 companies that had been started in the past year by children of party officials. Many of those companies, he said, were connected with illicit activities ranging from smuggling to prostitution. (This was the first official confirmation that prostitution was on the rise since communist rule began in 1949.)

Chen warned that the party must watch out for the ``penetration of decadent bourgeois ideology and lifestyles'' and that it must use the full force of party and society to oppose ``wrong thoughts'' and punish violators of the law. His remarks must have upset more than a few party members.

One observer inside a party central organ said that the speech was vintage Chen. Even if more distilled than usual, it was consistent with more than three decades of such criticism in which he has played the often unpleasant role of defender of the communist faith and preacher of social and political orthodoxy.

But it is not easy for intellectuals in Peking to dismiss Chen's remarks. For one thing, they don't know how the comments will play in the provinces.

There, thousands of middle-level bureaucrats, who joined the party and took up their jobs during the Cultural Revolution, remember Chen as the brilliant economist who first took up the cause of reform in the 1950s and who speaks out on political issues in a way they find familiar and probably comforting. He is perceived as defending the interests of party members everywhere who value their privileged role in this underprivileged society.

Chen's comments on the economy, especially his profound distrust of market forces and his interest in keeping peasants tied to food production, could inhibit official responsiveness to economic changes now taking place in the countryside and snuff out innovative solutions to a host of rural as well as urban economic problems.

Many people speculate that Deng himself must share Chen's political concerns. But they say that if he expressed them as strongly as Chen did last week, Deng might shake public confidence in the priority he has given to the economy over political matters.

But the question remains whether Deng is merely letting Chen and others have their say while Premier Zhao Ziyang pushes ahead with reform, or if Deng will have to do more to accomodate such concerns than give honorable mention in his public statements to the need to study more Marx.

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