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China Party Proteges Float Plan for Reform

Neoconservative 'crown princes' urge break with old-guard style and dangerous market reforms

By Ann Scott TysonStaff Writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 11, 1992



HONG KONG

CONFRONTING the fall of communism, a group of Chinese neoconservatives linked to the son of one of China's most powerful leaders has urged the Communist Party to abandon revolutionary Marxism or "be destroyed by its own hand."

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The warning comes in a bold political treatise entitled "China's Realistic Responses and Strategic Choices Following the Soviet Coup." The Sept. 9 internal essay has recently drawn the attention of China's top leaders, including party chief Jiang Zemin.

The treatise urges a total break with the party's revolutionary style of rule and "ossified" ideology, which, it asserts, has lost the power to inspire the Chinese people.

The circulation of such unorthodox advice at the Communist Party's highest echelon suggests that Beijing's creed of "Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought" is likely to undergo a major change once the party's old guard yields power to younger prots. It also indicates that an ongoing succession struggle is fueling sharp ideological strife in party ranks.

"We must realistically acknowledge that, at least among a considerable portion of the masses, the force of appeal of past ideology is already very low," the treatise states. Attempts to indoctrinate Chinese with "outdated" ideas "more often than not gives rise to a defiant mentality."

Only by urgently exploiting new sources of legitimacy can the party stem the tide of "radical" demands for capitalism and democracy, which, if realized, would lead to the "total collapse of the nation and society."

The party's solution, according to "Realistic Responses," is to embrace "new conservatism." A pragmatic mix of nationalism, Confucianism, and Western rationalist philosophy, the theory advocates gradual reform suited to China's backward conditions.

The essay, printed in a New York-based Chinese language magazine, is the most systematic summary to emerge so far of the thinking of China's self-proclaimed neoconservatives. The influence of the young and middle-aged thinkers has grown dramatically since the June 4, 1989, massacre of protesters in Beijing. The crackdown suppressed two main rival schools: the liberals, led by scholars like Yan Jiaqi, and the new authoritarians, who backed rapid free-market reform under the direction of then-party chief Z hao Ziyang.

Neoconservatives are linked to the son of Chen Yun, China's most powerful conservative veteran, and a nemesis of senior leader Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Chen's son, central banker Chen Yuan, is one of a dozen "crown princes," or offspring of elder leaders, being considered for promotion at the party's 14th Congress late this year.

Several of the younger Mr. Chen's ideas, particularly his concern over growing regionalism and the erosion of central government controls, are reflected, sometimes verbatim, in "Realistic Responses."

In the context of today's factional infighting, the proposals of neoconservatives appear aimed at rejuvenating the party's conservative wing with fresh ideas and strategies to oppose what they view as a new, dangerous advance by Mr. Deng's reformers.

The authors of "Realistic Responses" harshly criticize the concepts of political and economic reform that prevailed during China's spring 1989 democracy movement as "utopian" and "absurd." In a poor, overpopulated country like China, rapid attempts at privatization and other systemic free-market reforms will fail, leading only to unfulfilled expectations, social chaos, and political turmoil, they say.

To regain control over the pace and direction of reform, the neoconservatives propose granting the central party apparatus sweeping yet vaguely defined new powers to manage state-owned property.

"The party must not only control the barrel of the gun, but also economic property," the authors state.

Criticizing the delegation of economic powers to local governments, or economic "fiefdoms," over a decade of market reforms, the writers propose that Beijing create "the new centralism of a modern economy." Chen Yuan advocated the same concept in a March 1991 article in the official journal Economic Research.

Echoing Chen's proposals, the authors call for redefining economic interests to give central party authorities a firm grip over strategic sectors and macroeconomic planning, while the market operates around the framework of state controls.

Politically, the treatise advocates upholding the conservative party line of "stability above all," and strengthening the police and courts to crush social upheaval.

Yet while condoning harsh repression of political activism, the neoconservatives seek to allow greater freedom of thought. Intellectuals should be given more space for theoretical research and the party must maintain a degree of ideological flexibility, they maintain.

Indeed, it is in the sphere of ideology that the authors of "Realistic Responses" make their boldest recommendations.

The group blankly warns the party to renounce the destructive Maoist tactics of "class struggle" and "mass movements" and make the long-delayed transformation from "a revolutionary party to a ruling party."

By clinging to a rigid ideology, especially after the collapse of Soviet communism has cast doubt on its legitimacy, the party will only "lose the support of the common masses," they argue.