By honoring once shamed leader, China proves it can admit mistakes

A solemn memorial ceremony honoring former President Liu Shaochi is expected to be held in the Great Hall of the People April 15. According to reliable Chinese sources, this public endorsement of the late President's rehabilitation (first pronounced by the Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee in February) will have two important meanings:

First, it will show the public and the world that the Chinese Communist Party is capable of acknowledging and correcting its own mistakes -- even when, as in this instance, the chief perpetrator of the mistake was Mao Tse- tung, the founder of the republic.

Second, it will assure the Chinese people that the policy of the present leadership, headed by Deputy Premier and Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping, is irreversible.

That policy is to modernize agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense (the four modernizations). It also calls for achieving a gross national product of about $1,000 per person by the year 2000.

To bring this about, economic incentives such as bonuses, free markets, small individual plots of land, and greater autonomy for individual enterprises are to be liberally applied.

For some 10 years, beginning with the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and continuing through the rule of the "gang of four," these incentives to build China's economic strength were excoriated as "capital-roadism" and identified with their chief promoter during the early 1960s, Mr. Liu.

Many victims of the Cultural Revolution have since been rehabilitated. But so long as Mr. Liu's name was not cleared, many Chinese felt uneasy that some day the same criticism and persecution visited on Mr. Liu might one day be showered on his successors.

For much of the past month, therefore, a series of articles justifying Mr. Liu's life and career -- and refuting the accusations now said to have been falsely leveled against the late President -- have been appearing in the Chinese press.

On a gray Friday, April 4, in Tian An Men Square, queues of schoolchildren and others formed at the revolutionary hero's monument to pay homage.One wreath laid at the base -- all white, with a single red rose at the top -- was inscribed to Liu Shaochi from the pupils of Peking's middle school No. 214. Ironically, some of these children's elder brothers and sisters may have been among those who shouted and jeered Mr. Liu in frenzied public condemnation meetings a dozen years ago.

Chinese sources say that in redressing the wrong done to Mr. Lui they will not again make the mistake of considering one man totally right or wrong. "People did not judge the truth by practice, but by authority," one Chinese said , referring to the Cultural Revolution. "That must never happen again."

Chairman Mao himself is now acknowledged to have made mistakes, as well as tremendous contributions. As one Chinese put it: "We cannot ignore his mistakes simply because of his contributions -- and vice versa." The same logic now is applied to Mr. Liu.

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