The tensions behind the Peking Congress

For some time now, china's top-ranking leaders have been divided on a number of crucial political issues which involve not only a conflict over ideology, but , more important, a struggle for power in the upper echelon.

A large number of party officials victimized by the Cultural Revolution have returned to power in recent years and today constitute the nucleus of China's ruling group. the decisions to reinstate these veteran officials, who were once reviled as "capitalist roaders" and "freaks and monsters," have not been taken without serious leadership dispute and political fallout.

Take the case of Deng Xiaoping, who was purged a second time in April 1976 at Mao's behest. when Deng's followers and allies sought his reinstatement in the wake of the "gang of four's" downfall, the demand was cold-shouldered by party chairman Hua Guofeng, who contended that Deng's restoration would tarnish Mao's memory.

Hua and other Maoist leaders in the Politburo coined a slogan, "whatever policy decided by Chairman Mao, we shall resolutely defend; whatever instruction issued by Chairman Mao, we shall steadfastly obey," and publicized it in a major editorial in February 1977 and other subsequent policy documents.

In a political compromise worked out later on, Deng was reinstated but had to submit a letter pledging his personal support to Chairman Hua and confessing his earlier political errors. a proud man, Deng never forgets nor forgives those who have subjected him to humiliation. soon after he consolidated his power, he began a drive against his former tomentors and engineered the ouster from the Politburo of four hard-core leaders of the "whatever faction".

Closely linked to the rehabilitation of the Cultural Revolution victims is the issue of Mao's authority and his legacy. To vindicate themselves politically and to justify current revisionist economic policies, many Chinese powerholders have to repudiate Mao's policies and actions.

On the other hand, a large number of party and military leaders are opposed to the de- Maoization. some military leaders, such as Xu Shiyou, though they support Deng on other issues, are personally loyal to Mao and have strong reservations about scarring the memory of the late chairman, who was their commander and was very much like a father to them.

Other leaders, like Marshal Ye Jianying, fear that a total negation of Mao's authority and legacy could confuse and antogonize a significant segment of the Chinese population.

A related issue is China's economy. In February 1978 Premier Hua presented to the fifth National People's Congress (NPC) a 10- year (1976-'85) development plan to carry out the program of "four modernizations." But just ten months later, specific targets of the program had to be abandoned because most of them were unrealistic.

Those leaders who were responsible for the program, notably Hua, Li Xiannian, and Yu Quili, received much criticism at a prolonged party meeting, and Chen Yun , a main architect of China's economic success during the 1950s until he was sidelined by Mao, was resurrected and given responsibility for China's economic policy.

Amid leadership dissension, the Chinese authorities embarked on a three-year (1979- 81) readjustment program. Allocations were shifted from heavy industry to agriculture and light industry, and domestic construction programs as well as planned purchases abroad were cut back.

However, the readjustment has so far failed to make the headway desired by the Chinese leadership, and Peking has already indicated that it will take more than three years to complete. Among other factors, the new economic policy has run into political opposition led, at one stage, by the Maoist "whatever faction."

Some leaders have resisted the new economic course on different grounds. They are called the "petroleum faction" in Peking as they have been closely associated with China's petroleum industry. These leaders have controlled China's most important foreign exchange-earning resources and have wielded enormous power in planning economic policy. They apparently resent the changes which cut into their sphere of influence, and have stone- walled against the readjustment program.

In short, one overriding theme of Chinese politics in recent years has been the continuous conflict that exists beneath a facade of leadership unity. since Deng returned to the political scene in the summer of 1977, he has skillfully chipped away at Mao's authority to undercut Hua's source of power. Moreover, through his extensive personal ties with the powerholders in the military and in the provinces, Deng has staged political guerrilla warfare against Hua, removing Hua's supporters from positions of influence and elevating his own followers and allies.

Thus, since December 1978, a coalition headed by Deng has been calling the shots. Most of the members of the coalition ar Cultural Revolution victims and are understandably hostile to the Maoist legacy and its defenders.

In the upcoming NPC meeting, Deng will seek to replace many of the "old guard" with his own followers.

A strong-willed and impulsive politician, Dend tends to twist political arms too hard, and he unnecessarily offends others. Despite his criticism of Mao, Deng has displayed the same tendency as Mao to act hastily and arbitrarily, and he has become too powerful. Hence, other factions will unite to stop him. a major political battle is shaping up.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.