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History of the People's Republic of China (2/4)

From Academic Kids

History of China
series
The Three August Ones and the Five Emperors
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Spring and Autumn Period
Warring States Period
Qin Dynasty
Western Han Dynasty
Xin Dynasty
Eastern Han Dynasty
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Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period
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Ming Dynasty
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Republic of China
People's Republic of China (1, 2, 3, 4)
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Contents

The rise of Deng Xiaoping

Mao's death in September 1976 removed the "great helmsman" from the scene. Former minister of public security Hua Guofeng was quickly confirmed as party chairman (he had succeeded Zhou as Premier upon his death). A month after Mao's death, Hua, backed by the People's Liberation Army, arrested Jiang Qing and other members of the "Gang of Four". After extensive deliberations, the Communist Party of China leadership reinstated Deng Xiaoping to all of his previous posts at the 11th Party Congress in August 1977. Deng then led the effort to place government control in the hands of veteran party officials opposed to the radical excesses of the previous two decades.

By carefully mobilizing his supporters within the Communist Party of China, Deng was able to outmaneuver Mao's named successor Hua Guofeng – who had previously pardoned him – and oust him from his leadership positions. In contrast to previous leadership changes, Deng allowed Hua to quietly retire; helping set a precedent that losing a high-level leadership struggle would not result in physical harm. As Deng Xiaoping gradually regained control over the CPC, Hua was replaced by Zhao Ziyang as Premier in 1980, and by Hu Yaobang as party chairman in 1981. Until the mid-1990s, Deng was the most influential Chinese leader, although his sole official title was that of chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission.

While reforming and opening up the economy, Deng attempted to strengthen the power of the Communist Party by regularization of procedure; however, he was widely regarded as having undermined his own intentions by acting contrary to party procedure. Originally, the president was conceived of as a "figurehead" head of state, with actual state power resting in the hands of the Premier of the People's Republic of China and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, who were meant to be two separate people. In the original plan, the Party would develop policy, and the state would execute it. That way, power would be divided, thus preventing a cult of personality from forming as it did in the case of Mao Zedong.

After 1979, the Chinese leadership moved toward more pragmatic policies in almost all fields. The party encouraged artists, writers and journalists to adopt more critical approaches, although open attacks on party authority were not permitted. In late 1980, Mao's Cultural Revolution was officially proclaimed a catastrophe.

Deng Xiaoping (right) with his mentor and comrade Zhou Enlai (left)
Enlarge
Deng Xiaoping (right) with his mentor and comrade Zhou Enlai (left)

Reform and opening up

Relations with the West improved markedly. In February 1972 American president Richard M. Nixon made an unprecedented eight-day visit to the People's Republic of China and met with Mao Zedong. Then on February 22, 1973, the United States and the PRC agreed to establish liaison offices. Although both sides intended to establish diplomatic relations quickly, this move was delayed until 1979 due to the Watergate scandal.

Deng traveled abroad and had a series of amicable meetings with western leaders, traveling to the United States in 1979 to meet President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Carter finally recognized the People's Republic, which had replaced the Taiwan-based Republic of China as the sole Chinese government recognized by the UN Security Council in 1971. One of Deng's achievements was the agreement signed by the United Kingdom and the PRC on December 19, 1984 under which Hong Kong was to be transferred to the PRC in 1997. With the end of the 99-year lease on the New Territories expiring, Deng agreed that the PRC would not interfere with Hong Kong's capitalist system and would allow the locals a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years. This "one country, two systems" approach has been touted by the PRC government as a potential framework within which Taiwan could be reunited with the mainland. Deng, however, did not improve relations with the Soviet Union. He continued to adhere to the Maoist line of the Sino-Soviet Split era, which stated that the Soviet Union was a superpower equally as "hegemonist" as the United States, yet even more threatening to the PRC because of its closer proximity.

"Socialism with Chinese Characteristics"

The new, pragmatic leadership emphasized economic development and renounced mass political movements. At the pivotal December 1978 Third Plenum (of the 11th Party Congress Central Committee), the leadership adopted economic reform policies known as the Four Modernizations. These tenets aimed at expanding rural income and incentives, encouraging experiments in enterprise autonomy, reducing central planning, and establishing direct foreign investment in Mainland China. The Plenum also decided to accelerate the pace of legal reform, culminating in the passage of several new legal codes by the National People's Congress in June 1979.

The goals of Deng's reforms were summed up by the Four Modernizations, the modernization of agriculture, industry, science and technology, and the military. The strategy for achieving these aims, all of which were designed to help China become a modern, industrial nation, was "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

Deng argued that Mainland China was in the primary stage of socialism and that the duty of the party was to perfect "socialism with Chinese characteristics." This interpretation of Chinese Marxism reduced the role of ideology in economic decision-making and emphasized policies that had been proven to be empirically effective, stressing the need to "seek truth from facts". Disparaging Mao's idealistic, communitarian values but not necessarily the values of Marx and Lenin, Deng emphasized that socialism did not mean shared poverty. Unlike Hua Guofeng, Deng believed that no policy should be rejected out of hand simply because it had not been associated with Mao. Unlike more conservative leaders such as Chen Yun, Deng did not object to policies on the grounds that they were similar to those found in capitalist nations.

Although Deng provided the theoretical background and the political support to allow economic reform to occur, few of the economic reforms that Deng introduced were originated by Deng himself. Local leaders, often in violation of central government directives introduced many reforms. If successful and promising, these reforms would be adopted by larger and larger areas, and ultimately introduced nationally. Many other reforms were influenced by the experiences of the East Asian Tigers.

This is in sharp contrast to the economic restructuring, or perestroika, undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev, in which Gorbachev himself originated most of the major reforms. Many economists have argued that the bottom-up approach of Deng's reforms, in contrast to the top-down approach of Perestroika, was a key factor in his success.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Deng's reforms included introduction of planned, centralized management of the macro-economy by technically proficient bureaucrats, abandoning Mao's mass campaign style of economic construction. However, unlike the Soviet model or China under Mao, this management was indirect, through market mechanisms, and much of it was modeled after economic planning and control mechanisms in Western nations.

This trend did not impede the general move toward the market at the microeconomic level. Deng sustained Mao's legacy to the extent that he stressed the primacy of agricultural output and encouraged a significant decentralization of decision-making in the rural economy teams and individual peasant households. At the local level, material incentives rather than political appeals were to be used to motivate the labor force, including allowing peasants to earn extra income by selling the produce of their private plots on the free market. In the main move toward market allocation, local municipalities and provinces were allowed to invest in industries that they considered most profitable, which encouraged investment in light manufacturing. Thus, Deng's reforms shifted China's development strategy to emphasize light industry and export-led growth.

Light industrial output was vital for a developing country that was working with relatively little capital. With its short gestation period, low capital requirements, and high foreign exchange export earnings, the revenues that the light-manufacturing sector generated could be reinvested in more technologically advanced production and further capital expenditures and investments. However, these investments were not government-mandated, in sharp contrast to the similar but much less successful reforms in Yugoslavia and Hungary. The capital invested in heavy industry largely came from the banking system, and most of that capital came from consumer deposits. One of the first items of the Deng reforms was to prevent reallocation of profits except through taxation or through the banking system; hence, the reallocation in more "advanced" industries was somewhat indirect. In short, Deng's reforms sparked an industrial revolution in China.

These reforms were a reversal of the Mao policy of economic self-reliance. The PRC decided to accelerate the modernization process by stepping up the volume of foreign trade, especially the purchase of machinery from Japan and the West. By participating in such export-led growth, the PRC was able to step up the Four Modernizations by taking advantage of foreign funds, markets, advanced technologies, and management experience. Deng also attracted foreign companies to a series of Special Economic Zones, where capitalist business practices were encouraged.

Another important focus of the reforms was the need to improve labor productivity. New material incentives and bonus systems were introduced. Rural markets selling peasants' homegrown products and the surplus products of communes were revived. Not only did rural markets increase agricultural output, they stimulated industrial development as well. With peasants able to sell surplus agricultural yields on the open market, domestic consumption stimulated industrialization, and also created political support for more difficult economic reforms.

Deng's market socialism, especially in its early stages, was in some ways parallel to Lenin's New Economic Policy and Bukharin's economic policies, in that they all foresaw a role for private entrepreneurs and markets based on trade and pricing rather than government mandates of production. An interesting anecdotal episode on this note is the first meeting between Deng and Armand Hammer. Deng pressed the industrialist and former investor in Lenin's Soviet Union for as much information on the NEP as possible.

Tian'anmen Square Pro-Democratic Movement

At the same time, political dissent as well as social problems (such as inflation, urban migration, and prostitution) emerged. Although students and intellectuals urged greater reforms, some party elders increasingly questioned the pace and the ultimate goals of the reform program. In December 1986, student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, staged protests against the slow pace of reform, confirming party elders' fears that the current reform program was leading to the kind of social instability that killed hundreds of millions between the years of the Opium War and the founding of the PRC. Hu Yaobang, a protégé of Deng and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for the protests and forced to resign as CPC General Secretary in January 1987. Premier Zhao Ziyang was made General Secretary and Li Peng, former Vice Premier and Minister of Electric Power and Water Conservancy, was made Premier.

After Zhao became the party General Secretary, the economic and political reforms he had championed came increasingly under attack. His proposal in May 1988 to accelerate price reform led to widespread popular complaints about rampant inflation and gave opponents of rapid reform the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influence. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988–1989.

The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for a large-scale protest movement by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. University students and other citizens in Beijing camped out at Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu's death and to protest against those who would slow reform. Their protests, which grew despite government efforts to contain them, called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Protests also spread through many other cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu.
Missing image
Tianasquare.jpg
The "Unknown Rebel", a famous picture taken by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener, shows a single man who blocked a row of advancing tanks for over half an hour during the student protests of 1989.

Deng's subsequent actions caused the presidency to have much greater power than originally intended. In 1989, President Yang Shangkun was able, in cooperation with the then-head of the Central Military Commission Deng Xiaoping, to use the office of the President to declare martial law in Beijing and order the military crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This was in direct opposition to the wishes of the Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and probably a majority of the Politburo Standing Committee.

Martial law was declared on May 20, 1989. Late on June 3 and early on the morning of June 4, military units were brought into Beijing. Armed force was used to clear demonstrators from the streets. There are no official estimates of deaths in Beijing, but most observers believe that casualties numbered in the hundreds.

After June 4, while foreign governments criticized the suppression of the rebellion, the central government reined in remaining sources of dissent that were a threat to order and stability, detained large numbers of protesters, and required political re-education not only for students but also for insubordinate party cadre and government officials. Zhao Ziyang was placed under house arrest until his death on January 17, 2005.

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