An Introduction to Dealing with China
Roderick MacFarquhar is Chair of the government department and Leroy
B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science at Harvard University.
In previous personae, he has been a journalist, a TV commentator, and
a Member of Parliament. He recently completed the third volume of his
trilogy, and is working on a book on the Cultural Revolution.
- The key to dealing with China is to know the details.
- Before we deal with China, we have to know what China is.
- China is two things:
- China is a great, highly populous country with a great and ancient civilization, possessing the longest, continuous political history anywhere on the globe.
- The other China is the People's Republic of China.
Elements of the Chinese Political System
- China's long-running political system lasted from about 200 B.C. until the beginning of the twentieth century.
- However, elements of that political system have lasted even into the present day.
- Four major elements enabled the Confucian system to last so long:
- Emperor: absolute leader whose word was law
- Confucian Mandarins: a cadre of officials chosen by a rigid examination
system based on Confucian classics; enforced allegiance and advised
- Civil service system: the first meritocratic system in the world; entrance required passing examinations that tested knowledge in Confucian classics
- Military: supported the regime; protected Chinese from marauding nomads
History of the Chinese Political System
- The Confucian system claimed to be a total, all-encompassing doctrine.
Thus, the system did not merely seek the obedience of its citizens through
the civil power, it also claimed to lay down the principles of social
and family life.
- Confucius was the first philosopher to espouse the belief that the basis of a strong, stable state was a stable family system.
- This state system claimed to have the right to dictate not only how the state should be run, but how families should be run, and how the whole society and state should fit together.
History of the Chinese Political System, continued
- It was only under the impact of the West, in the nineteenth century, that this system began to fall apart.
- Following the humiliating defeat of China by the Japanese in the war of 1894 -1895, reformers began seeking alternatives to China's ancient system of government.
- While the Chinese conservatives said, "We cannot abandon the system of our ancestors," the Chinese reformers stated, "What use is the system of our ancestors, if we cannot protect the land of our ancestors?"
History of the Chinese Political System, continued
- After the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and the flight of the imperial court from Beijing, the Dowager Empress (Tzu Hsi) gave way to reforms, leading to the abandonment of the Confucian system.
- Confucianism was abolished as the basis for the civil-service exam system, thus ending the mandarinage system.
- Following the death of the Dowager Empress, the generals engineered the end of the imperial state, leaving the military as the sole power in the state.
- In 1949, although China was reunited as a strong government, elements of the ancient Confucian system could not be totally discarded.
The Chinese Communist System
- Like Confucianism, the Communists had a totalist doctrine, not only claiming to understand the past, predict the future and order the lives of its citizens, but also claiming to know how citizens should regulate their private lives.
- Through their use of modern means of communication and organization, the Communist government was the first government in Chinese history which made itself felt through the entire land.
The Chinese Communist System, continued
- The crucial difference between the communist system and the imperial
system was that the Confucian system was a status quo system, looking
back to a mythical golden age, while the essence of the communist system
was change and movement.
- The Communists were different from their predecessors: they had decided
that they were going to found a new civilization, based on Marxism and
- At the very beginning of the new Chinese communist state, society
was pummeled into new forms of ownership of land, property, industry
and commerce. Initially, it seemed that this system worked brilliantly.
The Chinese Communist System, continued
- Mao was impatient. He wanted China to overtake the Soviet Union and the United States in a few years.
- In the late 1950s, Mao implemented the"Great Leap Forward," leading to the disastrous famine of the early 1960s when 30 to 40 million people died.
- This famine shook the faith of many of Mao's colleagues in the socialist system.
- In order to "stiffen the backs" of his doubting colleagues, Mao launched the second massive disaster of the Chinese communist period, "The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution."
- In an attempt to make his party more revolutionary and foster ideas of continual socialization of production, Mao unleashed the Red Guards, encouraging them to humiliate, denounce and even kill the "high and mighty" of the land.
The Chinese Communist System After Mao
- Following the death of Mao, Deng Xiaoping realized that China could not continue in this manner, and radically reformed Chinese policy.
- Thus, due to Deng Xiaoping's reforms, the Communist Party ceased to appeal to Marxism and Leninism as a means to lead the people.
- In today's party, Jiang Zemin, who is the General Secretary, possesses
less power than Deng and Mao did in the Chinese political system.
- Where is China today?
- Although we are impressed by the massive economic development unleashed by Deng Xiaoping, China and the Communist party are in a fragile state.
- Despite its economic progress, China is in a difficult economic situation.
- Most of China's industry which was created under the old Stalinist system, is a drag on the economy.
- Chinese banks are not solvent, due to non-performing loans to the state industries.
China Today, continued
- In the 1980s and 1990s, China suffered from continuing massive official corruption, infuriating its citizens.
- Party members,, having suffered so badly during the Cultural Revolution,
have used their power to enrich themselves.
- In the 1950s and 1960s, the motto of Chairman Mao was "Serve
the people." The motto of the party of the 1980s and 1990s was
"To get rich is glorious."
China Today, continued
- If China is going to be a modern society, the country needs to "open up,"
and allow for more modern means of communication.
- However, this is a great problem for the regime, because it has to try to control what ideas enter the country without slowing development.
- Faith in the Communist Party no longer exists. In the absence of an overarching political doctrine, people look elsewhere for spiritual comfort.
- Today there is an enormous growth of Christianity, Taoism, local religions, and Falun Gong.
- The ability of the Communist Party has been so undermined that on
April 25, 1999, 10,000 members of Falun Gong were able to surround the main headquarters
of the Chinese government and surprise the Chinese
U.S. Principles in Dealing with China
- What are our principles when dealing with China?
- China is a proud nation, which, over the course of the last two centuries, has lost a lot of its self-confidence.
- The "Century of Humiliation," as the Communists call it, is still uppermost in many Chinese minds.
- This sense of grievance means that the Chinese government is committed to Chinese sovereignty and security. They do not want to allow foreign powers to impinge upon Chinese soil.
- This poses a problem, as the Chinese government wants foreign investment in China without sacrificing any Chinese sovereignty.
U.S. Principles in Dealing with China, continued
- China desires the respect of outsiders, particularly the respect of the United
- Because of the economic dynamism of China, it needs the United States more than the United States needs China. If denied the United States market, China's economy is in grave danger of collapse.
- On the one hand, this is a proud country; on the other hand, it is
a country that is fragile domestically. The Communist Party has lost its authority,
and the economy needs the investment of the outside world.
U.S. Principles in Dealing with China, continued
- What should the United States consider in dealing with China and its problems?
- Paraphrasing a comment of Chairman Mao, the United States "should learn to walk on two legs." Our policy toward China must be composed both of interests and values.
- Of course we will engage with China. But, at the same time, China must be made to understand that if it is to get the full respect of the outside world, there are ways of dealing with its own citizens which are going to be seen by the West in particular as a reason for giving China that respect.
U.S. Principles in Dealing with China, continued
- When dealing with the issue of values, the United States must be clear with the Chinese in matters of foreign policy.
- It is important that the United States treats the Chinese with respect, but not kowtow to China.
- Over the last 20 years there has been a tendency for people in academia and politics to kowtow to China.
- What kind of future would the United States like to see for China
in 20 to 30 years?
- America has little power to transform China into a democracy or preserve the government as it is today. If China is to change, it will be because of the efforts of the Chinese people.
- Would one prefer to have a democratic China, or is it better to have the present, stable regime in power?
China's Future, continued
- Taiwan instituted a democratic system in the late 1980's, which although it has problems, shows that the Chinese people can run democratic institutions.
- The United States should deal with the present regime with respect,
but without kowtowing, with the hope that the Chinese will come fully
into the world community as a democratic system.
Question and Answer
1) Could you tell us a little about the differences between urban and rural China, both culturally and economically? In a few years, describe what changes might come to rural China? What will it look like?
2) Do you share Gordon Chang's pessimistic expectations for the consequences of World Trade Organization membership on state run enterprises?
Between 1840 and 1890, China lost several wars to foreign powers, ceding
land and granting indemnity payments after each. The country also suffered
a vicious internal war, the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64), in which 15 million to 20
million people lost their lives. Despite Chinese attempts to reform both
their society and its government by integrating Western practices with Chinese
tradition in the 1870s and 1880s, Western colonialist expansion continued
to eat away at Chinese territorial sovereignty. By 1890, Chinese of all
social strata began to fear that the country would be carved up
like a melon," and began to unite in opposition to (Western) foreigners
and the foreign
Qing government (who were of a different ethnic group, the Manchus).
More than just the latest in a series of millenarian rebellions, the
Boxers must be seen as both an expression of and a catalyst for this increasing
nationalism. Like many other rebellions in Chinese history, the Boxers
United in Righteousness began in the late 1890s in Shandong as a religious
group practicing martial exercises and secret rites, with membership drawn
from the poorest section of local society, whose ranks had swelled with
victims of local floods and droughts. But the Boxers channeled their energy into fury
primarily against Westerners in China, and secondarily at the
Qing government, rather than into the creation of a new utopian society
(as had superficially similar rebellions such as the Taiping, or indeed
Maos actions during the Cultural Revolution).
They began in the spring of 1899 by sporadically attacking local missionaries
in the Shandong area, and by June of 1900 moved against the entire Western
expatriate community in Beijing, which they besieged for two months before
a newly enlarged Western expeditionary force defeated them in August 1900
(final defeat of all groups sympathetic to the Boxers came only in September
1901). The Qing governments position was ambivalent throughout the
rebellion, although it ended up siding with the Boxers, and suffered the
consequences: the Qing were forced to pay an enormous indemnity to the
foreign powers, and to surrender additional territory.
With the defeat of the Boxers, Chinese nationalism settled temporarily
into non-violent channels, most notably that of political agitation from
outside the country. Chinese nationalism returned to the forefront of political life during
the late 1910s and 1920s.
The May 4th Movement
The May 4th Movement refers narrowly to the outburst of political demonstrations
that occurred on May 4th, 1919, in response to the humiliating provisions
of the Treaty of Versailles (among them that Shandong should be transferred
to Japanese control). Taken more broadly, the term covers the movement
for political, cultural and social change that was set in motion by these
demonstrations but grew out of trends within Chinese society and thought.
The demonstrations themselves were originally student-led, but set in
motion a wave of sympathy demonstrations and strikes that spread beyond
the student milieu to encompass everyone from workers to industrialists
in cities across the country.
The broader cultural movement built on this sense of outrage over Chinas
weak international position, using it to bring to the fore questions about
Chinas identity, national values, and culture. These questions had
been circulating in Chinese culture for forty years, but gained urgency
and breadth of social support in the face of the Republican governments (1911-1949)
inability to respond to this latest onslaught from abroad.
The movements many contributors focused on a variety of areas,
but all agreed on the importance of revitalizing and unifying China so
that it could combat warlordism, exploitation in the land-owning system,
and foreign imperialism. Most also combined respect for Western progress
and technology with a hope that the substance of Chinese culture could
be retained. Some groups worked on writing reform (a switch comparable
to moving from Latin to the vernacular in Catholic liturgy), while others
delved into Western technology, and radicals attacked the traditional
Confucian mindset and the social structures that accompanied it.
The May 4th movement failed in many of its long-term aims, hindered by
a lack of socioeconomic support for its most ambitious goals, and by
constant political instability that worsened into civil and eventually
foreign war. The movement was bitterly criticized during the Cultural
Revolution for its adulation of Western ideas, but was subsequently rehabilitated
as an example of Chinese nationalism and progressiveness.
Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward represents the outcome of an internal Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) debate over the scope and pace of change in the
agricultural sector in the face of several years of slowing growth, and,
more broadly, over the role of the CCP in guiding Chinas development.
On one side were Mao and his supporters, who argued for direct mass mobilization
by local party leaders, with less scope for involvement by the CCPs
expert economic planners. Ranged against them were Maos opponents,
a more technocratic faction that included Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Deng
Xiaoping, and others. They argued for increasing material incentives for
production by allowing private plots, widening the array of consumer goods
available to farmers, and supplying improved agricultural machinery and
Building on their belief in the need for continuous revolution
to maintain purity within the CCP and revolutionary fervor among the people,
Mao and his faction argued for and won the chance to implement their vision
of enormous Peoples Communes in the countryside, where everything
from grain harvesting to daycare to iron smelting would be done as part
of the local collective. The drive to collectivize began in early 1958,
gathered steam in 1959, and then wound down towards the end of 1960, as
problems with the chosen strategy began to surface. During the famine
that resulted (1959-62), approximately 30 million people died of starvation
or a combination of malnutrition and disease.
As early as 1958 criticism of Maos policies began to emerge, and
after an internal leadership struggle in July 1959, in which for the first
time criticism of the CCPs path was interpreted as criticism of
Mao, he stepped down as head of state. By late 1960, the fatal flaws in
the strategy that underpinned the Great Leap Forward had been revealed,
and Mao was forced to withdraw from the day-to-day leadership of the CCP.
Thereafter, the more moderate economic policies chief among them
the reinstitution of small private plots for farmers alongside collective
farms implemented in 1961-64 were credited with gradually improving
the situation in the countryside. Although interrupted by the Cultural
Revolution (1966-76), similar policies would be implemented twenty
years later, as the post-Mao economic reforms gathered steam in the early
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) stemmed
originally from long-term disagreements within the CCP leadership over
the pace of socioeconomic change, the preferred means for attacking corruption
within the party, and the importance of the idea of continuous revolution,
but the Cultural Revolution had earth shaking ramifications for all of Chinese society. The Culture
in the title refers to a 1965-66 dispute which acted as a catalyst for
the chaotic decade that followed, a debate over what kind of culture and art should
be supported by the CCP in its drive to create a socialist state. As in
the Great Leap Forward, the Maoist faction won out over the more moderate
group that included Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, and Deng Xiaoping. In the
Cultural Revolution, however, all three were publicly and humiliatingly
purged from the CCP, and only Deng outlived Mao to regain control of the
CCP in the late 1970s.
By mid-1966, the Maoist faction had won out, and had begun to whip up
revolutionary fervor among students and the young, who were anointed
the Red Guards, the new vanguard of the revolution. Two years of social
chaos followed, during which the CCP lost and then gradually regained
control over local Red Guard factions which had taken over local CCP organizations.
Mao began to reassert his power in 1967, and some within his clique worked
to limit disorder by supporting a three-way alliance between local party
members, less radical students, and the army. The year saw numerous bloody
clashes between the army and local Red Guards, and it was not until the
summer of 1968 that order was finally restored, as leaders within Maos
clique began to realize as they had not perhaps during the Great
Leap Forward that things had gone too far.
From late 1967 through 1969, an organized Campaign to Purify Class Ranks
was implemented, focusing on CCP party members whose backgrounds were
suspect (containing some link to the West, to bourgeois
thought, or to the Nationalist Party defeated in 1949). Countless
innocent people were struggled against because of their backgrounds,
humiliated in public, and then sent for reeducation to work in remote
locations in the countryside, while being rehabilitated through
their study of Maos thought.
In 1970 and 1971, Mao began to retreat from the hard line ideology he and his
allies in the army had propounded throughout the 1960s, and in September
1971 his second-in-command, Defense Minister Lin Biao, died in suspicious
circumstances. Maos ideological shift, and his purge of Lin Biao
despite the idolization Lin had received throughout the Cultural Revolution,
caused most Chinese to lose their faith in the CCP and its ideology,
though not necessarily to consider any kind of direct resistance.
The retreat from the idea of continuous revolution continued through the
early 1970s, as Maos earlier opponents among them Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai
- were gradually rehabilitated and returned to government. The country began to open up to the outside
world again, seeking foreign technology and expertise to improve its economy,
and reestablishing direct contact with the United States in 1971. However,
no major economic or political changes were made until after Maos
death in October 1976.
Post-Mao Economic Reforms in the 1980s
Chairman Mao died in October 1976. Within weeks, his chosen successor,
Hua Guafeng, had had the most famous and most radical members of Maos
faction often known in Chinese as the Gang of Four arrested.
Less than two years later, Hua himself was edged out of power by Deng
Xiaoping, who ushered in a period of unprecedentedly successful economic
Continuing the opening to the outside that Zhou Enlai, Deng, and others
had fostered in the early 1970s, the new economic policies, gradually implemented
beginning in 1978, focused on the so-called Four Modernizations (of industry,
agriculture, science, and technology) together with ongoing emphasis
on national defense and self reliance where possible. In the countryside,
reforms in the early 1980s replaced the former collective system with
a hybrid of collectives and greatly enlarged private plots, offering significant
scope for personal initiative. Several years later similar reforms were
introduced in urban areas.
Increases in corruption, however, kept pace with increases in economic opportunity
(which often came first to the well-connected or those within the CCP),
leading to increasing resentment among the population at large. A freer
press began reporting on once-taboo topics including corruption, its revelations
permitted as long as the CCPs authority and political hegemony were
not questioned. For even as the CCP permitted an increasing degree of
economic freedom to Chinas citizens, albeit still within a socialist
framework, it maintained strict limits on freedom of expression. Protests
demanding additional democratization and an end to corruption erupted
in 1979, 1986, 1987, and 1989, but were met with increasingly violent