Re­mem­ber­ing the ‘Chi­nese Spring’

Af­ter the ar­rest of the Gang of Four, a hope­ful anti-Marx­ist era briefly emerged

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Thomas Ward Thomas Ward is dean of the Col­lege of Pub­lic and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at the Univer­sity of Bridge­port in Con­necti­cut.

We ap­proach the end of the year and the Bei­jing lead­er­ship has still made no of­fi­cial men­tion of 2016 mark­ing the 50th An­niver­sary of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, which Chair­man Mao Ze­dong un­leashed in May 1966. The Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, where the Chinse “masses” bran­dished his Lit­tle Red Book, pro­vided a venue for Mao to re-es­tab­lish the clout that he had lost due to his dis­as­trous “Great Leap For­ward,” a bizarre ini­tia­tive which com­bined col­lec­tive farms with back­yard mini-steel pro­duc­tion units that Mao had al­leged would al­low China to sur­pass the United States eco­nom­i­cally. In­stead the “Great Leap For­ward” led not only to an un­ac­cept­ably low qual­ity of steel and to dras­tic agri­cul­tural set­backs but to star­va­tion and dis­ease that claimed the lives of 20 mil­lion Chi­nese ci­ti­zens be­tween 1959 and 1962, ac­cord­ing to Stephan Cour­tois’ “Black Book of Com­mu­nism” (1997).

In 2016 China also failed to rec­og­nize the 40th an­niver­sary of the for­tu­itous end of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, up­ended through the Oc­to­ber 1976 ar­rest of the key op­er­a­tors, known as the “Gang of Four” and led by Jiang Qing, the fourth wife of Chair­man Mao.

In his “Wealth of Na­tions” (1776), Adam Smith had rec­og­nized China as “one of the rich­est, that is, one of the most fer­tile, best cul­ti­vated, most in­dus­tri­ous, and most pop­u­lous coun­tries in the world.” Less than seven decades later, China’s for­tune plum­meted when the Qing Dy­nasty was crushed by an over­whelm­ingly su­pe­rior Bri­tish military force. This was fol­lowed in the com­ing decades by Euro­pean pow­ers es­tab­lish­ing scores of self-gov­ern­ing treaty ports on China’s coast­line that fur­ther un­der­mined China’s sovereignty. In 1895 an en­fee­bled China also suf­fered a re­sound­ing de­feat at the hands of Ja­pan. In sur­ren­der­ing, China was forced to cede Tai­wan and part of the Main­land to Ja­pan and re­mained a failed state un­til af­ter World War II.

While China con­stantly re­minds its ci­ti­zens of that “Cen­tury of Hu­mil­i­a­tion” to jus­tify ev­ery­thing from its alarm­ing re­cent jail­ing of hu­man rights lawyers to the seizure of a U.S. Navy un­der­wa­ter drone in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, it re­mains in de­nial of the “Decade of Hu­mil­i­a­tion” of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion that claimed hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives and, ac­cord­ing to Mao’s suc­ces­sor Deng Xiaop­ing, “per­se­cuted 100 mil­lion peo­ple.”

Cur­rent Chi­nese Leader Xi Jin­ping’s own fa­ther Xi Zhongxun, who had served as vice premier un­der Zhou En­lai, was de­nounced, tor­tured and en­dured years of im­pris­on­ment dur­ing this pe­riod. Pres­i­dent Xi’s el­der sis­ter Xi Heping took her life be­cause of the ruth­less pres­sure and hu­mil­i­a­tion that she en­dured. Xi Jin­ping him­self was de­nounced as a coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

There is a ra­tio­nale for China’s cur­rent lead­er­ship choos­ing not to rec­og­nize this year’s an­niver­saries. In­deed, the mad­den­ing events sur­round­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion had pro­vided the rai­son d’être for the 13 years of “Chi­nese Spring” that fol­lowed the ar­rest of the “Gang of Four.” With the end of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion in Oc­to­ber 1976, the lim­i­ta­tions of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism and Mao Ze­dong Thought could fi­nally be openly dis­cussed. Al­though there was no func­tion­ing pub­lic in­ter­net back then, there was a “Democ­racy Wall” from Novem­ber 1978 un­til De­cem­ber 1979. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment it­self showed some will­ing­ness to ex­pose the skele­tons of the past.

More than a year prior to Gor­bachev’s call for Per­e­stroika, China’s Peo­ple’s Daily in a Dec. 7, 1984 front page ed­i­to­rial openly de­clared that Marx had died 101 years be­fore and that “we can­not use Marx­ist and Lenin­ist works to solve our present day prob­lems.” Granted a day later they added a qual­i­fier that one can’t “solve all our present day prob­lems” with Marx­ism-Lenin­ism; how­ever, even so, this state­ment was still in bla­tant con­tra­dic­tion to the tra­di­tional view that Marx­ism, as had once been the case for Chris­tian the­ol­ogy, stood as the “Queen of the Sciences” from which all truth could be de­rived.

The close of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion al­lowed China’s lead­er­ship to ex­per­i­ment more eas­ily with al­ter­na­tive eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal mod­els. Op­ti­mists could be­gin to en­vi­sion a China with rule of law, with a free mar­ket, and the pro­tec­tion of civil lib­er­ties. A re­form-minded Zhao Ziyang ad­vanced un­der the tute­lage of Deng Xiaop­ing to be­come China’s premier in 1980 and he rose to Party gen­eral sec­re­tary in 1987. Zhao sur­rounded him­self by China’s “best and bright­est” who as­pired to be the ar­chi­tects to trans­form China into a state where the Com­mu­nist Party would no longer have an au­to­matic monopoly on gover­nance but would com­pete for what­ever power share it gar­nered. Fol­low­ing Tianan­men, Zhao was placed un­der house ar­rest and he re­mained so un­til his death in 2005. His wing of the Party was sum­mar­ily muted af­ter the Tianan­men crack­down. Bei­jing un­der­stand­ably re­minds its ci­ti­zens of the de­mean­ing 1839-1949 chap­ter of China’s his­tory dubbed by Mao him­self as the “Cen­tury of Hu­mil­i­a­tion.” The Com­mu­nist lead­er­ship con­tin­u­ously evokes this his­tor­i­cal mem­ory to quell dissent and to jus­tify ac­tions such as its con­tro­ver­sial military con­sol­i­da­tion in the dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries of the South China Sea.

China is clearly re-emerg­ing with the “Hu­mil­i­a­tion” nar­ra­tive still be­ing used to re­in­force re­solve and pro­vide con­text for con­tro­ver­sial ac­tions taken by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Yet will re­call­ing the Cen­tury of Hu­mil­i­a­tion alone be suf­fi­cient for China to se­cure and pre­serve its “peace­ful rise?” The “peace­ful rise” of China must be re­al­ized in part­ner­ship with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. That re­quires a shared com­mit­ment to foun­da­tional prin­ci­ples such as re­spect for the rule of law and the pro­tec­tion of civil rights, ideals that were cham­pi­oned dur­ing the 13 years that fol­lowed the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion. As 2016 comes to a close, we should re­flect on the enor­mous suffering of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion and re­mem­ber those who har­bored the dreams and as­pi­ra­tions that fol­lowed.


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