Redefining Revolution
The Resurrection of Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping on the cover of Time Magazine as 1979's "Man of the Year"
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Chinese "Four Modernizations" stamp: Agriculture
Chinese "Four Modernizations" stamp: Industry
Chinese "Four Modernizations" stamp: National Defence
Chinese "Four Modernizations" stamp: Science and Technology
Poster of Hua Guofeng as an ordinary shop workerPoster of Deng Xiaoping walking through nature with a dam in the backgroundWith Mao Zedong embalmed and at rest, the struggle for power in the CCP gained new intensity. Wisely leaving Peking in the spring of 1976, the vilified Deng Xiaoping had sought shelter far to the south, in Canton. Protected there by the military governor of the region, General Xu Shiyou, Deng carefully planned his political comeback. ... Accordingly, when in early 1977 Xu, backed by the first party secretary of Guangdong, began pressuring the Central Committee to rehabilitate Deng Xiaoping, Xu carried the day. In July 1977, Deng was reappointed to his vice-premiership, to the Politburo, and to the Military Affairs Commission, although Hua Guofeng still held onto the senior positions he had acquired during the previous year.
       Not surprisingly, given the different political philosophies of Deng and Hua, China’s direction in both domestic and foreign policy remained ambiguous throughout 1977 and 1978. While the communes continued to be the main form of rural social organization, and peasants were still criticized or penalized for engaging in excessive side-line production, and while industry remained tied to inflexible government plans, China was scoring a number of signal achievements requiring high levels of technological skill. The PRC dramatically developed its domestic and international airline systems, completed an immense dry-dock facility at the Hebei port of Shanhaiguan (where Dorgon’s troops had entered China to “avenge” the Ming in 1644), built and launched its first oil tanker in the 50,000-ton class, and completed a linkage to Japan via seabed cable. The state conducted several hydrogen-bomb and other nuclear tests, both in the atmosphere and underground, and successfully continued the active satellite-launching program begun in 1975. Work also began on the development of China’s own ICBM warhead-delivery system (the first successful launching was announced in May 1980). And although economic exchanges with the United States were slow to develop, the negotiation of a new U.S.$10 billion industrial agreement with Japan, along with joint Sino-Japanese exploration for oil in the Bohai (North China Sea), when coupled with extensive new commercial agreements with Great Britain and France, showed that China was far from withdrawing from the international scene.
(The Search for Modern China, 587-8)
Domestically, Chairman Hua was allegedly in command, still championing the radical programs of “learning from Dazhai and Daqing in agriculture and industry. He claimed this was the true way to obtain the “Four Modernizations,” as they were now regularly termed, in agriculture, industry, national defense, and the linked areas of science and technology. At the same time, Deng Xiaoping was maneuvering with growing success to bring back ever more of the CCP cadres ousted in the Cultural Revolution, and to move toward full implementation of a modernization plan that would incorporate foreign investment and technology along with the training of Chinese students overseas. During a National Science Conference held in Peking in March 1978, at which both Deng and Hua made speeches, this modernization plan gained momentum. (The Search for Modern China, 588)
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Deng Xiaoping
Setting the Tone of Reform
Deng Xiaoping’s Speech
Central Working Conference of the Central Committee
December 13, 1978
When it comes to emancipating our minds, using our heads, seeking truth from facts and uniting as one in looking to the future, the primary task is to emancipate our minds. Only then can we, guided as we should be by Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, find correct solutions to the emerging as well as inherited problems, fruitfully reform those aspects of the relations of production and of the superstructure that do not correspond with the rapid development of our productive forces, and chart the specific course and formulate the specific policies, methods and measures needed to achieve the four modernizations under our actual conditions.
1951 Poster with a man studying and the caption "Strengthen the study of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought"
The emancipation of minds has not been completely achieved among our cadres, particularly our leading cadres. Indeed, many comrades have not yet set their brains going; in other words, their ideas remain rigid or partly so. That isn’t because they are not good comrades. It is a result of specific historical conditions.
Three monkeys symbolizing the expression "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil"
First, it is because during the past dozen years Lin Biao and the Gang of Four set up ideological taboos or “forbidden zones” and preached blind faith to confine people’s minds within the framework of their phony Marxism. No one was allowed to go beyond the limits they prescribed. Anyone who did was tracked down, stigmatized and attacked politically. In this situation, some people found it safer to stop using their heads and thinking questions over.
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Second, it is because democratic centralism was undermined and the Party was afflicted with bureaucratism resulting from, among other things, over-concentration of power. This kind of bureaucratism often masquerades as “Party leadership,” “Party directives,” “Party interests” and “Party discipline,” but actually it is designed to control people, hold them in check and oppress them. At that time many important issues were often decided by one or two persons. The others could only do what those few ordered. That being so, there wasn’t much point in thinking things out for yourself.
Diagram showing the contemporary relationship between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the National People's Congress (NPC)
Right/Wrong Ambigram
Third, it is because no clear distinction was made between right and wrong or between merit and demerit, and because rewards and penalties were not meted out as deserved. No distinction was made between those who worked well and those who didn’t. In some cases, even people who worked well were attacked while those who did nothing or just played it safe weathered every storm. Under those unwritten laws, people were naturally reluctant to use their brains. ...
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying laying the foundation stone for Mao's mausoleum on Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, 24 November 1976.
People both at home and abroad have been greatly concerned recently about how we would evaluate Comrade Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. The great contributions of Comrade Mao in the course of long revolutionary struggles will never fade. If we look back at the years following the failure of the revolution in 1927, it appears very likely that without his outstanding leadership the Chinese revolution would still not have triumphed even today. In that case, the people of all our nationalities would still be suffering under the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism, and our Party would still be engaged in bitter struggle in the dark. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that were it not for Chairman Mao there would be no New China. ...
Of course Comrade Mao was not infallible or free from shortcomings. To demand that of any revolutionary leader would be inconsistent with Marxism. We must guide and educate the Party members, the army officers and men and the people of all of China’s nationalities and help them to see the great service of Comrade Mao Zedong scientifically and in historical perspective.
The Cultural Revolution should also be viewed scientifically and in historical perspective. In initiating it Comrade Mao Zedong was actuated mainly by the desire to oppose and prevent revisionism. As for the shortcomings that appeared during the course of the Cultural Revolution and the mistakes that were made then, at an appropriate time they should be summed up and lesson[s] should be drawn from them — that is essential for achieving unity of understanding throughout the Party. The Cultural Revolution has become a stage in the course of China’s socialist development, hence we must evaluate it. However, there is not need to do so hastily. (DC, 494-6)
Chairman Mao's Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square
A Reevaluation of Mao
[T]o emphasize the break with the past Deng Xiaoping led the party in the delicate task of evaluating Mao’s legacy. ... Mao was blamed for certain “leftist” excesses in his later years, such as his beliefs that the bourgeoisie could continue to exist inside the party, that mass revolution against revisionism should be encouraged, and that there was need for “continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.” The final summation was that Mao had been correct 70 percent of the time and incorrect only 30 percent of the time, with most of those errors bunched near the end of his life. But using these mistakes to “try to negate the scientific value of Mao Zedong thought and to deny its guiding role in our revolution and our construction” would be “entirely wrong,” the Central Committee concluded. “Socialism and socialism alone can save China.” (SMC, 611)
Panorama view of Tiananmen Square
Why did the party insist on the fundamental correctness of Mao Zedong Thought
despite the willingness to criticize at least some of Mao's actions?
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Two workers touching up the "hammer and sickle" with the words "Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party"
But it was the events of December 1978, at the meetings formally known as the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CCP, that were to mark the most important change in overall Chinese Communist policy since the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution. And in their long-run effects, the decisions at the Third Plenum were to have greater impact even than that earlier cataclysm. First, the Plenum laid out the requirements of the Four Modernizations in relation to industrial production. ...
Four Modernizations: Industry (Stamp)Carrying out the Four Modernizations requires great growth in the productive forces, which in turn requires diverse changes in those aspects of the relations of production and the superstructure not in harmony with the gowth of the productive forces, and requires changes in all methods of management, action and thinking which stand in the way of such growth. Socialist modernization is therefore a profound and extensive revolution.
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
... Second, referring to agricultural policy, the plenum added this important observation:
The rapid development of the national economy as a whole and the steady improvement in the living standards of the people of the whole country depend on the vigorous restoration and speeding up of farm production, on resolutely and fully implementing the policy of simultaneous development of farming, forestry, animal husbandry, side-occupations and fisheries, the policy of taking grain as the key link and ensuring an all-round development, the policy of adaptation to local conditions and appropriate concentration of certain crops in certain areas, and gradual modernization of farm work.Four Modernizations: Agriculture (Stamp)

The key phrase here was “side-occupations,” those myriad of local initiatives in growing and marketing grains, fruit, vegetables, livestock, and poultry that had so often been the target of “leftist” planners and cadres seeking to root out a stubborn peasant “capitalist streak.” Such small plots of land, the plenum statement added firmly, along with “domestic side-occupations” and “village fairs,” were necessary to socialist production and “must not be interfered with.” In an even more immediate gesture to China’s peasants, the plenum recommended that the price paid by the state for quota grain be raised by 20 percent following the summer 1979 harvest, and that the state price for grain harvested over and above the quota be raised by 50 percent. ...
Chart showing how agricultural reforms benefited both farmers and urban workers
At the same time, the plenum proposed that the prices of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and plastic goods needed for farm use and made by state factories be cut by 10 percent to 15 percent. To protect urban workers from the effects of these reforms, state subsidies of food prices would be raised proportionately so that workers would pay no more than they had before for their basic food rations. (SMC, 590-1)
Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats, each with a mouse in its mouth. The caption reads "It doesn't matter if it's a black cat or a white cat; if it catches mice, then it's a good cat!"
New Freedoms
Woman selling fruit in the marketplace with the caption "Selling the fruits of a bumper harvest in a friendly manner"As this political struggle was slowly reaching a conclusion, the state-controlled press began to issue reports emphasizing examples of local initiative in China and showing how certain types of small enterprise could flourish. The initial examples were modest, as in the ... Silkworm knitting silk and a happy pigmuch-publicized story [from 1980, in which] several Sichuan families near Chengdu were awarded certificates for achieving “wealth through diligent labor.” Such families used the new responsibility system to contract for the right to work a given plot of commune land. All surplus produced above the state-imposed quota could be sold on the free market locally. Sideline production included raising silk cocoons for the commune’s silk spindles and raising pigs for sale. Families engaged in these activities might make as much as 700 yuan a year, and since the per capita income in Sichuan’s richest communes was 160 yuan a year and the average for the province as a whole was 55 yuan, this new system represented a startling opportunity. By the end of the year, such stories of commercial success in the countryside were becoming commonplace to Chinese readers. The only minor villain in these vignettes were the local cadres, who often dithered over bureaucratic niceties and took months to process the necessary paper work. (SMC, 611-2)
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Third, the plenum called for a new effort to combine “centralism” with “people’s democracy” in order to ensure the success of modernization, and affirmed the importance of law in maintaining that success. Hinting at other key shifts, the plenum declared that judicial organizations “must maintain their independence as is appropriate.” They must both “guarantee the equality of all people before the people’s laws and deny anyone the privilege of being above the law.” (SMC, 592)
China Airlines Boeing 747
The Third Plenum adjourned on December 22, 1978. Three days before, on December 19, executives at the gigantic Boeing aircraft plant in Seattle, Washington, announced that China had ordered three jumbo 747 jet airliners. Also on December 19, the chairman of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia, announced that his corporation had reached agreement to sell the soda inside China, and would open a bottling plant in Shanghai. (SMC, 592)
Poster of Mao drinking a bottle of Coke
Icon of Deng Xiaoping with black and white cats
Bicycles riding past "Democracy Wall" (brick wall in Beijing with posters expressing "free speech"
The Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CCP and Deng’s visit to the United States took place in what initially seemed to be a new atmosphere of intellectual freedom in the PRC. ... The most famous focus for these displays became a stretch of blank wall just to the west of the former Forbidden City in Peking, part of which was now a public museum and park, and part the cluster of residences for China’s most senior national leaders. Because of the frankness of some of these posters and the message of many that some measure of democratic freedom should be introduced in China, this Peking area became known as Democracy Wall. ...
Wei Jingsheng's book "The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings"
Of all the flood of words that appeared in this period, none had more impact than those of a young man called Wei Jingsheng. Wei’s influence came partly through the force of his ideas and partly through the inspired title he chose for his Peking wall poster of December 5, 1978: “The Fifth Modernization.” This was obviously a gauntlet flung in the face of the CCP hierarchy — including Deng Xiaoping himself, who had declared the Four Modernizations a sufficient basis for transforming China. Wei insisted that until China embraced a fifth modernization, the other four would be “merely another promise.” For Wei, the fifth modernization was democracy, the “holding of power by the laboring masses themselves,” rather than by the corrupt representatives of the party state who had imposed a new “autocracy” on the workers and peasants of China.
“What is true democracy?” asked Wei rhetorically in his poster. “It means the right of the people to choose their own representatives [who will] work according to their will and in their interests. Only this can be called democracy. Furthermore, the people must have the power to replace their representatives any time so that these representatives cannot go on deceiving others in the name of the people.” (SMC, 593-5)
Police arresting Wei Jinghseng at Democracy Wall
The predictable government crackdown began in mid-January 1979, before Deng Xiaoping left for Washington. It seems possible that Deng had initially encouraged the Democracy Wall posters because their views on modernization often coincided with his own, and because they criticized or mocked the attitudes of Hua Guofeng and other radical Maoists. But when they went too far, challenging the fundamental premises of the CCP itself, he turned against them. Deng’s actions thus ran parallel to Mao’s in 1957, when Mao unleashed the antirightist campaign in order to smother the Hundred Flowers movement that he had just set in motion. ...
Wei Jingsheng on Trial
In late March 1979, Wei Jingsheng, who in the meantime had written several more provocative pieces — one sharply challenging Deng Xiaoping’s insensitivity to China’s needs, and one exposing conditions in China’s maximum-security prisons — was arrested and brought to trial. Charged not only for his writing, but with espionage for leaking information on the Sino-Vietnam war to a foreign journalist, he was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Wei’s appeals, based in part on his claim that he had no access to confidential information of this kind, were rejected. (SMC, 597-8)
Wei Jingsheng being released from prison (1993)
Wei was released from prison on September 14, 1993.
Wei Jingsheng back in court (1995)
He was then sentenced to 14 years in prison on December 13, 1995,
but was released from prison on November 16, 1997...

Wei Jingsheng being released from Prison
...and deported to the U.S.
Wei Jingsheng Foundation banner
What, if anything, did this Democracy movement accomplish?
Emblem of the People's Republic of China above a voting box