To Get Rich is Glorious
Century’s End
 
The Transition of Power
Mao Zedong ~ Deng Xiaoping ~ Jiang Zemin
Despite Deng Xiaoping’s expressions of confidence, the crisis of 1989 showed that aspects of China’s past were still much in evidence. To take one short-term parallel, the political maneuvering by Deng Xiaoping proved how far the Communist party still was from solving its leadership and succession problems. Deng’s rejection of his two chosen heirs, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, and his sudden benediction of the previously little-known Jiang Zemin as party secretary-general was eerily reminiscent of Mao’s attempt to install Hua Guofeng after he had turned against Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao. In a longer historical context, Deng’s insistence that economic reforms and the dramatic changes they brought should still be kept totally separate from any changes in the political superstructure and modes of public expression reawakened historical memories of the late Qing dream — that China could join the modern world entirely on its own terms, without sacrificing its prevailing ideological purity. Some Chinese even noticed parallels between Deng’s suppression of the Democracy movement in 1989 and the Empress Dowager Cixi’s countercoup in the face of Emperor Guangxu’s ambitious reform program of 1898. [SMC, 666]
 
 
During the mid-1990s, Deng Xiaoping’s exact role was an enigma to most political observers. After his 1992 Southern tour, he made no more dramatic public gestures or statements. And the blurred pictures from his 1994 Shanghai visit were the last ones publicly circulated. Deng’s personality cult was fostered in his old age by the government now headed by Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, who made sure that the “works of Deng” were widely disseminated and discussed, and who constantly referred to him as China’s “paramount leader” despite his relinquishment of all formal government posts. But if Deng was paramount leader, it was mainly as an offstage presence, almost beyond speech, hearing, and gesture, whose often enigmatic remarks were filtered through the lips of close family members, especially his daughters and a small group of senior generals. ...
 
 
In the meantime, the leadership of the country seemed to be on hold, even as the frenzied and uncoordinated spate of economic growth and change continued. Premier Li Peng — whose own term of office was due to end in March 1998 — issued a public statement in April 1995 that a transition “from the second-generational central leading collective, with Deng Xiaoping at the core,” was underway “smoothly” and the the “third-generational leading collective, with Comrade Jiang Zemin at the core,” was now in place. ...
 
 
Thus when the death of Deng Xiaoping on February 19, 1997, from a lung infection and complications of Parkinson’s disease, was announced to the nation, there was a strange sense of uncertainty as much as loss. The government moved at once to make sure that demonstrators would not use the pretext of mourning Deng to raise major political criticisms of the regime, as they had done so conspicuously on two previous occasions: in April 1976, in the mourning for Zhou Enlai, and in April 1989, in the mourning for Hu Yaobang. ... The muted funeral also served to accentuate a more subtle political point, one that Jiang Zemin was anxious to establish in the nation’s mind: Deng Xiaoping had been on the sidelines for several years, and the de facto transfer of power had been quietly, yet effectively, carried out. [SMC, 684-5]
 
 
  
Back to the Motherland
Hong Kong ~ Macao ~ Taiwan
The timing of Deng’s death ensured Jiang Zemin the freedom to enjoy the limelight at midnight between June 30 and July 1, 1997, when, by the prior 1984 agreement with Great Britain, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control. As the Union Jack and the former colonial Hong Kong flag were lowered, and the red flag with gold stars of the People’s Republic was raised aloft next to the newly designed red pauonia-blossom flag of the Hong Kong administrative region, Jiang Zemin sat next to Britain’s Prince Charles on the stage of the vast new convention center. ...
 
 
 
 
Looming behind this celebration of the end of foreign control over Hong Kong lay the question of Taiwan. Weeks before the Hong Kong transfer, as a giant clock specially erected in Tiananmen Square counted down the days, hours, and minutes, banners displayed in Peking carried slogans stating that “China was eagerly welcoming the return to the motherland of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.” Macao’s return, after more than four and a half centuries of total or partial Portuguese control, was already set for 1999. But the case of Taiwan was infinitely more complex. Even as Chinese authorities were citing pro-Taiwan independence rallies as the kind of demonstrations that would not be tolerated in Hong Kong, any more than those demanding independent rights for the people of Tibet or the Muslim inhabitants of Xinjiang would, the government of President Lee on Taiwan was working with a coalition of rival parties to end the system by which a “provincial government” of Taiwan coexisted with the central Taiwan government. The significance of this change was that the separate provincial government was a throwback to the period of the civil war and the early 1950s, when Taiwan claimed to be merely the temporary base for a Chinese national government in exile. With the abolition of this provincial representation, Taiwan would become, in effect, a completely independent political unit, with no more formal governmental interdependence with the mainland. Thus the Peking government attacked the decision as a dangerous provocation. [SMC, 686-7]
  • Can Taiwan continue to maintain its independence now that Hong Kong and Macau have been successfully brought back into the fold?
 

 
Falun Gong
 
The Chinese government’s ongoing concerns about the intersections of religion and politics, as well as its willingness to undertake hard measures when it feels that a particular religious group has crossed the line and has undermined its authority, are evident in the ongoing suppression of Falun gong. In the aftermath of a silent and large-scale demonstration, staged by Falun gong in 1999 at the Communist Party’s headquarters in Beijing — said to have involved ten thousand followers — the government undertook a comprehensive persecution of the group, which it labeled as a subversive movement and deviant or evil cult. [Introducing Chinese Religions, 259]
 
 
 
From Communism...
...to Capitalism?
In public, some Chinese party stalwarts continued to express their belief in the socialist values with which they had been raised. As one acerbic party member noted in an anonymous special report, “the mentality of imitating Hong Kong and Taiwan culture, worshipping everything foreign, and yearning for the capitalist world has been passed from ignorant young people to some intellectuals and party and government cadres.” The author conjured up a Chinese world of “speculation in stocks and real estate, trading of false invoices, pornography, production and selling of counterfeit goods, and even smuggling,” within a society where a mere 2 percent of all bank depositors now contributed 80 percent of the total deposits. The author of the report went on to paint a scenario of industrial strikes, violence, rural impoverishment, and weakened cultural morale coexisting in close proximity with the world of “nightclubs, golfcourses, saunas, massage parlors, and brothels.” In his view, “almost all ugly phenomena of the old society prior to the establishment of the Republic have been revived.” [SMC, 688]
 
  • Can the CCP continue to claim that it is a “communist” and/or “socialist” party if it fails to narrow the growing gap between the rich and the poor?
  • Is it possible to develop a thriving economy without sacrificing the fundamental principles of socialism?
 

The Wolf and the Lamb
Wei Jingsheng
November 18, 1993
When [Wei Jingsheng] was released in September 1993, after serving fourteen years of his term, he was just as outspoken and ascerbic in his criticisms of the CCP. The following op-ed appeared in the New York Times just weeks after Wei’s release. It reflected his view that human rights in China had not improved in the intervening years. Wei also addressed the issue of American attitudes and policies toward engagement with China. Shortly after the essay’s publication, Wei was again arrested.
 
[T]he Chinese Government ... does not understand why the U.S. might be unwilling to continue lucrative trade relations if China’s human rights environment does not improve. China doesn’t understand, because it thinks this way: Is it really likely that Americans would befriend a people they are not at all familiar with? Is it really likely that Americans would abandon an opportunity to make money just to protect the human rights of those they have befriended? Is it really likely that the American people’s determinations of right and wrong could ever influence the judgment of the U.S. Government? ... The Chinese people’s understanding of the new direction of U.S. policy toward China leads them to believe that the party was right all these years in saying that the American Government is controlled by rich capitalists. All you have to do is offer them a chance to make money and anything goes. [DC, 571-2]

 
Clinton’s China Policy
A Reevaluation of Human Rights
May 27, 1994
The question for us now is, given the fact that there has been some progress but that not all the requirements of the executive order [relating to human rights] were met, how can we best advance the cause of human rights and the other profound interests the United States has in our relationship with China? ... I am moving, therefore, to delink human rights from the annual extension of Most Favored Nation trading status for China. That linkage has been constructive during the past year, but I believe, based on our aggressive contacts with the Chinese in the past several months, that we have reached the end of the usefulness of that policy, and it is time to take a new path toward the achievement of our constant objectives. We need to place our relationship into a larger and more productive framework. [DC, 573]
  • Should the U.S. put more pressure on China to improve its record on human rights, or is our present relationship ultimately “more productive”?