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Deng Xiaoping and the Modern China Essay

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021

The following is an analysis of the quest for Modern China according to Spence

As the new Communist state came into existence after 1949, policies needed to be implemented quickly in order for China to deal with the great economic and social problems it was facing. The driving force behind the political changes was the wish for economic prosperity, as opposed to a fervent belief in socialist democracy. It is in this period when Mao Zedong was switching his political strategy from inner-party rectification to an “anti-rightist” purge of great numbers of prominent people from the worlds of politics, culture, education, industry and commerce, and the sentencing of countless intellectuals, young students and ordinary people who had no interest in politics to “supervised labor”, re-education through-labor” and even prison terms. The government called this campaign which it hailed as a great success, a “socialist revolution on the political and ideological fronts.”

The Party had consistently enforced thought reform, insisting that intellectuals were inherently guilty of all manner of offences by virtue of their class background, occupational status, educational and professional record, party affiliation and social connections. The regime was not looking for people of talent to serve the country, but rather for slaves to serve the Party and Mao Zedong. Anyone who proved unwilling to be a slave, no matter how worthy or talented, could not be employed, and was cut down at the earliest opportunity.

Party domination in the urban organizations was blooming and contending was primarily conducted. Ironically, given the intellectual’s criticism of heavy handed Party methods, organizational measures taken in conjunction with The Anti-Rightist Campaign particularly the transfer of reliable Party cadres to leadership’s positions in educational and cultural units- -resulted in a substantial increase in Party control. The severity of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, however, undoubtedly damaged the enthusiasm of intellectuals for the Party’s developmental goals.

During the height of the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957, the whole Party and nation became theoretically and practically engaged in the collective persecution of intellectuals.Any intellectual branded a rightist (literally “made to wear a cap,” dai maozi) was subjected to personal surveillance and psychological intimidation. Worst of all, the Party also issued new regulations formalizing the “Reeducation-Through-Labor” system, which treated its victims like common criminals and required them to perform forced labor. Countless families were broken and lives lost as a result.

Mao believed that only one capitalist bastion remained to be conquered by the socialist revolution: the spheres of politics culture and thought, which were infested with bourgeois intellectuals. He suspected that a small number of “higher intellectuals” and large numbers of “ordinary intellectuals” and young students constituted a hostile force that could instigate trouble.

Mao Zedong then decided to apply the grand tactics that had proven so successful for him during the Anti-Rightist Campaign to the field of economics. He launched the Great Leap Forward, a movement that forced millions of farmers to neglect their crops to make iron and steel in backyard furnaces and organized them into” people’s communes,” with the result that 25-30million people starved to death. At the “7,000 Cadres Conference” in early 1962, Mao once again beat the drums of class struggle, foreshadowing the launch of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, about which there is no need to go into detail here.

The rising tempo of criticism against the communist’s regime alarmed govern ment authorities so that they had to suppress the movement. A number of government officials were fired for supporting it. Many professors, students, writers and artist were arrested and imprisoned. The most outspoken critics were executed. It is during this period that Mao used a tactic that had proved effective for him in the past: he lured out his enemies.

Around the time of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Party Congress in December of 1978, a major campaign was launched to “redress unjust and erroneous cases” (pingfan yuanjia cuo’an) from past political campaigns. The Party intended to signal that now that the Cultural Revolution was over, it recognized that it had made mistakes and sought to win back the people’s trust through reconciliation. Although the real reasons for the campaign had much more to do with the Party’s need to reestablish its legitimacy to govern, many cadres who had lived through the disaster of the Cultural Revolution did engage in reexamination and soul-searching and transcended their narrow self-interests to seek the truth and recover the facts of history. Hu Yaobang was one of these leaders. He was representative of the generation of Party members who had come to realize that neither history nor the people could be cheated.

Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory are the guiding ideological foundation of the CCP’s third and fourth generation leadership. Therefore, after the Party proclaimed a “thorough repudiation of the Cultural Revolution, “concealing the truth on behalf of the high in rank” (wei zunzhe hui) became the order of the day, and the history of the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution became a sensitive matter that was not to be brought up again. Clearly, the Party has found it difficult to break the old Maoist practice of controlling public opinion, concealing the truth and distorting history.

In other words, the historical legacy of the past, manifested in both thought and deed, continues to exert an insidious influence to this day. It is inescapably apparent that after the system was established by the leaders of the first and second generation, it continued to run by inertia and to exert a pervasive influence on people’s thoughts, feelings and daily life.

If Deng’s actions were often cautious or even negative, it was because he had fought and lived a revolution for over 60 years, and he could not summon up the conviction that those years had been in vain. Deng could never forget that it was a Maoist vision, however flawed and ruthless, that had helped unite China after its decades of fragmentation. Mao might have pulled the nation together, but it was Deng who pushed it toward prosperity and modernity, and a future as one of the world’s great powers (Spence, 2006).

Reference

Spence, Jonathan. 2006. The Maoist who reinvented himself, transformed a nation, and changed the world; Web.

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