The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History

By R. Keith Schoppa | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Economic Disasters and Miracles: 1960 to
the Present—Whither State and Nation?

CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC CATASTROPHE

The Two Lines

The cataclysm of the Great Leap Forward created a schism in the party leadership. Not only had Mao ousted Peng Dehuai at Lushan, but his whole approach came to be seen negatively by the president of the PRC, Liu Shaoqi, and the CCP secretary-general, Deng Xiaoping. As the state began to recover from the disasters of the late 1950s, a dispute between the Maoist line, with its fundamentalist approach, and the Liu-Deng line, with its pragmatic approach, began to fester. 1 Though Mao clearly saw that the Great Leap had failed, he was not particularly concerned: he still had faith in his Communist goals and in motivating people through moral incentives. People would give their all for the goals of revolution and building a strong China simply because of the essentiality of those goals. Mao was hostile to established, bureaucratized party cadres and to “experts” of any variety. It was much better to be ideologically correct than to have the correct factual knowledge; better, in other words, to be Red than expert. The masses in any case had more innate abilities and common sense than the intelligentsia. Mao was ready to rely on them and on a more ad hoc, guerrillalike style in governing. Perpetual revolution through perpetual class struggle was a necessity because class enemies of the people would rear their ugly heads to challenge the people.

In contrast, the Liu-Deng line believed that the failure of the Great Leap was a disaster that must not be repeated. The party-state could most motivate the masses by offering material incentives. People who worked harder than others, who produced more than others, should be rewarded with bonuses or higher wages. These incentives would be more meaningful for people than moral encouragement, suasion, and propaganda. Mao railed that such policies smacked of “revisionism,” a revising of Marxism through capitalist tactics—a practice he associated with Khrushchev. In the “Red or expert?”

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