Policy Conflicts Reveal Discord in Chinese Leadership China's Communist Party Struggles to Salvage Legitimacy

By James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1990 | Go to article overview

Policy Conflicts Reveal Discord in Chinese Leadership China's Communist Party Struggles to Salvage Legitimacy


James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A YEAR after senior leader Deng Xiaoping tried to restore "stability and unity" by crushing popular protests for democracy, China is showing increasing signs of political uncertainty. As public alienation deepens, clear policy contradictions are giving weight to reports of discord within the leadership.

In ideology, Li Ruihuan, the comparatively moderate and pragmatic chief of propaganda, recently voiced concern that a resurgent group of leftist ideologues is pushing propaganda to an extreme.

In economic management, officials are talking of reforming the socialist economy with market forces while espousing strict state economic controls.

In politics, the succession of Mr. Deng is murky, despite his claim that his heir apparent is "qualified." Deng's protege, Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, hasn't yet built a power base strong enough to dispel doubts that he can survive in office after the death of his mentor, say Beijing-based diplomats and Chinese and foreign analysts.

During four decades of Communist rule in China, there has often been political infighting, a gap becial pronouncements and actual policies, and a muddling of propaganda and fact. But the contradictions have grown more extreme and pervasive, the diplomats and analysts say, as hidebound conservatives seek to drag China back to outdated ideals and forms of rule.

Uncertainty hasn't paralyzed the state as it did last spring, when ousted party leader Zhao Ziyang was accused of "splitting the party" by resisting a crackdown on pro-democracy activists. By most accounts, Deng broadly guides state policy by balancing various rival factions among the ruling elite.

But strife could flare openly when the aging leader dies, upsetting the delicate balance of power among the ruling Old Guard, the analysts say.

Comparing the uncertainty today with that during the months surrounding the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the analysts say China confronts one of its gravest political crises under Communist rule.

As in April 1976 following Mao's death, the Communist leadership has discouraged demonstrations of widespread discontent by brutally suppressing a protest in Tiananmen Square. And as at the end of the Mao era, the military is set to intervene in domestic politics and Beijing is giving conflicting orders to lower level officials. Also, ambitious leaders are vying to build bases of power at the same time the party is struggling to salvage legitimacy.

Yet the leadership faces a crisis more severe than that of 14 years ago, in part because of its high-handed treatment of dissenters since last June. Most important, the party has frittered away its legitimacy through folly and tyranny, the analysts say. …

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