China's `Hollow' Political Core Deng Is Wrong to Think That Economic Reform Will Placate the Desire for Political Reform

By Zhang Weiguo. Zhang Weiguo is a former Beijing bureau chief of the World Economic Herald, China's first non-official newspaper, which was closed during the crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement. He currently is a visiting scholar University of California . | The Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

China's `Hollow' Political Core Deng Is Wrong to Think That Economic Reform Will Placate the Desire for Political Reform


Zhang Weiguo. Zhang Weiguo is a former Beijing bureau chief of the World Economic Herald, China's first non-official newspaper, which was closed during the crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement. He currently is a visiting scholar University of California ., The Christian Science Monitor


THE whirlwind pace of economic growth in China has astonished commentators, and the pessimism that reigned since 1989 has turned to ebullient optimism.

Paramount leader Deng Xioaping is usually credited for this growth; once more his rule is called "enlightened dictatorship." Some argue that if Mr. Deng had not decided to suppress the 1989 Democracy Movement, China might now be in a state of chaotic lawlessness comparable to that in the former Soviet Union or even Yugoslavia.

But this view begs the question: Why, if Deng intended to accelerate the pace of economic reform all along, did he wait for more than two years after the Beijing Massacre of June 4, 1989, to launch his new drive for change in early 1992?

From the very beginning, Deng's reform agenda has been aimed at repairing the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party after it was virtually destroyed by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). To this end, central control over local authorities, enterprises, and individuals was relaxed in fits and starts throughout the 1980s. But each new burst of reform only underscored the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was actually an impediment to China's modernization drive.

This realization prompted Chinese students to occupy Tiananmen Square in 1989 and prompted millions more across the country to join the attempt to force fundamental change. But Deng was never able to comprehend the essentially reformist emphasis of the protestors.

The bloody crackdown accelerated the erosion of the CCP's legitimacy; today the moral authority of the Beijing regime has reached an all-time low.

Deng's 1992 tour of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and Guangdong Province was a grudging acknowledgment of the power of regional forces, which had effectively thwarted the center's attempt to revive conservative political and economic policies between 1989 and 1992.

Deng hoped to co-opt the dynamism of South China in order to shore up the power of the central government, but local leaders saw his visit as a political trade-off: In return for expressing their loyalty to the Chinese patriarch they wanted more economic liberalization (read decentralization).

The provinces have shown their gratitude by humiliating the Beijing leadership whenever possible. In Zhejiang and Guizhou Provinces, candidates hand-picked by the CCP Central Committee lost their bids for governorship. And at the National People's Congress, unopposed conservatives Li Tieying and Premier Li Peng both received an unprecedented number of "nay" votes from the normally compliant Congress delegates. …

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