Beijing Spring, 1989: Confrontation and Conflict: the Basic Documents

By Qiao Li; Michel Oksenberg et al. | Go to book overview

III
Neo-Authoritarianism Debates on China's Political Structure

The following seven documents outline major differences among political reformers, all of whom rejected the totalitarian monopoly of the CPC. This fascinating debate focused on several issues, including the relationship between economic and political reform, the free-market requisites for successful economic reform, and the immense obstacles and difficulties in implementing reform. Despite its academic character, this debate was not without political relevance. Zhao Ziyang presumably envisioned himself as the reform-oriented strongman who, proponents of neo-authoritarianism suggested, should be given extraordinary authority similar to that of leaders in South Korea and Taiwan. The creation of a market economy in China required temporary strong leadership from the top. Otherwise, the effort to reform would simply lead to a fragmented and chaotic political and economic system, the direction in which advocates of neo-authoritarianism now saw China headed. Despite their ultimate commitment to democracy, they called for recentralizing power by retrieving the authority transferred to local officials over the past decade. Neo-authoritarianism would be a transitional system, leading to democracy after the full implementation of a free-market economy--a process increasingly successful in both Taiwan and South Korea.

Arrayed against the neo-authoritarians, though cloaking their views to various degrees, were advocates of immediate democratization. These reformers argued that political and economic reform must proceed in tandem. Recentralizing power, irrespective of intent, would, they argued, simply sustain China's totalitarian system.1

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1
Earlier debates on the same issue, articulated in historiographical terms, are analyzed in Lawrence R. Sullivan, "The Controversy over 'Feudal Despotism': Politics and Historiography in China, 1979-82," The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no. 23 ( January 1990): 1-32.

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