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The Fifteenth National Party Congress: Jiang Takes Command?

  • Richard Baum
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1. Formalizing the glorification of Deng's theories, the 15th Party Congress revised the CCP Constitution to stipulate, “the Communist Party of China takes Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping Theory as its guide to action.” See Beijing Review, 13–19 10 1997, p. 18.

2. The attack took the form of a series of “10,000 word manifestos” (wanzishu) published in the CCP's in-house propaganda organs under the guiding hand of the retired conservative propagandist, Deng Liqun. See South China Morning Post, 23 02 1997, p. 1; and Reuters, (Beijing), 30 07 1997.

3. The Economist, 20 09 1997, pp. 3940; Asian Wall Street Journal, 23 09 1997.

4. Wall Street Journal, 18 09 1997; South China Morning Post, 20 09 1997.

5. An abridged text of Jiang's 29 May speech, containing many of the ideas and proposals later incorporated into his keynote speech at the 15th Party Congress, appears in Beijing Review, 25–31 08 1997, pp. 1013.

6. For analysis of key political developments in the run-up to the 15th Congress, see, inter alia, Far Eastern Economic Review, 31 07 1997, pp. 1415; Asian Wall Street Journal, 10 and 11 09 1997, p. 8; The Economist, 20 09 1997, pp. 3940; and Asiaweek, 26 09 1997, p. 54.

7. Zhao's appeal, which was published in the Hong Kong Apple Daily, was brushed off as insignificant by Chinese Minister of Justice Xiao Yang on the grounds that “the Party and government have already handled correctly the incident and unrest that occurred in the spring and summer of 1989, thus ensuring the long-term stability of China.” After this incident, Zhao, who had been under some form of house arrest since 1989, was reportedly reprimanded and placed under stricter supervision.

8. The text of Jiang's report to the 15th Congress, awkwardly entitled “Hold high the great banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory for an all-round advancement of the cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics into the 21 st century,” appears in Beijing Review, 6–12 10 1997, pp. 1033.

9. According to the State Statistical Bureau, from 1994 to 1996 “triangular debt” among state enterprises shot up from 600 billion yuan to 1 trillion yuan. Despite the fact that SOEs accounted for less than 40% of the country's gross industrial output value, bank loans to ailing state enterprises accounted for fully 90% of all enterprise loans granted in 1996. See The Economist, 13 09 1997, pp. 2325; also “China's management of enterprise assets: the state as shareholder” (World Bank, 06 1997).

10. Reputedly coined by liberal Marxist theoretician Su Shaozhi, the term “primary stage of socialism” (shehuizhuyide chuji jieduan) first appeared in the text of the CCP's June 1981 “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People's Republic of China.” Zhao Ziyang later appropriated the term, with Deng Xiaoping's approval. On the origins of the theory, see Schram, Stuart R., “China after the 13th CongressThe China Quarterly, No. 114 (09 1988), pp. 177197; and Baum, Richard, Burying Mao: Chinese Politics in the Age of Deng Xiaoping (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 218ff.

11. Throughout his speech, Jiang generally avoided using derivatives of the controversial “p” word, e.g. “private sector” and “to privatize,” preferring instead to employ euphemisms such as “non-public sector” and “to cultivate a diversity of investors.”

12. Under a Company Law enacted in 1993, for example, the corporate conversion of large and medium-sized SOEs was well under way in Shanghai and other cities.

13. See Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 10 1997; Business Week, 29 09 1997, p. 118.

14. See, for example, Asian Wall Street Journal, 23 09 1997; Asiaweek, 26 09 1997; and Time (International), 15 09 1997.

15. A recent World Bank report on the management of China's state assets notes that many enterprises initially corporatized under the 1993 Company Law were being run as private fiefdoms by management at the expense of state banks. See n. 9, above; also Asian Wall Street Journal, 23 09 1997.

16. Such concerns were additionally fuelled by memories of the “snowball effect” of Deng Xiaoping's 1992 naruun, when the paramount leader's fervent exhortations to accelerate the pace of market reform precipitated a manic investment and construction binge throughout the country, marked by runaway bank lending, rampant speculation, economic overheating and inflationary price increases, inter alia. Fears of a similar galvanic response being triggered by Jiang's keynote speech were widely expressed by observers in the aftermath of the 15th Congress.

17. Note, for example, the following, taken from just one section of Jiang's speech: “It is our Party's persistent goal to develop socialist democracy”; “we [must] develop people's democracy and do things in strict accordance with the law”; “we must resolutely correct such erroneous acts as suppressing democracy”; “ruling the country by law is the basic strategy employed by the Party.”

18. One immediate consequence of China's acceptance of the principle of multilateral diplomacy was a revival of hopes for a peaceful resolution of conflicting sovereignty claims in the Spratly Islands. Prior to the 15th Congress, China had steadfastly refused to negotiate collectively with ASEAN. I am indebted to Stuart Harris for calling this to my attention.

19. Chen had been deeply implicated in a series of financial scandals that rocked the Beijing municipal government in the mid-1990s, culminating in the 1995 suicide of Beijing Deputy Mayor Wang Baosen. For background on the case of Chen Xitong, see Wedeman, Andrew, “Corruption and politics,” in Brosseau, Maurice et al. (eds.), China Review: 1996 (Hong Kong: The Chinese University, 1997), pp. 6194.

20. As an indication of the magnitude of the problem of corruption within the Communist Party, at the 15th Congress it was disclosed that in the five years between 1992 and 1997 more than 725,000 cases of criminal conduct by Party members had been investigated. These resulted in the expulsion of 121,000 CCP members, of whom 37,000 were detained for criminal prosecution. The remaining 600,000 + were subjected to milder forms of organizational discipline.

21. Beijing Review, 6–12, 10 1997, pp. 45. Not all official media were so laconic. On 19 September, Xinhua quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang to the effect that Jiang's report was of “great significance” due to its “brilliant dialectical exposition” of the current international situation.

22. Far Eastern Economic Review, 2 10 1997, p. 20.

23. See South China Morning Post, 21 05 and 16 07 1997. Mutual coolness between Jiang and Qiao reportedly stemmed from the latter's opposition to Jiang's sudden ascent to the post of CCP General Secretary in 1989. In his post as head of the National People's Congress, Qiao had repeatedly stressed the importance of “rule by law” (fazhi) while Jiang's supporters generally emphasized “rule by core” (hexinzhi). As late as the spring of 1997, in the aftermath of Deng Xiaoping's funeral, Qiao Shi was one of the few top Chinese leaders who did not call for the entire Party to rally around the “core” leadership of Jiang Zemin.

24. On these (and other) pre-Congress political manoeuvrings, see, inter alia, South China Morning Post, 31 07 1997, and Asiaweek, 26 09 1997, p. 45.

25. I am indebted to Paul Heer for noting the irony of this situation.

26. South China Morning Post, 23 and 31 07 1997.

27. South China Morning Post, 20 09 1997.

28. At the 15th Congress it was decided that at least one-half of the newly elected Central Committee members and alternates should be under the age of 55.

29. Apart from the exception made for Jiang Zemin, the only other member of the 14th Central Committee over the age of 70 to be re-elected to the 15th Committee was former CCP general secretary Hua Guofeng, 76.

30. On the eve of the 15th Congress a report circulated in Beijing noting that Ding Guan'gen had joined a Kuomintang youth group in the 1940s. The timing of the revelation suggests that Ding, a conservative propagandist, was being deliberately smeared by opponents. While he subsequently managed to retain his membership on both the Politburo and the Central Secretariat, he was not promoted to the Standing Committee.

31. On Zhu Rongji's economic initiatives of the mid-1990s, see Baum, , Burying Mao (paperback edition, 1996), pp. 382–83. On Zhu's rise to premier-designate, see, inter alia, Lilley, James. R., “The Fifteenth Party Congress: a balancing act” unpublished paper:, 25 09 1997.

32. I am indebted to David Shambaugh for providing the following compilation.

33. The data provided in the following section are drawn from Ming bao (Hong Kong), 19 and 20 09 1997; and White, Lynn and Cheng, Li, “The Fifteenth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party: full-fledged technocratic leadership with partial control by Jiang Zemin,” Asian Survey (forthcoming: 1998).

34. The percentage drops to 49% if the 46 alternate members of the 14th CC who were promoted to full 15th CC membership are subtracted from the list of first-timers.

35. The percentage rises to more than 90% if short-term post-secondary training is included, such as study at the Central Party School.

36. The lone exception was Yunnan province, which secured only one seat.

37. See Wall Street Journal, 18 09 1997.

38. Prior to the 15th Congress it was rumoured that Jiang had favoured Shanghai Party chief Mayor Huang Ju for the director's post.

39. On the PLA as veto group, see Mulvenon, James, “Professionalization of the senior Chinese officer corps: trends and implications” (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, MR-901-OSD, 10 1997).

40. According to Hong Kong sources, Deng Xiaoping personally initiated to proposal to extricate the PLA from top-level political decision-making before his death. See Guangjiao-jing (Wide-Angle), 16 10 1997, pp. 1216.

41. Far Eastern Economic Review, 2 10 1997, p. 21; The Economist, 20 09 1997, p. 40.

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