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The Fourteenth Party Congress: A Programme for Authoritarian Rule*

  • Tony Saich

The 14th Party Congress heralded a victory for Deng Xiaoping's programme of rapid economic transformation accompanied by tight political control. His name and policies were lauded in Jiang Zemin's “Work Report” to the Congress and the theory of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” became the cornerstone of the revised Party Constitution. The overhaul of leading personnel has provided a clear Politburo majority in favour of the increasing marketization of China's economy. Thus, the Party has created perhaps one last chance to position itself at the forefront of reform rather than appearing as an antique body engaged in increasingly irrelevant ideological polemics.x Whether it will be able to ride this newly re-released tiger of economic reform will depend on its capacity to deal with the social and political consequences of its strategy, many of which will be unpredictable. In essence, the easy part of reform was completed in the 1980s and the difficult stage will now begin. Citizens will be hit as rents and pricesrise, and the state will have to offer employment or welfare to those who lose their jobs if enterprises are forced to become genuinely efficient. It will take a trustworthy, competent and imaginative leadership to sell this programme to the Chinese people, a task made even harder by the credibility gap that has widened enormously in recent years. The mandate for change is there, but whether it will be exploited effectively remains to be seen. Past experience suggests that despite the commitment to bold changes, the Party will slow down the pace of reform once it senses potential unrest.

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1. The Congress was held in Beijing from 12 to 18 October 1992 and was attended by 1,989 formal delegates selected by 34 electoral units representing 51 million Party members. Originally 1,992 delegates had been selected but three had died before the Congress convened (Li Xiannian, Hu Qiaomu and Wang Renzhong). In addition, three other categories of people were invited to attend. First, there were 46 “special guests” who were accorded the same rights as formal delegates. These were members who had joined the Party before 1927 and were considered to have made major contributions to its cause (including Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen). Secondly, there were 307 people from the Central Advisory Committee, the Central Discipline Inspection Committee and certain members of the 13th Central Committee who had not been elected as Congress delegates. Thirdly were 139 members of other political parties and mass organizations as well as government functionaries. The latter two categories did not have voting rights. See Renmin ribao (People's Daily), overseas edition, 1 10 1992, P. 1.

2. Zemin, Jiang, “Jiakuai gaige kaifang he xiandaihua jianshe bufa duoqu Zhongguo tese shehui zhuyi shiye de gengda shengli” (“Speed up the pace of reform, the open door and modernization construction in order to strive for even greater victories for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics”), 12 10 1992, Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 21 10 1992, pp. 13. This was the work report on behalf of the (13th Central Committee to the Congress (hereafter Work Report). A translation of an earlier draft of the Work Report can be found in Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Daily Report Supplement, FBIS-CHI 92–196–S, 8 10 1992, pp. 120. The new Party Constitution can be found in Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 22 10 1992, pp. 12. It was adopted by the Congress on 18 October 1992.

3. This problem was recognized in a People's Daily commentary of 20 10 1992. As the Congress closed, it warned that people would have to stop relying on the Party to satisfy all their welfare needs. People were urged to discover how to fend for themselves. Reported in Japan Economic Newswire, 20 10 1992. This commentary was not carried in the overseas edition.

4. For the standard Party view at that time see Zemin, Jiang, “Building Socialism the Chinese Way,” Beijing Review, 8–14 07 1991, pp. 1431.

5. For an analysis of the different reactions to the failure of the Soviet coup and more broadly to the developments in late 1991 and the first half of 1992 see my article, “Peaceful evolution with Chinese characteristics,” in Joseph, W. (ed.), China Briefing, 1992 (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992) pp. 934.

6. This is the subject of a stimulating analysis by Simon Long. See China to 2000. Reform's Last Chance? (London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, Special Report No. M. 209, 1992).

7. Despite the bumper harvest of 1990, China still imported 13.7 million tons of foodgrains accounting for 4.4% of the total import bill, and while grain exports increased by 86.3% in 1991, imports remained virtually constant at 13.5 million tons. In addition, much of China's domestic produce is of low quality and is used for animal fodder. If China does not exceed the record harvest of 1990 (435 million tons), the effect by 2000 would be a drop of around 50 kilograms per head in consumption. To maintain an equivalent supply, China would have to import 65 million tons of grain. Even Chinese economists, who tend to be more optimistic in their assessments, accept that China will be a major grain importer by the turn of the century. On this point, see Long, , China to 2000, p. 72.

8. It also explains the worry of a broad spectrum within the leadership that too fast economic growth might lead to economic dislocation rather than progress and thus undermine their claims to economic competence.

9. The first public sign of a shift in course was given by Yang Shangkun in a speech marking the 80th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution. Yang reaffirmed that the Party's basic task was economic construction, rejecting the views of those who argued for a continued focus on class struggle. Yang's speech to a rally held on 9 October 1991 can be found in Summary of World Broadcasts: The Far East (SWB:FE), 1200, pp. C1/1–4.

10. The full text of the document can be found in the Hong Kong magazine Zhengming, 1 04 1992, pp. 2327. It appears that a main drafter of the report was Zheng Bijian and that Deng personally edited and approved the text. I am grateful to David Shambaugh for this information. Zheng, who was elected to the new Central Committee, is a Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and was a former political secretary of Hu Yaobang.

11. Zheng Bijian played a principal role in drafting the Work Report. However others such as Li Peng supporter Yuan Mu also played a prominent role. In total, the Work Report was revised ten times before presentation to the Congress. The process began in February 1992, and on 22 February Jiang Zemin addressed a meeting in Zhongnanhai at which he stressed that the document was to reflect the thrust of Deng's comments during his trip to South China. After the first draft was completed, the Standing Committee of the Politburo decided that the “theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics” should be emphasized. Members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo discussed the drafts four times, Politburo members twice, while Jiang Zemin discussed its contents with the drafting group on three occasions. See Shaogao, Jiang, Yuqin, Wei, Shangzhi, Li, Aiguo, Zou and Ping, He, “Weidade shijian, guanghuide pianzhang – dangde shisida baogao dan shengji” (“A great implementation, a glorious chapter – the birth of the report to the 14th Party Congress”), Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 24 10 1992, pp. 1 and 3.

12. This was all the more extraordinary as the Politburo had accepted Deng's new assessment in a meeting held on 9–10 March 1992. See Xinhua (in English), 11 03 1992.

13. For a translation of Li, 's unamended report see SWB:FE 1336, pp. C1/1–12. For an account of the politics that went into its writing, see Zhengming, 1 04 1992.

14. Li did not give a high profile to Deng's rural policy of household-based production and the use of the market, but stressed instead collective service systems and ideological campaigns. By contrast, Deng's policy was praised in the Work Report and the system of household-based production was referred to as “a great creation by Chinese peasants.”

15. On 22 August, Chen returned to Beijing to preside over a Central Advisory Commission meeting that was convened on 24 August. It was at this meeting that Chen presented his critique. See “Shisida qianxi Deng Chen duizhen” (“Deng and Chen lines of battle on the eve of the 14th Party Congress”), Zhengming, 10 1992, pp. 68.

16. Ibid. p. 14.

17. A broad consensus has emerged within the leadership on the need to temper economic growth. Even Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji, thought to be one of the most ardent proponents of economic reform, warned in early September 1992 that growth should not be allowed to slip out of control. An earlier draft of the Work Report had called for 9% growth rates throughout the 1990s but this was subsequently amended to 8 or 9% to “retain a certain amount of leeway and to enable us to exercise greater initiative.” However, with industrial production up 19.2% for the first eight months of 1992 and with the southern provinces unwilling to curb their economic boom (growth rates of over 20% in some provinces), it is questionable how successful the central leadership can be. For the revision in the Work Report see Shaogao, Jiang et al. , “Weidade shijian,” p. 3. For Zhu's comments see Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, “Vice-premier Zhu Rongji warning on ‘runaway’ economy,” South China Morning Post, 10 09 1992.

18. However, Deng stopped short of having himself written into the new Party Constitution in such terms of adulation. While the General Programme of the Constitution was amended to include and give a high profile to the formulation “the theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics” it is not specifically identified as Deng's theory. Further, it is added to the first duty of all Party members and is placed just after the need for conscientious study of Marxism–Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought (Article 3, point 1). Perhaps while Deng was willing to allow fulsome praise at the Congress in order to get his policies accepted, he was reticent to have the ideas enshrined as his alone in the Constitution precisely to ward off accusations of building up a personality cult. For the amendments see Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 22 10 1992, pp. 1 and 2 respectively.

19. For Zhao's statements on these questions see Ziyang, Zhao, “Advance along the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” 25 10 1987, Documents of the Thirteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (1987) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1987), pp. 1314 and 31. While Zhao refers to Deng's “significant contributions” to the formulation and development of the Party's line, the praise is subdued and stresses the collective nature of the enterprise. Importantly, both the primary stage of socialism and the fact that it will last for 100 years have been written into the General Programme of the new Party Constitution.

20. This notion was added to Article 32 of the revised Constitution.

21. Zhao Ziyang's Work Report to the 13th Party Congress also advocated not only the use of commodity markets for consumer goods and means of production but also “markets for… funds, labour services, technology, information and real estate.”

22. Discussion with Guangyuan, Yu, Beijing, 06 1992.

23. Reported in Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, “Deng leads the dragon to market,” South China Morning Post Weekly, 9–15 10 1992. This idea of “socialist” stock holding had been promoted by Li Ning who believed in its efficacy but realized that it had to be justified as appropriate to “socialist” development. At the end of 1988, Li had presented this idea to a conference held by the graduate students of Beijing University, “Reflections on reform in the past decade.” I am grateful to Gu Xin for this information.

24. Unofficial comments in Beijing suggest that this will work in favour of the reformers. There is talk of organs such as the State Planning Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade having their staff reduced by up to 80%. By contrast, the newly-created Economic and Trade Office, headed by Zhu Rongji, is scheduled for major expansion. See Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, “Deng leads the dragon to market.”

25. The Party was particularly worried about potential demonstrations during the Congress and tightened up surveillance on the campuses in Beijing, detained a number of critics, and prohibited prominent proponents of political reform such as former People's Daily editor, Wang Ruoshui, from meeting foreign journalists. On 7 September 1992, the Party disseminated a secret Party document (Document No. 7) that called on the public security forces to strengthen the fight against “hostile elements” to ensure political stability. In particular, the document calls for a closer watch on college campuses and factories as the reforms begin to bite.

26. The Plenum held just before the Party Congress upheld the decision of the Fourth Plenum (24 June 1989) that Zhao had been guilty of supporting the turmoil and splitting the Party. The terse comment in the Plenum Resolution stated that this would be an end to the investigations of Zhao in connection with his role in the events of 1989. See Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 10 10 1992, p. 1. The Plenum was the venue for yet another round of fighting over the question of Zhao's assessment. Early in February 1992, 53 senior Party leaders wrote to the Central Committee proposing that Zhao be expelled from the Party. The issue proved divisive and it took an expanded Politburo meeting in the middle of the Plenum to reject the motion to throw Zhao out of the Party and merely to ratify the decision of the Fourth Plenum. In the final vote, which included members of the Central Advisory Commission, 522 approved the motion and 48 abstained. See “Jiuzhong quanhui dui Zhao dinglun neiqing” (“The inside story of the final conclusion concerning Zhao at the Ninth Plenum”), Zhengming, 11 1992, pp. 1819. The Ninth Plenum met from 5 to 9 October and also took the formal decision to convene the Party Congress and to present the Work Report and the Revisions to the Constitution to the Congress.

27. It should be remembered in this context that Zhao announced to the 13th Party Congress “the struggle to eliminate the interference and influence of the two erroneous tendencies – ossified thought and liberalization – will last throughout the primary stage of socialism. Since the old “left” habits of thought are deep-rooted and since they are the main source of the obstacles to reform and the open policy, the major task for quite a long time will be to overcome ossified thinking.” Ziyang, Zhao, “Advance along the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” pp. 1718. The fact that “leftism” is considered a greater danger than “rightism” is taken up in the General Programme of the revised Party Constitution.

28. In interviews in Beijing in May–June 1992, a number of pro-reform intellectuals all felt that it would be a mistake to rehabilitate Zhao too soon for risk of stirring up the wrath of the orthodox policy tendency.

29. The new Central Committee has 189 full members and 130 alternate members, compared with 175 and 110 respectively at the 13th Party Congress. New members accounted for 46.7% of those elected as opposed to 30.6% in 1987. A full list of members and alternates can be found in Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 19 10 1992, p. 1. As at the 13th Party Congress, delegates had a limited capacity to influence the elections. Each group of delegates was presented with a list of delegates prepared by the Presidium under the direction of Qiao Shi and they could exclude up to 5% of those listed. Apparently, this limited exercise in democracy was the subject of debate during the Congress as some feared that it might lead to upsets in the plans for “elections” to the Politburo and other senior Party organs.

30. Although Jiang Zemin had been Party leader in Shanghai before his elevation to General Secretary in June 1989, he was not promoted because of his experience with economic reform alone but was appointed as a compromise candidate in the aftermath of the crushing of the demonstrations in Beijing.

31. Yang Rudai was probably dropped because of his close association with Zhao Ziyang. The fate of close Zhao supporters was mixed. Thus, while Rui Xingwen and Yan Mingfu were dropped from the Central Committee, Hu Qili kept his place and Tian Jiyun held his Politburo post. However, Hu was not promoted to the Politburo and Tian was not promoted to its Standing Committee as many reformers hoped.

32. This was considerably above the projected 10% that had been proposed by the Seventh Preparatory Committee meeting for the Congress. This meeting had called for only 10% representation for the PLA among Central Committee members and alternates with 65% being drawn from the provinces. See Zhengming, 05 1992, p. 6.

33. It appears that the Yangs were unpopular among key figures in the People's Liberation Army who lobbied Deng to curtail their power. This would have suited Deng as he requires a military leadership committed to modernization of China's forces rather than dedicated to the building up of factional power for potential personal gain. Yang Baibing is said to have received the lowest vote of all Central Committee members (1,808 out of a possible 2,004) mainly because of opposition from the 268 army delegates present, plus those who supported Yun, Chen. Dongfang ribao (Eastern Daily News), Hong Kong, 22 10 1992, translated in SWB:FE, 1521, pp. B2/5–6. For the political manoeuvring that led to the reduction in power of Yang Baibing see “Yang Baibing xue junquan neimu” (“The inside story of the whittling away of Yang Baibing's military power”), in Zhengming, 11 1992, pp. 69.

34. Liu and Zhang had been members of the 12th Central Committee but retired in 1985 at the Special Congress that drastically reduced military representation on the Central Committee.

35. There have been many rumours about who will replace these leaders and at the time of writing it was uncertain. Shao Huaze will probably replace Gao at the People's Daily, while Liu Zhongde looked a possible replacement as head of Propaganda. Both these have served as deputies and are thought to be more “leftist.” However, Shao is thought to be close to Yang Baibing which may not augur well for him. Liu acted as spokesperson for the Congress and was believed to be preferred to the more reformminded Zheng Bijian. This would not release the grip of the “leftists” over the propaganda apparatus. However, Deng and his supporters probably feel that it is better to have them there than running the economy. One possibility to accommodate both would be for Liu to take over Culture and Zheng to take over Propaganda.

36. While a number of accounts had talked of Li Peng being offered the Presidency to soothe his wounded pride at being eased out of the Premiership, more recent speculation focused on Jiang Zemin taking over the post thus making a mockery of Deng's stated objective of separating Party and state. The position of Chair of the National People's Congress may go to Qiao Shi.

37. As at the 13th Party Congress, no women or members of non-Han ethnic groups were elected to the Party elite.

38. The eight were: State President, Yang Shangkun; Organization chief and Standing Committee member, Song Ping; Vice-Premier and Standing Committee member, Yao Yilin; Defence Minister, Qin Qiwei; Politburo member responsible for Foreign Affairs, Wu Xueqian; Beijing Party Secretary, Li Ximing; Sichuan Party Secretary, Yang Rudai; and the Chair of the National People's Congress, Wan Li. Of these, five can be considered reformers (Yang, Qin, Wu, Yang and Wan) while only three belong to the orthodox group (Song, Yao, and Li). Reformers had lobbied hard for the return of Hu Qili but this was blocked by Chen Yun and his supporters.

39. The Party Constitution was amended to delete the requirement that the Secretary of the Commission must be a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

40. Bootleg tapes of the speech were one of the hottest sales items in late May 1992 in Beijing.

41. Chen is claimed to have put forward the view that Jiang and Li must not be moved, Yao (Yilin) and Song (Ping) should not step down and Shenzhen must not become the model for the whole country. Chen only attained his first objective and even the maintenance of this “axis” looks shaky over the long term.

42. However, his continuing unpopularity is shown by the fact that he is reported to have received the lowest number of votes of all Standing Committee members in the elections to the Central Committee. Li got 1,892 out of a possible 2,004, while his rival to run the economy, Zhu Rongji, received the highest vote, 1,998. The other votes were Jiang Zemin 1,996, Liu Huaqing 1,976, Qiao Shi 1,955, Li Ruihuan 1,949 and Hu Jintao 1,944. The five provincial leaders elected to the Politburo received an average of 1,920 votes each. See Dongfang ribao, 22 10 1922 and “Premier gets low support in ballot,” South China Morning Post Weekly, 30 10-5 November 1992, p. 8. Importantly, however, with the Central Committee vote for Politburo membership, Li fared much better, gaining joint fifth place (311) and receiving many more votes than Zhu Rongji (287) who finished 15th.

43. According to Hong Kong observers, before the Congress Jiang had questioned his own ability to continue as General Secretary and had proposed that Qiao Shi replace him. However, eventually Deng decided that he should stay as he was able to act as a bridge between the different policy tendencies within the top Party leadership. See “Yang Baibing xue junquan neimu,” Zhengming, 11 1992, p. 8.

44. The first step in this process could entail giving Jiang Zemin the State Presidency and then removing, at a later stage, his position as General Secretary of the Party.

45. His three deputies were Jintao, Hu, Guan'gen, Ding and Jiabao, Wen. Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 12 10 1992, p. 1.

46. An informed source told me that Deng's favourable impression of Qiao was increased over the issue of the prosecution of Zhao Ziyang's chief aide-de-camp, Bao Tong, in late July 1992. While Deng ordered the trial, Qiao signed the orders and directed the process. Qiao also has the support of Peng Zhen who apparently proposed him for the post of General Secretary in June 1989. Qiao appears to have been smart enough to have declined at that time. On this last point see Dittmer, Lowell, “China in 1989,” Asian Survey, No. 1 (01 1990), p. 36.

47. Hu was appointed to the five-person Secretariat that oversees the day-to-day work of the Politburo. The new Constitution retained the amendment of 1987 that the Secretariat should attend to the daily work of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, and be nominated by the Standing Committee of the Politburo and approved by the Central Committee. In the 1982 Constitution, the Secretariat was said to attend to the day-to-day work of the Central Committee under the direction of the Politburo and its Standing Committee. Thus, the intention is still clearly to prevent the Secretariat from developing as an alternative power-base to the Standing Committee of the Politburo by legislating its subordination.

48. Vice-Chairmen of the Commission had the right to attend Politburo meetings as non-voting participants, while Standing Committee members could attend if asked to by the Politburo.

49. For the work report of the Commission to the Congress in which it recommended its own abolition see Renmin ribao, overseas edition, 23 10 1992, p. 1. The only other major organizational changes in the new Constitution are that: Party congresses at county level are to be held every five instead of three years (Article 24) with the Party committees being elected for the same period (Article 26); these local Party committees are to meet twice instead of once a year (Article 26); and that Party committees at the basic levels are to be elected for three or four years (Article 30) instead of the previous three years while Party branch committees are to be elected for two or three years (Article 30) instead of the previous two years.

50. A snap poll taken after the Congress published by the Beijing Youth Daily highlighted these worries. While 83% expressed “satisfaction” with the Congress, 69% said that prices and inflation were their chief worry. See UPI, 20 10 1992.

51. For a well documented account of the estrangement of students towards the objectives of the Chinese Party-state see Rosen, Stanley, “Students and state in China: the crisis in ideology and organization,” in Rosenbaum, A. L. (ed.), State and Society in China (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992), ppl. 167192.

52. Shils notes that “a widespread pattern of civil manners” is a key component of civil society, and indeed for many writers it is what distinguishes it from “natural” society. Shils, Edward, “The virtue of civil society,” Government and Opposition, Vol. 26, No. 1 (1991), p. 4.

53. In this respect, the work of Oi and Walder is particularly interesting. See Oi, Jean C., Slate and Peasant in Contemporary China: The Political Economy of Village Government (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) and Walker, Andrew G., Communist Neo-Traditionalism: Work and Authority in Chinese Industry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

54. This paragraph is based on comments in my article “Peaceful evolution with Chinese characteristics.”

55. A Xinhua report claimed that 733, 543 cadres had been punished for engaging in corruption. Of these, 154, 289 had their Party membership withdrawn and 42,416 had criminal proceedings brought against them. Xinhua, 22 10 1992 reported by Japan Economic Newswire, 22 10 1992.

56. This explains the rise in membership in an otherwise discredited institution. Since 1987 some 7.51 million people have joined the Party, bringing membership to 51 million.

* I would like to thank Richard Baum, Nancy Hearst, James Tong and Andrew Wedeman for their help in collecting materials for this article. In particular, I would like to thank David Shambaugh and James Tong for their constructive comments on an earlier draft. The article was written while a Visiting Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles under the auspices of the International Studies and Overseas Program, Center for Chinese Studies.

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