Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A Comrade in Boston [Harry Eastmarsh]

Analyzing China since Mao’s Death


First Published: Theoretical Review, No. 4, March-April 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the period since the death of Mao Ze-dong (Mao Tse-tung)[1] a major upheaval in policies and leadership has occurred in China. Shortly after Mao’s death, Zhang Chun-qiao (Chang Ch’un-ch’iao), Qiang Qing (Chiang Ch’ing), Yao Wen-yuan and Wang Hung-wen were ousted from all positions of authority and shortly after that stripped of their Party membership. Following the purge of the so-called “gang of four” came both a widespread purge of their followers and dramatic changes in policy in virtually all fields.

How are these changes and their consequences to be analyzed? Is the new leadership implementing Marxist-Leninist policies along the line set out by Mao? Is it continuing the revolution? Or is it a revisionist leadership implementing policies which could allow a restoration of capitalism in China?

Unfortunately most public statements by U.S. Marxist-Leninist groups have substituted a series of conclusions for real analysis. In other words, rather than actually analyzing the situation, they have accepted either the line of the four or that of the present leadership and presented collections of such data as their analysis.

Such analyses are unsatisfactory, however, for three reasons. First, by presenting conclusions rather than analyses demonstrating how such conclusions were reached, they do nothing to develop the theoretical capacity of U.S. Marxist-Leninists to evaluate the situation in China or elsewhere. Second, by fully attaching themselves to one of the two positions, they refuse to acknowledge the possibility of criticizing the position they support. This locks them in an either/or sort of analysis which may eliminate the possibility of more meaningful analysis. Third, and most importantly, by restricting themselves to following one or the other of the two lines in China, they implicitly deny their own theoretical capacity to make such an analysis. In other words, as some comrades saw the Soviet Union as the sole source of Marxism-Leninism during the thirties and forties (with disastrous consequences), now these comrades are posing a new external center for the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement which would leave it in a dependent and potentially sychophantic position.

What is needed is an actual Marxist-Leninist analysis of these changes, But a prerequisite for such an analysis is a theoretical framework within which to carry out such an analysis.

Numerous comrades may argue that such a theoretical framework has already been fully elaborated. That is, dialectical materialism, historical materialism and the theoretical framework set out by either the past or present Chinese leadership provide the necessary theoretical framework. This article, however, will demonstrate the incomplete elaboration and limits of these frameworks in terms of making this analysis and will then focus its attention on the areas in which further work must be done in order to develop a sufficient theoretical framework to properly evaluate these changes in a Marxist-Leninist way.

To accomplish this task, this article is divided into four sections. The first two will appear now, the second two in the next issue of Theoretical Review [EROL Note: In fact, the second two sections of this article appeared in the following two issues of the TR]. The four sections are: 1. A summary of change in China since the death of Mao and the purge of the four; 2. A summary of the analyses of these changes made by the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement; 3. The presentation of a preliminary theoretical framework for a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the situation in China; and 4. An orientation of how such a preliminary theoretical framework can increase our understanding of the situation in China. This clarification laid out in part four will demonstrate the need for further theoretical and empirical research in order to more fully understand the situation in China today.


As noted above, shortly after Mao’s death, Zhang Chun-qiao, Qiang Qing, Yao Wen-yuan and Wang Hung-wen were purged along with large numbers of their followers. As a consequence a new leadership emerged, led by Chairman Hua Cuo-fung (Hua Kuo-feng) and Defense Minister Ye Jian-ying (Yeh Chien-ying). With his reinstatement (following his second purge as a capitalist roader) as Vice-Premier d Vice-Chairman, Deng Xiao-ping (T’eng Hsiao-ping) became the third leading member of this group.

Although individuals cannot be the focus of a Marxist-Leninist analysis of social formation, it is nonetheless imperative to have some information on the forces these leading personalities represent and on their personal backgrounds, especially in light of highly personalistic attacks which have characterized the situation since Mao’s death.

Hua Guo-feng was a member of China’s security establishment who rose from a local cadre in Hunan to Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. He is on record in the fifties as an early supporter of collectivization and communization[1a] and was seen as a “revolutionary cadre” by left mass organizations in Hunan during the Cultural Revolution, at least through 1967, when the national leadership the Cultural Revolution and Hua began criticizing numerous of these organizations as “ultra-left.”[2] Most of Hua’s promotions came at times of revolutionary upsurges in China’s past, e.g. during collectivization, during the anti-rightist campaign of 1957, during the Great Leap Forward, etc. During early 1976, his public position on numerous issues so closely coincided with those of the “four” in opposition to those of Deng Xiao-ping that, in March 1977, posters appeared in China arguing that the “gang of four” was really a “gang of five” with the fifth being Hua. Subsequently, in the fall of 1977, after the Dangshan (Tangshan) earthquake, Hua began to coalesce with more conservative provincial and military leaders who would be part of the coalition which purged the “gang of four.”

Deng Xiao-ping was purged during the Cultural Revolution as the number two person in authority taking the capitalist road. Restored to power in 1973, he was purged again in 1976, as one who, according to Mao “does not understand Marxism-Leninism, he represents the capitalist class.”[3] Following his second reinstatement after the purge of the “four”, many of his programs for industry, agriculture and science – which had been thoroughly criticized following his second purge – were reinvigorated in only slightly modified form.

More important than this data on leading personalities, however, are the changes which have occurred in China’s social formation since the leadership change. A short summary of some of the outstanding changes is presented below.

Mass Reaction: After the purge of the four was made public, large mass demonstrations enthusiastically supporting their removal were held throughout China, including, notably, a celebration in Shanghai, the “power base” of the “four.” (However, it is important to note that this demonstration took place only after the entire Shanghai Municipal Party Committee was removed and replaced by a new committee.) On the other hand, the new leadership reported serious problems in consolidating their control in fourteen of China’s provinces. Large numbers of work teams and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops were sent in to quell disturbances which, in Sichuan (Szechwan) were described as “a state of civil war” by the new leadership.

Agriculture: At the national conference on learning from Dazhai (Ta-chai)[4], three different lines were presented: Jiang Qing called for mass mobilizations of the poor and lower middle peasants as the primary means toward raising the level of socialist ownership in the countryside (her speech was not published, allegedly on Mao’s orders); Deng Xiao-ping called for consolidating and perhaps expanding the private initiatives given peasants since the early sixties and centralizing control of the agricultural means of production at the expense of the local units (his speech was not published either); and Hua Guo-feng called for raising the level of ownership on the basis of increased agricultural mechanization. In other words, Jiang Qing saw mass mobilization, or changes in the superstructure and relations of production, as the key link in making further progress in developing socialist relations in the countryside. Hua saw further development of the forces of production as the key to this process, while Deng did not seem to see the need for further development of socialist relations of production in the countryside as a priority at all. Since the purge of the “four,” public statements on agricultural policy have suggested a further centralization of ownership of the agricultural means of production (something akin to the machine tractor stations in the Soviet Union under Stalin) and agricultural mechanization as a precondition for further transformation of the relations of production in the countryside.[5]

Industry: Visitors to China have reported that some “three-in-one combinations”[6] in industry are being disbanded as “inefficient” in favor of more “specialized and technical” forms of decision making. In early 1977, one element of the ruling coalition publicly proposed, for the first time in the history of socialist China – implementing the Taylor system of management in industrial enterprises. Although all evidence suggests that this proposal was quickly dropped (at least for the moment), its publication is nonetheless useful in helping to define the rightist extremes of the present coalition. Since that time, public statements have called for a strong and independent management system to run production with the Party’s role in management reduced to exercising general unified leadership over major issues.

Foreign Trade and Self-Reliance: Since the purge, Chinese purchases of foreign technology and plants have increased rapidly with the avowed aim of increasing China’s technological base and purchasing sufficient oil-related equipment to allow China to become a major oil exporter by 1980. This tendency has most recently been manifested in the trade agreement agreed to by China and Japan at the end of February involving $20 billion in trade, $10 billion in imports of Japanese heavy technology to be paid for largely by delayed exports of Chinese oil. As this process of increasing trade for foreign technology has progressed, the mass media in China has switched its emphasis from “self-reliance” to “making things foreign serve China.”

Inherent in this plan is the need to reduce investment in agriculture, or to increase “accumulation” from agriculture, at least in the short term, in order to have sufficient resources to purchase foreign technology and to develop the related industries. Simultaneously, with increased imports of Western technology comes increasing linkage with the capitalist world economy – with its various contradictions – and potentially increased dependency on foreign technology and foreign supplies – with their various contradictions.[7]

Literature, Art and Education: The now resuscitated “Report Outline on the Work of the Academy of Sciences,” originally sponsored by Deng Xiao-ping in 1976, suggests that ”one should not talk about class struggle in science and technology.”[8] In an article criticizing the “four’s” handling of Culture, Peking Review (#4, 1977) went so far as to say “a work of art can be good or bad, refined or crude, and so on and so forth. But what is right or wrong in art?”

The requirement that middle school graduates do two years of manual labor prior to being eligible to enter universities has been dropped, allegedly in order to help China catch up in science and technology, despite the existence of millions of middle school graduates who have already done two or more years of manual labor. At the same time “key point schools” – schools established at various local levels, such as the district or the county, to allow “better” students to advance more quickly and to enter college directly – have been reestablished despite the fact that they were abolished during the Cultural Revolution as a key element in the elitist tow track education system of the time. And recent visitors to China also report that university and middle school students are now doing less manual labor than at any time since the mid-fifties while overseas Chinese experts who brought up the criticism that they underwent during the Cultural Revolution have been told to “let bygones be bygones.”

Structural Changes: At the end of February, 1978, in line with Hua’s call to pay more attention to united front work, the Chinese People’s Political Conference was convened for the first time since 1964. The CPPC was originally a political body composed of members of the party of the proletariat – the CCP – and members of the various democratic (bourgeois) parties. As such it represented the multi-class people’s democratic dictatorship of the early years of China’s liberation. In this capacity it was the body which officially declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. The CPPC has now been reconstituted despite China’s having progressed from a multi-class democratic dictatorship of the people to a dictatorship of the proletariat.[9]

Personnel: Following the purge of the “four”, their alleged followers at all levels of Chinese society, from the Central Committee to local cadres including, for example, the entire Shanghai Municipal Party Committee, were removed from their positions of authority, or rectified. And the present leadership recently announced that the “four” will not be executed despite their “recalcitrant” attitude. This suggests that elements of the coalition had argued for ignoring Mao’s long established policy of “killing none and arresting few” in cleaning out counter-revolutionaries in the Party and government organs.[10]

Conversely, large numbers of persons purged during the Cultural Revolution have been reinstated in positions of authority. Two outstanding examples include former Chief of Staff Luo Ru-jing (Lo Jui-ch’ing), who was purged in 1966 for advocating united action with the Soviet Union in Vietnam and for overemphasizing a professional military at the expense of the militia, and Zhou Yang (Chou Yang), a former Minister of Culture purged as one of the leading members of the Liu Shao-qi (Liu Shao-ch’i) bourgeois headquarters.

Summary: In short, there is a large collection of data demonstrating changes in various policies since the purge of the “four”. What analyses of this data have been made?


Most of the analyses of this situation, rather than actually analyzing it, have chosen to take one or the other side of the argument and repeat or paraphrase it. For example, the Communist Party (M-L) merely reprints contemporary Chinese articles upholding the present leadership and castigating the “four.” On the other hand, the Revolutionary Communist Party, after maintaining an embarrassing silence on this issue for some sixteen months, has split on whether or not to support the new leadership. Unfortunately for a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the situation, the two RCP factions merely seem to have chosen pre-made analyses to support. The Avakian faction (based largely on the East Coast) supports the line and analysis of the “four” while the Jarvis faction (based largely on the East coast) supports the line and analysis of the present leadership. The Guardian, after having taken tentative steps towards an independent analysis by suggesting that the “four” were not capitalist roaders but left dogmatists and that the present leadership as moving right, declined, or was unable, to reach any more definitive conclusions on the situation, as evidenced by its lack of further articles on the subject.

What are the arguments generally put forward as the analysis of this situation?

The present leadership argues that the “gang of four” were ultra-rightist capitalist roaders posing as leftists. Their main theoretical error and distortion was a metaphysical separation of the dialectical entity composed of revolution and production. The “four,” it is said, advocated revolution at the expense of production[11], i.e., they argued that struggle to oust “capitalist roaders” from positions of authority must be carried out even if production were to suffer.[12] By following such a path, production would be disrupted and the country put in chaos, thus providing the “four” (and other capitalist roaders) with the opportunity to seize power. Once in power, their policies would lead to a full collapse of China’s economy, thus opening the gates to a full capitalist restoration.

In addition to the numerous personal attacks on the “four” which dominated the first months’ criticisms of them, more substantial criticisms of the manifestations of their errant line have more recently been developed. Three examples of these criticisms will suffice to demonstrate their general tenor.

First, the “four” are accused of incorrectly accusing the vast majority of veteran cadres of being mere “bourgeois democrats,” unable and unwilling to lead the socialist stage of the revolution. Consequently, these “bourgeois democrats” would, or in many cases, already had turned into “capitalist roaders” dedicated to preserving and consolidating, the limited anti-feudal state capitalist gains of the democratic revolution.[13] Although the present leadership never denies that this argument has a firm basis, particularly in Mao’s own works,[14] they dispute the assessment that vast numbers of veteran cadres are such “bourgeois democrats/capitalist roaders.”[15] They argue that such an assessment can only be made by incorrectly characterizing the great socialist gains of China’s revolution as mere democratic gains.[16] The purpose of these charges, they argue, was to discredit old cadres and allow their replacement by supporters of the “four.”

Similarly, the present leadership attacks the “four’s” “two estimates” in the field of education. According to the critique, these estimates argue that from 194-9 to 1966 Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line in education basically was not implemented, and that the majority of students and teachers of that period had a bourgeois outlook. Therefore in the field of education, only “socialist new things” begun during and since the Cultural Revolution can be seen as continuing and consolidating China’s socialist revolution. The present leadership, however, argues that Mao’s proletarian line was implemented in the main during that period despite the need for “reforms and revolutionization” brought about by the followers of Liu Shao-qi’s revisionist line. They further accuse the “four” of distorting Mao’s thought to demean even post Cultural Revolution intellectuals and educational achievements and of falsely posing the contradiction between mental and manual labor as an antagonistic one in order to attack the present leadership and replace them with their own supporters.

Finally, the present leadership attacks the “four’s” argument that “bourgeois right” is one of the social bases for the restoration of capitalism. These attacks have come on several fronts: 1. It has been argued that the Chinese translation of the ambiguous German word for bourgeois right (Das Burgerliche Recht) was incorrectly translated into Chinese, leading to an incorrect presentation of the basic concept in the “four’s” argument. Since the time of this article the Chinese translation of bourgeois right has been changed from one which implied juridical power (faquan) to one which implies rights in the sense of privileges or claims without any necessary juridical legitimization (quanli).[17] 2. The “four” and their supporters are accused of incorrectly portraying bourgeois right, and in particular the “to each according to their work” principle of distribution, as the social basis for the restoration of capitalism by again ignoring the basic changes in China’s economic base since liberation. 3. The “four” and their supporters are accused of ignoring the positive aspects of “distribution according to work” (as opposed to the capitalist principle of distribution according to capital based on the exploitation of the proletariat through the-commoditization of labor power), while simultaneously taking an ultra-left position in criticizing the principle of distribution according to work in comparison to the communist principle of distribution according to need. According to the present leadership, this analysis also demonstrates how the “four” ignored the base in their focus on revolution, in this case ignoring the material advances in the base necessary to implement the communist principle of distribution.[18]

All of these criticisms point to different assessments of the state of the Chinese Revolution at the time of the death of Mao.

The argument made by the supporters of the “four” is somewhat more difficult to construct, largely because it must be extrapolated from documents printed prior to their purge.

This argument is frequently made by contrasting articles from Peking Review prior to the purge of the “four” with articles from Peking Review after their purge. However, the obvious realization that these two sets of documents are contradictory is nothing more than that; it is still not an analysis. Nonetheless, it is necessary to briefly lay out this argument.

This position holds that the present leadership has metaphysically separated the dialectical unity of revolution and production, focusing on the latter at the expense of the former. This is usually labelled the “theory of productive forces.” This charge has also been levelled against Liu Shao-qi, Deng Xiao-ping (referring to his policies during both his earlier periods in power) and Soviet revisionism. Proponents of this line of criticism point to the numerous policy changes outlined in part one above as proof that the present leadership has ceased to revolutionize the relations of production in the vain belief that by relying on “more efficient” but less revolutionary relations of production, productivity and production can be increased, thereby providing an economic base sufficiently developed to generate its own socialist relations of production. The critics then point out the similarity of the position of the present leadership with that embodied in the Resolution of the Eighth Party Congress of the CCP (1956) that the main contradiction in China was not that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but that between advanced social relations and backward forces of production, a position which was strongly criticized by Mao from 1957 on.[19]

Since the present leadership adheres to this revisionist position and has implemented the above revisionist policies, and since it came to power by militarily ousting the “four” and their supporters, the argument goes, a revisionist coup has occurred and the present leadership is now attempting to consolidate and extend their control with the end of restoring capitalism in China.

What is lacking in much of the above analyses is the dialectical factor. That is, the charges against the “four” imply that their policies were advocated as generally applicable, regardless of time and conditions. Similarly, critics of the present leadership argue that their policies are proposed as generally applicable regardless of time and conditions. Thus, for example, supporters of the “four” argue simplistically that changes in policies established by the “four” are, by definition incorrect; implying on the one hand, that the policies of the “four” were totally correct, and on the other, denying the need for periods of consolidating gains made during periods of revolutionary advances. However, both of these charges, in large part, lack credibility.

Historically the policies supported by the “four” can be seen to have included phases of revolutionization and periods of consolidation (although it is unclear to what extent Mao was responsible for these periods of consolidation). The policies which are now criticized as “ultra-left in form but right in essence” should be seen as policies appropriate to a period of revolutionization. On the other hand, the policies of the present leadership are clearly policies of consolidation, rather than of revolutionization. But it is necessary to point out that many members of the present leadership historically have been far less prone to support policies of revolutionization than were supporters of the “four” to support appropriate consolidations.

Thus, in the end, the crucial point is that an evaluation of the state of China’s revolution at the time of Mao’s death must be made. Was China in a period which required revolutionization or consolidation as its prime element? Clearly the two sides disagree on this assessment.

Unfortunately, this issue is addressed rarely, if at all, by U.S. Marxist-Leninists. In short, neither side has laid out the criteria for determining whether a particular period should be one focused primarily on revolutionization or consolidation.

As said above, it is clearly that the two sides fundamentally disagree on virtually every aspect of this assessment. What one side says to be true, the other denies, with the result that numerous specific events are recounted in totally contradictory ways.[20]

This raises a serious problem for U.S. Marxist-Leninists. On the one hand, many comrades supported the Chinese leadership when the “four” were prominent. With their fall, a new and contradictory line has been put into effect. Support for this new line requires a denunciation of the previous line, a self-criticism for having supported it and an acceptance that the new policy is correct.

But this raises a further problem. In accepting the new line, one has admitted, explicitly or implicitly, that one had previously supported an incorrect line put forward by a leadership in power. One has also admitted that large numbers of the Chinese people and the CCP also supported this incorrect line. Now, however, the argument goes, the incorrect line generated such resistance that it was overthrown and the new, correct line put into command. However, if it is possible that the prior incorrect line was supported by large numbers of the Chinese people, the CCP and their American supporters, then what is to guarantee that it was not the earlier line which was correct, while the present leadership is implementing an incorrect line which will generate such opposition as to cause it to be overthrown? In other words, one has admitted that a leadership group can produce an incorrect line and, for a period of time, successfully masquerade it as a correct line.

What then are the criteria for determining what is correct when two lines contradict one another? Is it merely the control of leadership positions by one or another group at any given point in time? Or must there be a set of independent, Marxist-Leninist criteria on which to base this judgement?

Starting from the assumption that it is incorrect to equate power-holders with proponents of a correct line, it is necessary to develop a theoretical framework within which to independently evaluate the theory and practice of the two different groups. This theoretical framework would then provide a basis for analyzing the theory and practice of other revolutionary situations throughout the world.

The next section of this article will begin to point out the necessary direction of our theoretical work if we are to develop such a framework.


[1] The pinyin method of romanization of Chinese names has been used in this article. Pinyin rather than the more familiar Wade-Giles system has been adopted by the Chinese and will be used more and more in the future. Therefore this article will use this forward looking system. For convenience, however, the first time each name appears in pinyin it will be followed by the older and more familiar transliteration.

[1a] See his articles in Xue-xi (Study) (Peking), No. 11 (1955) and Hunan dang sheng-huo (Hunan Party Life), No. 6, June 15, 1958.

[2] Xiang-jiang feng-lu (Thunder and Storm at the Xiang River) (Changsha), Nov. 17, 1967.

[3] Hong-qi (Red Flag), No. 5 (May 1976), P. 1. Red Flag is the theoretical journal of the CCP. In May 1976, it was under the auspices of Yao wen-yuan.

[4] Dazhai has been the model agricultural brigade in China since 1964.

[5] For Mao’s previously unpublished position on these questions, see Mao Tse-tung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, Moss Roberts, Trans., Monthly Review Press (New York), 1977.

[6] “Three-in-one combinations” are various combinations of skilled personnel, leading cadres and workers designed to combine politics and expertise in various aspects of production and management.

[7] See “The Capitalist Roaders Are Still Capitalist Roaders,” China Study Group, (Denver, 1977), pp. 36-52 for data on this aspect of China’s changing trade patterns.

[8] Xue-xi yu pi-pan (Study and Criticism) (Shanghai), No. 32, April 1976, pp. 20-27. Xue-xi yu pi-pan was an organ of the “four”.

[9] This event also raises the question of what these bourgeois parties represent. Are these still sufficient remnants of the pre-liberation bourgeoisie present in China’s social formation to “require” such representation, or do these parties now represent new bourgeois elements?

[10] Mao Ze-dong, “The Ten Great Relationships,” #8.

[11] Some data, particularly the “fours” criticism of Dazhai provide some basis for this accusation. However, the accusations against the “four” portray their positions as far more simplistic and extreme than they seem to have been in fact.

[12] However, it is not mentioned in these accusations that the avowed purpose of these disruptions was to provide a political base for increased socialist production in the future.

[13] This line comes out quite clearly in the film “Breaking with Old Ideas.”

[14] See, for example, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. V, p. 93.

[15] The dispute over the proportion of errant cadres is similar to that at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution when the leftists accused large numbers of cadres of being capitalist roaders. Although Mao held to the line that the vast majority of cadres were good, in practice he nonetheless allowed a large number of them to be criticized as a method of getting the Cultural Revolution into full stride.

[16] An alternative argument could be that socialist gains had in fact been made but only because those in the Party supporting the socialist line – who were often a minority – were able to win out in the two line struggle.

[17] Guangming Ribao, Oct. 31, 1977. Since the article alleges that the original German term is ambiguous, it is ironic that the author should choose a second definition, rather than arguing that each of the definitions could be used in proper context. The implications of this change will be discussed in the second part of this article.

[18] To independently analyze this position, see Yao Wen-yuan, “On the Social Basis of the Lin Biao (Lin Piao) Anti-Party Clique,” (Peking, 1975), Zhang Chun-qiao, “On Exercising the All-Round Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” (Peking, 1975), Peking Review prior to the fall of the “four” and The Struggle Against Teng Hsiao-ping’s Revisionist Line, articles from Red Flag, Study and Criticism and other sources, Compass, P.O. Box 9278, Boston, Mass. 02114.

[19] For Mao’s first criticism of this line, see “Talk at the Hangchow Conference of the Shanghai Bureau,” April, 1957, in Mao Ze-dong Sixiang Wansui (1967), pp. 100-109, translated in Joint Publications Research Service, No. 61269-2, pp. 63-71. For another discussion of this line, see “Marxism-Leninism and the Class Struggle,” by Louis Althusser, in Theoretical Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jan.-Feb., 1978), pp. 17-21.

[20] A striking example of retroactive changes in political evaluations of political history can be found in an erratta sheet from the journal Scientia Sinica which reads “In the article ’Devote Every Effort to Running Successfully Socialist Research Institutes of Science’, ’the arch unrepentant capitalist roader in the Party, Teng Hsiao-ping’ should read ’Teng Hsiao-ping.’”