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Nigel Harris

China: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

or A Host of Dragons Without a Leader’ [1]

(Winter 1968/1969)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.35,Winter 1968/1969, pp.11-23.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The détente between Washington and Moscow, the partial ‘ thaw’ in the Cold War, permitted the expression not just of nationalistic polycentrism between nation-States, but polycentrism within each nation-State. The forces of revolt were not merely expressed in a Gaullist foreign policy against NATO, but also in France’s May revolt against de Gaulle himself. Nowhere has this double process been more vividly illustrated than in China where the basic problems of survival for the majority are greater. Between the slack expansion of agricultural output and the inexorable pressure of a rising population, in a world overshadowed by the industrialised powers, by the military threat of the United States and the Soviet Union, there is almost no room for manoeuve. China, like the other underdeveloped countries, is trapped in a stifling straightjacket where despair and bold rhetoric mingle on equal terms.

But just because it is an underdeveloped country, China’s economy can survive much of the Cultural Revolution when it is isolated to a few urban centres. The rural majority continues its life much as before. The economy does not depend in the same way upon a single integrated structure. The villages depend much less upon the cities than in a more developed country. Thus, in some of the wilder talk about ‘civil war’, one must be careful to see how many people and places were really involved. Sometimes, it seems, a minor scuffle between two bands of teenage thugs has been duly reported with solemnity on Red Guards posters as a major struggle, and thence transmitted to the world press as a collapse of the social order. The information emerging from China is more fragmentary than that on any other country in the world, and must be treated with a certain initial scepticism.

On present evidence, the Cultural Revolution is drawing to a close. It may, still be a long time before the entire country is once more at peace, but the leadership does seem to be committed to establishing peace. Nothing has happened since the climax of January, 1967, to change the basic balance of forces in the country. Up to that time, the central Party leadership held the initiative and set the pace. It was able to escalate its war against opposition forces in the Party in successive phases, until it virtually abandoned the Party altogether. The climax was reached when the students, the Red Guards, were shown to have failed in their task of remaking the Party, and the Peking leadership appealed to the workers and peasants to ‘bombard the Party headquarters’, ‘to seize power’. It thereby released a host of new forces which rapidly came to threaten itself. Despite many short-term zigzags in policy, since January, 1967, the leadership has been trying to draw back from the abyss. It has been forced to devote itself to the problems raised by its campaign, rather than to the purposes of the campaign itself. It first sought to use the army (PLA) to impose a single unified order on the country, and then, when this proved inadequate, to promote conservative deals with whatever local provincial leadership, in collaboration with the army, would co-operate.

But to do this was to deny the earlier rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution, to rehabilitate the discredited Party cadres and reject implicitly the competing demands of Red Guards and Revolutionary Rebels. Peking had too little power over the whole country to secure its will, and sudden spasms of violence and conflict have swept through provincial capitals as new and old groups competed for first place in the new order. Despite the merciless exposure of the old provincial Party leadership, many of them returned to power. The stalemate between Peking and the opposition could not have been illustrated more vividly. Neither side could defeat the other, and in their common interest in domestic order against the mass of the population, both were forced back into co-operation. The crucial problem – namely, the balance of power between Peking and its provinces – remained unsolved. Indeed, if anything, the Cultural Revolution has immensely exacerbated the problem rather than approached its solution. [2]

As the campaign proceeded, it connected different layers of the population and Party in different areas at different times. This immense complexity of issues and loyalties is the background to the twists and turns in Peking’s policies. Once opened, the contents of Pandora’s Box threatened to take control. But each change in policy ran the risk of inciting new groups of people to begin to compete for the prizes, and ultimately, a real – rather than rhetorical – class war. There are some signs that a few of the rebels made the transition from attacking ‘a handful in the Party taking the capitalist road’ to war on ‘the Red Capitalist Class’, a phrase from the manifesto of a Hunan rebel groups, Sheng-wu-lien. [3] The rise and fall in Peking’s attacks on the ‘ultra-Left’ and ‘anarchism’ gives an indirect indication of how serious the threat at times has been, and, perhaps, still is.

The twists and turns in policy embody Peking’s search for an agency to replace or reform the Party, to sidestep localised webs of power in each province, and thereby impose a new centralised regime. On the ‘Left’ swings, it tried to use new forces – Red Guard bands, Revolutionary Rebel groups; on the ‘Right’, it brought in the army (PLA) in the first instance, and then the Party cadres themselves once again. The PLA is only three million-strong, unlike the 17-20 million cadres in and around the old Party, and provincial PLA units in any case are likely to have loyalties to the province concerned. The stresses within the PLA threatened the sole remaining coherent framework in the country as a whole, as well as exposing China’s vulnerability to Soviet or American threats. In the end, Peking was reduced to trying to rehabilitate the Party itself. Nothing was solved; two and a half years had been lost with nothing to show – except, perhaps (for 1967 alone) 86.4 million copies of Mao’s Selected Works and 350 million Red Books.

II. The Centralisation Issue.

The Cultural Revolution was an attempt to overcome the sluggish rate of China’s economic growth, and one of the results of that sluggish rate, localised power groups which inhibited central direction. At the beginning of the campaign, the most important of the localised groups were in control of provincial administration! At the end, new groups had blossomed at every level, and, indeed, outside the administrative structure altogether.

The battle is, then, over the distribution of scarce resources. It is partly between town and country, between different provinces, between the provinces and Peking; it is also partly between workers and managers or Party cadres, and, in some areas, between peasants and Party cadres. The first kind of conflict is one between different geographical areas; the second, between different national classes (or fragments of such classes). Territorial conflict is endemic in most underdeveloped countries, and has been central to the pre-industrialization history of the developed countries. However, in developed countries today, interdependence between the different territorial parts of the economically centralised nation-State has long since superseded conflict. There are, of course, some kinds of regional conflict still – Welsh and Scottish nationalisms are currently embodying certain regional demands. But these are only possible on the margins when social and class conflict is relatively mild. When class conflict rises, it tends to eliminate much of the significance of regional clash in modern developed countries. Rather than Welsh employers and workers combining to fight London; Welsh, Yorkshire, Scottish and other miners combine to fight the National Coal Board, part of an employing class which includes Welsh, Scottish and so on employers.

In a backward country, national interdependence is weak, for the economy consists of much more independent segments. National classes are therefore very underdeveloped as well. The ruling class is ‘embryonic’; that is, its members have not all identified a common class interest, and particular groups are prepared to press their opposition to the national centre to the point of open rebellion. Thus each territorially defined ruling group is open to pursuing its own narrow interest at the cost of the national ruling class interest; the final stage is pursuing this narrow interest, is to secede from the parent State altogether and create an independent State. Whether or not a group does this depends upon its assessment of its strength (how far it is economically independent in fact, how far its own subordinate classes will follow it) and its assessment of the strength concentrated in the parent-State (if the parent-State has a monopoly of military force and is willing to use it, the local group is unlikely to rebel except where it can get foreign assistance on a comparable scale).

An exacerbating condition in this relationship is the demand the parent State makes upon the local ruling group to relinquish a share of the surplus generated in the group’s territory. If the group’s territory is economically advanced, its surplus is likely to be an industrial one; in return, it may receive foodstuffs, without which is cannot survive. Thus, the industrialised areas are likely to have, initially, a greater interest in a strong national centre which can provide them with adequate foodstuffs. By contrast, the food-surplus areas are likely to resent central control since their product is taken, yet, in conditions of high accumulation, they see few returns in terms of manufactured goods. If foodstuff is plentiful, these tensions may be minor ones, the real debate surrounding the national distribution of investment resources – which area gets the next steel mill. The foodgrain surplus areas have power to influence national investment distribution when food is short; the food-deficit areas, often (but not always) the industrialised, areas, can attract the major share of investment resources when food is easy to obtain because they already provide an infrastructure of previous investment which will maximise the use of such resources.

On the other hand, every local ruling group has some interest in securing as much as possible of the surplus its territory produces in order to strengthen its own power within the territory.

This is a very oversimplified account of a complex issue. There are many other factors at stake in the bargaining between different areas, and between areas and national centre – for example, whether or not the area is also an international boundary; or whether or not communications and distance preclude the centre actually moving force against a recalcitrant province. In China, Peking has, in the short term, to trust the Lhasa administration because it cannot move large numbers of troops into Tibet rapidly. Peking needs to maximise the rate of capital accumulation if China is to develop as a national economy. To do so, it must secure unimpeded control of the surplus generated in every province. To do this, it must prevent provincial Parties skimming the provincial surplus for their own purposes, and distribute the national surplus as it thinks fit. If Shanghai can make the best use of new investment, then that is where new investment must go, even if it deprives the poor provinces and increases regional differentials in terms of income and power. However, a number of features over the past decade have steadily strengthened local power and thereby progressively inhibited Peking’s ability to plan. Overcoming these inhibitions cannot indefinitely be postponed. The longer entrenched enclaves of provincial power are permitted to stand against Peking, the more powerful they become, the more difficult Peking finds it to accelerate the overall rate of development. Thus, the Maoist stress upon the need for poverty and self-sacrifice is a stress on the need for a common subordination to central control, a common sacrifice of consumption for national accumulation.

In Imperial China, the conflict between provinces and centre was one important theme at different times. When the Imperial dynasty was strong, it sought to inhibit the creation of a provincial opposition by keeping the mandarins in circulation between provinces. Provincial mandarins were supposed never to have sufficient time and opportunity, to build up a proper base within the province. This circulation of officials has not happened in Communist China. The provincial administration of 1965 was still manned by many of the people who originally took power in the province after the fall of the Kuomintang, and the regional bureaux are still, broadly, the original occupying armies.

Between 1948 and 1957, the country as a whole was steadily centralised, a process culminating in the period of tightest central control during the First Five Year Plan. Yet the unity of the country still depended upon the local Party cadres: indeed, holding the Party together meant holding China together. But there was in this period room for Peking to manoeuvre . A respectable rate of economic growth and rising foodgrains output made central control tolerable. This does not mean there were not provincial tensions. For example, in the 1953-54 rectification campaign (which, at the national level, pudged Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih), the first secretaries in six provinces and two autonomous regions were changed. Again, the purge of 1957-58 affected 12 provinces and autonomous regions. It seems there had been much grumbling among provincial leaders during the speed-up in collectivisation in 1956-57, and the purged were accused of favouring a slower rate of economic growth and qualifying national directives. In Honan, the Party first secretary was said to have argued : ‘Honan is different from Peking and Shanghai, and what is marked out by the central leadership can serve only as a guide.’ [4] Small personal cliques were said to have seized control of some provincial parties for their own benefit, the cliques appealing to provincial loyalties. For example, the purged Governor of Shantung is alleged to have said: ‘I am a native of Shantung, I am for the people of Shantung and the cadres of Shantung’; by implication, against the Pekinese. He was accused of packing the party with his own supporters and blocking national directives. But the purge in practice affected mainly the middle ranks of the provincial Parties rather than its top leadership. During the Cultural Revolution, others have been accused in identical language – for example, Peng Chen, the Peking Party leader until 1966, was accused of making Peking an ‘“independent kingdom”, watertight and impenetrable’.

Perhaps one of the motives of the central leadership in the Great Leap Forward was to break the provincial leadership’s power by decentralising the economy to the under-province level, to the county (Hsien) and Commune. Peking relinquished substantial controls over management, finance, grain procurements, price control and planning. There was some decentralisation of control and planning. There was some decentralisation of control over new capital projects, and in some parts of the economy, control was divided between the province and the centre (’dual control’ of the railways, for example). Peking remained in control of interprovincial grain balances, even if not of grain procurement. [5]

From 1960, Peking tried to reverse the results of this disastrous loss of power which, far from destroying the provincial leadership, had only strengthened it. But the agricultural disasters of 1960-61 made it, in the short term, even more dependent upon provincial co-operation. Any slight variation in local administrative control could produce famine in such conditions. Peking concentrated on a cautious, conservative economic policy, described earlier by Cliff as a phase of ‘neo-NEP’. [6] The margins were far too narrow to gamble, even though permitting the situation to continue only made it more, difficult to solve later on. Differentials between rich and poor, advanced and backward areas, town and country, between social strata, widened, underpinned by the provincial Party’s toleration of its own friends and supporters. The longer Peking permitted local power to continue unhampered – or rather, checked by little more than Peking’s propaganda rhetoric as in the ‘socialist education campaign’ – the more powerfully entrenched provincial leaders might become, the more slippery Peking’s grasp of provincial surpluses. The threat implicit in the shifting power balance was that Peking might become just a servicing centre for real power groups in the provinces or the front for a coalition of powerful provinces. Indeed, it has been argued that Peking’s purchase of grain on the world market was not so much to meet a general deficit at home as give it an edge in the hard bargaining over the distribution of interprovincial grain balances. [7] Peking imports about six million tons of foodgrains a year, which is a mere three per cent of China’s total grain output, but 12 per cent of central procurements and probably much more of interprovincial balances. However, the grain is not solely for domestic use; it has been used as an instrument of foreign policy – grain was exported to Egypt last year so that China could compete with Soviet foreign policy.

However, breaking the provincial leadership is only one part of the problem. Once the web of control at the provincial level is broken, it might merely be that a multiplicity of groups would be created at the under-provincial level, each vying for power in the province, each exhibiting what the Peking press calls a ‘mountain stronghold’ or ‘small group’ mentality. At least, in the old situation, Peking had only to deal with 28 local authorities (provinces, autonomous regions, autonomous municipalities). Destroying that level of administration could create thousands of different groups to be dealt with. In addition, both the central leadership and the provincial leaderships were not necessarily united. At the centre, within the small leadership groups, different perspectives were available, and as the struggle outside developed, so it connected with this inner struggle, fragmenting the inner cliques, which in turn fragmented the forces outside. At every level, factionalism threatened to dissolve what unified structure remained, producing an immensely complex picture where easy identification of the forces became impossible. And the disagreements came to range over the whole spectrum of foreign and domestic policy – from the best way forward for the economy, to China’s relationship to Russia, the US and Vietnam.

The PLA seemed to be the sole force left to hold the whole together. Securing the sowing and harvesting of crops was one of its persistent responsibilities. Yet it was too small to take up the burdens of the Party properly. If the rural Party administration weakens, the peasants may fail to relinquish the grain. Honan radio, for example, rebuked selfish peasants for hoarding grain, for ‘economism’, in mid-1967. But once the grain is hoarded, a force as small as the PLA cannot possibly find it. Fortunately, 1967 seems to have been a very good year – officially, 10 per cent above 1966’s output. But the limitations of PLA control were vividly illustrated. The centre of necessity had to begin the process of rebuilding the Party, whatever the economic cost.

The central leadership – or the dominant faction within it – closed all educational institutions in mid-1966 in order to make available an extra-Party scourge of the cadres. It was ironic, since earlier Mao had said the youth was the weak factor in China’s progress since it had not experienced Kuomintang rule. At every stage, the Red Guards needed official encouragement and support for survival – for transport, telegraphic services, food, accommodation, newsprint, etc. – and were subject to subversion by different factions in the central and provincial leaderships. By November, 1966, it was clear the Red Guards were no longer a useful instrument for the central leadership, but, on the contrary, merely engendered factionism and violence. From that date, the Peking leadership began the long task of trying to get the students back to school and University.

In February, 1967, primary schools were officially reopened, with secondary schools and universities supposed to open in March: all, despite earlier promises, unreformed. By June, it was clear work had not been resumed in the schools. They were used as faction headquarters, as dormitories; the teachers were often too demoralised to risk returning to work; university textbooks had been denounced, but no new ones written. One correspondent [8] estimated that on average a half to two-thirds of all school pupils attended school for one or two hours per morning to read or sing Mao quotes and undergo military training.

The summer violence of 1967 sucked in the Red Guards groups once more and made them, at particular times and places, briefly important. The campaign in the Party had little effect – the Red Guards were determined to get their foot in the door before the old order returned. Hsieh Fu-chih, Minister of Public Security, reproved the youth for squabbling in October [9], and said some of them might gain admittance to a reformed Party after a probationary period.

None of this had very much effect, and the summer of 1968 found bands of Red Guards again awaiting the opportunity to participate in the struggle for power. However, throughout 1968, the central leadership shifted its emphasis almost entirely away from youth – the ‘working class’ should now be the main element in the Cultural Revolution. The Party recruited squads of ‘workers and peasants’ to do the task the PLA had failed to do, and moved them into all educational institutions to reimpose discipline. The first such team entered Tsinghua University in late July, and was rewarded with a basket of mangoes from Mao himself. [10] A much greater stress appeared in the Party press on the errors of ‘intellectuals’, and the need for them to submit to discipline.

However, there were some suggestions that the more radical elements in the Cultural Revolution Group in Peking still saw the youth as a possible replacement for the Party. On September 7th, a rally to celebrate the end of the long agonising process of forming Revolutionary Committtes in all provinces was held in Peking. But it was not held before the famous Tienanmen, nor did Mao or Lin Piao attend. And Chiang Ch’ing, Mao’s wife and one of the most important members of the Cultural Revolution Group, gave a most curious speech to the assembled students which included the following ambiguous comment on her predecessor’s speech: ‘You will notice that – unlike Chou En-lai – I have pointedly omitted to mention the workers and peasants who are trying to break you up’. It had other waspish asides, and ended with an injunction to the audience to keep its spirits up. Clearly, someone had been defeated.

III. The Cultural Revolution in 1967 and 1968

The brief climax to the Cultural Revolution in January, 1967, was followed by an immediate and rapid retreat by the central leadership. A central directive of January 21st ordered the PLA to intervene and restore order, seeking to create conservative coalitions, the ‘triple alliances’, between the PLA, reformed Party cadres and Revolutionary Rebels (the ‘worker’ successors to the Red Guards) in all provinces. However, whatever the rhetoric about triple alliances, at this stage military control was the first priority to overcome urban disorder and stiffen the, administration for the tasks of spring sowing in the countryside. The PLA instructions were very wide:

’In all institutions where seizure of power has become necessary, from above to below, the participation of the PLA and militia-delegates in the temporary organs of power of the revolutionary triple alliance is indispensable. Factories, villages, institutions of finance and commerce, of learning including colleges, secondary and primary schools), Party organs, administrative and mass organisations, must be led with the participation of the PLA ... where there are not enough PLA representatives available, these positions should better be left vacant temporarily.’ (Red Flag, Mar. 10th, 1967)

Press and radio urged the peasants to concentrate on the sowing, and Red Flag (Feb. 22nd) even criticised those who launched indiscriminate attacks on all persons in authority – such a policy ‘robs the nation of the mature political and organisational skills of experienced men’. On March 6th, it reported that the Central Committee (which had not, apparently, met) urged all rural Party cadres to take the leadership in the spring sowing: ‘Those cadres who have made mistakes’, it said, ‘should redouble their efforts in spring farm work to make amends’.

However, the more the PLA extended itself, the more it became the target for criticism rather than the old Party order. In particular, the Rebel group it failed to choose as its partner in a triple alliance sooner or later appealed over its head to Peking for arbitration. Sheer military involvement made the PLA vulnerable politically. In Peking itself, the PLA was midwife to a revolutionary municipal committee (the sixth ‘triple alliance’ formed to that time; 22 to go) of which Hsieh Fu-chih, Minister of Public Security, was chief; two of the four vice-chairmen and 14 of the 97 committee members were from the PLA.

On April 6th, the Party Military Affairs Committee issued a directive forbidding PLA units to suppress any rebel faction or to use force to secure order. It was to be a free for all, and through the summer, the maximum violence and disorder of the Cultural Revolution occurred. The scale of the violence is impossible to estimate reliably, for the evidence is fragmentary and from biased sources. One Red Guard source retailed a speech by Hsieh Fu-chih in which he is supposed to have said that production in Peking fell by 7 per cent in April because of ‘armed incidents’. However, it is unlikely that the statistical services of Peking were up to any such precise estimate so soon after the event. He is alleged also to have said that between April 30 and May 10, there were 130 armed struggles around the city, involving 63,000 .people in all, with 50 to 100 casualties per incident.

Radio and press continuously appealed throughout the summer for an end to violence, to attacks upon soldiers and interference with public property. [11] The PLA was probably at the limit of its tolerance when the Wuhan incident in July dramatically illustrated its vulnerability and the central leadership’s dangerous dependence on the PLA. The Wuhan Military Region commander was Chen Tsai-tao, a veteran Party soldier who had commanded the 4th Army in 1934 and become a full general hi 1955. In the formation of Wuhan’s Revolutionary Committee (the ‘triple alliance’), he backed the One Million Heroes Rebel group as his collaborators. A coalition of seven Red Guard groups appealed to Pekin against this, saying that the One Million Heroes was just a front for the old ‘capitalist readers’ of the provincial party. Hsieh Fu-chih and Wang Li (head of the Party propaganda department) visited Wuhan to plead for the excluded Red Guards, and were promptly arrested by the PLA. Demonstrations against Chen in Peking, furious protests from the centre, rumours of the personal intervention of Chou En-lai, of paratroop drops on Wuhan and gunboats being sent from Shanghai up the Yangtze to Wuhan, finally secured the release of Peking’s emissaries. The air force was said to have taken over security functions in Wuhan. Most of the military command acknowledged their errors and returned to the fold, although Chen himself was replaced by an officer from the Peking Garrison.

The details are suspect, but the substance of the incident dramatically revealed the weakness of the PLA as a substitute for a popular revolutionary force. Attacks on the capitalist roaders in the PLA followed (e.g. Red Flag, Aug. 17), but briefly, since to turn the attack on the PLA itself was to threaten the only safeguard left to the existing leadership, the sole framework left for holding together the country. Lin Piao is said to have restricted himself to urging patience upon the generals who met in military conference in Peking on August 9th. However, there were contradictory tensions within the national leadership. On the one hand, some leaders sought to protect the PLA; on the other, some of the Cultural Revolution Group were said to be pressing for selected Red Guards to be armed to help safeguard public property. It was perhaps the second group which sponsored or encouraged the attack on the Foreign Ministry in the same month, and the attacks on foreign embassies, culminating in the sack of the British Chargé d’Affaires office on August 22nd.

But the violence was not restricted to Peking. ‘A wind of armed struggle is developing in several regions’, the People’s Daily noted on August 19th, and the New China News Agency reported opposition to the formation of Revolutionary Committees in eight provinces. Ceaseless adjurations and edicts from the central leadership seemed to have little or no effect. Tougher measures were required to repudiate the wilder men. On August 20th, Wang Li of the Cultural Revolution Group was dismissed, and others immediately around him accused of being Kuomintang agents. The honour of the PLA had received its sacrificial victim. On August 25th, the national press launched a campaign: ‘Support the army and love the people’, and the PLA was ordered at all costs to restore the tattered urban administration to order. On September 5th, Red Guard sources reported that Chiang Ch’ing had publicly defended the central leadership, the Revolutionary Committees and the PLA against ‘a gust of foul wind’ on the ultra-Left and the Right among the Red Guards.

In the same month, Mao toured some provinces in order to examine the situation at first-hand. His verdict stressed the need to re-educate the Red Guards and Revolutionary Rebels lest they turn to the extreme Left. They must stop trying to be active in reforming society as a whole, and return to their schools and workplaces to form triple alliances there – where, we might add, the dangers were much less, and in any case, overseen by the PLA. It was clear that the situation had to be stabilised as rapidly as possible, the glaring gaps in ruling class solidarity closed lest it incite outsiders to try and get in. However, the Party administration could not just be restored in its old form or the opponents would redouble their efforts to destroy it and might, in addition, destroy the Peking leadership as well. Revolutionary Committees must be created as rapidly as possible, even if in practice it meant no more than a new name for the civil administration of the PLA or the old Party organisation itself. Revolutionary Committees must be created in the remaining 22 provinces by January, 1968, it was announced. Where disputes occurred, factions should send representatives to Peking for arbitration. As it happened, only seven more provinces received their Revolutionary Committees by the deadline, suggesting how difficult the stalemate had become in many provinces.

One major source of grievance, then, was who was to share in the prizes of new order. In October, Hsieh Fu-chih offered some clarification to the aspirant groups in announcing a new Party Congress in 1968 – in May or June, or just before October 1st. [12] The Congress, he said, must be organised from the top downwards lest the old guard dominate it – ‘In this way, it will be possible to ensure that the rebels among the Party members will be in a majority’. And it should be much larger than past Congresses, not 1,000 but 10,000 representatives. [13] This would be a Congress with a vengeance, swamped with Peking nominees and incapable, by reason of its size, of deciding anything of significance. The 8th Congress was held in 1956, and, under the constitution, Congresses were to be held at four-year intervals. Yet the 9th, so long delayed, was not mentioned again in 1968, and one must presume that, with all safeguards, the Peking leadership still could not be sure of a majority.

With the winter, activity tended to fall. The Peking press concentrated on conservative themes, and the joint New Year editorial of the People’s Daily, Red Flag and Liberation Army Daily stressed the need to consolidate, to complete the rectification of the Party organisation and strengthen it. In order of precedence, the Party and the Young Communist League (supposed to have been disbanded in 1966) appeared before the Red Guards. This did not mean that there were no dissonant voices at all. In Shanghai, troubles were reported, and in February, the press was once more taking to task ‘anarchism’, indiscipline and disobedience among workers and students. It was clear also that the events of 1967 had created a subterranean network of contacts and communications in particular areas which defied the Peking attempt to reimpose silence.

A further 12 Revolutionary Committees were set up by April, but many of them were little more than PLA-cadre fronts. Increasingly, criticisms were levelled at over-hasty rehabilitation of those disgraced – the ‘mass organisations’ were under-represented, and many of the old cadres were sneaking back into the new order, cadres which were ‘“Left” in form but Right in essence’. Mao’s current instruction (reported, People’s Daily, 12th April) described the opposition to the Cultural Revolution as the same as that of the Kuomintang. The hardening of the line was a prelude to further violence. It came with the first intimations of spring, and blossomed in the summer heat. Yet it did not reach the proportions of mid-1967, perhaps because only one faction of the central leadership was supporting a greater role for the Revolutionary Rebels, the others being more concerned with the restoration of order.

The August 1st Army Day editorials unequivocally .demanded absolute obedience by all to the PLA. On August 5th, the People’s Daily denounced domestic polycentrism and demanded absolute obedience to centralised control (the paper said it was merely reiterating instructions contained in orders issued on July 3rd, 24th and 28th). The agency of social change, the leadership of the movement, was the ‘working class’ (People’s Daily, August 15th). In practice, this meant the recruitment of teams of workers and peasants to take over detailed execution of policy from the hard-pressed PLA units – to assume control of schools and universities, of factories and urban administration. The PLA remained in command, but its agents now became squads of civilians under military and cadre supervision. In the cities, teams of vigilantes were able to fill the gaps created by the erosion of the old public security organs.

Kwantung boldly set the target of one million men to join such teams, and Kweichow announced that up to 10 per cent of the workers in any one factory could participate in the takeover of educational institutions. Mao’s instruction on such teams stated that they ‘should stay permanently in the schools and colleges, take part in all the tasks of struggle-criticism-transformation there and always lead these institutions’. [14] Either there was a great deal of surplus labour hi the factories, or overall production was likely to suffer by cutting the labour force.

At different stages, the leadership had tried to control the Red Guard factions – by placing them under PLA command, by sending them to the Communes for labour, and, even, for a brief despairing moment, oh fruitless Long Marches. The shift to ‘the leadership of the working class’ can similarly be seen as a way of ridding the labour force of Revolutionary Rebels, shunting the worker factions into detailed and isolated work which would permit the restoration of order under PLA control. The Chinese working class has no independent class organisations with which to identify itself, to crystallise its policy. It exists in the Maoist teams by permission of the Party leadership. No doubt De Gaulle, testing the mild temperature of ‘participation’, would quite like to create teams of ‘working-class’ youth to bloody student noses, but nobody should be misled into thinking that this is somehow an authentic proletarian act. As will be suggested later in the article, wherever authentic proletarian organisation has in fact appeared, the central leadership has been quick to try and crush it.

On September 5th, it was announced that the last two Revolutionary Committees had been formed. The national press returned to the point from whence the Cultural Revolution began in the spring of 1966 – a critique of journalists and ‘some intellectuals’. Liu Shao-chi remained the prime casualty, the scapegoat and warning to all the other cadres now to be rehabilitated. On National Day (Oct. 1st), the Peking press said that the ‘handful of capitalist readers’ had now been overthrown and power returned to the proletariat (the same claim was made, somewhat prematurely, by Red Flag on July 1st). On October 15th, Peking radio said that China’s Krushchev had been deprived of all Party posts, although presumably he still remained President of the Republic, and on November 1st, Liu was the first time publicly named by the radio in a broadcast reporting the decisions of an enlarged (sic) plenary session of the central committee, meeting since October 13th. Liu had been formally deprived of all powers and rank and expelled from the Party.

Is this all it was supposed to be about? For two and a half years, the Party’s power had been systematically eroded, for no better reason than ‘an extremely small handful’ of ‘renegades, spies, counter-revolutionaries, and cadres taking the capitalist road’, led by Mao’s erstwhile heir, now described as ‘the main traitor, workers’ thief and Kuomintang running dog’. It would strain the imagination too far to think so much had been gambled for so little. While the Red Guards rampaged in Peking streets, Liu and the Party Secretary, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, remained untouched in their Government residences. Liu is still not officially destroyed, since only a full Party Congress can ratify his expulsion from the Party, and a National People’s Congress, his dismissal as President of the Republic. Such devotion to constitutional niceties suggests how vulnerable the leadership feels itself to be: violence against an important member of the Party can be the precedent for violence against those that inherit.

IV. The Provinces.

The provincial level is the crucial area to observe the Cultural Revolution, and yet it is the area where there is least information. The essential issues have been decided here, rather than in the Peking leadership clique. What follows are some notes on Sinkiang, Szechuan and Tibet, not at all because they are representative – indeed, they are among the least representative provinces of China – but because they illustrate some features of the opposition.

(i) Sinkiang is in the far north-west, with a long common border with the Soviet Union and a large non-Chinese population (Turkic tribes, who inhabit also the adjacent Soviet territory). Since 1955, the head of the administration has been a Hunanese, Wang En-mao, controlling the provincial Party, government and Sinkiang PLA units. The last is particularly important, since there are said to be 600,000 troops in Sinkiang along the Russian border. Lop Nor, the main nuclear testing site, is in Sinkiang, as well as plants pf nuclear significance; the main gaseous plant producing enriched uranium is at Lanchow in neighbouring Kansu.

The Red Guards in Peking launched successive poster and press attacks on Wang in 1966, accusing him of ruthless brutality in controlling his fief. He is said to have repressed Red Guard attempts to enter Sinkiang – turning their trains round and despatching them back to Peking, gaoling others, and even driving some to a death by starvation in the Gobi desert. The attacks did not meet their target. Wang is said to have been received amicably at Mao’s court in Peking on December 31st, and in February, 1967, the Cultural Revolution was officially suspended in Sinkiang on the grounds that it was a sensitive border region. The suspension coincided with a rumour that Wang had threatened to seize the nuclear installations in the north-west unless he was left in peace.

However, in June there were reports of fighting in Urumchi (Sinkiang’s capital), and again in August. In between – in early July – again it was rumoured there had been a settlement between Wang and Peking. The Red Guard verbal attack continued unabated, as did reports of more trouble through 1968. Certainly, Sinkiang was one of the last provinces to establish a Revolutionary Committee. In the Peking announcement of its creation, Wang, the chief leader of the province since 1955, was not included among the list of ‘capitalist readers’ ousted during the Cultural Revolution, but he was included as ‘third vice-chairman’. However, when an important Albanian delegation recently visited Urumchi. it was Wang who met them on behalf of the province and made the main address of welcome. He was described as vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Committee and Political Commissar of the PLA Sinkiang Military Area Command. [15] Thus, in practice, very little appears to have changed in Sinkiang, whatever the rhetoric.

(ii) Szechuan is in the south-west, adjacent to Tibet. It is vital as a key grain producing area. It is also what the Red Guards called the heart of the empire of the south and south-west. The former Party head, Li Ching-chuan, the ‘local emperor’, came under heavy attack. Kweichow radio (Kweichow is a neighbouring province) permitted a former Party secretary from Ipin in Szechuan, Liu Chieh-t’ing, to broadcast his criticisms of Li (presumably he could not broadcast them in Szechuan itself). He accused Li of seeking to maintain Szechuan’s grain capacity as a bargaining counter against Peking; of suppressing Pekin’s instructions to collectivise agriculture and create Communes; of giving collective agricultural property over to private peasant production; and of gaoling him, Liu, for two years for criticising the way the province was administered.

Liu, like many of the rebels, had his own fortune to think of – regicide is one way of trying to inherit the crown (Liu and his wife were subsequently both named as members of the Szechuan Revolutionary Committee). So that the truth of these accusations cannot be taken for granted. However, there was a fairly violent struggle for power in the province. In May, 1967, fighting was reported in Chengtu (the provincial capital), and also in June. On June 11, Red Guard sources alleged that 300 had been killed on June 7th in Chungking because the PLA political commissar had led 30,000 workers in defence of the old guard and against the attacks of 800 Red Guards (the figures seem very unlikely). Peng Chen, the Peking chief purged in the spring of 1966, is said to have visited Szechuan for talks with Li, to create, as the posters said, ‘a stronghold of opposition’ for the capitalist roaders. When Marshal Peng (purged in 1959) was re-arrested in 1966, it was in Szechuan.

In early July, a Peking team visited Szechuan, and also Yunnan province in the south; the leadership of Yunnan was said to be in league with Li to control the whole southwest. The visit did not settle the issue, for further fighting was reported in August, and also in the summer of 1968. A Revolutionary Committee was not established until May, 1968, one year after the announcement of a Preparatory Committee. All this, despite the fact that the strong-arm general of Tibet, Chang Kuo-hua, was transferred to Szechuan in late January, 1968 (he became subsequently Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee).

(iii) Tibet is certainly the most backward and barren province, geographically isolated from China proper and yet crucial for defence purposes by reason of its long and troubled border with India. Given the border problem and the Tibetan history of sporadic revolt against Chinese rule, the PLA has inevitably played the dominant role in Tibet. Tensions between the immigrant Chinese and the Tibetans are, however, probably less important for the Cultural Revolution than friction between the military rulers and the immigrant workers, exiled from their homes to work impossible hours in impossible conditions.

The conflict in Tibet, according to Red Guard sources, was between the Rebel Headquarters, supported by the mass of Chinese workers in Tibet, and the Great Alliance, sustained by the PLA under General Chang Kuo-hua (appointed in 1951). Very few Tibetans seem to have been involved at all. Chang was accused of suppressing the Red Guards and supporting the local Party leaders. In early February, 1967, the old guard was said to be in control of Tibet, and the PLA to have declared martial law. On February 17th, some 120 were said to have been killed in fighting in Lhasa, and on February 18th, Lhasa radio reported that three PLA divisions had been drafted into Tibet. Simultaneously, Red Guard sources said the Cultural Revolution in Tibet – as in Sinkiang – was suspended. The Military Affairs Committees of the Party in Peking issued a statement saying that Chairman Mao fully supported General Chang, and Chang’s critics were evil liars.

Some disturbances continued in 1967, and in August, some 500 Tibetan refugees crossed into India (the highest figure since 1962, when the border dispute with India broke into hostilities) with lurid accounts of persecutions. Again, Tibet’s Revolutionary Committee did not make its debut until the very last minute. Yet, Peking must have felt moderately confident when it transferred Chang out of Tibet in January, 1968, to become Commander of the Szechuan Military Region; although not so confident that it appointed a successor – Chang remained in de facto control of the Tibetan Military Region and head of its Military Control Commission.

Other provinces also had bitter and sustained conflicts, although the exact alignments are not always clear. In Kwantung, for example, there have been persistent reports of violence from Canton, of clashes both between workers and students, and between Rebels and the PLA. Canton’s proximity to Hong Kong makes it particularly subject to inflamed rumours, transmitted by excitable travellers. But there are more objective indices of some disturbance – the 90 per cent fall in passenger traffic between Canton and Hong Kong in August, 1967; the 41 bodies washed up in Hong Kong in June, 1968. On June 8th, the Canton Southern Daily said that some ‘class enemies’ had ‘fanned the evil wind of economism on a large scale in order to corrupt the combat spirit of the revolutionary masses. Some have incited the reactionary ideology of anarchism and sabotaged socialist labour discipline.’ [16] On the other hand, the Canton international trade fairs have continued on schedule, and food and water supplies to Hong Kong have not been dramatically interrupted.

V. The People’s Liberation Army.

The PLA has been an additional casualty in the Cultural Revolution. Spread too thinly over too wide a range of duties, its military capabilities can only have been weakened The Peking Garrison has provided senior officers wherever needed to fill doubtful provincial gaps – for example, to head the Inner Mongolian Revolutionary Committee or take over Wuhan. It has also been purged, as when the deputy commander, Fu Chung-pi, tangled with a Red Guard faction and was dismissed. [17] The PLA generally has had also to submit to factional onslaughts – as Chiang Ch’ing put it in September, 1967, when she rebuked the Red Guards for attacking the PLA: ‘Everywhere we seized their guns, beat them up and reprimanded them. But they did not strike back or argue.’ [18] If they did not strike back, then the experience must have been a demoralising one for the troops.

The administrative tasks constantly expanded, and PLA senior officers were expected to take the initiative in setting up and manning the Revolutionary Committees. [19] On the other hand, the supply of officers was pruned by purges. [20] As the PLA seemed almost to be dissolving into a civilian administration, so the US escalated its war in Vietnam, the Russians were said to have installed missile sites along the Chinese border, and Moscow indicated how far it was prepared to go in subjugating critics by invading Czechoslovakia. The pressure within the PLA and the Party leadership to call a halt to the Cultural Revolution so that the army could resume its military rôle must have grown steadily stronger.

VI. The Workers.

Since the Cultural Revolution was primarily an urban phenomenon, the industrial working class inevitably played an important role. In the older cities, there is now a settled core of urban industrial workers with a relatively long history. It is a group which is highly privileged relative to newcomers to the city, and even more so relative to the peasants. The core of the urban industrial working class still includes men with political experience which long predates Communist rule, and possibly, for a few, stretches back as far as the great general strike of 1927. Such experience is at a premium during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, perhaps suggesting what the Party leadership attacks as ‘ultra-Leftism’.

Theoretically, the settled core of industrial workers is protected by movement controls from massive dilution with new rural immigrants, but in practice, urban working conditions are so much better than rural that there is constant pressure from peasants trying to get into the city. The municipal authorities through check-points at railway and bus stations, on incoming highways, by use of the ration card, try to prevent illegal entry or the expulsion of illegal immigrants. [21] Any breakdown in the administrative structure permits both new immigrants to enter the city, and those previously exiled to distant provinces (where labour is scarce) to return. Officially enterprises are permitted to recruit labour only through local labour departments, and, where rural labour is concerned, only with the agreement of the city and rural Commune authorities. When the economy is slack, the pressure to recruit labour is weak, and the problem of the authorities is how to expel the unemployed from the city. But every increase in the tempo of industrial activity tends to threaten the control system – enterprises have a strong incentive to evade the regulations in order to employ cheap rural labour. Over a long period, migration raises the urban population well beyond the employment capacity available when the economy is slack. For example, after the disasters of 1960-61, the Government officially sought to cut the urban population from 130 million to 110 million up to 1963, and banned the recruitment of rural labour. The effects of these proposals were probably not dramatic, since it is beyond the capacity of the urban administration to check everyone (despite the organisation of ‘Street Committees’, District Committees, and so on, designed to check the urban population). In any case, the steady expansion of the economy since 1963 has probably prompted enterprises to recruit rural labour once more. If the urban labour force were not diluted in this way, the labour scarcity would become such that there would be a substantial pressure to raise wages.

If individual enterprises have an incentive to evade the controls on recruitment, the Government itself is also seeking to squeeze industrial costs. It has proposed the ‘worker-peasant’ system to span the credibility gap. This system is supposed to overcome the distinction between town and country, but in fact it is the revival of a rather nasty capitalist tactic to employ cheap labour on temporary contracts from rural Communes, while sending expensive permanent urban workers out to the Communes. Rural labour is not a charge on the city, receives few fringe benefits (housing, medical services, old age pension), and urban labour is paid by the rural Commune (if the worker is old, the city avoids the cost of his pension while he is retired and therefore unproductive). However, rural labour is suitable only for a limited range of jobs, particularly seasonal and unskilled work (such as loading and unloading on the railways, in ports, mines and lumber plants). The clash between temporary and permanent workers and their mutual attack on the Party officials that sustain the system is one thread in the Cultural Revolution as it affected the cities and key industries, particularly the railways.

At the end of 1966, there were reports of large-scale sackings among temporary and contract workers in Shanghai. [22] Retrospectively, we might guess this occurred because the Shanghai Party officials feared a purge and sought to appease the grievances of permanent workers and damage production in order to discredit the Cultural Revolution. Peking ordered the reinstatement of such workers, and this, in conjunction with massive immigration of Red Guards into Shanghai, precipitated a wave of industrial disputes, including strikes, demands for increased pay and lower hours. Just before Christmas, a harbour strike had begun, and the railways subsequently went on strike: together, this could have provided the beginning of a general strike. Some Party officials are said to have raided the banks to pay increased wages and year-end bonuses as a means of safeguarding their own position against a purge threat.

In the middle of this, some eleven Revolutionary Rebel organisations combined in the Shanghai Revolutionary Rebel Headquarters to seize the city administration. In retrospect, it seems, this coup was executed not so much by workers as by the faction that hoped to replace the existing Party administration (and probably included a good many ambitious cadres) but was frightened by the appearance of a complete collapse in order. For the city was not only flooded with thousands of Red Guards, but also youth returned from exile in the provinces or rural areas, and peasant immigrants. Strikes threatened to paralyse the entire city, different factions were righting openly for supremacy, and thousands of workers took the pretext of the Cultural Revolution to down tools and take free trains to visit Peking and complain of their conditions.

The revolt in December and January, according to Wen Hui Pao (Jan. 21st, 1967), ‘swept over the whole city and quickly spread to the rural areas with temporary crushing success’. In the middle, ‘hundreds of thousands’ of temporary and contract workers demonstrated against the system of their employment, imposed, according to instant official explanations, by the evil capitalist readers. Chiang Ch’ing offered the same explanation when she met a delegation of contract workers on December 26th. [23] Yet the new Revolutionary Municipal Committee made no move to rectify the anomaly, and a bold statement of the All China Federation of Trade Unions in mid-January went so far as to say existing policy on contract employment was to remain as it was.

Temporary workers did not give up. Despite a ban on the independent organisation of temporary workers [24], they continued to organise and agitate. Red Guard sources even said that one organisation of temporary workers launched an attack on the Shanghai Revolutionary Municipal Committee, saying that conditions for workers were no better than in Kuomintang days. The unemployed held a rally on February 20th, demanding that they be permitted to keep their jobs in order to help the Cultural Revolution. The Municipal Committee, now firmly in the saddle and protected by the PLA, sternly rejected their demand and ordered them to leave their jobs; it reproved them for ‘egotistical ideas’ and ‘economism’.

The Revolutionary Rebels were clearly not in the main ordinary workers, and, indeed, there was much friction between workers and Rebels. Wen Hui Pao (May 3rd, 1967) urged the Rebels not to ‘regard all workers as conservatives and to fight “civil wars” against them. We must be aware’, it went on, ‘that, except for a few diehards, most of the workers misled by conservative groups are our class brothers’. In June, press and radio continued to attack ‘economism’ and also what appeared to be the formation of embryonic independent trade unions, officially stigmatised as workers’ ‘guild organisations’. These ‘guild organisations’ had earlier featured in a People’s Daily article [25] where it was said that they were extending to cover busmen, cooks and technical school students, and were designed to ‘formulate economic demands and raise the egotistical interests of particular groups’. The People’s Daily would not have attacked such organisations if they had been solely restricted to the Shanghai area. [26]

In July, the Shanghai Municipal Committee again denounced a second wave of demands for higher wages, improved welfare facilities and a changed labour system. It accused some of a conspiracy – ‘they even put pressure on the new revolutionary order by threatening to slow down work or refuse work assignments.’ [27] Again, in December, the Shanghai Liberation Daily condemned ‘some persons (who) are once again demanding greater benefits and higher wages’ and others who were trying to organise temporary workers. [28] Early in the New Year, Wen Hui Pao [29] attacked ‘civil wars’ among ‘proletarian revolutionaries’ in Kiangsu, Chekiang and Anwhei provinces. These battles, it said, had started in January, 1967, and in some cases, had not yet ceased. In particular, it mentioned a plot to seize the railways – ‘These few people (the plotters) were so mad as to make out a plan for first controlling the towns and villages along the Shankhai-Nanking railway lines, occupying south Kiangsu, and advancing to control Shanghai and Chekiang’. Forces, it said, were assembled in south Kiangsu, and included former Party cadres. [30]

The railways were a particularly sensitive area throughout 1967 and 1968, a sector most easily sabotaged since there are very few lines and what there are, are crucial for the economy. In addition, the railways must have been very overburdened with traffic, since Red Guards and Revolutionary Rebels had been using them free since mid-1966. The authorities persistently warned railwaymen to stay at work, to prevent sabotage and resist all attempts to stop trains running. In August, 1967, troubles were reported from Canton, and in the following January, a conference of railway workers was called in Peking to discuss the problems of keeping the lines open. In the following months, stoppages, disputes and fighting were reported on the route to Lanchow in the north-west, in Kwantung in the south, and, in particular, in Kwangsi on the route to North Vietnam. On August 9th, Red Guard sources mentioned an instruction issued to railwaymen to end all violence along the Kwangsi route, to dismantle all factional strongholds along the Kwangsi line, return materials stolen from the shipments to Hanoi, ‘and return arms lifted from the PLA (the order was supposed to be dated July 3rd, and to repeat orders issued by the Kwangsi provincial authorities on June 13th). Again, another conference of railwaymen met in Peking in mid-May, and Chou En-lai is said to have pinpointed the place of maximum difficulty on the railways as Liuchow, a point on the line from Nanning in Kwangsi to Hanoi. On August 1th, Peking radio celebrated the victory of its supporters over the faction that had seized the Liuchow line. [30a]

Some of the major oil, coal and steel centres were also said to have been affected by spasms of revolt. It has been estimated that two-thirds of the mining labour force is ‘worker-peasant’. In 1967, clashes affected the main steel centre, Anshan, also the industrial city of Wuhan, as well as Paotow, Shanghai and Chungking. The leading rôle of the ‘working class’ was embodied in factory reorganisation to set up ‘collective control’ of production. Again, this was a ‘revolution from above’, designed almost certainly to inhibit authentic revolt rather than enshrine it, and to prevent wage pressures. It was said collective responsibility had replaced individual responsibility, wages had been made more egalitarian, and the clerical staff heavily pruned. [31]

The overall evidence is fragmentary in the extreme, but it does suggest that some workers have been stirred into activity by the Cultural Revolution. The sediment will not settle in the coming years.

VII. Stability

China is a very large country, and thus quite capable of supporting apparently large conflicts in a few isolated places without this affecting the majority of the population or even being seen by visiting foreigners. Thus, there is a grave danger that the impact of the Cultural Revolution will be exaggerated. Probably the mass of the peasantry (excluding those immediately around large cities) has been untouched, and the rural cadres only slightly affected. The 1967 harvest is officially rated as very good, and there is no evidence of real hunger in the accessible parts of the country (although some reports have stressed the increase in the urban black market over the past two years). The middle level cadres in the cities have probably suffered much more, with significant effects in terms of urban administration, the demoralisation of the urban Party, and a probable decline in official initiative. Yet even here one must not exaggerate. Many of the important local cadres have probably learned to swim in the new tide of the Cultural Revolution, and learned to swim on top. [32] Perhaps around the cities, peasants have been affected, and possibly there has been more peasant hoarding of foodgrains (both because the procurement administration is weaker, and because the black market offers high incentives to those prepared to risk trading on it).

The speed with which the last Revolutionary Committees were created suggests that the process was not much more than the re-baptism of the old order. That order has kept the countryside moving, and kept up the foodgrain output, without which the cities could not have made ‘revolution’. The concessions made to the peasants in 1960-61 – for example, the right to cultivate private plots for a private market – have not been withdrawn.

The trade figures show no dramatic variation over the two and a half years of the Cultural Revolution, and the export figures (from non-Chinese sources) are some index of the state of agriculture (cf. the table below). In 1966, exports to the West reached a record level for the fifth year in succession. In 1967, exports to the non-Communist world fell by 12 per cent, but imports were roughly the same. Sales to Hong Kong in the first half of 1968 were slightly below the comparable period for 1967; the lowest point in 1967 in sales to Hong Kong was reached in September, and affected textiles and livestock the worst. [33] This is fairly mild stuff beside some of the wilder accounts of the Cultural Revolution. It means that important Communes and factories have kept up output, and transport has shifted the goods.

The Canton trade fairs have continued to attract foreign businessmen, and routine trade negotiations have been sustained (Chinese trade missions visited Bonn and Paris in the spring of 1967, and Sino-German negotiations continued over a 3 million ton steel rolling mill). China’s purchases of gold on the London market continued – a routine shipment of £49 million bullion left London for Peking in May, 1967. External assistance also continued – to Nepal, wheat to Egypt (50,000 tons), the promise of £100 million to Zambia for the Zambia-Tanzania railway.

Quite clearly also the nuclear programme continued. Although no scientific publications have been received from China since October, 1966, and the fate of University science departments is unclear, the Government research staff have been excluded from the Cultural Revolution. [34] China’s sixth H-bomb test took place on June 17th, 1967, and a seventh was suggested by foreign seismographs on December 24th although not officially confirmed (the Japanese also alleged a further test on July 13th). This does not just mean that the nuclear sites, plants and labour have been free of trouble, but also that the massive inputs of power from the national economy have been available. When US diffusion plants were working full blast to stockpile Uranium 235, they consumed an eighth of national electricity supply. Although China has probably found a cheaper way of doing this, it must still impose a major demand on national energy resources, a demand that must have been met despite any disturbances. In the longer term, the programme might be affected by the decline of the output of appropriately skilled manpower from the institutes of higher education.

Industrial output in 1968 is compared favourably by Peking with 1966, which suggests that possibly 1967 was a poor year. Foreign estimates propose a 15-20 per cent drop in total output last year, but a slow expansion in 1968. Virtually nothing has been said officially about the Third Five Year Plan, of which this is, theoretically, the third year. Other projects have been completed this year – for example, the Yangtze bridge at Nanking was completed in October, some ten years after it was first begun under Soviet guidance.

Thus, although this evidence is indirect and fragmentary, there have been narrow limits to the Cultural Revolution. In particular areas, there have been major changes, but these have been perhaps relatively isolated. In Peking, in the central Party leadership, the limits have been least. One estimate suggests that, of the 11 members and alternate members of the Politburo active in 1965, eight have been dropped; of the 11 active members of the Party Secretariat, three have survived; of the 10 known directors of Central Committee departments, only one seems still to be active; 52 and 40 per cent of the Central Committee membership have been attacked during the Cultural Revolution. [35]


The Cultural Revolution was an attempt by a section of the central Party leadership to re-establish central control over the whole country, perhaps as a prelude to accelerating the rate of overall economic growth. To do this, it had to destroy opposition at every level of the Party. It secured a monopoly of all official propaganda agencies, but it did not secure victory. On the other hand, the opposition remained (so far as one can tell) fragmented.

The national crisis which originally precipitated the Cultural Revolution remains as before. China’s rate of economic growth is too slow to give any assurance that it will ever catch up with the advanced powers, that it will ever be able to institute a tempo of growth which will submerge domestic cleavages and integrate the country. What was lacking to institute Mao’s order was an agency for social change sufficiently powerful and diffused throughout the country, sufficiently separate from the old Party, to execute his will. The central leadership was forced to rely on the army, and then, to rehabilitate the Party, lest disorder sweep away both sides in the conflict. Yet this retreat has settled none of the important issues, and indeed, it has exacerbated the solution of those issues. The Party administration, bowed but unbeaten, remains the sole effective guarantee of China’s unity and continued output. That administration has been itself fragmented by the Cultural Revolution, and perhaps, in part, demoralised, so that although it is the only framework holding the country together, it is now even less likely to take bold initiatives in development.

Outside the Party, the youth and some sections of workers have been involved in action, have seen the local ruling class completely discredited, have read reams of dirt on all the bureaucrats, and have perhaps glimpsed freedom. They cannot all be bought off with places on Revolutionary Committees, for there are too many of them. Subterranean communications survive, and pockets of resistance will continue, probably through to the next explosion. For Mao’s defeat is a defeat for Chinese development, and he will once more be forced to take up the same issues again if Peking’s power is to survive. Next time he tries, he may find an authentic revolt on his hands.

Thus, as China returns to silence once more, a legacy remains. On the one hand, stalemate within the fragmented ruling class; on the other, a legacy of simmering hostility among the other urban classes.

China’s Trade 1966/68

Reprinted from FEER 40, Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 1968, p.73.


(US$ millions)





Non-Communist countries:






154.33 (7)

  60.84 (7)




  65.80 (6)

  70.42 (6)




  19.00 (3)

  31.90 (4)

Germany, West



  77.00 (5)

  69.30 (6)




    5.45 (7)

    4.23 (7)




  22.00 (3)

  21.60 (4)




133.00 (6)

122.36 (6)







    2.47 (1)

    3.02 (2)







    1.04 (1)

    0.64 (1)




    2.56 (2)

    3.58 (2)

United Kingdom



  62.61 (6)

  26.60 (6)













Figures in brackets indicate months covered by the statistics



(US$ millions)





Non-Communist countries:






  27.10 (5)

  10.78 (5)




  10.25 (5)

    7.14 (5)




  12.00 (3)

  15.80 (6)

Germany, West



  33.00 (5)

  38.40 (6)




252.98 (7)

207.18 (7)




  14.00 (3)

  14.20 (4)




145.00 (6)

  98.39 (6)







    2.23 (1)

    3.98 (2)







    1.45 (1)

    1.46 (1)




    2.80 (2)

    2.95 (2)

United Kingdom



  46.42 (6)

  38.60 (6)













Figures in brackets indicate months covered by the statistics


Unless specifically stated, the sources for much of the material in this article are: the serious Western press (viz. Sunday Times, The Times, The Observer, The Economist, Le Monde, etc); Survey of Mainland China Press (SCMP), USIS, Hong Kong; China Quarterly (CQ), London; Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), Hong Kong; Peking Review, Peking.

1. Red Flag, 23 Feb 1967.

2. This article will, in the main, take for granted the arguments and material on the Cultural Revolution presented in earlier issues of IScf. The Notebook, IS 26, autumn 1966, p.7; Nigel Harris, China: What Price Culture?, IS 28, Spring 1967, p.22; Tony Cliff, Crisis in China, IS 29, summer 1967, p.7.

3. Jan 1968; cf. FEER 40, Oct 3 1968, p.74.

4. cited Tiewes, F., The Purge of Provincial Leaders, 1957-8, CQ 27, July-Sept 1966, p.21.

5. The details can be found in: Audrey Donnithorne, China’s Economic System, London 1967. The same author has also discussed the conflict between grain-deficit and grain-surplus provinces in her evidence to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Mainland China in the World Economy, Hearings, Washington 1967, pp.46-50.

6. cf. Cliff, op cit.

7. cf. Donnithorne, Hearings, op cit.

8. Harald Muntbe-Kaas, Peking correspondent, Sunday Timtes, 25 June 1967.

9. Oct 24 1967, published in the Cultural Revolution Bulletin, Dec. 11 1967.

10. The mangoes were originally a gift from Pakistan, but immediately deified by their contact with the Chairman. They subsequently circulated China – one, it is said, even being deposited in the strong vault of a bank in Shanghai. Giant models of the mangoes were displayed on the National Day march in Peking, Oct 1st.

11. For example, the June 6 order, signed by the Central Committee, State Council, Military Affairs Committee and Cultural Revolution Group.

12. Cultural Revolution Bulletin, op. cit.

13. The Chronicle, CQ 33, Oct.-Dec. 1967, p 153.

14. Peking Review 42, Oct. 18, 1968. p.5.

15. Peking Review, ibid., p.4 and p.29.

16. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 111, 2799, cited CQ 35, July-Sep. 1968, p.186.

17. SCMP 4169.

18. Quoted Bridgeham, P., Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1967: The Struggle to Seize Power, CQ 34, April-June 1968, p.6.

19. Up to August 1967, the Revolutionary Committees (6 in number) were headed by 3 PLA men and 3 Party cadres; the 18 vice-chairmen included 6 from the PLA, 7 Party cadres and 5 ‘others’ (presumably from rebel or Red Guard organisations). Of the 9 Revolutionary Committees created up to February 1968, 7 were headed by PLA men, 2 by Party cadres; and of the 37 vice-chairmen, 23 were from the PLA, 10 from the Party and 4 ‘others’.

20. On the purge in the PLA, 3 of the 7 vice-Ministers of Defence fell; the director and two of the five deputy directors of the PLA General Political Department; the Chief of the General Staff (and the subsequently appointed acting Chief of Staff) and 4 of his 8 deputies; the commanders of the armored force, the artillery and the railway corps; 4 of the 13 military region commanders; 9 of the 13 first political commissars; 13 of the 25 military district commanders; 17 of the 25 military district political commissars; all are said to have been dismissed. Of course, the figures are collated from doubtful sources, and it is quite unclear how many have really been permanently discharged, and how many merely rusticated for a brief period.

21. State Council order, Dec. 1957 and Dec. 1965.

22. People’s Daily, Dec. 26 1966.

23. MacDougall, Colina, Second Class Workers, FEER 19, May 5-11 1968, p.306.

24. Central Committee and State Council order, February 1967.

25. Reported Le Monde, 16 March 1967.

26. cf. Also Wen Hui Pao, Shanghai, March 11 1967.

27. Shanghai radio, July 6 1967.

28. MacDougall, op. cit.

29. January 10 1968.

30. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, III, 2665, cited The Chronicle, CQ 34, April-June 1968, p.163; cf. also Shanghai radio broadcast, citing report of Security Command Headquarters, PLA Unit 6410, in BBC Summary World Broadcasts, III, 2788. The Chronicle, CQ 35, July-September 1968, p.182.

30a. An unofficially published version of a document supposed to have been issued by the Finance and Trade Front of Kung Ko Hui, Canton, contains what is called a transcript of the Peking meeting between Chou En-lai and representatives of Kwangsi factions. The transcript includes charges that in June and July, whole trains intended for Vietnam were highjacked by factions, the Grand Rebel Army of Liuchow and its opponent, Lien-Chih, for the internal power struggle; the loot included 11,800 cases of ammunition and 16,000 rifles (cf. Financial Times report, Nov. 13, 1968, p.9).

31. For a report on the new order in Shanghai No.3 Iron and Steel Works, cf. Peking Review 43, October 25 1968, p.16.

32. For example, on an earlier period, cf. Hunter, Neale, Three Cadres of Shanghai, FEER 231, June 1 1967.

33. cf. Jones, P.M.H., Annual China Issue, FEER 40, Sept 29-Oct 5 1968.

34. Point 12 in the Central Committee programme for the Cultural Revolution of August 1966.

35. Neuhauser, C., The Cultural Revolution and the Party, Asian Survey, VIII/6, June 1968.

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