Today, I stumbled upon a very interesting article, dug from the annals of post-Maoist sinology: a piece from November 1983 discussing China’s Communist Party campaign to crack down on what Deng Xiaoping himself termed the “Spiritual Pollution” inside the Party and in the wider Chinese society.
Apart from revealing that there was no death penalty in China’s penal code between January and September 1980, when it was hurriedly amended after the start of first campaign against rising criminality and corruption levels, the article can remind us, in many senses, of the struggles China’s ruling party faces 30 years later.
Clear parallelisms can be drawn between this discreet crackdown on China’s vices and some of the reforms agreed in the recent Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, especially those focusing on strengthening public opinion guidance and cracking down on Internet crimes. The 1983 article summarizes it with a sentence that could have perfectly been written in 2013:
“To fling the doors of economics wide open and still expect to retain control of the people’s minds by using methods from the 1950s is the essential paradox of contemporary China, and the dilemma of her leaders.”
The dilemma itself has to be traced down to another Third Plenum, the Third Plenary Session of the 11h CPC Central Committee of December 1978, which marked the beginning of the Reform and Opening Up policy. 35 years later, we can confirm that Deng “deftly manoeuvred China away from its xenophobic, narrow and stagnant past”, as the 1983 article already suggested. However, these additional 30 years have also somewhat reinforced a less optimistic posit of G. Barmie’s 1983 piece:
“The Communist Party sees its main enemy in Western influences, heedless, for the moment, that China’s economic cure may well be the root-cause of her ideological disease.”
The language has somehow changed: the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the USSR disappeared in 1991 and it was no longer adequate to openly criticize the “moribund thinking that belongs to the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes”. Needless to say, Chinese society has changed a lot since 1983 — and also since the Tian’an’men events of 1989. However, one question remains: has the Communist Party truly changed with the times?