Thursday, March 6, 2008

At the Cusp of the Great Reform

The Third Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress (十一届三中全会) was held on December 18, 1978. This meeting is widely regarded as the defining milestone that kicked off Deng Xiaoping's reform movement after the end of Culture. In China, preparations are already being made for the big 30 year anniversary celebration near the end of this year.

However, Bao Tong (鲍彤), a long time Policy Secretary of Zhao Ziyang, just published an article on his recollections of that historical meeting. According to the article, that meeting was planned as a routine meeting to discuss some economic policies in agriculture and central planning. Before the meeting, Deng Xiaoping and then Party Chairman Hua Guofeng had agreed that they should not discuss any issues left out from Culture Revolution, especially those that had been decided by Mao Zedong himself.

As it was common in such meetings, the actual agenda and decisions were determined in preparatory meetings in advance. In this case, the preparatory meeting was held in early November. Deng Xiaoping did not think it was important enough to attend. Rather he spent the first half of that November in Southeast Asia on a state visit.

But it was during that preparatory meeting, that Chen Yun and Hu Yaobang rose to the occasion and changed the course of the meeting. At the time, Chen Yun had just been "rehabilitated" but had not yet returned to the top leadership. Hu Yaobang was the "younger" generation who had just been put in charge of the Party's Internal Affairs. Together, they advocated that many of the wrongs during the Culture Revolution must be corrected before the nation could move forward.

By the time Deng Xiaoping returned to Beijing in mid-November, he found the agenda totally out of control. In a swift maneuver, he scratched his own planned speech and had a new one drafted. In which, he took hold the new momentum as his own and laid all blames of the previous conservative agenda to Hua Guofeng.

As a result, the Third Plenum meeting became something Deng had not envisioned. It established a new policy of "a liberation of thoughts" (解放思想). Hua Guofeng was forced to make a self-criticism.

For his handy work, Chen Yun was immediately elevated to the high position of Vice Chairman of the Party. In the 1980s, Chen Yun was the chief rival of Deng Xiaoping in the Party leadership.

In 1980, Hua Guofeng finally was purged from the leadership. With the position of Party Chairman abolished, Hu Yaobang became the General Secretary.

Seven years later, in 1987, Hu Yaobang himself would be purged by Deng Xiaoping for being too liberal and tolerant to student movements. His death in 1989 triggered the largest-scale student movement in the history of China.

No comments: