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China Table of Contents



Chairman Hua Guofeng presided over the historic Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress in December 1978, his authority rooted in his generally acknowledged claim to be Mao Zedong's chosen successor. Viewed in historical context, Hua's role was that of a relatively minor figure temporarily bridging the gap between the radical leadership associated with Mao and the Cultural Revolution and the emergence of new political leaders who could consolidate national policy and assert credible authority (see The Post-Mao Period, 1976-78 , ch. 1). Hua's political weakness was most graphically illustrated by the rehabilitation--for the second time- -of Deng Xiaoping, in July 1977, and Deng's subsequent successful elevation of his proteges and initiation of a comprehensive reform program to realize the Four Modernizations.

This transitional period moved toward far-reaching reform and even a reassessment of Mao Zedong Thought. Economic development and material rewards to motivate producers replaced the Maoist emphasis on ideological goals and incentives. A stress on political stability supplanted the call to "continuing revolution." In Chinese academic circles, efforts were made to restore and raise academic standards, and party leaders stressed the importance of science and technology and the contribution of intellectuals in realizing modernization. The liberalization of expression in intellectual and cultural circles led to further questioning of the Cultural Revolution, Mao's role, and Mao Zedong Thought.

Between 1979 and 1981 it became necessary to "readjust" some of the reform programs and initiatives to effect a balance between reformist and conservative forces. The major issues dividing these forces were China's capacity to sustain rapid economic development and the political and cultural consequences of opening up to the world and allowing liberalization of expression and behavior. The retrenchment that followed was a readjustment and not an end to Deng Xiaoping's reform agenda.

Data as of July 1987