Country Listing

China Table of Contents


Rectification and Reform

These results of the opening up policy and rural reform programs had important political repercussions at the national level. The question of borrowing from the West has been debated vigorously since the early nineteenth century. The concern has always been the impact of Western social, political, and cultural traditions, sometimes referred to derisively as the "flies and insects" that blow in along with culturally neutral scientific and technical information. This concern was especially prevalent among conservatives in the highest leadership circles and extended to the possibly corrosive effect of Western traditions on the party's Marxist-Leninist ideological foundation. To meet this challenge, in October 1983 the party launched a national program to improve "party style," organization, and ideology.

According to Chen Yun, a leading conservative and major figure in party rectification, the question of party style was crucial for the organization's very survival, especially because of the party's tarnished image and the perceived crisis of confidence and loss of prestige during the Cultural Revolution period. Improving party style required that organizational norms be restored, which entailed ridding the party of factionalism. It also demanded that measures be taken to counter corruption and the exercise of privilege. These frequently had taken the form of abuses by cadres who used personal relations and "back-door" benefits to further their own interests. Finally, improved party style required that political discipline be enforced in implementing party programs.

These goals were accomplished over the next three years, accompanied by thorough ideological education. The Second Plenum of the Twelfth Central Committee (October 11-12, 1983) affirmed that the policy of opening up to the outside world was entirely correct but condemned the "corrosive influence of decadent bourgeois ideology" that accompanied it and the "remnant feudal ideas" still pervasive within the party system, which required thorough rectification. In effect, linking the attempt to "clear away cultural contamination" with improving party style meant rejecting both the radical left, or those who still carried the taint of associations with the Cultural Revolution, and those on the right, who were considered by some party leaders to have become too involved in the trappings of Western ideas and practices.

At the same time that the party was attempting to discipline its own ranks, a drive was initiated within Chinese society to crack down on crime. Beginning in August 1983, the drive focused on the increase in serious crimes against social order: murder, robbery, burglary, rape, and arson. Explanations for the crime wave included the breakdown of law and order that had begun in the Cultural Revolution period and corrupting influences that had slipped in with the opening up policy (see Return to Socialist Legality , ch. 13).

A campaign against "spiritual pollution" was initiated by a speech given at the Second Plenum by Deng Xiaoping (see Policy Toward Intellectuals , ch. 4). The campaign targeted "decadent, moribund ideas of the bourgeoisie" that questioned the suitability of the socialist system or the legitimacy of the party's leading role. It also sought to establish a basis for ideological continuity between the emerging younger generation and the older, civil-war-era veterans. Conservative Political Bureau members attempted to use the campaign to rectify what they considered decadent behavior and corrosive liberal thought. Following this example, some lower-level party cadres began to exhibit behavior similar to that of the mass campaigns of the Cultural Revolution. Young men and women with long hair or Western-style clothing were subjected to ridicule and abuse. Peasants who had prospered were accused of selfishness; in response, some ceased to participate in rural reform. Intellectuals were again under suspicion, and party and government cadres adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude to avoid making political errors.

To avert potential instability and stagnation of the reform program, the authorities began to place limits on the spiritual pollution campaign: it was not to be pursued in the countryside, it was not to impede scientific research aimed at promoting modernization, and, most important, it was not to be implemented in the mass-campaign style of the Cultural Revolution.

By the spring of 1984 the full-scale media treatment of spiritual pollution had subsided, indicating that party leaders were able to confront the problems and build a consensus on how to contain the excesses and return to the reform program. In May, in a bow to the conservatives, Zhao Ziyang reported that although mistakes had been made in implementing the spiritual pollution campaign, the issue of spiritual pollution remained on the party agenda. The reform leadership thus eased the tensions within the system by acknowledging that reactions to the reform program would occur and by checking any obstructions, disruptions, or violence that emerged. This essentially conciliatory approach was necessary at least until opponents could be removed or reformed through a series of new appointments or through the continuing party rectification program.

Data as of July 1987

Country Listing

China Table of Contents