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Competing Bureaucratic Interests

The implementation of these components of political reform contributed to internal tensions and competition among the major bureaucracies--the party, government, and military. The party's status remained paramount within the system, but the delineation of its role became increasingly vague. Theoretically, the party was to act as the unifying force that would guide the society on the difficult path to modernization. In practice, especially at the middle levels of the structure, it appeared in the mid-1980s that implementation of the reform program was greatly diluting the power of party cadres. Many party members were retired to advisory capacities, increased emphasis was placed on separating the functions of the party and government, and much of the decisionmaking authority in the economic sphere was transferred to enterprise managers. All these factors eroded the party's once pervasive authority. Although the party continued to articulate the central policy for all levels of society, it offered fewer opportunities for members to achieve recognition and rewards after 1978, when concrete results became more important. All this brought widespread bureaucratic resistance to reform policies and their implementation.

Retirements, elevated entrance qualifications, and power sharing with enterprise managers also brought traumatic changes in government bureaucracy. Direct elections to people's congresses added a new element of uncertainty about the cadre selection process for government service. Wider public discussion of issues and more extensive press coverage subjected state cadres to additional demands and criticisms and sometimes to abuse. The new accountability offered opportunities for government cadres, but often they perceived it as a threat or a burden. It soon became another major source of the complaints conveyed to top leadership circles.

In the late 1980s, the People's Liberation Army continued as a major player in political circles and had representatives on the Political Bureau (see Civil-Military Relations , ch. 14). Its presence within senior party bodies significantly declined in the 1980s, however, as was apparent from the percentage of party Central Committee memberships held by military personnel. Military influence had reached a high point in 1969, when its representatives gained roughly half the seats on the party's Ninth Central Committee, but declined at the Tenth Central Committee (1973) and Eleventh Central Committee (1978). In 1982 full membership on the Twelfth Central Committee held by People's Liberation Army personnel dropped to around 20 percent. At the National Conference of Party Delegates held in September 1985, about half of those retired from the Central Committee were from the armed forces, and civilians replaced seven members of the Political Bureau who had military connections.

These trends reflected Deng Xiaoping's military reform goals of placing the People's Liberation Army under firm civilian leadership and transforming its ranks and organization into a modern, professional military establishment. Owing partly to its size and largely to its heavily Maoist revolutionary traditions, the military was essentially conservative and in 1987 continued to resist many of the reformers' policies. It seemed possible that Deng's successors might experience strong pressure from a revitalized People's Liberation Army to restore some of its lost political influence.

Data as of July 1987