Frustrated Young Leaders Pose Problems For Chinese Communists

THE MEN WHO rule Communist China have achieved for their country a stability and cohesiveness of leadership that is virtually unparalleled in modern times. This paper seeks to review some of these achievements and to discuss the increasingly serious problems that have been hidden under the facade of stability.

Armed with little more than the name lists of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee elected in 1945 and 1956-58 (some 200 men), one could construct the tables of organization of virtually all important organizations in China today--principally the CCP, the government bureaucracy, the army, and the ubiquitous "mass" (or "people's") organizations. There were only two major chinks in the armor of leadership solidarity from the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 to early 1966. The first of these was the purge in 1955 of Kao Kang, the former political boss of Manchuria who was also the regime's top economic planner. The second occurred in 1959 when the Defense Minister P'eng Te-huai was deposed. While it is true that a few followers of Kao and P'eng were ousted, these purges only temporarily jarred the solidarity of the Maoist leadership and clearly did not convince the nation in the manner of the Stalin purges of the thirties.

No 'Warlords'

The placement of personnel in the early years of the regime was shrewd and rational. The top leaders (i.e., the Politburo) took up their tasks in Peking. At the same time they sent to the provinces a strong group of second-echelon leaders, tried and tested by two or more decades of revolutionary allegiance to the CCP. Ignoring the traditional Chinese reluctance to place officials in their native provinces, a remarkably high percentage of second- and third-echelon leaders were dispatched to administer areas where they had been born or areas where they had studied as students or worked as revolutionists in the famous guerrilla bases. The top elite was obviously confident (correctly it seems) that the internal organization of the CCP was sufficiently strong to overcome the tendency to build regional "empires" (i.e., warlordism). For the most part the CCP made good use of former Chinese Nationalist generals who surrendered to Communist armies. While these men had no voice in policy matters, they were able to provide a degree of stability in the difficult transition period, as well as useful managerial skills that the Communists often lacked.

Because of a general shortage of personnel in the early years of the regime, most of the important leaders (both national and local) assumed multiple functions. For example, a provincial governor was also likely to be the provincial army political commissar and the provincial Party first secretary. The same situation prevailed in the capital at Peking. Then, coinciding approximately with the inauguration of the First Five-Year Plan (1953), functional specialization became the order or the day. Thus, virtually all leaders soon came to be identified with only one of the four categories mentioned above: the CCP, the government bureaucracy, the army, or the "mass" organizations. At this same time in the mid-fifties, a large number of second-level leaders who had proved their worth in the provinces were brought to Peking to administer the growing central bureaucracy. As a consequence, most of the major tasks in the provinces were left to what might be termed the rising third echelon of leaders. One hastens to add that these men were by no means newcomers; although slightly younger than the very top leaders, their ties with the CCP also stretched back two or three decades.

The Intellectuals

Another group of officials, employed at both national and provincial levels, deserves brief mention the intellectuals. Most of these men belonged to neither the CCP nor the Kuomintang; most, it appears, were motivated to cooperate with the Communists out of a sense of patriotism. Although it is evident that the CCP never fully trusted these men, it is equally evident that it attempted to utilize their skills during the early transitional years. For example, in the original Chinese cabinet (1949), 11 of the 24 ministerial portfolios were held by non-Communists, most of them inellectuals or industrialists.

Thus, by the mid-fifties, the leadership patterns of the PRC had become reasonably well bureaucratized. Cadres within the system and scholars abroad could read the national and local news media with a fairly high degree of assurance as to who actually ruled China, what policies were to be followed, and how they were to be implemented. This, to be sure is an oversimplification. Yet, although there were twists and turns in politics, and advances and retreats in the stature of many leaders, there was a basic solidity by the mid-fifties that was unmistakable.

The Purges

If the Chinese leadership and institutions seemed remarkably cohesive and stable by 1958, within two to three years important developments were to mar this image. Early 1958 witnessed the inauguration of the Great Leap Forward, and within three years the regime's fortunes had dipped to a low point. By the winter of 1960-61, industrial, development was sharply curtailed, agriculture was in bad shape, and massive imports of foreign grain were begun (imports still continue). Moreover, a number of leaders throughout the country were purged or demoted--although none of them were nearly so important as Kao Kang. To halt the deterioration of the system and to ensure the cohesiveness of leadership, a number of steps were taken.

One of the most important was the re-creation in 1961 of the six regional Party bureaus that had existed in the early years of the regime. Each of these regional Party bureaus has jurisdiction over some five or six provinces. Significantly, whereas Party bureaus were re-created, the geographically parallel government and military regions that had existed earlier were not re-established. The CCP seemed to be-saying that only the Party leaders could be fully trusted in a time of crisis. The point was emphasized when the key assignments were made in the regional Party bureaus. Without exception the Maoist leadership gave the top jobs to some of its oldset veterans. Furthermore, to fill a large number of these assignments in the regional bureaus, many senior Party leaders were sent out from Peking--thereby reversing the trend of the early and mid-fifties to bring the leading local leaders to Peking as they proved their capabilities at the local levels. The trends towards specialization (i.e., functional assignments within the Party, the government bureaucracy, etc.) were also eroded during this period of reaction to the failures of the Great Leap Forward.

Tighter Party Control

A good illustration of this dilution of specialization in favor of tighter Party control is found in the staffing of Peking's diplomatic posts. Up to the early stages of the Great Leap the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had developed a corps of foreign service officers with wide experience in international relations, and ambassadorial assignments abroad had been made almost exclusively from within the career service. But then in the period from 1960 to 1965 nearly half of the 42 ambassadorial appointments to non-Communist countries were given to CCP operatives with no experience in international affairs.

A second major feature of the Party's attempt to reassert its hold over the society was the strengthening of the Party Control Commission apparatus. The Central Control Commission (and local branches) had been established in 1955 in the wake of the purge of Kao Kang. Although the Commission was staffed by some important leaders, there were few indications that it was very active in the middle and late fifties. In any event, it was clearly not so ominous an organization as those created in the Stalinist period of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, since all of its 21 members worked in the national capital, the original Control Commission seemed to be mainly a clearing house for internal Party disciplinary measures. But then in 1962 the Party tripled the size of the Commission with some of the new members drawn from the Party Central Committee. Moreover, the Control Commission was now organized in such a manner that about half of its members were working in the provinces, thereby providing closer links between the top leaders in Peking and the outlying provinces.

Frustrated Younger Leaders

AS SOME of the above remarks suggest, the younger leaders have encountered serious problems of upward mobility. The trends of the mid-fifties suggested that the supreme elite was aware of such problems and had arranged and structured the various hierarchies in such a manner as to allow for rational advancement by younger Party members. Then the crisis created by the Great Leap failures curbed these processes. But since the "crisis" has now persisted for approximately half of the life of the CPR, one can hardly maintain that the orderly promotion of younger Party cadre was only temporarily delayed. Rather, it seems to have been permanently shelved.

Nonetheless, there have been some corridors of advancement open. Although it is probably the least powerful of the major institutions in China, the government bureaucracy (headed by Chou En-Lai) has provided a fair possibility for advancement. For example, 28 per cent of the cabinet ministers in 1960 were Central Committee members, but by early 1966 only 18 per cent were on the Central Committee. Similarly, 46 per cent of the provincial governors were Central Committee members in 1960, but now the figure is only 27 per cent. It is necessary to re-emphasize, however, that the "newcomers" are by no means men who recently joined the Communist movement. Almost without exception the non-Central Committee members who are now ministers or governors have careers in the CCP that long pre-date the 1949 conquest of the mainland.

Within the CCP hierarchy, the upward mobility has been made less notable. One of numerous examples suffices to illustrate the point: in 1960 the provincial 1st Party secretaries were drawn from the Central Committee in 88 per cent of the cases, and by 1966 this had only dropped to slightly less than 70 per cent. The lack of upward mobility--indeed, the reverse of such mobility--is best illustrated in the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Using the key post of political commissar in the provinces, there are now more Central Committee members holding this post than in 1960. Any number of examples can be cited to show the lack of upward mobility in other Chinese institutions. A particularly interesting case is found within the Communist Youth League, an organization regarded as the prime recruiting ground for CCP members. When founded in 1949 its leadership consisted of "youths" (mostly in their thirties) who had joined the Communists as students in the middle or late 1930's. Yet of the 60 original League Central Committee members in 1949, only seven reached the Party Central Committee elected in 1956 and 1958 (one more was already a member in 1949).

No New Blood Among Policy Makers

If inertia is the proper word to describe trends of upward mobility in the hierarchies already discussed, then a much stronger term is required when one examines the new blood at policy-making levels. With minor adjsustments, policy-making in China rests with the Politburo elected a decade ago, and the execution of these policies is the responsibility of a small Central Secretariat elected at the same time. Officially, the Politburo now consists of 22 men and the Secretariat of 15 (seven of whom are currently on the Politburo). But as the readers of the Chinese press know, a few of these men are only nominal members because they have been either purged or inactive (owing to age or illness). Similarly, it is apparent that a few non-Politburo members (about five to ten) are regularly brought into the Politburo decision-making and decision-implementing processes. But even allowing for these "quasi-members," the most striking fact about the top levels of leadership is all of them have been top leaders for well over a quarter of a century. There are no exceptions.

Because no scholarly work has been done in the problem of upward mobility as it affects men now in their thirties or forties, it is impossible to say with confidence how this will effect future patterns of leadership in China. Yet one can speculate that there must be a growing sense of frustration among large numbers of third- and fourth-echelon leaders who have few really important policy-making responsibilities. Moreover, given the advanced age of the Politburo members, the near future may well witness many new top leaders with only the most limited experience in the problems of decision-making. The frustrations and uncertainties regarding mobility of careers must also be a concern of even younger men. For the ambitious young Chinese in his early twenties, there are only cloudy indicators as to the most profitable path to advance his career. Should he, for example, join the army or the CCP hierarchy? And should he stress Party loyalty or technical competence (i.e., in the Chinese Communist lexicon, should he be "Red" or "expert")?

THE tendencies toward stagnation at the policy-making levels should not be deduced merely from a nose count of Politburo membership. There is, in fact, other evidence suggesting that the policy decisions in recent years have been made by fewer and fewer men and in a more arbitrary fashion than previously. Or, to put it in other words, there are increasing signs that Mao (and a select few around him) have been monopolizing the processes of decision-making, and showing less concern for the opinions and experience of second- and third-echelon leaders. These tendencies are illustrated by the failure to convene plenums of the Party Central Committee, the importance of which is recognized by all students of contemporary China. For example, in the middle and late fifties, when the Communist regime seemed most flexible and rational, the plenums served as guideposts of policies and actions within China. Theoretically, plenums must be held twice a year--and the 10 plenums held from 1956 to 1962 illustrate that the requirement was largely fulfilled in those years. This stands in contrast to the fact that not a single plenum has been held since September 1962. [Author's note: Immediately after this paper was written, the CCP held its 11th Plenum (August 1966).]

The failure to hold the Ninth Party Congress is also a technical violation of the Party Constitution, as well as another indication that the policy makers do not feel compelled to state their policies before a large gathering of CCP members. These recent proclivities to ignore Party norms must certainly work a hardship on the system at all levels. One need only look back to the Eighth Congress in 1956 to sense the difference in "tone" of Chinese Communist leadership. It seems most probable that even the more humble Party members in 1956 had a fairly clear idea as to who were their leaders and what were the policies. Now, however, a Party cadre must have great uncertainties regarding his superiors, and the policies he is supposed to implement are increasingly shrouded in clouds of rhetoric that could puzzle the most sophisticated.

The arbitrariness of the Maost leadership has been brought into sharper focus during the purge that is being carried out at present (mid-1966). Purges or "semi-purges" in the past were carried out with a kind of surgical precision. Quite often the victims could be linked with policy disagreements (such as Ch'en Yun, the former top economic specialist who was removed from power). Previously, the language used to describe the "guilty" was stern, but usually stopped short of hysterical. Furthermore, from the point of view of the victims, there was in most cases the possibility of "rehabilitation"--not Soviet style in which rehabilitation was posthumous, but rather the familiar Maoist style in which the accused would fade from the public scene for a few years and then emerge again with a new position of importance (though usually less important than previously). Finally, as is well known, the CCP has infrequently used the weapon of the purge among the top elite, as witnessed by the fact that from the establishment of the PRC in 1949 to early 1966, only two Politburo members were purged.

This paper has stressed the weaknesses of the present Party leadership in Peking. For reasons of space and because a number of writers (this one included) have discussed the many positive factors of the Maoist leadership, the picture painted here necessarily tends to give a somewhat unbalanced and negative appraisal of the present leaders. Yet it appears that the strengths of the leadership are now largely in the past and that future writings on China will have to face up to some of the basic shortcomings that have crept into the style and content of leadership as exercised by the present elite. One is hesitant to describe the events of the past few years (and especially mid-1966) as a dramatic turning point in Chinese Communist history. Yet these events suggest that the past virtues of cohesiveness and unity may have degenerated into the vices of stagnation and arbitrariness