The Chinese Communists achieved their successes over the Nationalists during the Chinese Revolution because of large-scale organization, but established a non-centralized government, John K. Fairbank '29, Higginson Professor of History, said yesterday in a Kirkland House panel discussion.
Fairbank, who is retiring after this semester, discussed at length his travels in China during the '30s and '40s, outlining the progressive alienation of the villagers from Nationalist leaders and Western-oriented intellectuals.
The panel also included Ross G. Terrill, associate professor of Government.
"The problem was how to get leadership into the villages and this was where the Communists came in," Fairbank said.
This thorough organization still characterizes Chinese society, Fairbank said, drawing often upon his recent trip for examples.
For instance, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee issues agricultural instructions in general terms, and the villagers modify them to fit local conditions, Fairbank said, adding that this system is "not at all centralized."
Terrill said China has relied largely on ideas, rather than force, to achieve its goals during the past 50 years.
Terrill listed several aspects of Chinese society that have remained unchanged over the last 50 years. China continues to ward off foreigners, containing them in cities on the fringes of China, such as Hong Kong, he said.
Terrill also discussed some changes in China's view of the world. The Chinese, once isolationist, are "now interested in the whole world," Terrill said.
"Chinese peasants will now tell you what they think about Africa and the black struggle in America," Terrill said.
After Fairbank and Terrill spoke, they fielded questions from the audience of 40 students.
Writing on the Wall
In response to a question on Chinese dissidents, Terrill said he saw some wall posters that expressed dissenting opinions during his recent visit, but said the posters did not criticize Marxist principles.
Before the panel discussion began, Catherine and Evon Vogt, co-masters of Kirkland House, praised Fairbank's contributions to the House and said they would recommend him to be an associate House member.