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