A Very Very Short History of the CCP (8): The Age of Deng and Jiang

Part 8 – Age of Deng and Jiang
1976 was a tumultuous and eventful year in the CCP history.
On January 8th, Premier Zhou Enlai died.
On July 6th, Zhu De, one of the founders of the CCP army, died.
On July 28th, two earthquakes above magnitude 7 hit the city of Tangshan, only  90 miles away from Beijing. It demolished the city and some 300,000 people lost their lives.
On September 9th, the last shoe dropped. Mao died at the age of 82, with it,  the closure of an era.
On October 5th, the so called “gang of four” was arrested. The four members were Mao’s chief and most trusted allies including Jiang Qin, his wife and a main player of the Cultural Revolution.
Mao lived long enough to see an uprising on April 5th of 1976, referred to as the April 5th Movement. It was the day called Ching Ming Festival, a day for remembering the dead. On this day in 1976, a huge crowd showed up in Tiananmen Square to morn Premier Zhou Enlai, who died just three months earlier when people were forbitten to have any memorial activities. Now people were taking advantage of this traditional holiday to express their dissatisfaction and anger toward Mao and the “Gang of Four”.
The crowds clashed with the police. Eventually 10,000 militia were mobilized to violently disperse the crowd. Some 400 protestors were arrested. The CCP labeled this a counter-revolutionary incident. The April 5th Movement was the first large scale mass protest against the regime since 1949.
China was now under the leadership of Hua Guofeng, Mao’s hand-picked successor who planned to continue the same Mao’s Party lines. The real turning point came a year later in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping outsmarted Hua by maneuvering him out of power, and became China’s next the supreme leader of the post-Mao era.
The Age of Deng had started. It is remembered as the age of “reform and opening up”.
Deng was a close ally of Liu Shaoqi and supporter of Liu’s policies of focusing on economy rather than on class struggle. For that he was purged three times by Mao. The last time was just before Mao died.
With power secured, Deng set to the task of rebuilding China from the ashes of the Cultural Revolution. He is known for his doctrine of “Black cat or white cat, if it can catch mice, it’s a good cat”. It can be translated as whatever ism including capitalism is a good ism, as long as it could help to improve China’s economy.
But first, he had to deal with the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. How to politically label it (定性) and who to blame for it.
In 1980, the trial of the “Gang of Four” was carried out. There is little doubt that it was a show trial. Jiang Qin was sentenced to death, suspended for two years, and deprived of political rights for life. She eventually committed suicide in prison.
Although the “Gang of Four” were guilty as charged, they could not do what they had done without Mao’s approval. Deng used them as scapegoats in order to preserve Mao’s legacy. Mao, after all, was a good emperor. It was his evil councils who were to blame.
Few people were punished for the crimes and killings they committed during the Cultural Revolution. Tens of millions died in vain only to be forgotten. Among those who survived, many had their lives forever destroyed. But now the Chinese people were told to not to dwell on the past but focus on the future.
Changes were indeed on the way. In 1977, the college and universities were open to people who took and passed the national entry examinations. That was huge deal for people like me who were denied the opportunity to go to college because the admission was solely based on recommendation by the party leaders during the Cultural Revolution.
In 1979, The household responsibility system was implemented in the countryside to replace the failed collective farming system of the People’s Commune. The new system allowed each household to take control of its contracted land and to keep the surplus after fulfilling state quotas. Although the peasants still don’t have the ownership of the land, it was a huge improvement, and productivity soared.
Similar reforms were implemented in factories and urban areas. Opening up also meant losing control of information. In colleges, we were allowed to listen to BBC and Voice of America to learn English. Foreign movies and TV shows were introduced. And we could see increasing numbers of foreign visitors which made us feel less isolated from the wider world.
People started to see hope and to have good reason for optimism.
It is important to know that the reform Deng was pushing was mainly for economic purposes. He was reluctant in entertaining the idea of reforming the political system.
But economic reform and opening up inevitably emboldened some people to ask for political reform such as free speech and democracy.
Since 1977 people had been posted posters on a wall in Beijing Xidan commercial district to express their political opinions and to criticize the government. It drew a large readership. It became a symbol and was called the “democracy wall”. It attracted international attention after Deng indicated in his interviews with foreign guests that he respected the rights of citizens to express their ideas by posting their posters. Democracy wall spread to other parts of Beijing and it became a movement.
That was too much to the CCP. The walls were quickly banned in 1978 and dissidents arrested after posters started to call Deng the new dictator.
But people could not be silenced. Pro-democracy was to become a movement among the college students. 1986 saw many student protests on campuses all over the country demanding democratic elections. But they were all brought under control by authorities.
In 1987, the CCP launched the “Anti Bourgeois Liberalization” campaign to curtail the pro-democracy movement. Hu Yaobang, the then CCP general secretary who was sympathetic to the students, was forced to resign as he lost the battle with the CCP conservatives who were against any political reform.
In 1989, Hu Yaobang died. The students took it to the Tiananmen Square to memorize their hero. It eventually turned into a protest against government corruption and for democracy in China. The protests grow and spread to the rest of the country with wide support of the ordinary Chinese. It was also gaining international attention and sympathy.
The CCP government felt threatened. On June 4, 1989, it reached a decision to crack down the movement with military forces. The Tiananmen Square massacre played out on live television for the entire world to see. A non-violent student movement was crushed by tanks and machine guns, with it was the hope of the political reform. Democracy was killed in its infancy.
For a while Deng’s “Reform and Opening Up” agenda was in danger.  Deng was eventually successful in defeating the anti-reform faction in the Party and ensured that there won’t be a change of course.
Deng died in 1997 at the age of 92. By the time of his death, he managed to abolish the tradition of the CCP’s system of lifetime leadership positions and ensured somewhat orderly and peaceful  transfer of power until Xi Jinping’s constitutional revision in 2018 which revived that old system.
CCP’s next paramount leader was Jiang Zemin.
Jiang’s era can be summarized as “Keeping quiet while making a fortune”.
In 2001, Bill Clinton helped to get CCP into the World Trade Organization. His reasoning was by bringing Communist China into the free world, the US would be able to help China to develop into a democracy and to improve its horrendous human rights record.
How could the US politicians keep making the same mistake over and over? Here are possible reasons. They are naïve about Communism. Or they are Communism sympathizers and fellow travelers. Or they only saw the huge profits that could be made.
Since 2001 China enjoyed foreign investment and free access to western markets. Good paying jobs from the US and the Western world poured into China. Corporations were attracted by China’s huge market, super cheap labor standard with low or no human rights, non-existing environmental regulations, and, in addition, a totalitarian government that could intervene the market and reward those corporations who collaborated with the CCP regime.
Keeping quiet while making a fortune became the motto for the entire nation. Getting rich at any cost. Call it black or white cat, or wolf, or cockroach…
The market became a jungle in which for a profit it was OK to make products that could harm or even kill consumers. Corruption became rampant. Those who got rich the most were the CCP ruling class.
Who were the economic engine that made the boom possible? The peasants. It is always the peasants. They were the cheap labor. Hundreds of millions left their villages and their young children and aging parents for cities to get factory jobs. Meanwhile they were excluded from the basic social services and benefits enjoyed by the city residents. They were disposable and treated as nuisance.
The era of Jiang is remembered not only as an era of fast economic boom and epidemic corruption, but also the systematic nationwide persecution and killing of Falun Gong practitioners.
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice with roots in ancient Buddhism. It teaches meditation and gentle breathing exercises, as well as the principle of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. It had attracted huge following reaching hundreds of millions of people.
Falun Gong became a huge threat to the CCP which has been losing following since 1949. And Jiang was to crush this movement. He probably thought it would be as easy as crushing all other mass anti-government movements like the pro-democracy student movement. After heavy handed prosecution of untold numbers of the practitioners, the movement continued to grow. The resistance was something the CCP failed to anticipate.
In the US, the Falun Gong followers are an anti CCP force to be reckoned with. It also has become a leading voice in the conservative politics with its impactful media like Epoch Time and NDT media.
Jiang did retire from his post and put his puppet Hu Jintao in charge to continue his policies and corruption.
The dissatisfaction and hostility were brewing against the corrupted CCP tyrants up and down the chain. So was the nostalgia for Mao’s era when a strong man like Mao would get the masses to take down the CCP bureaucracy like what happened during the Cultural Revolution.
Well, they got what they wish for, A strong man was on the way.