During his Southern Tour to the Special Economic Zones in South China in 1992 to accelerate market reforms in the aftermath of Tiananmen bloodshed, the paramount Chinese leader advised the party state, “Guard against the Right, but primarily against the Left.” How do you make sense of Deng’s warning against the leftist political thought and social force in light of China as a socialist state and a country ruled by a Communist party? How the party state’s post-1989 disciplinary power in communication and media has suppressed popular social protests and leftist perspectives?
Chinese history and culture have always been difficult to understand for western intellectuals. Although trade relationships between China and the rest of the world had gone on for centuries, there is always the perception of that the country represents the ‘other’, the Orient. This construct is noted to be in complete contrast to the Occident. Seen in light of this dichotomy, while sentiments and views expressed by Chinese leaders might appear contradictory or paradoxical to the western observer, they are not necessarily so for the Chinese people themselves. Chinese leader Deng’s statement to the party to “Guard against the Right, but primarily against the Left” can hence be interpreted to be logically and practically plausible. The rest of this essay will elaborate on this thesis.
Ever since the communist revolution of 1945 and the rise to power of the Communist Party of China (CCP), Marxist-Leninist thought have been the backbone of much of public policy. Under the iron rule of Mao Zedong, although several millions of Chinese lost their lives through their acts of rebellion, communist ideology has been reverentially promoted both within the party and among the general public. This is not to say that there are no contradictions and countervailing tendencies within the party leadership. If anything, when one looks at the priorities of Chinese leadership during the last six decades, it is clear that their holding on to authority is of paramount importance. Whether communist principles get implemented through public policy has been secondary to monopolization of power. And since the greatest threat to power comes from popular movements, as opposed to business interests, Deng’s warning against the Left makes perfect sense. Although, the tendency to repress and subdue the public have taken new modes in recent decades, it was frequent even during the reign of Mao Zedong, the founding leader of the CCP. In 1958, Mao introduced a highly ambitious economic development program, called the Great Leap Forward, purported to propel the country into advanced industrial socialism by circumventing the intermediate stage of capitalism.
“Mao’s unrealistic enthusiasm combined with a slavishly loyal Party bureaucracy and a silenced professional class to produce the most organized and planned disaster in China’s history. Insane agricultural production targets produced famine by diverting labor from a mixed economy to imagined super-yield fields of rice that, in the end, did not produce, and to ill-designed irrigation projects. The heart of the disaster was the willingness of local Party leaders to pretend in order to please Mao and the compliance of central leaders who were afraid to stop the madness. The ensuing famine from 1959 to 1961 is the greatest single disaster in the history of the PRC and rivals the entire Japanese invasion in the scope of human suffering. Far more Chinese died under the CCP in a time of peace than during the Sino-Japanese War”. (Creek, p.39)
Hence, subordination to power and undermining of public interest is not an exclusively post-liberalization theme – its roots go back to the birth of the Communist state. In this regard, Deng was only reiterating publicly what is an accepted motto in party circles.