Lance L.P. Gore - Research Fellow at National University of Singapore


When Jiang Zemin started to push for an all-out 'three emphases' (sanjiang) ideological campaign at the beginning of 1999, not only outside observers but most people inside China, including high-ranking cadres, were puzzled by the enormous energy and recourses the top leadership threw behind it, by the scope and the magnitude of the campaign, and by the 'Yanan Rectification'-style methods used.

People are justifiably puzzled, for the campaign, which has by the time of this writing expanded from the center, from the provincial/municipal levels to county level party-state organizations, seems so far removed from China's reality and so out of tune with the daily pursuits of the people in China's bustling capitalistic market economy. The three emphases are on 'politics, study, and moral integrity' (jiang zhengzhi, jiang xuexi, jiang zhengqi). With all the ambiguities typical of the political language of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the 'emphasis on politics' roughly means to renew Marxist faith, to stay vigilant against any attempts to undermine the communist party rule and socialism, and to maintain the unity of the CCP and the authority of the party center. The emphasis on study roughly means to keep abreast with the developments of the world, learning new knowledge and technologies, and changing leadership style and methods accordingly. The emphasis on moral integrity means roughly to stay morally upright and be resilient against the corrupting influences of the capitalist world economy. The campaign consists of systematically engaging cadres full-time in protracted political study sessions, criticism and self-criticism, 'confessions to the party' of one's own wrongdoings and reporting of others' misdeeds, group assessments of progresses made by individual cadres, and topical discussions that supposedly lead to new political and ideological consensus and renewed revolutionary spirit.

The campaign is hence an ideological house-cleaning operation aimed at maintaining the internal cohesion of the ruling party, boosting its morale, increasing its effectiveness in implementing its policies and development programs, and fighting pervasive corruptions among its ranks that threatens the legitimacy of the party-state. It is a response to what many outside observers regard as a crisis of the ruling party: its alleged loss of a political vision and the sense of a mission in the capitalist world economy China is rapidly evolving into, and the resultant widespread organizational decay. Reminiscent of the old-fashioned communist ways dated back to the Yanan era in the 1940s, the campaign is also rooted in Deng Xiaoping's political legacy and describes well the communist dreamers that Deng Xiaoping managed to assemble at the top of the party-state leadership. The methods and the ideas employed in the campaign indicate that the CCP is still very Leninist in both form and substance, and the newly enshrined 'Deng Xiaoping Theory' is very much Leninist with regard to its political vision. This part of the Dengist legacy has not attracted much attention, but is nevertheless central to understanding post-Deng political development in China.

Contesting Visions for Political China

Recently, the prospect of China's democratization has once again become a hotly debated topic. Unlike the previous discussions that focused either on intellectual movements or socioeconomic developments which were supposedly driving democratization, this time around the focus is on the changing incentives faced by the CCP leadership, the implication being that the impetus for democracy may well come from above-from the political elite-rather than from below-amongst societal forces-as widely assumed by democracy theorists.

At the most general level, scholars point out that with the collapse of the hegemony of the communist ideology during rapid socioeconomic transformation, the regime needs new source of legitimacy, which is inevitably going to be based on popular consent and public sanction. Several scholars have identified conditions unique to China that are conducive to top-down democratization. The first is the party-state's inability to curtail corruption among its own ranks despite its good intentions and the enormous efforts expended to fight corruption in recent years. It will naturally search for alternative mechanisms to check corruption, of which democracy is an obvious choice. As Michel Oksenberg put it, '...the leaders might opt for an orderly and accelerated expansion of democratizing reform, especially if such changes also come to be seen as offering one way to curtail corruption, which now concerns rulers and public alike'.

The second is the CCP's organizational decay at the grass-root level, which is regarded as the main reason for the implementation of the village elections since the late 1980s. According to Shi Tianjian, the rural household contract-responsibility system implemented in the early 1980s has fundamentally altered power distribution and the incentive structure in rural China, leading to widespread decay and disintegration of party organizations in the countryside. To curtail cadre corruption and ease popular discontent caused by it, the CCP center introduced popular elections to release some of the political pressure. Wibowo argued that rural reforms led to a gradual erosion of the power of village party secretaries, reducing their income advantages and at the same time increasing the complexity and difficulty of their tasks. An incentive problem emerged for talented people to remain as village party secretaries. In response, the CCP center allowed competitive elections to produce 'villagers' committees' to take over a large number of village affairs, thereby rescuing party secretaries from some of the thorny front line issues in the day-to-day management of village affairs and deflecting some of the discontent among the peasantry away from the party.

Following the same logic, the pressure that state-owned enterprise (SOE) reform exerts on the central authorities-especially the specter of social unrest-also creates incentives to democratize. As Oksenberg suggested, ' alternative response to an increasingly restive society could be for the leaders in Beijing to increase the number of democratically elected local officials, with the idea of letting them bear the brunt of popular discontent'.

Some also see institutional reforms in the past two decades as inadvertently paving the way for democracy. Pei Minxin characterized these reforms as 'creeping democratization', and identified three areas of institutional reforms that bode well for democracy in China: 1) advances in the rule of law; 2) strengthening of the legislature-the National People's Congress; and 3) the spread of grass-root self-government (i.e., village elections). Once in place, individual political entrepreneurs could take advantage of these new rules, laws and institutions to push for their rights and defend their interests, which in turn could change the nature of the political game and lead to democratization. He also specified two incentives for the top leadership to build up new institutions: 1) the end of the era of strong man leaders motivated key players at the top to seek greater mutual security through increasing reliance on institutional rules and norms, and as a result, politics became more rule-based; 2) decentralization and federalism with well-defined division of political authority could create many safety valves to reduce the stress on the center and limit its political liability; federalism in turn might lead to future democratic breakthroughs, especially in regions where local socioeconomic conditions and the political orientations of elites were more hospitable to democratization.

In other words, democratization could serve the interests of China's current leaders. As a result, there are more open discussions of democracy inside China now and Jiang Zemin has since his political report to the 15th CCP Congress repeatedly affirmed that China's goal is to become 'a prosperous, strong, democratic, and culturally advanced socialist country' by the middle of the 21st century. Oksenberg is thus cautiously optimistic: '[I]n the 1990s, China's elite political culture has begun to change. Democracy has begun to be enshrined as an ultimate goal for China, and it is just a matter of time before discussions begin over the features of 'socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics'. ... Once such debate begins, it will assume a life of its own and accelerate the process of change'.

Others have a different reading. John Burns, for example, pointed out the resilience of China's Leninist regime in its ability to adapt to change. He noted that there have been relatively little organizational innovation or reinvention of the CCP; all the legal and institutional reforms cited by Pei, the more legal-rational bureaucracy, the increased ideological flexibility and professionalism, the younger and better educated cadres, etc., have all enhanced the party-state's rule and made the regime less likely to succumb to crisis in the external environment. In his words, these reforms have 'considerably strengthened the country's political institutions', and as a result, the CCP's rule is 'likely to continue for the foreseeable future'.

Perhaps because of this staying power, the CCP has so far failed to respond to the incentives to democratize, at least not to extent as anticipated. Oksenberg pointed out that since 1989 the Chinese leaders have made 'no serious attempt to redefine the party's purpose within a market economy and an increasingly diverse society'. The fact that the CCP itself is the least reformed institution among vast changes is to many indicative of a loss of the sense of direction or even an identity crisis. They therefore see obsolescence in the place of adaptation and delusion in the place of vision.

What would the Chinese leaders say to these outside observers? Do they themselves feel lost amidst vast changes? When the top leaders launch the 'three emphases' campaign, crack down on dissidents and resist democratization and reforming the CCP itself, are they merely acting on the survival instinct or enacting a political vision? To answer these questions, we need to reexamine the so-called 'Deng Xiaoping Theory', the guiding ideological and policy platform for China's current leadership.

Deng Xiaoping as Dreamer

'It does not matter if a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice'. This trademark phrase of Deng Xiaoping has firmly cemented his reputation as a pragmatist. However, as a life-long communist who 'devoted (all of his working life) to the communist cause', he could hardly help being also an idealist. During his spring 1992 southern tour (nanxun) when China was still in the aftershocks of the domino-style collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and when the whole world was convinced that communism had already been tossed into the dustbin of history, Deng so out-of-fashionly declared his faith: "I believe people who support Marxism in this world will increase in numbers, for Marxism is science. ... Socialism will inevitably replace capitalism; this is an irreversible general trend of history. ...Socialism has suffered severe setbacks in some countries, and seems on the wane. However, the experiences people gain and the lessons they draw (from these setbacks) will propel the growth of socialism in more healthy directions. Therefore do not panic, thinking Marxism is going to disappear, become useless or doomed to failure. There are no such things!".

Deng was the most misunderstood communist in the world, suspected by his own mentor Mao as a capitalist roader and portrayed as a closet liberal in Western media. However, his belief in socialism (as a historical stage leading up to communism) and his vision of how to realize it in China remained remarkably stable throughout. Unlike Mao, Deng was not theoretically inclined. He thus described himself: 'I have not read a lot of books; there is only one thing, that is to believe what Chairman Mao said about seeking truth from facts'. 'Deng Xiaoping Theory' is elusive for many because it is more of a political strategy that stays focused only on a few key targets and principles while allowing improvisation or experimentation in all other areas. It also intentionally stays low-key, avoiding ideological debates or controversies.

The two key principles Deng stayed very focused on were CCP rule and socialism. His argument for socialism was that practicing capitalism in a country as poor and populous as China would lead to polarization between the rich and the poor. Or as he put it, '...if we go capitalist, the first thing to occur is our not being able to feed 1.1 billion people'. And 'If polarization occurs, things will become very different: clashes among nationalities, regional frictions, and class conflicts will all develop. Consequently the contradictions between the center and the localities will also develop. Big troubles are likely to emerge'.

People may counter that since the Dengist reform began, the gap between the poor and the rich in China have grown to alarming proportions under his brand of socialism. However, in Deng's grand game plan, the predicate 'socialist' in China's 'socialist market economy' remained for the time being largely a strategic capability to be carefully preserved under the continued rule of the communist party, a capability that would allow the state to intervene when market forces have generated enough wealth for redistribution. Deng was well aware of the propensity of market forces to create polarization, but was willing to allow 'some people to get rich first' (rang yibufen ren xian fuyu qilai) and some regions to develop ahead of others as a necessity of market-driven growth. His pragmatism was a sharp contrast to Mao's idealism in this regard. However, Deng did not abandon socialism and was not shy about his plan to let the rich help the poor by a range of political and institutional mechanisms that a socialist system was able to deploy. As early as 1990, he predicted that 'getting rich together' (gongtong fuyu) would 'eventually become the central topic' on the state's agenda some day, and envisioned during his nanxun that the socialist mechanisms of 'the rich helping the poor' would be activated by 2000. His successors faithfully followed his game plan by launching China's westward drive on schedule at the beginning of 2000.

One other reason for Deng's ardent insistence on a socialist system was its alleged 'superiority' at 'gathering forces to undertake major projects'. After the 1989 Revolution when the whole world was convinced that capitalism had won the race against socialism, Deng was counting on the 'superiority' of the socialist system to win for China the race of catching up with advanced capitalist countries. He was so confident that he foresaw the 'true manifestations of the superiority of socialism over capitalism after 30 to 50 years into the 21st century when China's comprehensive national power reaches the top rank of the world'.

The premise of fulfilling his vision is the stable rule of the CCP. As Deng repeatedly emphasized, 'stability prevails over all other matters' (wending shi yadao yiqie de). Deng perceived threats to political stability as coming from both within and outside the party. In dealing with external threats such as political opposition or dissident movements, Deng was a bona fide communist hard liner who did not hesitate to use force in the name of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. In December 1989, after the Tiananmen bloody crackdown, he reaffirmed this position to foreign visitors that 'in the future, if there are elements of chaos emerging again, we will take severe measures to eliminate them as soon as possible' so as to preempt foreign interference; in December 1990, he elaborated on the same determination to Jiang Zemin and other top leaders, but this time in pure Marxist terms:

Marx said that class struggle was not his discovery, and that the essence of his theory was the dictatorship of the proletariat. As a rising new class that has newly grabbed political power and begun to construct socialism, the proletariat is certainly weaker in than the forces of capitalism; without the dictatorship of the proletariat it cannot withstand the offensives of capitalism. Therefore to insist on socialism requires insisting on the dictatorship of the proletariat, which we now call people's democratic dictatorship. Among the four cardinal principles, the people's democratic dictatorship is no lesser than the other three. It is necessary to make clear this point theoretically.

During his southern tour, Deng reiterated this theory, and added, 'To rely on the dictatorship of the proletariat to protect the socialist system, this is a basic view of Marxism. ...To strengthen the people's political power with people's democratic dictatorship is a just cause; there is nothing to be ashamed about'.

However, Deng was more worried about threats from within. In his nanxun speeches he said, 'If China is to have real problems, they will have to come from within the CCP. ... The key is to do a good job maintaining the internal cohesion of our communist party. As long as no problems emerge from within, we can all lie down asleep reassured'. He was reiterating the same points of his talk to Jiang and other top leaders a year earlier (on December 24, 1990), during which he couched, 'The key to (solving) China's problems lies in that the CCP must have a good politburo, especially a good standing committee of the politburo. As long as there is no problem at this key link, China will be stable as Mount Tai'.

Therefore Deng's political vision for the 'primary stage of socialism' in China is hinged upon the hegemony of the communist party and its comprehensive apparatuses of coercion. The effectiveness of coercion depends on the unity and ideological consensus within the party, especially within the top leadership. Divisions within could lead to rapid mobilization of social forces to cause systematic disintegration. This critical weakness of the political system prompted Deng's unfailing efforts to ensure ideological consensus within the top leadership, throwing out along the way two of his handpicked successors who did not fully share his vision and were considered being too soft on 'bourgeois liberalization'.

To Deng, socialism is first and foremost about 'liberating and developing the forces of production'. In his political vision, the kind of socialist system under the leadership of the CCP would be flexible enough to allow market forces, private enterprises, foreign capital, and almost all kinds of institutions of a modern capitalist market economy as long as these 'benefit the development of the forces of production of the socialist society, help to strengthen the comprehensive national power of the socialist country, and facilitate the improvement of people's living standards'. Deng's strategy of attaining the socialist goals by taking the capitalist road is rather awkwardly summarized as 'one center, two basic points' (yige zhongxin, liangge jibendian), which is upheld as the political line of the CCP. The 'one center' refers to the central task of the CCP-economic construction. The two basic points are 'reform and opening' (gaige kaifang) on the one hand, and the 'four cardinal principles' (jianchi sixiang jiben yuanzhe) on the other. 'Reform and opening' fulfill the task of 'liberating and developing the forces of production' while the 'four cardinal principles' would ensure CCP rule and socialism; both 'basic points' however evolve around 'economic construction'. As Deng famously put it during his nanxun: 'Development is that hard truth'. In his mind, both CCP rule and socialism would go up in smokes if not boosted by rapid economic development.

Deng foresaw in 1992 that it would take another 30 years or so for a comprehensive new system of governance to take shape and maturate. Earlier on in 1987 he even flirted briefly with the idea of 'popular election' (puxuan) by the middle of the 21st century; his excuse then for not implementing it right away was that China had a billion people whose cultural level was still low: 'the conditions for popular direct elections are not ripe yet'. But as we shall see, neither he nor his successor Jiang Zemin talked about democracy in the same sense as understood in the West.

Jiang Zemin: Dream On

In September 1997 when the 15th Party Congress coined the term 'Deng Xiaoping Theory' and elevated it to the primary guiding theory of the CCP (along with Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought) only months after Deng's death, the post-Deng leadership declared in no ambiguous terms that it would continue to dream Deng's dream of marrying a communist polity to a capitalistic economy.

However, important gaps remain in Deng's framework for the post-Deng leadership to fill: the first is how to maintain a socialist orientation in a capitalistic market economy; the second is how to prevent decay and corruption of the CCP; and the third is how to preserve the economic foundation of socialism against the onslaught of capitalist forces. Jiang and his team responded respectively with intensified efforts at 'building a socialist spiritual civilization', at party construction and at SOE reform.

As the core figure of the 'dream team' Deng assembled at the top of the CCP leadership, Jiang Zemin is a natural dreamer compared to his two ill-fated predecessors-Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Hu was idealistic but did not fully buy into Deng's political vision and even dared to challenge the authority of the uncrowned King. Zhao on the other hand was too much of a doer to care about the vision thing. Jiang in contrast possesses some of the Mao-style poetic, revolutionary romanticism that is totally lacking in Deng as well as in his partner Premier Zhu Rongji-another doer. His reign has seen the return of many of the Mao era phenomena: ideological campaigns, party rectification, and the extensive use of role models-Comrade Lei Feng has not only been resurrected but found numerous successors in the 1990s. Under Jiang's stewardship, the CCP has greatly intensified its efforts to build a 'socialist spiritual civilization' (shehuizhuyi jingshen wenming). The CCP Central Committee passed 'The Resolution on the Guideline of Socialist Spiritual Civilization' at the 6th plenary session of the 13th Party central committee in 1991 and 'The Resolution on Several Important Problems in Strengthening the Construction of Socialist Spiritual Civilization' at the 6th plenary session of the 14th central committee in 1996. Although fighting uphill battles against the tide of commercialization and money worshiping, Jiang has done a better job than both Hu and Zhao at 'being strong with both hands'.

However, a much more formidable and immediate threat is the decay of the CCP itself in a market economy, a diversified society, and a rapidly changing global environment. The CCP now has a sprawling establishment of 61 million members and 3.4 million party organizations at the base level. It gives the CCP an enormous organizational advantage but can also become a source of liabilities and internal divisions. Jiang's response to corruption and decay is not full-scale democratization but a combination of strengthening party discipline, building up the rule of law, intensifying the campaign against corruption, and resorting to the Maoist tradition of party rectification. The 'three emphases' campaign is not an abrupt whim of his; it is rooted in Deng's political vision and was long in planning since the term 'sanjiang' was incorporated in Jiang's political report to the 15th Party Congress in 1997.

Faced with the decline of ideology, the campaign did not seek alternative formulations but attempted to regain ideological hegemony of communism. In a speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the CCP, Jiang gave an elaborate account of the meanings of jiang zhengzhi (emphasis on politics). The first and foremost is to renew the communist faith. As he put it:

The fundamental faith of us communists is socialism and communism; our world view is dialectical materialism and historical materialism. These are (the basics) that we should never be wavering from for the slightest bit. ... We must constantly strengthen the faith and ideal education of party members and cadres, strengthen the education of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, and push the comrades of the whole party to truly and firmly establish their ideal and faith on the scientific foundation of Marxism.

Jiang's ulterior motive of jiang zhengzhi may be to maintain the CCP's internal cohesion, to strengthen his leadership position, and to combat corruption and decay, but the political implication of his strategy is that the CCP will remain a vanguard Leninist party, which in turn may preclude a shift toward democracy as the new foundation of legitimacy for the regime.

Consequently, Jiang is falling back on the Maoist legitimacy principle of 'wholeheartedly serving the people' (quanxing quanyi wei renmin fuwu), away from the Dengist developmentalism. In February 2000, Jiang staged his version of a mini-nanxun, during which he proposed his 'three loyal representatives' in a speech delivered in Gaozhou municipality, Guangdong Province: 'Our Party will forever stand on unfailing ground as long as it remains the loyal representative of the requirements of the development of China's advanced social forces of production, of the direction of development of China's advanced culture, and of the fundamental interests of the broadest majority of the Chinese people'. This is a legitimation strategy of 'winning people's hearts but not their votes', much as Mao did in his lifetime and is also deeply rooted in China's imperial traditions. In contrast to Deng's three criteria proposed during his southern tour, which primarily deal with 'liberating and developing the forces of production', Jiang's 'three loyal representatives' deal with the fundamental problems of party leadership created by Dengist reforms. However, they approach these problems strictly within the CCP's tradition and the Marxist framework.

This Marxist framework also sets the limits to China's economic reform. To an unsophisticated outside observer, almost anything goes in the economic arena. The 15th Party Congress, famous for its endorsement of property rights reforms and the selling of small and medium-sized SOEs, once again set off wide and wild speculations about China going capitalist. However, a careful reading of Deng's three criteria cited above, which served as the theoretical basis of China's extraordinarily bold and wide-ranging economic reforms since 1992, will direct our attention to the repeated predicate 'socialist' that has been wishfully ignored. The following extended quote from Jiang serves as an unambiguous answer to these wishful thinkers, as well as a concise and authoritative statement of the limits to China's economic reforms:

When the 15th Party Congress proposed to actively explore new forms of public ownership that could further liberate the forces of production and permitted joint-stock companies and share-holding cooperatives, some foreigners thought China was going privatization. Similar erroneous beliefs have also emerged from among our comrades, resulting in skewed tendencies in the work of some localities. After 50 years of development since the founding of New China, our state-owned assets have culminated to over eight trillion yuan. These assets belong to the people of the whole country and are an important economic foundation of our country's socialist system. If we are not clear-minded but instead dispose them carelessly, such as indiscriminately and limitless quantifying them to the individual and allowing them to eventually concentrate into the hands of the few, then our state-owned assets will be in danger of being hollowed out and our socialist system will lose its economic foundation. By then, what will become of China? With what are we going to continue our socialist system, to strengthen the people's political power, and to ensure the realization of getting rich together for the entire people? Therefore, to correctly understand and insist on a basic economic system in which public ownership dominates and multiple ownership types co-develop, to correctly understand and manage the relations between public and non-public sectors of the economy are not only a major economic issue but also a major political issue concerning the future of our party and our country.

This is a powerful restatement of Deng's political vision: for the sake of development it is permissible to adopt any capitalist institutions and practices as long the CCP monopolizes political power, has a controlling stake in the economy, and does not lose its ideological identity. The 'three emphases' campaign is therefore an effort to renew Deng's political vision amidst the 'corrupting influences' of capitalism.

Trail Blazing or Rude Awakening?

One of Mao's favorite parables of ancient China is about the foolish old man who attempted to remove the two mountains blocking the entrance to his house. Mao greatly admired the spirit of that old fool who attempted the impossible, believing that perseverance would bring about the fulfillment of his revolutionary dreams. Mao succeeded in his first dream-founding the PRC against all odds, but failed spectacularly in his second-the Cultural Revolution. Communists of the Deng brand are dreamers of a new type and in a new era: they have unleashed the forces of capitalism to bring about unprecedented economic growth in Chinese history, but attempt to harness the raw energy of the capitalist revolution to advance their socialist agenda. Their trademark is their insistence on preserving a socialist 'superstructure' on top of a capitalistic 'infrastructure'. This is revisionist on a grand scale, for the orthodox Marxism stipulates the conformity between the infrastructure and the superstructure for the long haul.

But will they succeed? No matter how slim their chances are, their efforts will play an important role shaping the future of political China for a simple reason: these dreamers are not mere idlers on the margin of society-they are China's power elite. And no matter how out of touch and surrealistic it may appear, an ideology is a potent force when possessed by the power elite. Our analysis so far indicates that the 'dream team' at the top is far from merely paying lip service to the communist ideology. Therefore their persistent effort is an important factor shaping China's political landscape and may lead to an unexpected outcome.

Under Deng's legacy, political reform has taken a slow pace but in a steady direction. However, when the CCP leaders use the term 'political reform', they are talking about a different animal. To the Westerner political reform means democratizing or moving away from the Leninist vanguard party dictatorship to a system of checks and balance, to judicial independence, to freedom of expression, and to an institutionalized political process of compromise and accommodation of diverse societal interests. Political reform to communists of the Dengist brand means, however, tinkling with the existing system to improve the party-state rule: to make it more legal-rational, more efficient and responsive, more transparent, and more capable of accommodating the needs of a complex modern economy. They use the term 'democracy' in increasing frequency, but mean quite different things. The following is the 15th Party Congress' vision of democracy for China:

No democracy, no socialism and no socialist modernization. ... The people's democratic dictatorship and the people's congress system practiced in our country are the results of people's struggle and the choice of history. Rather than copying the model of the Western political system, we must insist and perfect this fundamental political system. This has a decisive significance for insisting on party leadership and the socialist system, for the realization of people's democracy.

So it is always 'people's democracy' or 'socialist democracy', in which the communist party serves as the high priest, the sole interpreter and caretaker of the people's will and interests, and on the other side of the same coin is 'people's democratic dictatorship' (reading: the CCP's autocratic rule). Like their Maoist predecessors, communists of the Dengist brand are also unabashed by contradiction of terms through which they combine democracy with dictatorship, for implicit behind the contradiction is the same good old Marxist theory of class struggle from which they derive their moral courage and political audacity.

Nevertheless, under the premise of party supremacy, 'political reform' has succeeded in large measures to dismantle the apparatuses of the command economy, reshaped the role of the government in the economy, strengthened the legal system, elevated the role of the National People's Congress as a legislative body, and introduced many instrumental democratic procedures and processes (including the rural village elections). However, the Dengist reformers have never intended to adopt the Western system of democracy. On the contrary, they have regarded it public enemy No. 1 by labeling it 'bourgeois liberalization'. The modesty of the political reform agenda was expressed well in Jiang's report to the 15th Party Congress: 'The main tasks of reforming the political system at present and for some time in the future are: to develop democracy, strengthen the legal system, separate government from enterprises, streamline the state institutions, perfecting the systems of democratic supervision, and maintaining unity and stability'. There will be no changes in the way political power is derived.

Can such a modest political reform agenda meet the needs of an increasingly complex society? Can China marketize without democratizing? Most scholars will respond with an emphatic 'no', but there is a distinctive possibility that this communist political holdover will last much longer than people expect. This possibility comes from the observation that marketization in a communist context leads not to rapid political mobilization but to depoliticization of more and more spheres of social life and hence to depressurization of the political sphere. The reason is simple: when allowed other opportunities of pursuit and spending their energy, people will be less inclined to stick out their necks to challenge a still very powerful apparatus of repression unless absolutely necessary. Marketization therefore is also a process of 'turning the of politics' in the Chinese context, creating a buffer zone between state and society to have reduced the urgency of fundamental political reforms. There are good reasons to account for Oksenberg's observation that there is 'little overt indication that the population demands political reform'.

In addition to this 'escapism', two other factors may also help the staying power of the CCP and the current political system. First, the strategy of 'winning people's hearts but not their votes' has worked so far. The state's current policies and reform line seem to have broad popular support and the Chinese people do seem to identify with the current regime to a large extent. Shi Tianjian's 1993 survey found that less than 10% of the respondents believed that the pace of political reform was 'too slow' while 25% thought it was too fast and wanted it to slow down, with the 65% remainder considering it 'about right'. Jiang's 'three loyal representatives' indicate the CCP's determination to continue with this strategy rather than change its mode of legitimation by embarking on democratization.

Secondly, increased level of economic development may not lead to a stronger society vis--vis the state as generally assumed; it may actually increase the leverage of the state by replenishing its resource base, especially when economic growth occurs under public ownership and single-party dictatorship. There is some empirical evidence to this. At the micro-level, Shi Tianjian's 1993 survey research on the relationship between the level of economic development and the rate of semi-competitive elections at the village level suggested that economic prosperity was positively associated with the occurrence of semi-competitive elections only up to a certain point, above which the association turned negative. This means that both the least and the most developed villages were less likely to hold semi-competitive elections. Shi argued that rapid economic development may delay political development because economic wealth made it easier for the incumbent leaders to consolidate their power, and that the peasants of poor villages were too pre-occupied with subsistence to care about electing their own leaders, who in any case mattered little because of the meager resources under their control.

Others have also noted the broken linkage between marketization and democratization in the Chinese context. David Zweig, for example, argued that in China's mixed economy where local state agencies played an extensive role, marketization and decentralization actually empowered 'non-democratic forces'. Lance Gore's book-length analysis of the institutional foundations of China's post-Mao economic growth highlighted local cadres as the key player in the economy. These 'statist market players' are locked into the existing property rights regime of state or publicly owned industries and embedded in the existing party-state hierarchy in which they have vested interests. They will prefer corporatism or soft authoritarianism to democratic changes.

However, powerful as they are, communists of the Dengist brand in capitalistic China are an endangered species. Their vision and faith are not only becoming irrelevant in the larger population, but increasingly unsustainable amongst their own ranks. The communism is an ideology of the elite; aside from the Leninist party organization it lacks a popular base to sustain and invigorate it naturally. Within the party, true believers are sustained by an elaborate system of ideological indoctrination and party discipline, and by the communist succession process that relies on senior leaders selecting their own successors, a process that tends to cream up dreamers at the top. But inevitably each generation of 'dream teams' will drift successively farther away from the original dream if only by margins of error. With the diversification brought about by economic reforms and opening up to the outside world, however, generations of new leaders promoted from below will bring with them new ideas and new perspectives. As a result, true believers become scarcer and far in between. That is why even Deng had to fire his first two handpicked successors before he found a better dreamer in Jiang, and for that matter Mao had never found his ideal successor after many failed attempts.

Communists of the Dengist brand are not only dwindling in supply, they face uphill battles to convert even party members to their vision and faith. Jiang Zemin has good reasons to be concerned with the challenges posed by the changing texture of party membership, which now includes large numbers of what Mao would consider 'bourgeois intellectuals', private entrepreneurs, industrialists, professionals, and the nouveau riche. In general these people are more influential than the working class members. It will be increasingly hard-pressed to find true believers among them and no amount of 'three emphases' campaigns will be able to reverse the trend. For what Deng's reforms have unleashed are capitalist instincts or 'spontaneous capitalist forces' (as Mao called them). In 'the global large climate and China's domestic small climate' (as Deng vividly described ) these forces are entrenching-by and large in China's new market institutions that the state has helped to build-much more powerfully than the Dengist dreamers who unleashed them. They are transforming the regime (by fundamentally altering the composition of the CCP membership and the large incentive structure in society) rather than being transformed by the regime's efforts at 'building a socialist spiritual civilization' and party rectification. They are remaking the socioeconomic foundation of the communist rule.

But the communist dreamers are not passively at the receiving end of these changes. They are still powerful and active enough to influence the course of political development and push for their own political vision as indicated by the magnitude of the 'three emphases' campaign Jiang succeeded in mounting. As a result, the communist superstructure and the capitalistic infrastructure are pulling China in different directions. They may pull the country apart, but the unique marriage between communism and the market that has given birth to the China's economic miracle may also beget a new political species. In the end, whether the outcome is trail blazing or a rude awakening will depend on the ability of the next generation of CCP leadership to innovate and adapt.


Three conclusions can be drawn. First, there is no identity crisis in the CCP-at least not at the top. To the contrary, the post-Deng leadership seems to have consolidated its political line in the newly codified 'Deng Xiaoping Theory'. It may have a wrong vision and be working in the wrong direction, but nevertheless seems self-assured. What is behind the seemingly bizarre episode of the 'three emphases' campaign is Deng Xiaoping's political vision. Communists of the Dengist brand are the 'primary stagers' who are committed to socialism but are flexible enough to incorporate capitalistic methods in promoting development. They not only proclaim their faith in socialism, but also take concrete measures to advance their goals, even though these measures are capitalistic in nature. Instead of the closet capitalists or even liberal democrats, they are in fact 'closet communists'. In their mind, market-driven development is the pre-condition for socialism rather than for capitalism and, as long as the rule of the communist party is maintained, socialist goals are also attainable even in a capitalistic environment.

Second, all political reforms have not exceeded the Dengist vision, nor are they intended to. Political reform along the line of democratization will not be forthcoming as long as the Deng's political vision remains a potent force and societal pressure is not strong enough to change the course of events. As things stand now, political reform is nothing more than adapting communist rule to the market economy intentionally created to advance the CCP's socialist objectives. Single-party rule, dictatorship of the proletariat, Marxist ideology, state ownership, a Leninist party, and anti-'bourgeois liberalization' are all pillars in Deng's political vision, in which all the incentives cited by outside observers for the regime to liberalize and democratize are the wrong incentives. We are too easily excited by the capitalistic elements in the economy and too quick to draw the linkage between economic liberalization and political democratization. As a result, too often when we predict a right turn according to what we perceive as the self-interests of the CCP, the latter turns left. Therefore as long as the ruling elite is still capable of pursuing Deng's political vision, we as political scientists are not at liberty to disregard Deng's legacy as a factor shaping political development in China.

Finally, Deng's political legacy is the main obstacle to China's democratization. The 'three loyal representatives' proposed by Jiang highlights a quintessentially Maoist political ideal of a single-party dictatorship enjoying popular support because of its wholehearted service to the people (so that there is no need for real democracy-a pre-requisite for a vanguard party to fulfill its historical mission of socialism). The trouble in this paradise is that by virtue of its monopoly of political power, the CCP cannot curb corruption and decay from within, especially in a marketized and diversified environment; it has to search for more imaginative ways to cure the problem than Deng's way. 'Deng Xiaoping Theory' was enshrined at exactly the moment when China began to grow out of the Deng era and, as a result, forces of the communist polity and forces of the capitalistic economy are pulling the country in different directions. There is room for innovation and mutual accommodation, but disruptive changes are likely if the next generation leadership is not drastically more adaptive. What China needs is not another leader who can fill in Deng's shoes but one who can grow out of his shirt.

Summer 2000

An early version of the paper was presented at the international conference on 'Deng's Nanxun Legacy and China's Development' held at Park-Royal Hotel in Singapore by the East Asian Institute of National University of Singapore (11-13 April, 2000).