There is a danger that in taking on China’s critics and confronting their distortions that we become one sided, partial and subjective. This is dangerous and we should always be on our guard, when being in the frontline, to take time and see things from the other side. Not, I hasten to add, because we are wrong in our assessments of China but because we need to hear the negatives and understand them if we are to continue to be able to confront the anti-China lobby. We should have our eyes wide open and avoid self-deception if we are to acquit ourselves with skill and knowledge.
What do I mean? Two contentious areas. First, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Many did die. Much economic damage was done to China and to its people as the country was convulsed in civil war. But who were the main combatants? Was it Young against Old? Or Party against People? Or the Central Committee against the rank and file? Or was it Mao against his previously closest colleagues? Was the GPCR about rivalry and simmering animosity within the highest echelons of the Party. We have all read books and listened to Western commentators who, through the whole episode, nursed the hope and expectation that China would fall apart. In the event the Party held together.
In late October 1976 some of us in London were at a reception at the Chinese Embassy. The Political Counsellor was Mr Hu Dingyi. At the end of the evening he said a few words. He noted that among the guests there was some concern about the developments in China. Tonight was not the night, he said, to go into these matters in detail but in a clear reference to the very recent arrest of the Gang of Four – Yao Wenyuan, Chiang Chunchiao, Wang Hungwen and Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) – he declared himself to be “very happy”. “This will puzzle you”, he continued, “but in time I hope to persuade you that I am correct.” We were confused and we had little access to reliable news and information about the period 1966 to 1976.
The second contentious area is the Tianamen Killings. People did die on the night of 3 June 1989. The Party was divided. People gathered to protest about corruption and the lack of democracy. The Army was called in and maybe as many as 750 people died. The fault lay with the Government and the Party who were at odds at a time of mounting discontent. There is a context; the Reform policy of the late 1970’s was in its early stages. There were scores to be settled following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Students came to the fore and acquired a measure of public support and the protest was put down by the Army in a decisive act of confrontation. This matter is not discussed publicly in China – not in a way that it becomes a topic of conversation with foreigners. But the time will come when these matters are aired and the Party which has scored enormous successes in recent years will engage in mea culpa and accept responsibility for allowing such a state of affairs to have occurred.
My point is this – those of us who confront China’s critics should not be shy about addressing these two big issues. We lack integrity if we focus on the good and overlook the not so good. China is work-in-progress. The country is on a long journey and the Party is being tested every day as to its ability to lead the people to a life of peace and prosperity. There is much to commend about China especially in the years since the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmin Killings and if we are prepared to enjoy the good then we need to be available to be questioned about the setbacks and the negatives. We need courage and commitment but was also need integrity and honesty. China’s progress since 1921 when the Party was formed and since 1949 when the PRC was formed is a story that needs to be told. It is one of immense success and China should feel very proud. But don’t let’s mislead ourselves into pretending it has been an unqualified success. Life is not like that so let’s be prepared for good and bad and be able to enjoy the good and explain the bad. We get stronger if we embrace both.