Gathering Places


Sunday, January 6, 2002

China will achieve
‘peaceful evolution’
on its own terms


HoNG KONG >> John Foster Dulles was never China's favorite American official. As President Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of state, he refused to shake the hand of Premier Zhou Enlai at the 1954 Geneva conference. Dulles considered communism, and communists, evil.

Regardless of one's views of Dulles as a cold warrior, his policy has special relevance for China today, as it prepares for a transition from a third to a fourth generation of party leaders. Dulles enunciated the policy of "peaceful evolution" rather than war as the means to free the "enslaved people" in the Soviet Union, China and other communist nations.

He predicted that, by the third or fourth generation, party leaders would lose their communist zeal and gradually change color, allowing their people to become free. He wanted the United States to do whatever it could to facilitate this process.

He certainly made an impact on Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao, fearful that America would subvert China with "sugar-coated bullets," launched repeated purges of associates whom he feared would betray the communist cause by turning "revisionist."

Mao's fears appeared to be confirmed in 1956 when Nikita Khrushchev, who had succeeded Josef Stalin, denounced his predecessor. Soon, Mao concluded that Khrushchev had betrayed Marxism and had turned into a revisionist. He wanted to make sure that the same thing would not happen in China.

During the Cultural Revolution in the '60s, Mao's fanatical Red Guards dubbed the head of state, Liu Shaoqi, as "China's Khrushchev" while Deng Xiaoping was labeled the "No. 2 party leader taking the capitalist road." Both men, along with many others, were purged.

Deng survived to become China's paramount leader after Mao's death but was worried about "peaceful evolution," especially after crushing the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in June 1989. Like Mao in his later years, Deng, too, picked and then discarded a series of successors. He criticized both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang for having failed to oppose "bourgeois liberalization."

"The Western countries are staging a third world war without gunsmoke," he warned in November 1989. "They want to bring about the peaceful evolution of socialist countries towards capitalism."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Deng's fear of peaceful evolution became even more marked. While he continued to press forward with economic reforms, he was insistent that the Communist Party maintain its monopoly on political power. The struggle against "bourgeois liberalization," he said in 1992, must continue for 20 years or longer.

"The imperialists are pushing for peaceful evolution towards capitalism in China, placing their hopes on the generations that will come after us," he said. "Comrade Jiang Zemin and his peers can be regarded as the third generation, and there will be a fourth and a fifth. So long as we of the older generation are still alive, no change is possible. But after we are dead and gone, who will ensure that there is no peaceful evolution?"

Deng said that in 1992, when he was already 88 years old. After that, he became increasingly frail and inactive. He died in 1997, apparently satisfied with the performance of Jiang Zemin as the core of the third generation of leaders.

No doubt, there are still some in the party today who consider that Deng Xiaoping had paved the way for "peaceful evolution" in China with his economic reforms. As long as Deng was alive, Jiang refrained from ideological innovations. But his recent proposal for admitting capitalists into the Communist Party was openly opposed by conservatives who considered this to be traveling down the capitalist road.

Other party members, reluctant to voice opposition in public, privately deplore allowing capitalistic "exploiters" of workers to join a party meant to work for the interests of workers.

Soon, Jiang is expected to step down to make way for a fourth generation. Those leaders, when facing new problems, will need to make adjustments not just to policies but to basic ideological doctrines as well. Since these decisions will be made by Chinese for the welfare of China, there is no reason to oppose them on the ground of "peaceful evolution," which was the fear that the West would subvert China.

But John Foster Dulles, wherever he is, may well be resting in peace with a smile on his face, contented that what he had predicted in the 1950s was coming to pass, almost half a century later.

Frank Ching is an American commentator in Hong Kong.

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