Chapter One

Revolutionary Successors

Chairman Mao Zedong is dead, Premier Zhou Enlai is dead, most of the old PLA Marshals are dead. The teenagers who took up arms as peasant rebels are honoured old men, living in privilege on a glorious past, in which victory was simply to destroy a human enemy, by cunning or by force. The real enemies of today cannot be herded into re-education camps - even a million counter-revolutionaries would be a mere flea-bite to the mighty state apparatus of the People's Republic of China. The tidal waves of the twenty-first century - a doubled population, exhausted soil, crumbling cities, the obsolescence of massed infantry - have already begun to crash against the crimson walls of Zhong Nan Hai, where the inheritors of the revolution now sit over these gloomy reports in the pavillions of departed emperors. The revolution has grown old.

Chairman Mao had watched his Revolution ageing before his eyes - watched men who had sacrificed their families and risked their own death, time after time, for a fervent ideology, move into the homes of a destroyed wealthy class, and assume the silken robes of privilege and power themselves. Even those who kept to their former ideals of a frugal personal life became enmeshed in webs of preferment, building their own clans of loyal, indebted followers, jockeying for Party status - surrendering, as Mao saw it, to that same Confucian bureaucratism which had fettered Chinese progress for two thousand years.

Mao's answer was to launch a new doctrine of Perpetual Revolution, according to which the corrupting, conservatising effects of state power would be kept in check by constant, violent challenge from below - from a proletariat who, by definition, were pure of the sins of power and property. Yesterday's revolutionary hero could be today's renegade capitalist-roader. Five percent of every community would always become irredeemable class enemies - they must be constantly rooted out and destroyed. Suspects must be ruthlessly tested and reformed, for their own good as well as society's. It was a doctrine of religious witch-hunt, familiar at different stages in the history of all peoples, and it resulted in the same catalogues of manic, self-destructive violence on the part of the ignorant, the fanatical, and a fresh breed of power-drunk opportunists. What was launched as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in 1965, was later to be known as China's Ten Years of Chaos.

This is not the place for an account of the Cultural Revolution. Many solid accounts are extant, and it is now well- recognised as one of the greatest social convulsions the world has ever seen - comparable in many respects to the Inquisition or to the rise of European fascism. The Chinese Communist Party itself now officially recognises that the Cultural Revolution's sustained attacks on all civil authority, on skill, on education, on research, on history, on the arts and even the sciences, came close to destroying the whole intellectual investment of the world's largest nation. The tiny educated class was physically destroyed or at least terrorised into paralysis, and, in a nation where modern technicians and administrators were in desperate shortage, training institutions were closed for years on end. No-one was properly educated for a space of almost a decade.

In 1978, many of those still holding positions of power, including Mao's `chosen successor' Hua Guofeng, were identified supporters of the Cultural Revolution, and the true evaluations of it could not yet be published. That came later. In the aftermath of the coup against the Gang of Four, Chairman Hua and the Central Committee had issued a call for Four Modernisations (of agriculture, industry, science, and defence) to bring China abreast of advanced world levels by the year 2000. This campaign was promoted with the euphoric propaganda style inherited from the Cultural Revolution apparatus, but the propaganda soon came down to earth with a bump.

The realist faction in the leadership, growing stronger by the day, insistently pointed out that few of those charged with bringing about the Four Modernisations knew what they were talking about, in either technical or management terms. As examples, there were some spectacular blunders of over-reaching in the heavy industry sector, most notably the purchase from Japan, for some six billion dollars, of a quite unsuitable blast furnace and steel complex for Bao Shan, near Shanghai. When the scandal was revealed, there followed a salutary period of retraction in central planning, during all further spending on wholesale industrial development purchases from foreign countries was suspended. Among other things, this costly experience demonstrated that current leaders, mostly peasant revolutionaries of narrow experience and little education, must either learn to take advice from better-qualified juniors, or else move aside. China's economy could no longer be commanded like a guerrilla band.

Deng Xiaoping, at that time nominally a Vice-Premier, was the driving force behind this reassessment. A Communist of great resilience and toughness, Deng's long career had been marked by two things - an unwavering belief in the central role of the Party in China's future, and a lack of dogmatism as to what the shape of that future might be. Deng's famous expostulation that 'it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice', had thrown him time and again into conflict with the party dogmatists - chiefly Chairman Mao himself. With Mao now gone, and the country mobilising in rejection of the Cultural Revolution madness, Deng gained the momentum to fight a winning battle against dogmatism, and against those in the leadership whose usefulness was crippled by it.

One of the first campaigns was the restoration of those tens of thousands of administrators and academics who had been thrown out of their jobs during the Cultural Revolution. The next phase, led by Deng's own example of official retirement, was to encourage, or even enforce, retirement of those who had outlived their usefulness, in favour of younger, supposedly more vigorous and flexible administrators. The cry went out, `Find the Revolutionary Successors', and two generations of frustrated, disillusioned, talented Chinese began to see a glimmer of motivational light at the end of their long tunnel. One of them was Sun Chaoyang.

The legend of the Chinese Communists as `peasant revolutionaries' is, like most such historical legends, not the whole truth. Their strategy of mobilising and enlisting the support of the peasants in their struggle with the Nationalist regime undoubtedly brought them to power, and their armies were drawn very heavily from the ranks of the desperate and dispossessed of the peasantry, but not too many of the Party leaders who eventually brought those armies to sweeping victory could actually claim genuine peasant birth. For ideological reasons, many leaders had their personal histories retrospectively amended to make them look more proletarian - a quaint reversal of the historical practice of successful peasant rebels `discovering' royal bloodlines once they mounted the Imperial throne. In fact, the presence of representatives of the intellectual and moneyed classes of China among the ranks of the Communist Party leaders was significant.

Sun Chaoyang's father is one of those bourgeois intellectual Communists, whose biography would read like that of thousands of other young idealists of his generation. Sun's grandfather had been a member of the traditional scholarly class in China, a Mandarin of middle rank who had passed one of the last of the Imperial civil service examinations. With the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty and the Imperial government in 1911, he continued to live where he had last held office - in the southern city of Suzhou, a famous centre of the scholarly life. He dabbled with progressive ideas, but devoted more and more of his attention to his opium pipe. Sensing the dilapidation of Chinese society as he had known it, the old grandfather decided to send Sun Chaoyang's father to a `Foreign School' run by missionaries in nearby Shanghai, which already by that time was the centre of industrial and intellectual Westernisation in China.

What he had not intended, however, was that his son, rather than studying foreign methods of getting rich, became involved with the radical student movement in Shanghai. In stormy scenes, the old man demanded, in the name of filial obedience and the pre-eminence of the interests of the family, that the son abandon his radical affiliations. When, like so many fathers of his class and generation, he was rejected, he formally disowned his son and lapsed into an opium-soaked senility.

Sun's father felt deeply torn by the break with his family, but he became more and more deeply involved with the underground Communist movement during the forties. He took part in guerrilla actions behind Nationalist lines in Shanghai itself, and was wounded in a street battle. His family relented enough to hide him from the Nationalists while he recuperated. After the Communists had achieved government power, Sun's father, like so many of his contemporaries, found very rapid promotion as one of the relatively tiny band of trusted and capable cadres attempting to rebuild a vast and turbulent nation into the theoretical model of a communist Peoples Republic. However, his war injuries were a continuing handicap, and his career came to rest with him as an instructor in one of the Peoples Liberation Army's large establishment of colleges and political institutes. He married late, to a woman of similar background with a trusted position in the army support bureaucracy, and they had one son, whom they named Chaoyang (Dawn), after their hopes for New China.

Chaoyang apologised that he was unable to take me to meet his parents, since their work-unit was a military one, and their home therefore regarded as a military compound off limits to foreigners. It was a surprise to me that he found it necessary to apologise at all, since most Chinese prefer to leave such minor embarrassments unmentioned and unexplained. It may have been that his father's rank was such that the impossibility of a foreigner visiting his home was very clear-cut, and therefore not very embarrassing - but it was also typical of Chaoyang's quite exceptional self-confidence that he would breezily issue even this rather aborted kind of invitation to a foreigner. But then, he had as good reasons for self-confidence as anyone I knew in China.

By the time their son was born, Sun Chaoyang's parents were already Establishment. Being both Red Army and Party members of long standing, their welfare was looked after by both wings. Their housing was comfortable - a spacious courtyard residence requisitioned from a former capitalist, now fled to Hong Kong. Fuel and food produce were delivered to their door by army transport workers from the army's own system of farms and coal- mines. Medical care of the highest standard was free from the local military officers' hospital. Salaries, pegged strictly to seniority, were sufficient indulge in some purchasing of antiques and works of art sold off by former bourgeoisie who had not transferred their allegiance in time to the new regime, and were now living in reduced circumstances. But most importantly, they had the guanxi, the `connections', to obtain special favours from time to time when required.

Chaoyang said they never abused these privileges. He himself was admitted to an elite primary school, along with the children of other senior officials and army officers. He had a lively intelligence, and had been encouraged all along at home, where books were held in high esteem and always available. Chaoyang studied diligently and went through his schooldays with flying colours. Those colours included high marks for Ideology classes, and a clean record as a member of the Young Pioneers - the communist equivalent of the Boy Scouts. In due course he was admitted to the Communist Youth League - the next essential step on the road to Party membership.

Then the Cultural Revolution broke over them. Sun's family, with their middle-class origins and their intellectual interests, were immediately at risk - prime examples of the people Chairman Mao and others were deriding as the `Stinking Ninth Category of Class Enemies' lurking within the Party. For a time their military status protected them, but eventually a radical faction turned its attention to them, sending the old underground fighter, wounded in action, out to do humiliating and painful manual labour so that he might `learn from the masses' about the real meaning of revolution.

Chaoyang never said which faction he had belonged to in those days of confusion and betrayal. As a good Youth League member and a believer in Chairman Mao he took part in Struggle Meetings to denounce people like his own family, and he joined the Red Guards at the first opportunity. He travelled the country on the free Red Guard trains to `exchange revolutionary experience' with the peasants, especially in famous scenic areas. If , as I suspect, he followed the normal pattern of youngsters from his stratum of society, he probably stayed with the more conservative factions of the Red Guards and avoided outright attacks on his father's class of old-time revolutionaries. Whatever the case, it was a period he did not like to discuss in great detail. Rather, he preferred to dwell on the aftermath - the mass dispersal to the rural villages of educated youth, ordered by Chairman Mao as a cure for the chronic mass revolutionary hysteria which by that time was threatening real civil war to the whole country.

With a large group of his schoolmates, Sun Chaoyang was assigned to Inner Mongolia to `teach and learn' with the locals. In reality, this meant stepping off the local bus in a small, isolated township on the bare Mongolian grasslands, to be greeted with traditional hospitality by the Mongols, but also with more than a little suspicion as to why these young Hans had been sent there, and whether they would be worth the trouble and expense of the food they would eat. I have no way of knowing how Sun's hosts felt about him, but he himself remembers those three years as the happiest of his life. In this he is also set apart from the majority of his fellow rusticated youth, who quickly found the primitive conditions, lack of diversions, and grudging hospitality of the locals towards their uninvited guests a kind of purgatory to be endured only as briefly as possible.

Sun Chaoyang did acknowledge that he was luckier in his rustication than many. Life in the grim, exhausted villages of the North China Plain, though closer to home, could offer even greater physical privations and far fewer compensations. Many of the peasants in those over-populated areas were overtly hostile towards the bands of soft, opinionated city children, assigned to them without recourse, sharing their meagre food and lodging, and seldom willing or able to contribute a full share of productive labour.

The numbers over the whole country were vast - over twenty million still rusticated in 1978 - and among them there were indeed some great success stories where the town-bred youth were able to contribute the benefit of their education and initiative in ways appreciated by the locals. Some, like Chaoyang, became teachers in local schools, imparting a degree of basic literacy and general knowledge to adults as well as children, in part-time schools. Some others undertook scientific projects in plant- breeding, pest control, agronomy or such fields. Some became clerks and cashiers in rural collectives.

Sun Chaoyang had spent all his life up till then in the crowded lanes and courtyards of Chinese cities, hemmed in by high walls and nosy neighbours. He referred often to the wide blue skies and unfenced steppes of the Mongolian grasslands, which Han Chinese, from their millennia of intensive small-farming, had traditionally regarded as, at best, `wasteland', and at worst a hostile home for untrustworthy, nomadic barbarians and horseback raiders. Sun said he found the wide open spaces and the unpolluted air liberating to his spirit, and he learned to love the straightforward and generous Mongolian people.

Chairman Mao's call had been for the educated youth to settle down permanently where they had been sent, but Sun never believed for a moment that his rustic sojourn could become permanent. In the bitterness of each Mongolian winter, when arctic winds swept down, unimpeded, across the steppes from eastern Siberia, he could journey back to his home town for a few weeks, where his father had now been `rehabilitated' to his old job and privileges. Some of his friends were beginning to trickle back from their rustication's, with or without official permission, seeking pretexts such as `illness in the family' to resume a normal urban life.

By this time, universities and colleges were beginning to reopen, but were accepting students on their `revolutionary' credentials as gong nong bing (workers, peasants, soldiers - the three heroic classes of Maoism), rather than on the old bourgeois academic criteria. The new criteria, however, like so many other apparently clear-cut policies in China, were subject to much de facto amendment by strategic local string-pulling and bureaucratic sleight of hand. It was soon apparent that a solid proportion of the gong nong bing students being admitted to the reopened colleges were the same children of the urban privileged class who would have entered under the old system. Brief assignments to industry, a rural commune, or the army, had turned them into instant workers, peasants, or soldiers. All that was required was some gentle string-pulling with the local education authorities, or for the exiled urban youth to win the favour of the local Party authorities in their temporary home, who would then nominate them as gong nong bing students.

There are things to be said on both sides about this practice, and it would be unfair not to mention that there were many notable successes among the genuine gong nong bing students. Some talented and self-educated youth from peasant backgrounds have gone on to brilliant academic careers from these initial opportunities, which they would never have had under the old system, when all schools were filled from the elite families with access to the fast lane of good primary and secondary education. In the seventies, however, it was sadly apparent to the institution staffs that most genuine gong nong bing students had been selected by local unit Party committees for their tame political record, rather than for their academic ability. Unfortunately, many of those whose political records were impeccable enrolled at universities with scarcely a primary education to build upon, making academic standards impossible to maintain.

Sun Chaoyang was well-qualified for university admission on all grounds. His academic background was solid, his political record over three years in Inner Mongolia was unimpeachable, and his family were well-placed enough to ensure that his application was given favourable consideration. He was admitted to the elite Beijing University to study English language and literature.

Perhaps Chaoyang had absorbed, in some mysterious way, his grandfather's Confucian precepts on pragmatic state-craft, for he proved, once again, that he could adapt to new circumstances without abandoning his fundamental orthodoxy. He read widely in european literature which espoused concepts of individualism and social freedom profoundly challenging to current Chinese ideology, but he was consistent in applying to it the Marxist social analysis and utilitarian aesthetics which he had been taught were correct. But, unlike the more simply doctrinaire of his fellow-students, he showed in his conversations with me and with other foreigners that he understood some of the philosophical differences in Western literature not simply as a manifestation of bourgeois decadence, but as a genuine alternative world view, with its own humanitarian traditions worthy of consideration. This was no small achievement for a child of his generation, raised and educated through such a stringently exclusive Marxist orthodoxy.

There were some among the literature students, a very few, who would confess secretly, to foreign room-mates or friends, that they had no faith in the future of China under the Communist Party. It was a deadly secret in those days, when political inquisition could easily bring an abrupt end to anyone's academic career. (This was still possible by the time I left China in 1983, but only for relatively flamboyant expressions of dissent). Sun never made such a confession, but none the less was trusted and liked by the few foreign students in his university who got to know him.

In his growing interest in Western culture, Sun developed an interest in Western popular music - much to the disgust of his parents, who themselves were set apart from most of their countrymen by a devotion to Western serious music, particularly the Russian romantic composers popularised among the elite of China during the period of `brotherhood' with the Soviet Union in the fifties. Sun developed his own theories on rhythm and blues music as a form of the `folk' music which had an established place in Communist social theory. This was quite brave, as all those in authority were still convinced that popular Western music was purely a product of moral degradation and class exploitation. Later, as dress fashions loosened up a little, Sun Chaoyang even did his best to grow a moustache - but it never developed much beyond the wispy cat's-whiskers common to light- bearded Chinese youths. While he fraternised confidently with foreigners, he never crossed the fine lines either of personal intimacy or of ideological compromise which could have put his future instantly at risk.

Chaoyang's father had a friend, an old revolutionary comrade from the underground, whose family were the Suns' closest acquaintances. They had come from the same provincial origins and had been through fear and triumphs together over forty years. On one occasion, at the Sun family's house, the two old comrades decided that they should cap off their long friendship with a marriage between their children. With much jesting and toasting, the two ranking Party members made the traditional vows of betrothal for their children. Chaoyang at this time was only fourteen years old, and presumed they were joking. He had learned in school about the Marriage Laws which forbade arranged marriages. Ming, the girl supposedly chosen to be his bride, was only ten.

It was more than ten years later, after Chaoyang returned from Inner Mongolia to the university, that he began to take a serious interest in girls. Very few Chinese expect to begin their `adolescent' phase of experimental courtship until well into their twenties. Many theories have been advanced by foreigners about this, ranging from low animal-fat diets to plain old forced repression. In Chaoyang's day, the pressures to conform to a puritan, revolutionary work ethic were very powerful, and the natural stimuli to sexual interest were reduced to a minimum by the disfiguring hairstyles and potato-shaped work uniforms handed out to both men and women alike. Despite these disincentives, Chaoyang began to feel strongly attracted to some of his female fellow-students, and to wonder whether he might be in love. When some of this attraction appeared to be reciprocated by one girl in his class, a kind of tentative relationship developed, limited to brief, tense conversations. Chaoyang decided that he probably was, after all, in love.

When Chaoyang confidentially imparted this idea to his father, the reaction was explosive.

`He just flew into a rage,' Chaoyang told me, `and absolutely refused to have the girl in our house, even for a visit. He told me that my future marriage to Ming, that little girl, was the only personal objective left in his life, and that I would break his heart if I refused. So I stopped seeing the other girl. But Ming still seemed just a child to me - I didn't want anything to do with her'.

A year later, the incident was repeated over a different fellow-student who had caught Chaoyang's attention, and the old man's tantrum was even more terrifying. Following the footsteps of his own dead father, the old Mandarin, he threatened he would disown Chaoyang if his son refused to marry his arranged bride.

`I pity my father', said Chaoyang, `so, after another few months, I agreed to be `introduced' to Ming.' By this time Ming had been admitted to a different, equally prestigious tertiary institution.

The `introduction' to this girl he had known and ignored all his life took the standard form of family match-making in `advanced' Chinese circles. Ming's parents came to visit Chaoyang's family, bringing their daughter with them, and the two young people were given an opportunity to exchange a few words of conversation and look each other over. Later Chaoyang, still uncertain, wrote Ming a note suggesting they might meet on a Sunday afternoon in a park. The park chosen was well away from places frequented by family and friends, so as to offer at least some privacy and to avoid loss of face if things went badly. As he later told it, Chaoyang was rapidly won over by Ming, whom he described as `extremely sensible about everything, and `simply the kindest girl I had ever met'.

By the time this took place, Sun Chaoyang's well-starred destiny had led him into a highly desirable job, in a secure, Central Government work unit with access to plenty of privileges. He had become a full Communist Party member. His own family's home was large enough to offer a new couple a room of their own, so there was no impediment on his side to an early marriage. Ming faced a problem - Chinese students almost always live in campus dormitories, and are forbidden to marry before completion of their courses. There was also the risk that, after her graduation, she could be assigned away to a work unit in a remote part of China - a common curse for the educated class in China.

But Chaoyang pressed his suit for an early marriage, now that he had made his choice and it was an appropriate next move in his career. The Party secretary of Ming's institution, no doubt influenced by Chaoyang's good connections and personal record, agreed to permit the marriage if Chaoyang undertook not to interfere with Ming's studies. This he undertook, and they commenced married life on a part-time basis. Five nights a week, Ming lived in the college dormitory, in a room with five other girls, and Chaoyang slept in similar bachelor quarters at his work unit. On weekends, they lived together as man and wife in his parents' home.

Chaoyang was immensely pleased that he had satisfied his father's demands without sacrificing his own happiness. That he had not personally chosen Ming for himself did not alter the fact that he was now delighted with her as his wife. Ming's mother had come from a family of Chinese Christians, with even a minor dose of Western blood in her veins, apparent in Ming's slightly uptilted nose. Her father was also Western-educated in Shanghai. The two old communist intellectuals, now father and father-in-law, would sometimes talk bitterly of the collapse of their youthful ideals.

`We failed to build a new society', said his father, `because the Party took on the Confucian feudal style that we were trying to destroy'. It didn't occur to him that the Confucian feudal style was just what he himself had applied in arranging his own son's marriage, thirty years after Liberation and the promulgation of marriage emancipation laws. Chaoyang forebore to point it out to him.

`I pity my father very much', he said again. But Chaoyang himself would continue along the path his father's generation had laid down: Marxist by faith, but not a revolutionary - instead, a Revolutionary Successor with a first-class ticket firmly in his grasp. His father had challenged the declining, Confucian order of things and participated in its overthrow. Chaoyang had been brought up to believe in the new order, a Communist Party-led order. Like the Confucians who preceded his grandfather's doomed generation, Sun Chaoyang accepted that to challenge the system would be both futile and self-destructive. He would serve the Party, and the Party would support him. I trusted his sincerity when he told me, as many others had done less convincingly,

`I strongly believe that only Socialism can save China'.

The last time I saw Chaoyang, he was off to the West. Above stiff competition, he had been selected by his work unit for a three-year research assignment to a university in one of the most comfortable of the `bourgeois' democratic nations - an exceptionally plum job for someone of his age. According to the Chinese system, Ming would have to remain in China, and I wondered what he would tell her of bourgeois democracy when he returned home to China.

Of China's one thousand million population, six hundred and fifty million are under thirty years of age. These are the Revolutionary Successors who will carry China into the twenty-first century, and few can expect the high road to success enjoyed by Sun Chaoyang. In some developed countries, more than one in three young people achieve some form or tertiary education. In China, it is one in 150,000, and even the strenuous efforts now under way to improve that ratio - plans to double college admissions, and development of extensive radio and television education systems - have a very long way to go. According to the Peoples Daily, primary education is now available to 95% of children, but only one in three will reach the official five year primary standard of basic education. Over 85% of China's children live in peasant villages, where such education as is available must be paid for by the collective itself, and can cost as much as one quarter of the family's total per capita income for each primary student.

In the cities, there is a universal public education system, but with hugely hugely varying standards from school to school. Competition is extremely fierce, not only for tertiary places but also at the end of primary school for admission to the small number of elite Key Schools, which current policies has established to concentrate scarce teaching resources on the most promising of Revolutionary Successors. And the competition, watched over anxiously by ambitious parents, is not purely academic.

The pendulum has swung away from the purely political criteria of promotion exercised during the Cultural Revolution years. In an outstandingly brilliant student, personal eccentricities may be tolerated up to a certain point. But in general, recommendation of `sound ideology' from the Party machine at every level is decisive. From kindergarten onwards, Chinese pupils are urged to develop their `collective spirit', to eschew individualism, and to demonstrate Love for the Party, the People, and the Nation (in that order). Those who most satisfy the criteria are dubbed Three Goods students - good at studies, good in physical health, and good in ideology. They will secure earliest admission to the Young Pioneers, will have an advantage in admission to Key Schools, and, at higher levels, will be the prime candidates for the Communist Youth League, for college admission, and ultimately for Party membership. As Deng's campaign for the Revolutionary Successors gathered way, the Maoist criterion which had excluded children of `suspect' family backgrounds from joining the Young Pioneers, and hence from identifying with school political ideals, was dropped for the cruel and pointless persecution of children that it had represented.

Tertiary education is considered state property - too valuable to leave the assignment of jobs to those who have received the education up to chance. Distribution offices attached to every institution, and a whole centralised Personnel Bureau structure linking them nationally, were in the habit of treating each year's crop of graduates just as they would treat any other product in a command economy. Organisations wanting to take on graduates in particular disciplines would put in their requests, and the Party authorities in the distribution office would despatch the required number, if available. There were no job applications or interviews, and often no consultation whatsoever with the individual concerned. But because the Central Government organs in Beijing or other major cities had the most pull with the offices, a stronger academic and political record gave a graduate a greater chance of staying, after graduation, in the comparative comfort of urban employment, rather than facing assignment to Xin Xi Lan (New Zealand) - a wry acronym for three of the most feared and remote destinations: Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan), Xizang (Tibet) and Lanzhou, capital of far Western Gansu province.

The personal inequities of this system, however, inevitably have some considerable effect on the morale and the efficiency of this individuals concerned. It may never be possible to satisfy all graduates (after all, almost all want to stay in Beijing, Shanghai or the place where their families are), but it does not take a great deal of consultation to make a significant difference. And apart from the wishes of the graduates, the work units accepting the new graduates were keen to have more of a say as well. All too often, persons of rare, specialised training were being misplaced in unsuitable units, permanently, because the Personnel Bureau cadres concerned were themselves generally Party hacks (often demobilised peasant-soldier officers or the wives of senior cadres in related units) without any technical appreciation whatsoever.

Misplacement had been the deliberate policy of the Maoists, as an extension of the `intellectuals must learn proletarian ideology from the masses' attitude, but with the Four Modernisations in view, wholesale revisions have begun in the personnel placement system. More and more specialist organisations are advertising publicly for job applicants or sending their own recruiters to the colleges to select future staff from the available graduates, as is done elsewhere in the world.

The education crisis was extended backwards into the seventies with an edict in 1982 stating that all those who had graduated from high schools during the Cultural Revolution years 1967-77 were to be considered not properly educated. All would be obliged to undertake catch-up courses (on full pay), and would be demoted or transferred if they could not make the grade. A report in the Shanghai press said that almost half the staff working in government commercial departments were incompetent for their jobs, lacking general education and particular skills.

But there was also a growing tendency, in the early 1980s, alarming to the officials, for many of those who gained college admission to relapse into apathy. Faced with a compulsory assignment at the end of their course, and the established principle of almost no failure rate, regardless of performance, complacency was insidious. These were people who had been witness, as children, to the moral and social chaos of the Cultural Revolution, and who had been called upon to denounce learning as bourgeois by the same Party they were now being asked to serve with conviction. As the Cultural Revolution subsided, they had been faced with strenuous budgets of self-study, family pressure, and political minefields, on their way to the college gates. Those admitted were often treated by their families, just like their Confucian antecedents at the Imperial Examinations, as Young Lords. The story was told of one college student who had been excused all family responsibilities while studying, and whose old grandmother was sent regularly to the college dormitory to make his bed and do his laundry. The ultimate cautionary tale was of a supposedly pampered Beijing language student who became a part-time burglar to satisfy his lust for worldly goods, and was eventually charged with the murder of an old department-store watchman.

Other children wrote bitter letters to the national youth newspaper, Qingnian Bao complaining that they were obliged to do extra shares of housework to make up for a brother or sister who, having been admitted to a Key School, was given a privileged position. As the education system began to revive from the Cultural Revolution, the ambition of many parents for their children became extreme, resulting in the suicides of children who failed the entrance examinations on which their parents had set their hearts. Specialist careers, dependent on admission to the specialist high schools, were irrevocably lost by the age of twelve.

Ba Jin, one of China's most prominent novelists since the thirties, had written for decades about family tensions in a changing world - his most famous novels, Family, Spring and Autumn follow that theme closely. From gentry origins, he later aligned himself with the Communist regime and became chairman of the official Union of Chinese Writers. In 1982, he wrote an article for the left-wing Hong Kong paper, Ta Kung Pao, lamenting the situation in his own home, where his grand-daughter, at the age of seven, was under constant pressure to succeed:

`I remember when I was a child at school, I was fed knowledge by force and scolded by my elders, and I learned by mechanical memorizing. The same study method which I learned seventy years ago is being used today by my grand- daughter Duan Duan - still force-feeding and scolding...

`Duan Duan's parents often warn her that if she does not get marks above ninety percent, she should consider she has failed her exams. I shudder when I hear this... I had a good memory and was able to learn anything by heart after reading it two or three time, but after half a year it would all disappear from my memory... mechanical memorizing is a fruitless effort.

`Often I talk to friends about the students' burden.. all agree that children should be relieved from their spiritual load... Others say that the load on their minds makes them passive thinkers, and add that we don't want our youths to be submissive'.

And the pressure is not purely academic. The cultivation of a `Socialist Spirit' is a major task of all the propaganda organs of the Chinese state, which include the news media, literature, art and theatre. Young individuals are singled out for nationwide publicity when they perform notable actions in this Socialist Spirit. It was not uncommon to read of young people who had voluntarily handed over a substantial family inheritance to the state, `to help build the Four Modernisations.' The youth newspaper, Qingnian Bao, carried many such stories, and others of heroic rescues, feats of production and so on carried out for unselfish reasons by particular youngsters. A fourteen year-old girl was praised when, on cleaning out a trunk of her father's in his absence, she discovered a suspicious amount of money and turned her father in to the police on corruption charges.

Most famous of these was a young cook named Chen, at one of Beijing's most classy restaurants, who waged a campaign of public denunciation against a number of senior government officials and their wives who had made a practice of using their influence to extort free meals from the restaurant managers. Since this exposé happened to suit the politics of the hour, the whistle-blowing cook was made a national hero, a Model Worker, and finally was nominated as a delegate to the parliament, the National Peoples Congress!

From time to time, stories also arose of young people who had attempted to make themselves into such heroes by deceit. A young soldier on guard duty at an airport stabbed and bashed himself in several places, then claimed to have fought off an attack by several `counter-revolutionary saboteurs'. He was rapidly exposed, and confessed that he was trying to satisfy his mother's demands that he become a national hero. A Youth League branch secretary falsely claimed to have saved the life of an accident victim by donating large amounts of his own blood (something most Chinese, for traditional reasons, are very reluctant to do). His `report', full of the noblest socialist sentiments, was printed in the Beijing Daily before others in his factory exposed the fraud.

Acknowledging that there was considerable skepticism among the youth, regarding Socialist Spirit, the Qingnian Bao ran a series of correspondence debates between readers. Many readers wrote cynically, accusing those who donated to the State their inheritances, or treasure troves (the hidden silver hoards of departed landlords, still dug up almost every week, somewhere in China) of being nothing but glory-hunters or abject fools. There was discussion as to whether it was permissible for a Youth League cadre to have cosmetic surgery widening her eyes. The answer appeared to be Yes, in this day and age. A keen Youth League member had become interested in Christianity, through family connections to one of the reopened Chinese churches - was this permissible? No - atheism remained de rigeur for anyone who called themselves a communist, as Youth League members were supposed to do. An even more interesting argument raged in a Shanghai paper, Wen Hui Bao, over an incident in which a bright young medical student had dived into a freezing canal to rescue an old peasant who had fallen in. Thus wrote another student, from Hangzhou Teachers College:

`.. Zhang Hua is twenty-four years old, with a life of contributions to society ahead of him, while the old peasant is sixty-nine. Admittedly, the peasant could still have some contributions to make in the rest of his life, but nothing to compare with Zhang Hua's contributions. It is not a simple or cheap matter for the State to raise a college student. Therefore, as a college student, Zhang Hua should protect the national treasure his own life, and use his limited span of years to make contributions which are more important than his own life itself, instead of exchanging it for the short remaining life of an old peasant.

`There's no point in exchanging gold for the same weight in stones... We should not be swayed by our emotions'.

The long closure of the colleges, and the extreme competitiveness of entry once they reopened, left a huge reservoir of youth up to the age of their middle thirties, often highly intelligent and well-read within the bounds of what was available, but frustrated in their hopes of any further education. Radio and Television courses - basic in concept though they were - became extremely popular, as did the educational services, particularly foreign language courses, offered on the international shortwave broadcasts of the Voice of America, the BBC, and Radio Australia. But economic realities left tens of millions of such young Chinese feeling that they had little chance of rising beyond relatively menial careers.

It is a very far cry from the exhilaration of their parents generation, believing with all their hearts that they would not only raise an abject China into the modern age, but would possibly create a new model of society for mankind. For most young urban Chinese who came of age in the seventies, in the civil chaos of the Cultural Revolution and its sordid power struggles, in the shadow of their parents' perpetual terror, the future is a more melancholy prospect. Navigating the shallows for personal security and material advancement will always take precedence over any Great Leap Forward into the rapids of revolutionary idealism.

The subject is the future, and the guest is the best-seller of futurologists, American writer Alvin Toffler. He has come to Beijing on a research and lecture visit as the guest of the Chinese Futurology Association, which exists somewhere in the files of the Academy of Social Sciences. The Academy has sent along a collection of its licensed thinkers, and they sit awkwardly on the edges of their yellow-varnished chairs in this suite of the Beijing hotel. They have made no special concessions to the eminence of their guest. Squashed cigarettes are fetched from pockets to reek slowly between stained fingers. Frayed blue trouser-cuffs ride up to display frank layers of multi-coloured long underwear. A learned young economist peers through thick spectacles of which the left-hand lens is starred with cracks. Mugs of leafy jasmine tea grow cool and bitter on the glass-topped side tables.

Toffler is expounding his `Third Wave' theory of a future in which decentralisation and individualisation take over from centralised, mass society and industry as the main trend of human development. He tactfully qualifies his theory with the rider that the Orient will not necessarily follow the same pattern as the rest of the world. None the less he has challenged the principles of Leninism, of the one-Party led state.

A social scientist in his fifties speaks out from the charged silence that follows. He bears the social marks of persecution, from which none of his profession escaped in the Ten Years of Chaos. But he remains interested only in the technical arguments of his field, the `Dialectics of Nature'. Toffler parries politely.

The young economist comes in with acknowledgement that all developments in China since the Opium War have been profoundly influenced by the outside world. He rocks in his seat and his voice takes on the slightly forced cadences of the political study class. But China now differed from other places in that the emphasis in progress would always be towards raising the wealth of the nation as a whole, not of individuals.

The Party may now be openly vague about the Future, but the Future cannot be contemplated without the Party. A young mathematical prodigy in his teens has been brought along. He looks like a factory worker - crew cut, drooping jaw, baggy white shirt, patched grey trousers. He is now on a permanent research stipend from the Academy of Sciences, and is clearly taking no interest whatsoever in the discussion.

At the entrance to the hotel, a greater number of police than usual are making careful checks on any Chinese who seeks to enter. Is bourgeois intellectualism really so dangerous?