Chapter Two

The Universal Cadre

An organised revolutionary movement prepares its trustworthy members as 'cadres' - the responsible nucleus of what will become a national system of government, when the revolution is successful. It's a term inherited from the original French revolutionaries, who borrowed it from the military term for a skeleton unit prepared for expansion to full strength when required. In the Chinese language, the word is ganbu. Thirty five years after the communist revolution, the title ganbu has clung to the apparatus of power, expanding its definition vastly to cover, loosely, almost everybody considered to hold a position of responsibility over others. Chinese cadres, in their tens of millions, could hardly be described as the `nucleus' of the administration any more - they are the administration.

It's a tricky term to define for outsiders. Even loyalty to the regime is no longer an adequate benchmark, since cadres are by no means all Party members, nor are all Party members cadres - many Party members remain in the ranks of `workers, peasants and soldiers'. It goes without saying, however, that only in very special circumstances can a cadre expect to have much of a career if he does not join the Party, somewhere along the way.

Outwardly, the cadre system is a highly regular structure of ranks and classes. At senior levels, an official's rank as a cadre is a personal one, based on his seniority in the administration or, more importantly, in the Party. What government positions he may hold from time to time, at the direction of his seniors, do not affect his personal rank. But because nominal salaries and rewards are anyway very low, the rewards in standard of living obtained from the system by a cadre may very much depend on the complex subsidies, perquisites and fringe benefits accruing to him through the positions he holds. The simplest Western analogy might be with a military career, where mobility between specific responsibilities does not directly affect personal rank.

That was the system intended by the architects of the Peoples Republic. They hoped to run the entire country through an expanded corps of highly motivated, tightly disciplined cadres, whose loyalty to the revolution and to its central leadership would be greater than any personal loyalties to the place where they happened to be working at the time. In fact, they recreated a bureaucratic structure with many similarities to the traditional, Imperial mandarin system, and which the Party itself now recognises was subject to many of the same failings.

At the top end of the structure, the dogmatic nature of central policy through most of the first thirty years had a way of turning mistakes, ineptitude, or mere policy disagreements into `sabotage and betrayal'. Doctrinal and personal factions created an endless round of defensive power-struggles, at tremendous destructive cost to the nation as a whole. There was almost no such thing as a graceful retirement. To be moved to a job of lesser responsibility or prestige was considered an intolerable disgrace, and would be resisted with all possible power. In the lower ranks, cadres were expected to explain and impose numerous wildly impracticable or contradictory policies over the years, which made cadres the meat in an often hard-pressed sandwich, and damaged their own credibility with the people they were expected to lead.

The cadre corps embraces a huge variety of Chinese. Apart from the original revolutionary ranks of the Communist party and its supporters, there have been, over the decades, another two generations of post-revolutionary recruits to the ranks of cadres, and also into the Party itself. In 1949, there were some four million Communists in the whole of China. By 1978, there were almost ten times that number. Before the communist victory, to be a Party member was to risk death. After the victory, to join the Party was to become a member of a tiny elite group - still less than four percent of the population - who hold a monopoly of all political power in the nation. One no longer needed to be a genuine idealist to have strong motivation to join the Party. Careerists, realists, opportunists - whatever you may care to call them - were naturally attracted to Party membership.

Among new members of the Party and cadre corps were considerable numbers of the former urban middle classes, the upwardly mobile among the workers and peasants, and, later, the children of those who had already established themselves within the governing elite. China's Imperial public service had been open to anyone of however lowly birth who could attain sufficient education to pass the public entrance examinations. In New China, where doctrine insisted that Class Struggle was the key link, candidates for Party membership would be assessed on their personal class background - i.e. the social status of their family - and, supposedly, on the quality of their commitment to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought. The view in Beijing by 1978 was that this method of assessment had gone badly astray.

Li Tongming was around forty, and had grown up in a village of Shanxi Province, west of Beijing. Early in his childhood, his father had gone off to work in the industrial city of Datung - a grim, ill-kempt city of China's coal-mining midlands. Tongming and his two younger sisters stayed in the village with his mother, living mainly on the small amount of cash sent home by the absent father, supplemented by his mother's scanty work-points income from the local co-operative which had just got under way.

The early fifties were heady times for a young schoolboy of secure proletarian origins. There were landlords to be `struggled against' in public meetings - two of the local rich men were hung as `exploiters', and a third ran away to Taiwan, leaving all his property to be confiscated. There was collectivisation, which suited Tongming's family just fine, as they had not owned any land beforehand and could now feel themselves as shareholders in their village. There was the Korean War, about which every Chinese schoolboy knew that the extreme courage of the heroic Peoples Volunteers had ignominiously routed all the combined forces of World Imperialism. Before the revolution, there had been some European Christian missionaries in the local county town, but the new revolutionary government there had squeezed them so hard that they soon ran away, too.

Young Li Tongming thoroughly enjoyed the mass demonstrations and the Young Pioneers marches, holding aloft hideous straw-stuffed effigies of the enemies of the time. He was also proving to be a keen and quick student at the village school, doing well at reading and writing, as well as having a keen mind for political education. His father would return home from Datung every few months or so, and would always tell his son Tongming of the great opportunities his generation were bound to have in the rebuilding of a great New China, which would bring comfort to the people and show the Imperialists a thing or two as well. Father had never liked the long-nosed foreigners in the county town, nor their fancy-dressed Chinese followers, aping foreign ways to the shame of China.

Tongming's ambition was kindled by these stories, and his hard study was rewarded when he gained admission to the county high school, the only student from his village in several years to do so. He went to the county town, as most of his classmates were going to work in the fields. Political currents were running even more strongly, and the familiar village collective was swept up in Chairman Mao's call for the Great Leap Forward into the Peoples Communes. Communism, the Socialist Paradise, in one generation! Tongming knew it was unprecedented, but believed with all his heart in Chairman Mao and the might of the Chinese people, united under the Great Red Banners.

He kept his faith, and tried to be brave, as the followingthree years took a terrible toll on his village. He would return from the county school on Saturday afternoons, to spend Sundays helping his family scrabbling for edible roots and grasses in the hills behind the village, as crops failed, the seed grain was eaten, and the brisk young commune directors sent from the provincial capital seemed unable to explain to the villagers what had gone wrong. His grandmother and his youngest sister died one winter, and his father could not even get leave to return for the burials. The railways were on a campaign to save coal, and there was no space on the trains for sentimental journeys.

As Li Tongming concluded his high school years, Chairman Mao was less often to he heard, and it was President Liu Shaoqi whose directives, encouraging part-private production, were giving Li's village farmers the latitude they needed to restore their neglected fields and fruit trees. Li realised that the road to Communism would have many twists and turns. His teachers were encouraging him to sit the entrance exams for teachers' college, and his time away from home had expanded his view of the world. The school Party Secretary, a woman from Datung, told Li and his schoolmates repeatedly that, under the brilliant guidance of Chairman Mao, President Liu Shaoqi, and the Communist Party Central Committee, they held the future in the palm of their hands. She had particularly high expectations of Li Tongming, she told him. Perhaps thanks to this woman's strong political recommendation, Li was selected not just for the Datung Teachers College, which had been his aim, but for the new Peoples University in Beijing - set up by the Party specifically to train cadres for the continuing revolution.

Things started well at University, too. Peasant backgrounds like Li's were very much welcomed at the Peoples University, unlike the bourgeois snobbery that could still be encountered at the older Beijing or Qinghua Universities, where children of the Communist elite and of the old educated classes studied under snooty foreign-educated professors. If students had airs at Peoples University, it was an excess of revolutionary zeal. Li Tongming became a Youth League activist, organising work parties of student volunteers to go out to the villages around Beijing at harvest time and `participate in labour', according to the current examples of Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai and the rest of the leadership. He remembers well leading a party of students carrying baskets of stones on the Ming Tombs Reservoir construction site, on the day Premier Zhou paid his work visit and wielded a spade, with bus-loads of photographers in tow.

Li Tongming's career might have gone anywhere, but for Zimei. She was a very attractive and lively young woman, a leading light in the university Propaganda Troupe, who performed revolutionary songs and dances, on the Russian model, for the inspiration of their fellow students, and occasionally toured the villages with the student labour volunteers. Zimei's family were from the lower commercial class of Beijing itself, having run a small shop, and Zimei's class background was therefore not purely proletarian. But her zeal was apparently unquestionable, and she had been admitted to the university not just for her good looks, though she was no brilliant scholar. She saw something she liked in Tongming, and by graduation time it was agreed that they would be married.

Zimei had only one condition - that they stay in Beijing. With her residence registration there officially sanctioned, her husband would be able to obtain the prized Beijing registration as well. To the ambitious Li Tongming, this seemed no problem - after all, weren't the biggest jobs in China to be found in Beijing, and all the central government departments? Li was not yet a Party member, but with his record and his background it could only be a matter of time before his application was accepted.

The blow fell after graduation. When his official job assignment was announced, Li had been assigned to a position in the Personnel Section of a large government department in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. It was a good position to begin a career, in the home province of Chairman Mao and many others of the top Party leaders - but it was hundreds of kilometres away from Beijing, in the Yangtze valley. It was also an extra two days' journey from his home village, and he was the only son of the family. Zimei, meanwhile, was assigned as a junior cadre to one of the big state performing troupes in Beijing.

After some thought, Li Tongming took the major step of turning down his assignment. His mentors shook their heads, warning him that they could not guarantee such a good opportunity in the future, and that his whole career could be clouded by this unwillingness to accept the all-wise Party's decision. It showed lack of confidence in the Party's leadership of the revolution.

Li was stubborn, perhaps over-confident that his rise, already so rapid from his humble origins, had a momentum that must, somehow, continue. It didn't. Whatever was written into Li Tongming's personal files at that time became a ball and chain on his career for ever. Nothing is ever erased from a personal file, in China. Li was reassigned, eventually, to join a large and lethargic staff in the Liaison Section of a minor ministry in Beijing, where he was still working when I met him. He had ridden out the shoals of the Cultural Revolution with ease, with his unimpeachable peasant background. He had fathered two daughters, on whom he doted. And from an ambitious peasant youth, fired with revolutionary zeal to serve his people, he had become a soured and querulous public servant, living from day to day.

Li's problem was that his work brought him into frequent contact with the most privileged sector of the Chinese people - the children and grandchildren of the Party powerful. Here was a thriving community of people who had given nothing to China, enjoying fine housing, the best of education, chauffeured cars, household servants, and seaside cottages, on the strength of their father or grandfather being an old revolutionary. If they got into trouble with the police, charges would be dropped `to protect the honour of the Communist Party'. Those who wanted to work could have the most plum jobs - in the movie industry, attached to the official media, or in non-combatant arms of the Peoples Liberation Army forces. Party membership could be virtually automatic, when sponsored by a friend of the old man.

To Li, now fretting as to whether or not his two daughters could make the grade for admission to a Key Primary school, the sight of such privilege was embittering. Though he never said so, I had the impression that his wife Zemin was also disappointed in the outcome of her husband's career, and gave him a hard time of it.

`A finger can't match a fist', was his resigned reply.

It was Li Tongming who introduced me to the realities of the Chinese welfare system, widely misunderstood by foreigners. Foreign visitors are often given briefings by travel guides or factory bosses to the effect that `every worker gets free medical insurance'. What is seldom mentioned is that this `insurance' is discretionary spending by the unit concerned, and often does not extend to members of the worker's family. In most Central Government organisations, the immediate family of a worker can get a fifty percent subsidy for medical treatment from the worker's unit.

Li was looking particularly glum on one occasion, and I asked a friend what was wrong with him.

`His mother is sick - she needs treatment. He is trying to get her into a hospital'.

As I pieced it together later from Li and others who knew him, Li Tongming's mother had been found to have a serious kidney disease. The local commune medical centre had been prepared to refer her up the line to the small county hospital, and the county in turn had referred her on to the provincial medical authorities in Datung. After days of travel and waiting in long out-patient queues with her sick mother, Li's sister was told that the only place that could do anything for her was the elite Capital Hospital in Beijing - formerly an American teaching hospital funded by the Rockefeller foundation. But it was against government regulations to refer any old peasant woman for treatment up beyond provincial level hospitals. The family members were advised to make her as comfortable as possible and prepare for her death.

Li's sister was sure that her brilliantly successful brother in Beijing, still remembered with pride in the village, could do better, and she contacted him about the situation. It is written into Chinese law that younger family members must financially support the old and needy - state welfare depends on the wealth of the work unit concerned. Even without such a law, and leaving aside his own feelings for his mother, Li Tongming was bound by powerful sense of family obligation to do his utmost. As every Chinese would do in his situation, he went to la guanxi - `pull the threads of relationship'. Through the help of an old fellow-student from Peoples University, who now worked as an administrator in the Capital Hospital, he was able somehow to gain her admission for treatment. As a peasant, his mother was not covered by welfare assistance for anything beyond the second level of treatment by the `barefoot doctor' in her commune clinic. Everything at the Capital Hospital would cost money.

Li Tongming's friend very soon told him that his mother had no hope of recovery. The best they could do was to delay further deterioration of her kidneys, as long as she remained in the hospital. Li felt no choice but to leave her there, where she stayed for several weeks until his money ran out. Then she returned to her home town, by train and bus, and there she eventually died. Her illness had cost Li four hundred yuan, wiping out five years of his savings. It had been carefully scraped together for a trip he had planned, taking his daughters on a visit back to his home town, and to pay for the extra, private tuition all ambitious parents seek for their children, to give them the best chance of qualifying for a Key School education.

Li's career had paid a price for his refusal to be transferred, but others who accepted transfers paid at least an equal price. The concept of `transferability' is part of the old idea of the cadre system, and obviously made a lot of sense when the cadres concerned were underground guerrilla fighters. Too often since 1949, separation of spouses had been quite arbitrary, unnecessary, and perpetuated by deliberate callousness, miscalled `revolutionary spirit'. One of China's favourite folk tales concerns the Cowherd and the Spinning Maid, a pair of lovers who, at the whim of the gods, are whisked up into the heavens to become stars - fixed in different constellations separated by the Milky Way. Once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh moon, a flock of magpies is said to fill up the Milky Way, creating a causeway by which the Spinning Maid may cross over to spend a single night with the Cowherd, her lover.

According to current official figures, half a million such couples had been separated by their cadre assignments in China for a period of more than five years - some of them for twenty years, with only the brief annual holidays together. In the context of China's strict birth control policies, these annual holidays, particularly the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, represented an annual crisis. Not only separated cadre families, but millions of other temporary workers and military personnel spend those three or four holiday nights together, in an atmosphere of feasting and celebration, often fired by alcohol. The national media, for days beforehand, are full of stern warnings against carelessness in contraceptive precautions.

Transfers to bring the couples together might be held up for a variety of reasons. In many cases, one of the pair lives in an over-crowded urban centre, such as Beijing or Shanghai, to which migration of any kind is strictly controlled. Units in remote or provincial areas can be extremely reluctant to release and qualified personnel assigned to them, fearing they might never get an adequate replacement. In most cases, however, the separations could be easily ended by the stroke of a pen, given the will.

In 1980, an official change in personnel policy decreed that marital separation should, for the first time, be taken into account in determining cadre transfers. Those who had been separated for over five years were entitled to be reunited. In the following two years, over three hundred thousand transfers had brought separated couples together - a proportion of them by means of the partner with the coveted urban residence status voluntarily surrendering it to join the spouse in the provinces. It had always been a major impediment to the careers of people of peasant origin that their wives, if peasants, could join them in the cities only with the greatest difficulty. Some went to the lengths of moving in illegally - which deprived them of many important citizenship rights, including ration tickets for many essential commodities. Such were known as `black people'.

These personal miseries were simply shelved by the central policymakers for decades. Any cadre of policymaking rank was, in any case, in a position of sufficient influence not only to have his wife transferred in his wake, but to ensure that she, too, would have an appointment there of appropriate seniority. Ironically, senior cadres' wives seem frequently to work in Personnel Offices themselves. One woman from such an office was sentenced to eight years prison in 1981, after accumulating 12,000 yuan in bribes from separated junior cadres who were trying to obtain transfers to end family separations - Cowherds pining for their Spinning Maids.

The iron steam radiator against the peeling, whitewashed wall has taken the worst chill off the February evening, and the twenty people sitting on rows of wooden chairs in the bare room are relatively comfortable, each wrapped in his many layers of winter clothing. Some are so warm as to have unbuttoned their heavy cotton-padded overcoats. Men have chosen to sit on one side of the room, women on the other, on the chairs they occupy each week at this time. The two unmarried young women sit together in the front row, as does the Youth League activist. A cynical young man lounges towards the back, examining a hole in his padded cotton shoe, propped on the rail of the chair in front. Two grandmothers sit together as usual in the back row, knitting. This evening the topic for Political Study is interesting enough to preclude their usual whispered gossip, though not enough to rouse Old Wang from his inevitable after-dinner snooze.

Li Tongming sits on a chair facing them, in the pool of brighter light thrown by the bare bulb in its hanging enamel shade. For ten minutes, he has been reading aloud from the Peoples Daily Comrade Deng Xiaoping's speech to the Memorial Meeting for former President Liu Shaoqi in the Great Hall of the People. Having read it, he sums it up, emphasizing the points that Comrade Liu Shaoqi had in fact been the first person to describe Mao Zedong Thought as China's own unique ideology, and that the blame for Comrade Liu's disgrace and death lies with the Gang of Four. He asks if any others of the class have anything to say.

The Activist, as usual, is first to speak. He rambles for ten minutes through paraphrases of the official editorials and Party circulars which have been preparing the population for this momentous re-writing of history over the past six months and more. He confesses that branding President Liu Shaoqi as a Renegade and Capitalist Roader was a serious error which he, along with many other comrades, had fallen into unwittingly under the pernicious influence of the Gang of Four. Comrade Deng Xiaoping and the Central Committee should be thanked for ridding China of the Gang of Four and restoring beloved Comrade Liu Shaoqi to his rightful place in the hearts of the labouring masses, as a brilliant star in the firmament of Communism.

He pauses for breath, and ploughs on conscientiously. Comrade Liu Shaoqi, in his book How to be a Good Communist, taught us much about the cultivation of proper socialist spirit, including the importance of public hygiene. Therefore, it is necessary to criticise Comrade Xing for dropping his melon-seed husks on the floor of the meeting-room. The middle-aged worker concerned, who has been dragging the dried, salty seeds from his deep coat-pocket and cracking them between his teeth throughout the meeting, formally thanks the Activist for his socialist-spirited criticism, and makes a gesture towards scraping up the scattered husks from around the feet of his chair. Someone hands him half a page from yesterday's Peoples' Daily to wrap them in.

Others have their turn. All are practised at drawing out points from what has been established as Party policy, without challenging. Study classes these days are simple, almost enjoyable, compared to the endless horrors of the Cultural Revolution, when your best friend might pick up some careless remark to brand you as contaminated with bourgeois thinking. Everyone has learned not to question. The correct line would be made clear, and private doubts should be thoroughly suppressed, for the good of all.

Nobody asks why, if President Liu was such a good man, Chairman Mao had attacked him so frequently and bitterly as the `Arch Capitalist Roader' and accused him of selling out the Chinese revolution.

When it had first become likely that a `rehabilitation' of Liu Shaoqi was under way, I mentioned it once to Li Tongming in conversation.

`Rehabilitate Liu Shaoqi? That's impossible!', he scoffed.

`Liu Shaoqi is a renegade, traitor, and scab, who wormed himself into a position of power. It was quite correct that he was driven from the Party'.

I believe now that Li at that time already knew, better than I, that Liu's official evaluation would be reversed by the Party under Deng Xiaoping - who, after all, had been one of Liu Shaoqi's closest lieutenants and was busily restoring almost all of Liu's economic policies, word for word. Li's reaction was part of his general view that if foreigners wanted to learn about China, they should learn what the Chinese people were ready to tell them, not go prying into China's private affairs. It was a common feeling among all Chinese, and universal among Party members.

Keeping abreast of the changes in political doctrine through the years puts a tremendous strain on the integrity of a communist cadre, especially when most of the time it had to be managed without admitting that there had been any `mistakes'. The solution, on a national scale, was usually to find some kind of scapegoat, be it an individual or an entire social class, which could assume the blame for the wrong policy direction and leave aloft the hoardings, scattered throughout the length and breadth of China, saying `Long Live the Great, Glorious, and Always Correct Communist Party of China'.

The cost was always high, of course. Apart from the chosen scapegoats, there were always a proportion of people whose integrity overcame their caution, and who insisted on reminding the Party powers of their collective errors. Many such people were themselves idealistic Party members, though their numbers dwindled rapidly through the Cultural Revolution. The final crisis was the second phase of the Cultural Revolution, from about 1973 to 1976, when Mao was in steep decline and the power of his wife, Jiang Qing, and a few close, fanatical cohorts came ever closer to achieving absolute power over the surviving rationalists, dependent on the prestige of the dying Premier Zhou Enlai and the obstinacy of a handful of the conservative regional military commanders.

Zhou's death in January 1976 gave what was then known as the Shanghai Clique their opportunity to push for complete power. Over a period of ten months, they were able to step up the appointment of their own nominees to powerful positions, and to have Deng Xiaoping dismissed from the acting Premiership which he otherwise would have inherited. Their progress, and their style, could be compared to the Nazi SS, though with less outward flamboyance. But rather than national or race war, they wrought destruction and chaos in the name of Class War, promoting their own class of fanatics and opportunists wherever they secured power.

It became clear to almost all experienced politicians in China that the economic disasters which would inevitably follow the Shanghai Clique's achievement of total power might very well provoke a civil war that would destroy the Communist Party altogether. Its institutional structures were already in tatters, replaced by a return to virtual warlordism in a deeply divided body politic. In the weeks that followed Chairman Mao's death, the plotting was thick and fast. The Shanghai Clique attempted to have Jiang Qing, Mao's widow, installed in his place as Chairman of the Communist Party. Their propaganda writers, who had control of most of the national official press, began to publish veiled attacks on Hua Guofeng, whom they had accepted as a compromise Premier in place of Deng Xiaoping, but who, while by no means a friend of the conservatives, was refusing to play along with their factional ambitions.

On the night of October 6th, 1976, Jiang Qing was arrested, along with Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, Wang Hongwen, and another thirty of their closest associates. Hundreds more arrests of leftists allied with the Shanghai Clique followed in the weeks ahead, and a new name was coined for vilification - the Gang of Four, after the four arrested leaders. Jiang Qing had fired the imagination of a proportion of the younger romantics in China, with her fiery socialist rhetoric. But she was also a person the majority of Chinese would love to hate, and now they were given their chance. Chinese history is full of repetitions, and one of the most famous repeated stories is of the Imperial wife or concubine who usurps the power of the throne and brings disaster on the Empire. Jiang Qing, with her origins as a Shanghai actress and Mao's fourth wife, easily fitted the traditional mould. Her group had also denounced as `bourgeois' almost every simple customary pleasure the Chinese held dear, and their removal was received with weeks of genuine joy, mixed with an orgy of official hatred and denunciation. In political study classes, where the previous week `Comrade Jiang Qing' could only be mentioned with the greatest respect, no insult was now too great to heap upon her head and the heads of her supporters. By those arrests, the Communist regime was saved.

Inevitably, a new and dangerous game developed among the masses, as the official campaigns called for the `weeding out' of hidden Gang of Four supporters. Personal enemies who had wielded their authority arbitrarily might be accused of `Gang of Four-type behaviour'. It could be a time for revenge against the suffering imposed by doctrinaire Maoists or bullies over decades, so long as they could be denounced as Gang of Four supporters. As some Japanese industrial workers are encouraged to work off their anger against the boss by beating up a straw dummy of him in a special room, so the torments of the whole Cultural Revolution were now being released in study classes and mass denunciation meetings upon the heads of the Gang of Four, while the names of Chairman Mao Zedong and the Great, Glorious and Always Correct Chinese Communist Party remained sacrosanct.

The campaign was still simmering when I arrived in China, twenty months later. But much else was beginning to change. Deng Xiaoping had been brought back into power as a Vice-Premier, and he, characteristically, made no bones about the fact that the radical changes of policy he had in mind went a great deal further than the engineers of the coup against the Gang of Four had intended. The principal figures Hua Guofeng, Ye Jianying, Li Xiannian and others were, on the whole, supporters of the conventional Soviet-style centrally-directed economy, in which the exchange of goods and services supervised by centralised authorities would, ideally, make money itself almost redundant in the productive system. They presumed that the removal of the extreme leftists would simply mean a return to that system they had learned from Russian advisors in the fifties. Now here was Deng Xiaoping talking about devolving accounting responsibilities further and further down the pyramid of administration, and even of an economy of myriad independent enterprises, big and small, practising self-management in an economic environment in which only the essential policy directions were set by the central state. Deng's favoured economists were writing in the national press of a `mixed economy' of state-owned, collectively-owned and privately-owned enterprises, competing against each other for efficiency and profit! If this was not the Capitalist Road, what was it?

Deng's answer, breathtaking in its boldness, was that this absolute reversal of policy was none other than Mao Zedong Thought in practice! The definition of Mao Zedong Thought itself was being changed, as Liu Shaoqi had attempted to change it even while Chairman Mao himself was alive. Deng, like Liu, defined Mao Zedong Thought not as the words and works of one late, honoured individual named Mao Zedong, but rather as the combined wisdom of the Chinese people throughout history on the road to socialism. As Mao Zedong had developed upon the thoughts of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin, and other Communists, so the great Chinese people would continue to develop and expand upon Mao Zedong Thought. The implication is that Mao's name, however great his contributions to a particular phase of Chinese Communism, will become increasingly coincidental to the pragmatic development of China's socialist road.

Li Tongming had seen many twists and turns on that road already, and was no longer interested in abstractions. He wanted to see his sister and her family in the Shanxi village able to make a fair reward for their labour and initiative, supported by the collective strength of the state, but no longer paralysed by the obsessive interference of incompetent theorists and ambitious self-seekers. When I raised Deng Xiaoping's proposals to him on one occasion, following a meeting of the National Peoples Congress which had endorsed many of them, he displayed the strongest positive emotion I ever saw on his otherwise rather soured countenance. He took two paces away from me, then swung round and returned with eyes flashing behind his horn-rimmed spectacles.

`At last, China is beginning to MOVE!', he breathed with suppressed vehemence, and smacked his right fist into the palm of his left hand so energetically that his glasses jumped half an inch down his nose.

The family and some of their neighbours from other rooms on the courtyard are glued to the Han family's television set, moved on top of a cupboard so that all in the crowded room can see it. Four years after their arrest, the Gang of Four have been brought to public trial as counter-revolutionary conspirators. There has been talk for two years of restoring the Rule of Law in China, after a decade of disorder. Those constructing a new legal system have seen fit to give it a grand opening with this major spectacle on national television.

The past month has produced a parade of former tyrants, last seen apparently secure on the untouchable heights of Party eminence, now shaven-headed wrecks from four years of isolation and interrogation. Zhang Chunqiao has kept a disdainful silence since muttering, at his televised indictment, `I do not recognise the legality of this procedure'. He has ignored both taunts and charges that he conspired to launch armed insurrection against the state.

Wang Hongwen, the young union organiser, has lost his handsome head of oiled hair, and is absolute in his confession to all charges, begging the forgiveness of the Chinese people. Yao Wenyuan, the propagandist, has attempted to defend himself, pleading lesser charges of error rather than conspiracy. He has been made to look despicable, blinking, babbling incoherently and shuffling pages of notes.

Tonight, Jiang Qing is to make her final appearance.A small portrait of her late husband, Chairman Mao, hangs in a fly-spotted frame on the wall near the television set, next to the framed certificate announcing the Han family as Model Neighbourhood Activists of 1977.

Jiang Qing has fought her trial with scorn. She has abused the prosecutors and questioned their authority. She has shouted down weeping witnesses as they accused her, with palpable hatred, of cruel persecutions going back to rivalries of youth. She has maintained that she has committed neither crimes nor errors, but simply acted in accordance with policies of the Party Central Committee, and authorised by Chairman Mao himself. Earlier television excerpts from the trial have shown her dragged from the court, shouting and struggling, after refusing to keep silence.

There is silence now in the watching families as the cameras show Jiang Qing led to the dock in handcuffs. She is identified as Prisoner Jiang Qing, and given her last opportunity to speak. Jiang Qing knows she is speaking to all China, and she repeats her assertions that it is she, not the alleged victims, who is persecuted. All those writers and party hacks deserved what they got in the Cultural Revolution, they were all bourgeois criminals.The family mutter in amazement as the ageing actress pulls a manuscript from her jacket pocket, and begins to declaim a poem she says has taken her a year to write - a poem accusing the current regime of betraying the Chinese revolution, and of destroying its true heroes, the activists of the Cultural Revolution.

The court tolerates her poem impassively. Jiang Qing asks them how they can lay charges of counter-revolution against her, the wife of Chairman Mao for thirty-eight years, without accusing the Chairman of the same offences. The prosecutor replies that while Mao may be responsible for not seeing through her counter-revolutionary plotting, he is not responsible for the offences themselves. The family show no reaction to this. Jiang Ding's role as a scapegoat must be a tacit one.

The prosecutor is asking for the death sentence on Jiang Qing, for conspiring to split the nation in civil war and to undermine the authority of the Communist Party. Jiang Qing shouts from the dock: `I wish I had many heads for you to chop off, one at a time, so that I might be a martyr many times over for the revolutionary ideals of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution'. These stirring lines, familiar in the scripts of revolutionary propaganda movies, and here it is for real, with Jiang Qing is playing her final scenes.

As the trial telecast ends, neighbours return silently to their homes, only the children exclaiming gleefully, `Will they chop off her head? Will they really?'

Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao were both sentenced to death with a year's reprieve - a final chance to repent. Jiang Qing's last words to her national television audience were the early Red Guard slogan: `Rebellion is Correct'. Neither Jiang Qing nor Zhang Chunqiao repented, but neither were executed. The others received stiff gaol sentences. But the trials were not judged to be the propaganda successes the regime had intended. A catharsis they may have been, useful in convincing those leftists lingering in the provinces that their day was over. But a demonstration of the Rule of Law they were not. On the one hand, the accused were publicly announced as `counter-revolutionary criminals' months before the trials began. On the other hand, convicted of these supposedly monstrous crimes against the people, resulting in thousands of innocent deaths, they were given sentences more lenient than the death sentences handed out to ordinary workers convicted of a single, spontaneous outburst of personal violence.

In the interval between the final hearings and the court's reconvening for sentencing, I asked a worldly Chinese friend how free the chief judge Jiang Hua, China's most senior judge, would have in coming to a decision.

`He wouldn't even be allowed to sit at the table', my friend scoffed, with a scornful toss of the head.

As order was restored across the country, the extent to which local cadres at all levels had established personal fiefdoms, outside the law, became more and more evident. What had been persistent rumours of malpractice and corruption in isolated cases now became an avalanche of accusations and criminal prosecutions against corrupt cadres. The accused included opportunists who had build their fiefdoms under the banner of the Maoists, and also, at least as often, an older generation of cadres who had either lost their original idealism or had simply been careerists from the start.

There is something inherently corrupting in a social system which, on the one hand, offers a very low official level of personal rewards to its cadres, and simultaneously endows them with enormous, virtually unchallenged powers in their areas of control. Since the early fifties, there had been no independent legal system through which plaintiffs could lodge grievances or accusations against cadres. The ever-present Party structure linked every organ of the state into a single interdependent entity, as far as power and influence were concerned. Courts and police were bound to obey Party secretaries at an appropriately high level, and could do nothing without their approval. Early manifestations of corruption among Party cadres were habitually concealed `in the interests of protecting the prestige of the Party'. As Li Tongming put it, in the words of a classical saying,

`Magistrates can burn houses, while the common people are forbidden to light lamps'.

Add to this unchallengable power structure an economic system in which money no longer defines real values of things, and the pressures increase. In a socialist economy, where money alone cannot buy you state-controlled items such as a house, a car, travel, or prestige, something else must take the place of money as the real currency in deciding who gets how much of the available cake. In China, the word is quan - authority. Senior cadres may have sufficient quan to do anything they want, or to obtain almost anything for somebody else, for that matter. At the other end of the scale, an individual worker may have only the quan over his own ration-tickets, but these ration-tickets for cloth or grain might be of greater value to somebody else (a peasant visiting the city, for instance) and thus a commodity tradeable for something the worker wants. Such trade is `black', but almost universal, one way or another. And its prevalence begins the undermining of social morality that ultimately produces the spectacular cases of cadre corruption given so much attention in the Chinese press.

In 1981, the criminal law was amended to include the crime of Embezzlement among those earning the death penalty. This followed a number of well-publicised cases in which particular individuals, using the power of Party position, had gained control of the distribution of scarce commodities and extracted money and goods from those units who required them.

In 1979, on a film assignment in Heilongjiang province (Northern Manchuria), I was sumptuously entertained at a banquet by the local authorities of the timber town of Yichun. My purpose there was to film the young `educated youth' who had been sent to live in this Siberian atmosphere, cutting logs in the snow-clad pine forest. The banquet included bears paw, Flying Dragon (which appears to be some kind of bird, served in unrecognisable but delicious balls of lightly seasoned meat) and 'Nose of Not-like-four-things' (sibuxiang). This latter animal was impossible to define further at the time, but I am now of the belief I may have been eating the stewed nose of a kind of local elk. My hosts at the banquet were taciturn but co-operative, and the filming was a success.

I was intrigued to hear, some two years later, that they had all been sacked and arrested on charges of running a major timber racket, involving wholesale graft and corruption. The criminals were all members of a single extended family, and held the key posts in the town administration and Party branch as well as the local timber corporation. A similar, more widely publicised case in the same province, of a corrupt woman cadre who had gained control of another local Party branch and timber corporation, resulted in her eventual execution - the first embezzler to meet this fate since the Cultural Revolution.

Stories were printed in the press of the extraordinary number of bureaucratic negotiations required for a Beijing work unit to build a block of apartments for its workers. A materials supply corporation demanded one of the apartments as a condition of giving building materials. Similar demands came from the electricity and water-supply units. Then the elevator company and the municipal housing bureau each put in their claims. It got to the point where the original owners of the building would be lucky to retain two-thirds of it for their own members. Where goods have no absolute money values, but are `assigned' by responsible cadres, these kinds of negotiation can be concluded with the stamp of an official seal.

This kind of practice, where each unit involved with the progress of some valuable project would attempt to exploit it for themselves, coined a special phrase: `As the chicken runs by, everyone plucks a feather'. It happened that 1981 was the Year of the Cock in the Chinese traditional calendar - so the Beijing press dubbed 1981 Year of the Iron Cock, hoping that the cock would retain its traditional virtues of masculinity and diligence, but prove invulnerable to those reaching, plucking fingers on all sides.

There were grey areas as well, such as the prevalence of present-giving to anyone who might help you with a problem. This had roots in long Chinese custom, and could be construed as a gesture of respect, rather than a bribe. Either way, the edicts went out and the media campaigns went on and on, lashing the custom of giving and receiving presents for favours as out and out corruption, unworthy of a socialist state.

Deng Xiaoping's plans for the cadre corps went beyond catching criminals. It had become evident that a large proportion of them were simply not up to the responsibilities which the new economic system of local accountability would require. Many were two old, and must be retired. There would be major retrenchments in overstaffed government units, and retraining of close to two million cadres who were considered underqualified.

Resistance to the policy of retirements was enormous. The older cadres knew all too well that not only their living standards, but their local standing and prestige, would melt away like magic once their quan was taken away and given to someone else. There was no precedent for this in the Peoples Republic. A compromise policy was announced from Beijing - the `Three No-Changes' policy. Cadres who retired would suffer no change in living standards and would keep their full salaries until death, they would suffer no change in protocol rank, and they would be entitled to unchanged respect. These offers are more significant to Chinese cadres than they may sound to Western ears, as they touch on the all-important concept of Face. Cadres were justly alarmed that any who retired would be considered `purged'.

Some were very depressed about this. A life-long Communist cadre from a village in Guangdong province shaved his head and joined a local Buddhist monastery when forced to retire from his position of Brigade Party Secretary - though this may say more about the ideological quality of many rural cadres than about the situation in Beijing. Others voiced bitterness and disillusionment with the ideals to which they had given their lives. A great gloom seemed to settle over a large body of the older cadre corps. Younger cadres like Li Tongming were scathing in their attitudes to them.

`In our ministry, their are fourteen Vice-Ministers, only two of whom ever do any work,' he said. `They all have chauffeured cars at their disposal and big apartments, even for their children. In my department of the ministry there are eleven Vice-Directors, only three of whom play any active part in the work. Actually, the ones who stay away are better than the ones who insist on participating in the work. They are too old, they don't understand the new period, and they waste time for all of us. If Comrade Deng Xiaoping can persuade them all to retire, I don't care how much it costs the state, as long as they go!'

I dare say the log-jamming of Li's own career gave some of the heat to these sentiments. Many organisations had three separate categories of senior cadres they could afford to lose. First were those who were simply too old, who had been away for years during the Cultural Revolution and brought back under Deng. Second were those, often not so old, who had aligned themselves with the Maoists sufficiently to be promoted rapidly over the bodies of their colleagues, but not sufficiently to be thrown out in disgrace when the new regime took over. And third were the retired military officers, guaranteed jobs on their early military retirements, and regularly inserted into other government departments at an `appropriate level' whether they were needed or not, to the great frustration of younger career men within those departments.

Deng Xiaoping's protegé Zhao Ziyang, a brisk and businesslike man with an apolitical reputation, took over as Premier in September of 1980. He declared war on bureaucracy, announcing that the pruning of government offices would begin right at the top. The State Council, or Cabinet, was the first to shed members, and the process was still filtering down slowly, with less than impressive momentum, in 1985.

A few months later Hu Yaobang, a similarly energetic and businesslike protege of Deng Xiaoping, was appointed Chairman of the Communist Party, completing the eclipse of Hua Guofeng, the moderate Maoist whose role in arresting the Gang of Four was the pinnacle of his career. Under Hu, the Party undertook two major tasks of self-examination, long overdue. The first was an official review of Party history and the role of Chairman Mao, to set a new standard of judgement and end the speculation as to how much blame Mao should carry for the Cultural Revolution. In June, 1981, that document was released, and amounted to a complete repudiation of the personality cult of Mao and its apotheosis in the Cultural Revolution. Fairly, the review acknowledged that all Party members shared blame for allowing the personality cult to develop, and committed the Party to a more democratic way of life in the future.

The Party history review also castigated the tendency of local Party officials to establish `fiefdoms and principalities' in their areas of authority, and warned that Party authority should not be considered superior to State power. Most importantly, the review officially established the view the Marxism should not be regarded as a fixed doctrine, nor as containing all wisdom. The future role of the Communist Party in China would be to lead the Chinese people in a continuing search for new truths, learned from their own experience.

The following Party Congress endorsed proposals for a second important review - that of the Party membership itself. Having grown to a strength of forty millions, with about half of the membership enrolled during periods of anarchy or of doctrine now held to be false, there was good reason for a progressive re-examination of every Party member's credentials. Those who were found to have abused their position, betrayed their ideals, or not to support the current policies, might be given twelve months to reform, and if still not up to the mark would be expelled.

Underlying this reform in the Party and cadre system was a basic change in the Party leadership's view of the Party's role in China. Some swallowed it quicker than others. It was a change from the `war footing' of Maoism - principally Class War - to a priority on keeping a peaceful, productive atmosphere in which the major task would be national economic reconstruction. Dogma which interfered with this goal was to be discarded from Party life. Relations with any other nation or class would be developed to the extent that they supported the general aim of economic development - not excluding national security, of course.

The legal system of China, despite efforts in 1980-82 to establish its independence, cannot ultimately be separated from Party power. Judges always declare, when asked, that their primary responsibility is `to carry out Party policy', rather than to treat the Party or the Government as subjects of the law. The Peoples Republic has a Constitution, but a Constitution that can be amended at any session of the National Peoples Congress, and hence no more enduring than Party policy of the day. But it can be taken as a kind of manifesto of the basic principles of the Party powers of the day, and as such the amended constitution of September 1982 was an important summary of the changes that had taken place since the death of Chairman Mao.

The Constitution dropped references to `continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat' and threats to `eliminate' the bourgeoisie. According to the 1982 Constitution, China will `ultimately and inevitably advance into Communist society', through `a long historical process'. It is a charter of evolution, not revolution, and the word `gradually' appears five times in the first five pages of the nation's declared program of development.

A paragraph was inserted declaring that `The Communist Party must conduct its activities within the limits permitted by the constitution and the state' - a caution to those tempted to over-reach their authority. In Paragraph 33, the Constitution redefines substantially the role of Party committees within enterprises and other institutions: The Party committee ` leadership in the work.. but refrains from substituting itself, or trying to take over from the administrative leaders... In Party or government offices at all levels, the branch party organisation shall not lead the work of these offices. Their task is to exercise supervision over members, including heads of offices who are Party members, with regard to the Party line.. They must encourage administrative cadres to overcome bureaucratic ways... and report shortcomings to higher Party organs.' Procedures are set out for ensuring that local members and branches are subject to proper discipline, each from the next highest level of the Party organisation.

A person raised on the stable assumptions of Common Law might sneer at the frailty of China's Constitution, but it is of great significance that those producing this particular revision paid so much attention to a framework of checks on Party power - on quan. It is a recognition that ideology does not always change human nature, and that a body of forty million Party members, plus at least as many non-party cadres, will remain as humanly corruptible as the proletariat they are set to govern.