China After 1989 Part I

By | January 6, 2022

After the events of 1989, the political history of the People’s Republic of China developed around three fundamental themes: economic development, international relations and the political role of the Communist Party in a constantly evolving internal context. In the aftermath of the Tien An Men square massacre, and even more so during the autumn-winter of 1989with the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, much of the international public believed that the Chinese political system was also close to collapse and that the student movement of the previous summer was only one of the symptoms of this impending collapse. Western politicians, however, were aware of the fact that the collapse of the Chinese system would provoke a global economic crisis, consequently destabilizing the political equilibrium of the Asian region: even at the UN, the contempt for human rights shown by the government of China was harshly condemned. Beijing, but at the same time the stability of that same government was hoped for, and the President of the United States G. Bush had secretly sent, already in the first autumn of 1989, one of his trusted representatives in Beijing to reassure the Chinese of American intentions to maintain political and economic relations with China. Stability was also the watchword that Deng Xiaoping was trying to impose on the internal political debate to prevent ten years of radical choices in the economic field from being canceled. The conservative wing of the party, led by the elder Chen Yun, in fact blamed the main responsibility for the events of Tien An Men on a too fast and decentralized reform process and was preparing to ask Deng to back down on the whole front. The 22 March 1990 Deng Xiaoping left in the hands of the party secretary general Jiang Zemin the last political post he still held: the head of the State Military Commission. With this move, Deng tried to strengthen the figure of Jiang and at the same time, while moving away from direct participation in the country’s politics, remained the strongman of the regime.

It was first of all necessary to reconstruct the international image of the People’s Republic, compromised by the events of Tien An Men. The capillary work of Chinese diplomacy and some offers of greater economic openings to foreign countries soon gave their results: when the China approved resolution 665of the UN, which authorized a possible use of force to free Kuwait from invasion by Iraq (a country hitherto considered a ‘friend’ by the Chinese), even Bush was able to convince the American Congress that the best policy to adopt to favor the process of Chinese democratization was that of a positive and constant involvement of China in the international relations of the West. Strengthened by these first international openings, Deng Xiaoping was able to defend the benefits of the reforms from conservative attacks with greater incisiveness, pursuing the political objective of making China one of the economic powers of the third millennium, and willing to give in to the conservatives on the ground of their main instances, those concerning the ideological purity of the party and the country. The compromise strategy soon led to concrete facts: in December of1990 the first stock exchange took off in Shenzhen, followed shortly after by the Shanghai one. The issue of the bonds met with such success among the Chinese that it was soon completely insufficient with respect to the requests.

According to THEMOTORCYCLERS, the complex games of balance that characterized Deng’s political action also began to give breath to the reforming wing of the party, which had been defeated after the events of Tien An Men. On April 1, 1991, during the meeting of the National People’s Assembly, Deng managed to place 63-year-old Zhu Rongji (former mayor of Shanghai since 1987 and local party secretary since 1989) in the role of deputy prime minister with specific responsibility for the ‘economy; he was therefore responsible for initiating the process of transition from the planned to the market economy.

Deng’s choices did not falter even when, in the summer of 1991, riots broke out in Moscow that led to the complete dissolution of the USSR in December. To the attack of the conservatives, who evoked the Russian disasters also for the China if it had continued in that direction, Deng replied that only an increase in the availability of material goods could function as a safety valve to avoid a political-social crisis in the country: it was about offering the Chinese consumer goods in exchange for renouncing any democratic claim. The project of the elderly leader seemed well founded: the Chinese seemed conquered more by the new large shopping centers that were born in each city, than by the desire for political change that emerged during the Beijing spring.1989. But, if the Chinese seemed to have forgotten the ‘fifth modernization’, democracy, the disaffection with the management of the party increased exponentially, especially in the rural provinces of the interior.

China After 1989 1