No. 1, June 9-22, 1967
Lewis S. W. Crampton: Understanding China
p 10

Understanding China

It is no secret that most Americans are ignorant about Communist China. This ignorance stems from the fact that American attitudes toward China have been fashioned out of the misconceptions, dogmas and suspicions of a generation which views its ideological truths as self-evident and which continues to insist it can enforce its rigid absurdities upon aware people who recognize moral and intellectual bankruptcy for what it is. During the next several months this column will focus on current events and problems within the Peoples Republic of China in order to provide AVATAR readers with a basic understanding of what motivates Chairman Mao-Tse-tung and his leading comrades to do the things they do. We hope that, with this knowledge, those patriotic Americans disgusted with the ineptitude of our current non-policy of political charades will add their voices to the wave of discontent which is building throughout the land and thus provide the leadership and reinforcement for constructive change.

We start this series with an analysis of the basic value system of the Chinese Communists. It is important to do this because, if you want to know how decisions are made and why they are made, you have to know the leadership's main frame of reference. In the case of the Chinese it must be emphasized that the so-called "ideological prism" of Marxist-Leninism does not play as important a decision-making role as is currently ascribed. Much more important are those holdovers from China's Confucian tradition which continue to affect the senior leadership, in particular Chairman Mao Tse-tung. But most important has been the dynamic, action-oriented synthesis of Western values with the freewheeling but puritanical ideology of long-term guerilla conflict against impossible odds. As we shall see, this attitude of struggle and self-reliance has at times forced China's leaders to make some highly irrational decisions when viewed from Western standards, and the upheaval of the Red Guards and the power struggle taking place within the country today are a result of this situation.

In both Confucianism and Chinese Communism the basic philosophy is heavily oriented toward practical problems of governing. There is very little of the ivory tower philosophizing such as we might find in India or in the Taoist and Buddhist traditions which were generally subordinate to Confucianism in China. Both ideologies were developed into carefully planned systems of administration. In Confucian China this was expressed in the examination system, the tremendous state bureaucracy, and the role of the emperor as interpreter of Heaven's commands and source of all action within the realm. The Communists have developed and enlarged the Confucian bureaucratic structure to even greater heights, Mao Tse-tung's Works provide the regime's classical canon, and the party promotion plan provides the upward mobility once generated by the examination system. The key judgment for success under the Confucian plan of government was whether or not the system actually worked. The same is true in Communist China today. If the regime can provide the necessary hard-core developmental work, there is no reason for us to doubt that the Chinese people will accept the teachings of their own revolution and remain satisfied with a communist government.

The emphasis on youth coupled with voluntarism and self-sacrifice are significant departures from the Confucian tradition in China. In a land where once the elderly were venerated and grandfather's word was law, official policy now relies on the nation's youth to construct a new society. China's strongest asset is her young people. They are constantly called upon to display the highest ideals of voluntarism and self-sacrifice for the state. Their environment is work, study, and constant patriotic exhortation. Since the ladder of success is controlled by the Party, these young people are responsive to direction and learn to channel their efforts into activities sanctioned by the leadership. Westerners constantly cite the lack of free choice in the choice of a career as "enslavement" to a power-hungry and dictatorial Communist Party whose only concern is the exploitation of these suffering people. Perhaps the element of free choice, when it does exist in our society, is a good reason for Americans to prefer democracy to communism under present conditions. What we fail to realize, however, is that the Chinese are prone to view things in long-term time perspective, and that they have a sense of future greatness and accomplishment which has been derived from their revolution and their imperial past. Thus, for the individual Chinese there is virtue in asceticism and in having to fight insurmountable odds today because now it really is possible for one to raise oneself up from misery and misfortune through conscious striving and considerable self-sacrifice. There is this constant vision of "China's 700 million people" all striving together to build a modern state with their bare hands and with no help from anyone. In this vision Mao Tse-tung the Humanist is united with Mao Tse-tung the Organizer for here man is indeed the measure of all things, capable of fantastic creations if his capacities are properly utilized and controlled for the benefit of the state.

Definitely the most significant departure from the Confucian tradition since the Chinese Revolution has been the ideal of activism. "To be an activist" is the highest praise one can receive in Communist China today and this, coupled with the ideal of Western scientific and technological progress, is the country's most powerful theme. The Confucian ideal of order and harmony has been upset by this activism. The natural harmony of man in nature evinced in the Sung landscape paintings has been replaced by the requirement that man conquer nature for the building of the Socialist motherland. Slogans like "Make one day equal twenty years" or "Vigorously display revolutionary optimism by volunteering for all tasks" vie with one another in exhorting all of the Chinese people to engage in spirited competition in such tasks as road building, crop development, machine tool production, fly killing, and swimming. In this regard the crucial aspect of Mao Tse-tungs Works, that "little red book" soldiers, diplomats, factory-workers, ping-pong players, and night-soil collectors are constantly quoting, is the linking of theory with practice. China, according to Chairman Mao, has had a long history of commitment to many great ideals, but what has been missing has been the conscious effort to translate these values into constructive action. Mao's message is "let's get organized," and he calls upon everyone to put aside considerations of individual reward and unselfishly dedicate themselves to the building of the New China. This is a clear call for decisive action and there is no doubt that this call has been effective, particularly among China's idealistic New Youth. China's fantastic economic growth since 1949 testifies to the miracles that may be wrought through sheer physical effort and a belief in the rightness of the task.

It would be unrealistic to assume, however, all of China's people have held this high degree of direction with the same fervor and belief. Mao has made some grave mistakes and at times during the past seventeen years he has asked too much from the people. Their "revolutionary optimism" has cooled and their willingness to expend themselves in new projects has receded with each new campaign. During this time, as the individual tasks of constructing the country have grown more and more complicated, a new group of professional managers, agricultural technicians, State bureaucrats, and army officers has evolved to challenge the one-time guerilla force leaders and Party loyalists for national leadership and their very jobs. In our next issue we will examine this so-called "Red-Expert" dichotomy which the regime has been unable to solve and which lies at the root of the bitter conflict now being fought out under the banner of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards.

Lewis S. W. Crampton

Mel Lyman