Look Hu’s Talking – Yanhuang Chunqiu, Bolan Quanshu, Caijing

Behind closed doors on Nov.18, Communist Party potentates marked the 90th birthday of late party chief Hu Yaobang, whose untimely death spirited to life to the Tiananmen Square protests (see Reuters coverage). But the decision to give Hu his proper due has elicited a comparable trickle of the public sentiment that gushed onto the streets in 1989. This time around, it has not gone much beyond sanitized posts on Chinese Internet portals, the occasional blogger samizdat and drab rewrites of official history in the braver media. Beijing’s propaganda-meisters took pre-emptive steps to make sure of that. Their orders to the media were to wait for the Xinhua news agency file, and stick to it, newspaper editors in Beijing say. Only a few elite periodicals dared jump the gun. A couple of them were duly punished……

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Yanhuang Chunqiu, a liberal history journal edited by former Guangming Daily chief editor Du Daozheng, dedicated its November cover to Hu. The Central Publicity Department ordered the issue recalled, but many copies made it to subscribers. Unexplainably, sometime in the past two days, the monthly Web edition was finally uploaded on the magazine’s partner site as well. Included are eulogies by many key reformist elders still kicking around, including Zhao Ziyang’s close confidante Tian Jiyun, Mao Zedong’s personal secretary Li Rui, Guangdong economic miracle maker Ren Zhongyi (who died this month, actually), and former propaganda minister Zhu Houze, who makes an impassioned plea for “sunshine politics”. The package ends with the cursory obituary for Hu issued over the Xinhua news agency wire on April 15, 1989. It kicks off with an intriguing revisionist account of the climax of Hu’s career, written by his former Party Central Office aide Hao Huaiming. In 1986, during the run-up to the watershed 13th Party Congress the next year, Hu spearheaded work on the draft of the critical resolution that ditched a key phrase in the party’s guiding ideology – “taking Communist thought as the core” – in favor of a more elastic Marxism. Thus was cleared a theoretical roadblocks to expanding Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms. But Hu would be ousted from his post in the process. Hao, who was a member of Hu’s draft team, looks back at how Hu tried to navigate the ideological Scylla-and-Charybdis on the left and the right :

[August 2, 1986] That morning, Hu Yaobang sent the [second] draft to Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang. After dinner, Hu Yaobang arrived at Deng Xiaoping’s place. As he entered, Xiaoping was taking a stroll, and on seeing Hu Yaobang, uttered from afar: “The document’s not bad. Print and distribute it for everyone to discuss.”

But later, at the party plenum in September, the draft was caught up on another prickly question: what to do about the party plank to “oppose bourgeois liberalism” ÂèçÂØπ˵щ∫ßÈò∂Á∫ßËá™Áî±Âåñ? Capitalism was rampant by this time, so the archaic phrase the lay partly at odds with state-sanctioned market realities. But erasing it outright would implicitly open the door to democratic reform and thus fan the hopes of campus activists, and might also appear out of tune with Deng’s Four Cardinal Principles. Hu included it in the draft from the very outset, Hao writes, but was found himself in a fix when Revolutionary elder Lu Dingyi spoke out at the plenum in favor of scrapping part the clause. There was applause, recalls Hao, who continues:

After Lu Dingyi’s speech, Hu Yaobang followed up with a few words. I took down the main points of his speech in my original notes: “‘Liberalism’ was first used by [Liu] Shaoqi in 1959. Indeed, there are some people who advocate the capitalist road. But we don’t want to recklessly put on the liberalist hat. To do away with this word just like that, might that not… We have to pay heed to both sides of it, the Four (Cardinal Principles), and reforms.” In this “…” space, he said something about impacting stability and unity….My impression was something to the effect that he did not have a definite tendency one way or another on what to do about the word ‘liberalism’, and invited people to express their views.

The debate went back forth, with cadres taking up both sides of the argument. Then Deng got up and gave his ‘opinion’ (read: verdict): the phrase should stay. Hao continues:

A debate that was not exactly desirable, but also was not completely unexpected, came to an end. If Hu Yaobang had been able to stick decisively to the plan at the main session of the plenum, and prevent the issue of whether or not to mention ‘bourgeois liberalism’ from arousing debate, the situation might have turned out differently. But faced by an old revolutionary who’d experienced the many vicissitudes of life and had a record of service much longer than his, and given his own understanding of the issue and his work style, which had always been relatively democratic, Hu Yaobang did not do this

In closing, Hao disputes subsequent accounts of the draft debate that portrayed Hu and Lu as taking a far firmer stand against the line on ‘opposing bourgeois liberalism’, while wavering in their support of Deng’s Four Cardinal Principles. Hu, in his matter-of-fact way, was only making a subtler point, writes Hao:

Hu said: You cannot say that [writing into the draft] “to maintain the Four Cardinal Principles” just once is not Marxism, [writing it] twice is half-Marxism, and only by [writing it] three times is that Marxism.


Another party history journal stopped in its tracks by the central propaganda department was Bolan Qunshu, the monthly published by the venerable Guangming Daily. Hu Yaobang coined the name Bolan Qunshu when it began publishing in 2005. Like Yanhuang Chunqiu, the journal planned a cover package on Hu. But after higher-ups shot that idea down, it scaled down its file to two essays. Even that was too much, though. Only a portion of the print run made it to subscribers and the Web edition was never posted. One piece by former Hunan People’s Press boss Zhu Zheng and the other by Zhang Lifan, who argues wryly that Hu Yaobang’s vision would have made for a real “harmonious society” – a thinly veiled stab at current party leader Hu Jintao’s pet theoretical prescription.

There’s a footnote worth mentioning here. The editor of Bolan Qunshu is Chang Dalin, who happens to be a first cousin of President Hu Jintao. The two are not considered to be on close terms politically, though. Around the time Hu was promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in 1992, one person familiar with the relationship said, there was a family get-together. Hu told Chang and his family that from then on, they’d only be seeing each other once a year.


Caijing, the maverick business magazine, appeared to be alone among newstand media in previewing the move. Its Dec. 14 issue hit the streets with an 11-page package of pictures and essays on Hu billed as “exclusive”. The highlight was written by former Communist Party School vice-chief Gong Yuzhi , who offers a condensed and less-revealing version of the Yanhuang Chunqiu tale about Hu Yaobang’s to-and-fro in 1986. Editor Hu Shuli’s well-placed magazine vetted the pieces carefully before publishing them, and seems to have escaped censure for running them, sources there say.


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