Pining For Huangfu Ping

ZhouRuijin.jpgIn a long and intriguing essay in this past week’s Economic Observer (ÁªèʵéËßÇÂØüÊä•), former Party newspaper man Zhou Ruijin (Âë®ÁëûÈáë) reminisces about his role in reinvigorating Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms during the down years after June 4th. As deputy chief ed of the Liberation Daily (ËߣÊîæÊó•Êä•), Zhou was the author behind four breakthrough editorials that ran in the spring of 1991 under his fabled pen name “Huangfu Ping” (ÁöáÁî´Âπ≥). The timing of his latest retelling of that pivotal chapter in reform-era lore would appear purposeful. With the 17th Party Congress just weeks away and debate over reform polarized in somewhat analagous ways, Zhou casts the apprehensions of today’s Party potentates and propagandists in stark relief. He ends with a pep talk for his successors in the media:

Sixteen years have passed. Today, looking back today at that battle of ideas, we recognize more profoundly that at critical junctures in the history of a society, the media has to play the role of a guide. In the course of reform and opening and modernization, it must be a courageous pioneer. It must come to serve as a forecaster of the times, a windvane on society. Such is the duty-bound social responsibility of news workers.

A partial translation of the piece follows:

[Image: Zhou Ruijin circa his days as deputy editor-in-chief of People’s Daily, via]

An Unforgettable Year of Ideological Confrontation

By Zhou Ruijin

The year 1991 was an unforgettable year for me. That year, four commentaries by “Huangfu Ping” triggered an ideological battle, which became a backdrop for Deng Xiaoping’s speeches in the South in the spring of 1992.

Deng Xiaoping Speaks Out

History takes us back to China in the early 1990s. Controls and rectification had been underway for more than two years, and the rate of economic growth had declined markedly. The shadow of the “1989 turmoil” had yet to be dispelled from people’s minds. Dramatic change in Eastern Europe, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, had brought still greater shock and confusion. At the time, the country was a scene of calls to combat peaceful evolution, clamoring to ferret out bourgeois liberalization, and questioning whether the reform and opening was to be “called capitalist, or socialist.”

By the end of 1990, on the eve of the Seventh Plenary Session of the Thirteenth CPC Congress, Comrade Deng Xiaoping called together several central leaders to talk. He submitted that [the party] “had to be adept at seizing opportunities to solve our problems of development.” He also stressed that it “not to be afraid to take some risks” to promote the reform and opening, and that “the more the reform and opening went forward, the stronger its capabilities would be to assume and resist the risks.” He stressed as well “the need to understand theoretically that the distinction between capitalism and socialism did not rest with the question of planned or market economics. With socialism there is also market economics, and with capitalism there are also planning controls.” “Don’t assume that engaging in a little market economics is the capitalist road. That’s not the way it is. Planning and markets both are needed. If we don’t engage in markets, don’t even know the information of the outside world, then we’d resign ourselves to falling behind.” (see “Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping,” Volume III, page 364). In accordance with the spirit of Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s speech, at the seventh plenary session of the 13th CPC Congress that was subsequently convened, Comrade Jiang Zemin reiterated that the government would continue to carry out reform unswervingly, and that deepened reform and expanded opening were fundamental long-term policies that had to be adhered to. He also boldly proposed using some foreign funding to carry out technical reforms of large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises. “Even if it’s a little risky, it’s worthwhile.”

Then, from January 28 to February 18, 1991, Comrade Deng Xiaoping was in Shanghai to spend Spring Festival. In contrast to the previous few times he’d been to Shanghai for Spring Festival, this time he went out again and again to inspect factories and visit enterprises. In the rotating restaurant of the Jinjiang [Tower] Hotel, on hearing a report on the development of Pudong, he issued a series of statements about deepening reform. He stressed: “The reform and opening must continue to be discussed, the Party will have to go on discussing it for several decades. There will be differing opinions, but that too is out of good intentions. First, people are unaccustomed [to reform and opening]. Second, they’re afraid, afraid problems will occur. For me alone to speak is not enough. Our party will have to speak, speak about it for several decades.” Once again he pointed out: “Do not assume that talk of planned economics automatically means socialism, or that talk of market economics automatically means capitalism. That’s not the way it is. Both of the two are useful means. The market can also serve socialism.” He also stressed, “Opening up that’s not resolute won’t work. There are still a lot of obstacles standing in our way right now. To say ‘three-funded enterprises’ is not the national economy, to fear its development, that’s no good. Without opening, economic development would be very difficult. Countries all around in the world have to open up to engage in economic development. Western countries are mutually integrated financially and technically.” He hoped that “the people of Shanghai would think more freely, pluck up greater nerve, and proceed at a faster pace.” “You must overcome the word ‘fear’, and must be brave. In every matter, someone must be the first to try. Only then can a new road be opened.” (See “Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping,” Volume III, page 367).

When I heard these words 16 years ago, for quite a few days I felt really excited. With the political sensitivity and sense of responsibility I’d cultivated in my long years of party newspaper work, I profoundly felt that Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s remarks carried heavy weight, and were very purposeful, and clearly were a conscious new effort to promote reform and opening throughout the country.

…I realized, at the beginning of the 1990s, that China had reached another important juncture in its history: To continue to adhere to the basic line of “one center and two basic points”, unswervingly push forward with the drive of reform and opening and modernization, and head down the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics — or to bring back class struggle, take opposing peaceful evolution as the core, and backtrack? In the early 1990’s, Chinese Communists were indeed facing a real issue of which way to head.

Under such circumstances, one can imagine my excitement when I heard the gist of the remarks by Comrade Deng Xiaoping in late 1990 and early 1991. As the official newspaper of Shanghai Municipal Committee of the CPC, it was only natural that the Liberation Daily should take the lead in setting forth Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s latest thinking on deepening reform and expanding opening. This was its unshirkable duty.

“Huangfu Ping” Articles Come Into Being

According to customary practice, on the first day of every lunar new year, the Liberation Daily would publish a short op-ed greeting the New Year under “Talk of the New World” column. [But] on the eve of Spring Festival in 1991, I felt that writing just a short op-ed would be insufficient to publicize Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s latest thinking on reform and opening. So that night I called over two comrades, Ling He from the Editorial Department and Shi Zhihong from the Policy Research Office of Shanghai Municipal Committee, to confer. We resolved to cooperate in writing a few commentaries linked to Shanghai’s reform and opening in order to set forth Deng Xiaoping’s new ideas on the reform and opening. The opening piece was published on February 15 (the first day of the Year of the Ram) on the front page of the Liberation Daily. It was signed “Huangfu Ping” and headlined: “Play the lead ram in the reform and opening.”

…From February 15 to April 12, once about every twenty days, the Liberation Daily successively published four articles under the name “Huangfu Ping”. The four articles worked in concert with one another and focused around the idea of emancipating the mind in order to deepen reform and open-up more broadly. Moving from the whole down to each part, through repeated clarification and expression, they publicized Deng Xiaoping’s latest thinking on the reform and opening. They formed a public opinion series clearly meant to be a precursor for pushing forward reform.

A Fierce Confrontation of Ideas

After the “Huangfu Ping” articles were published, reaction was intense at home and abroad, inside the party and out. On the day each piece was published, there was always a number of readers who telephoned the newspaper to ask who the author was. They also said that the article was very inspiring and helped to open their minds further, recognize the situation clearly, blaze new trails, and strengthen their confidence. The Beijing office of the Liberation Daily also received a lot of phone calls asking for information on the background of the article, and questioning whether or not it transmitted the essence of Comrade Xiaoping’s statements. The callers said that by intensifying the reform component of the main theme, these articles expressed their innermost thoughts. At the time, staffers at the Shanghai offices of many provinces and autonomous regions got telephone calls from their leaders, who demanded that they collect “all the articles.” Some also dispatched personnel to Shanghai to find out the “background of their publication.” The articles were welcomed by many readers, who said that they “blew a fresh spring breeze of reform and opening.”

Then in April, the Xinhua News Agency’s “China Comment” magazine (ÂçäÊúàË∞à) echoed the “Huangfu Ping” articles, publicly expressing support for the idea that the reform and opening could not be arbitrarily questioned about whether it belonged to “socialism or capitalism.” The overseas media reacted quickly at that time. Some reported the contents of the article, some engaged in commentary, while others speculated as to the background. Quite a few foreign media reporters in China called me to request an interview with “Huangfu Ping” about the background behind the writing of the articles. For a few signed commentaries in one local media outlet to arouse such widespread attention in overseas media, it should be said, was indeed very rare and unexpected.

At the same time, some domestic media launched censure and criticism. In April of that year, one periodical [the now-defunct bi-monthly Present Ideological Trends ÂΩ쉪£ÊÄùÊΩÆ] published an article that questioned, “Can it not be asked whether reform and opening is called ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism’?” Then it gave its own reply, noting that in the days when the liberalization trend was seriously spreading, there had been a popular slogan, “don’t ask whether it’s called ‘capitalist” or “socialist’ .” The result? “Some people really tried to lead the reform and opening toward the evil ways of capitalism,” for example economic “marketization”, a “multi-party” political system, and ideological “pluralism”. Citing a series of “consequences”, the article said, “not asking whether it’s called ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ is bound to lead the reform and opening down the capitalist road and ruin the cause of socialism.” Then, it said, “Huangfu Ping” would become a “bourgeois liberalization element”.

Following this, another magazine [Pursuing the Truth (ÁúüÁêÜÁöÑËøΩʱÇ)] published an article making “Huangfu Ping” out to be akin to a political exile on the road to fleeing overseas, stating: “Not asking whether reform should be called ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ is just a smokescreen released by ‘elites’ stealing off with old reserves. It also stated: “Every Chinese person who is not willing to be a double-slave has the responsibility and the right to question whether [the reform and opening] is to be called ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’.” ..

On seeing those articles distort our original intentions, limitlessly escalating the onslaught to a major critique, we originally wanted to mount a counterattack. But the leaders of the Shanghai party committee and government understood our circumstances, and in order to protect us, gave instructions to deal with it lightly and not to engage in debate. On April 23, 1991, I wrote a report to the municipal party committee in the name of the chief editor’s office of the newspaper, and penned a letter in my own hand to three committee leaders in charge. I explained in detail how the articles were organized and the process by which they were published, the reaction from readers in Beijing and around the country, the response from theory circles, and so on. When the the three main people from the municipal committee read the report, they did not criticize the article itself. They merely raised objections that the article was not sent over for review prior to being published. Over this I made self-criticism and assumed responsibility. Later, we followed the instructions of the municipal party committee to take account of the overall situation and not respond to the criticisms. I endured tremendous pressure at the time. I even saw my appointment to a new post at Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao abruptly canceled. However, I was very clear in my heart. I believed the people, believed that history, believed that Deng Xiaoping’s thinking eventually would tell right from wrong. Under these circumstances, one leader of the propaganda department of the municipal party committee sent the “Huangfu Ping” articles and the critiques to a comrade close to Deng Xiaoping, and asked her to pass them on to Comrade Deng Xiaoping to read over.

The racket of criticism from certain media eventually triggered an echo from the country’s economic theory circles. On July 4, 1991, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences economics unit, under the direction of Liu Guoguang, convened a forum on “a number of important theoretical issues in the current field of economics”. Wu Jinglian, Wei Xinghua, Dai Yuanchen and other economists frankly expressed their views on the sensitive issue of “socialism or capitalism”. They begged to differ with the “lofty opinions” of the critics. Wu Jinglian stated: “In view of the overall situation, strategically speaking, we must ensure the socialist orientation of our economic development as a whole. [But] in terms of specific problems, we cannot be confined to the ‘socialist or capitalist’ interrogation. In opening to the outside we’ve used certain practices of large-scale social production that could not be used if it were asked whether these were “called socialism or capitalism.” If if it were, then basically put, socialism’s economic prosperity would be impeded, or even destroyed.” Wei Xinghua enumerated five points: first, in carrying out reform and opening we cannot but ask whether it’s “called socialist or capitalist”; second, we cannot arbitrarily designate something “socialist or capitalist”; third, we must not need ask in every single case whether it’s “called capitalist or socialist”; fourth, to ask “capitalist or socialist” is not to exclude and negate the existence of all things “called capitalist”; fifth, we must not use not use invalid “concepts of socialism and capitalism” to indiscriminately criticize valid theoretical ideas. He thought that those who criticized Xue Muqiao for “deifying” commodity economics fit into this final category.

In the second half of the year there was a shift in fortunes. On July 1, 1991 Comrade Jiang Zemin gave a speech to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, which set out Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s signature thinking that planning and markets should not be the basis to distinguish between capitalism and socialism. On September 1, Comrade Jiang Zemin also issued an order that the phrase “must ask whether it’s socialist or capitalist” (“˶ÅÈóÆÂßìÁ§æÂßì˵є) be deleted in two instances from a People’s Daily editorial that was set to appear in the paper the next day. Except a summary of this editorial had highlighted precisely this point, and it had already been broadcast on the CCTV Evening News that night. In the paper the next day, the two instances of “must ask whether’s its socialist or capitalist” were gone, causing there to appear two different versions of the editorial in the newspapers of central organs. In the journalistic history of the party, this was unique. Overseas news media reacted strongly, positing that a divergence of views had emerged among the senior leadership over reform and opening. At the end of September, at a central party work meeting, Comrade Jiang Zemin harshly criticized the overseas edition of a major newspaper [People’s Daily], identifying it by name, for taken his meaning out of context by mistakenly highlighting “oppose peaceful evolution” when it cited his speech at a meeting for the remembrance of Lu Xun. All these examples indicated that Comrade Jiang Zemin’s attitude toward articles criticizing “Huangfu Ping” at the time was clear-cut.

Although at the time we did not put out articles directly confronting the critics, we did not fall silent either. For example in May, 1991, when many newspapers and magazines focused the fire of critique on the “Huangfu Ping” pieces, a major newspaper in Beijing [People’s Daily] published a commentator’s editorial entitled “Build a Great Wall of Steel Against Peaceful Evolution” („Ääª∫ÈĆÂèçÂíåÂπ≥ʺîÂèòÁöÑÈí¢ÈìÅÈïøÂüé„Äã), and most newspapers across the country reprinted it. But the Liberation Daily did not. At a central group study meeting of the [Shanghai] municipal party committee, there were leaders who proposed that the Liberation Daily should make up for this and reprint the editorial. Right then and there I expressed my own view: This commentary had restricted its opposition to peaceful evolution to the ideological field, targeting the vast majority of intellectuals, which was inconsistent with the spirit of the Party Central Committee. To prevent against peaceful evolution, the main thing was the political field. Prevention had to begin with leading cadres at all levels, particularly senior cadres. The emphasis should be on education within the party. In addition, to “build a great wall of steel” to prevent against peaceful evolution was a less-than-scientific formulation. Therefore, it was just as well that it was not reprinted. Not to mention that the party center never specifically ordered local newspapers to reprint the central-level newspaper commentator’s article. Finally, the municipal party committee leadership agreed not to reprint it. Whereas I was not able to directly counterattack critiques of the articles, by not reprinting the “anti-peaceful evolution” commentary, I made clear my attitude toward the “theoreticians” and “politicians” encircling “Huangfu Ping” at the time.

Moreover, in the second half of 1991, we continued to stick to promoting the spirit of Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s remarks, which showed that we had not given up on “Huangfu Ping’s” assertions and beliefs. On August 31, 1991, a week after the turnabout in the Soviet Union, we published a commentator’s article “On the mental state of cadres,” which explicitly submitted that we should not waver in implementing the basic line of “one center and two basic points”, firmly grasp the central task of economic development, and absolutely not be divert our attention from this. The article pointed out that inspiring the spirit to persist in the reform and opening is our only way out.

…Out of the 1991 battle that unfolded from the “Huangfu Ping” articles, it was said, there emerged a saying that became popular in Beijing: “In the capital sits an old man, watching the wind rise and the clouds gather.” Comrade Deng Xiaoping observed calmly and quietly, pondering this confrontation of ideas.

In the spring of 1992, Deng Xiaoping emerged from his retirement. From January 18 to February 21, sparing no pains at the old age of 88, he conducted his Southern Tour. His footprints extended to Wuchang, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shanghai and elsewhere. Repeatedly he emphasized that reform meant to practice market economics, and the basic line had to be maintained for 100 years. He said that if we don’t adhere to socialism, don’t reform and open up, don’t develop the economy, don’t improve people’s lives, we can only meet a dead end.

Comrade Deng Xiaoping seized on the crucial point of the 1991 ideological confrontation, pointing out sharply: “When all is said and done, the inability to take steps forward in the reform and opening, to dare to break through, is just the fear of this capitalism thing, of going the capitalist road. The crucial question here is whether it’s called “capitalist” or called “socialist.” But the standard by which to judge should be whether or not it is beneficial to developing the productivity of socialist society, whether or not it’s beneficial to enhancing the overall national strength of the socialist country….

…Great voices temper the sounds and sweep away the haze. One after another, those theoreticians and politicians denouncing “Huangfu Ping” not long before packed up their caps, rolled up their flags, silenced their drums. Some promptly shifted to writing articles about “guarding against the ‘left’.” In the Shanghai and national awards events for journalistic excellence in mid-1992, the “Huangfu Ping” commentaries took first-place prize with a commanding majority of the votes. Practice has proven that the more the debate the clearer the truth, the more the struggle the clearer the path. Persisting with reform and opening is the will of the people, developing a market economy is the trend of the times, accelerating development and improving standards of living are what the general public favor. Keeping up with the times, and continuously liberating the mind, is the path that must be taken.

Sixteen years have passed. Today, looking back today at that battle of ideas, we recognize more profoundly that at critical junctures in the history of a society, the media has to play the role of a guide. In the course of reform and opening and modernization, it must be a courageous pioneer. It must come to serve as a forecaster of the times, a windvane on society. Such is the duty-bound social responsibility of news workers. (end)


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