The real threat within

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 April, 1999, 12:00am

The vehemence with which the official propaganda machinery has condemned American 'hegemonism' in the Balkans is matched by the tight control over politics and ideology within China.

The superficial reason for the clampdown is Beijing's long-standing fear of dissidents and radical students joining hands with unemployed workers and disgruntled farmers.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is particularly nervous that things may get out of hand around the 10th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown. The lengths to which the authorities have gone to forestall mishaps is evident from the grip over campuses.

As a Beijing-based professor tells it, colleges nationwide have adopted the strategy of immersing students in a plethora of activities: sports, competitions, exhibitions, cultural nights, and special lectures on 'socialism, collectivism and patriotism'.

'The idea is to get the students so fully occupied and tired they won't think of taking part in non-sanctioned political activities,' the academic said.

'Beijing has used similar tactics to maintain tranquillity in Tibet. In the run-up to sensitive festivals or anniversaries, monks and nuns are obliged to join in group activities organised by the authorities.' To prevent the spread of 'bourgeois-liberal' ideas, however, many universities in big cities are asked temporarily to stop hosting large-scale conferences on sensitive topics such as the meaning or the future of reform.

And academic departments have to get clearance from resident party ideologues before foreign and Hong Kong professors can be invited to give lectures.

The straitjacket is as evident off campus. For example, state security agents have stepped up measures to prevent black-listed figures from returning to the mainland. Checks on foreigners 'smuggling' forbidden books and CD-Roms into the country have become stricter.

However, efforts by the administration of President Jiang Zemin to thwart challenges from dissidents and other agents of 'hostile foreign forces' pale beside the draconian means it has adopted to impose uniformity of thinking among the supposed party faithful.

This seeming paradox is illustrated by the on-going Campaign on the Three Emphases - 'putting stress on [Marxist] studies, on politics and on righteousness' - which critics say is ominously reminiscent of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. From the beginning of the year, each province, city and county has held marathon indoctrination sessions on the Three Emphases.

The experience of paragon units in 'advanced areas' such as Shanghai, Shandong, Guangxi and Inner Mongolia has been propagated nationwide.

In apparent contravention of the spirit of streamlining the party and government apparatus, the CCP General Office has set up an Office on the Three Emphases to co-ordinate the orthodoxy drive.

Moreover, to prevent regional cadres from simply going through the motions, inspection teams are being dispatched to all localities to gauge the zeal with which officials are devoting themselves to studying the Marxist canon or adhering to the politically correct line. Huang Ju, the party boss of Shanghai and a Jiang protege, said of the goals of the campaign at a 'mobilisation conference' in the East China metropolis: 'In the course of the educational crusade on the Three Emphases, various leadership corps and cadres must ensure their ideological level will undergo a significant lift; their political standards will see obvious progress; their work style will experience a palpable change; and their sense of discipline will be markedly strengthened.' The Three Emphases craze is also sweeping the PLA. The army's General Political Department has set up 13 special inspection groups to oversee the Mao-style exercise throughout the military forces.

The big question: what exactly are Jiang and Company's motives for launching Three Emphases? On one level, it is yet another attempt by Mr Jiang to coax civilian and military officials into 'rallying around the central leadership with comrade Zemin as its core'.

The President's aides are busily putting together a Jiang Zemin Theory, and much of the thought-control initiative had to do with instilling in cadres' minds a Jiang-style way of looking at politics and morality.

It also coincides with the recent appointment of Jiang protege Zeng Qinghong as the head of the party's Organisation Department. Mr Zeng's task is to install more of the President's men in key slots in the run-up to the 16th Party Congress in 2002.

Yet on another level, the Three Emphases crusade is but the latter-day version of a Maoist purge: a rectification movement aimed at flushing out corrupt officials and other elements that refuse to toe the Beijing line.

How rotten the apple is can be gathered by the seemingly endless campaigns waged against crimes and misdemeanours of one shade or another among the supposed servants of the people. Hard on the heels of the anti-graft and anti-smuggling crusades have come movements against officials who construct 'tofu' buildings and bridges, or who over-tax peasants to maintain a princely lifestyle.

At the same time, regional cadres have, through cooking the books and other subterfuges, tried to sabotage Beijing edicts such as those curtailing the civil service establishment or cutting down on official residences and cars.

Obviously, the CCP realises that the most lethal threat comes not from a handful of intellectuals given to 'all-out Westernisation' but the legions of cadres whose only goal is to feather their nests.

The tragedy for the party leadership, however, is that true righteousness and political wisdom can hardly be nurtured through hackneyed shibboleths such as 'talking more about politics', Mr Jiang's favourite slogan.