Jiang crusade harks back to bad old days

VERY strange things are happening to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a few of which we might be able to divine on Friday, when General Secretary Jiang Zemin is scheduled to give a major address to the nation.

Mr Jiang will launch an unprecedentedly vociferous campaign against corruption, which has worsened in spite of the party's almost daily jeremiads.

The party chief's nationally televised speech will be made on the occasion of the CCP's largest-ever anti-graft summit, which will be attended by national and provincial leaders as well as security and morality squads.

Given the gravity of the situation, Mr Jiang's declaration of war might sound laudable if not a bit tardy. China analysts who have seen parts of the draft, however, are alarmed by its Maoist and extremely xenophobic overtones.

First of all, the Large-scale Anti-corruption Struggle - as Mr Jiang's crusade is officially known - will be a qunzhong yundong, or mass movement, reminiscent of such brainchildren of the Great Helmsman's as the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Struggle Against the Three Evils, and later, the Struggle Against the Five Evils, in the 1950s.

Qunzhong yundong, the most disastrous of which was the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), have been decried by Western political scientists as unscientific if not irrational and feudalistic because their effectiveness often hinges on how successfully charismatic leaders can whip up mass hysteria.

In describing the qunzhong yundong Mr Jiang is about to initiate, however, the Chinese-run Hong Kong daily, Wen Wei Po, had this to say: ''In the course of building up the system of the socialist market economy, and before a social supervisory mechanism has been established, it is necessary to organise a large-scale anti-corruption struggle.'' Quoting ''authoritative sources'', Wen Wei Po claimed the forthcoming ''struggle'' would not go against the party's earlier decision ''to take economic construction as its core work and to forswear qunzhong yundong''.

Invoking the mass movements of the 1950s, Mr Jiang is expected to say on Friday: ''We must take to heart Chairman Mao's instructions [given] at the beginning of nation-building about using democratic means to counter corruption.'' Non-official historians say, however, that Mr Jiang is helping himself liberally to euphemisms: Mao was stirring up mass frenzy to impose ''dictatorship of the proletariat'', and thousand upon thousand of corrupt and anti-party elements were summarily executed during those campaigns.

It is easy to see why the CCP likes to resort to qunzhong yundong for goals such as wiping out criminals, ''feudal remnants'' or ''capitalist-roaders''. With ''the voice of the people'' as the final arbiter of justice, ''people's enemies'' can be mowed down without worrying about niceties such as the due process of the law or legislative supervision.

According to Chinese sources, Mr Jiang will on Friday commit the party to ''grasping major and important cases, arresting a group of people and killing off a group of people''. At the same time, Mr Jiang has linked the anti-graft crusade to the drive to promote inner-party ''democratic centralism'', a euphemism for the Party Centre imposing an ideological straitjacket on the localities and on individual cadres.

At a meeting of the party's organisation experts last Wednesday, the party chief said: ''We must tighten disciple so that in terms of organisation and action, the entire party remains in a high degree of unison. We must ensure that the orders of the party and state be carried out unobstructed.'' Western observers would be even more disturbed by the fact that the leadership had, inexplicably, cited ''hostile foreign forces'' and ''Western values'' as the fountainhead of Chinese corruption.

The party chief will on Friday re-ignite the Campaign Against Peaceful Evolution, no reference to which has been made in the official media for about two years.

Peaceful Evolution is a Cold War codeword used by Marxist ideologues to describe the process through which capitalist countries seek to subvert Chinese socialism by exporting ''spiritual opium'' to the country.

As the first draft of Mr Jiang's speech says: ''Some forces in the West have never relaxed their peaceful-evolution plot against China. They confuse people's minds and wreak havoc on our socialist construction. We will not change our insistence on takingeconomic construction as our core work. However, at any time, we have to counter peaceful evolution and to combat wholesale Westernisation and corruption.'' In fact, while visiting Guizhou Province last week, Vice-Premier Qian Qichen called the anti-corruption crusade ''the central task of the times'', hinting it even took precedence over the economy.

In a throwback to Maoist times, several other Politburo members have toured the regions to spread messages about fighting graft and about ''total obedience'' to the Centre.

In Beijing's view, then, corruption has arisen not because of the misguided policy of the CCP but because of growing centrifugalism, and in particular, efforts by the neo-imperialists to tar the snowy-white innocence of its cadres.

Mr Jiang seems to have forgotten his own definition of corruption: ''The exchange of power for money and indulgence in sex and food.'' Do those powers that can be traded on the marketplace - for example, control over customs checkpoints or the supply of rare resources - come from the West or within the CCP? Patriarch Deng Xiaoping has repeatedly warned that ''black money'' is tearing asunder the party's fabric, and if the CCP were to crumble, it would be because of corruption-induced atrophy, not invasion by the West.

Mr Deng's prophecy seems to be coming true as the octogenarian's health is deteriorating, and as the authority of the party over the regions and individual members is plummeting.

The CCP's image has been further dented as liberal party members applaud how reform-minded splinter groups in Taiwan's Kuomintang and Japan's Liberal Democratic Party formed new parties to challenge old-style ''money politics''.

Nonplussed, Mr Jiang and the Politburo have dusted off Mao's strategy of raising the spectre of a foreign threat to deflect the popular revolt.

However, unless the CCP is willing and able to tackle the tigers among the malefactors - who reportedly include some of the most powerful cadres and their offspring - and to implement real political reform, no amount of xenophobic appeals or other rhetorical overkill could save the day.