on September 4, 2013
(Disclaimer: this reviewer has not visited China and has no professional expertise on China. This is strictly a book review, and not an assessment of Chinese politics.)
Probably the most important motivation for the Chinese state since the Revolution has been economic growth: the People's Republic has epitomized the developmental state both as a militantly socialistic regime, and as an ostentatiously ultra-capitalist one (1). Some may be perplexed by this, since the early Communist period was accompanied by a crescendo of political turmoil, climaxing in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). But since the very beginning of major 20th century revolutions, the industrial system has been an all-consuming obsession, and with good reason: the leaders of the regime have always been in a race against time to pull out of the commodity dependency trap before public support for industrialization flags. In Bolshevik Russia, the great schism between the Trotskyists and Stalin arose from the battle over developmentalism; the ideology, and eventually, the purges, would be driven by the need to prolong Lenin's "mandate" to electrify the whole country (2). In China, the developmentalist agenda was a settled question by 1949, and just over a year later the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was engaged in a shooting war with the capitalist world. Keeping these items in mind is crucial to taking Chinese history seriously: most of the alternatives to what they would do were, in the event, illusions--never really available in the first place.
Naturally, a key salient in the battle over developmental strategy was education policy. In 1949, 24 million children were enrolled in primary school, and 1.2 million in secondary school; there were 117,000 college students in the entire country (3). Unsurprisingly, nearly all college students were from wealthy families, meaning that the entire educational system had evolved to not only accept a mono-culture of landlord offspring (with professors catering to same), but to favor that culture and regard even moderately leveling policies as wasteful and stupid. When the CCP came to power, they were obligated to retain both the experts and much of the student body, since intellectual capital was scarce. But they placed the experts--managerial, technical and intellectual--under the control of "Reds," or cadres with political credentials. Initially, there were clashes between the totally alien cultures, but gradually a modus vivendi evolved. The Red elite had children who joined the old comprador and landlord elite children at the universities; the obviously overwhelming power of the CCP in China ensured that the children of "bad" classes would accommodate their classmates from Red families, whatever their feelings might have been.
Andreas's study focuses on the experience of Tsinghua University, one of China's two top learning institutions (the other one is Beijing University). In 1952, only 14% of the student body was of working class origins (after 30 months of CCP rule). By 1964, this proportion had risen to 44%, opening up a vast rift between students and professors (4). As the Cultural Revolution broke out in the universities of China, factions of students formed, often arming themselves for gang warfare and necessitating the arrival of "work groups" (delegations of workers and peasant cadres with moral authority to arbitrate between the dueling factions). During this period, several anomalies developed.
The first was that the Reds were the main target of attack in the GPCR; for Mao and his inner inner circle, the object was to purge the party of revisionists, or--more cynically--moral rivals to himself. Hence, party cadres were astonished to find themselves on the receiving end of vitriolic attacks by the ultra radicals. The second anomaly arose from the first: the most radical students were not the ones with the exemplary "Red" pedigree, but those who were outsiders by virtue of their "bad" class. The radical Red Guards usually paid a high price, compelled as they were to denounce parents for political crimes. Another point was that the Reds and the experts living through the mass hysteria of the late 1960s were eventually made into allies by constant attacks from political outsiders. Both were constantly attacked as "capitalist roaders," "revisionists," or worse. This naturally made the two groups regard the other more sympathetically.
But it was the educational process that merged the two groups into a new technocratic class. "As children of the educated elite gained political credentials and children of the political elite gained academic credentials, the number of people who occupied the intersection of the two groups--the Red experts--grew steadily" (Andreas, p. 273). Under the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, urban enterprise was privatized at an astonishing rate (82% urban employment in the public sector, 1991, vs. 27% in 2005; Andreas, p.250), while the benefits employers provided for employees have collapsed. The rapid mechanization and commercialization of agriculture has created gigantic cohorts of rural unemployed, with a terrifying downward drag on the market value of labor. This has resulted in social stratification that rivals conditions in the USA. Meanwhile, the children of the political elite have married into, or become themselves, members of the entrepreneurial elite (and vice versa), resulting in a connubial union of the two supposed archenemies in class revolution--vanguards of the working class and their lawfully wedded spouses, the owning class.
(1) "Developmentalist" refers to a governing approach that subordinates all other considerations to that of industrial development. This is sometimes confusing to observers focused on GDP growth, because agricultural inputs are frequently diverted, and the initial effect is typically a sharp decline in capital productivity (GDP growth will lag as capital stock is shifted to new sector, in which expertise is greatly inferior and markets are not developed).
To see this effect in China, I recommend Angus Maddison, _Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run_, OECD Development Centre Studies_2nd Ed., revised and updated (2007), pp.68-70, tables 3.9 & 3.10 (this work is available for free online as a PDF file). The tables distinguish between the periods 1952-1978 and 1978-2003. During the first period, China's capital productivity declined, while the capital stock grew (this reflects a desperate effort to redirect capital into industrial development, to avoid becoming stuck in a commodity export trap). The effect of declining capital productivity almost, but not quite, offset the increasing volume of capital equipment.
Three points: one is, one can see a similar effect in Japan during the same two time periods, and the other is that China's capital productivity growth remains low (albeit, not negative). Three is, over the two periods, Chinese industrial & construction sector grew at the same annualized rate, 9.76%. Of course, after 1978, this was a massively bigger part of the overall Chinese economy.
(2) Lenin famously said, "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country" (speech, "Our Foreign and Domestic Position and Party Tasks", 21 Nov 1920), available online. The context is important: the Bolsheviks had recently adopted the New Economic Policy (NEP), which was a major setback for both Soviet power and the electrification of anywhere. After 1928, the NEP ended abruptly with Stalin's conquest of power.
(3) Angus Maddison (2007), p.66, table 3.7. The table appears to indicate that the GMD regime had practically doubled enrollment just prior to their defeat in the Civil War, but notice the prior baseline is 1939-1940. At that time, at least half of the Chinese population lived in areas under Japanese occupation or contested territory. In 1949, the population of China was 541 million.
(4) As late as 1970, only 1.5% of professors at Tsinghua were from "good classes" (Andreas-2011, table 3.2, p.67), compared to 15% of assistant teachers. Fully 60% were from "exploiting classes," compared to 29.1% of assistant teachers. Terminology is from the Chinese authorities at Tsinghua, not Andreas. Table 3.3, p.69, charts the rise of "good class" students from 1952 to 1964. Further breakdown and analysis of the student body class composition is distributed through the chapter "Cradle of Red Engineers."
on January 14, 2011
In recent years there has been a persistent drumbeat denouncing the Cultural Revolution, Mao, Maoism, and, in particular, education in the forty or so years of China's socialism. At the heart of the issue is the dismissal of class struggle, the eradication of the memory that elements of the cultural revolution, especially in educational areas, benefited millions of people who were otherwise completely disenfranchised--from goods,property, and knowledge too.
Andreas' careful examination of events at Tshinghua University, one of the key universities in China that, ultimately, fashioned some of China's top leaders today, shows that the events of the Cultural Revolution can be analyzed in sensible ways that illuminate what happened and, importantly, why things are as they are today.
Andreas employees a template that readers unfamiliar with the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Great Leap, the CR, and the aftermath, will find helpful while experts will find the current misleading, well-funded, scholarship decrying the CR as "simply crazy hysteria" debunked in sophisticated, well-referenced ways. Activist readers will be handed problems that the should consider, problems the Chinese faced and they will too, that is, what of intellectual elites within the movement, what of the children of former ruling classes, what of class consciousness itself? My only complaint is about something beyond Andreas' control--our somewhat new habit of using endnotes rather than bottom-of-the-page footnotes. As one who reads footnotes with care, I can only hope other scholars can upend this unfortunate nod to the impatient or careless.