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The Peita Debate on Education and the Fall of Teng Hsiao-p'ing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2009


During the two years I spent as an exchange student in the People's Republic of China, from October 1974 to July 1976, under the auspices of the Sino-Canadian Student Exchange Programme, I was witness to such major political events as the convening of the Fourth National People's Congress, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat Campaign and the Campaign to Criticize Water Margin. This report focuses on the events that occurred in the last 10 months of my stay, and most particularly on the Educational Debate of late 1975, the passing of Chou En-lai, the campaign against Teng Hsiao-p'ing, and the events surrounding the T'ien An Men Incident. My sources include personal observations: in the first few months of 1976 I witnessed the uneven unfolding of the “Educational Debate,” and I was in T'ien An Men Square on 3 and 4 April, when the first open attacks against the “Shanghai four” took place, on the eve of the riot of 5 April; material I collected from posters at Peita and in Shanghai; conversations with other foreign and Chinese students; and various contacts with Chinese teachers and officials. I also had contact with some members of the foreign community.

Reports from China
Copyright © The China Quarterly 1978

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* My thanks to York University’s East Asian Studies Programme which offered me the opportunity to go to China, to Lowell Dittmer and especially to Michel Oksenberg whose suggestions concerning the paper were of immense help.

1. In the mid-1960s a vitriolic debate took place in Chinese philosophy over the question of “one dividing into two.” Chou Yang, at the time deputy director of the Propaganda Department, wrote that the correct formula was “two uniting into one” (ho-erh-erh-i). In China of 1975 the latter idea was seen as “revisionist,” arguing that unity is absolute and that struggle, particularly the class struggle, was merely relative and could be overcome.Google Scholar

2. Excerpts from a poster called, “Chou Jung-hsin ti fan-tung yen-lun” (“Chou Jung-hsin’s reactionary statements”) put up by a group from the Geophysics Department, 23 November 1975.Google Scholar

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. On the following day the directive came out on Water Margin. There could be a connection between this criticism of the education policy and the launching of a campaign against “revisionism” and “capitulationism.”Google Scholar

6. Hsieh Ching-yi was a very important woman. While at the same time holding these posts at Tsinghua, she was also a Standing Committee Member of the Peking Party Committee, a vice-chairman of the Peking Municipal Revolutionary Committee, a member of the Standing Committee of the Fourth National People’s Congress and a full member of the 10th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Lastly, she was also first secretary of the Peking Young Communist League, and it was probably here too that she ran into conflict with Liu Ping, who was deputy secretary of the Peking Young Communist League. It has been reported that it was in the secondary groups, like the YCL and various women’s organizations, that the radical element which emerged from the Cultural Revolution gained a great deal of power. With the removal of Hsieh Ching-yi, Liu Ping would probably have been in position to take over the Peking YCL.Google Scholar

7. A small, innocuous poster, written by the writing group known as the Chih-yao ch’ang ke-ming ch’ün-chung (Revolutionary Masses of the Medicine Factory of Peita) on 22 November 1975 mentioned many of the important facts of the early campaign.Google Scholar

8. Ibid. This poster was the only one to mention Wu Teh’s visit to Tsinghua, as well as the names of Hsieh Ching-yi and Ch’ih Ch’un. It spoke of the united Party leadership of the school and the “mobilizing report” which was entitled, “kuan-yü k’ai-chan liang t’iao lu-hsien tou-cheng ta pien-lun” (“Concerning the launching of the debate on the struggle between the two lines”). It was the name “ta pien-lun” that stuck with this part of the campaign. Only when the campaign moved away from the sphere of education and came to be aimed more at Teng did it gain the name of the campaign against the “right deviationist wind.” I recognize that it would be of great interest to know why it was Wu Teh who went to Tsinghua to begin the “big debate on education.” Unfortunately I have no answer except to suggest that as chairman of the Peking Municipal Revolutionary Committee and Peking Party Committee he became closely involved as a result of the attack on Hsieh Ching-yi.

9. I learned this from foreign students studying there.Google Scholar

10 At Futan in Shanghai the same process took place. Foreign students whom I knew there said that groups had also come in from the outside, and that the number there had also increased considerably in the month of February.Google Scholar

11 I believe that it was a Yugoslav journalist in town who was the first to get the story.Google Scholar

12 The news report would be articles usually from that day’s People’s Daily. There would be reports on the domestic situation as well as on international affairs. It was the same broadcast that could be heard at that time all over Peking if not over all of China.Google Scholar

13 Some Chinese students who were studying English lived in our building. Though they had a Chinese and not a foreign room-mate, it was hoped that they would be able to mix with us and thereby practise their English.Google Scholar

14 A group of Americans whom I met in Soochow were told that after spring holiday the students would be organized to write posters. At Nanking University they also learned that after the Cultural Revolution there had been 24 students on the Revolutionary Committee of the University. Following their graduation, no students had replaced them.Google Scholar

15 The Hangchow Silk Printing and Dyeing Complex (Hangchow ssu-ch’ou yin-jan lien-ho ch’ang) is cited as a key centre in the struggle against factionalism. Mention is made of one particular “bad person” (huai-jen) whom I assume to be Weng Sen-ho. See Chekiang jih-pao, 30 September 1975, as reprinted in Hsueh-hsi wen-chi, No. 5 (1975), which is a collection of articles from the local press, published by the Chekiang jen-min ch’u-pan she. The article was entitled, “‘Hang Ssu Lien’ k’ai-chan ‘yi hsueh ssu p’i wu ta chiang’ tzu-wo chiao-yu yun-tung ching-yen” (“The experience in the ‘one study, four criticisms, five big debates’ self-education movement launched by the Hangchow Silk Printing and Dyeing Complex”).Google Scholar

16 An editorial in the Chekiang jih-pao, 23 September 1975, claimed that “factionalism” had argued that the main contradiction at the present time was the “contradiction between old and new cadres” (hsin lao kan-pu chih-chieh ti mao-tun) (p. 63). It also accused “factionalism” of arguing that “whoever goes against the tide can enter the Party; all can become cadres” (fan shih fan ch’ao-liu ti jen tou k’e-yi ju tang, tou k’e-yi tang kan-pu) (ibid.). Hsueh-hsi wen-chi, No. 5 (1975), Chekiang jen-min ch’u-pan she.

17 Another slogan attributed to “factionalism” was: “We will not produce for an incorrect line” (pu wei ts’ou-wu lu-hsien sheng-ch’an). It was this idea that prompted the workers to stay away. Also, this quote shows that it was more a question of “line” than merely one man aiming for individual power. Chekiang jih-pao, 14 September 1975, in Hsueh-hsi wen-chi, Chekiang jen-min ch’u-pan she, p. 64.Google Scholar

18 One of the key phrases that had been referred to at that time was, “The present is not as good as the past” (chin pu ju hsi).Google Scholar

19 “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white; so long as it can catch mice, then it is a good cat.”Google Scholar

20 I learned this fact from a Chinese friend on a bicycle ride into town.Google Scholar

21 The repercussions of the “Learn from Tachai” campaign, which began in October 1975, must also be reconsidered in this light. I was told near Hangchow that 80 per cent of the cadres in that area had gone down to the countryside (hsia-fang) in conformance with the movement. One must wonder what percentage of those cadres were young radicals, and what percentage of those who stayed behind and kept the offices running were older cadres. I believe that the older bureaucratic cadres used every opportunity to get rid of the younger “revolutionary rebels.” And, I believe they were rather successful. Thus, when it came to arresting the “gang of four,” few of the cadres who could be expected to support them still held their positions.Google Scholar

22 A friend who was with us in Hangchow had met a young man in a coffee house one day. During their talk, the young man told him a little about Weng Sen-ho.Google Scholar

23 Hsüeh-hsi wen-chi, No. 5 (1975), pp. 70–78.Google Scholar

24 The three articles in Hsüeh-hsi wen-chi, No. 5 (1975), constantly call for “unity and stability” (an-ting t’uan-chieh), a quote which was first attributed to Mao. But, on New Year’s Day, in response to its use to stifle struggle, Mao said, “Unity and stability does not mean writing off class struggle; class struggle is the key link, and all else hinges on it.” See Peking Review, No. 1 (2 January 1976), p. 9.Google Scholar

25 The editorials in Chekiang jih-pao of 13 and 14 September referred to “an important directive for the work in Chekiang” (tui Chekiang kung-tso ti chung-yao chih-shih) (Hsüeh-hsi wen-chi, No. 5 (1975), pp. 63 and 67), from Chairman Mao and the Central Committee. The reference to the army going into Hangchow, particularly under the leadership of Teng Hsiao-p’ing, comes from the Far Eastern Economic Review, 1 August 1975, pp. 30–31, in an article entitled, “Controlling social tension,” by Leo Goodstadt. The “Shui Hu Campaign” and the “Educational Debate” had not yet begun. Teng, it seems, was still very powerful, given his success in stifling the Dictatorship of the Proletariat Campaign. At this time it is quite likely that he still had Mao’s support.Google Scholar

26 In light of his removal from office for alleged connections with Chiang Ch’ing and the “gang of four,” his presence at that event does not seem as odd now as it did then.Google Scholar

27 The three directives were, “study the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat,” “promote the national economy,” and “unity and stability.” Teng was criticized for placing these three directives on the same level as “class struggle.”Google Scholar

28 Jen-min jih-pao, 26 February 1976, “Shih-er chi t’ai-feng kua-pu-tao” (“Unbowed before the worst typhoon”).Google Scholar

29 See Chou, En-lai, Report to the 10th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (delivered 24 August and adopted on 28 August, 1973), The Tenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Documents (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1973), p. 19.Google Scholar

30 Other than Wang Tsuo-shan, Jen-min jih-pao cited four others. See Jen-min jih-pao, 29 May 1976. Also see Jen-min jih-pao, 27 March 1976, for an article about a Party secretary in a mine in Liaoning Province.Google Scholar

31 As the worker recited his poem a foreign journalist got it down on tape. I later received a transcript.Google Scholar

32 The slogans shouted were also compiled by journalists who were taping in the same area where I was standing near Ch’ang An Chieh, in the north-east corner of the Square.Google Scholar

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