1976: Struggle for Control | The Post-Mao Period, 1976-78 | China and the Four Modernizations, 1979-82 | Redirection and Reform, 1982-97 | China Prepares for the 21st Century, 1997-2000 | 21st Century China, 2000- Present

1976: Struggle for Control

The year 1976 saw the deaths of the three most senior officials in the CCP and the state apparatus: Zhou Enlai in January, Zhu De (then chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and de jure head of state) in July, and Mao Zedong in September.

In April of the same year, masses of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing memorialized Zhou Enlai and criticized Mao's closest associates, Zhou's opponents. In June the government announced that Mao would no longer receive foreign visitors. In July an earthquake devastated the city of Tangshan in Hebei Province. These events, added to the deaths of the three Communist leaders, contributed to a popular sense that the "mandate of heaven" had been withdrawn from the ruling party. At best the nation was in a state of serious political uncertainty.

Deng Xiaoping, the logical successor as premier, received a temporary setback after Zhou's death, when radicals launched a major counterassault against him. In April 1976 Deng was once more removed from all his public posts, and a relative political unknown, Hua Guofeng, a Political Bureau member, vice premier, and minister of public security, was named acting premier and party first vice chairman.

Even though Mao Zedong's role in political life had been sporadic and shallow in his later years, it was crucial. Despite Mao's alleged lack of mental acuity, his influence in the months before his death remained such that his orders to dismiss Deng and appoint Hua Guofeng were accepted immediately by the Political Bureau. The political system had polarized in the years before Mao's death into increasingly bitter and irreconcilable factions. While Mao was alive- and playing these factions off against each other- the contending forces were held in check. His death resolved only some of the problems inherent in the succession struggle.

The radical clique most closely associated with Mao and the Cultural Revolution became vulnerable after Mao died, as Deng had been after Zhou Enlai's demise. In October, less than a month after Mao's death, Jiang Qing and her three principal associates- denounced as the Gang of Four- were arrested with the assistance of two senior Political Bureau members, Minister of National Defense Ye Jianying (1897-1986) and Wang Dongxing, commander of the CCP's elite bodyguard. Within days it was formally announced that Hua Guofeng had assumed the positions of party chairman, chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, and premier.

The Post-Mao Period, 1976-78

The jubilation following the incarceration of the Gang of Four and the popularity of the new ruling triumvirate (Hua Guofeng, Ye Jianying, and Li Xiannian, a temporary alliance of necessity) were succeeded by calls for the restoration to power of Deng Xiaoping and the elimination of leftist influence throughout the political system. By July 1977, at no small risk to undercutting Hua Guofeng's legitimacy as Mao's successor and seeming to contradict Mao's apparent will, the Central Committee exonerated Deng Xiaoping from responsibility for the Tiananmen Square incident. Deng admitted some shortcomings in the events of 1975, and finally, at a party Central Committee session, he resumed all the posts from which he had been removed in 1976.

The post-Mao political order was given its first vote of confidence at the Eleventh National Party Congress, held August 12- 18, 1977. Hua was confirmed as party chairman, and Ye Jianying, Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, and Wang Dongxing were elected vice chairmen. The congress proclaimed the formal end of the Cultural Revolution, placing blame entirely on the Gang of Four, and reiterated that "the fundamental task of the party in the new historical period is to build China into a modern, powerful socialist country by the end of the twentieth century." Many contradictions still were apparent, however, in regard to the Maoist legacy and the possibility of future cultural revolutions.

The new balance of power clearly was unsatisfactory to Deng, who sought genuine party reform and, soon after the National Party Congress, took the initiative to reorganize the bureaucracy and redirect policy. His longtime protégé Hu Yaobang replaced Hua supporter Wang Dongxing as head of the CCP Organization Department. Educational reforms were instituted, and Cultural Revolution-era verdicts on literature, art, and intellectuals were overturned. The year 1978 proved a crucial one for the reformers. Differences among the two competing factions--that headed by Hua Guofeng (soon to be branded as a leftist) and that led by Deng and the more moderate figures--became readily apparent by the time the Fifth National People's Congress was held in February and March 1978. Serious disputes arose over the apparently disproportionate development of the national economy, the Hua forces calling for still more large scale projects that China could ill afford. In the face of substantive losses in leadership positions and policy decisions, the leftists sought to counterattack with calls for strict adherence to Mao Zedong Thought and the party line of class struggle. Rehabilitations of Deng's associates and others sympathetic to his reform plans were stepped up. Not only were many of those purged during the Cultural Revolution returned to power, but individuals who had fallen from favor as early as the mid-1950s were rehabilitated. It was a time of increased political activism by students, whose big-character posters attacking Deng's opponents- and even Mao himself- appeared with regularity.

China and the Four Modernizations, 1979-82

The culmination of Deng Xiaoping's re-ascent to power and the start in earnest of political, economic, social, and cultural reforms were achieved at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978. The Third Plenum is considered a major turning point in modern Chinese political history. "Left" mistakes committed before and during the Cultural Revolution were "corrected," and the "two whatevers" policy ("support whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made and follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave") was repudiated. The classic party line calling for protracted class struggle was officially exchanged for one promoting the Four Modernizations. In the future, the attainment of economic goals would be the measure of the success or failure of policies and individual leadership; in other words, economics, not politics, was in command. To effect such a broad policy redirection, Deng placed key allies on the Political Bureau (including Chen Yun as an additional vice chairman and Hu Yaobang as a member) while positioning Hu Yaobang as secretary general of the CCP and head of the party's Propaganda Department. Although assessments of the Cultural Revolution and Mao were deferred, a decision was announced on "historical questions left over from an earlier period." The 1976 Tiananmen Square incident, the 1959 removal of Peng Dehuai, and other now infamous political machinations were reversed in favor of the new leadership. New agricultural policies intended to loosen political restrictions on peasants and allow them to produce more on their own initiative were approved.

The year 1978 proved a crucial one for the reformers. In February and March, serious disputes arose over the apparently disproportionate development of the national economy, the Hua forces calling for still more large-scale projects that China could ill afford.

Rehabilitations of Deng's associates and others sympathetic to his reform plans were stepped up. Not only were many of those purged during the Cultural Revolution returned to power, but individuals who had fallen from favor as early as the mid-1950s were rehabilitated. It was a time of increased political activism by students, whose big-character posters attacking Deng's opponents--and even Mao himself--appeared with regularity.

Rapid change occurred in the subsequent months and years. The year 1979 witnessed the formal exchange of diplomatic recognition between the People's Republic and the United States, a border war between China and Vietnam, the fledgling "democracy movement" (which had begun in earnest in November 1978), and the determination not to extend the thirty-year-old Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. All these events led to some criticism of Deng Xiaoping, who had to alter his strategy temporarily while directing his own political warfare against Hua Guofeng and the leftist elements in the party and government. As part of this campaign, a major document was presented at the September 1979 Fourth Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee, giving a "preliminary assessment" of the entire thirty-year period of Communist rule. At the plenum, party Vice Chairman Ye Jianying pointed out the achievements of the CCP while admitting that the leadership had made serious political errors affecting the people. Furthermore, Ye declared the Cultural Revolution "an appalling catastrophe" and "the most severe setback to [the] socialist cause since [1949]." Although Mao was not specifically blamed, there was no doubt about his share of responsibility. The plenum also marked official acceptance of a new ideological line that called for "seeking truth from facts" and of other elements of Deng Xiaoping's thinking. A further setback for Hua was the approval of the resignations of other leftists from leading party and state posts. In the months following the plenum, a party rectification campaign ensued, replete with a purge of party members whose political credentials were largely achieved as a result of the Cultural Revolution. The campaign went beyond the civilian ranks of the CCP, extending to party members in the PLA as well.

Economic advances and political achievements had strengthened the position of the Deng reformists enough that by February 1980 they were able to call the Fifth Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee. One major effect of the plenum was the resignation of the members of the "Little Gang of Four" (an allusion to the original Gang of Four, Mao's allies)--Hua's closest collaborators and the backbone of opposition to Deng. Wang Dongxing, Wu De, Ji Dengkui, and Chen Xilian were charged with "grave [but unspecified] errors" in the struggle against the Gang of Four and demoted from the Political Bureau to mere Central Committee membership. In turn, the Central Committee elevated Deng's protégés Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and the newly restored party Secretariat. Under the title of secretary general, Hu Yaobang took over day-to-day running of the party. Especially poignant was the posthumous rehabilitation of the late president and one-time successor to Mao, Liu Shaoqi, at the Fifth Plenum. Finally, at the Fifth National People's Congress session in August and September that year, Deng's preeminence in government was consolidated when he gave up his vice premiership and Hua Guofeng resigned as premier in favor of Zhao Ziyang.

One of the more spectacular political events of modern Chinese history was the month-long trial of the Gang of Four and six of Lin Biao's closest associates. A 35-judge special court was convened in November 1980 and issued a 20,000-word indictment against the defendants. The indictment came more than four years after the arrest of Jiang Qing and her associates and more than nine years after the arrests of the Lin Biao group. Beyond the trial of ten political pariahs, it appeared that the intimate involvement of Mao Zedong, current party chairman Hua Guofeng, and the CCP itself were on trial. The prosecution wisely separated political errors from actual crimes. Among the latter were the usurpation of state power and party leadership; the persecution of some 750,000 people, 34,375 of whom died during the period 1966-76; and, in the case of the Lin Biao defendants, the plotting of the assassination of Mao. In January 1981 the court rendered guilty verdicts against the ten. Jiang Qing, despite her spirited self-vindication and defense of her late husband, received a death sentence with a two-year suspension; later, Jiang Qing's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. So enduring was Mao's legacy that Jiang Qing appeared to be protected by it from execution. The same sentence was given to Zhang Chunqiao, while Wang Hongwen was given life and Yao Wenyuan twenty years. Chen Boda and the other Lin Biao faction members were given sentences of between sixteen and eighteen years. The net effect of the trial was a further erosion of Mao's prestige and the system he created. In pre-trial meetings, the party Central Committee posthumously expelled CCP vice chairman Kang Sheng and Political Bureau member Xie Fuzhi from the party because of their participation in the "counterrevolutionary plots" of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing. The memorial speeches delivered at their funerals were also rescinded. There was enough adverse pre-trial testimony that Hua Guofeng reportedly offered to resign the chairmanship before the trial started. In June 1981 the Sixth Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee marked a major milestone in the passing of the Maoist era. The Central Committee accepted Hua's resignation from the chairmanship and granted him the face- saving position of vice chairman. In his place, CCP secretary general Hu Yaobang became chairman. Hua also gave up his position as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission in favor of Deng Xiaoping. The plenum adopted the 35,000-word "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China." The resolution reviewed the sixty years since the founding of the CCP, emphasizing party activities since 1949. A major part of the document condemned the ten-year Cultural Revolution and assessed Mao Zedong's role in it. "Chief responsibility for the grave `Left' error of the `cultural revolution,' an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong... [and] far from making a correct analysis of many problems, he confused right and wrong and the people with the enemy... Herein lies his tragedy." At the same time, Mao was praised for seeking to correct personal and party shortcomings throughout his life, for leading the effort that brought the demise of Lin Biao, and for having criticized Jiang Qing and her cohort. Hua too was recognized for his contributions in defeating the Gang of Four but was branded a "whateverist". Hua also was criticized for his anti-Deng Xiaoping posture in the period 1976-77.

Several days after the closing of the plenum, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the CCP, new party chairman Hu Yaobang declared that "although Comrade Mao Zedong made grave mistakes in his later years, it is clear that if we consider his life work, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his errors. . . . His immense contributions are immortal." These remarks may have been offered in an effort to repair the extensive damage done to the Maoist legacy and by extension to the party itself. Hu went on, however, to praise the contributions of Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, and a score of other erstwhile enemies of the late chairman. Thus the new party hierarchy sought to assess, and thus close the books on, the Maoist era and move on to the era of the Four Modernizations. The culmination of Deng's drive to consolidate his power and ensure the continuity of his reformist policies among his successors was the calling of the Twelfth National Party Congress in September 1982 and the Fifth Session of the Fifth National People's Congress in December 1982.

Redirection and Reform, 1982-97

Reform - dubbed China's "Second Revolution" - was one of the most common terms in China's political vocabulary in the 1980s. Reform of the Chinese Communist Party and its political activities, reform of government organization, reform of the economy, military reforms, cultural and artistic reforms, indeed, China's post-Mao Zedong leaders called for reform of every part of Chinese society. The leaders of the People's Republic of China saw reform as the way to realize the broad goal of the Four Modernizations (announced by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1975: the modernization of industry, agriculture, science and technology, and national defense) and to bring China into the community of advanced industrial nations by the start of the new millennium. The reform movement had antecedents in Chinese history in the Han (206 BCE- 220 CE), Song (960-1279), and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, when concerted efforts were made to bring about fundamental changes in administrative methods while keeping the overall institutional framework intact. Thus, the reform movement of the 1980s, which has been attributed largely to the insights and determination of Deng Xiaoping, the most important figure in the post-Mao Zedong leadership, took its place in the broad spectrum of Chinese history.

Exploitation of China's rich natural resources advanced significantly in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. As China's industrial sector advanced, there was increasing movement of the population to urban areas. China's population itself had surpassed 1 billion people by 1982 and was experiencing an annual rate of increase of 1.4 percent. As in times past, foreign specialists were invited to assist in the modernization process, and joint ventures with foreign capitalists and multinational conglomerates proliferated. Increasing numbers of Chinese students went abroad to pursue advanced degrees in a wide range of scientific and technical fields.

All this change was not without cost--both political and monetary. Efforts at fundamental transformation of economic, governmental, and political organizations caused discontent among some people and in some institutions and were resisted by those who clung to the "iron rice bowl" of guaranteed lifetime job tenure. Beijing's reform leaders made repeated calls for party members and government bureaucrats to reform their "ossified thinking" and to adopt modern methods. Older and inappropriately trained bureaucrats retired in great numbers as a younger and more technically oriented generation took over. In the ongoing debate between those who emphasized ideological correctness and those who stressed the need for technical competence--"reds" versus "experts"--the technocrats again emerged predominant. But developing and successfully applying technological expertise--the very essence of the Four Modernizations--cost vast sums of money and required special effort on the part of the Chinese people. In a rejection of the time-honored concept of "self-reliance," China entered into the milieu of international bank loans, joint ventures, and a whole panoply of once-abhorred capitalist economic practices.

As politics and the economy continued to respond to and change each other, China's reformers had to balance contending forces within and against their reform efforts while maintaining the momentum of the Four Modernizations program. In doing so, Deng Xiaoping and his associates were faced with several unenviable tasks. One was to create unity and support for the scope and pace of the reform program among party members. There was also a necessity to deliver material results to the broad masses of people amid economic experiments and mounting inflation. Failure to achieve these balances and to make mid-course corrections could prove disastrous for the reform leadership.

A sound ideological basis was needed to ensure the support of the party for the reform program. Deng's political idioms, such as "seeking truth from facts" and "socialism with Chinese characteristics," were reminiscent of reformist formulations of centuries past and had underlying practical ramifications. The supporters of Deng held that theory and practice must be fully integrated if success is to be hoped for, and they articulated the position that the Marxist-Leninist creed is not only valid but is adaptable to China's special--if not unique--situation.

The leadership was altered significantly at a special conference of delegates, called the National Conference of Party Delegates, held September 18-23, 1985. The conference was convened on the authority of Article 12 of the 1982 party constitution, which provides for holding conferences of delegates between full congresses. These national conferences of delegates appear to be more authoritative than regular plenum sessions. The conference was attended by 992 delegates, and elected 56 new full members and 35 new alternate members to the Central Committee, while accepting the resignations of 65 full and alternate members, including Ye Jianying and nine other senior Political Bureau members. The Fifth Plenum, following the Conference, elected six new members to the Political Bureau, dropped three from the Party Secretariat, and added five new members to the latter body. The conference thus produced a sizable turnover in the senior party leadership and in a direction very favorable to Deng's reform program. Younger and better educated leaders who supported Deng's reforms replaced aging and long inactive leaders. The other major accomplishment of the conference was its adoption of the "Proposal on the Seventh Five-Year Plan" (1986-90), the framework for developing the actual plan adopted at the Sixth National People's Congress in 1986.

The years between 1986 and 1989 saw a resurgence in calls for party reform, modernization and capitalism in the form of infighting among the leftist CCP. The Taiwan issue also began to emerge during this period as a threat to mainland stability. 'Cross Straight Relations' became a common term when the 'renegade province' of Taiwan found itself having to interact with the CCP on matters of economic development and regional ecological issues.

In May 1986, 30 years after intellectuals were expelled by Mao Zedong into the countryside, the first student call for democracy took place. Even though it was quickly put down, the demonstration's leader, Fang Lizhi, became a hero to students and liberal intellectuals.  Rumors in Beijing in 1986 linked Li Peng, who would later be an instrumental figure behind the Tiananmen massacre, with the death of Hu Yaobang, a politician popular with students and intellectuals. In the aftermath of the 1986 crackdown, students began to assume the leadership of China's reform movement.  The Chinese regime tried to paint the leaders of the 1986 demonstration as hooligans, and spread the idea that the students were misled. This escalated the confrontation between the government and students. Three years later, this confrontation would result in the Tiananmen Square incident.

On the political front of the crackdown, some prominent intellectuals were demoted or expelled from the party.  Even its highest official was not invulnerable: General Secretary Hu Yaobang was demoted in January 1987 for having dealt unsuccessfully with public activism and criticism of the party.  Hu's ouster paved the way for the chief implementer of the Deng reforms, Zhao Ziyang, premier of the State Council, to assume command of the party and more firmly establish Deng's ideology as the status quo of reform.  A measured degree of success was later achieved by the conservative reform elements in effecting a compromise, having placed their own representatives in the Political Bureau Standing Committee and the State Council's highest offices in late 1987.

National security has been a key determinant of Chinese planning since 1949. Although national defense has been the lowest priority of the Four Modernizations, it has not been neglected. China has had a perennial concern with being surrounded by enemies--the Soviets to the north and west, the Vietnamese to the south, and the Indians to the southwest--and has sought increasingly to project itself as a regional power. In response to this concern and power projection, in the 1970s China moved to augment "people's war" tactics with combined-arms tactics; to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, and other strategic forces; and to acquire sophisticated foreign technologies with military applications. In the international arena, China in the 1980s increasingly used improved bilateral relations and a variety of international forums to project its "independent foreign policy of peace" while opening up to the outside world.

From October 25 to November 1, 1987, the Chinese Communist Party held its Thirteenth National Party Congress. Dozens of veteran party leaders retired from active front-line positions. Not least among the changes was the alteration of the Standing Committee of the party Political Bureau--the very apex of power in China--both in personnel and in stated purpose. Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Li Xiannian stepped down, and Hu Yaobang's demotion to mere Political Bureau membership was confirmed. Only one incumbent--Zhao Ziyang--was left on the Standing Committee. In place of the party elders and Hu Yaobang, a group of mostly younger, more technologically oriented individuals were seated. The Political Bureau's Standing Committee comprised Deng's prot g , sixty-eight-year-old Zhao Ziyang (who relinquished his position as head of government to become general secretary of the party); Li Peng, a sixty-year-old, Soviet-educated engineer, who became acting premier of the State Council in Zhao's place (he was confirmed as premier in spring 1988); Qiao Shi, a sixty-four-year-old expert in party affairs, government administration, and legal matters; Hu Qili, a fifty-eight-year-old party Secretariat member in charge of ideological education, theoretical research, and propaganda; and veteran economic planner and conservative reform architect Yao Yilin, the new party elder at age seventy-one. In regard to function, the Political Bureau no longer was conceived of as a group of influential individuals but as a consensual decision-making organization. The party constitution was amended to make the party Secretariat a staff arm of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee, rather than the somewhat autonomous body it had been since 1982. By mid-1988, the Chinese Communist Party announced that its increasingly well educated membership had risen to 47 million, an all-time high.

The retirees were not left without a voice. Deng, eighty-three and still China's de facto leader, retained his positions as chairman of the party and state Central Military Commissions, the latter of which designated him as commander-in-chief of the Chinese armed forces. (Zhao Ziyang was appointed first vice chairman of the party and state Central Military Commissions, giving him military credentials and paving the way for him to succeed Deng.) Eighty-two-year-old Chen Yun gave up his position as first secretary of the party Central Commission for Discipline Inspection but replaced Deng as chairman of the party's Central Advisory Commission, a significant forum for party elders. Li Xiannian who relinquished his position as head of state, or president, to another party elder--eighty-one-year-old Yang Shangkun--to become chairman of the Seventh Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in spring 1988, was left without a leading party position. Hu Yaobang, far from being totally disgraced after his January 1987 debacle, retained membership on the Political Bureau and enjoyed a fair amount of popular support at the Thirteenth National Party Congress and afterward.

Below the national level, numerous leadership changes also took place following the Thirteenth National Party Congress. More than 600 younger and better educated leaders of provincial-level congresses and governments had been elected in China's twenty-nine provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities.

In September and October 1987 and again in March 1988, riots erupted in the streets of Lhasa, the capital of Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet). Calls for "independence for Tibet" and expressions of support for the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, were made amid violence that claimed the lives of at least six people in 1987 and at least nine more (including policemen) in 1988. Many more were reported to have been badly injured. Although Chinese authorities condemned the riots, their initial response was restrained in comparison with actions they had taken against earlier anti-Chinese demonstrations in Xizang. In addition, the authorities accompanied their censure of the Lhasa riots with a plethora of publicity on advances made by the inhabitants of Xizang in recent years and a lifting of travel restrictions on foreign correspondents. The March 1988 rioting spread to neighboring Qinghai Province, where there is a sizable Tibetan (Zang) minority. This time the authorities resorted to sterner measures, such as military force and numerous arrests, but only after offering lenient treatment to rioters who turned themselves in voluntarily. By mid-1988, it appeared that both the Dalai Lama, concerned that violence and bloodshed in his homeland was out of control, and the Chinese government, worried about instability in a strategic border area, were displaying greater flexibility in their respective positions.

The January 1988 death of Taiwan's leader, Chiang Ching-kuo, brought expressions of sympathy from Zhao Ziyang and other Chinese Communist Party leaders and renewed calls for the reunification of China under the slogan "one country, two systems." Implicit in the mainland's discussion of the transfer of power to a new generation of leaders--Taiwan-born Li Teng-hui succeeded Chiang--was regret that the opportunity had been lost for reaching a rapprochement with the last ruling member of the Chiang family. Beijing appealed to the patriotism of the people in Taiwan and called for unity with the mainland but, at the same time, kept a close watch for any sentiments that might lead to independence for Taiwan.

The Seventh National People's Congress was held from March 25 to April 13, 1988. This congress, along with the Seventh Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, held from March 24 to April 10, 1988, was marked by a new openness and tolerance of debate and dissent. The opening ceremony of the National People's Congress was televised live, and meetings and panel discussions were recorded and broadcast the same day. Chinese and foreign journalists were permitted to attend the panel discussions and question the deputies in press conferences. Dissenting statements and dissenting votes were widely publicized in the domestic press. A spirit of reform prevailed as laws and constitutional amendments were ratified to legitimize private business and land sales and to encourage foreign investment. The State Council was restructured and streamlined. Fourteen ministries and commissions were dissolved and ten new ones--the State Planning Commission and ministries of personnel, labor, materials, transportation, energy, construction, aeronautics and astronautics industry, water resources, and machine building and electronics industry--were established. Many of the ministries that were dissolved were converted into business enterprises responsible for their own profits and losses.

Li Peng was elected premier of the State Council, as expected, and Yao Yilin and fifty-nine-year-old financial expert Tian Jiyun were re-elected as vice premiers. Sixty-six-year-old former Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Xueqian also was elected vice premier. State councilors, all technocrats chosen for their professional expertise, were reduced in number from eleven to nine. All state councilors except Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and Secretary General of the State Council Chen Junsheng served concurrently as heads of national-level commissions or ministries. Although seven of the nine were new state councilors, only Li Guixian, the newly appointed governor of the People's Bank of China, was new to national politics. On a move that seemed to bode well for reform efforts, long-time Deng ally and political moderate Wan Li was selected to replace Peng Zhen as chairman of the Standing Committee of the Seventh National People's Congress. The conservative Peng had been considered instrumental in blocking or delaying many important pieces of reformist legislation. It also was decided at the Seventh National People's Congress to elevate Hainan Island, formerly part of Guangdong Province, to provincial status and to designate it as a special economic zone.

In foreign affairs, Beijing continued to balance its concern for security with its desire for an independent foreign policy. China reacted cautiously to the signing of a nuclear arms treaty by the Soviet Union and the United States and refused to hold its own summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite a lessening of tensions between Beijing and Moscow and greatly improved Chinese relations with the governments and ruling parties throughout Eastern Europe, China continued to insist that the Soviet Union would have to end its support for Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, and significantly reduce Soviet forces deployed on the Sino-Soviet border and in the Mongolian People's Republic before relations between the Chinese and Soviet governments and parties could improve. By mid-1988 there were indications that the Soviet Union was taking steps to remove these "three obstacles" to improved Sino-Soviet relations. As early as the fall of 1986, the Soviet Union announced the pullback of a significant number of troops from Mongolia and the Sino-Soviet border. In May 1988 Moscow began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan with the goal of evacuating its forces from that country by early 1989. But China remained skeptical of Vietnamese government announcements that it would withdraw 50,000 troops from Cambodia by the end of 1988, and China's leaders continued to pressure the Soviet Union to exert more influence on Vietnam to secure an early withdrawal of all Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. Already strained Sino-Vietnamese relations were exacerbated when Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces clashed in March 1988 over several small islands in the strategically located Nansha (Spratly) archipelago.

In Sino-American relations, disputes over trade and technology transfer in 1987 were further clouded by United States concern over reported Chinese Silkworm missile sales to Iran, sales of Dongfeng-3 intermediate range missiles to Saudi Arabia, and disclosures that Israel allegedly assisted China in the development of the missile system later sold to the Saudis. Another concern was China's protest over an October 1987 United States Senate resolution on the "Tibetan question" that focused on alleged human rights violations in Xizang. A visit to Washington, by then Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Xueqian in March 1988, however, had salutary effects on bilateral relations: China made assurances that it would cease Silkworm missile sales to Iran and the United States pledged to continue to make desired technologies available to China. The perennial Taiwan issue and problems in Xizang apparently were subsumed by larger national interests.

In February 1988 Beijing China achieved its long-sought goal of establishing diplomatic relations with Uruguay, one of the few nations that still had state-to-state ties with Taipei. With this accomplishment China increased its diplomatic exchanges to 134 countries, while Taiwan's official representations were reduced to 22.

The ideological conviction that China was still in the "initial stage of socialism" provided a still broader ideological basis for continuing the development of the Deng's reform program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This ideological pronouncement also emphasized reformers' fundamental tenet that since the end of the "period of socialist transformation" (turning over private ownership of the means of production to the state) in 1956, there had been numerous "leftist" errors made in the party's ideological line. Mistakes such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution had produced setbacks in achieving "socialist modernization" and had kept China from emerging from the initial stage of socialism. It was, perhaps, the very failure of these leftist campaigns that had paved the way for the reforms of the 1980s.

Political confrontation over the reforms was pervasive and, to many foreign observers, confusing. In simplistic terms, the "conservatives" in the reform debate were members of the post-Mao "left," while the "liberals" were the pro-Deng "right." Being conservative in China in the 1980s variously meant adhering to the less radical aspects of Maoist orthodoxy (not all of which had been discredited) or accepting the goals of reform but rejecting the pace, scope, or certain methods of the Deng program. Thus, there were both conservative opponents to reform and conservative reformers. While many reform opponents had been swept away into "retirement," conservative reformers until the late 1980s served as members of China's highest ruling body and locus of power, the Standing Committee of the party's Political Bureau. Such leaders as Standing Committee member Chen Yun, one of the principal architects of economic reform, objected to the "bourgeois liberalization" of the modernization process that came with infusions of foreign, especially Western, culture. In the conservative reform view, the application of Chinese values to Western technology (reminiscent of the traditional tiyong [substance versus form] formulation evoked in the late-nineteenth-century reform period) would serve the People's Republic in good stead.

Self-proclaimed successes of the reforms of the 1980s included improvements in both rural and urban life, adjustment of the structures of ownership, diversification of methods of operation, and introduction of more people into the decision-making process. As market mechanisms became an important part of the newly reformed planning system, products circulated more freely and the commodity market was rapidly improved. The government sought to rationalize prices, revamp the wage structure, and reform the financial and taxation systems. The policy of opening up to the outside world (the Chinese eschew the term open door, with its legacy of imperialist impositions) brought a significant expansion of economic, technological, and trade relations with other countries. Reforms of the scientific, technological, and educational institutions rounded out the successes of the Deng-inspired reforms. For the first time in modern Chinese history, the reforms also were being placed on the firm basis of a rational body of law and a carefully codified judicial system. Although reform and liberalization left the once more-strictly regimented society open to abuses, the new system of laws and judicial organizations continued to foster the stable domestic environment and favorable investment climate that China needed to realize its modernization goals.

Amid these successes, the authorities admitted that there were difficulties in attempting simultaneously to change the basic economic structure and to avoid the disruptions and declines in production that had marked the ill-conceived "leftist experiments" of the previous thirty years. China's size and increasing economic development rendered central economic planning ineffective, and the absence of markets and a modern banking system left the central authorities few tools with which to manage the economy. A realistic pricing system that reflected accurately levels of supply and demand and the value of scarce resources had yet to be implemented. The tremendous pent-up demand for consumer goods and the lack of effective controls on investment and capital grants to local factories unleashed inflationary pressures that the government found difficult to contain. Efforts to transform lethargic state factories into efficient enterprises responsible for their own profits and losses were hampered by shortages of qualified managers and by the lack of both a legal framework for contracts and a consistent and predictable taxation system. The goals of economic reform were clear, but their implementation was slowed by practical and political obstacles. National leaders responded by reaffirming support for reform in general terms and by publicizing the successes of those cities that had been permitted to experiment with managerial responsibility, markets for raw materials, and fundraising through the sale of corporate bonds.  These delicate reforms were put forth in preparation to accept Hong Kong into the Chinese economy, in part to make a show of the 'One Country, Two Systems' policy that China adopted shortly after negotiations between Britain and China took place regarding the handover in 1997.

On May 4th, 1989, a massive student rally began in Tiananmen Square to protest the dismissal of a CCP official in favor of democratic reform. Dubbed the Second May Fourth Movement, the crowd of protestors grew by the thousands each day. Deng Xiaoping denounced the students in public and called for their removal from the square.  Although some students began writing wills, they never expected to die.

The students understood that world attention would be focused on China for the 70th anniversary of the "May 4" democracy movement and for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit at the month's end.  On May 13th, workers joined the students in a hunger strike. The mood was getting nasty, but students were committed to using non-violence as their approach towards reform.  Deng declared martial law at the end of May. The students wrote a final will "in defense of the people's square."

On May 27th, Deng declared martial law in effect, and a week later, on June 3rd, ordered Chinese troops to clear the students out of the square.  The PLA entered the Square by June 4th resulting in the massacre of thousands of protestors.  The government felt morally justified in using repression as a way to achieve stability.  In the end, several leaders were captured, quickly and quietly tried and sent to jail or forced labor camps.  Several more were allowed to live in exile abroad.

Still shaken by the protests of the previous year, and nervous over the demise of the Soviet Union, Deng initiated a series of purges within the ranks of China's leadership in 1991 and into 1992.  Several members of the CCP were demoted or removed altogether from the party.  Many were sent on 're-education' endeavors to the countryside.  The resulting shake up reaffirmed and strengthened the CCP's hold on power.

In October 1992, the Fourteenth National Congress of the CCP was held, taking into account that China's reform and opening-up and modernization drive has stepped into a new era.  Jiang Zemin, on behalf of the members of the 13th CPC Central Committee, delivered a report titled Accelerating the Reform, the Opening to the Outside World and the Drive for Modernization, So As to Achieve Greater Successes in Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. The meeting acknowledged the substantial achievements made in reforming and opening-up as well as in the modernization drive since the end of 1978, systematically summarized the practices and experiences over the previous 14 years, made a brilliant exposition of Deng Xiaoping Theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, and outlined the major tasks in the reform and economic and social development in the 1990s. It declared that the target of China's economic restructuring was to establish a socialist market economic system.

The congress elected 189 members and 130 alternate members to form the new Central Committee. The new Central Commission for Discipline Inspection consisted of 108 members. At the First Plenary Session of the 14th CPC Central Committee, Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Qiao Shi, Li Ruihuan, Zhu Rongji, Liu Huaqing and Hu Jintao were elected to form the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau. Jiang Zemin was elected general secretary of the Central Committee and also chairman of the Central Military Commission. The session also approved Wei Jianxing as secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

In December, 1992, Deng Xiaoping named Jiang Zemin, former mayor of Shanghai, member of the politburo since 1985, General Secretary of the CCP since 1989 and head of powerful government and party military commissions, as his successor and in May, 1993 stepped down as president of China.  Jiang would go on to continue the economic reforms of his predecessor, bringing China's economy onto the world stage, but would make no real attempts to implement political reforms in the years following the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. The CCP maintained its absolute hold on power.  In an effort to ensure his policies would continue long after his resignation, Den Xiaoping nominated Hu Jintao to succeed Jiang.

Deng and Jiang’s reforms in the 1990s were particularly successful at stimulating economic growth, but they also created problems for the Communist leadership. China’s foreign debt began to increase rapidly, and growing consumer demand led to rising inflation. Uncontrolled industrial and agricultural growth caused environmental degradation in much of China. Moreover, there was pervasive corruption among party and government officials who profited from their power to grant permits and licenses and from their control over basic supplies needed by private businesses. The government has attempted to combat the corruption, imprisoning a number of prominent party officials convicted of using their positions for personal gain.

1994 and 1995 saw the relationship between China and the rest of the world breaking down. Loans from Hong Kong dried up and the Chinese economy came to a stand still.

In 1996, Taiwan held its first democratic elections and the PRC deployed naval ships to conduct 'exercises' in the Taiwan Straight. This action was met with a reaction from the United States, in the form of a naval battle fleet prepared to defend the island in the event of a Mainland invasion, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act.  Since then, the relationship between the two Chinas grew ever colder, culminating in China's threat to invade should Taiwan declare its independence formally.

Since then, the relationship between the two Chinas grew ever colder, culminating in China's threat to invade should Taiwan declare its independence formally.

China Prepares for the 21st Century, 1997- 2000

With the death of Deng Xiaoping in February 1997 and with Jiang Zemin firmly holding the reigns of leadership, China emerged on the forefront of Asia's economic explosion.  In preparation for the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese control, a 'Special Economic Zone' was established, that would encompass Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Foshan and Jiangmen.  This broad designation would allow certain economic freedoms, hitherto unknown in China, heralding a new era of development, from which the entire country would benefit.

Hong Kong officially returned to Chinese control ending a 99 year lease on the territory by the British Government on July 31, 1997. Despite certain guarantees made by the CCP in regard to Hong Kong's liberties, economy and religious freedom, several newspapers, television and radio stations were turned over to the state.

In early 1998, China began to privatize much of the economy in an effort to stave off nearly a decade of failed government economic interference. The Chinese economy fared relatively well in a currency crisis that swept almost the entire country.

In June, US President Bill Clinton arrived in China for the longest visit by a sitting US president to the country. This served to rekindle relations between the two superpowers. The end result of the summit led to broader freedoms for the Chinese people and improvement in China’s international standing.

In July 1999, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia was bombed by NATO forces conducting a support mission in the area. The blame for this action centered on the United States, with a speech given over live television by Hu Jintao.  The incident cooled relations between the two countries. Hundreds of protestors gathered outside the US embassy in Beijing, to assert their displeasure over the matter.  China and NATO reached a settlement offer, 7 months later, for the resulting damage and compensatory funds.

In November 1999 China and the United States reached a trade agreement in which China agreed to significantly reduce obstacles to imported goods and foreign investments in exchange for U.S. support of China’s application for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). China also secured similar bilateral agreements with other countries to gain support for its entry in the trade organization.

21st Century China, 2000- Present

January 5, 2000 saw the return of Macau to China from the Portuguese government. Macau (Aomen) had been assured certain freedoms, similar to those experienced by Hong Kong, at the time of the handover.

The relations between China and the US would again suffer early in 2001, when a US spy plane crash landed in China, causing a diplomatic nightmare and economic threats from China. The crew were released after 9 days, but it would be another year and a half before the remnants of the plane were taken back to the US.

After long hours of negotiations with Europe, the US and other nations of the developed world, China formally became a member of the WTO in December 2001.

In October 2002, Jiang Zemin, announced his successor, Hu Jintao, and in November, retired as general secretary of the CCP, launching a generational shift in the leadership of China. All but one of the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the CCP’s inner policymaking circle, retired along with Jiang. The remaining incumbent member, Hu Jintao, was chosen to succeed Jiang as the party’s general secretary. Hu also succeeded Jiang as president of China in March 2003. However, Jiang retained his post as head of the Central Military Commission, which controls the military, and was expected to exert considerable behind-the-scenes influence in the governance of China.

In October 2003, China launched a piloted spacecraft into Earth orbit, becoming only the third nation to accomplish this feat. Astronaut Yang Liwei orbited the Earth 14 times over a 21-hour period in the spacecraft Shenzhou 5 (Divine Vessel 5) before returning to Earth on October 16. The successful launch and orbit demonstrated China’s commitment to its space program, which also plans other space missions, including an unpiloted spaceflight to the Moon.

On September 19, 2004, former President Jiang Zemin turned over his last major post as chairman of the commission that runs China's military to his successor, Hu Jintao, completing the country's first peaceful leadership transition since its 1949 revolution.  Jiang, whose term was to have run until 2007, handed in his resignation during a meeting of the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee. The committee "approved Hu to take over the (Central Military Commission) chairmanship after accepting Jiang's resignation," Xinhua said. It did not say why Jiang chose to leave before his term was up.

Citing unidentified sources, The New York Times said on its Web site that the former president might possibly cite heart trouble or cancer as an excuse for an early exit. The 78-year-old Jiang, however, has given no public sign of illness.  Xu Caihou, 61, will replace Hu as deputy chairman. In 1999, Xu became a vice director in the People's Liberation Army, China's massive military.