The Art of China Watching

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lems, the question was raised again as to why the congress had been held in August; it obviously would have made more sense to wait until December, when the political climate was apparently more suitable for major decisions.
     Logic does not fail in every case, however, and it sometimes allows the China watcher to second-guess even top Chinese officials correctly. At the August 1973 party congress, Premier Chou En-lai announced that the National People's Congress, China's legislature, would convene "soon." At the time, the anti-Confucius campaign had just begun and was likely to cause further divisiveness among the leadership and have major repercussions throughout the country. With a major political campaign just getting under way, many China watchers believed that chances of holding the National People's Congress under these circumstances were very slim. Nevertheless, no China analyst worth his salt is going to contradict Chou En-lai and say in writing that the premier has either taken leave of his senses or does not have a firm grip on the political scene in China. Chou, as it turned out, had indeed miscalculated: the National People's Congress was not held until a year and a half later.
     This was not the first time Chou had "misspoken." Earlier, he told a western reporter that China's harvest would show an increase over the previous year. A month later, he had to retract that statement; the harvest had in fact shown
a four percent drop. China analysts seldom ignore statements coming directly from Chou-with good reason. The occasional slips, however, can cause confusion.
     Statements by high-level Chinese officials on the internal conditions in the country are so rare that the China watching community must pay particular attention to them, but there is cause for some caution on this score. A member of the party's ruling Politburo, in response to a question about the anti-Confucius campaign, calmly answered, "We know what we are doing." At the time, the campaign had already caused major disturbances in several provinces and was beginning to affect the economic sector. In fact, shortly after that statement was made, the campaign was all but turned off. Its only visible result had been a decline in production, clearly not the intent of the leadership, and China watchers have a right to question whether the Chinese did in fact know what they were doing or whether they merely knew what they wanted to do but were not sure they would be successful. It is also possible that the Politburo member was lying through his teeth or that, while others in the leadership did indeed know what they were doing, this person, who most observers would conclude was ultimately a loser in the political sweepstakes of 1974, did not.
Leadership Speeches  
     While statements by Chinese officials are frequent and relatively easy to come by, China's leaders stopped making public speeches about domestic political affairs several years ago. One Politburo member tours the provinces giving addresses on agriculture, but save for these and two general wrap-up speeches by Premier Chou En-lai at major leadership meetings in the past two years, no Chinese leader had gone on public record regarding internal affairs since the mid-1960s.
     This situation contrasts sharply with that of the Soviet Union. In recent years Moscow had held party congresses on a fairly regular basis; the congresses


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Posted: May 08, 2007 09:01 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 09:01 AM