China - International Relations
The influence of traditions on Chinese policy
Cesar Augusto Lambert de Azevedo analyses how Chinese policy has been influenced by Taoism, Legalism, Confucianism and even Buddhism. These principles are crucial to comprehend Chinese national interests. From São Paulo.
The preamble of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, of December 4, 1982, emphasizes the importance of dual Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought as a guide to the people under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). It consists of a Stalinist interpretation adopted in the early revolution. At that time, revolutionaries suffered from the absence of theoreticians who could bestow the desired level of density on debates, particularly after Li Dazhao´s death, in 1927. It is true that some Chinese researchers had access to the group of theoretical Soviet works in the original language. However, until the middle of the 50´s of the last century, Chinese interpretations depended on Soviet Stalinist readings of Marxism-Leninism. We can observe, however, it had adaptations to the Chinese reality, because China did not have a strong worker base until 1949. The rural base was the driver for the Chinese revolution in the first half of last century.
The process of de-Stalinization that occurred in Russia, after Stalin’s death caused intense debates in the breast of the CPC. Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping voiced denunciations, but already existing Marxism-Leninism official interpretations prevailed. In addition, we can affirm the CPC has until now not broken away completely from this interpretation. However, we can observe changes in modulations from 1979, when Deng Xiaoping rose to Chinese politic power. If Marx and Engels continue to be the fathers of “Scientific Socialism”, Marxism-Leninism went on to be just a “guide to the action”. This is because the relative dissociation from a rigid interpretation does not conflict with the distinction between theoretical ideology and the practical ideology adopted since earlier revolutionary movements in China. The former constituted the guiding light for the debates in the breast of the CPC; the latter is the “North Pole” to the organization of Chinese decision-making process. Practical ideology is represented by Mao Zedong thought. We can observe this affirmation in the CPC´s statutes, adopted at the XIV Congress in 1992.
If the Marxism-Leninism points toward the theoretic ideology of scientific socialism, what could be the practical ideology characterized by Mao Zedong thought? We could find a clue in lectures of his text About the Practice. Mao’s examination of the direct and indirect experiences lets slip quotations – characterized as being popular – but are, in fact, passages from the Lao Tse´s Tao Te Ching. In another text, named About the Contradiction, Mao seems guided more by the union of the Yin and Yang´s contraries than concepts developed like historical materialism. Therefore, for Mao, the permanent revolution answers to question of the irreducibility of the contradictions, and was a motive for the revolution. Mao´s rural origin could be an explanatory factor for his Taoist tendency. This reading helps us to understand the incentive to the Red Guards to go ahead with the Cultural Revolution, with the hunting down of the bourgeois witches. As is known, intellectuality begins to be target of a forced reeducation process, by way of working in the fields. However, if Mao supported the Cultural Revolution, why, in practice, did he take care of ending it three years later (although officially it had ended in1976)?
Mao´s rural origin could be an explanatory factor for his Taoist tendency and incentive to the Red Guards to go ahead with the Cultural Revolution.
The answer could be in another tradition of Chinese policy apart from Taoism: Legalism. If Taoism constitutes a reference point for rural populations in China, in permanent contact with Nature, Legalism in concerned with order. It arises on the occasion of the first Chinese unification, in the third century before Christ. At that time, the perception was that the Confucianism rituals did not guarantee stability of government. The imposition of the empire of the law was necessary, with objective and imperative rules, to encompass all the social strata, including the ministers of the Celestine Empire. Legalism constituted a tradition, because all posterior dynasties adopted it with differing intensities. That tradition has not become obsolete until now.
The third motivating tradition of Chinese policy is Confucianism. Its creator, Confucius, turned to the relation of man with society. He recommended to the elites a collection of norms and behavior that served as a model to all the people. It was a reaction against period of anarchy in which the Warring States lived. Confucius also started the formation of groups of lettered bureaucrats to support the Celestial Emperor in the struggles of the Empire. The search for a situation of harmonious relationship between superior and subordinate, and between father and son had the purpose of conflict reduction. The tradition of Confucianism survived for centuries, passed down through all Chinese dynasties.
A fourth tradition could still be noted: Buddhism. It was sinicized and contributed to reinforcing humanist and egalitarian ideas before the law. However, its presence as an inspiration in the exercise of power in China seems to be minor.
However, how should one perceive the exercise of policy and decision making in China today? After all, it has been 32 years since the announcement of the implantation of the four famous modernizations, with the rise of Deng Xiaoping to Chinese power. The cautious opening of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) for the exercise of capitalist practices different from those planned, does not seem coherent with the process of permanent revolution. In fact, the model imagined for the economic practices in SEZs required a clear signal from Beijing for stable rules in order for foreign candidates to join in with Chinese governmental planning. Preparation of the framework of rules and control needed bureaucratic personnel to prepare it correctly. It had to have a stable bureaucracy. Not so very different from the Maoist model of permanent revolution, operated by a “militant elite” of the CPC. The group that came to power made up the “functional elite”(1). This CPC segment went on to base itself on taking more care in making decisions; all the more so, because it had the responsibility for the adoption of the famous SEZ`s, focused on, at the beginning, exports. In them Chinese and foreign enterprises cohabitated in joint ventures. Capitalist practices were a novelty in China.
The cautious opening of SEZs for the exercise of capitalist practices doesn´t seem coherent with the process of permanent revolution.
The refinement of the Chinese bureaucracy, to permit modernizations went ahead, and seems to have buried the permanent revolution movement; at least as far as we can speculate. Confucianism seems to be in evidence. Nevertheless, side by side with Legalism; the episode of June, 1989 in Tiananmen Square was an example. We need to observe that Chinese government reactions at that time can give differing readings. That is, the first reading about the decision to repress demonstrations in the square is the government acting to maintain order; with this, it continues to have the command of the political process. In addition, it was the same reaction that would occur in other parts of the world, when governments are challenged by incisive opponents. However, in case of Tiananmen Square, some members of the CPC opposed the decision that was taken. They defended more dialogue with the demonstrators, to demobilize them from the square. That is, more Confucianism, less Legalism.
Today, sinologists and analysts observe the rise of a “Leftist Confucianism”. People in this case defend values such as the obligation of intellectuals to denounce governmental deviations, so as to obligate the government to guarantee material welfare for the population. One Chinese intellectual even defends the creation of a “Confucianism Social Republic”. They are intellectuals who identify tangencies between Socialism and Confucianism to translate the way followed today by CPC. However, they defend the inflexibility of meritocracy in the selection of public employees. In addition, for foreign policy, these thinkers recommend the principle of the Grand Harmony as a fountain of international promotion of peace, in such a way as to permit the legitimacy of Chinese national interests abroad. In addition, an international system operated on such a principle does not conflict with a breaking out of a just war, since it could be a means to restoring international consensual law.
1. The expressions “militant elite’ and “functional elite” were employed by Francis Audrey in China: 25 anos, 25 séculos, translated by Moacir Werneck de Castro, Editora Paz e Terra, 1976.