WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT WE CAN HANDLE CHINA’S AFFAIRS WELL
September 16, 1989
I’m still in good health and have a clear mind and a good memory. Recently I’ve begun to swim for an hour every day in the sea at Beidaihe. I don’t like indoor pools; I like to swim in an expansive natural setting where you have a greater sense of freedom. I’m trying to get used to complete retirement. For decades I’ve been busy with my work. Although I have not concerned myself with many things recently, my mind remains active and keeps turning over problems.
Please believe me when I say that the principles and policies formulated during the reform and opening to the outside world over the past ten years will not change. The line set at the Party’s Thirteenth National Congress will not change. Anyone who changed it would fall.
In the recent past we have had two General Secretaries who did not retain the post for long. That was not because they were not qualified when they were elected. It was right to elect them, but later on they made mistakes with regard to the fundamental issue, the issue of adhering to the Four Cardinal Principles, so they stumbled and fell. Of the four principles, the two most important are that we should uphold leadership by the Party and that we should uphold socialism. The opposite of the four principles is bourgeois liberalization. In the last few years I have stressed on many occasions the need to uphold the Four Cardinal Principles and oppose bourgeois liberalization. But they didn’t do that. During the recent disturbances Zhao Ziyang was exposed as being clearly on the side of those who were causing the trouble. He was actually trying to split the Party. Fortunately, I was still around and it was not difficult to deal with the matter. Of course, I was not the only one to play a role.
I have never believed in exaggerating the role of any one individual, because that is dangerous and makes it difficult for others to carry on. The stability of a country and a party cannot be based merely on the prestige of one or two persons. That tends to create problems. It is therefore necessary to have a retirement system. I’m already 85 years old. For many years I have been proposing to retire. But every time I do, I meet opposition from everybody. At the Thirteenth National Congress of the Party, I secured a partial retirement, retaining only the posts of Chairman of the Central Military Commission and Chairman of the State Military Commission. Some veteran comrades, such as Peng Zhen, our older sister Deng [Yingchao], Marshal Xu [Xiangqian] and Marshal Nie [Rongzhen], have retired completely. I need the approval of the Central Committee to retire completely, and I’m working to obtain it. Recently the story circulated in Hong Kong that I had been assassinated or that I was seriously ill and that rumour caused fluctuations in the stock market there. This shows that it would be better for me to retire soon. I hope to do so in the near future. My chief desire is to retire completely, but if there are disturbances, I shall have to intervene.
I am certain that after the recent disturbances, China will be even more successful in its drive for modernization and in reform and opening to the outside world. They have taught us an important lesson. For many years some of our comrades, immersing themselves in specific affairs, have shown no concern for political developments and attached no importance to ideological work. They have not been sufficiently vigilant against corruption and have not taken effective measures to stop it. The fact that corruption has become such a serious problem is related to their failure to resolutely combat bourgeois liberalization. The disturbances have sobered us all. If we had not upheld the Four Cardinal Principles, the turmoil would not have been brought to an end. And if it had not been, how could we be talking here today? In putting down the counter-revolutionary rebellion, the People’s Liberation Army made sacrifices. That was no easy thing, I can tell you. If the rebels had had their way, there would have been a civil war. If there had been a civil war, we would have won, but how many people would have died, and how many more would have grieved for them? That would have been a real disaster! We had no choice but to act decisively. In our efforts to quell the rebellion, our principle was to do everything possible not to harm the people, especially students. But if we had not taken resolute measures to put it down, the consequences would have been unimaginable.
The West really wants unrest in China. It wants turmoil not only in China but also in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The United States and some other Western countries are trying to bring about a peaceful evolution towards capitalism in socialist countries. The United States has coined an expression: waging a world war without gunsmoke. We should be on guard against this. Capitalists want to defeat socialists in the long run. In the past they used weapons, atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs, but they were opposed by the peoples of the world. So now they are trying peaceful evolution. The affairs of other countries are not our business, but we have to look after our own. China will get nowhere if it does not build and uphold socialism. Without leadership by the Communist Party, without socialism and without the policies of reform and opening to the outside world, the country would be doomed. Without them, how could China have gotten where it is today?
The Chinese people will not easily give up the People’s Republic that they founded after more than twenty years of bloody struggle. They will not easily give up the achievements in building socialism that they have scored through decades of hard work, and especially through the last ten years of reform and opening to the outside world. If those achievements were forfeited in favour of capitalism, the first problem would be how to feed the 1.1 billion people. And if they didn’t have enough food, would the Chinese people accept that situation? It was in order to emancipate poor people that we made the revolution. Now it can be said that China has solved the problem of food and clothing. Of course, about 10 per cent of the people are still relatively poor, but they are not completely destitute. Generally speaking, they are better off than before, and the government and society are helping them shake off poverty. To sum up, we have our own responsibilities. We must take responsibility for one fifth of the world’s population and develop the economy so that they will live better.
I’d like to focus on two points. First, the current situation in China is stable. After the disturbances are over, the new leading body will continue the policies of reform and opening to the outside world that have been followed over the past decade, maintain stability and unity and uphold the principle of “one central task and two basic points”. Of course, there will surely be setbacks and mistakes in the course of development. But we believe that those who uphold this principle and these policies will succeed eventually.
Second, the Chinese people will not be intimidated. We don’t want to offend other people; we only want to do solid work in our own country. Anyone who tries to interfere in our affairs and bully us will fail. The Chinese people have confidence in themselves; they would get nowhere if they felt themselves inferior. They felt inferior for more than a century, but now, under the leadership of the Communist Party, they have stood up. A great beast may be terrifying to some people, but not to the Chinese. We fought the War of Resistance Against Japan for eight years and the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea for three years. We have a tradition of defeating the enemy when we are outnumbered and weaker. There are some people who are frightened, such as Fang Lizhi and the like, so they do everything possible to harm their country. But there are not many people of that sort. I believe that when faced with foreign aggression and intimidation, our people will not be frightened, nor will future generations. I’d like to ask you to tell all Americans, whether they are friendly to us or not, that these are the two fundamental points of which they should be aware when they are assessing the situation in China.
Our gravest failure has been in education — we did not provide enough education to young people, including students. We can curb inflation quickly, but it is much more difficult to make up for lost education. For many of those who participated in the demonstrations and hunger strikes it will take years, not just a couple of months, of education to change their thinking. The ones who took part in the hunger strikes and demonstrations and signed petitions are not to blame. Only those leaders who had ulterior motives and violated the law will be prosecuted. As for the students, including the hunger strikers, we shall deal with them chiefly through education. I hope you will tell the people you know, including those who demonstrated and signed petitions abroad, that China takes no offence at their actions and that they need not be worried.
Speaking of our failures, there have really been some. There is much ideological work that we haven’t done and there are many things that we haven’t explained clearly. Some people, Zhao Ziyang for example, supported those who created the disturbances. So we can’t put the blame on others. We should soberly rethink what we have done in the past, look to the future, review our experience, draw the lessons from it and seriously address the problems we are faced with. By doing that, we can turn a bad thing to good account and profit from the incident. Most people, including the students, will gain a clearer understanding.
In short, one thing is certain: China will develop, the policies of reform and opening to the outside world will continue, the productive forces will go on growing at an appropriate rate and the standard of living will gradually rise on the basis of expanded production. For a period of time consumption was overheated. We have warned the people of the need to practise austerity for a few years. We must oppose corruption and promote clean government. We have to do this not just for a few days or months but throughout the whole process of reform and opening to the outside world. We are going to move forward at a steadier and faster pace. I strongly believe that.
(Excerpt from a talk with the Chinese-American physicist and Nobel Prize winner Professor Tsung-Dao Lee of Columbia University.)