June 27, 1989
Chinese heeding pressure to toe new party line
By Uli Schmetzer
BEIJING-A young language student named Chou read out a self-criticism to his silent colleagues during
which he repented his folly in wearing a bloodied shirt to show that people were killed and wounded June 4
during the army's brutal crackdown on the democracy movement.
"I was wrong," Chou read. "The party and the government have said nobody was killed, and I made a
mistake. I was influenced by bad elements and counterrevolutionaries. The blood on my shirt was surely that
of a martyred soldier."
Chou's self-criticism, delivered this week during a political education meeting, may have saved him from
arrest. But it may not save his career, and it certainly will disqualify him from promotion.
Throughout China, workers and students, as well as bureaucrats and party members, are going to school for
a half day twice a week to be lectured by political commissars about their duties as Communists, and to be
re-educated in Marxist-Leninist doctrine and the speeches of China's ideological guru, Deng Xiaoping. Some
are asked to come during working hours; others have to sacrifice their weekends.
The Communist Party in recent days pledged to discipline erring cadres, expel from the party those
ho flirted with Western democracy, and bring criminal charges against the few party members who joined in
the antigovernment riots. But the ideological purificaÂ¬tion of China's 1.1 billion citizens is already well
underway at the grass-roots level.
The zest to attend re-education classes was stimulated by the wave of arrests, the 27 well-publicized
executions of "hooligans" and the statement over the weekend that the party intends to purge those who have
deviated from its orthodoxy and opposed the Central Committee. That was a veiled reference to those who
sided with disgraced moderate party leader Zhao Ziyang and his vision of a more democratic country.
China's paramount leader, Deng, 84, the man who opened China to the outside world, set the pace this
month when he confessed that his greatest mistake over the last decade was that he neglected political
education for his subjects. The confession galvanized the 47 million Communist Party members who see Deng
as the Great Helmsman of the nation.
National television devoted entire newscasts to comments by intellectuals and the man in the street who,
without exception, toed the new line. "We need less training in professional skills and more training in political
sub stance," one straight-faced dean of literature said into the cameras.
But after 10 years of an open door to the outside world, years of being exposed to Western culture and
Western ideas, urban Chinese scoff silently at the prospect of returning to a bygone era when citizens waved
Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book and recited excerpts from it before going to work each morning.
"Everybody thinks the classes are a bore,' said a young schoolteacher. "Nobody listens, though we all go
because you have to. I myself always read a novel and the commissar mainly reads out Deng Xiaoping's
speeches and the political documents from the party. Even if you listen, it doesn't make sense."
At one class the commissar denounced bourgeois liberalism, the euphemism for Western-style democratic
ideas and ways of life.
"What is bourgeois liberalism?" a more attentive student asked.
The commissar scratched his jaw, then replied, "I guess it is reading Western books and watching Western
"But is that bad?" another student asked.
The commissar shuffled through his papers. "Let's get on to the next subject," he said. "Chairman Deng's
speeches at the fourth plenum of the Central Committee.... "
One of the principal goals of the classes is to make participants confess that they sympathized with the
students but have since learned, thanks to the vigilance of the party, that the student movement was
manipulated by counterrevolutionaries who wanted to overthrow the government and the party. Each class
member is asked to make a public pledge of alle giance to the new party line.
"Our commissar knew our hearts were with the student cause. So he argued that before June 4 it was fine to
feel for the students because theirs was a patriotic movement. But after June 4 anyone who sympathized with
them was a counterrevolutionary, since the party had discovered that the students had fallen into the hands of
thugs," a middle-aged accountant said.
"What they really want is for you to say, `We love Deng, we love the party and we love socialism.' And we
all say it, of course," the schoolteacher said.
During four decades of communism the Chinese have learned to bend with the purges and political campaigns
like bamboo stalks in the wind. In the 1950s everyone denounced right-wingers, the forerunÂ¬ners of the
democrats. Next it was the turn of the intellectuals, then came the destructive Cultural Revolution, two more
antidemocracy campaigns and the June 4 massacre.
This month the metamorphosis of the ordinary citizen was baffling. Overnight the Chinese turned into the three
wise monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. A wanted student leader was denounced by his
sister; a foreigner taking snapshots was turned over to soldiers. Informers seem to be at every corner,
The young woman at the vegetable market no longer smiled but stared through her foreign customers. If one
asked directions, people walked away, scared to be seen talking to a foreigner. A secretary working with
foreigners was told she must be careful to make only positive comments about her country and to stress at
every opportunity that the army saved the nation from chaos.
An American businessman was bluntly told by his Chinese partners: `If you want to go on doing business
here,, you'd better say something good in public about our country. '