As anniversary nears, Chinese rulers act tough

September 30, 1994|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Everything is ready for China's Communist leaders to celebrate their country's 45th anniversary tomorrow -- thousands of red banners hang from Beijing's buildings, 250,000 flowers line the streets, several hundred people have been executed and 60,000 undesirables hustled away.

It may sound like a typical Oct. 1 National Day celebration, but it's not. China's leaders, facing a series of intractable problems, are going to extreme lengths to make sure that no one gets the idea that social order is crumbling or that the party is losing its grip on things.

The celebrations also come on the heels of the party's annual meeting in Beijing, where delegates spent four days this week discussing ways to reverse their declining hold on power. Cadres adopted a conservative program that stressed ideological indoctrination, while sidestepping corruption, crime and other pressing issues.

One way to ensure party control seems to be a revival of tried-and-true indoctrination campaigns -- well-orchestrated media blitzes coupled with mandatory "study sessions." One is aimed at giving students a "patriotic education": A new curriculum is being drawn up to stress China's glories, while party elders are touring the country exhorting teachers to make their students loyal citizens.

Part of that campaign includes studying the newly issued third volume of the collected speeches of Deng Xiaoping, China's 90-year-old strongman. The book is mandatory reading for China's 40 million party members, and party sources say that 100,000 top cadres are being forced to memorize and recite sections of it at their own special study sessions.

Mr. Deng's theories have slowly grown into something more than the current party line; they are now being portrayed as great works of philosophy that will guide China for decades.

The country will not be allowed to "deviate" from Dengism for at least 100 years, according to a recent article in People's Daily, the party's official mouthpiece. The newspaper has said that Mr. Deng's thoughts now rival Mao Tse-tung's in importance and must be studied with equal diligence.

In fact, the ailing Mr. Deng is now the center of a budding personality cult -- the sort of personalization of politics that he once eschewed. While it hardly rivals the hysterical adulation of his predecessor, Chairman Mao, the media campaign to lionize Mr. Deng has been growing steadily throughout the summer and fall.

Among the offerings are photo exhibitions, a new CD of Mr. Deng's speeches, several biographies and two conferences -- each devoted to studying a single sentence uttered by Mr. Deng a decade ago.

One of the two statements: "Be patriotic toward China. Fix the Great Wall."

"Deng Xiaoping is now the most revered man in China," said ZhuWenyu, depty curator of a 400-photo exhibition of pictures of Mr. Deng at the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. "We especially want to let young people know of Comrade Deng Xiaoping's achievements."

Spreading Mr. Deng's ideas has even entered the high-tech era, with one army officer, Yang Shaojun, winning a medal for his ingenuity.

In April, Mr. Yang established a "Construction of Chinese-Style Socialism" hot line, on which 2,000 callers have been "enthusiastically" given guidance in Dengist thought, according to the Enlightenment Daily newspaper.

Now, Mr. Yang has pushed the technological envelope even further, putting together a computer program called "The System of Researching Deng Xiaoping's Theory of Constructing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics." The program, not yet available in stores, promises to help users sort out Mr. Deng's ideas, when they were formulated and how they can be applied.

To help balance Mr. Deng with someone a little older, the party is also making a renewed bid to make Confucius one of their own. The Chinese philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago and preached obedience to hierarchical authority will be the focus of an international conference in Beijing next week.

For those who somehow miss the Deng campaign or Confucian revival, tomorrow's festivities are designed to awe and inspire loyalty in modern China and the Communist Party, said a Beijing party member who helped organize the event.

"Everyone will see that China is strong and that we are in control of China," the official said. What most Chinese will see either in person or on television is a $10 million spectacle in downtown Beijing and the biggest fireworks display in China for 15 years. Popular singers giving "brilliant performances" will be joined by "10,000 workers, peasants, soldiers, students and officials" in a rousing sing-along, according to Vice Mayor Meng Xuenong.

The event will be China's biggest national celebration in a decade. Five years ago, the 40th anniversary was subdued because of a massacre that year of hundreds of protesters near Tiananmen Square.

The show will be big, but it also will be secure.

Newspapers, for example, have been trumpeting a series of executions across the country that total well over 100. Human rights observers believe the real figures is many times higher.

"There's no question that the execution rate has been soaring," said Robin Munro, of Human Rights Watch/Asia's Hong Kong office. "These festivities are the biggest in years, and they want to show that they have everything under control."

That quest for at least temporary order has extended to the city's beggars, prostitutes and petty thieves, who have been unusually hard to find. A public security official recently told Chinese reporters that his forces had "dealt with more than 60,000 people who posed dangers to the city's security."

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