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China-The Ninth National Party Congress to the Demise of Lin Biao, 1969-71

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The activist phase of the Cultural Revolution--considered to be the first in a series of cultural revolutions--was brought to an end in April 1969. This end was formally signaled at the CCP's Ninth National Party Congress, which convened under the dominance of the Maoist group. Mao was confirmed as the supreme leader. Lin Biao was promoted to the post of CCP vice chairman and was named as Mao's successor. Others who had risen to power by means of Cultural Revolution machinations were rewarded with positions on the Political Bureau; a significant number of military commanders were appointed to the Central Committee. The party congress also marked the rising influence of two opposing forces, Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and Premier Zhou Enlai.

The general emphasis after 1969 was on reconstruction through rebuilding of the party, economic stabilization, and greater sensitivity to foreign affairs. Pragmatism gained momentum as a central theme of the years following the Ninth National Party Congress, but this tendency was paralleled by efforts of the radical group to reassert itself. The radical group--Kang Sheng, Xie Fuzhi, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen--no longer had Mao's unqualified support. By 1970 Mao viewed his role more as that of the supreme elder statesman than of an activist in the policy-making process. This was probably the result as much of his declining health as of his view that a stabilizing influence should be brought to bear on a divided nation. As Mao saw it, China needed both pragmatism and revolutionary enthusiasm, each acting as a check on the other. Factional infighting would continue unabated through the mid-1970s, although an uneasy coexistence was maintained while Mao was alive.

The rebuilding of the CCP got under way in 1969. The process was difficult, however, given the pervasiveness of factional tensions and the discord carried over from the Cultural Revolution years. Differences persisted among the military, the party, and left-dominated mass organizations over a wide range of policy issues, to say nothing of the radical-moderate rivalry. It was not until December 1970 that a party committee could be reestablished at the provincial level. In political reconstruction two developments were noteworthy. As the only institution of power for the most part left unscathed by the Cultural Revolution, the PLA was particularly important in the politics of transition and reconstruction. The PLA was, however, not a homogeneous body. In 1970-71 Zhou Enlai was able to forge a centrist-rightist alliance with a group of PLA regional military commanders who had taken exception to certain of Lin Biao's policies. This coalition paved the way for a more moderate party and government leadership in the late 1970s and 1980s (see The First Wave of Reform, 1979-84 , ch. 11).

The PLA was divided largely on policy issues. On one side of the infighting was the Lin Biao faction, which continued to exhort the need for "politics in command" and for an unremitting struggle against both the Soviet Union and the United States. On the other side was a majority of the regional military commanders, who had become concerned about the effect Lin Biao's political ambitions would have on military modernization and economic development. These commanders' views generally were in tune with the positions taken by Zhou Enlai and his moderate associates. Specifically, the moderate groups within the civilian bureaucracy and the armed forces spoke for more material incentives for the peasantry, efficient economic planning, and a thorough reassessment of the Cultural Revolution. They also advocated improved relations with the West in general and the United States in particular--if for no other reason than to counter the perceived expansionist aims of the Soviet Union. Generally, the radicals' objection notwithstanding, the Chinese political tide shifted steadily toward the right of center. Among the notable achievements of the early 1970s was China's decision to seek rapprochement with the United States, as dramatized by President Richard M. Nixon's visit in February 1972. In September 1972 diplomatic relations were established with Japan.

Without question, the turning point in the decade of the Cultural Revolution was Lin Biao's abortive coup attempt and his subsequent death in a plane crash as he fled China in September 1971. The immediate consequence was a steady erosion of the fundamentalist influence of the left-wing radicals. Lin Biao's closest supporters were purged systematically. Efforts to depoliticize and promote professionalism were intensified within the PLA. These were also accompanied by the rehabilitation (see Glossary) of those persons who had been persecuted or fallen into disgrace in 1966-68.

Data as of July 1987

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