History of China

Thirteenth National Party Congress

From October 25 to November 1, 1987, the Chinese Communist Party held its Thirteenth National Party Congress. Dozens of veteran party leaders retired from active front-line positions. Not least among the changes was the alteration of the Standing Committee of the party Political Bureau--the very apex of power in China--both in personnel and in stated purpose. Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Li Xiannian stepped down, and Hu Yaobang's demotion to mere Political Bureau membership was confirmed. Only one incumbent--Zhao Ziyang-- was left on the Standing Committee. In place of the party elders and Hu Yaobang, a group of mostly younger, more technologically oriented individuals were seated. The Political Bureau's Standing Committee comprised Deng's protege, sixty-eight-year-old Zhao Ziyang (who relinquished his position as head of government to become general secretary of the party); Li Peng, a sixty-year-old, Soviet-educated engineer, who became acting premier of the State Council in Zhao's place (he was confirmed as premier in spring 1988); Qiao Shi, a sixty-four-year-old expert in party affairs, government administration, and legal matters; Hu Qili, a fifty- eight-year-old party Secretariat member in charge of ideological education, theoretical research, and propaganda; and veteran economic planner and conservative reform architect Yao Yilin, the new party elder at age seventy-one. In regard to function, the Political Bureau no longer was conceived of as a group of influential individuals but as a consensual decision-making organization. The party constitution was amended to make the party Secretariat a staff arm of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee, rather than the somewhat autonomous body it had been since 1982. By mid-1988, the Chinese Communist Party announced that its increasingly well educated membership had risen to 47 million, an all-time high.

The retirees were not left without a voice. Deng, eighty-three and still China's de facto leader, retained his positions as chairman of the party and state Central Military Commissions, the latter of which designated him as commander-in-chief of the Chinese armed forces. (Zhao Ziyang was appointed first vice chairman of the party and state Central Military Commissions, giving him military credentials and paving the way for him to succeed Deng.) Eighty- two-year-old Chen Yun gave up his position as first secretary of the party Central Commission for Discipline Inspection but replaced Deng as chairman of the party's Central Advisory Commission, a significant forum for party elders. Li Xiannian who relinquished his position as head of state, or president, to another party elder--eighty-one-year-old Yang Shangkun--to become chairman of the Seventh Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in spring 1988, was left without a leading party position. Hu Yaobang, far from being totally disgraced after his January 1987 debacle, retained membership on the Political Bureau and enjoyed a fair amount of popular support at the Thirteenth National Party Congress and afterward.

Below the national level, numerous leadership changes also took place following the Thirteenth National Party Congress. More than 600 younger and better educated leaders of provincial-level congresses and governments had been elected in China's twenty-nine provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities.

The Seventh National People's Congress was held from March 25 to April 13, 1988. This congress, along with the Seventh Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, held from March 24 to April 10, 1988, was marked by a new openness and tolerance of debate and dissent. The opening ceremony of the National People's Congress was televised live, and meetings and panel discussions were recorded and broadcast the same day. Chinese and foreign journalists were permitted to attend the panel discussions and question the deputies in press conferences. Dissenting statements and dissenting votes were widely publicized in the domestic press. A spirit of reform prevailed as laws and constitutional amendments were ratified to legitimize private business and land sales and to encourage foreign investment. The State Council was restructured and streamlined. Fourteen ministries and commissions were dissolved and ten new ones--the State Planning Commission and ministries of personnel, labor, materials, transportation, energy, construction, aeronautics and astronautics industry, water resources, and machine building and electronics industry--were established. Many of the ministries that were dissolved were converted into business enterprises responsible for their own profits and losses.

Li Peng was elected premier of the State Council, as expected, and Yao Yilin and fifty-nine-year-old financial expert Tian Jiyun were re-elected as vice premiers. Sixty-six-year-old former Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Xueqian also was elected vice premier. State councillors, all technocrats chosen for their professional expertise, were reduced in number from eleven to nine. All state councillors except Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and Secretary General of the State Council Chen Junsheng served concurrently as heads of national-level commissions or ministries. Although seven of the nine were new state councillors, only Li Guixian, the newly appointed governor of the People's Bank of China, was new to national politics. On a move that seemed to bode well for reform efforts, long-time Deng ally and political moderate Wan Li was selected to replace Peng Zhen as chairman of the Standing Committee of the Seventh National People's Congress. The conservative Peng had been considered instrumental in blocking or delaying many important pieces of reformist legislation. It also was decided at the Seventh National People's Congress to elevate Hainan Island, formerly part of Guangdong Province, to provincial status and to designate it as a special economic zone.

In September and October 1987 and again in March 1988, riots erupted in the streets of Lhasa, the capital of Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet). Calls for "independence for Tibet" and expressions of support for the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, were made amid violence that claimed the lives of at least six people in 1987 and at least nine more (including policemen) in 1988. Many more were reported to have been badly injured. Although Chinese authorities condemned the riots, their initial response was restrained in comparison with actions they had taken against earlier anti-Chinese demonstrations in Xizang. In addition, the authorities accompanied their censure of the Lhasa riots with a plethora of publicity on advances made by the inhabitants of Xizang in recent years and a lifting of travel restrictions on foreign correspondents. The March 1988 rioting spread to neighboring Qinghai Province, where there is a sizable Tibetan (Zang) minority. This time the authorities resorted to sterner measures, such as military force and numerous arrests, but only after offering lenient treatment to rioters who turned themselves in voluntarily. By mid-1988, it appeared that both the Dalai Lama, concerned that violence and bloodshed in his homeland was out of control, and the Chinese government, worried about instability in a strategic border area, were displaying greater flexibility in their respective positions.

The January 1988 death of Taiwan's leader, Chiang Ching-kuo, brought expressions of sympathy from Zhao Ziyang and other Chinese Communist Party leaders and renewed calls for the reunification of China under the slogan "one country, two systems." Implicit in the mainland's discussion of the transfer of power to a new generation of leaders--Taiwan-born Li Teng-hui succeeded Chiang--was regret that the opportunity had been lost for reaching a rapprochement with the last ruling member of the Chiang family. Beijing appealed to the patriotism of the people in Taiwan and called for unity with the mainland but, at the same time, kept a close watch for any sentiments that might lead to independence for Taiwan.

In foreign affairs, Beijing continued to balance its concern for security with its desire for an independent foreign policy. China reacted cautiously to the signing of a nuclear arms treaty by the Soviet Union and the United States and refused to hold its own summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite a lessening of tensions between Beijing and Moscow and greatly improved Chinese relations with the governments and ruling parties throughout Eastern Europe, China continued to insist that the Soviet Union would have to end its support for Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, and significantly reduce Soviet forces deployed on the Sino-Soviet border and in the Mongolian People's Republic before relations between the Chinese and Soviet governments and parties could improve. By mid-1988 there were indications that the Soviet Union was taking steps to remove these "three obstacles" to improved Sino-Soviet relations. As early as the fall of 1986, the Soviet Union announced the pullback of a significant number of troops from Mongolia and the Sino-Soviet border. In May 1988 Moscow began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan with the goal of evacuating its forces from that country by early 1989. But China remained skeptical of Vietnamese government announcements that it would withdraw 50,000 troops from Cambodia by the end of 1988, and China's leaders continued to pressure the Soviet Union to exert more influence on Vietnam to secure an early withdrawal of all Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. Already strained Sino-Vietnamese relations were exacerbated when Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces clashed in March 1988 over several small islands in the strategically located Nansha (Spratly) archipelago.

In Sino-American relations, disputes over trade and technology transfer in 1987 were further clouded by United States concern over reported Chinese Silkworm missile sales to Iran, sales of Dongfeng- 3 intermediate range missiles to Saudi Arabia, and disclosures that Israel allegedly assisted China in the development of the missile system later sold to the Saudis. Another concern was China's protest over an October 1987 United States Senate resolution on the "Tibetan question" that focused on alleged human rights violations in Xizang. A visit to Washington, by then Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Xueqian in March 1988, however, had salutary effects on bilateral relations: China made assurances that it would cease Silkworm missile sales to Iran and the United States pledged to continue to make desired technologies available to China. The perennial Taiwan issue and problems in Xizang apparently were subsumed by larger national interests.

In February 1988 Beijing China achieved its long-sought goal of establishing diplomatic relations with Uruguay, one of the few nations that still had state-to-state ties with Taipei. With this accomplishment China increased its diplomatic exchanges to 134 countries, while Taiwan's official representations were reduced to 22.

The dynamism of China's domestic activities and international relations will continue the new millennium approaches. Developments in the all-encompassing reform program and their resulting impact on Chinese society, particularly the efforts of China's leaders to bring increasing prosperity to the more than 1 billion Chinese people, and China's growing participation and influence in the international community will remain of interest to observers throughout the world.

China History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress