Recollections of 1987

Shortly after Hu Yaobang's dismissal as general secretary of the party at the beginning of l987, three leading intellectuals including journalist Liu Binyan were expelled from the party. On the day that this news was released, many friends and colleagues, including myself, went to Liu Binyan's home to comfort him. This was very different from former periods when someone who was expelled from the party would be ostracized by the entire community. But by l987 this had all changed because we felt that in his particular case Liu was in fact right and the party was wrong.

After Liu encountered these difficulties, I surmised that my turn was also coming. During the following summer there were many rumors about a black list of targeted "bourgeois liberal" intellectuals. I had been dismissed from my position in l983, but the conservatives were afraid that unless they did something to rid the party of their enemies, intellectuals like myself might someday be rehabilitated and even regain power over the mass media, such as the People's Daily.

In fact I had already heard the news that the party authorities were about to try to convince me to withdraw from the party. But in the end they did not even dare to come to me directly. The person instructed to carry out this task extended his vacation in order to avoid the embarrassment of having to do this dirty work. Time passed and finally the Central Discipline Commission of the party issued a formal document to the People's Daily to instruct the head of the newspaper to urge me to withdraw. The document said that if I refused, my name would be canceled from the party roster.

When I was shown this document, I strongly opposed it. I argued that, according to the party constitution, they should have come to me directly to explain why I no longer had the right to remain in the party. And I should have been allowed to defend myself before any decisions were made. But none of these procedures were followed. I said that the job of the Central Discipline Commission was to uphold the party constitution, but their action had violated it. I refuted the document point by point, refusing to be persuaded, because that would have implied that their charges against me were correct. If they wanted to expel me or to revoke my membership, it was their own business.

When I lost my party membership, I was angry. The first thing I did was to accept a phone call from a Hong Kong reporter and tell her this news and my strong reaction. Earlier when the rumors had first emerged, she had called me and asked me about my situation. At that time I dared not give her any information because I was still a party member and I had to obey party discipline. But after my dismissal, I felt free. In fact, I did not care about my party membership and I felt quite relaxed and relieved and I slept very well. I had been a party member for 39 years and during the course of all those years I had felt great pressure. Now the pressure had finally been lifted.

In earlier years of the People's Republic, to be a communist party member was something to be proud of. Many people were enthusiastic about joining the party, but it was very difficult, especially for intellectuals, who often had to wait for years to be admitted. Expulsion from the party was almost as grave as a death sentence. But now the situation was much different. I had witnessed how the party had changed from a true revolutionary party to a bureaucratic, corrupt, and degenerate party. Sometimes I awoke in the night to ask myself painfully: "Is this the new China I had envisioned and struggled for?" I had a deep feeling of loss and disillusionment. If that party didn't want me, then I didn't want it either. Also, I thought that by not being a party member, I could better devote myself to my people and to my country. So many years of my life had been wasted and I had already passed my prime. But finally I could embark on a new life.

The political winds had swayed back and forth constantly since l978. After the thirteenth party congress in October l987, the winds once again shifted, and I started to feel that it was time to become active again.

Even though I was no longer a party member, I still considered myself a Marxist. I refused to remain passive. During my years at the People's Daily I felt that I had always been the tool of the party. I had to write many things which I did not want to write and there were many things which I wanted to write that I was not allowed to write. Finally I felt free to write what I wanted, although I had to restrain myself, otherwise I would not be able to find a publisher.

In l988 a close friend in Shanghai, who was also a scholar and a former minister of propaganda of Shanghai city, suggested that we try to launch a new theoretical journal to spread some of our ideas. I was immediately interested. Several other associates joined us and we first set out to choose a name for this new publication. I suggested "New Enlightenment" because we felt that we were the inheritors of the May Fourth tradition and the May Fourth movement had been a period of renaissance in China. In our opinion the Communist party had strayed from this tradition and had made the Chinese people into dull fools by endless ideological education. We felt that China once again needed a new enlightenment movement. We no longer felt the need to make our appeal to the party; now we were appealing directly to the people. Democracy was not merely something simply to be granted from above. Although in the Constitution of the PRC it was written that the people are the masters of the state, in fact this was not the case. The people needed to learn how to become their own masters in the course of their struggle for democracy. We saw it as our mission to open the eyes of the Chinese people to free them from ideological illusions and to accept the importance of such values as humanism, freedom, human rights, and democracy.

During that time there were three cultural currents in the country. One was represented by the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and the popular TV series "He Shang" which called for total westernization. The second current was New Confucianism which sought to revive the spirit of Confucius to save the nation. The third current was Marxism. But actually in China by the l980s there were two kinds of Marxism -- first, the official Marxism, or Leninism and Maoism, and second, a free, open, and humanistic Marxism to which we were committed. Our main target were the official Marxists and, of the three currents, we were their main adversaries. In their eyes, heretics were more despicable than atheists.

Although the political climate had changed, we still felt that it was too risky to try to publish the journal in Beijing, which remained under the close scrutiny of the conservatives. We found a publisher in Hunan province, the Hunan Educational Publishing House, which was sympathetic to our position and which agreed to publish our journal. Actually the head of the publication bureau in Hunan province also agreed with our ideas so the publishing house felt that it had some protection in this endeavor.

In order to start a new journal we needed to register with the authorities; we thought this too would be very difficult. So we decided to try instead a pamphlet series. Three persons were chosen as rotating executive editors. Although I was one of the editors, we agreed that my name should not appear on the journal masthead because I was still considered too sensitive and we wanted to avoid all potential trouble.

In October l988 we held a meeting in Shanghai to discuss the idea of a new enlightenment. Some famous intellectuals from Shanghai and Beijing enthusiastically joined the discussion. We had already prepared three issues of our series. Our general position was that a change in values was needed to

accompany the progress of the reforms.

The articles in the first issue called for political reform to accompany the economic reforms. It was published in October and was welcomed by the public. The second issue sought to reassure the people that the political and economic crises were not caused by the reforms, as claimed by the conservatives; rather only reforms could prevent future crisis. The third explored the concept of alienation and its relation to Marxist humanism. The Shanghai newspaper, Wenhui Bao, also wrote a news item announcing this new publication.

Around that time there was a private bookstore in Beijing called "Everyone's Happiness" ("Dule") bookstore. The owner of this shop was my close friend and also sympathetic with our position. After some discussions, she agreed to allow us to hold a salon in her bookstore to promote circulation of our "New Enlightenment" series. We sent out many invitations to all of the open-minded cultural and intellectual elite in Beijing. Once the invitations went out, my telephone did not stop ringing. As word spread that we were about to hold this party, many other sympathizers called me and asked if they could also participate. This was a period of great excitement. It had been too long since we like-minded intellectuals had had an occasion to get together.

The salon was held in January l989. In fact the event turned out to be a mini-demonstration, because we so-called bourgeois intellectuals had finally united together to become more active. The guest list represented a list of the most famous advocates for democracy in Beijing. The owner of the bookstore had also invited almost of the foreign journalists in Beijing -- in all about l00 participants. The authorities also made their presence known. Since many of our phones were probably bugged, they had learned of the planned event, and turned out a full force of plainclothes policemen to greet us at the entry to the bookstore. In fact, the entire event was held under their surveillance. One of the speakers at our reception was Fang Lizhi who stressed the importance of our continuing to place pressure on the authorities. He announced that he had already written a letter to Deng Xiaoping urging the release of political prisoner Wei Jingsheng.

Our series had also made an impact with the party Department of Propaganda. They required our publisher to send them twenty copies of each issue. In a speech at the central party school, a vice minister of propaganda expressed his fear of the possibility of the emergence of a new party. He said: "almost seventy years ago we had had a May Fourth movement which was a movement of enlightenment and which gave birth to our party. Now some people want to launch a new enlightenment movement. What are their intentions?"

About one month later the "Dule" bookstore was suddenly closed down by the authorities on the pretense that its lease had expired. This event and the closing of the bookstore was widely reported by foreign reporters in Beijing. And shortly thereafter the head of the publication bureau in Hunan province was dismissed for his "liberalizing tendencies."

In March, during the period of the National People's Congress, my wife and I were unexpectedly invited to lunch with Politburo member Hu Qili. He very diplomatically asked our advice about the political situation. I tried to explain to him that the students were no longer attracted to their official Marxism, but they found our view of Marxism acceptable. I told him that we had no intention of trying to establish a new party, so the authorities need not be afraid of our humanist Marxism. I also told him of the troubles that the bookstore faced on account of our salon. Hu Qili only listened carefully, but made no comment. I later learned that he had also met with some of my colleagues and we surmised that he had been sent by General Secretary Zhao Ziyang to seek our support.

Later in that spring, 33 reformist intellectuals, including myself, also sent an open letter asking for Wei Jingsheng's release. By that time there were already three issues of "New Enlightenment." Shortly after editing issue numbers four to six, I left China on a prearranged trip to America. The fact that the authorities permitted me to go abroad was another signal of relaxation toward intellectuals. Prior to my departure I had a dinner with some professors at Peking University. I mentioned that l989 was the 70th anniversary of the May Fourth movement, the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, and the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. "Do you think that the students would become active?," I asked. The professors said that they doubted this -- students were too busy playing mahjong or preparing for the TOEFL English examination to go abroad. They were not interested in any political activities. We all failed to detect the brewing undercurrent beneath the surface.

So when in America I heard news that the students had taken to the streets after the death of Hu Yaobang, I was really quite surprised. I returned to China on schedule in mid-May. The fourth issue of "New Enlightenment" had just been printed. As soon as the owner of "Everyone's Happiness" bookstore received the packages from the printer, she took them directly to Tiananmen Square to distribute them free of charge to the students. On the first page of that particular issue we had placed the famous quote from Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." There was also a quotation from Marx: "Autocracy dehumanizes mankind." Both these quotes became slogans for the demonstrating students.

After the crackdown, the owner of the bookstore was arrested and imprisoned for six months and we were no longer able to publish our series. We had already edited issues number five and six, but they have yet to be printed.

Much later one of the exiled student leaders in America published his recollections and wrote that their ideology during the movement could be summed up with one phrase: "new enlightenment."

14 March l994