China’s communist leaders are fighting to halt the spread of western political and cultural influences, especially amongst intellectuals and the young, but the indications are that they are out of their depth and uncertain of how to handle the problem.
The government of strongman Teng Hsiaoping has always said that it faces threats from both ends of the political spectrum — western-influenced liberals (rightists), and Maoist radicals (leftists).
The leftists, mostly officials who rose to power during the last decade of chairman mao’s life, pose a bigger immediate threat to Teng’s position, but they are a known quantity, easy to pick out and not too difficult to purge.
“rightism”, or liberalism, is a bigger threat in the long- term because it questions not only the present policies of the communist party, but also the very basis by which the party maintains its grip on power.
Insidious liberal ideas — such things as freedom of speech, humanism, the benefits of a free market economy, multi-party political systems, entertainment for entertainments’ sake, the right of the individual to decide his or her own destiny — are undeniably attractive.
The fact that the Chinese communist party views these things as a threat is a clear indication of the political gulf which seperates China from the west.
The west is naturally blamed for the spread of liberal ideas, although the real cause is more likely to be the widespread disillusionment in China with socialism.
“since China began its “open door” policy (in 1979) two kinds of ‘germs’ have made their way into the country,” an official magazine, the Peking Review, said yesterday.
“the first are publications, video tapes and films with pornographic and violent content. their corrosive role is obvious and it is easy for people to recognise them.
“the other kind (of germ) appears in the form of academic and artistic works. the fact is that the latter has caused more serious decay,” it said.
The ideas of jean-paul satre and sigmund freud have been singled out for criticism in recent weeks, and the western liberal concept that the interests of the individual come before those of the state is constantly under attack.
The video tapes and pornographic magazines have been given much attention in the official Chinese press, simply because they are western imports which everyone can agree are harmful.
There is less unanimity on the alleged “decadent” trends in literature and the arts in China.
The party hardliners have put the fear of marx, as it were, into all cultural workers over the past few weeks, in an attempt to stop western styles creeping into such things as variety shows, novels and films.
But many writers and artists appear to be simply going through the motions of supporting this drive against “spiritual pollution”. large numbers no doubt continue to support the view that culture in China will never flourish until the party stops interfering.
other problems are blamed on bourgeouis decadent influences too: the increasingly widespread attitude that “money is everything”, an upsurge in gambling in the countryside, long hair and bell-bottom trousers, increasing interest in religion, disco music….
But in terms of the wider political debate on liberalism versus socialism, the cultural question and the crackdown on porno movies are really a red herring.
The communist party is most worried about maintaining its long-term position, and sees the huge and growing interest in western ideas as a direct threat — as it is.
The problem is, however, that no amount of strident propogandising can stop that interest, and the source of the polluting ideas, the “open-door” economic policy, is unlikely to be closed again.
China needs the money too much.