John Liang

The Experts Report on the New China

(Spring 1958)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.2, Spring 1958, pp.61-63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Mao’s China
by Ygael Gluckstein
The Beacon Press, Boston, Mass. 1957, 438 pp. $8.50.

This book is a serious and substantial addition to the growing body of literature about revolutionary China. It is a comprehensive and thorough economic and political survey based mainly on official documents of the Peking government – laws, decrees, speeches, reports, etc. – and the Chinese press. Like most other writers on the subject, the author is not at all friendly to the regime of Mao Tse-tung. This has its positive as well as its negative aspects, for in contrast to the apologists for Stalinism, he presents the new government and party bureaucracy in the cold light of reality, not through rose-tinted glasses.

Without his ever making it explicit, one gathers that Gluckstein’s views of the Peking regime flow, not from any hostility to socialism and revolution, but from a deep antipathy for Stalinism with all its anti-democratic and totalitarian practices. Indeed, he brings out clearly the remarkable similarities between the Maoist regime of bureaucratic absolutism in China and its Stalinist counterpart in the Soviet Union. He describes the “leader cult,” police control of the population (complete with a system of internal passports), bureaucratic mismanagement of the economy, with a special chapter on The New Privileged.

That’s one side of the picture. He also deals extensively with the development programs of the new regime and with the actual accomplishments, properly relating them to the inherited backwardness and also discussing general problems of China’s economic development.

Especially interesting is the chapter on Regimentation of the Working Class. Gluckstein points out how Mao’s rise in the Chinese Communist Party coincided with a transformation of its social composition – from proletarian to peasant. By 1949, he shows, there was a “complete divorce” of the party from the working class. The Shanghai workers, in 1925 when they staged a general strike, and in 1927 when they struck again and seized the city in an armed uprising, established a revolutionary tradition that seemed forgotten in 1949 when the People’s Liberation Army marched in. The workers were merely passive spectators of their own “liberation.” Mao’s strategy of reliance on the peasantry, the author says, completely contradicted the Leninist-Trotskyist conception of the leading role of the working class in the revolution.

“In fact,” says Gluckstein, “the Communist leaders did their best to prevent any workers’ uprisings in the towns on the eve of their being taken.” To prove it, he cites a proclamation by Red Army Gen. Lin Piao just before the capture of Tientsin and Peking and a special proclamation by Mao and Gen. Chu Teh at the time of the crossing of the Yangtze River preceding the occupation of Shanghai, Hankow and Canton.

The fear of revolutionary action by the workers and the manifest attempts to head it off were in line with what was to follow. Says Gluckstein: “After occupying the towns Mao followed a consistent policy of regimenting and atomising the working class, and subordinating it to State and Party.” This he goes on to substantiate with an impressive array of facts.

Ending his volume on a note of pessimism, Gluckstein expresses the belief that China will prove to be

“the strongest and most impregnable citadel of Stalinism. As China’s backwardness is so much greater than Russia’s – not to speak of Russia’s European satellites – her working class so small, and lacking in cohesion and culture, the forces compelling the bureaucracy to grant concessions, perhaps even threatening to blow up the regime through revolutionary explosions, are much weaker in China than in Russia, and even more, than in Eastern Europe. In all probability, if revolutionary events elsewhere do not cause China’s course to be steered along a different path, she will have to pass through a generation, perhaps two, before the rule of the bureaucracy is threatened. The present regime in China, if she is kept in isolation, will probably make its Russian Stalinist precursor seem mild by comparison. Mao’s China is and will be an important factor strengthening Stalinist exploitation, oppression and rigidity in the ‘Socialist Third of the World’.”

In face of the retreats and concessions forced upon the Soviet bureaucracy; the revolutionary uprising against Stalinism in Hungary; the continuing incipient revolts against Stalinism in Poland and East Germany; and, above all, the recent revolutionary history of China herself, Gluckstein is overgenerous, one might say, in allowing Chinese Stalinism a life-span of one or two generations. He also takes no account of the rapid growth of the Chinese working class, numerically and culturally – the Achilles heel of the new bureaucratic regime.

The Chinese Economy
by Solomon Adler
Monthly Review Press, 66 Barrow Street, New York 14. N.Y. 1957, 276 pp. $5.

Long ago, before the present era of wars and revolutions set in, writers and politicians who vaguely apprehended the dynamics of history liked to quote Napoleon’s reference to China as a “sleeping giant.” They felt sure the giant would some day awaken and teach the rest of the world a thing or two. Solomon Adler’s book, describing China’s amazing present-day development, is striking confirmation of their premonition. Little did they suspect, however, that the giant would not awaken just in order to pick up where his ancestors had left off, but would stand in the forefront of the greatest revolutionary transformation of all time.

During the last, dying stages of the effete Empire ruled over by the Ching (or Manchu) dynasty, through the ensuing war-lord period, and finally during the twenty-year Kuo-mintang dictatorship, China’s economic and social life moved sluggishly, almost unchangingly, in well-worn ruts. Today, as a result of the destruction of the Kuomintang regime and the expulsion of the imperialists, it is flowing rapidly in wider, deeper channels. Adler’s careful study documents the process to date and forecasts, at least inferentially, what is to come.

The revolution that led to the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949 liberated China’s economic forces and resources from the integument of an outworn system of social relationships and furnished the impulse for immense forward strides in all spheres of Chinese life. The pace of industrial development during the past eight years has already given assurance that China’s transformation from a backward agricultural country to an advanced industrial country will be more rapid than was the case with Russia. China’s economic program proceeds, not upon the technological levels of yesteryear, but upon those of today. Among other things, it will use atomic power.

Every politically literate person wants to know what is going on in China, land of 600 million people, more than a quarter of the world’s population. Adler’s book brings together a wealth of socio-economic data. The author was sent to China by the US Treasury in 1941 and spent six years in the country. As acting American member of the Stabilization Board of China (which stabilized nothing), later as US Treasury attaché at Chungking and Nanking, he acquired a considerable insight into China’s economic problems. This book, in which he makes no effort to conceal his pro-Peking partisanship, is the outcome of a continuing interest in the subject, for Adler left China in 1947, before the Communists took over, returning to England, where he had been educated at Oxford and the London School of Economics.

Adler’s material encompasses China’s resources, recent economic progress, industrialization and planning, the first five-year plan, agriculture, transportation and commerce, finance, living conditions and education, foreign trade. Appendices provide statistical tables and extracts from the Common Program and Constitution.

The giant is awake. Adler’s book gives you the first promising results of the awakening.

Understanding China
by Earl Herbert Cressy
Thomas Nelson and Sons, New York 1957, 278 pp. $5.

Here is a book by a well-known Sinologue, one of those Old China Hands who spent the best years of his life “doing good” as an American missionary, only to have an honored and comfortable career abruptly ended by a revolution his learning had not taught him to expect. He dislikes the “Red” regime most heartily and shares the U.S. State Department’s attitude toward it.

The purpose of his book, Dr. Cressy tells us, is to furnish historical background for current Chinese events and thus facilitate understanding of them. Alas, his history is largely of the barren textbook variety, revealing little of the dynamics of historic progression. But by squeezing a wealth of fact into the framework of arbitrary interpretive constructions he comes up with a thesis to the effect that “Communism” is a kind of maverick current running counter to the mainstream of Chinese history and therefore has no future.

It thus appears that Dr. Cressy, under the guise of scholarship, has engaged in politics – the politics of counter-revolution. The real purpose of his book is to provide an ideological basis for those politics.

There is a rather startling lapse from the correct Christian attitude of brotherly love for the heathen in one of the chapter headings: Mao Mobilizes Rural Riffraff. The riffraff were landless peasants or oppressed tenant farmers who dared to covet land that could only be obtained by dispossessing the landlords.

Like Senator Knowland, Dr. Cressy pins his hopes for a counter-revolution in China on Chiang Kai-shek. Formosa, he says, “remains of great value as a symbol of freedom ... hidden in the hearts of millions ... who have learned to hate the communist regime.”

How a military-police dictatorship can be a symbol of freedom is something Dr. Cressy does not try to explain.

No Dogs in China
by William Kinmond
Thomas Nelson and Sons, New York 1957. 211 pp. $4.95.

Why are there no dogs in China, except for a very few pets owned by the still well-to-do and obliged by law to be kept under strict control? The author, a Canadian newspaperman, asked the question of his Chinese interpreter in Peking. The reply, as he reports it: “They were all killed when the U.S. started germ warfare in Korea. We found the dogs were carriers of the germs so we had to destroy them.”

The author, incredulous, said to the interpreter: “Surely you don’t believe that there was any truth to the reports of germ warfare. You are too intelligent a person to swallow that propaganda.” He found that the interpreter was indeed quite serious.

Since he cannot accept the germ warfare charge, our newsman opines that the dogs were really exterminated because they consumed food needed by the people in a country chronically short of food. With a better knowledge of China he would have been aware that, except for the privately kept pets of the few rich, China’s huge dog population consisted of hordes of starving, mangy, often hairless curs, abounding in every city, town and village. They never in any way significantly diminished the human food supply, for as homeless scavengers they subsisted on garbage – garbage that under Chiang Kai-shek’s regime had already been picked over by homeless human scavengers. Their extermination was a necessary measure, regardless of the truth about germ warfare.

The chapter on dogs, which gives the book its title, is one of a number of articles on various aspects of life in present-day China which Kinmond wrote for the Toronto Globe and Mail in the course of a two-month visit in the spring of 1957 and which he rehashed and embellished for publication in book form.

In a preface, our newsman assures us that “to the best of my ability as a newspaperman” the book is “an unbiased and accurate account of how 650 million Chinese are faring under a Communist regime.” The book, however, exudes bias. What’s perhaps worse, it is permeated with the spirit of condescension that always marked the imperialist attitude toward China. Thus, on the train trip to Canton from Hongkong, Kinmond refers to the “mouthings” coming over the train’s radio. Though the loudspeakers were “spouting I knew not what (I) could only assume it was propaganda.” Quite a nice, friendly, unbiased attitude with which to begin his tour behind the “Bamboo Curtain”!

His first interpreter, in Canton, was a Miss Fen, he tells us. She is the subject of another typically friendly appraisal:

“Her white bobby socks and low-heeled shoes did nothing to generate an illusion that she had even a trace of the legendary oriental feminine charm. These vital statistics are not, however, an effective measure of the unbounded energy of this product of the new China whose precise, stilted English was acquired from a textbook at the University of Shanghai.”

This, if you please, from a man totally ignorant of the Chinese language!

Taking note of these and other examples of the author’s objectivity, the reader will approach his reporting with the needed reserve. He saw the ancient city of Peking, with its wealth of artistic, architectural and scenic wonders as a mere “brassy veneer” overlaying a backward, dirty, ugly country. He doesn’t actually say that all Chinese looked alike to him, but he gets pretty close to it with the inane remark that “in Peking all intersections appear to look alike and, in fact, do.”

Accustomed to the conservative Western diet of Toronto, he evidently felt that Chinese food, like China and its people, were inferior. He found meals no problem in the Peking hotels, where, thank goodness, “a fair attempt is made to provide European-style food as a change from Chinese, which is all that can be obtained outside the hotels.” But the menus, for the benefit of linguistic ignoramuses like himself, were printed in English, Russian and Chinese – something he’d never find in Toronto, or even New York or London.

Kinmond repeats the well-worn idiocy that “Communism ... is alien to the Chinese nature.” Yet the story of mankind is largely one of changing social habits, which is what the author means by “nature.” He himself bears witness to this when he reports the “almost painful honesty of the people of China. It is practically impossible to persuade them even to accept a tip, especially if they are employed by the government.” Yet before the 1949 overturn foreigners in China were wont to remark that tipping and petty graft were second nature to the Chinese! Eventually, the Chinese may even get rid of the national spitting habit which Kinmond, like most other visitors, finds so obnoxious.

With so much to object to in the new China, it is a little surprising to find the author making, at the end of his book, summary acknowledgment of the revolution’s accomplishments. The currency has been stabilized, official corruption has been ended. Prostitution has disappeared, so have the swarms of beggars.

“There is the beginning of an efficient public-health service in China; new railways are being constructed and old ones rebuilt, a new industrial base is being constructed well inland, less vulnerable to military attack; a long-range program is under way to control the country’s rivers.”

The unified country has acquired a national pride never known before.

Our newsman merely confirms here the observations of many others. Stagnation has given way to life and movement. Yet the author denies specific credit to the revolution.

“With or without them (the Communists) it seems reasonable to assume that some progress would have been made during the years since the revolution. No country, not even China, can stand still.”

But during the twenty-year dispensation of Chiang Kai-shek China did, economically and socially, stand still. Incidentally, it is the author’s ignorance of pre-revolutionary China that prevents him from appraising properly, i.e. comparatively, the progress that has been made.

Kinmond found China a veritable beehive of activity in all spheres of economic, social and cultural life. Despite this, he finds it possible to declare that life for the Chinese people “is a dreary affair.” There are no nightclubs or honky-tonks, no strip-tease shows, no Hollywood extravaganzas. In short – no fun!

Hongkong, where he spent all of forty-three hours, was much more attractive to our sophisticated Canadian reporter. It had “bright lights, gaiety, music, pretty girls, good food, and comfortable hotels – all the things in life we of the Western world have come to view as commonplace.”

Hongkong also has abysmal slums. Most of the teeming Chinese population live in terrible poverty. The prostitution of young girls is a large-scale, organized racket tolerated by the government of the British crown colony. There, too, a system of actual child slavery known as mui tsai is still practiced. This side of Hongkong’s visage our author apparently did not concern himself to see or report.


Last updated on 22.5.2005