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The Short History of the Cultural Revolution Left People with Bewilderment and Confusion


The Short History of the Cultural Revolution Left People with Bewilderment and Confusion

By Zhao Shukai, Research Fellow and Director-General of Information Center, DRC

In his later years, Ji Dengkui (1923-1988. During his lifetime, he served as the Vice Premier of the Central Government and worked as a Research Fellow of the Rural Development Research Center of the State Council – translator’s notes)seldom mentioned that he had given some people a hard time during the Cultural Revolution. But I once heard him talking about that by chance.

In summer 1987, when I was making a field survey in southwest China, I learned that a conference held in Xi’an, capital city of Shaanxi Province, invited Ji Dengkui and me to attend and we gladly promised. Then I began to arrange the journey. As Ji was unwilling to take the plane, we could only go there by rail. But the thing was there was no direct train to Xi’an, and we had to make a stopover in Zhengzhou (capital city of Henan province) and transfer to another train to Xi’an. He hesitated for two days to go or not to go, and then told me that he decided not to go to Xi’an to attend the conference.” One day when we took a walk after dinner, he told me why he had cancelled the trip to Xi’an. He said: “If we make a stopover in Zhengzhou, I would stay there for two days to meet some of my old friends. But if I make a transfer and leave Zhengzhou on the same day, I would be laughed at by some of them. They would say, ‘Look at this guy. He passed Zhengzhou without the courage to make a stop. What a fun.’”I asked who would do so to him. He said: “During the Cultural Revolution, I offended some people in Henan, especially some of my colleagues and some veteran officials. Since I was liberated earlier and held an official post for quite some time, they had expected me to lend them a favor, but I failed to do and even reproved some of them. In this case, it would be a problem for me to stay or not to stay in Zhengzhou. So just forget about it.” And in our talk, he also told me some of his experience during the Cultural Revolution when he worked in Henan Province.

Part One

In my view, the fact that Ji Dengkui once offended or even “persecuted” some people can be explained from two perspectives.

On one hand, it means offending people in the common sense, or he offended many people. This is due to the reason that he took sides with Mao Zedong in supporting the launch of the Cultural Revolution which could be proved by Ji’s speech made at the 9th CPC National Congress held from April 1-24, 1969. He had mentioned on different occasions that his above-mentioned speech and Mao’s compliments to him had aroused general resentment among veteran officials. Briefly speaking, Ji Dengkui mouthed many fine words about the Cultural Revolution in his speech which had given ethical support for attacking veteran officials, thus causing general aversion to him.

On the other hand, it means offending people in a special sense, or offending them in different cases. Over the seven to eight years after the 9th CPC National Congress in 1969, Ji had been responsible for personnel arrangement in the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, offering solution to some procuratorial, judicial and public security issues and the treatment of some special cases. Sometimes one case would drag many people into investigation and even punishment, including both veteran officials and common people. Take the case of Lin Biao for example. It is believed that tens of thousands of people got involved in his case. Such kind of offense is obviously specific and profound. Some veteran officials’ criticism and grudge to Ji Dengkui mainly derived from the treatment of these specific cases.

The speech made on April 14, 1969 at the 9th CPC National Congress was Ji’s debut on China’s high-level political arena and marked his offense to many senior officials. This speech was directly arranged by Mao Zedong. But Ji had no idea before the Congress that he was going to speak on the occasion. On April 11, Mao asked Wu Faxian to tell Ji to make a speech at the conference on April 13 on behalf of revolutionary leading cadres. Ji said he had tried to reject this proposal, stressing that he had inadequate qualifications and limited record of service in revolutionary work and was removed from office in the initial period of the Cultural Revolution. As he had just been given freedom by Mao Zedong, he was unqualified to represent revolutionary leading cadres to speak. However, Mao noticed him for the second time through Wu Faxian and insisted: “What I want is exactly a representative from liberated cadres”, requiring Ji to “mainly talk about how to correctly treat the mass movement within 10 minutes”. We cannot understand why on such an important occasion of the CPC National Congress, Mao would merely tell Ji Dengkui two days in advance to speak at the conference. Was this out of Mao’s confidence in controlling progress of the conference, or was it a hasty decision in response to the situation of the conference.

While Ji spoke at the 9th CPC National Congress, Mao presided over the meeting. Mao introduced to deputies: “His name is Ji Dengkui, my old friend from Shanxi Province. He has long been working in Henan and experienced some sufferings, some sufferings indeed.” Ji said in his speech: “This proletarian Cultural Revolution is a big event and I have learned a lot. Prior to the Cultural Revolution, I did not take a proper approach toward the study of Mao Zedong Thought and was not mentally prepared for the socialist revolution. As a result, I made quite a few mistakes in my work. During the Cultural Revolution, I have been criticized and corrected by the revolutionary masses, and experienced a large-scale campaign of class struggle.” “Originally, I could not understand Chairman Mao’s theory of continuing revolution under the condition of proletarian dictatorship. When the revolutionary masses put me in the target, my soul was touched. The more I was touched, the more I had learned; the deeper I was touched, the deeper I could understand Chairman Mao’s theory. With the patient help of the revolutionary masses, I no longer hesitated to press forward and collected more courage to face difficulties and gradually raised my awareness in following Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line.” “In September 1967 when Chairman Mao made an inspection tour in south China, he passed by Zhengzhou where I worked. Though I made mistakes, great leader Chairman Mao gave me a lot of encouragement. I told Chairman Mao that I had been greatly beneficiated through the criticism by the masses.” “I am speaking honestly from my mind. I deeply appreciate that Chairman Mao cares most about veteran cadres.” “The revolutionary mass campaigns eliminated the ill habits of bureaucrats to act like overlords, criticized the wrong doings of the bourgeoisie, and allowed officials to learn how to continue revolution under socialist conditions, how to steadfastly implement Chairman Mao’s instructions and how to correctly treat the masses. Isn’t this highly beneficial? I think I can be considered a veteran cadre. From now on, I will be more modest and cautious in my work, be strict with myself in accordance with the new Party Constitution, remold myself with the weapon of self-criticism and the method of earnest study as instructed by Chairman Mao to make myself live up to the expectations of the Party and revolution.” Finally, Ji Dengkui shouted loudly “Let us follow closely great leader Chairman Mao to seize victory!” With that, warm applause came from the deputies with Mao Zedong taking the lead.

The 9th CPC National Congress brought great returns to Ji Dengkui. Later at the First Plenum of the 9th CPC Central Committee, Ji was nominated as an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee by Mao Zedong in person, and Mao asked Zhou Enlai to assign Ji Dengkui to work in the central government. It had never occurred to Ji Denkui that he would become a member of the Political Bureau though he had some connections with Mao. He revealed that before attending the 9th CPC National Congress in Beijing, he was already a senior official in Henan Province and he thought it was possible for him to become an alternate member of the CPC Central Committee only.

Ji Dengkui seemed to have an ambivalent feeling toward this part of history relating to his attendance to the 9th CPC National Congress. On one hand, his words were filled with pride; on the other hand, sometimes there was a sense of self-accusation. He said: “Chairman Mao kept praising me that I could correctly treat mass movement wherever he visited. Such publicity was not so favorable for my work. The veteran carders had suffered a lot in the Cultural Revolution and were quite resentful at the way they were treated. When Mao asked them to learn from me, they would suffer all the more.” It was after Mao’s praise to him about his proper attitude toward mass movement that Ji was openly denounced. As he often mentioned it was beneficial and necessary for him to be criticized by the masses, his words were used by the top leaders’ policy as an excuse to start mass campaigns. Shortly after Ji was transferred to work in the central government, he naturally became a direct performer of Mao Zedong’s will and power. During the Party’s rectification campaign in 1983, Ji often mentioned that his speech “had exerted extremely bad influence on the entire Party.”

Part Two

Ji Dengkui’s speech made at the 9th CPC National Congress firmly shored up the policy for purging officials during the Cultural Revolution. This kind of offense was supposed to have offended veteran cadres in general, but not in special cases. Evidently, such offense did not constitute the main cause for Ji to be denounced at the 3rd Plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee; the major reason was he had really offended some people. During the Cultural Revolution, Ji was assigned to be responsible for the work of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, dealing with some major cases and giving orders to punish a number of officials. However, it is still hard to say how he had offended people and whom had been offended.

When I worked in No. 9 Courtyard (office location for the Rural Development Research Center of the State Council – translator’s notes) in Beijing, I had a colleague and people called him Lao Zhang (a way of addressing people for intimacy or informality), and he used to work in the Central Organization Department and had some working experience there when Ji was the head of the Department. He told me: “The Minister of the Department at that time was Guo Yufeng, while Ji Dengkui, a member of the Political Bureau, was responsible for the work of the Department. To us, Ji was the real leader of the Central Organization Department because he represented the central leadership. Orders from the central leadership were issued through Ji to the Department and the Department’s documents and reports were sent to the central leadership through Ji after his review and approval.” “Since I worked in one of the major offices of the Organization Department, I often received instructions from Ji, most of which were about appointments and removal of officials. Sometimes I also directly got calls from Ji’s office. At that time, an ordinary clerk as I was, there was a “red-coloured phone” (the confidential phone) on my desk, direly linking to the office of the central leadership. Normally speaking, only official at or above vice-minister level could have the right to use red-coloured phones. The appointment procedures at that time ran like this: if a vice minister was to be appointed, the Organization Department would report to Ji Dengkui first, and after Ji gave his approval the report would be sent respectively to members of the Political Bureau for their consent and then a document was issued for formal appointment. If a minister was to be appointed, apart from all the above-mentioned procedures, Mao Zedong would give the final approval for the appointment. Mao’s instruction experienced several changes. Initially, Mao Zedong himself would sign his approval with red-and-blue pencils. Later, his health became poor so he would only draw a circle on the name of the appointed person to show his approval. Finally, he could not hold the pencil and draw the circle and Mao’s secretary Zhang Yufeng would write ‘agreed upon Chairman Mao’s approval’. This kind of documents would often go through my hands. The work of the Organization Department was inseparable from approval by the central leadership and all office work was centered on central approval. When Ji Dengkui held the post as Vice Premier of the State Council, he was in charge of the work of the Organization Department for seven to eight years, and he was also responsible for agricultural affairs. In my mind Ji was very capable and he enjoyed quite high prestige in the Organization Department.”

Lao Zhang also told me that the selection of officials at that time was usually instructed by Ji Dengkui in person or through his secretary and then the Organization Department would arrange observation of relevant cadres. “Once, Ji gave instruction to make a check on a person who was to be appointed a vice minister. It so happened that there were several people with the same name in the central departments. It took us a lot of efforts to finally find the related man.” Lao Zhang told me another similar story. “The observation and appointment of Vice Premier Wu Guixian made a deep impression on me. It was before the opening of the 4th National Congress in 1975. On September 30, 1974, Ji made an instruction, requiring to check on Wu Guixian, according to an order given by the central leadership. We immediately sent two investigators to No. 1 State-owned Textile Factory in Shaanxi Province where Wu Guixian worked and solicited opinions from the workers about Wu’s performance. But workers in the factory were divided into two factions, some said Wu was a good worker, but some mouthed bad words against her. In this way, it became quite difficult for the investigators to give their comment. After careful consideration, they decided to write the good points about Wu as the central leadership wanted to promote this worker. Therefore, the views in the inspection report was basically positive. Once finished, the report was submitted to Ji Dengkui. Later, Wu Guixian was appointed the Vice Premier of the State Council. Until then did we come to know we were checking a candidate for a vice premier. The vice premiers formally appointed by the National Congress also included Sun Jian, a worker from Tianjin Municipality, and Chen Yonggui, a farmer from Shanxi Province.”

I think if the archives of the central organization about personnel arrangement during the Cultural Revolution could be made open, and the instructions ever made by Ji Dengkui about how many people had been persecuted could be laid bare, it would be possible for us to know how many people had suffered because of Ji. But the problem is that those instructions that had made so many people suffer may not all be made by Ji Dengkui, but in many cases by higher policy-makers. On many occasions Ji had to carry out the decisions of the top leaders. If all archives are decoded, on the basis of “big data” backed by the information technology, it is not difficult to clarify the process of how people suffered at that time and many researchers would be interested in conducting such studies. Yet the relevant archives under current circumstances cannot be made public and some cases remain to be cleared in the future.

Part Three

Due to the power in his hands, Ji Dengkui had obviously made many people suffer during the Cultural Revolution. When we talked about the past, Ji seldom mentioned those events and even if we touched upon some of the cases during the Cultural Revolution he would give a very brief description, leaving a young man like me in bafflement.

When Mme. Zhang Hanzhi worked at the No. 9 Courtyard, she sometimes mentioned how Ji Dengkui had made people suffer during the Cultural Revolution. For quite a few years, she taught Mao Zedong’s English and later she got married with Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua, and then she became head of the Department of Asian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry in the later period of the Cultural Revolution. In late 1980s, she was transferred from the Foreign Ministry to the Rural Development Research Center of the State Council at No. 9 Courtyard in Beijing and was in charge of the foreign affairs office for international cooperation. In winter 1976, Qiao Guanhua was abruptly removed from the position of foreign minister. It was said that this was because Qiao followed the Gang of Four. People believed that something was wrong with his speech made at the UN assembly, and the fundamental problem was that Qiao was deemed as a political ally of the Gang of Four. Zhang Hanzhi said the reason why Qiao Guanhua was suddenly removed from his post and taken into custody for observation was mainly due to the instruction made by Ji Dengkui. Zhang herself was separated for investigation for some time and was put in an office on the first floor at the western side of the Foreign Ministry Building. When Qiao Guanhua was put in custody, his bodyguard turned into his guard of the cell, who would even check a single piece of paper flushed in the toilet. Such custody and investigation lasted for over a year. Zhang Hanzhi mentioned that the Foreign Ministry “dealt with” her and Qiao Guanhua mainly according to Ji Dengkui’s instruction. After Ji moved to work at the Rural Development Research Center of the State Council at No. 9 Courtyard, she told her colleagues for many times she wanted to ask Ji why she and her husband suffered so much during the Cultural Revolution. Alas, now both Ji Dengkui and Zhang Hanzhi have passed away, and we have no idea whether Zhang had asked Ji this question or not during their lifetime.

In his memoir, Zhang Aiping, the late minister of the Ministry of National Defense, mentioned how Ji Dengkui had persecuted him in the later period of the Cultural Revolution. Zhang Aiping was removed from his post in the initial period of the Cultural Revolution and was taken in custody for many years thereafter. After Deng Xiaoping was reinstated to lead the State Council, Zhang served as the head of the Commission of Science,Technology and Industry for National Defense. In 1975, according to Deng’s instructions, Zhang Aiping carried out rectification in the military industry system and criticized the Cultural Revolution on many occasions, saying “no peaceful days for nine consecutive years since the launch of the Cultural Revolution”. As a result, some people from rebel groups maintained that Zhang had pursued a “Right opportunist line” as he had said that “the present has no comparison with the past” and they directly reported that to Mao Zedong. Accordingly Mao was not happy to hear that and asked Zhang Aiping to attend a meeting held by CPC Central Committee. Attending the meeting were members of the Political Bureau and Vice Premiers, Hua Guofeng, Li Xiannian, Ji Dengkui and some others. It was mainly Ji Dengkui who couched Zhang in harsh terms. He accused him of “being dishonest and betraying the revolutionary line”. Hua Guofeng presided over the meeting, but said nothing except a few words only. He said that he felt surprised at Zhang’s mistake and he hoped that Zhang could have some time to think about his mistakes. Hua Guofeng’s mild words really saved Zhang from the predicament. (Coming from the War by Zhang Sheng, Page 379, China Youth Press)

People offended by Ji Dengkui included both central and local leaders. Many people took offence at him in Henan Province. During the 3rd Plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee, Deng Xiaoping once mentioned that it would take people in Henan over a year to solicit Ji Dengkui’s mistakes and it would be better for us to focus our effort on agricultural production. Although Ji Dengkui was transferred to work in the central government after the convention of the 9th CPC National Congress held in 1969, he was still head of the Henan Provincial Party Committee as a member of the Political Bureau. That is why what he had said and done was so influential in Henan Province.

In June 1984, during the Party’s rectification campaign of incorrect styles of work or thinking, Ji Dengkui made a self-criticism. He said that during the Cultural Revolution, he gave unprincipled support to a mass organization and failed to get different factional groups united due to his own factionalism. He said that in the initial stage of the Cultural Revolution in Henan, he committed many serious mistakes, and many veteran cadres were wronged and some were even persecuted. By supporting one group, he helped to suppress another group, which had led to superficial unification. Factionalism was not eliminated, but took root in the Party and began to be legalized in the system.

After Ji was promoted to be a member of the Political Bureau in spring 1969 and worked in the central government, he still held a post as the Vice Chairman of Henan Provincial Revolution Committee in Henan Province for as long as eight years until the end of the Cultural Revolution. Such an arrangement is quite difficult to be understood from the present point of view. At that time, Liu Jianxun was the Chairman of Henan Provincial Revolution Committee. Liu had been on good terms with Ji Dengkui. Many major arrangements and decisions were jointly made by them. However, Ji had exerted much impact on Liu. For example, after the Tiananmen Incident in spring 1976 and after the Gang of Four were ousted from the Party in autumn 1976, Ji Dengkui had whispered relevant central decisions to Liu Jianxun and advised him how to appropriately respond to the situation.

Either in private talks or at the Party’s conferences, Ji was frank with his responsibilities for the unjustified treatment of cadres in Henan Province during the Cultural Revolution. Quite a few officials in Henan were dissatisfied with Ji, with too many details to be expounded. Among them, the wrong treatment of Wang Xin, former Senior Vice Chairman of the Provincial Party Committee, is a case in point. Later Mao Zedong changed his views on Ji and began to untrust him and the reason was that Wang Xin had told Mao how he had been unequally treated by Ji Dengkui. It so happened that after some time Wang Xin got examined and arrested due to Ji’s purposeful arrangement. It proved many wrong cases in which veteran cadres were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution were related to Ji Dengkui.

Part Four

When it comes to Ji Dengkui’s conduct of persecuting people in the Cultural Revolution, another fact should be mentioned about the relationship between Ji Dengkui and Kang Sheng.

After the closing of the 2nd Plenum of the 9th CPC Central Committee in 1970, Kang Sheng was no longer responsible for the work of the Central Organization Department, and the job was given to Ji Dengkui who used to be an assistant to Kang Sheng in the management of the Central Organization Department’s work. However, after Ji took his place, Kang Sheng, as he was the Vice Chairman of CPC Central Committee, remained Ji’s immediate superior and Ji still had to keep close contact with Kang and got working instructions from Kang Sheng. Ji said, after the Party’s Lushan (Mount Lu) Conference held in July 1959, Kang Sheng seldom attended meetings of the Political Bureau due to poor health, but some thought differently. Kang appreciated Ji’s abilities and they kept close working contacts until Kang died in 1975. After the Cultural Revolution, the CPC Central Party Committee gave a comment on Kang Sheng, saying that Kang was a sinister and crafty man and he dealt with a large number of personnel cases in which many veteran cadres were wrongly punished and some of the cases can even be traced back to Yan’an period in the 1940s when Kang was in charge of personnel work. Viewing from this fact, Ji Dengkui’s mistakes were closely related to Kang Sheng as he had worked as an assistant to Kang Sheng.

Generally speaking, amidst the political vortex during the Cultural Revolution, people involved in political events could be categorized into two kinds: some were persecutors and some were persecuted and few people could stand aloof from that. Usually those in power suppressed others while those out of power were suppressed. As a man in office as well as a member of the Political Bureau in charge of personnel organization, Ji Dengkui certainly belonged to persecutors. According to Ji, he was directly responsible for some wrong cases, but under some circumstances the decisions or instructions were made by higher level leaders and he had to obey these orders. But he explained that without him, some cadres might have received even more harsh treatment. In other words, he had to some extent protected them. However, in the eyes of outsiders and even those involved, such explanation was unconvincing. Ji revealed that he had shouldered some undue responsibilities either for higher-level leaders or for leaders who were still in office. The result of doing so was no bad to Ji Dengkui, and could even win him praise from some of these leaders. Ji made it clear that he was acting as the scapegoat for others. However, it is unclear as to what cases he should be held responsible and what he should bear the blame for others. In a sense, he did so in order to protect himself.

Maybe there is no way now for us to find out how many people on earth had been suppressed by Ji Dengkui during the Cultural Revolution, let alone which decisions were directly made by him and which were made by the senior leaders. It is believed that this kind of persecution is related to both institutional arrangements and individual behavior. With institutional and individual factors intertwined with each other, it has become extremely difficult to distinguish pros and cons.

Note: The article was published in China Development Observation, No. 10, Nov. 5, 2015