Journal of International Affairs

Editor's Foreward

"...more people are concerned about the present than about recollections of the past." 1

Astrophysicist and dissident Fang Lizhi in a letter to Deng Xiaoping

Judging from reports by many Western observers (and some Chinese), the central government in Beijing is continually setting new precedents in authoritarian rule. From tighter censorship of foreign information and business-news services, to the re-internment of dissident Wei Jinsheng and the renewed military and rhetorical posturing over Taiwan, China is habitually seen as redrawing the basic conditions of Deng Xiaoping's greater openness with the outside world.

At the time of writing, the common view in Western reports from China is that the pendulum of political tolerance may be swinging back toward heightened repression, with top-tier Party officials increasingly pandering to a more vocal Chinese nationalism. For instance, the current revival of anti-corruption campaigns are justified less in terms of upholding Party authority and more in terms of improving national stability.

Western states, on the other hand, are portrayed by China watchers as being forced to react to Beijing's policy decisions or, at worst, as being caught unawares. The West's position often seems to be one of fending off an imagined, impending disaster, namely the power struggle which may occur after Deng's death is announced. In the meantime, few other states are less conducive to conjecture by outside observers. Few other countries also have China's potential to alter international stability, whether politically or economically, which is one of the few predictions that most China observers agree is possible. Yet, few other countries also have so many opportunities to expand further within world markets and play a new, decisive role in multilateral institutions.

The Journal's China issue in Winter 1986 focused on the optimism of the central planners' sweeping economic reforms, at a time when Party dogma was being replaced by talk of entrepreneurialism and profit incentives. Our aim ten years later is to reevaluate the forces behind China's continual changes, in an era when Western optimism for China is increasingly dissipating.

Much of the West's weakening enthusiasm stems from the apparent randomness of the Politburo's decisions. This, however, is often exaggerated by Western commentators. The Party's seemingly arbitrary rule may be just as easily characterized as calculated domestic consensus building. For instance, the ability of President Jiang Zemin to maintain power, apparently at the expense of Prime Minister Li Peng, has also meant having to keep any political ambitions of the People's Liberation Army under control. Even the death last year of Communist party octogenarian Chen Yun, a potential rival to Deng Xiaoping, helped affirm the continuation of Deng's program of economic reforms and discourage any lingering opposition by some conservative ideologues within the Party.

Larger societal factors, including widening regional and economic disparities, also have an increasingly strong bearing on the central government's policies. Among these factors is the issue of China's political dissidents, who are viewed as either the tip of the iceberg of the country's antagonism to the government or perhaps an elitist group set apart from average Chinese, the latter being closer to the Communist party's view.

Much has occurred in China within the past ten years. Yet, the present state of Chinese foreign and domestic policy is not merely an aftereffect of the post-Tiananmen crackdown on political dissent, just as Deng's economic reforms in the 1980s were not simply a remedy for the ills following the Cultural Revolution. Many of the basic societal and political changes in China have transcended these eras. It is these fundamental groundswell changes that the Journal has attempted to incorporate in its look at China today.

In putting together this issue, the editors of the Journal are indebted to many individuals for their generous assistance. We would especially like to thank the following people for their guidance: Andrew Nathan at Columbia University; David Shambaugh, editor of The China Quarterly and senior lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; Agnès Gaudu at Amnesty International; Sophia Woodman at Human Rights in China and Michael Yahuda at the London School of Economics.

We would also like to thank John Ruggie, dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, for his support, as well as Joan Turner and Penny Zaleta for their help. Our editorial assistants deserve a warm thanks for their vital input and expertise, and many thanks to Yuan Xue and Judy Chen, along with Min San Co, for their excellent translation work. But mostly, we are forever indebted to Harpreet Mahajan and Jeremy Blumenfeld for their technical assistance with production.

Finally, a note on the use of the pinyin system for romanizing Chinese words: Throughout most of the issue, the Journal is following pinyin, the system officially used by the mainland Chinese government and increasingly becoming the most common system for romanizing Chinese words in Western literature. However, we have made exceptions with some names far more familiar to Western readers in Wade-Giles form, such as Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang. We are also following the pinyin rule of surname-first, given name-last, except when authors have requested to have their names appear in the Western word order.

Note 1: Fang Lizhi, "Letter to Deng Xiaoping," in Beijing Spring, 1989: Confrontation and Conflict: The Basic Documents, eds. Michel Oksenberg, Lawrence R. Sullivan and Marc Lambert (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1990) p. 167. Back.