How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
There is no major political system today about which we have less data and fewer meaningful facts than that of Communist China. Yet decisions which will shape our diplomacy, and more concretely our military establishment, for years ahead must be made in the light of what we now surmise to be the Chinese people's character and dynamics. Inescapably we fall back upon abstractions and gross generalizations.
True, Peking's wall of secretiveness does not hide everything, and time does bring corrections as seasoned observers constantly reassess Chinese behavior over the years. One can glean much from the reports dispersed by Peking, from reading between the lines of the Chinese Communist press, and from interviewing people in Hong Kong with first-hand experience in different parts of the mainland. The danger is that such limited scraps of information may bulk too large in the interpretations we try to make of something as complex as Chinese Communism. In the end there is no escaping the fact that our perception of China must be distorted to some extent by the existence of the Bamboo Curtain.
Attempts to surmise the realities of Chinese political development are not limited only by a shortage of data; there is also the larger problem of trying to set appropriate standards for judging Chinese performance. Within what larger historical context should we place Communist China in our effort to get a clearer idea of the patterns in its current development? What assumptions can we safely make about its longer-range prospects? And in considering our own policy responses, how fatalistically should we observe the glacial movements of the Chinese as they advance from forming one-quarter of the world's population to being one-half, and from being weak and disorganized to being united and assertive?
Chinese realities might be viewed from one of several wide perspectives. Should we, for example, think of China as one of the developing countries of the Afro-Asian world in a transitional stage as it moves out of a traditional order into the modern world? If so, we could compare and contrast Chinese experiences with those of currently underdeveloped countries like India, Indonesia and Egypt. That approach, however, would have been more appropriate to the China of the 1910s, 1920s and even the 1930s. In the 1960s it seems that China has reached a point beyond that of any of the other underdeveloped countries we know, and although she is far from conquering her massive problems she is now moving on uncharted seas.
The Chinese case is also somewhat different because it involves the political development of a society which at one time represented one of the great civilizations of the world. Do we still put China within the context of earlier historical evolution and see it as moving out of a period of confusion and entering another period of stability and order under a new dynasty? Or do we see China breaking entirely with its earlier history and becoming a new type of civilization? How do we treat the problems of continuity and change? To pose this question is to realize the difficulty of getting a disciplined basis for analyzing the current trends of Chinese political development.
Another approach is to view China as a Communist system and in the grip of a totalitarian order. This again raises a host of new questions because we do not know how strong are the sources of this system of enveloping controls, nor do we know the strength of the forces which may in time erode it away. Also, were we to focus solely on the Communist aspects of the country's development, we might lose perspective on the qualities which are essentially Chinese. It is inviting, of course, to engage in a systematic comparison of Chinese and Russian Communism; but this is an extremely ambitious task that calls for deep knowledge of both societies and both systems if we are to avoid superficiality.
Even setting aside larger historical issues for a moment and concentrating on contemporary short-run trends, we still face many problems due to our shortage of information and lack of perspective for evaluating Chinese performance. How far should we go in characterizing the Chinese Communist leaders as aggressive, reckless and irresponsible (as the Russians would have us believe)? How far should we attribute foolish fanaticism to them, as indicated by the Great Leap? How far should we consider them sober and skilled manipulators of their society, as demonstrated during their recovery from the follies of the Great Leap? How seriously should we credit them with a capacity to reach out into the underdeveloped areas of Africa and Latin America and spread revolutionary movements there? How much should we discount their pretentious and bluster? How far should we go in extrapolating their recent growth in terms of real power?
Numerous stereotypes of the Peking régime bid for our attention, each holding some element of truth. A composite of all these stereotypes would give an image made up of a host of contradictions. We would see a régime that seems committed to reckless and violent acts at one moment and capable of cautious, patient man?uvre at the next.
If, however, we ignore the stereotypes and turn for counsel to professional observers of Chinese developments over the last decade, a somewhat different picture takes shape; we are shown a China which is perhaps more balanced, more consistent. The more we give central attention to the modest but persistent pattern of domestic development, the more the extremes of Chinese behavior fade in significance. China then appears to have a calculating régime which is trying in a more or less intelligent fashion to build up slowly the basis for national unity and strength. Among those who construct what we shall call this "prudence model" of Communist China, there is a tendency to stress that while the leaders in Peking have made mistakes and have committed numerous follies they are not madmen and they have a capacity to learn. Basic to the prudence model is the belief that Communist ideology, fully and blithely accepted, does from time to time inspire and confuse the Chinese leaders into evil and stupid acts, but that, whenever doctrine does not get the upper hand, Chinese behavior is eminently intelligent, ingenious and rational. By sharply compartmentalizing ideology and rationality in this Jekyll-and-Hyde manner, the prudence model isolates, and in a sense discounts as aberrations, the more shocking Chinese actions.
In this view, while the régime is deeply committed to a Marxist-Leninist- Maoist approach, while it does want to expand its influence wherever possible, and while it is committed to building both a socialist revolution and Chinese national power, it is essentially rational in seeking these goals and not prone to taking excessive risks.
This view of Communist China, arising from close study of domestic developments, is heavily influenced by judgments about the prospects of the Chinese economy. Specifically, it takes account of the fact that the Chinese do not possess any magic in the economic realm and will have to settle for the modest gains that come from growth through compound interest. The nature of economic development being what it is, we understandably have found it easier to arrive at realistic appreciations of China's economic possibilities than of its political ones. Since limits of what can possibly happen to the Chinese economy are fairly well set, it is tempting to assume that Chinese political developments will follow along analogous lines, overlooking the fact that the economic possibilities are more circumscribed than are the political possibilities.
The prudence model probably also reflects the rationality and sobriety of the analysts who have constructed it. In trying to make sense out of what the Chinese have done and are likely to do, they feel compelled to search out reasonable explanations; and in trying to put themselves in the shoes of the Chinese decision-makers, they readily appreciate the need to adopt the presumed values and ideological perspectives of the Communists, but find it difficult to shed their own concepts of pragmatic reasoning and common sense.
Above all, the prudence model reflects the fact that it is easier to foresee the fulfillment of ordinary trends than to predict the extraordinary. Thus even though the past 15 years have been filled with unexpected Chinese actions, the tendency is to expect to find a more routine China in future. Before the Chinese attacked India, for instance, this did not seem a likely possibility. Similarly, it was difficult to foresee something as extreme as the Great Leap.
Despite these qualifications, it is tempting to settle upon the prudence model of Chinese Communism, pointing out that extreme developments may possibly occur, but then focusing attention on the orderly political development within China which might go hand in hand with economic recovery. Admittedly, it is artificial to place such stress on rationality, since no political system is particularly rational; yet it still is a useful way of deflating the bombastic language which the Chinese enjoy employing and of reminding ourselves of the severe limits of Chinese power. Further, the rationality-prudence model would seem even more relevant if China were to suffer a setback in Viet Nam and thus experience one more frustration in a relatively uninterrupted series of foreign-policy defeats.
Even if for the moment we accept some variation of this model as a reasonable approximation of Chinese decision-making, we would do well to be prepared for unexpected changes. Just now there is a relative lull in Chinese domestic political developments, but this is not likely to last indefinitely. In the past, the rhythm of Chinese politics has been an almost frantic movement from one trauma to another; thus the present lull is by no means normal.
Various features of the current situation likewise suggest that the régime is in a state of precarious equilibrium and that some forms of change are almost certain. To suggest significant changes is not at all to forecast a collapse of the present system. Communism will not miraculously disappear from the largest country in the world. But though Communist China is here to stay, what Communist China is like is certainly going to change greatly. Let us now examine some of the factors making for instability.
The first and most conspicuous reason to expect significant change in China is the inordinate age of the ruling circle. Mao Tsetung himself is not only old but also feeble in health. There are many indications that over the last year the system has lost some of its resilience simply because decision-making at the top has been so slow. It is not, however, merely that Mao will pass from the scene in the not-too-distant future, but that the entire top leadership is also of much the same generation. No other government in the world is now ruled by so old a group of men. The average age of the Politburo is 68. Significant changes in a large number of top posts will come in the foreseeable future.
The Peking leadership is strikingly self-conscious about the imminent passing of their generation. Ever since Stalin's death and the radical changes that came in Russia with the Khrushchev period, Mao has been explicitly trying to plan ahead to ensure that, upon his death, China will not embark upon any comparable change in course. Concern for personal mortality has produced a cult of Mao's personality now possibly as extreme as the Stalin cult once was; and concern for the durability of ideological commitment has gone to the extreme of requiring that the majority of people must attend twice-a-week study sessions on Mao's thought. In spite of these heroic but essentially pathetic efforts by Mao to strengthen the grip of his own ideology, he and those about him know that much will pass out of the Chinese system once the generation of the Long March is gone. The current mood of the Peking leadership was revealed in a statement by Chao Han: "The Ancient said: 'An old horse lying in the stables hopes to run 1,000 li a day, and a hero has a great ambition in the evening of life.' We should use these words to urge us on."[i]
We will do well to remind ourselves that, precisely because it is so difficult to weigh the influences of individual personalities in shaping history, sophisticated analysts often slip into the error of overstressing the importance of impersonal social and economic factors. Yet in recent years we have discovered in country after country that profound changes in the political system do generally follow from shifts in top leadership.
It would not be profitable to speculate here on who the new leaders will be or what particular policies they are likely to pursue. We can limit our speculation to the hypothesis that the singular stability of the top leadership of Peking for the last few years-arising as it does out of the shared experience of the rise of Chinese Communism and the comradeship of the Long March-will not persist into another generation. Once Mao and his group are gone, the Chinese are likely to have increasing difficulties in maintaining stability at the top. Tensions and conflicts will begin to appear, and the competition for influence will be more open. Such tensions are typical of Chinese organizations and have always been prevalent in Chinese politics. Until now the leadership of Mao and the relative power of the other members of the Politburo have been unquestioned. But acceptance of the appropriate influence of particular individuals will disappear as leaders of the next generation have to prove themselves in competition with one another.
This potential divisiveness is likely to have profound consequences for the whole of Chinese society. First, because the Chinese people are completely unprepared for any such spectacle, and from all that we know about their attitudes toward authority, it seems likely that they will find it most unsettling to see their leaders engaged in what will appear to be unbecoming behavior. The loss of respect for their leaders can result in the spread of cynicism and a sharp decline in confidence in the system.
A further instability likely to follow a change in leadership arises from the fact that so little has been done in 15 years to institutionalize and routinize the system of authority. To an extraordinary degree, government in China today is still of a quasi-revolutionary nature, highly dependent upon special campaigns or drives and upon the personal dedication of individual cadres. Even in day-to-day activities there is little in the way of regular bureaucratic management, though the Chinese do have a huge bureaucracy. The Chinese apparently lack the capacity to get things done quietly and efficiently; they still must rely heavily upon total mobilization, calling for intensive propaganda based on the impression of unanimity. This, of course, will be difficult to create if there are signs or rumors of conflict at the center. For these and other reasons it seems likely that the Chinese system is not yet so stable or so institutionalized as to be able to endure a major shift in leadership without significant structural change.
There is a second reason to expect radical change in Chinese political development. During the last few years the Peking leadership has been excessively concerned with a limited set of problems, and this has created certain rigidities within the system which cannot long endure. Above all, the Sino-Soviet dispute has absorbed the concentrated attention and energies of the leaders. There is much evidence to suggest that Mao has been obsessed with the struggle with Khrushchev and his successors; as a result, many domestic problems have not received direct attention from the top leaders. The problem is not just one of the pressure of time; the Sino- Soviet clash has greatly reduced the possibility of flexibility in domestic policies. For the Chinese, the appearance of single-mindedness has been even more important than the reality.
The régime has been able to carry on because technicians have pushed ahead with the tasks assigned to them. But it is extraordinary, for example, to find a Communist system going along for over six years without a five-year plan. In the field of education, too, important decisions are pending that will seriously affect the allocation of resources. For nearly three years the Chinese did not build any new classrooms, and today their construction effort is trivial in comparison to the rate at which the population is growing. In many fields of development significant regional differences are apparent; it is unlikely that these have been explicitly sanctioned at the center.
Inevitably many of the decisions that have been made almost by default in the past will sooner or later have to come under review; substantive issues will then have to be considered on their own merits. Once this happens, tensions are likely to arise among cadres who are called upon to shift their focus of activities and accept new priorities. Indeed, with a step-up in centralized direction, the age-old Chinese problems of bureaucratic control and conflict between the center and local authorities are likely to be intensified. During the first decade, the régime seemed to be steadily overcoming regionalism, but in the last years certain latent forms of autonomy have crept into the system.
A third challenge to the prudence model may come from problems in Chinese foreign policy. Many people might argue that the Chinese have been remarkably successful in the last few years in extending their influence into foreign areas, particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa and even Latin America. In fact, however, much of this activity has been only a function of the Sino-Soviet dispute; whatever success China has had in her foreign efforts has been not so much a consequence of her own power as a result of others finding it convenient to have a revolutionary China in the world. Furthermore, Chinese influences have not been built upon solid foundations and may easily be compromised in the next few years.
As a result of the Sino-Soviet dispute the Chinese have attached unrealistic importance to influencing odd Communist parties here and there in the world, and may be chasing mirages. Out of this they have gained some successes in embarrassing the Russians and challenging the position of Moscow. On the other hand, it would be wrong to read these developments as examples of Chinese power or cunning. Many Communist countries or parties have found it expedient to sympathize-if not identify-with the Chinese position merely as a way of gaining more autonomy for themselves within the Communist movement.
Similarly, the Chinese have shown some success in establishing friendly contacts with non-Communist nations in Asia and Africa. Yet in most of these cases it was more that other countries found it convenient to use China than that China exploited them. Pakistan, for example, finds it useful to establish close links with Peking because of the conflict with India. In Africa it has been easy for leaders to regain their revolutionary image merely by shaking the hand of Chou En-lai, while carrying on policies that are by no means revolutionary. A Nasser and even a King of Morocco are able to strengthen their identities as revolutionaries by merely treating with the Chinese. Whenever the Chinese have sought to attain concrete ends in Africa and Latin America, they have found the path more difficult; indeed, they have experienced defeat after defeat.
Eventually Peking will have to work out foreign relations based on more stable and enduring considerations. In so doing it will be placed increasingly under cross-pressures from various countries and will no longer find it so easy to play the role of irresponsible spokesman for world revolution.
Another possible source of traumatic change in China is the heavy priority that Peking has given to modernizing its military establishment. Its most dramatic form, of course, is the investment in atomic energy for military purposes. We should recognize that the detonation of two atomic devices was an impressive feat, involving an expensive commitment of scarce resources, from which Peking must expect to get some significant returns.
China's investment in the military field goes far deeper than just the detonation of an atomic bomb, however. Throughout the economic crisis of 1959-62, when much industrial development was at a standstill, the régime continued almost without interruption to direct its skilled resources and its best manpower into developing military technology. It is significant that, close to economic disaster as we now know the Chinese were, the Government should have risked so much to sustain a high rate of military development. The efforts of the Chinese in the aircraft industry, in the electronics field, in anti-aircraft development and possibly in the naval and submarine fields represent some of their greatest successes.
In part, this pattern of investment reflects the philosophy of a régime that came to power through military means, and of a society where military considerations have been important in almost all political developments of the last century. At the same time, Peking is no doubt reacting to the fact that, after rapidly modernizing its military establishment during the Korean War through Soviet aid, it faced as a consequence of the Sino-Soviet dispute the threat of falling behind in the one segment of its society which was close to being modernized. It may be almost instinctive for the Chinese to give first priority to the military; and perhaps we should not be surprised.
On the other hand, a serious imbalance seems to be growing between the allocation to the military and to other elements of Chinese society. The situation is certain to become more acute in the next few years, because the demands of the military will have to escalate very sharply if the Chinese are to keep up with the race in military technology. The armed forces stand ready to demand much of whatever increment can be squeezed out of the economy. The present leaders in Peking have in the main been predisposed to be sympathetic to these requests. But is this likely to continue with the new generation, which may be more technologically oriented and less convinced of the importance of armed force in the building of a revolution? If not, the military might feel compelled to act according to their concept of the national interest, and seek to preserve the dynamic spirit of the "Chinese revolution." The issue may not result in a dramatic confrontation, but there remains the basic question whether any society can have domestic political stability when there is such a gross imbalance between the allocation of resources to the military as against the civilian side of life.
Another possible source of significant change in Communist China lies in the management of ideology. For some time now, the régime has had to rely upon various administrative programs to strengthen the ideological commitment of the citizenry. More recently, however, the problem has become one of attempting to bureaucratize ideological training. The year before last, for example, Peking made new administrative arrangements which introduced into some of the ministries a new chain of command dealing with ideological questions. This organizational development has brought to civilian establishments some of the features of the political commissar system of the People's Liberation Army. In part this development is a reflection of the general campaign of "Learning from the People's Liberation Army;" in part it is a reflection of Mao's concern about the need to strengthen the revolutionary quality of his government. But it also addresses itself to the very fundamental problem of the conflict between political loyalty and technical competence-a problem which may constitute a basic flaw in the Chinese system.
This is a critical area not only because of the great importance of ideology within the Communist system, but also because of the extreme shortages of skilled manpower. The Chinese Communists explicitly speak of this problem as the issue of "red and expert." It is impossible to discuss here the ups and downs in the relative power of the two groups during the last few years; we need only note that at present the régime is far from working out a satisfactory and comfortable arrangement between its aspirations in the realm of ideology and its requirements in terms of technical skill.
This was a serious problem in Russia during the early years of Communism; in China it seems likely to prove even more troublesome. First of all, formal power is so overwhelmingly in the hands of the ideologues at the moment that it is hard to imagine any easing of their demands for total control. Even before the revolution, the Chinese did not have a tradition of respecting technical competence and recognizing the appropriate authority of specialists under the general control of a political or administrative decision-maker. They have always tended to picture authority as monopolistic, total and undifferentiated. It has therefore not been easy for them to articulate any division of labor and authority between the ideological guardian and the technical specialist. At best they are able to come up only with the rather banal idea that people should be both red and specialist.
During 1963-64 some grumbling was heard from the small Chinese scientific community indicating a desire for more freedom from ideological interference. Some scientists argued that it should be possible for students who are really good in their specialty to pay less attention to ideology, while non-specialists should focus more on ideology. It is difficult to measure the significance of these grumblings or to estimate how much power scientists are likely to have in the next few years, given the needs of the system for even greater technical skills. But clearly there is a problem that could become troublesome. Indeed, with the passing of Mao and of the old-time Communist leaders, this issue may become more insistent and explicit since the ideologues will no longer have the mystical authority of Mao to back them up.
Be this as it may, it does seem likely that China is going to face something of a crisis in the next few years as a result of having had such a large proportion of its more talented people move into the areas of propaganda management and ideological direction.
In this respect, China presents a significant contrast with Stalin's Russia. In the more violent Russian era, many of the more intelligent people sought to avoid politics and party work in favor of the relative security of technological and scientific education. In China, paradoxically, the personal threats and insecurities are not so great in careers of party work, and it is here that the rewards are highest. In this respect China is not repeating the Russian pattern, which permitted a great expansion of scientific talent even under a régime of severe political repression. In China, bright and intelligent youths find it easiest to advance themselves by political work, especially as such demanding careers as those in science are not at present appropriately rewarded. It is true that the régime's discrimination against the sons of landlords and former capitalists has forced many of these young men into technical and scientific activities, but this phenomenon can only intensify the basic clash between political work and technical skills.
It is notable that below the top level of management China is extremely short of skilled talent, largely because the generation of 35-45-year-olds was profoundly affected by the war and the Japanese occupation. There are also grounds for wondering whether enough talented young people are even now being trained in technical skills to meet expected future needs. Even according to inflated Chinese figures, less than 1.5 percent of college-age youth are now given the opportunity of a college education. And with the system of half schooling and half work, it is not clear what the quality of this education is.
A final source of potential instability in China is the passing of the revolutionary mystique and the need for the régime and the people alike to learn to live without the elation of their earlier dreams. At all levels, people have had to give up their expectation of miracles, and the party itself now recognizes that there is no shortcut to transforming society; the only course is hard work and gradual improvement. At one time the mystique of Communism, the esoteric doctrines of Marxism-Leninism, and the thoughts of Mao were expected to contain miraculous answers to China's problems of modernization. Now, however, the Chinese have to settle merely for the potency of compound interest and the prospect of slow incremental improvement. In short, China finds herself in the same boat with the rest of mankind.
It is natural that the glow of revolution will dim in any society, and with it the charisma of even the most revolutionary party. This development in China may be of peculiar significance, however, for in the earlier days the Chinese placed tremendous emphasis on the role of the human spirit in changing history. Possibly the most distinctive characteristic of Chinese Communism has been its reliance on voluntarism and its belief that progressive forces, in terms of the attitudes of men, can indeed shape history to a degree that is out of keeping with a supposedly materialistic and deterministic philosophy. It is not going to be easy for the Chinese leadership to accept the idea that hard work and exhortation are not enough to bring about political development and rapid economic growth.
The vigorous and imaginative use of mass campaigns and organized drives which characterized the first years of the régime have by now taken a serious psychological toll. The evidence suggests that the Chinese peasant and also the city worker have become more cynical and, above all, more calculating in their response to government policies. People still do what they are told and still seek whatever security they can find within the system; but the individual is also more inclined now to ask what benefits he himself will derive, rather than to subordinate such considerations, as was more generally the case during the first years.
This change in attitude is possibly one of the most damaging consequences of the Great Leap and the attempt to introduce free distribution within the communes. That experience shattered whatever spirit of self-sacrifice the peasantry may have had and created a major problem of incentives. When the party leaders learned how quick many peasants were to sense what they could get for nothing, and how slow to make any collective contribution, they opened a public debate as to what should be the rewards for labor. Once this discussion began, people started to ask why anybody should be paid more than anyone else, and the Chinese in general grew more sensitive to inequalities and injustices. There is even some weakening in the old attitude of the peasant-that life is hard and one must work without asking why administrative talent should be rewarded more than manual labor. Discussion along these lines has appeared in sophisticated economic journals as well as in village groups.
The effort to make everyone more self-conscious about economic production and incentives has finally caught up with the party, as people ask questions about the relationship between production and reward. One of the factors-in addition to transportation difficulties-making it necessary for the regime to continue grain imports is that the government no longer feels quite so able to siphon off increased production in one area to provide more food for others in short supply. Communes and production teams that have, say, a 10 percent increase in output now tend to expect that they should also have a 10 percent increase in consumption. If the entire increment of their production were siphoned off, the result might well be a lowering of output in the next period.
In short, rural Chinese society is moving into a more complex phase in which questions of incentives and rewards are being more widely raised than when the struggle was merely to survive and overcome brute hardship. Within urban areas, too, the increase in specialization means increased demand for consumer goods and a more satisfying way of life. As city dwellers become more sensitive to questions of the relative status and rewards of different pursuits, Chinese society will no longer be the same as when first organized by the Communists for the purposes of revolutionary change.
On the other hand, the Chinese may not have needed the mystique of revolution as much as has been supposed, and perhaps they will prove more effective than one expects in a more routinized world. While in many of the underdeveloped countries there is a serious problem of mobilizing popular energies and shaking people out of their traditional and more lethargic habits, this has not been the problem of the industrious Chinese. For several decades Chinese cities have contained a remarkably disciplined labor force fully capable of responding to the conventional dictates of industrial society. The Chinese peasant, too, has shown himself no less energetic and concerned with raising productivity whenever he is given the resources and the opportunity.
In this respect, all the political agitation of recent years has possibly deterred and impeded Chinese development rather than effectively mobilized the energies of the society. China's problem in the past has been less one of mobilizing energies than a serious deficiency in the imagination and capacity of leadership and management. One certainly can question whether the endless sequence of campaigns and drives of the last decade has done much to raise the level of imagination in management. What is clear is that for nearly a decade the utilization of such campaigns has kept the Chinese from facing up to the long-run fundamental question of how rewards and incentives are going to be handled. Thus the end of the revolutionary spirit is likely to be more of a personal crisis for the rulers than a problem for the society as a whole.
For these and a number of other reasons, then, it seems likely that the Chinese Communist system will in time undergo sharp and critical changes which cannot be readily forecast from the prudence model. Once again we stress that this prophecy does not mean that Communism will collapse. Nor does it mean necessarily that Peking is advancing toward a more mellow form of totalitarianism, or that the Chinese will follow precisely the same sequence of historical stages as have the Soviets. Indeed, the massive and ominous growth of China's population will in itself probably preclude relaxation of controls to any great extent in the years ahead. The mere assignment of ruling what may become half the world's population with only a small fraction of the world's resources will compel Chinese leaders to keep their society on a tight leash. This may have been one of the compelling reasons why during the last year and a half Peking tripled the size of the Control Commission at both national and provincial levels.
The difficulties we foresee are largely centered in the political sphere, but if we were to expand the scope of our analysis to include the economy there would be further reasons to wonder about China's future. As we suggested earlier, the prudence model has been influenced in large measure by the relatively balanced economic policies of the Chinese in recovering from the mistakes of the Great Leap. They have drawn back from the brink of economic disaster; but their economy may still give them great difficulties and even prudent decision-making may prove inadequate in meeting the fundamental problems of a weak agricultural sector and a relentlessly growing population. At present, for example, the Chinese purchases of wheat from abroad are using up nearly one-half of current foreign exchange earnings. The significance of these grain purchases is dramatized by the fact that during the last three years of heavy purchases the Chinese have bought only some $70 to $80 million worth of industrial plants. Moreover, the current yearly purchases of wheat, amounting to more than $400 million, exceed what the Chinese claim to have spent on importing industrial plants even during the years of the Great Leap. In short, the current constraints in the economy have called for greater actual outlays for the importation of basic necessities than Chinese propagandists dreamed of spending at the time of their greatest euphoria about the prospects for industrial development and "surpassing Great Britain."
The Chinese system is thus certain to be confronted in the years ahead with a wide range of strains which will possibly be more decisive than current trends in determining the ways in which Communism is to evolve in China.
Ultimately the Chinese will have to work out political arrangements which will make it possible for them to live with each other and with the modern world. Historically, their genius was to provide themselves with remarkably enduring forms of government, but it is still not clear that they have as yet been able to adapt Communism to their needs. In the years ahead they will certainly have to live with their version of Communism, and as they learn how to do so it will be easier for the rest of the world to forecast the degree to which China will be an external threat. In the meantime, it would be well if those who are anxious about China's potential for becoming the major threat to world order refrained from using arguments based on the prudence model to justify the need for premature responses. Likewise, those with more benign or optimistic feelings about the Chinese should recognize that, by disseminating a view of Communist China which understates both the rigidity of ideology and the constraints imposed by the realities of its situation, they may be giving currency to a fanciful and even magical view of Chinese capabilities, which if seriously believed should cause great anxieties.
[i] "Forever Maintain the Revolutionary Quality of the Proletariat-On Rereading 'How to be a Good Communist,'" Red Flag, February 4, 1964.