Courtesy Reuters

China's Next Phase

No people is fonder of reading the future from the past than the Chinese, perhaps because no other people possesses a past which has for more than three millennia been as minutely recorded and as consistently glorious. The Chinese passion for their own history has bred a propensity for repeating both past triumphs and past mistakes. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the Chinese were in many ways in thrall to their own voluminous and detailed chronicles. When the intellectual sat down to the obligatory study of those chronicles, the profuse commentaries thereon and other quasi- sacred works of great antiquity, he was quite consciously performing an act of affirmation. He was at once affirming his personal commitment to the spiritual and political values of the great central tradition and renewing that two-thousand-year-old tradition. He was excluding any radical change in those values or the society based upon them, and he was severely restricting the possibilities of evolutionary change. Alterations did, of course, occur, some of them quite sweeping. But they occurred within the framework of the central tradition-or, at least, the Chinese could pretend that they occurred within that framework. When they considered the probable shape of the future they could therefore assume that it would, with some variations, repeat the past in perpetuity.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the politically engaged vanguard of China has deliberately sought to destroy both traditional society and the moral values on which it rested. Even before the establishment of the Communist Party in 1921, activists and idealists labored to prepare a site for a wholly different future by leveling the customs and the laws of the past. When, at the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the adolescent Red Guards raised the slogan, "Wipe out the old civilization!", they were bringing to its ultimate expression the overriding political and cultural preoccupation of twentieth-century China. The old civilization has now been shattered, and the Cultural Revolution has also blasted the new

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