As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Cultural Revolution, there have been widespread calls on the internet in the mainland for the authorities to commemorate Marshal Ye Jianying (葉劍英), who played a pivotal role in bringing down the Gang of Four and cleaning up the mess left behind by that decade-long political catastrophe.
As the late liberal academic Yu Guangyuan (于光遠) once put it, Marshal Ye was instrumental in defeating the Gang of Four and would forever be remembered for restoring law and order to China, which had been torn apart by the Cultural Revolution.
Perhaps lesser known, Yu said, is that Marshal Ye also played a decisive role in eradicating ultra-leftist elements from the party leadership in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.
His actions vindicated those who had been brutally persecuted by the Gang of Four, and above all, established a collective leadership in the party in order to avoid any possible resurrection of personality cult in the future.
Former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping has always been hailed as the “chief architect” of China’s economic reforms, but the role played by Ye, who died in 1986, in rebuilding the nation and putting the Communist Party back on the right track has often been downplayed by the country’s official mouthpieces over the years.
According to recently declassified documents, Ye delivered a historic speech at a closed-door Central Committee meeting which was held between Dec. 18 and 22 in 1978, a speech that would set the tone for the reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution.
In his speech Ye said the Cultural Revolution, a man-made disaster which almost destroyed the entire nation, had it roots in the one-man rule and highly centralized power structure within the party, the lack of public oversight, ultra-left ideology, reckless economic policies, the promotion of personality cult and lust for power of some key party officials.
In particular, Ye denounced the kind of “feudalistic autocracy” embraced by the party leadership even before the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution.
He also reprimanded the Gang of Four and former defense minister Lin Biao (林彪) for committing fascist crimes against their own people in the guise of the dictatorship of the proletariat during the Cultural Revolution.
Ye called on the party to always stay vigilant against the danger of personality cult as well as blind loyalty, and urged party officials on every level to surrender all their special privileges to which they were entitled.
To fix the catastrophic mistakes made by the party during the Cultural Revolution, Ye proposed in his speech that a system of checks and balances be established in the country, that liberation of the mind be promoted among the general public, and that a new party bureaucracy made up of cadets who dared to speak their mind be created.
He warned of the possible outbreak of another political disaster of biblical proportions if the Communist Party failed to reflect on its fatal mistakes and learn the painful lessons of the Cultural Revolution.
That speech, along with another speech he delivered on Oct. 1, 1979, in which he further denounced the atrocities committed by the Gang of Four and Lin Biao, were regarded by some liberal academics as the gospel that would later inspire tens of thousands of new-generation socialist reformers in the ’80s, including former party secretary Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) and former premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽).
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 13.
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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