An unfinished battle in China: The leftist criticism of the reform and the third thought emancipation

Feng Chen

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29 Citations (Scopus)


With the curtain of its 15th National Congress falling, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) completed the generational change in the leadership. Jiang Zemin claimed that the CCP would continue Deng Xiaoping's line of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics.' The Party's consensus on upholding Deng's policy was reflected in its revised constitution that paralleled Deng's theory with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as the Party's guiding principle. However, the ongoing market reform has not proceeded without challenge, especially from the left. Between 1995 and 1997, four so-called wanyanshu ('ten-thousand-word' articles) circulated privately in Beijing, severely criticizing market reform for its deviation from socialism. On the eve of the 15th National Party Congress, the capital was stirred up again by a publicized counter-attack from reformers at the leftist criticisms, with Jiang Zemin's speech at the Central Party School on 29 May 1997 as a signal. Some even call this counter-criticism the 'third thought emancipation.' Speculation arose of political rift in Beijing. These developments at least indicate that leftism represents a strong ideological force that the Party has to take seriously. Although the 15th National Congress ended up with a declaration of even bolder measures in economic reform, particularly in restructuring state-owned enterprises (SOEs), no one should expect that the leftist voice will easily fade away. This article begins with an examination of four wanyanshu and their contents. It then probes into the socio-economic and ideological background of the wanyanshu incident, and looks at how the Party leadership and reformist theoreticians respond to leftist criticisms. The article concludes with an assessment of the implications of the leftist criticisms for Chinese politics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-467
Number of pages21
JournalChina Quarterly
Issue number158
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1999

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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