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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 20, May 7, 2011

China Impressions

Saturday 14 May 2011, by V.P. Dutt



Prof V.P. Dutt, 86, one of the most renowned Indian scholars on China—he was the doyen of Chinese Studies in this country—and noted foreign policy expert (whose speeches on international issues were heard with rapt attention in the Rajya Sabha when he was a nominated member of the Upper House of Parliament in the seventies), passed away in New Delhi on April 26—he had fallen ill in late March. His wife, Dr Gargi Dutt, also a distinguished China scholar, predeceased him some months ago. He is survived by his two children.

Prof Dutt was instrumental in setting up the Centre for Chinese Studies in the University of Delhi in 1964; subsequently it became the Department of Chinese and Japanese Studies before being turned into the Department of East Asian Studies as it is called at present.

As Prof Mridula Mukherjee, the Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and a student of Prof Dutt, says,

He was an expert on Chinese history as well as contemporary China. Prof Dutt was one of the few who knew the Chinese language fluently, had lived in China for some years in the 1950s for his research and had contacts with several Chinese leaders and academicians. He was a rare talent and also one of the best sccholars on Indian foreign policy and understood India’s relationship with the world.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Prof Dutt taught a course “China in Revolution” to MA students in History and Political Science at the DU. Many of his students became diplomats, administrators and academicians in due course. He groomed a whole generation of China and East Asian scholars.

Besides being a Rajya Sabha member, he was also a Pro-Vice-Chanceloor of the DU. He happened to be in several academic committees of the University Grants Commission and different universities and institutes.

His funeral on April 26 was attended inter alia by former PM I.K. Gujral, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Delhi CM Sheila Dixit.

He was quite close to the Mainstream family.

As a token of our tribute to his abiding memory we are reproducing the following piece that appeared in this journal in the eighties following his trip to China as a member of an ICSSR delegation after a gap of 23 years. — S.C.)]

China Impressions


The trouble about a China impression is that what you are shown in a delegation does not necessarily accord with the general reality as you discover from a close reading of the Chinese media. You can go to a mosque in a pre-arranged visit and in the absence of the Mullah, you can talk to an official and write about freedom of religion in China. But any student of the Chinese scene knows that the only freedom the believers enjoy is to say their prayers and follow the government line.

Take this instance. We go to a commune on the outskirts of Peking. A cyclostyled intro-duction in English is ready. You are told that there are two levels of management—the commune level and the production brigade level. Obviously a very advanced collective organisation. But if you are not studying Chinese developments, you can be easily misled, for 99.9 per cent of the communes in China have a three-level manage-ment system in which the production team constitutes the primary level economic unit. The whole country is talking about the new responsi-bility system. But in this commune the answers were vague and evasive. They take you to a farmer’s house and you find that the woodwork there is better than anything you can boast of in your own house back in Delhi.

Yet there is no doubt about the major changes in the Chinese political, economic and social institutional and policy framework and the intensive effort being made at technological development and modernisation. More consumer goods are available in the market and not at exorbitantly high prices. More food is being supplied to the people at subsidised rates. Better cloth and a greater variety of it is evident in the dresses worn by men and women in China today. The improvement in living standards is incontrovertible.

Two significant changes are discernible in the political organisation. The Communist Party is back into full power, even though it is sharply divided into factions and over many issues. Mao had struck hard at the authority of the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution and many a head had rolled into the dust. High-ranking Party leaders were publicly disgraced and a new crop of leadership was sought to be pushed up into positions of power. The normal structure of authority in a communist country was cut down and extra-constitutional centres of power arose.

Mao could scarcely control the chaos that followed and had to depend upon the Army to save the situation and later had to curb the Army ambitions by purging Lin Piao. He tried to rebuild the command structure of the Party in the last years of his life by bringing about what turned out to be an artificial combination of old, middle-aged and young cadres, the “three-in-one combination” as it was described then.

The failure of Mao and the repudiation of his policies is the most demonstrative reality of China today that hits you forcefully during your visit. In any case, the Party hierarchy and the command structure have been re-established. The dominance and supremacy of the Party is unquestioned. Indeed in many ways China is now following the normal pattern, the same as the Soviet Union and East European countries.

The political relaxation is equally noticeable. Political movements have been wound up and people have been promised that there would not be any more upheavals and conculsive campaigns. The political pressures have been eased and ideological meetings have been drastically cut down. Yet the problem is how to restore the moral authority of the Party that had taken a severe knocking in the last few years. The youth are particularly cynical, as I learnt from talking to many young people, and they do not care to accept the Party’s word as the acme of wisdom and knowledge. They no longer believe.

Changes in the economic field, agricultural and industrial, are as significant as the political transformation, if not more. Mao’s concept of self-reliance and his actual practice of a fair degree of egalitarianism have been abandoned. The Chinese told us repeatedly that the policy of opening towards the world was a long-term perspective and would not be changed. The Chinese are in the international financial markets, particularly the international agencies for advancing soft loans to developing countries; they are also contracting government-to-govern-ment loans and shopping for advanced technology. They frankly admit that the economy is backward, that the technology is of medium quality and that their R&D is woefully behind the times. They are now making energetic efforts to catch up.

FOUR major forms of international economic involvement have been devised: joint ventures, compensation or barter trade, co-production projects, and foreign loans. The Chinese were reluctant to give details about foreign aid but in Shanghai we were told 300 projects there had received foreign aid of one kind or another. Special economic areas have also been set up in Kwangtung and Chekiang for foreign-owned and foreign-run enterprises. Foreign assistance is being invited in diverse fields like oil, coal, power, transportation and communication, textiles, TV sets, cosmetics, etc.

The pattern of investment, the priorities and the organisational structure have all undergone notable changes. China is in the midst of economic restructuring. Capital construction has been sharply reduced and the heavy industry’s expansion has been drastically limited and set for gradual technological transformation over a period of years. Light industry has been given top priority, followed by agriculture and heavy industry. The rate of accumulation has been brought down from 35 per cent to about 28 per cent. More funds have been funnelled into what are called non-productive sectors like housing, education and health. The volume of foreign trade has jumped from 20 billion dollars in 1978 to some 40 billion dollars last year. China too is entering the era of consumerism.

The sharpest change has come in the management of production and remuneration in agriculture. Different forms of the so-called responsibility system are being experimented with in different parts of China, but the heart of the matter is the reintroduction of a clear incentive system which was laden with prospects of increasing the difference in incomes and living standards between various house-holds and regions. The centre-piece is once again the family, as it has been historically and traditionally. The restoration of family farming has aroused deep controversy and division of opinion.

The family is entrusted with producing what the state decides to be its quota. It is the obligation of the family to fulfil the quota. Whatever is produced in excess by the family becomes its own property which it can sell in the private market at a profit. In addition, the family is allowed a tiny private plot for side-line production and disposal in the private market.

The new system obviously puts a premium on labour-power and those households who have more sturdy hands at their disposal will get richer much quicker. A variant of this system was denounced by Mao in 1966 as an attempt at the restoration of capitalism in China’s countryside. Teng Hsiao-ping and his colleagues have gone much further in this regard. The new system has raised a hornet’s nest from the ideological point of view as the critics of Teng accuse him of backsliding from socialism in agriculture.

The Army is particularly distressed at the new dispensation in agricultural organisation. Its ranks are immediately affected by any major development in the countryside because the soldier comes from the village. This close connection was demonstrated during the grave economic difficulties in the early sixties. Now again the Armyman is apprehensive that those with greater labour power are getting richer while his family suffers from shortage of farm hands. The charm of Army service is fast fading and the Army brass are acutely dissatisfied, quite apart from their chagrin at being denied the funds for modernisation.

The struggle continues and it is too early to predict the final conclusion. China has changed colour, so to say. All the “revisionist” policies are in command. Many of these policies do command considerable popular backing, including that of the intelligentsia. A stupendous effort is being made at economic modernisation and orderly development.

(Mainstream, December 25, 1982)

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