BEIJING — "There is a law of history according to which as long as the old does not disappear, the new cannot come into existence. Now that the old is gone for good, everyone is scanning the horizon in the hope of seeing the emergence of the new." --Wei Jingsheng, the now-imprisoned Chinese dissident, on Democracy Wall, Beijing, 1978
The Year of the Snake is less than half gone. After the convulsions of the spring, what will China's future bring? What will the leadership do? How will the people react? These are some of the possibilities:
1. Return to Normal
Under this scenario, the Chinese regime, now controlled by the hard-liners, moves quickly to re-establish a sense of normalcy and restore much the same policies of moderate reform it was pursuing before the pro-democracy demonstrations. It keeps up its broad economic, cultural and political contacts with the West, while making clear that it is unwilling to tolerate any agitation for democracy. The leadership tones down its rhetoric and eases up on the purges. Zhao Ziyang, although dropped as Communist Party general secretary, is allowed to keep a seat in the Politburo or Central Committee. The leadership, having drawn the limits of dissent, seeks to resist and ignore the outpouring of revulsion over the massacre.
Early signs are that some elements of the leadership would like to try this approach. Deng Xiaoping, in his reappearance on nationwide television, said China's economic reforms and opening to the outside world will continue. Foreign businessmen who fled China are being encouraged to return. Some reform-minded Chinese officials allied with Zhao have re-emerged, seemingly in good graces with the hard-liners now in command of the government.
But China's leaders will face difficulties if they try to conduct business as usual.
This approach was tried without success on comparable occasions over the past decade. A few weeks after launching a campaign against "spiritual pollution" in 1983, and again a few months after Hu Yaobang was ousted from power in 1987, the regime let up and continued reforming the economy and seeking openings to the outside. The result was further absorption of Western ideas, and further agitation by Chinese intellectuals and students for political change. The hard-liners now must realize that to stamp out "bourgeois liberalization," they would have to limit contacts between China and the West. They might not willingly ease up again.
And millions of people in China and abroad will remember this spring's events. They will not be prepared to cooperate with the Chinese regime.
2. Hardening the Hard Line
China's leadership, according to this scenario, not only holds onto power but hardens its policies at home and abroad. It vigorously pursues the current purges and seeks to install its own loyal cadres throughout Chinese work units and organizations. Zhao is not only ousted from his job but purged from the party, denounced as a counterrevolutionary and possibly imprisoned. Free-market economic reforms are halted or cut back because they allow too many Chinese too much independence from party control. To prevent further "spiritual contamination" of Chinese youth by Western politics and culture, Beijing sharply restricts contacts between China and the West. The regime attempts to rely on its own resources once again, as in the days when Mao pursued Chinese "self-sufficiency."
Increased toughness would seem to appeal most to the octogenarian, Long March generation of the party, to officials who fear loss of their privileges and to China's large security apparatus.
However, the regime would have to spend enormous resources and energy, and it would encounter considerable resistance. It would require great effort by security forces to purge all reform-minded officials and to rid campuses of all the pro-democracy students. Disaffected workers and intellectuals could be expected to be less productive, and Chinese overseas would probably seek to undermine the Beijing leadership.
3. The Reformers Return
This scenario rests on a dramatic political change in China, with reformers, possibly headed by Zhao, regaining control of the Communist Party. They acknowledge that the student movement of 1989 was patriotic in nature and blame the political leaders who called in the army, not the troops who carried out their orders. China's media are granted the sort of freedom they enjoyed at the height of the student demonstrations. The leadership adopts new political reforms, perhaps modeled after those instituted by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, opening the way for some form of institutionalized dissent. The new regime opens the way for much broader economic and cultural ties with the West.