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From Wingspread at the conference center of the Johnson Foundation in Racine Wisconsin the national educational radio network brings you the third in a series of five talks on mainland China in the 70s. The talks were recorded at a seminar convened by the Asia Society and the Johnson Foundation. Today Victor Li a professor of law at Columbia University speaks on the topic summing up. Now here is Professor Li I want to begin on a theme that as a vocal start of us off this morning with I think the first thing he said was he didn't think he knew very much about what was going on in the King. And I think I really don't know what's very much about what went on in Peking in earlier years. Even less about what's going on now and even more on what's going to go on in the future. Despite this I'm not going to you know like many of our government officials and I condemn weeks and other people I will not let ignorance interfere with Go right ahead anyway. I'm talking about this and making nice sweeping pronouncements.
I want to give you a fair warning that I'm 28 years old this year and following the judge cause well-formulated you can't hold me responsible for anything I say until my next birthday. I guess our initial problem here is one other teams made the big problem of perception and interpretation of what we perceive. That really pervades through everything that we talk about. I think we recognize it but we should pin it down a little bit more carefully and spell it out now. Everybody knows we don't have very much data about China so I'll leave that one alone. But what about the case where we do get some data. What do we make of this. This data how should we interpret it. It's easier to get at this problem by looking at it backwards. For example for the first time I got the Harken was right after the Watts Riots
in the United States and as I got off the plane people said to me why did you come. I mean there's a civil war in the United States. Shouldn't you be there rather than in Hong Kong. And you try to tell no there's no civil war in the United States is there weren't there you know soldiers in the streets and yes and tanks yes and armored vehicles yes shooting machine guns of a building have blown off. You know yes yes yes. However there isn't. Civil war in the United States. Or you can probably imagine how the price anywhere but you know the Chinese press for example how they must be treating can't can't state that the trouble is that we've had on the campuses and I swear this last month I mean what are these people supposed to make of that. If they think Watts was bad the reverse side of the kind of course is that when we read about the Cultural Revolution what are we making of that are we reading that as properly or improperly as they may be
reading what's going on here. So that's so that what do we make of that. There's not too much data there. But even taking a case where there's plenty of data. I mean do we really know what's going on in the U.S. Now we have plenty of data about what's going on here. But you start back four of not even four years three years. What's Eugene McCarthy all about you know some poor man in Peking is trying to figure that out. What makes you know why did Johnson quit or Kennedy or Nixon or assassinations or descent or race or poverty or how the United States makes decisions. And that same poor man is trying to say let's take a look at the U.S. in the 70s. And that's the kind of problem we're dealing with I don't think we can take we can take a look at the U.S. in the 70s were trying to do it with China so that you know that just sort of the magnitude of the problem without. But again you know
shouldn't that bother me too much when I try to do is be very briefly two minutes a year to the 70s to underline some of the points that's been made by the others earlier. I hope this wouldn't be too much of a hodgepodge but it might well be one problem was one raised early this morning about morale in China. There's a career frustration for youth. They can't find the jobs that they want in the places they want there's a morale problem in the bureaucracy or not just the bureaucracy but people having jobs as advancement fairness of develop there's a morale problem in the population as a whole possibly try to take these one at a time and and look at it a little more in detail. That and the youth for example that if you take the number of people entering the job market each year and you compare that with the number of
jobs open outside the agricultural sector there will be more people grabbing on the market than there are jobs outside the agricultural sector. The number of people would vary very greatly partly from year to year and partly from what figures one likes to pick on population growth and economic development. But it runs one two three four whatever million a year which over 20 years you know you've got a considerable number of people on your hands who are not getting the jobs outside the agricultural sector are not you know they're not going to like keep being put on the farms. They're expecting farm workers as I was saying earlier is very rather mean you know where particularly in China and it you've raised the man's expectations by sending them to school and all of that and then finally at the end of all of this you say don't what you really like to do is to work on a farm and do what your great grandfather has been doing then you may have an
unhappy person on your hands. A second part of that is there's a limit to how many people you can put back on the farms. That the the new land that can be developed for agriculture in China can be easily developed for agriculture if it hasn't already come to an end. It's sort of coming coming to an end. So you're putting more people on the same pieces of land. At some point they they may say they're going to start eating more than they're adding in production and the and there is a physical limit on that. Now for the man who gets off the farm and again what as was pointed out earlier this morning that a lot of the jobs were taken by very young people when the communists took over in forty nine. This is 20 years hence of a 20 year old took it over then he's 40 years old now. He's too young to retire and die and things are not just not going to happen in the least since the mid 50s there hasn't been the creation of a very large
number of new jobs so that the fellow who gets off the farm gets a job and he's not going to get promoted. Now the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap or any one of these other things might remove the existing group so that this new group isn't getting ranked any promoted to get into the new positions. But that really doesn't solve the problem does it because it just means that we've put it off for a generation. What would the youths of the 70s coming and what would they see. Do they face the same career frustration problems. As the ones of the 60s now that's people with jobs. What about the population as a whole. Well that's a little harder to pin down. You've got the Communists coming in and 1949 and they've got a they've got a theory a line on how to make things better improve conditions strengthen China. And that's not new. Ever since the West have come
somebody or another has come up with a new line on how to strengthen China. And I would guess that they were met and I'm quite sure they were mad in the beginning with a great deal of skepticism but they persevere and they said look you do this and things will get better. You know you do land reform things will get better. So you know the people carried on Larry for me sure enough things get better and then you do this next thing things will get better and sure enough things get better. And this goes on for a while and then around 55 they say well why don't you collectivize agriculture production should go up and agriculture is collectivizing it doesn't really go up so you get a little worried. 57 56 you say this is the hundred flowers period where criticism of the regime was encouraged and then there's a crackdown on the critics. So in that gang you begin to one might begin to doubt some. The Great Leap comes along they say look let's form communes do this that and the other thing and things will get a lot better so people find communes
that all of these things and things got worse now at some point you start wondering you know what have I got here but how far can I carry this. How far can I believe this. This line this or this new theory that has come into being. There's a second problem the runs through the power of the populace as morale is that it seems to me up until the Cultural Revolution the the attacks when something has gone wrong. The line would be there are a couple of bad card race some in high positions but there are just a few bad cadres who messed up the plan. But otherwise it was a pretty good plan. And so let's get rid of the few bad ones and we're really in very good shape again. In the culture of Lucian we get into a different ballgame because when you start attacking as many people as Cain as were attacked and that's high positions as the persons attacked were in
I would suppose that a person in China might really begin to wonder. Maybe it isn't just a couple of bad card rays that we've got a whole problem here that pervades the whole party apparatus. Now these are questions of. Career frustration for the youth morale problems in the bureaucracy and and the population has to be taken very carefully. No one ever remembers Carvey as they just remember. You know everything you have been warned against but not that you should look at it carefully. It's I don't want to over stress this it's not me that doesn't mean that just because there are problems in these three spheres that the regime is in trouble that the people don't like them whether they'll be overthrown I think indeed. If anything it's the other way around the regimes and pretty and very good shape it has extensive and intensive
popular support. It's made great achievements. It's done far more than a nationalist could even dream of doing. But what I am trying to say is that let's pick out these problems that if we are looking at China in the 70s these are three things we should keep our eyes on that they are problems that China faces. China does realize that these are the problems. Three of their problems is trying to do something about it. If they succeed they'll be in awfully good shape and even if they don't succeed. You know at least they're aware of the problems that are maybe one of our problems in this country is that we run into identical types of things and we're not we're not facing up to it not trying to attack these problems. So again this is just to point out what we should be watching for and not to say that these three things are of such terrible overwhelming significance and the Chinese can overcome them. And the regime is in trouble. That that's one thing I wanted to mention a second.
Here's where the points touched upon by all sorts of people here today. You know in a very broad sense what is Chinese society trying to do I mean what's it all what's all of this supposed to prove. I think that this is something that I had a lot of trouble trying to convince myself of because I found it so contrary to my early upbringing that is that material production economic development may not be the end all just because you don't produce as much. I mean doesn't mean things are going worse. There are two strains of thought that come together on this the first strain. Is that what you're trying to do if you're just trying to make people happy and content. But you don't have to do that by giving them a lot of material goods that might do it at least a minimal amount of good is necessary. But beyond the minimum. Maybe people are really happier and more content not by having more goods but by having
the power to participate in decision making of being able to speak up when there's something you don't like of having literal differential between your you know income or whatever and your neighbors and it really doesn't matter how much you have once you get past the minimum. But that sounds very simple but it took me a long time to get it through my head that that might be and so therefore an ideal conception of the concert conception of an ideal society is not one that just produces more and more and more but that's far from it. There's a second line that are not material production. That's related but really very different from the first one and that is that a temporary economic loss may result in a great deal of longterm or even middle term economic gain. But the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution did cause economic losses.
But maybe they really would produce an economic explosion at the end of this thing where things go very well because arguably Look what might have happened that you've activated the masses the populace you've motivated them you've sorted out your bureaucracy you've improved the quality and the performance of your officials. You read out the bad ones you find some good ones. You put them through a crash program and leadership you experiment with techniques you find the ones that work you check out the ones that don't you instil in the minds of the officials that you know an official is not a guy sitting way up there who can throw his weight around. He's supposed to serve the masses. He's supposed to be not high handed not bureaucratic be a nice fellow and really go out and work. Now all of these things do come together but it could be that a temporary price paid off a temporary economic setback in the last 10 years may lead to a tremendous amount of economic growth once people are happy and everybody's motivated and the you know the system works with
it with the people. That's a second point. A third one is one that again we've touched on a number of times and that is we've got to distinguish the Chinese rhetoric from the Chinese actions. It comes across very strongly in the things that we've talked about this afternoon that they say a lot of very belligerent things and but they don't do all that much. For example I was saying about the you know they're really saying a lot of nasty things to Japan lately but Japan is though China's major trade partner each year the trade seems to go up. Are they relevant derealization but then they trade a great deal with Western Europe Canada Australia other very fine and proper imperialist countries for that.
And then we've got to really distinguish what they say and what they end up doing. While we're on that you know on the subject of trade generally I think here is one place where we might have a breakthrough if Cambodia has and wrecked that all together. I sense a very definite change of attitude on the part of the U.S. And I think also of China on trade. That last starting last July when the limit was when American tourists were allowed to bring $100 worth of Chinese goods in was the first time the Americans could deal directly with China. Then the hundred dollar limit was lifted. Then you didn't have to have it as a company baggage. And then American subsidiaries can deal in trade and then more recently there seems to be an interpretation that American technological know how used by subsidiaries abroad can then be.
Sort of down to China. I think this trade is very important to normalization and you know in a group of businessmen This is an area that we should probably stress. It's an area that has just pluses and no minuses from the United States point of view. I don't think that the United States embargo except perhaps in the very early years has deprived China of any goods of any goods what the United States well not so China West Germany and Czechoslovakia and Japan and everybody else is perfectly willing and able to trade it to sell to China. And that indeed it seems to me when trade develops that the only problem the American businessman will have is that can they meet Japanese and European competition. It's the really advanced technological stuff. You know when I can trade anybody any way how to make your ABM work through some computer we're not
going to trade anyway but anything short of that they can get the Chinese can get on the world market. On a different farm again still another one this question of us servitude toward China and more generally towards Asia but that we're talking about this afternoon. Like to try this out from a slightly different person point of view. I think that the the Americans go into a deal with the Asia and China question with some preconceived notions of or different kind some are funny and some are not funny or one is that when I first got to Colombia I was going to be a physicist and I failed my first physics exam and I went to see the professor a man I greatly admired and I told him you know I couldn't do your problem and he says nonsense or
Chinese can do physics. Natural. Man. I saw today my lawyer and I'm mad. Now that's a you know that's an easy one and that that's doesn't earn anybody but it can get more serious. But when right after the U.S. went into Cambodia we were in sort of a sort of a frank exchange with students and faculty of the East Asian Institute and someone I brought out. But is it conceivable that the United States would cross the border of Norway or some country other than a nation or some country in Western Europe. You know even think of a thing like that.
Does this really reflect a certain attitude that the Americans have towards the Asia Asia. What about the rhetoric of you know thinks and gooks and slopes and the rest of the stuff we read in the paper. Words by the way which weren't coined in Vietnam as I recall they were coined in Korea if not before them. This is street fighter certain attitude. What about the idea of a body count. You know that's returnable a goose and there you go with this have been possible conceivable in the European war. Who is whose here that really lacks respect for life when you can say by our figures six hundred and forty thousand North Vietnamese soldiers have been killed so you know six hundred forty thousand. And then we'll get another two thousand next month and thirty four thousand in Cambodia. Makes.
Now the problem with this is raising a question like this is that the effects of it are hard to pinpoint their side oh they come and go they're contradictory. But. And that is just sort of say well that's a racist attitude. It is simple it's probably wrong and it's such an intellectually lazy kind of thing to do. But what. What. But trying to examine this question Are are we going in there with some preconceived notions about how Asians generally Chinese specifically react and what we think of them and does this affect our actions and I thinking in the United States what one might be. You know there's a feeling that of superiority. Part of it you know these things of are not hard to explain I think in some ways that that in material terms that the West in the United States in particular is greatly superior. But does this lead to a feeling that the Asians are less
capable. The U.S. has to help them out show them the way that we can throw our weight around because we are big brother in Asia that we talk of sovereignty but we don't mean sovereignty that that sovereignty doesn't fully apply. I don't you know maybe this comes. Lot of the history of the 18th and 19th century contacts the West had with China you sent with some missionaries to bring light to the heathen to save them. The Chinese who first came to this country were people who worked on railroads as laundryman the you know the kinds of things you see on television and Charlie Chan movies is a aspect that they're hardworking docile ready to take a lot of guff. There's this attitude running to how we run the war in Vietnam. Does this attitude affect how the United States formulate policies toward or toward communist China.
Maybe another aspect of this inequality One is that because of the West the Americans are so obviously superior therefore they Asians are logically inferior that there's this myth this is why we are surprised that scientific development in China you know it always gets me that. Let's see how did this start that the Chinese had no no nuclear capability this was back five years and then they drop a bomb atomic bomb if they are but it's not a hydrogen bomb. Next year they drop a hydrogen bomb. They say well look they have no missile capability they can only send in miles and then the satellite goes into the air and I don't know what the next line is going to be the good of physics that's right. Only because they study.
Yeah. You know you can push the same line. I think we're surprised that the staying power of North Vietnam as the as it takes a pounding. This is a factor or perhaps a real uneasiness about whether the South Vietnamese government and Vietnam as a whole north and south can come to a political solution all by itself without any help from anybody on the outside and we don't seem to have a feel that really can't quite happen without us being there. The fact that we have to recognize that. You know we're dealing with a vastly different culture and the people who are products of this culture may present very different solutions to problems and they perceive things in very different ways. And we've got to make sure we understand that we realize of what it is that they are perceiving. And I also think that's terribly important. It's someone I mentioned earlier about the.
U.S. offer of I forget whether it was grain or medicine in China at the time I guess it was grain in time of famine but also the same problem came up with medicine the U.S. offered vaccine and that unless the U.S. government intended this as a ploy to public opinion in the world that they must know this has got to be turned down you know. I mean there's just no way the Chinese can accept this that terribly sensitive over the last century two centuries and that. And that if we really manage to get some grain and medicine there for humanitarian brotherly love purposes that we did in the worst possible way and it really shows a great deal of ignorance or it shows a great deal of bad faith. At the same time though I think we also have to be careful of not laying too much stress on the fact that the Chinese do things very differently which they do. But it gets
easy as a problem seems to get a little complicated to just stop and say well the mysterious East awful strange out there. And that's how things are and stop whereas we should really you know not stop and penetrate and keep going until you really do get to the point where the mysterious East takes over that that is that one is sometimes tempted to get a little intellectually lazy because the East is mysterious. You've been listening to Victor Lee professor of law at Columbia University. As he spoke on the topic summing up. This was the third in a series of five lectures recorded at a seminar on mainland China in the 70s held at Wingspread. The conference center of the Johnson Foundation in Racine Wisconsin. A report of the conference has been published by the Asia Society in their quarterly magazine Asia copies of the report may be obtained by writing to
the Johnson Foundation. Racine Wisconsin 5 3 4 0 0 1. This is the national educational radio network A.
Mainland China in the 1970s
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Chicago: “Mainland China in the 1970s; 3,” 1971-01-05, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 12, 2024,
MLA: “Mainland China in the 1970s; 3.” 1971-01-05. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 12, 2024. <>.
APA: Mainland China in the 1970s; 3. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from