China: An Introduction
© 1984 Lucian W. Pye
Lucien Pye was born in China and later returned there to advise the US government. China: An Introduction is written in that spirit, being a review of the making of Communist China and its attempts to find policies to modernize China from the inside out.
The volume opens with a hundred pages covering Chinese history, with an emphasis on the philosophical schools which contended for preeminence in the old Empire: Taoism, Confucianism, and Legalism. That drama is applicable to the more extensive coverage of the evolving Communist party in China, for Confucianism so under-girded China that it continued to influence the expression of communism in China even after every aspect of the old civilization was set ablaze. For instance, Chinese communism did not view itself as supremely scientific and inevitable; instead, Mao and others believed that a cyclical model would continue, and China would ever be tugged between communism and capitalism. The Confucian emphasis on perfectibility and self-sacrifice in pursuit of social virtue also lent themselves to early propaganda, in which people were expected to labor in hardship and poverty not for themselves, but for the good of the communist experiment in China.
Pye devotes the bulk of the book to covering the rise of the Communist party, and its internal politics through to the end of the 1970s. The book indicates to me that Mao was a singular figure, not simply for his role in the revolution but for his conceits in office: intriguingly, Pye writes that Mao scorned cities, viewing them as hotbeds of capitalism. I also didn’t realize how quickly the Chinese learned from Russian mistakes: as early as 1959, they reintroduced privatization in agriculture, creating private plots that remained unmolested even amid the nightmare of the cultural revolution.
While I am not particularly interested in Communist party politics, I found the discussion of China’s early philosophical debates fascinating — especially because while Confucianism was not a religion, it permeated every level of society and shaped China in the manner that a religion would. Pye has engendered in me an excitement for reading about Confucianism proper a little later on.