China published a proposed new constitution today that sweeps away the last legal vestiges of Maoism with provisions restoring the post of head of state, establishing state control over the powerful military and stripping people's communes of political power.
A draft of the document unveiled tonight reverses many of Mao Tse-tung's radical precepts and provides a legal basis for the economic, social and political changes authored by his more moderate successors. It is expected to be approved by the national parliament later this year.
China's current leadership, headed by Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping, hopes to broaden the base of authority in China and inject checks and balances into a political system that has been monopolized by the Communist Party and its chairman. Deng has said the concentration of power in Mao's hands led to serious abuses, such as the disastrous Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.
Deng ordered a new constitution 18 months ago because the last version written in 1978 extolled Mao's ideas, praised his now-disgraced Cultural Revolution and institutionalized his style of one-man rule as party chairman for 27 years.
Provisions in the draft constitution to appoint a head of state and a central military council, both responsible to the national parliament--not the party--are seen as key moves to counterbalance the direct power of the party's chairman and its military affairs commission.
It remains unclear how party and state officials would divide their tasks. Although Deng has said the party should take a back-seat adviser's role, foreign analysts believe it will retain the dominant policy-making role in any restructured system as party members often work alongside bureaucrats in key positions and many bureaucrats also are party members. There is no question, however, that Deng is in principle at least trying to spread out power and to place his own imprint on China's government and politics.
Since seizing power in China in 1949, the Communist Party has inspired all national policies while entrusting their implementation to the government. The distinction has been irrelevant, however, because the people who have run the government also have occupied top party positions.
According to portions of the draft document released tonight, the head of state, or state chairman, would have broad powers to appoint the premier and other top government officials; declare war; ratify and abrogate treaties and assign ambassadors.
The state chairman would be elected to a five-year term by the leadership of the parliament, known as the National People's Congress. The chairman could be reelected but may not serve more than two consecutive terms, according to the official New China News Agency.
China has had two state chairmen, but the job was abolished by the 1975 constitution to eliminate a potential power base for Mao's rivals. Liu Shaoqi held the post until Red Guards arrested him in 1967 and threw himinto jail, where he died in 1969.
Mao, who was chairman of the state and party until 1959, was the only other person to hold the job. At the start of the Cultural Revolution, he came to see Liu as a political challenger and viewed Liu's job as a threat to the supremacy of the Communist Party.
Since real power in China derives more from personality and contacts than official position, the role of state chairman under a new constitution will depend on the choice. Deng, 77, is an obvious candidate, but he has said the job should go to a younger man.
Drafters of the revised constitution were careful to avoid any conflict for Deng in running the armed forces. He now chairs the party's military affairs commission, which makes him in effect commander in chief.
Since China's first constitution in 1954 made the state chairman commander in chief of the armed forces, there was speculation that someone else would assume top honors in the new central military council because Deng has taken himself out of consideration for state chairman.
But the proposed draft said the new council would be headed by a person elected by the parliament, which means it need not be the state chairman. That is seen as a way to elevate Deng to the top military post without requiring him to be state chairman.
Another major institutional change proposed by the draft is restoring the elected townships to govern the political life of China's 800 million peasants instead of people's communes inspired by Mao in 1958.
Mao promoted communes as the bridge to communist utopia, calling them "organizers of the living" and giving them power over every facet of rural life.
Since Mao's death in 1976, economists have discovered that communes were being weighed down by millions of self-aggrandizing, incompetent and sometimes corrupt bureaucrats living off communal subsidies at the expense of hard-working peasants.
Along with Mao's policies, the revised constitution removes many of his extremist principles. The changes reflect the shift since 1978 in China's focus from political class struggle to economic modernization.
With China's economy experimenting with market forces and capitalist incentives, the preamble cites "socialist modernization" as the basic guiding principle. Omitted are such phrases in the 1978 document as, "We must oppose revisionism and prevent the restoration of capitalism."
In keeping with China's efforts to regain Taiwan by persuasion and accommodation of its economic and political system, the draft eliminates the ominous phrase of 1978 that "we are determined to liberate Taiwan."