Six years after halting a destructive political witchhunt known as the Cultural Revolution, China's Communist Party is gearing up for another ideological purification campaign.
This one, however, will be directed by the victims of the Cultural Revolution, now back in power, who want to oust their old leftist foes along with corrupt officials and Communists too easily influenced by "exploiting class ideologies."
The campaign would be the first of its kind for the pragmatists who have been running China since party chairman Mao Tse-tung died in 1976 and who have eschewed Mao's style of political activism for quiet, orderly administration.
Foreign analysts interpret the decision to carry out a purge as reflecting the judgment of the current leaders that one is necessary to achieve their goal of modernizing the country and their confidence that they are sufficiently entrenched in power to carry out a purge.
"It is true that impurities in ideology, style and organization still exist within the party and that no fundamental turn for the better has as yet been made in the party style," party Chairman Hu Yaobang said last week at the national party congress that has been in session here since Wednesday.
Hu also told the party meeting that his position as chairman would be abolished and that instead the party would be led by a general secretary, who would be responsible to the Politburo.
Hu, a moderate Communist restored to power after humiliating persecutions during the Cultural Revolution, reportedly announced plans for a three-year party cleansing called "rectification and consolidation," aimed at "checking unhealthy tendencies." He emphasized that, unlike the Cultural Revolution, the new political campaign would not involve violence.
Starting next year, Hu said, every party member will begin a "thoroughgoing ideological education" so as to better understand "the character, position and role" of the party and to realize that abuse of power is unacceptable.
Finally, all 40 million Communists will have to turn in their party cards and reapply for membership under new, stricter qualifications.
"Those who fail to meet the requirements of membership after education shall be expelled from the party or asked to withdraw from it," Hu told the congress, according to excerpts of his address released today.
About half of the party's members joined during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when radical ideology -- not skill or diligence -- was the criterion for joining. Many of these people still function in low-level jobs, refusing to cooperate with the new, pragmatic policies devised by Hu and his ruling faction in Peking.
The Cultural Revolution, originally inspired by Mao as a movement to shake up complacent bureaucrats before it got out of control, is blamed for almost all of China's ills today.
"The pernicious influences of the 10 years of domestic turmoil have not yet been eradicated," said Hu.
Hu and his political mentor, party Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping, until now have avoided the divisive, time-consuming reeducation campaigns of Mao's era, preferring to concentrate on the pressing needs of modernization.
Hu underscored the importance of the campaign, saying: "The style of a party in power determines its very survival. The rectification of party style and consolidation of party organizations will be of primary importance for the party."
The purification will be nonviolent, he stressed, apparently trying to distinguish it from the vicious struggle sessions, beatings and imprisonments of the Cultural Revolution, when millions of innocent people suffered.
"Bad elements must on no account be permitted to take this as an opportunity to frame and attack good people," said Hu, betraying concern that the movement could get out of hand.
Ironically, Hu chose as a model an earlier Maoist rectification drive, one that took place in 1942 when the Chinese Communists were living in caves in Yenan Province. He called on party leaders to observe the spirit of that campaign, the motto of which was "learning from past mistakes to avoid future ones and curing the sickness to save the patient."
The decision to do away with the position of party chairman is designed, in part, to prevent the abuse of power and the personality cult that developed under Mao.