The Art of China Watching
"The following article does not answer any questions about what is going on inside China today. It is not intended to. It deals simply and solely-and with an unusual degree of self-deprecation-with the state of the art of the Sinologist or China-watcher. This article is for those who wonder what problems the China analyst has, what tools, techniques, and assets he can bring to bear, and how confident he may be in the end product. Note at the outset that the title calls it an "art," not a "science.""
This is dated article and was approved for release in 1994 but is probably more relevant today than it was when the author first presented his/ her findings to the CIA.
"China Watchers", can glean some expert advice from a very professional "China Watcher".
We also refer you to the painstaking and meticulous research on The 18th National Congress Report Card. An excellent perspective on ‘China Speak”.
By Qian Gang- Bio: http://cmp.hku.hk/~/staff/qian-gang/
APPROVED FOR RELEASE 1994
CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM
2 JULY 96
No Foreign Dissem
The following article does not answer any questions about what is going on inside China today. It is not intended to. It deals simply and solely-and with an unusual degree of self-deprecation-with the state of the art of the Sinologist or China-watcher. This article is for those who wonder what problems the China analyst has, what tools, techniques, and assets he can bring to bear, and how confident he may be in the end product. Note at the outset that the title calls it an "art," not a "science."
THE ART OF CHINA-WATCHING
Most knowledgeable observers agree that information on, and analysis of, events within the People's Republic of China has advanced now to the level of "Kremlinology" about 15 years ago. It is no semantic accident that observers of the Chinese political scene are more often called "China-watchers" than "Sinologists," while analysts of the Soviet Union are frequently referred to as "Kremlinologists." The art of China-watching is imprecise at best, and hardly deserves yet to be called Sinology.
The explanation, or blame, for this often frustrating situation lies mainly with the way the Chinese conduct their affairs. To say the Chinese have a penchant for secrecy is almost an understatement. Some Chinese have said privately that they deliberately try to hide important domestic events from their northern enemy, the Soviet Union. While there is certainly an element of truth in this, the Chinese are also anxious to conceal information from the Chinese populace and from the outside world in general. The secrecy syndrome applies more often to domestic than to foreign affairs. By its very nature, Chinese foreign policy inevitably makes itself known. With a second country involved, Peking has had less success in hiding its foreign policy.
On the domestic front, however, there have been for the past several years serious policy differences and genuine personal animosity among the Chinese leaders. It is these schisms that Peking seems most anxious to hide — from the Chinese populace, in order to promote confidence in the leadership and relative stability at the grassroots; from the Soviet Union, because Peking believes Moscow has tried and will try again to exploit differences in the Chinese leadership; and from the rest of the world, perhaps for similar reasons and also because the Chinese seem to believe that their internal affairs are none of our business. They complained bitterly about Western press coverage of Chinese domestic politics last year. They did not like the interpretation presented in the articles, but neither did they say anything to clarify the situation.umber of issues demanding the attention of the leadership and requiring specific and authoritative instructions from Peking.
Disagreements in the leadership over a number of questions may have contributed to the declining number of Peking directives. In some instances, these differences manifest themselves in contradictory directives. The occasional reversals are usually short-lived and have not affected the general trend of events, but they raise important — and puzzling — analytical questions. How can one faction in the leadership be strong enough to push through a directive one day but be unable to get it enforced the next? How can they block a personnel appointment for months but suddenly be powerless to stop it? And who, in fact, are "they"?
Last year, most directives from Peking set strict limitations on the conduct of the anti-Confucius campaign: officials could not be criticized by name; wall posters, written by the general populace to expose the "crimes" of unnamed officials, could not be posted outside public buildings where foreign visitors could see them; and people were not to bring their complaints to Peking but were to stay in their provinces and resolve their differences at home. Suddenly a new directive was issued which said just the opposite: it was all right to attack officials by name, posters could be put up anywhere, no effort was to be made to prevent foreign visitors from reading them, and the people were invited to come to Peking to express their grievances.
Taking Peking at its word and acting in accordance with the latest official directive, a number of people descended on Peking, mounting posters throughout the city attacking several important officials by name. The poster writers were quickly suppressed: they were harassed, and sometimes jailed, by the security forces, and their posters were often torn down as soon as they were put up. The poster writers were then sent home to their provinces, and from then on the campaign proceeded as though the latest directive had never been issued. If the new directive came as a surprise to China watchers, it must have been an even greater surprise to the unfortunate people who acted on it and got themselves arrested for following Peking's latest instructions.
There are times in the China business when having solid information about a particular event is more confusing than it is enlightening. If the event is reported in the western press, it can even be a nuisance. For example, a large meeting was held in Peking in the summer of 1973, as China watchers were looking for signs of a party congress. Because the meeting was public, reporters got wind of it and accounts of the meeting appeared in the western press. China watchers knew the meeting was not a party congress — it was too large — but do not know even today what that meeting was all about and some wish they had never known of its existence.
Despite the vicissitudes of China watching, analysts in some cases are better informed about the situation in China's provinces than China's own national leaders are. As early as 1970, for example, it became obvious to China watchers, through intelligence reports and provincial radio broadcasts, that urban youth sent to live and work in the countryside were being consciously discriminated against with the acquiescence of local authorities. The situation seemed to come as something of a shock to Mao, when he first learned of it in 1973. A school teacher, with a son out in the country and apparently with contacts who could see that messages got to the leadership, sent a letter to Mao describing the living conditions of urban youth in the rural areas. Mao was outraged and ordered that steps be taken immediately to end discrimination against these young people. Not until 1974, however, after Peking had long since issued yet another directive on the subject, did local authorities begin to move on this question.
Cases of major disruptions or flagrant disobedience in the provinces, of course, eventually come to Peking's attention. In such cases, national leaders acting as trouble shooters often visit the province in question to help solve the problems. In this context, discrimination against urban youth is a relatively minor problem and one that is not likely to reach the ears of China's leaders on its own. Local officials, after all, are not going to report to Peking that they are deliberately giving urban young people a hard time, but this is exactly the kind of information that refugees are best qualified, and most likely, to report to China watchers. Paradoxically, the intelligence community can beat the Chinese leaders on this issue, not one of especially high priority, while the Chinese can consistently outfox us on the major issues that we watch so closely.
No Foreign Dissem
Historical DocumentPosted: May 08, 2007 08:43 AMLast Updated: Aug 10, 2011 02:22 PMLast Reviewed: May 08, 2007 08:43 AM