The Intellectual Who Speaks In Defense of China's Regime


Beijing. -- A half-year before the world-shocking confrontations between the government and pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, he accurately predicted in a secret memo to Chinese Communist Party leaders that China would soon find itself in deep turmoil.

Shortly after the bloody military crackdown on those protests in June, 1989, he was the first Chinese intellectual to publicly voice support for the government's brutal actions.

And since then, He Xin has emerged as the most prominent academic fronting for the hard-liners within China's top leadership.

It is perhaps a surprising role for a former foundry worker with a peasant's manner and no college degree.

It is also a somewhat unusual stance for a scholar who, like tens of thousands of other Chinese youth, was sent to the countryside for re-education during the Cultural Revolution and ended up toiling for most of the 1970s in China's harsh far north.

But it is not so peculiar given Mr. He's apparent skill at reassuring those currently at China's helm of their political legitimacy -- and given his unique knack for promoting himself in the press both here and abroad.

Mr. He, a 42-year-old researcher at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, reportedly was named recently to head a new brain-trust that will advise Li Peng, China's hard-line premier. He says that this is only a rumor and that he will be leaving the academy soon to become an independent columnist.

At the social-sciences academy, a center of reform thinking that came under heavy attack after the squashing of the pro-democracy movement, Mr. He is said to be viewed with a fair measure of fear by his colleagues.

An American scholar with close ties to the academy dismisses him as just an opportunistic "Marxist hack who puts a gloss on the party's line."

But Mr. He's fast-rising power here is such that the Far Eastern Economic Review recently likened him to Rasputin, the mad manipulator of the Russian court that fell to the Bolshevik revolution in the early part of this century.

Mr. He first made his mark by publicly criticizing Zhao Ziyang, the reformist party chief who was deposed shortly after the Tiananmen crackdown. Some analysts believe that he is the protege of party elder Hu Qiaomu, who is often credited with having ghostwritten some of Mao Zedong's best-known speeches.

However Mr. He has been able to come so far so fast, there is little question that his aggressively conservative socialist polemics serve the purposes of China's current leadership.

"It seems today nothing can more effectively destroy a developing nation from within than wielding the banner of 'democracy,' " Mr. He wrote last year in an attack against both the West and exiled Chinese intellectuals with an argument echoed by China's hard-liners.

"The United States recommends such a political system to China. But because China has an entirely different economic and political foundation, this type of system . . . would result in the creation of a politically weak, lax and extremely pro-U.S. . . . government unable to unite the nation," he wrote.

"Therefore, whenever I read in newspapers that Western politicians, in the name of 'democracy' and 'human rights,' lTC agitate for China's national division and oppose its population policy, I am perplexed over whether they love China or genuinely hate it. Are they concerned about China's development and progress, or do they hope for an early division of China's territory that will result in the Chinese people becoming destitute and homeless?" he asked rhetorically.

Mr. He has advanced such lines of thought over the last two years in interviews with foreign journalists and scholars, an act that stands out at time when virtually all other Chinese intellectuals avoid such publicity.

He frequently has published these interviews, sometimes drawing criticism from interviewers that he misrepresented their conversations.

Earlier this month, Mr. He took met with several dozen foreign journalists for more than two hours, a question-and-answer session that was filmed and taped and that doubtlessly will be circulated.

Similar to other press conferences with Chinese leaders, this was a show in which the foreign press was employed as a prop. Foreign reporters provided an audience for him and, by their very presence, lent him a measure of credibility.

Wearing a silk shirt and tie and with his pants rolled up above knees in the style of a Chinese peasant suffering through the summer heat, Mr. He sat with a bank of microphones and tape recorders before him, clearly enjoying being the center of so much attention.

At times, he struck thoughtful poses for the cameras. But his bare left knee twitched nervously for most of the press conference, and he smoked one cigarette after another.

He began by billing the session as a time for free-wheeling discussion. But, until he was interrupted by the objections of some reporters, he spent more than a half hour on a tedious monologue attacking the political rumors about him as libelous.

During the rest of the press conference, his responses served mainly to illustrate the prickly sense of insecurity that afflicts China's hard-liners these days, and the political terror that intellectuals, even in his seemingly favored position, live under.

Mr. He essentially ducked answering most questions.

At one point, he directly admitted that it would be best for him not to tackle a pointed question about the political differences between China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, and Mr. Zhao, the disgraced former party leader.

At another juncture, he refused to talk about his relationship with Premier Li. "It is inconvenient to talk too much about it," he said. "Please excuse me."

He maintained that Chinese leaders have "long been concerned" about human rights in China.

He said that Chinese criticism of the current regime should be permitted as long as it was contained within internal documents and not made public.

He claimed that the Chinese military had such wisdom that it could "win any war."

By that time, Mr. He's pants had been rolled back down. Most of the foreign reporters had long since stopped taking notes. Almost every foreign reporter who had asked a question had had his or her picture taken by a Chinese photographer, who was assumed to be a public security agent.

C7 And Mr. He's show, for this day, was declared over.

Robert Benjamin is The Sun's Beijing correspondent.

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