RED CHINA: The Third Solution

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"There are few situations in life that cannot honestly be settled and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold, or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice on a dark night." —Old Chinese Proverb

In the course of eliminating opposition to Communist rule in rugged mountainous Shensi province, Kao Kang, a squat, square-jawed warlord, learned all about the precipice treatment for despised rivals. By 1935 he had Shensi so much under his fist that Mao Tse-tung marched his harassed legions 6,000 miles to get to the safety of Kao's country. Only then did Shensi Peasant Kao, 33, and already eight years a party member, learn to read and write.

Mao praised him as "consistently correct," later made him boss of Manchuria, probably at Russian instigation, since the Russians were then in occupation. There Kao Kang learned the bag-of-gold technique, only the gold was Russian, and not just yellow metal, but iron, steel and machinery. Kao built Manchuria into a great industrial empire. But when he began issuing his own currency, making separate trade treaties with his Russian pals, and boasting that while China was depressed his Manchuria was booming, the idea began to get around that tough Kao was more consistent than correct. In 1953 Mao pulled him back to Peking, making him head of a lyman State Planning Commission. He was last seen in public some 15 months ago, and when Mao last June abolished the system of regional governments, including Manchuria, Kao was not mentioned.

Last week a communique of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party explained why: "Since 1949 Kao Kang engaged in conspiratorial activities aimed at seizing the power of leadership of party and state." It charged Kao with having formed "an anti-party faction . . . to undermine party solidarity and unity and make the northeast area the independent kingdom of Kao Kang." In the State Planning job he had "tried to instigate party members in the army to support his conspiracy." Expelled with Kao were seven other lesser party leaders, including rugged, mustachioed Jao Shu-shih, secretary of the Central Committee and onetime political commissar of the New Fourth Army.

It was Red China's first top-level Communist purge. The terms of the denunciation closely followed the Russian pattern, but if the Chinese leaders had intended to follow up expulsion with a Stalinist-type public confession of guilt by Kao, they were defeated by an old Chinese custom. Like many a great imperial mandarin before him, Kao took the proverbial way out of his situation: he committed suicide. Thus Kao Kang, said the communique, showing that the Chinese Communists fully understood his protest, "expressed his ultimate betrayal of the party."