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Chinese Use Numbers As Slogans

March 8, 2002

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BEIJING (AP) _ Mao Tse-tung had his ``Three Antis,″ his ``Four Cleanups,″ even his ``Stinking Ninth Category.″ For Deng Xiaoping, it was ``One Country, Two Systems.″ Now President Jiang Zemin has his ``Three Represents.″

It’s a favorite tradition of China’s communists: spreading propaganda via pithy numeric sayings. And the government’s practice of putting big theories into small packages for the illiterate or uninterested masses endures at the current National People’s Congress.

Grammatically awkward though it may be in English, ``Three Represents″ _ the core of Jiang’s manifesto on the party’s future _ is the latest incarnation of a tactic in use since the 1949 revolution. Premier Zhu Rongji was invoking it this week a mere five minutes after the legislature was called to order.

George Wei, a historian of modern China who teaches at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., says the use of numbers is a way of mobilizing the nation.

``Every time the party has new propaganda, it has a long huge document. And nobody can understand it. But if you put things into a slogan that is clear and makes a few points, then people will remember it,″ he said.

China brims with examples of numbers used to guide thought. Chinese pride themselves in their knowledge of ``chengyu,″ which wrangle complex ideas into bite-size four-character idioms. Its version of ``six of one, half a dozen of the other,″ for example: ``banjin, baliang,″ which means half a pound, eight ounces.

``Using numbers in that way is a Chinese specialty,″ said Yang Shaoming, a National People’s Congress delegate from Jilin province. ``It’s straightforward. It’s clear. Ideas like the `Three Represents’ are what the people need to digest very intricate concepts.″

Much of it originated with the master _ Mao, who filled the early years of the People’s Republic with numbered slogans that, in translation, sound decidedly Orwellian.

``Smash the Four Olds,″ he’d say, denouncing old ideas, customs, culture and habits. In 1952, he railed against the ``Three Antis″ _ corruption, waste and bureaucracy.

Particularly mellifluous was the ``Stinking Ninth Category,″ a scornful synonym for intellectuals, who during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution were considered enemies of the people.

Some of Mao’s efforts weren’t as catchy. The ``Five Red Categories″ _ five preferred class backgrounds, from worker and peasant to revolutionary martyr _ faded after a few years. So did the ``Seven Politically Suspect Class Backgrounds,″ which included landlord and the vague ``bad element.″

After Mao died in 1976, his reformist successor proved worthy at the numbers game. Deng introduced the ``Four Modernizations″ to push a lagging China forward in industry, agriculture, defense and technology.

``The focus of the work in the whole country has been shifted onto the four modernizations,″ Deng said as 1979 began. And it happened: Signs went up across Beijing on buses, construction sites, even cranes: ``Diligently pursue the Four Modernizations.″

Later, he packaged his vision for Hong Kong into a pair of numbers: ``One country, two systems,″ which allowed the British colony to keep its capitalist system even as it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Communism, which aims to bring order to a chaotic capitalist world, has long deployed statistics _ the poster children of rationalism _ to show that the revolution is forging ahead. Numbers-based propaganda, then, ``makes it appear as though it’s natural, something that you can’t disagree with,″ said John Mason, a historian of communism at the University of Maine-Machias.

Jiang’s ``Three Represents″ outline how Communist Party thinking must evolve to accommodate a changing economic landscape. The trio was defined by the official Xinhua News Agency as ``the development trend of advanced productive forces, the orientation of advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China.″ And the government is working to make sure people remember.

Official newspapers and newscasts are full of stories about the ideology and profiles of faithful followers. At Quanjude, a Peking Duck restaurant chain, a spokesman said last summer that its officials were unavailable, busy studying the ``Three Represents.″ People’s Daily, the main party newspaper, keeps attention focused with frequent headlines, mostly variations of ``Rural cadres urged to study `Three Represents.‴

These days, with mass media inundating China, doctrinaire sloganeering isn’t what it was. But old habits die hard _ especially at the National People’s Congress, where you can’t keep a catchy number down.

Just ask Li Rongrong, minister in charge of the State Economic and Trade Commission. In his briefing about the state economy Friday, he invoked, without elaborating, the ``Two High One Good″ project for technological renovation. Then he really got going.

``Based on these goals,″ the report said, ``we must achieve `four changes,′ initiate `six structures’ and accomplish `eight tasks.‴

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