An Eyewitness Account of China's Party Work Conference and the Third Plenum
Yu Guangyuan

Edited by Ezra F. Vogel and Steven I. Levine

Introduction by Ezra F. Vogel

“In 1978 China initiated a change that not only altered its own course but was to have a profound effect on the world. We have long known that it began when Deng emerged as China’s preeminent leader and launched the era of reform and opening, but we have known little about the 34-day Party Work Conference that started on November 10, 1978. We have also known little about what went on behind the scenes at the Third Plenum (of the 11th Party Congress) that began immediately after, on December 18.
“Fortunately for historians, in 1998 on the 20th anniversary of these events, one of the last remaining key participants in these meetings, Yu Guangyuan, then age 83, wrote a book describing the background and the contents [of both meetings]. Yu was a regular participant in the Party Work Conference. Although he was not a member of the Central Committee, he had attended the plenum as a staff member and took regular notes. Yu based his book on detailed notes he had taken at these meetings.
“ . . . Thanks to Yu’s account, we now understand the nature of the Party Work Conference and the drama that took place there. Until Yu’s book appeared, it was possible for Western scholars to argue that the turning point in reform and opening was at the Third Plenum of December 1978. We now know that the key debates were held at the 34-day Party Work Conference . . . .and that the Third Plenum which followed immediately was essentially ceremonial, officially approving the new consensus worked out at the Party Work Conference.”
— from the Introduction by Ezra F. Vogel
Yu Guangyuan was born in 1915 and graduated in physics from Qinghua University. He was a participant in the December 9th movement (1935), was one of the organizers of the Democratic Liberation Pioneers (Mingxian), which was intended to broaden the anti-Japanese alliance, and joined the CCP shortly before the Japanese invasion. From 1937 to 1982 he held a variety of positions and was struggled against and sent to a May 7th Cadre School during the Cultural Revolution. In 1975 Yu was assigned as a senior member of the Party Research Office of the State Council, and later of the Political Research Office and concurrently a deputy president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a deputy director of the Science and Technology Commission of the State Council; he worked closely with Deng Xiaoping in Deng’s periods of ascendancy.

Ezra F. Vogel is former Director of the Fairbank Center, Harvard University

Steven I. Levine heads the Carolina Asia Center, University of North Carolina

EastBridge Voices of Asia 2004 252pp index

ISBN 1-891936-53-0 (pb) $29.95
ISBN 1-891936-54-9 (hb) $49.95