The People’s Republic of China at 70


The People’s Republic of China at 70

It has overcome a fraught past to emerge as a world power – but there are clouds ahead.

Austin Williams


The People’s Republic of China was founded on 1 October 1949 with an address by Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party. Speaking from the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) in front of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, he announced victory over Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) and its military wing. He laid claim to a new nation run by and for the Chinese people. China had finally reached a peaceful resolution to almost 18 years of war and civil conflict. It was time to build a new republic.

For the Chinese, the Second World War – known as the Second Sino-Japanese War – had begun in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. By 1937, Beijing and Tianjin had been lost and the barbaric assault on Nanjing was just beginning. By 1945, while the rest of the world celebrated the peace, China was mourning the deaths of 15million people, including around 12million civilians, and sinking into another round of internecine struggle between Nationalists and Republicans.

This civil war was a continuation of the internal power struggle that had begun in the 1920s. It continued even while China was conducting the war against the Japanese, and would last until 1949. It is estimated to have cost the lives of one million soldiers and five million civilians (1945-49).

These are the painful origins of National Day in China – a public holiday celebrated on 1 October every year. Little wonder that on that inaugural National Day in 1949, British journalist Christopher Dobson observed a tired, bedraggled nation. ‘Mao’s guerrilla fighters shambled past’, he wrote of that first parade, ‘and his Mongolian cavalry jogged along on their half-wild ponies’.

Communist troops on the march during the assault on Shanghai at the end of the Chinese Civil War, 21 May 1949.
Communist troops on the march during the assault on Shanghai at the end of the Chinese Civil War, 21 May 1949.

In marked contrast, on National Day 70 years later, President Xi Jinping presided over a display of some of the most advanced military hardware in the world. He boasted that ‘no force can shake the status of this great nation’. In addition to the 15,000 troops on show, there were stealth drones, tanks and military aircraft, while pride of place was given to the nuclear Dongfeng (eastern wind) intercontinental ballistic missile, which military analysts say can hit the US within 30 minutes.

This is a far cry from 1 October 1949, when the military budget was so low that Chinese fighter pilots were instructed to circle round before flying past again, to fool the audience into thinking that the People’s Republic had more fighter planes than it really did. Even in 1990, China’s military budget was a mere $10 billion a year. Today it is $250 billion.

China’s rise has been unprecedented, especially given the almost unimaginable horrors endured by its people in the course of its modern history. Historian and critic Frank Dikötter calculates that the Communist campaign to change China from a predominantly agrarian society to a modern, industrial one, known as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), resulted in 45million Chinese people being ‘worked, starved or beaten to death’. This was followed by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Mao’s attempt to purge and ‘purify’ Chinese society. It resulted in millions being forcibly sent into the countryside to live with the peasants, and hundreds of thousands more being tortured, killed and enslaved. Modern Chinese history is replete with such horrors. So it is hardly surprising that China’s recent emergence as a world power, a productive economy, a consumer-goods producer, and a stable society has been embraced by a grateful population.

Reckoning with China’s past

Dikötter is a major thorn in the side of apologists for the Chinese Communist Party. His three magnificent volumes on the history of the People’s Republic provide a devastating account of the various periods of Mao’s reign and the consequences of his agrarian policy. But relentlessly exposing and criticising Mao’s brutality should not come at the expense of understanding the historical conditions that gave rise to it. As with Robert Service, in his history of Stalinist Russia, Dikötter’s generalised dislike of Communism impairs his objectivity. His approach is, as one critic puts it, ‘relentlessly partial’.

At least he does not try to hide his partiality. In a recent article, Dikötter reviews the evidence and states that the emergence of the Peoples’ Republic in 1949 ‘was a liberation that plunged the country into decades of Maoist cruelty and chaos… [A]n initial Great Terror claimed some two million lives between 1949 and 1952.’

The horror and magnitude of the slaughter is real enough, of course. But was it caused by liberation, as Dikötter has it? To think it was, as Dikötter suggests, is a way of arguing that China’s modern past would not have been quite so gruesome if Mao had not intervened, as if it was the challenge to the status quo that was the problem. Dikötter even suggests that life in China was better before the foundation of the republic.

For some it was. The upper strata of Chinese society did enjoy an affluent, even decadent lifestyle, in the bars and dancehalls of 1920s and 1930s Shanghai – it wasn’t known as the Paris of the East for nothing.

But for most people, there was a desperate need to transform Chinese society radically. In 1919, pro-democracy advocates were fighting for sovereign rights after the Great Powers had carved up the nation at the Versailles Peace conference. The Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921, developed as a response to the chaos of a fragmented society and was influenced by the transformational possibilities promised by the Russian Revolution.

By 1927, Communist members numbered more than 60,000. With growing unrest, the anti-communist Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek commenced a bloody purge, targeting not just Communists, but also troublesome workers and trade unionists. Thousands were slaughtered in the streets of Shanghai. The following year, Nationalist forces mounted a campaign of suppression across China.

But the genie was out of the bottle. The radical fervour unleashed during the 1920s delivered a hammer blow to the remnants of traditional authority in China. Then, with Japan having invaded Manchuria in 1931, China was dragged into a war it didn’t want.

The use and abuse of China

As China historian Rana Mitter writes, China’s frontline was largely ignored and unaided (some say, sacrificed) by the West throughout the war years. But there is little doubt China formed an invaluable bridgehead in the fight against fascism globally (1).

It was a brutalising fight, too. In 1941, the Japanese invaders pursued a policy known colloquially as the ‘three-alls’ – ‘kill all, burn all, loot all’. But then, these were inhuman times. Remember, the war was ended by America dropping atomic bombs on Japan – with UK Labour government acquiescence (2) – an act that destroyed around 100,000 lives instantaneously.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, China’s war with Japan, and the still raging civil war between Republicans and Nationalists, created appalling conditions for the flowering of a new society. Mitter writes that ‘one of the great lost opportunities of the war was the loss of [China’s] tentative move towards pluralism’, because the post-war battles generated ‘a different path to the same goal: a modern, nationalist Chinese state’ (3).

Mao’s role in forging this bloody, dangerous path should not be downplayed, of course. His contingent relationship to modernity, his anti-urbanism, his pro-peasantry, pro-Stalinist approach to development – all of this was a disaster for China’s development. As a result, Mao has rightly been added to the pantheon of 20th-century Communist pariahs.

Mao Zedong stands outside the Kangdah Cave University during the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1938.
Mao Zedong stands outside the Kangdah Cave University during the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1938.

But Mao is also a little too convenient a hate figure. Western commentators regularly exhume him in order to feed the narrative that overthrowing the status quo, no matter how wretched it is, inevitably leads to, if not the gulag, then at least somewhere very bad. It is a scare story that clearly has a contemporary resonance. This school of thought fears and ridicules social change, believing that it will automatically lead to a worse state of affairs. It is better, therefore, not to rock the boat. This faux-historical narrative does not really tell us much about Communist China. Rather, China is simply being used as a prism through which the West can project and justify its own trepidation about the future.

‘Man must conquer nature’

Likewise, Western environmentalist criticism of modern China tells us more about the West than it does about China. Ironically, there is ostensibly much in Mao’s thinking that echoes in contemporary Western environmentalism. The Malthusian sub-text of Western environmental criticism of China, for example, is similar in spirit, if not in implementation, to the anti-modernist and pro-pastoralist thinking of Mao. So while Mao sent millions to the countryside to learn from the peasantry, so that they might ‘develop their talents to the full’, as Mao put it in 1955, so contemporary environmentalism speaks of the intrinsic moral worth of a close connection to nature. And while Mao argued that ‘all people who have had some education ought to be very happy to work in the countryside if they get the chance’, so today’s environmentalist, off-grid movement might well endorse a similar sentiment (4).

But the parallels with environmentalism are misleading. Mao’s 1945 dictum ‘Man must conquer nature’ was intended as a rallying cry against what was hitherto deemed the natural order: against the imperious reality of foreign rule; against China’s deference to world powers; and against subservience to natural forces. China’s leadership was prepared to do what so many contemporary Western leftists are not: take a risk, and radically overhaul the status quo.

There are too many today who use China’s fraught past to condemn its present. As Judith Shapiro argues in Mao’s War Against Nature (2001), the parlous state of much of China’s environment is too often presented as the result of the rapid growth of the Chinese economy over the past four decades since Mao’s death. This is a convenient argument for those nations for which a slowdown in China’s economic growth would benefit their own competitiveness. For example, the closure of China’s state-subsidised steelworks cannot come too soon for other nations’ steel industries.

The capitalist turn

After Mao’s death in 1976, there was a possibility for another break with convention. After a brief interregnum, overseen by now forgotten premier Hua Guofeng, the incoming premier Deng Xiaoping broke with Mao’s legacy and proposed meagre but nevertheless significant capitalist reforms. This was the kind of change very much welcomed in the West – namely, a turn towards capitalist production and exchange. For years, peasants had been forming unofficial, illegal markets to exchange their paltry surplus products in order to make ends meet. But Deng’s Town and Village Enterprises initiative, launched in the early 1980s, allowed collective enterprises to set up shop legitimately, and produce and sell surplus goods openly. Deng also experimented with four special economic zones (SEZ) in 1980: Shenzhen, Guangdong, Zhuhai and Xiamen. These were protected economies with internal market freedoms.

In many ways, such policies had been the downfall of the Soviet Union under reformist president Mikhail Gorbachev. So the Chinese Communists were understandably nervous about economic liberalisation. In order to protect itself, then, the Communist state continued to push ahead with economic reform, but it did so while monitoring the minutiae of everyday life. And ever since, Western powers have waited for China finally to come over to the side of commonsense, Western-style liberal democracy. And every year, they have been disappointed.

Deng was always aware of the risks entailed by economic reform. First he made sure that the early market-oriented experiments were on the south China coast, far enough away from the Communists’ seat of power in Beijing that capitalist ideas would not contaminate the party. And secondly, of course, these experiments were strictly managed and regulated, complete with rigidly enforced penalties.

Businessmen survey Beijing's booming central business district from a new office building on 18 November 2004.
Businessmen survey Beijing's booming central business district from a new office building on 18 November 2004.

Deng’s 1992 ‘Southern Tour’, in which he travelled through Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shanghai, drumming up support for marketisation, consolidated his reputation as the chief architect of China’s reformist Opening Up programme. He was portrayed as the pragmatic liberal, the social reformer. It meant that Deng’s reputation, aided by the strict media controls in place, survived the callous one-child policy launched in 1980, and the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

In 1995, a Western academic pointed out that ‘while Chinese leaders express commitment to economic liberalisation, there are also authoritative calls for rolling back the reforms and reimplementing plans and controls’ (3). By this point, six years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Communist Party had already consolidated its authority, ousted political opponents, and began the next phase in China’s monumental rise. The contradictions inherent in Chinese Communist rule were well documented even then, but China always lived to fight another day.

But is it all – finally – going wrong? Current president Xi Jinping has definitely turned the clock back on liberalisation, and there is a sense of foreboding in the air. Official misdemeanours, local protests, policy challenges, Western interference and illegal activity, are all being clamped down on with greater speed and severity than they have been for a long time. China has never been a liberal democracy, but the escalating persecution of minority groups, the surge in arrests and deportations of foreigners, increased surveillance, temporary detentions and increasing censorship reveal the extent and depth of the Communist Party’s siege mentality. For all its displays of military might, China is getting jumpy, and the unrest in Hong Kong is not helping.

The trade war with the US is another problem. Although some regional players benefit from new trade opportunities with China, its relations with others are proving more fractious. At the moment Vietnam gains from China’s troubles, as more direct foreign investment flows in from those companies looking for stable investment opportunities in the region and seeking to avoid punitive tariffs.

Elsewhere, Japan and South Korea are entering a hostile trade war of their own; Hong Kong is on the brink of something, although no one seems to know what; and there are upcoming elections in Taiwan, which threaten to resurrect the old Chinese Nationalist-Republican battles of the 20th century.

Indeed, the Cold War’s eastern front in the 1940s was informed by the Soviet Union’s support for Mao’s peasant army, against the US-supported KMT. When the US withdrew its support for the KMT and its leader Chiang Kai-shek, they fled, battered and bitter, to Formosa island (present-day Taiwan) to form the Republic of China, which declared itself the rightful heir to China’s national government. Today, the friction between China and Taiwan is greater than it has been for a long time. In January 2020, Taiwan’s presidential election will pit the island’s pro-Chinese faction against West-supporting factions once again.

In the South China Morning Post, commentator Cary Huang writes: ‘The presidential race offers choices that divide the electorate along multiple lines – idealism or reality, confrontation or compromise, politics or economics. They pit mainland migrants against Taiwan natives, the old against the young, among the island’s 23million people.’ It is here that the next twists and turn of the region – and beyond – will be played out. With regional and global tensions rising, the question is: will it be America or China or even the EU which emerges as the peacemaker and powerbroker? Watch this space.

Austin Williams is director of the Future Cities Project. Follow him on Twitter: @Future_Cities

He will be chairing the debate ‘Hong Kong: Understanding The Protests’, at the Battle of Ideas, at the Barbican, Saturday 2 November, 14:00–15:30. For further details and to buy tickets, visit here.

Pictures by: Getty Images.

(1) China’s War with Japan 1937-1945, by Rana Mitter, Allen Lane, 2013

(2) ‘Labour and the Bomb: The First 80 Years, International Affairs’, by Len Scott, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Vol 82, No4, pp 685-700

(3) China’s War with Japan 1937-1945, by Rana Mitter, Allen Lane, 2013

(4) ‘The new environmentalism of everyday life: Sustainability, material flows and movements’, by David Schlosberg and Romand Coles, in Review of Contemporary Political Theory 15, p160

(5) The Beijing rule: contradictions, ambiguities and controls’, by J Frankenstein, in Long Range Plannning 28(1), 1995, pp 70-80

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Jonathan Yonge

13th October 2019 at 7:20 pm

I have learnt Chinese and visited China with a Chinese friend going as far as the far north-west and expereinced the intense security around the Uyghurs.
All I can say is that China is not like any description I can read on here, or elsewhere.
It certainly does not make sense with a Mao/Communist past. It is vibrant, fast growing and in many ways far more capitalist than the west. It is also far more restrictive.
I cannot explain this.

So I suggest that we do not judge China by our own norms.

It is too late to say the same about South Africa, but would have also been true.

steve moxon

14th October 2019 at 1:28 pm

?! It’s massively debt-fuelled, even by Western standards. An implosion waiting to happen. Hopelessly corrupt at every level, and unreformably inefficient. It’s a totalitarian obscenity of state worship of a hate-the-people ideology. Elsewhere in the world, in places like Thailand, never mind Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is the ethnic Chinese who are the real drivers of the economy: the Chinese are naturally great entrepreneurs. China could be a major positive economic force instead of a disaster to come. Another monumental disaster courtesy of Marxist ‘thinking’. The world, like the Chinese people, needs to be rid of this monstrosity.

Jonothan Sims

12th October 2019 at 2:24 am

Not a bad piece. However, Firstly, China has never been communist. It has used Marxist/Leninist principles when required. The Chinese characters individually translated become TOTAL PRODUCTION PARTY. I have been here 25 years and can’t see one bit of communism.
Mao Zedong was getting involved politically with Sun Yatsen way before the creation of the GongChangDan (total production party), and what Mao promised the people of China was education, health and prosperity.
The war China endured started before 1910 and dragged on until 1949 with two parties vying for power. That of Maos’ and Jiang’s philosophies. In fact Jiang can be unofficially considered to be the last emperor when he set up in Nanjing. (Jiang-Chang Kai Check).
During the speech of independence Mao actually said “let us be wary of those sugar coated bullets”,
His meaning I think was that although China had achieved independence, the old thinking and ways were still very powerful in China. It is ironic to think that the Great Leap Forward was based on the sweet words Mao was hearing from government representatives were telling him about how well they were all doing. This was the way in China and had been for almost 2,000 years. Tell people what you think they want to hear to make them feel better. The results of this were rather devastating. But do remember, there was no social media, no fax machines and very very few telephones. So the only information Mao and Party was receiving was absolutely positive.
The origins of the Cultural Revolution were supposed to be based on a theatrical play in Shanghai. Shanghai was playing a dangerous power game with Beijing at that time and I feel Mao allowed the cultural revolution to run out control in order to bring the very real cultural and social inequalities down to ground level. Similarly the policy of moving people all over china to live was a way of mixing the population (56 ethnic groups) to strengthen a national unity and identity. The intellectuals hated this as they were forced out into the rural regions with the “peasants”. It was vitally important for people in different regions and socio – economic groups to realise the important contribution all the people of China were making for the future.
Another thing China did was create the Agricultural Bank of China. This banking system was probably the first in the world to develop microfinance. Mao and the Gongchangdan, did not give title to the land the peasants occupied but did give them ownership. This allowed them to go to the bank and borrow small amounts of cash to buy tools and machines to develop industry. Not giving title to the land meant also these people could not sell it and move to the cities. They could move to the cities and work but the land remained theirs. Now, the people in the remote areas are reaping massive benefits from being stuck with the farms and lands in the countryside.
Mao was just the figurehead of a group of people with the common goal of developing China and ending poverty. Deng and all the rest up to Xi are also the figureheads. They are the face of the policy that is in incredibly fine detail and a development model which is amazingly successful.
25 years ago there was nothing here. It was awful. Now it’s incredibly good. The central committee has planned this development to the finest detail and if there is anything to criticise them with, it is that they are very poor about communicating their direction. After living here for a while you learn that you can trust this government because they are taking the country and people in the right direction.
The Central Committee is purging out corruption at all levels because now it has the technology at it’s fingertips. Many government officials stole public money and migrated overseas with this. Now they are being dragged back to pay for what they have done. Every day here another official or member of the public is getting locked up for cheating the public out of money.
I remember the big stink the west kicked up about the Chinese head of interpol being arrested for corruption and how western media criticised China for daring to imprison the head of interpol. How dare they! Well nobody is immune from the law in China and the west missed the point that the head of the international police force of the world was corrupt.
Xinjiang is also something the west twists. The troubles there are mostly groups of different religious thinking. Building new detention centres is just one part of the development of a country and having been a “guest” of these detention centres I can honestly say they are clean, tidy and you are treated as a human being. There is no undue cruelty as reported by the west.
China has brought 1/5th of the people on the planet out of poverty and every step of the way the West has criticised and hindered this from happening.
This article pointed a finger at the Japanese and the things they did, but misses the fact that China was a mess, ripe for the picking and countries such as Germany, France and the UK were also in there slicing up the China Pie. In fact Hong Kong was signed over to the British because Victorias navy came here to Zhejiang province and massacred so many people on Zhoushan Island in order to drive home their point.
China was the major economy on this planet for almost 2,000 years. Now it is again heading in that direction but with one major difference. The government here realises that all people on this planet are equal and that nobody chooses where they are born. It is for this reason that China is exporting it’s development model all over the world. The belt and road initiative is proven to work and ending poverty and suffering worldwide is the China mission. There is nothing sinister in what they are doing. They are ending poverty and should be supported as poverty is the only crime against humanity.

steve moxon

12th October 2019 at 9:01 pm

Another message direct from your PRC state hacking and fake news service?
The length of these things is a bit of a giveaway. More like a Castro speech.

steve moxon

12th October 2019 at 9:04 pm

How about this line, guys:
“Building new detention centres is just one part of the development of a country and having been a “guest” of these detention centres I can honestly say they are clean, tidy and you are treated as a human being. There is no undue cruelty as reported by the west”.
FFS! Chinese state troll or what?!

Michael Lynch

12th October 2019 at 10:06 pm

That’s exactly what I thought when I read it.

Willie Penwright

11th October 2019 at 7:02 pm

In repeating tired old anti-socialist propaganda it is important to add a few million more casualities. Mr Williams is right on script.

Forlorn Dream

11th October 2019 at 1:02 pm

Anyone else have the impression that trouble is brewing?

China is massively increasing its military budget.
America already has a massive military budget.
Russia already has a massive military budget.
The EU is on the brink of forming a shiny new military force and I expect it’ll have a massive budget.
The world is again becoming a powder keg waiting for one little spark.

Jim Lawrie

11th October 2019 at 12:52 pm

In retaliation for Korea breaking treaties, Japan has decided to curtail high tech exports to them. I’d call that sanctions, not a trade war.

Triggered by the decision of Korean judges to re-interpret the treaties. Where did that idea come from?

Korea’s bellow and bluster is an attempt to cover their fear that Japan and Germany will take up the slack when Korean industries start to flounder. Korea’s success in becoming part of the global economy had blinded them to the fact that that is what their prosperity is based on.

If Brexit had taken place, the UK would be in a position to take advantage.

Steve Roberts

11th October 2019 at 8:59 am

Superbly concise overview obviously written from a huge depth of knowledge. I particularly enjoyed it that while reading the piece i was immediately beginning to question other situations around the world that have impacted upon and impacted by this massively important nation historically and especially contemporarily.
Certainly the questioning of the status quo, consequences and possibilities throughout history are also still very pertinent today , Brexit anyone ?
As is pointed out there is of course a real social force to be reckoned with today – beyond the machinations of the ruling elites – in Hong Kong where the domination of the state is presently less oppressive than in the mainland, how that will play out, how far it will spread into the mainland, what support it will get and on what ideological basis are just some of the fascinating questions in the area.
That pesky word “populism” appears to be more of a global phenomenon than we sometimes consider, although i am sure the elites globally are very aware of the possibilites, they not only rule but prefer to do so by consent – though are not at all averse to tyranny and denial of democracy either – it is the questioning of that consent and who rules that is emerging. Bring it on.

steve moxon

11th October 2019 at 9:15 am

Well I suppose that murdering tens of millions of your own people, massacring peaceful protestors by the thousand, today still putting millions of your own people in concentration camps for absolutely no good reason, with everyone without exception living under the threat of arbitrary arrest and torture or worse, not to mention wholesale corruption from top to very bottom of the one-party state, a state planning nightmare where whole cities and industrial complexes are built and never used … might be compared to some facet of Brexit ….. well, no, it’s fatuous obscene idiocy.

Winston Stanley

11th October 2019 at 8:50 am

Deng Xiaoping is an interesting ideological thinker, with his approach of “seeking truth from facts” in contrast to the dogmatic “two whatevers” approach that would have followed whatever documents Mao approved or whatever he said or did. Xiaoping followed the materialist approach of adapting political and economic strategy to the prevailing conditions. Pragmatism rather than ossification.

His emphasis was that Marxism is aimed primarily at the development of the economic base as the foundation of society and that the party should be willing to take whatever course furthers that aim. Be that the inclusion of some market capitalism within socialism, an opening up to foreign powers, adapting Western management theory, whatever.

He seems to be correct from a Marxist perspective, in so far as that the economy has to develop according to its own condition and to the prevailing conditions and opportunities offered from abroad. Marxism takes a dynamic and gradual approach to development. Socialism is an eventual aim, as material development allows, rather than a starting point.

No doubt liberal democracy is understood in China within that pragmatic context, not dogmatically as an eternal or unalterable good but as a potential good to be enjoyed as circumstances allow. It is easy to take a moralistically critical view of that approach but arguably Western capitalist democracy is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Western socialists are more democratic minded and indeed it is always easier to propose the existence of all social goods concurrently and immediately in theory. China is doing really well in material and social development, so it is not so easy to dogmatically say that it should just adopt Western capitalism and democracy as the best model. Obviously we Westerners support freedom and democracy, whether we actually have it is another matter.

Deng Xiaoping, September 16, 1978

> … The fundamental point of Mao Zedong Thought is seeking truth from facts and integrating the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution. Comrade Mao Zedong wrote a four-word motto for the Central Party School in Yan’an: “Seek truth from facts.” These four words are the quintessence of Mao Zedong Thought…

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Comrade Mao Zedong continued to lead us forward by applying the principle of seeking truth from facts. Of course, at that time many questions could not be raised because the necessary conditions were absent. If we are to hold high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought, we must always proceed from current reality when handling questions of principle and policy. Today, as we work to achieve China’s four modernizations, many conditions are present which were absent in Comrade Mao’s time. Unless the Central Committee of the Party is prepared to rethink issues and is determined to act in the light of present conditions, many questions will never be posed or resolved… If we were never supposed to do anything that Comrade Mao hadn’t suggested, we could never have decided on our present course of action. What does holding high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought mean here? It means proceeding from present realities and making full use of all favourable conditions to attain the objective of the four modernizations as defined by Comrade Mao Zedong and proclaimed by Comrade Zhou Enlai. If we could only act as Comrade Mao suggested, what could we do now? We have to develop Marxism and also Mao Zedong Thought. Otherwise, they will become ossified.

When we say that theory must be tested in practice, this is what we are talking about. That the issue is still being argued shows how rigid some people’s thinking has become. The basic problem is still the one I’ve mentioned — that these people’s thinking violates Comrade Mao Zedong’s principle of seeking truth from facts and the principles of dialectical and historical materialism. We have here, in fact, a reflection of idealism and metaphysics. The world is changing every day, new things are constantly emerging and new problems continually arising. We can’t afford to lock our doors, refuse to use our brains and remain forever backward. In today’s world, our country is counted as poor. Even within the third world, China still rates as relatively underdeveloped. We are a socialist country. The basic expression of the superiority of our socialist system is that it allows the productive forces of our society to grow at a rapid rate unknown in old China, and that it permits us gradually to satisfy our people’s constantly growing material and cultural needs. After all, from the historical materialist point of view correct political leadership should result in the growth of the productive forces and the improvement of the material and cultural life of the people. If the rate of growth of the productive forces in a socialist country lags behind that in capitalist countries over an extended historical period, how can we talk about the superiority of the socialist system? We should ponder the question: What have we really done for the people? We must make use of the favourable conditions we now enjoy to accelerate the growth of our productive forces, improve the people’s material and cultural life and broaden their outlook.

steve moxon

11th October 2019 at 9:01 am

A message direct from your PRC state hacking and fake news service.

Hugh Bryant

11th October 2019 at 11:25 am

“What have we really done for the people.”

Well, you butchered them in their millions for no good reason at all. Does that count?

Winston Stanley

11th October 2019 at 12:29 pm

Hugh, yes that is awful. On the other hand, I wonder how many millions the British Empire killed while it accumulated its capital. A million Irish died in the Great Famine and the population of Ireland fell by a quarter while the English capitalists shipped out the food. So much for “humane” capitalism. And how many died in inter-capitalist and imperialist wars like WWI and WWII? Entire continents were more or less wiped out in America and Australia.

> Johann Hari: The truth? Our empire killed millions

We are still a nation locked in denial. If you point out basic facts about the British Empire – that the British deliberately adopted policies that caused as many as 29 million Indians to starve to death in the late 19th century, say – you smack into a wall of incomprehension and rage.

The evidence shows something much darker. Far from doing nothing during the famine, the British did a lot – to make it worse. They insisted that the Indian peasants carry on shipping out grain for global markets, and enforced this policy with guns. (Stalin did exactly the same thing in the 1930s, during the famines caused by collectivisation). This meant, as the historian Professor Mike Davis has noted, “London was eating India’s bread” at the height of a famine. They even stepped up taxes on the starving, and insulted them as “indolent” and “unused to work”.

And that’s not all. Lord Lytton ordered that all relief operations would be punishable by imprisonment…

Michael Lynch

11th October 2019 at 11:57 am

Instead of reading the crap pumped out by authoritarian regimes who are only interested in justifying their own excesses why not read the biographies by real people who experienced life under them. Two notables are – Wild Swans by Jung Chang and The Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician Zhisui Li. You won’t be able to put them down I assure you. By toting the official line you merely become another of their useful idiots and they had millions of those at their disposal. Mao was corrupted by unlimited power; it’s as old as time. Utopias exist only in the mind because once ideology is confronted by the reality of power and application it falls flat on its face. It’s happening right now in South America.

Winston Stanley

11th October 2019 at 12:37 pm

Michael, what on earth are you on about? No one is “toting the official line”. Some of us are interested in history for its own sake, including pivotal thinkers like Xiaoping. Like I said, he is an interesting thinker and you do not have to be a Marxist to appreciate that. I was not even talking about Mao. Not everything has to be a partisan propaganda spat all the time.

Jim Lawrie

11th October 2019 at 12:11 pm

In short, socialism built on a solid capitalist foundation.

Michael Lynch

11th October 2019 at 1:35 pm

Winston I mean no offense. You mention Xiaoping’s parroting of Mao’s “seek truth from facts” narrative. Mao was a corrupt monster who was only interested in Mao and no one else. The other Party members were more than well aware of this and feared him and the state apparatus he controlled. He was made a cult figure in China and no one dare touch him as a consequence. He had to be subtlety managed and appeased like any Emperor or King like figure. The Party was tainted by all this and had to indulge his madness in order to avoid being purged themselves, therefore, anything written or said by them is all nonsense and self justification. I’ve no doubt that after his death some reason prevailed and there was an effort to undo some of the damage, but they were themselves implicated in Mao’s misdeeds. In essence, their history is all propaganda and a false account of what really happened. I doubt anyone will ever know the true facts because they are wrapped up in mystery and legend.

steve moxon

11th October 2019 at 1:40 pm

Guffaw! There is no comparison in Indian famines under British rule with the Chinese Marxist deliberate killing of tens of millions merely in pursuit of an ideology — and one which even fools can see is hopelessly at odds with human behaviour, cognition and motivation.

steve moxon

11th October 2019 at 8:36 am

Caveats notwithstanding, an apology for the unmitigated disaster for the Chinese people that is the hopelessly corrupt inefficient totalitarian obscenity of state worship of a hate-the-people ideology. The world, like the Chinese people ,needs to be rid of this monstrosity. Elsewhere in the world, in places like Thailand, never mind Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is the ethnic Chinese who are the real drivers of the economy: the Chinese are naturally great entrepreneurs. China could be a major positive economic force instead of a disaster to come. Another monumental f-up by Marxist ‘thinking’.

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