VIEWPOINT: Don't forget Chinese visionaries
NEW YORK -- Thursday marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, a bittersweet milepost. Sixty years ago, nothing short of a revolution could have saved China. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, China would en...
NEW YORK -- Thursday marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, a bittersweet milepost.
Sixty years ago, nothing short of a revolution could have saved China.
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, China would endure yet an additional four years of fighting in the Chinese Civil War. Finally, with the retreat of the nationalists to Taiwan in 1949, Mao Zedong, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, declared victory over the mainland and established the People's Republic of China.
The early years of the People's Republic focused on rebuilding a nation devastated from more than a century and a half of turmoil. Cooperatives and communal work forces raised food production in the 1950s and '60s but not without setbacks.
As China recollects its early achievements, it may do well to recall the millions of lives lost in the famine brought on by the Great Leap Forward and in the chaotic decade of the Cultural Revolution. During the latter period, Mao tried to purge the country of political "reactionaries" and "capitalist roaders," among whom was Deng Xiaoping.
However, with the death of Mao in 1976, Deng resurfaced to transform the People's Republic of China into a capitalist venture. He dissolved the communes of the 1960s, encouraged people to pool their resources for business start-ups and invited foreign nations to invest and build industry in China.
By 2008, as host to the Summer Olympics, China formally opened its doors to the world to show itself in a different light -- high-tech, state-of-the-art and superlatively modern.
The People's Republic of China has come a long way in just 60 years. Its economy is among the largest in the world.
However, only about 20 percent of China's population has benefited from Deng's economic reforms.
Across the agricultural heartland, small villages have lost their lands for lease to multinational corporations for development. Farmers have lost their livelihoods and have had to find their places among the mass migration up north to seek new work. Exploited, abused and underpaid, these workers resort to suicide at an astonishing rate.
Meanwhile, other villagers are taking up arms against their local governments by refusing to move from their land. By the central Chinese government's own account, these "pitchfork rebellions" numbered 87,000 throughout rural China in 2005.
In its 60th anniversary celebration, there will be no coverage of protests from these farther regions, or from the autonomous regions of Tibet or Xinjiang. There will be no mention of protests in Szechuan, where poorly constructed schools faltered during the 2008 earthquake, claiming countless innocent young lives. And most certainly, there will be no echoes from the ghosts of those martyred in 1989 at Tiananmen Square in their pleas for a more democratic China.
As China celebrates its 60th anniversary as a nation, let us not forget that what makes a nation great are the voices of those who seek a more equitable society. In a country where such visionaries consistently are silenced, let us make an effort to remember their causes and continue the revolution.
Chin is a research affiliate at the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at New York University.