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Chinese History - The People's Republic of China 中華人民共和國 (since 1949)

The People's Republic of China Zhonghua renming gongheguo 中华人民共和国 (PRC) is the present form of government in mainland China. The People's Republic was founded in 1949 by the Communist Party of China (Zhongguo gongchandang 中国共产党) that is still the single ruling party of China.
After almost 30 years of civil war and war against the Japanese occupation the Communist Party and its People's Liberation Army (Renmin jiefang jun 人民解放军) were able to force the National Army under the party Kuo-min-tang (KMT, Guomindang 国民党) into submission or to flee to the island of Taiwan, where the Republic of China continued to exist and transformed into a real democracy in the 1990s.
The history of the People's Republic can be divided into the Maoist era, and the era of Reform and Opening.
The internal politics of party chairman and state president Mao Zedong 毛泽东 was characterized by an exaggerated idealism that began with the "Hundred flowers" movement (1952-1953) thought to instigate suggestions from the side of the literati but that resulted in harsh critiques. The next step was, backed by the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite in the Soviet Union in 1957, the Great Leap Forward (dayuejin 大跃进, 1958-1959) by which the steel output of China was to reach that of Great Britain. Instead, the peasantry was deprived of their livelihood, resulting to the starvation of an estimated 20 million people. Forced to retreat from the office of president, chairman Mao planned his comeback outside the Party that he thought being controlled by reactionary bureaucrats and "Chinese Khrushchevs". The Great Cultural Revolution (wenhua da geming 文化大革命) elevated Mao to the status of a demigod. It was mainly carried out by students criticizing authories like teachers and party members. Began in 1966, the Cultural Revolution ended in a thorough chaos of "ten lost years". Only with the death of the senile Mao Zedong in 1976, his protégés of the Gang of Four (sirenbang 四人帮) were arrested and the Cultural Revolution declared ended.
In the field of foreign politics the People's Republic tried to head countries of the "Third World" in a political way between the United States and the Soviet Union. This attempt was not very successful, except in the early 1950s, because China tried to dominate India and African countries. China's army was instrumentalized by Stalin to launch the Korean war (1950-1953). With the ideological break-off with the Soviet Union in 1962, China was internationally isolated. In 1972 President Richard Nixon visited the People's Republic and so paved the way for a new political orientation of the Communist Party.
After a short interlude under Hua Guofeng 华国锋 (r. 1976-1981), a new politbureau under the domination of General Secretary Deng Xiaoping 邓小平 proclaimed the program of Reform and Opening (gaige kaifang 改革开放) and the Four Modernizations (si ge xiandaihua 四个现代化). Private entrepreneurship was allowed first in agriculture, and then in trade and industry. In a two-track model the state-owned enterprises were gradually privatized, except key industries and the financial business. Most important was the creation of special economic zones at the coast in which foreign enterprises were allowed to invest. China was so able to gain access to modern technologies that were instantly copied. Both China and foreign enterprises were able to profit immensely. Deng Xiaoping, the practitioner, had foreseen that the highly discredited Communist Party would only survive if the living standard of the Chinese people would considerably increase.
Yet with increasing wealth, inflation and corruption plagued the urban population. It was especially academicians some of which also claimed a "fifth" modernization, namely more democracy, a claim that the Communist Party during the 1980s several times declined. In May and June 1989 protests against inflation and corruption culminated in the so-called incident of the Tian'anmen Square 天安门广场 that was bloody suppressed. By this over-reaction the leaders clearly showed that the Communist Party would not be willing to cede power to anyone else. Under General Secretary Jiang Zemin 江泽民 (r. 1989-2002) the economic reforms were restrengthened. The Party had learnt from 1989 and virtually bought the people's loyalty with wealth. Yet wealth was inequally distributed. While the urban population profited from the economical reform, the peasant villages remained poor and suffered from the drain of migrant workers that contributed to the prospering of the glittering cities at the coast.
The original ideology of the Communist Party, "communism", was gradually replaced by more practical assets. While the economic policy was called "socialism with Chinese characteristis", General Secretary Hu Jintao 胡锦涛 (r. 2002-2012) made use of new sentiments to win popular support for the Party: Economic strength as the world's second largest exporter, the successful launches of manned spaceships, and China's (s.l. the Party's) richness due to accumulated foreign reserves were important factors supporting an over-exaggerated national proud after almost two centuries of humiliation by Western "powers". The new nationalism sometimes bursts in a vehement national rhethoric, especially towards the arch-enemy Japan. Paired with a one-party system and an increasing militarism, the Communist Party more and more shows signs of what is normally perceived as fascism.
The so-called "harmonious society" (hexie shehui 和谐社会) is the guiding concept with which the Party tries to hide increasing social inequality and gender problems (more men than women) as the result of the one-child policy. Technological renommé projects like high-speed trains or skyscrapers are likewise used to cover grave problems resulting from a long-term economic growth of 10 per cent p.a.: serious environmental pollution, the lack of a well-founded domestic consumption, and an extreme income inequality. Local protests against corrupt local party cadres are a threat to party legitimacy. Yet the accumulated wealth enables the party to purchase more and more foreign enterises in their countries as a new method to gain access to latest technology. While Hong Kong and Macao "returned" to China in 1997 and 1999, respectivly, as a result of bargained treaties, Taiwan remains a independent country, inspite of the PRC's one-China policy. A military takeover of Taiwan is quite unlikely, yet the economic wealth of mainland China makes the democratic island more and more dependant of the authoritarian giant of the mainland.
Some analysts see China as the successor of the Soviet Union in a bipolar world, as antagonist or even an enemy of the United States. The Communist Party does not have the ambitions nor the power to politically dominate a hemisphere, and other countries, particularly China's neighbours, do not seem much attracted by the prospect of being China's vassals. Yet in fact, China is already exerting considerable dominance over some weaker states in Southeast Asia, particularly Laos and Burma, and interfers into the political affairs of some African countries. Inside China's own territory, the heritage of the Qing empire includes Xinjiang and Tibet and the ethnic problems of these regions. Only with a harsh politics of colonization China is able to appease the local population. The argument of terrorism, used since September 11, is a welcome excuse of getting rid of Mohammedan insurgents in the Uyghur country.


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© 2000 ff · Ulrich Theobald · Mail