The Peoples Republic of China will celebrate the 60th Anniversary of its Liberation on October 1. The celebrations, confined to Beijing, have already begun and China is showing the world its achievements through the use of the state- controlled media. A visit to the website of the China Daily shows the theme that the Chinese state wishes to project. The banner on the website announcing the anniversary shows a high speed train and white pigeons flying around areas of green. The backdrop to this canvas of course remains red. The message is loud and clear and yet very simple; the People’s Republic wants to be known as a peacefully developing nation state under the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party. This banner also showcases the present leadership’s idea of the ‘Scientific Development Concept’, with stress on innovation, sustainability and inclusiveness as its core focus.
China has come a long way since Chairman Mao proudly declared that “the Chinese people have stood up” to throw out imperialism and colonialism. A liberated China promised her people equality, freedom, development, and self respect, among other things. And one can see that through a mix of ideology and endeavour, innovation and trade, foreign support and domestic activity, China has transformed itself from a country with an extensive baggage of feudal history into the economic powerhouse of the world. Today one can love or hate China but cannot ignore it anymore.
It is certainly true that the path to today’s China has not been smooth and the picture is less rosy than the leadership would have liked. The PRC has seen many upheavals ever since its inception. Some were natural, some man made and some that occurred because of the miscalculations of the leadership. First was the Korean War which changed the worldview of Mao. It was followed by floods and droughts of 1950, the anti-rightist campaign, the “Great Leap Forward”, the rural peoples’ communes, the great famine, and the Cultural Revolution which not only set back China’s development but also provided the impulse for the subsequent reforms and drove home the importance of peaceful transition. Then came the Tiananmen Square incidents in May and June 1989, which taught the Chinese leadership the importance of considering the adoption over the long run of reforms outside the economic sphere and of accommodating dissent.
However, through all these periods of uncertainty, domestically China has been able to achieve much more than many other nations that won their independence/liberation about the same time. China’s social transformation achieved under the Communist Party is nothing less than miraculous. China made remarkable progress on social indicators during the Maoist era, simply because of its welfare policies. Maoist ideology was able to wipe out feudalism from most of China and implement egalitarian measures that were inclusive in nature. The Chinese people followed Mao’s ideas en masse, not because of blind faith but because in a short period of time the State was able to create many stakeholders in the nation’s growth. This social uplift helped China when economic reforms were implemented as the workforce needed to implement the reforms was readily available. This resulted in a substantial increase in the country’s GDP and subsequently in its per capita income. Today China’s GDP is the second largest in the world in PPP terms.
China’s relations with the outside world have reflected its domestic issues. Once an exporter of Chinese style Communism, isolated internationally and surrounded by hostile powers, today’s China is the mainstay of the capitalist world exporting a large quantity of what the world imports. China played an important role in the recovery following the crisis in the Asian tigers in 1997. Its domestic development helped its role in regional issues. In recent times, China’s importance is also exemplified by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to China and her urging China to play a leading role in solving the global financial crisis. This simple statement reflects the fact that the axis of the world order is changing and China is slowly but surely assuming the centre stage.
In India, much of the understanding of China percolates from the memories of the 1962 war. There is more mistrust and misconception about China’s intent amongst the masses, sometimes fanned by a nationalist and occasionally sensationalist media. The occasion of the 60th anniversary of Chinese Liberation should be used to understand China in a proper light. China will remain India’s competitor in many spheres of activity for a long time, though that it will not necessarily be a threat to India’s integrity and identity. India’s best response would be, while retaining its democratic polity and maintaining defence preparedness, to make economic growth the central task.