By Anjan Roy
Is there a single ghostly reason why we in India should bother about the centenary celebrations of the ruling party of a neighbouring country?
Yes, every possible one, when the country is China. Studying China is of greatest importance in the present day world, even more than the United States. Because it is a volatile country, and it is important for its “magnitude” as Henry Kissinger, one of the shrewdest observer of global strategic situation, argued in a recent interview with The Economist magazine.
The Chinese Communist Party —CCP— is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary this Thursday, July 1. The party was started in 1921 by a motley group of people —one of whom was Mao Zedong— assembling in a room on the Shanghai Bund. Little was it realised then that this group would one day flourish into today’s mighty CCP.
That day in 1921 was in a different world— an altogether different planet compared to present day.
How different it was? Take a small sample. Reminiscing about her grandmother, Jung Chang, a Chinese woman who had escaped to Britain on a scholarship, wrote: “her greatest asset was her bound feet, called in Chinese “three inch golden lilies”. That is, her feet, when fully grown up, were as big as only three inches.
The process of doing that was rigorous. She describes that as well: “My grandmother’s feet had been bound when she was two years old.” The process involved tying a while cloth around the feet, tuning the toes inside and the putting a stone to crush the arch of the feet.
She further adds: “ My grandmother screamed in agony and begged her mother to stop. Her mother had to stick a piece of cloth into her mouth to gag her. My grandmother passed out repeatedly from the pain”.
I am quoting from a book by Jung Chang, WILD SWANS, three Daughters of China, which tells a story of a family in the context of the broader developments in China. The book captures essentially China’s story through the lives of three women, Jung Chang’s grandmother, her mother and then her own.
The grandmother story is mainly from family memory, the mother is a combination of family remembrance and personal recollection and her own is recounting life in communist China and its ups and downs.
Jung Chang carries the story forward past the Long March in 1934-35, past Communist-Kuomintang- alliance in the wake of Japanese aggression, Proclamation of People’s Republic in 1949 which was the take over of the country by the Communists after defeating General Chiang Kai-shek.
Then on to the famines in which millions of Chinese died of sheer starvation and Mao’s Cultural Revolution which carried the trend of depopulation to further heights. If leaders could be graded on their contribution on this score hen Mao could be ranked with Stain, Hitler and Winston Churchill in the top echelon.
Mao Zedong has further the distinction of capturing the mind of his people through a combination of spread of terror and cajoling. Children would be expected to betray their parents, neighbours identify neighbours and friends hand over friends — something reportedly happening in present-day Hong Kong, according to the New York Times.
Returning to Chang’s personal history, when she had reached the age of a high school girl early in 1960s, Mao’s capture of young minds was nearly complete. the Communist Party of China under Mao had become like this: “Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao”, Jung Chang recollects, by now in first person recounting of her life in 1964-65.
She remembers: “I read my first article by Mao in 1964, at a time when two slogans of Mao’s— Serve the People and Never Forget Class Struggle— dominated our lives”.
Through these personal lives of the people, the history of China and the history of the Chinese Communist Party is a remarkable story of transition of a feudal society marked by bound feet to the one of a bonded society where mind and spirit have been enslaved.
Fast forward to 2021, whole of present-day China is currently reading President Xi Jinping’s “Thoughts” and speeches.
But then, the achievements of that country and the society are undeniable.
To have survived and then ruled a vast country like China since 1949 when the party assumed power after a devastating civil war was itself a monumental achievement. Underlying the transformation of a starvation-stricken abjectly poor country to its present status is the economic development.
China’s economic ascendancy in the last four decades is awe inspiring, bordering on the incredible. It is unparalleled in human history that an old civilisation which had been humiliated in the Western colonial period, where the entire population virtually lived under the poverty line, could transform itself.
It could banish abject poverty and then compete with the United States as a super power in forty years time span. The genius working behind this miracle was the vision of Deng Tsiao Ping, the man who was purged and thrown out from the political hierarchy, but then made a come back to remould the country as even Mao could not.
Unlike similar inflexion points in human history, the beginning of this one could almost be pinpointed. It is exactly fifty years back that the process had started.
This story began when China’s the then supreme leader, Deng Tsiao Ping, scrapped Mao’s economic model and embraced free market based economy and personal property articulated at the moment when he met the then US president Richard Nixon. China’s unconditional embrace of the capitalist model had transformed its economy and gave it immense girth by unfairly manipulating the system.
Perhaps there is a sense of ruefulness in what Henry Kissinger said a couple of months back about the emergence of China. Kissinger was the key architect of that meeting between Nixon and Deng. The early start was in 1971 through the mediation of none other than Pakistan. That link was the main concern that US had silently overlooked horrendous wrong-doing and genocide by Pakistan in its eastern wing.
Kissinger revealed he had never expected China to suddenly become a democratic country. Nor did he expect it to respect free speech. But he is worried that a technologically advanced China confronting the US and West could have “unpredictable consequences.” The free world must maintain its technological superiority he insisted.
On Thursday, when the CCP celebrates it anniversary, the country will probably face another inflexion point. Since 2012 when the present supreme leader, Xi Jinping came into power, the entire party apparatus has been emasculated into the hands of one man. Threats and purges and executions have eliminated effective opposition to Xi.
The Deng legend has been thrown out and Mao has again been enshrined as the only way forward. China is threatening neighbours, settling untenable territorial claims. China is in a hurry to show its might and establish its hegemony. China is challenging the established rules based global order.
Internally, the party has become stridently repressive; people are being tracked down with targeted high technology. And now, even the underlying base of its current precedent, the successful economic agents, are being curbed in order to humble these to the all-powerful state.
From outside, the question appears to be whether it will again lapse into severe repression and increasingly controlled economy and stifled development or it will keep achieving new milestones. (IPA Service)