China salutes 70 years since its red dawn

Made in China: Propaganda posters like this one show Chairman Mao as a hero of the people.

Should we celebrate or condemn China? Tomorrow, the People’s Republic will mark 70 years of Communist rule with massive fanfare, but its history is marked by death and lasting oppression.

On 1 October 1949, the Chinese Communist Party’s Chairman Mao Zedong looked out from the balcony of the Forbidden City at an impoverished country, broken by war, and declared the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.

Tomorrow, exactly 70 years to the day, President Xi Jinping will look down from that same balcony on a superpower vying with the USA for global dominance, with a 400-million-strong middle class and world-leading technology.

To celebrate the anniversary, some 15,000 soldiers, 160 fighter jets and 580 tanks will parade through Tiananmen Square in a huge military display. It is rumoured to include the world’s longest-range, intercontinental nuclear missile and a supersonic spy-drone, which have never before been seen in public.

Aside from its military might, China has much to celebrate. With Xi at the helm, it has built futuristic skyscrapers and sprawling mega-cities. A rapidly growing section of its citizens enjoy the comforts of world-class consumer goods, entertainment and international travel.

But on what foundations does this shiny, modern China stand?

He may be the father of modern China, but Chairman Mao also brought death and destruction. In 1958, his catastrophic Great Leap Forward started a crippling famine that led to tens of millions of deaths.

A decade later, Mao sought to reassert the ideological purity of the Communist Party with a violent purge. As many as two million people were killed in the wave of terror.

This is a history that forward-looking China is keen to forget, but 30 years on from the Tiananmen Square massacre, the People’s Republic is a surveillance state, using its advanced technology to tightly monitor its citizens and censor foreign influence.

In Xinjiang, the Uighur Muslim minority are subject to imprisonment, torture and re-education in what commentators say amounts to ethnic cleansing; in Hong Kong, meanwhile, the streets rage with battles against China’s iron first.

This is not the face that China will show to the world tomorrow. Instead, this modern superpower will ring with pageantry and celebrations. Should we join in?

Seeing red

When the Communist Party took power, 80% of China’s population was in poverty. Today, it is less than 1%. China’s middle class is larger than the whole population of Europe. Elsewhere, the emerging superpower — not wanting conflict to unsettle its far-reaching economic network — has, in fact, had a stabilising influence in the Middle East, and brought investment and activity to long-neglected African nations. We must recognise the good work China has done.

Or is the reality far more sinister? China is a dictatorship which uses its economic might to trash human rights at home and in the nations that surround it. President Xi oversees a regime of unlawful detention, torture and purges, where prosperity is bought in exchange for freedom. China may be trying to cast off the horrors of its past, but it remains the same beast beneath the veneer.

You Decide

  1. Is China the world’s most powerful country?
  2. Should the West do business with China?

Activities

  1. Using this story and your own research, write a short news report about China’s celebrations tomorrow.
  2. Draw a timeline of important events in Chinese history from 1949 to the present day.

Some People Say...

“Let her sleep. For when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of France, on China

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
China is the world’s second-largest economy behind the US. The country’s GDP has grown from 367.9 billion yuan (£42 billion) in 1978, when 80% of the population was in poverty, to 90 trillion yuan (£10 trillion) last year. However, after four decades of record growth, the Chinese economy is beginning to weaken. Analysts fear a crash in China would be disastrous for the global economy.
What do we not know?
What the Chinese really think of the party. Xi is believed to be widely popular. Despite the disasters under Mao, much of the elderly population remains devoted to the party. “As for the 70 years of China, it”s extraordinary,” sculptor Zhao Jingjia told the BBC. “It can be seen by all. Yesterday, we sent two navigation satellites into space — all citizens can enjoy the convenience that these things bring us.”

Word Watch

Forbidden City
A palace in Beijing.
Futuristic
Last week, President Xi opened Beijing’s new “starfish” airport, which has the world’s biggest terminal.
Great Leap Forward
A programme of social and economic reform designed to rapidly industrialise the agriculture-based society.
Ideological
A system of ideas, which forms the base for a political theory.
Terror
The Red Terror was a system of mass killings by the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war. In the French Revolution, The Terror saw the mass execution of aristocrats.
Tiananmen Square
The government declared martial law and sent the army in to tackle student protests. The estimated death toll ranges from the hundreds to several thousand.
Influence
Foreign media is heavily censored, and access to the internet restricted.
Re-education
China claims the clampdown is part of a fight against Islamic terrorism.

Subjects

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