It is October 1934 in the Jiangxi province. The province had been a communist stronghold but was encircled by Chiang Kai-shek’s army. The CCP decided to breakout with reportedly 130,000 men and civilians, general Mao being one of them. They moved on for over a year northwards to reach the Shaanxi province. The movement is dubbed as the “Long March”. The result of the “Long March”?. Of the 130,000 only 7,000 could make it. People deserted the army because of the inhospitable weather, constant attack by warlords and Chiang Kia-Shek forces, etc. The membership of the CCP fell from 300,000 to 40,000. The only thing great about the long march was that it paved the way for one of history’s cruellest tyrant—Mao Zedong—to rise to power. Mao was the first one to admit that the “The Long March is propaganda,”
China came under the control of the Chinese communist party in 1949, almost the same time as those of India. In the 1950s and the 1960s, even though India lost the war against China, it was China which was losing the battle on the home front. The great leap forward by Mao, launched in 1958, a prime example of a state-led economic planning disaster, led to the deaths of 33-55 million Chinese people. Besides it, Mao had launched the Cultural Revolution, a gimmick in which he rallied people to overthrow his own local governments, and when the situation went out of control, he sent in the army to attack the very own people that he had riled up. By instigating infighting amongst his own people that ultimately led to the deaths of 20 million people (on the upper end of the estimates), Mao could consolidate his power. Apart from the loss of lives, the impact of such policies led to the closure of schools and colleges, and an intellectual or a scientist was rewarded with being persecuted rather than being celebrated. The GDP of China at the end of 1970 was less than that of India, a country that was non-aligned, democratic and had a partition which saw a vast amount of its agriculturally productive region go to Pakistan. If you were a neutral observer at the start of the 1970s you were way more likely to predict the economic rise of India over China.
The 1970s began with the People’s Republic of China entering the United Nations as the 5th permanent member. Up until then, the Republic of China (Taiwan) was recognized to be the 5th permanent member. The Nixon administration made overtures to China, perhaps in order to resolve the Vietnam conflict, culminating in his visit to China in the year 1971. There was the resurgence of the cultural revolution in the years 1972-1976 but that ended with the death of Mao in 1976. There were improvements on some social parameters such as the infant mortality in the 1970s.
On the economic front, major reforms undertaken at the end of 1978, pioneered by Deng-Xiaoping, are cited as a major turning point away from the command-and-control economy. In a reversal of the Mao era policies, Deng took away control from the central party planners and transfer them to scientists and technicians. The 1980s was a time when the Soviet block was declining and Deng turned to the west by allowing foreign direct investment and supporting one country two systems.
This does not mean that Deng abandoned the communist party or turned Chinese society into a more socially liberal country. His adoption of the one-child one policy and the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 is a testament to that. What Deng established was an authoritarian regime that drew a thin line between its politics and economics. This was the line that was maintained, until the rise of the son of a somewhat moderate leader who was purged from the party by Mao during the cultural revolution. The son, Xi Jinping, has slowly started to erase the line that guaranteed economic success for China.
(More to follow)