Life in China: Living the Big Changes
(Page 8 of 9)
This is not the place to parse all of the strengths and weaknesses of these story lines, but it is worth noting some things that are most misleading about each. The biggest problem with the official line is surely the way it minimizes and sometimes even denies the occurrence of truly horrific acts. The Great Leap Forward began with Mao’s misguided call for China’s people to focus all of their energy on the unrealistic goal of catching up with the West quickly in fields such as steel production. It was much more than just a misstep or miscalculation. The policy caused widespread starvation and malnutrition; local officials, obsessed with meeting impossible agricultural quotas, promoted foolish farming methods, and villagers, focused on smelting ore in backyard furnaces, stopped tending crops. Exact figures may vary, but there is a consensus now that the number of victims of these policies must have been in the tens of millions. The Cultural Revolution began when young Red Guards fiercely loyal to Mao denounced all officials they deemed insufficiently true to his vision. In the end, warring factions, each of whom claimed to be the only ones to truly understand the Great Leader’s ideal, fought pitched battles for control of cities. The official narrative recognizes the Cultural Revolution as a troubling event, but avoids dealing with it in any detailed fashion. It denies that the June 4th Massacre even occurred. Many of the Communist Party’s oppressive actions in Tibet and Xinjiang are badly distorted or ignored.
The Western tales I have described, though, have their own problems. For example, to give Deng and later leaders all the credit for China’s economic boom glosses over the fact that the Mao years ended with a country whose population was primed for economic success. The economic takeoff that began under Deng reached new heights under his successor Jiang Zemin, who rose to the top spot in the Party hierarchy in the wake of the June 4th Massacre, and Hu Jintao, who became the country’s paramount leader in 2002. There are many reasons why China prospered, but one thing that made this possible was that Mao left China with a large pool of relatively well-educated workers. Literacy rates far outstripped those of many other developing countries. It also helped greatly that these workers, thanks to improvements in public health, were often in relatively good physical shape.
What then of the Unchanging Dictatorship story? This, too, is flawed. There is no question that there are many limits on political freedom in today’s China. Repression is especially severe in areas where there are significant numbers of disaffected residents, such as the Tibetan plateau, and the Party is in many ways the same kind of organization that it has always been. Still, the state has become a much less intrusive force in people’s day-to-day lives, and there are many in China who feel much freer to express themselves in private settings—and certain public ones as well—than they did under Mao.
Page: << Previous 1
| 8 | 9
| Next >>