This is a series on the People’s Republic of China and looks at how China became the global power it is today, what this means to the world order and how the “One belt, One Road” megaproject is the ultimate expression of Chinese economic prowess.
Part 1: China, The revolution from 1949 – 1976:
In October of 1949, the Chinese people celebrated the victory of the Communist Party led by the hero of the revolution, Mao Zedong. The first words of his celebratory speech were. “Ours is a just cause and a just cause is invincible.” Few people would see those words a prophetic in the light of a very different China in the 21st century. The world was beginning to see the rise of the mightiest empire in human history, and empire so powerful that it would soon become the “de facto” ruler of the world, the United States of America. One of the ways that America began to consolidate its awesome power was to leverage the by now heavily indebted European nations just now coming out of the most devastating war, and one that needed to revive its shattered economies.
The Americans would use now-massive merchant naval fleet to provide military escorts and safe passage to these European nations coming out of a self-inflicted economic depression and desperately needing to trade to rebuild. In the shadow of all of this post the “Marshall Plan” and the growth of the American Empire, the “sick man of Asia” was just beginning to settle down after its war with the nationalists led by Chiang-Kai Sheck, the former President of China, who together with his battered army fled to Formosa, now known as Taiwan, and offshore territory of mainland China.
For Mao and the Communist Party, taking power was just the first step; the real revolution was just about to begin.
The Mao Years:
We must remember that in 1949, China, like Europe was devastated by foreign wars with its arch-foe the Japanese and a horrendous civil war with the nationalists. What exacerbated the situation for Mao is that the previous Nationalist regime all but left the country heavily indebted because of its large scale corruption. The Mao vision was to change, uplift and reimagine the lives of one-quarter of mankind by creating prosperity for all based on a strong, modern industrial base. The same thing the Soviets had earlier achieved under Joseph Stalin. The first order of business for the victorious communists was to create a new political structure which reached top down to every city, town and village in the countryside. At local levels, party officials shared the communist vision to get buy-in from the people.
The first Communist Purge was that of the landlords. Peasants were encouraged to seize their landlords’ property and even to insult and humiliate them, which resulted in the deaths of 100’s of 1000’s of landowners and the largest single distribution of property ownership in history.
Imagine the Robert Mugabe years of previously white-owned farms being seized and distributed by a factor of a million and you get the scale of the shall we say “property swap” between landlords and peasants. This provided the hardy peasants with one important motivation, the psychological desire to work harder because of the old pathology of ownership produces greater outputs, a pathology first actualised in the 1215 negotiations of the Magna Carta between King John and the barons of England and inexplicably almost hardwired into our DNA.