The display of military power during the 70th anniversary celebrations, on Oct. 1, of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was meant both for internal and external consumption.
Internally, China’s emergence as a superpower is a mobilization tool for national pride.
Nationalism is the glue that holds China together, buttressed by the humiliation and shame heaped on China during the period of Western ascendancy and Japanese aggression.
At the same time, China’s economic development has lifted millions of people out of poverty, cementing national pride.
Interestingly though, the political machine in China is working overtime to impress on its people that all of this is the work of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In a sense, the party and the nation are indistinguishable, and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is also CCP general secretary, constituting the “core” of the system for an indefinite period, epitomizes all of these achievements.
In the process of working up nationalism and patriotism, the CCP has sought to erase much of communist China’s history after 1949.
The only part that is played up is China’s humiliation during the 19th century and parts of the 20th century until China “stood up” as the PRC, with Mao Zedong (毛澤東) as its “helmsman.”
It is as if it has been all smooth sailing to this day of China’s new military power and economic development.
Mao was a flawed leader seeking to personalize China’ new destiny.
In the 1950s, he plunged the country into all sorts of disasters; first, with the launch of the Hundred Flowers Campaign, followed by the Great Leap Forward.
The first led to a bloody political purge of elements that sought to point out problems with the new political order, honestly believing that the CCP was genuine about inviting alternative views to improve the system.
As it turned out, it was a clever ploy to weed out the dissenters.
Later, in the 1950s, Mao sought to skip the intermediate stages of economic development by turning farms into backyard steel furnaces. This did not work.
Indeed, the comprehensive neglect of the farming sector led to probably the worst famine in China’s history, when an estimated 30 to 50 million people dying from starvation. There are no reliable figures, as the CCP sought to fudge the numbers.
However, it was a great tragedy and, for the first time, the party hierarchy sought to challenge Mao’s political supremacy by seeking to sideline him.
This led to the Cultural Revolution, when Mao mobilized storm troopers of sorts, called Red Guards, who went after party stalwarts suspected of sidelining Mao. Many of them were sent to the countryside, where they were vilified, attacked and humiliated in their forced exile.
The most notable casualty of Mao’s revenge was the country’s president, Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇), who died a miserable death in some obscure cell.
The country was held ransom and turned upside down, because Mao felt sidelined after the disastrous famine from the ill-conceived Great Leap Forward.
Indeed, China went hopelessly backward in the midst of a decade-long violent convulsion, on top of the purges and the famine.
The PRC plunged headlong into a series of disasters brought about by Mao’s idea of “permanent revolution,” with the helmsman leading the country into an abyss.
Therefore, Mao’s death in 1976 could not have come too soon to retrieve the country’s lost decades.