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History of the PRC (1976-present)

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 Shang Dynasty
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 Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period
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 History of the Republic of China
 History of the PRC (1949-1976)
 History of the PRC (1976-present)
 Timeline of Chinese History

Table of contents
1 China after Mao
2 Conclusions
3 Related articles:

China after Mao

Deng Xiaoping consolidates power

Mao's death in September 1976 removed the "great helmsman" from the scene. Former Minister of Public Security Hua Guofeng was quickly confirmed as Party Chairman (he had succeeded Zhou as Premier upon his death). A month after Mao's death, Hua, backed by the PLA, arrested Jiang Qing and other members of the "Gang of Four." After extensive deliberations, the Chinese Communist Party leadership reinstated Deng Xiaoping to all of his previous posts at the 11th Party Congress in August 1977. Deng then led the effort to place government control in the hands of veteran party officials opposed to the radical excesses of the previous two decades.

By carefully mobilizing his supporters within the Chinese Communist Party, Deng was able to outmaneuver Mao's named successor Hua Guofeng, who had previously pardoned him, and oust him from his leadership positions. In contrast to previous leadership changes, Deng allowed Hua to quietly retire and helped to set a precedent that losing a high level leadership struggle would not result in physical harm. As Deng Xiaoping gradually regained control over the CPC, Hua was replaced by Zhao Ziyang as Premier in 1980, and by Hu Yaobang as Party Chairman in 1981. Until the mid-1990s, Deng was the most influential Chinese leader although his sole official title was that of chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission.

While reforming and opening up the economy, Deng attempted to strengthen the power of the Communist Party by regularization of procedure but is widely regard has having undermined his own intentions by acting contrary to party procedure. Originally, the President was conceived of as a figurehead head of state with actual state power resting in the hands of the Premier of the People's Republic of China and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China both of which were conceived of as being separate people. In the original plan, the Party would develop policy, the state would execute it, and the power would be divided to prevent a cult of personality from forming as it did with the case of Mao Zedong.

After 1979, the Chinese leadership moved toward more pragmatic positions in almost all fields. The party encouraged artists, writers, and journalists to adopt more critical approaches, although open attacks on party authority were not permitted. In late 1980, Mao's Cultural Revolution was officially proclaimed a catastrophe.

Deng Xiaoping (right)with his mentor and comrade Zhou Enlai (left)

"Reform and Opening-up"

Relations with the West improved markedly. In February 1972 American President Richard M. Nixon made an unprecedented eight-day visit to the PRC and met with Mao Zedong. Then on February 22, 1973 the United States and the People's Republic of China agreed to establish liaison offices. Although both sides intended to establish diplomatic relations quickly, this move was delayed until 1979 due to the Watergate scandal.

Deng traveled abroad and had a series of amicable meetings with western leaders, traveling to the United States in 1979 to meet President Carter at the White House. Carter finally recognized the People's Republic, which had replaced the Republic of China as the as the sole, legitimate government of China on the UN Security Council in 1971. One of Deng's achievements was the agreement signed by the United Kingdom and PRC on December 19, 1984 under which Hong Kong was to be transferred to the PRC in 1997. With the end of the 99-year lease on the New Territories expiring, Deng agreed that the PRC would not interfere with Hong Kong's capitalist system and would allow the locals a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years. This "one country-two systems" approach has been touted by the PRC government as a potential framework within which Taiwan could be reunited with the Mainland. Deng, however, did not improve relations with the Soviet Union, continuing to adhere to the Maoist line of the Sino-Soviet Split era that the Soviet Union was a superpower equally as "hegemonist" as the United States, but even more threatening to the PRC because of its closer proximity.

"Socialism with Chinese Characteristics"

The new, pragmatic leadership emphasized economic development and renounced mass political movements. At the pivotal December 1978 Third Plenum (of the 11th Party Congress Central Committee), the leadership adopted economic reform policies known as the Four Modernizations aimed at expanding rural income and incentives, encouraging experiments in enterprise autonomy, reducing central planning, and establishing direct foreign investment in mainland China. The plenum also decided to accelerate the pace of legal reform, culminating in the passage of several new legal codes by the National People's Congress in June 1979.

The goals of Deng's reforms were summed up by the Four Modernizations, the modernization of agriculture, industry, science and technology and the military. The strategy for achieving these aims, of becoming a modern, industrial nation, was the socialist market economy.

Deng argued that mainland China was in the primary stage of socialism and that the duty of the party was to perfect "socialism with Chinese characteristics". This interpretation of Chinese Marxism reduced the role of ideology in economic decision-making and emphasized policies of proven effectiveness. Downgrading Mao's idealistic, communitarian values but not necessarily Marxism-Leninism, Deng emphasized that socialism does not mean shared poverty. Unlike Hua Guofeng, Deng believed that no policy should be rejected out of hand simply for not having been associated with Mao, and unlike more conservative leaders such as Chen Yun, Deng did not object to policies on the grounds that they were similar to ones which were found in capitalist nations.

Although Deng provided the theoretical background and the political support to allow economic reform to occur, few of the economic reforms that Deng introduced were originated by Deng himself. Typically a reform would be introduced by local leaders, often in violation of central government directives. If successful and promising, these reforms would be adopted by larger and larger areas and ultimately introduced nationally. Many other reforms were influenced by the experiences of the East Asian Tigers.

This is in sharp contrast to the pattern in perestroika undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev in which most of the major reforms where originated by Gorbachev himself. Many economists have argued that the bottom-up approach of the Deng reforms, in contrast to the top-down approach of Perestroika, was a key factor in the former's success.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Deng's reforms included introduction of planned, centralized management of the macro-economy by technically proficient bureaucrats, abandoning Mao's mass campaign style of economic construction. However, unlike the Soviet model or China under Mao, this management was indirect, through market mechanisms, and much of it was modeled after economic planning and control mechanisms in Western nations.

But this trend did not impede the general move toward the market at the micro level. Deng sustained Mao's legacy to the extent that he stressed the primacy of agricultural output and encouraged a significant decentralization of decision making in the rural economy teams and individual peasant households. At the local level, material incentives rather than political appeals were to be used to motivate the labor force, including allowing peasants to earn extra income by selling the produce of their private plots at free market. In the main move toward market allocation, local municipalities and provinces were allowed to invest in industries that they considered most profitable, which encouraged investment in light manufacturing. Thus, Deng's reforms shifted China's development strategy to an emphasis on light industry and export-led growth.

Light industrial output was a key, and vital for a developing country coming from a low capital base. With the short gestation period, low capital requirements, and high foreign-exchange export earnings, revenues generated by light manufacturing were able to be reinvested in more technologically-advanced production and further capital expenditures and investments. However, in sharp contrast to the similar but much less successful reforms in Yugoslavia and Hungary, these investments were not government-mandated. The capital invested in heavy industry largely came from the banking system, and most of that capital came from consumer deposits. One of the first items of the Deng reforms was to prevent reallocation of profits except through taxation or through the banking system; hence, the reallocation in more "advanced" industries was somewhat indirect. In short, Deng's reforms sparked an industrial revolution in China.

These reforms were a reversal of the Mao policy of economic self-reliance. The PRC decided to accelerate the modernization process by stepping up the volume of foreign trade, especially the purchase of machinery from Japan and the West. By participating in such export-led growth, the PRC was able to step up the Four Modernizations by attaining certain foreign funds, market, advanced technologies and management experiences, thus accelerating its economic development. Deng attracted foreign companies to a series of special economic zones where capitalist business practices were encouraged.

The reforms centered on improving labor productivity as well. New material incentives and bonus systems were introduced. Rural markets selling peasants' homegrown products and the surplus products of communes were revived. Not only did rural markets increase agricultural output, they stimulated industrial development as well. With peasants able to sell surplus agricultural yields on the open market, domestic consumption stimulated industrialization as well, and also created political support for more difficult economic reforms.

There are some parallels between Deng's market socialism, especially in the early stages, and Lenin's New Economic Policy as well as Bukharin's economic policies, in that they foresaw a role for private entrepreneurs and markets based on trade and pricing rather than government mandates of production. An interesting anecdotal episode on this note is the first meeting between Deng and Armand Hammer. Deng pressed the industrialist and former investor in Lenin's Soviet Union for as much information on the NEP as possible.

1989 Student Movement and Tiananmen Square

At the same time, however, political dissent as well as social problems such as inflation, urban migration, and prostitution emerged. Although students and intellectuals urged greater reforms, some party elders increasingly questioned the pace and the ultimate goals of the reform program. In December 1986, student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, staged protests against the slow pace of reform, confirming party elders' fears that the current reform program was leading to the kind of social instability that killed hundreds of millions between the years of the Opium War and the founding of the PRC. Hu Yaobang, a protégé of Deng and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for the protests and forced to resign as CPC General Secretary in January 1987. Premier Zhao Ziyang was made General Secretary and Li Peng, former Vice Premier and Minister of Electric Power and Water Conservancy, was made Premier.

After Zhao became the party General Secretary, the economic and political reforms he had championed came under increasing attack. His proposal in May 1988 to accelerate price reform led to widespread popular complaints about rampant inflation and gave opponents of rapid reform the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influence. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988-1989.

The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for a large-scale protest movement by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. University students and other citizens in Beijing camped out at Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu's death and to protest against those who would slow reform. Their protests, which grew despite government efforts to contain them, called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Protests also spread through many other cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Deng's subsequent actions caused the presidency to have much greater power than originally intended. In 1989, President Yang Shangkun was able in cooperation with the then-head of the Central Military Commission, Deng Xiaoping, to use the office of the President to declare martial law in Beijing and order the military crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This was in direct opposition to the wishes of the Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and probably a majority of the Politburo Standing Committee.

Martial law was declared on May 20, 1989. Late on June 3 and early on the morning of June 4, military units were brought into Beijing. They used armed force to clear demonstrators from the streets. There are no official estimates of deaths in Beijing, but most observers believe that casualties numbered in the hundreds.

After June 4, while foreign governments criticized the suppression of the rebellion, the central government reined in remaining sources that were a threat to order and stability, detained large numbers of protesters, and required political re-education not only for students but also for insubordinate party cadre and government officials. Zhao Ziyang to this day is still under house arrest for his insubordinate behaviour.

Political aftermath

After the June 4 event, large number of overseas Chinese studentss was granted political refuge (almost) unconditionally by foreign governments. The political instability had extended to Hong Kong as well, it resulted in a massive emigration tide before the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. For details, see the main article history of Hong Kong.

It must be noted that the inflation characteristic of the years leading up to the Tiananmen protests has subsided. Political institutions have stabilized, thanks to the institutionalization of procedures of the Deng years and a generational shift from peasant revolutionaries to well-educated, professional technocrats. Social problems have eased as well, as the People's Republic of China rapidly becomes more of a modern, prosperous nation each year. In short, another similar rebellion is extremely unlikely as Chinese society progresses every year under CPC rule.

Following the resurgence of conservatives in the aftermath of June 4, economic reform slowed until given new impetus by Deng Xiaoping's dramatic visit to southern China in early 1992. Deng's renewed push for a market-oriented economy received official sanction at the 14th Party Congress later in the year as a number of younger, reform-minded leaders began their rise to top positions. Deng and his supporters argued that economic liberalization and further reform were necessary to raise China's standard of living.

Subsequent to the visit, the Communist Party Politburo publicly issued an endorsement of Deng's policies of economic openness. Though not completely eschewing political reform, China has consistently placed overwhelming priority on the opening of its economy.

Althrough another massive protest is unlikely in the near future, social instability due to economic conflicts has become a greater challenge for the third and fourth generation of leaders.

Deng's Legacy

Deng Xiaoping

Deng Xiaoping was one of only four peasant revolutionaries to lead China, along with Mao Zedong and the founders of the Han and Ming dynasties.

As mentioned, Deng's policies opened-up the economy to foreign investment and market allocation within a socialist framework. Since his death, under Jiang's tutelage, mainland China has sustained an average of 8% GDP growth annually, achieving one of the world's highest rates of per capita economic growth, if not the highest.

Also as mentioned, due in part to socialist measures and price/currency controls, the inflation characteristic of the years leading up to the Tiananmen protests has subsided. Political institutions have stabilized, thanks to the institutionalization of procedure of the Deng years and a generational shift from peasant revolutionaries to well-educated, professional technocrats. Social problems have eased as well, as the PRC rapidly becomes more of a modern, prosperous nation each year.

Deng's reforms, however, have left a number of issues unresolved. As a result of his market reforms, it became obvious by the mid-1990s that many state-owned enterprises (owned by the central government, unlike TVEs publicly owned at the local level) were unprofitable and needed to be shut down to prevent their being a permanent and unsustainable drain on the economy. Furthermore, by the mid-1990s most of the benefits of Deng's reforms, particularly in agriculture, had run their course; rural incomes had become stagnant, leaving the PRC's leaders in search of new means to boost economic growth or else risk a massive social explosion. A progressive tax system, however, could reallocate capital from the prosperous urban areas along the Pacific coast to the rural interior.

Finally, the Dengist policy of asserting the primacy of pragmatism over communitarian Maoist values, while maintaining the rule of the Communist Party, raised questions in the West. Many observers both within China and outside question the degree to which a one-party system can indefinitely maintain control over an increasingly dynamic and prosperous Chinese society. The gravity of these concerns, however, pales in comparison to the social ills faced by China as late as the Tiananmen rebellion of 1989, not to mention the days of mass famine and civil war before the founding of the People's Republic.

According to journalist Jim Rohwer, "the Dengist reforms of 1979-1994 brought about probably the biggest single improvement in human welfare anywhere at any time." This improvement was due to the fact that the reforms effected hundreds of millions of people.

Jiang Zemin's emotional eulogy to the genuinely beloved late revolutionary and Long March hero captured the mood of many in the nation. Jiang, wiping away tears, declared, "The Chinese people love Comrade Deng Xiaoping, thank Comrade Deng Xiaoping, mourn for Comrade Deng Xiaoping, and cherish the memory of Comrade Deng Xiaoping because he devoted his life-long energies to the Chinese people, performed immortal feats for the independence and liberation of the Chinese nation."

Third Generation of Leaders

China's third generation Communist leaders: (from left to right)
Li Lanqing, Hu Jintao, Zhu Rongji, Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Li Ruihuan, Wei Jianxing

Jiang Zemin was a compromise candidate chosen by Deng Xiaoping and other party elders to replace the then-party chief Zhao Ziyang, who was considered too conciliatory to student protesters. Although not directly involved with the crackdown, he was elevated to central party positions after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 for his role in averting similar protests in Shanghai.

With support from Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, then president and premier respectively, the government enacted tough macroeconomic control measures. Favoring healthy, sustainable development, the PRC expunged low-tech, duplicated projects and sectors that would result in "a bubble economy" and projects in transport, energy, agriculture and sectors, averting violent market fluctuations. Attention has focused on strengthening agriculture, still the economic base of the developing country and on continuing a moderately tight monetary policy.

Deng's health deteriorated in the years prior to his death in 1997. During that time, President Jiang Zemin and other members of his generation gradually assumed control of the day-to-day functions of government. This "third generation" leadership governed collectively with President Jiang at the center.

In March 1998, Jiang was re-elected President during the 9th National People's Congress. Premier Li Peng was constitutionally required to step down from that post. He was elected to the chairmanship of the National People's Congress.

Vice Premier Zhu Rongji was nominated as premier of the State Council by President Jiang Zemin to replace Li and confirmed by the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC) on March 17, 1998 at the NPC First Session. He was reelected Standing Committee member of Political Bureau of 15th CPC Central Committee in September 1997.

Under the leadership of the third generation, the People's Republic of China gained sovereignty of Hong Kong and Macau in 1997 and 1999, respectively. The third generation also oversaw the PRC's accession into the World Trade Organization after 15 years of negotiations, and Beijing was awarded to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Economic developments

Zhu kept things on track in the difficult years of the late 1990s, so that mainland China averaged growth of 9.7% a year over the two decades to 2000. The ability of the PRC to chart an effective course through the recent Asian crisis was also noteworthy. Against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis (and catastrophic domestic floods) mainland China's GDP still grew by 7.9% in the first nine months of 2002, beating the government's 7% target despite a global economic slowdown. This was achieved, partly, through active state intervention to stimulate demand through wage increases in the public sector, and other measures.

While foreign direct investment (FDI) worldwide halved in 2000, the flow of capital into mainland China rose 10%. As global firms scramble to avoid missing the China boom; FDI in China has risen 22.6% in 2002. While global trade stagnated, growing by one percent in 2002, mainland China's trade soared by 18% in the first nine months of 2002, with exports outstripping imports.

Despite the glowing statistics of growth, Zhu had been tackling deep-seated structural problems: uneven development; inefficient state firms and a banking system mired in bad loans. Observers think there are few substantial disagreements over economic policy in the CPC; tensions focus on the pace of change.

The PRC leadership is struggled to modernize state owned enterprises (SOEs) without state sector without inducing massive urban unemployment. As millions lost their jobs as state firms closed, Zhu demanded financial safety nets for unemployed workers. While mainland China will need 100 million new urban jobs in the next five years to absorb laid off workers and rural migrants; so far they have been achieving this aim due to high per capita GDP growth. Under the auspices of Zhu and Wen Jiabao (his top deputy and successor), the state has been alleviating unemployment while promoting efficiency by pumping tax revenues into the economy and maintaining consumer demand.

Critics have charged that there is an oversupply of manufactured goods, driving down prices and profits while increasing the level of bad debt in the banking system. But so far demand for Chinese goods, domestically and abroad, is high enough to put those concerns to rest in the time being. Consumer spending is growing, boosted, in large part, due to longer workers' holidays.

Zhu's right-hand man, Vice Premier Wen Jiabao oversaw regulations for the stock market, campaigned to develop poorer inland provinces to stem migration and regional resentment. Zhu and Wen have been setting tax limits for peasants to protect them from high levies levies by corrupt officials. Well respected by ordinary Chinese citizens, Zhu also holds the respect of Western political and business leaders, who found him reassuring and credit him with clinching China's market-opening World Trade Organisation (WTO) deal, which has brought foreign capital pouring into the country.

Zhu remained as Premier until the National People's Congress met in March 2003, when it approved his struggle to clinch trusted deputy Wen Jiabao as his successor. Like his forth-generation colleague Hu Jintao, Wen's personal opinions are difficult to discern since he sticks very closely to his script. Unlike the frank strong-willed Zhu, Wen, who has earned a reputation as an equally competent manager, is known for his suppleness and discretion.

The Fourth Generation of Leaders and the 16th Party Congress

Although Jiang stepped down from the powerful Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China to make way for a younger "fourth generation" of leadership led by Hu Jintao, there has been speculation that Jiang will continue to wield significant influence , prompting some to question whether or not Hu will truly be in charge. Six out of the nine new members of the all-powerful Standing Committee, Wu Bangguo, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Huang Ju, Wu Guanzheng, and Li Changchun are linked to Jiang's "Shanghai clique" and considered his "protégés"; Hu is not associated with this clique. The 22-member Politburo is elected by the Party's central committee. Real power in the PRC lies with this committee, which works as a kind of inner cabinet and groups together the country's most influential leaders. At the 2002 16th Party Congress, the Standing Committee was expanded to include nine members.

Speculation has centered on Zeng Qinghong, considered Jiang's right-hand-man, as a potential rival to Hu. Thus, it remains uncertain if Hu will emerge as the "core of the forth generation of leadership". However, in recent months Hu and Zeng have appeared together often in public interacting amicably, probably to quell rumors of any rivalry. Zeng controls the party's dossiers, being responsible for the hiring and firing of top cadres. Some regard Zeng, and not Hu, as the main powerbroker on the Standing Committee.

Nevertheless, the effects of leadership differences should not be overstated. Within the top leadership of the PRC, there is widespread agreement that Chinese economic reform should continue and policy differences are confined to relatively minor matters.

Hu, a hydraulic engineer who graduated from China's prestigious Qinghua University, is believed to be highly intellegent and have a photographic memory. His career is remarkable for his rapid ascendancy to power, attributed to his moderate views and careful attention not to offend or alienate his older backers. He is the first party chief to have joined the Communist Party after the Revolution over 50 years ago. In his 50s, Hu was the youngest member by far of the then seven-member Standing Committee.

Since taking over as Party General Secretary, Hu Jintao has appeared to have an more egalitarian style than his predecessor, and there has been no obvious signs that Jiang Zemin is still exercising power. He has focused on sectors of the Chinese population which have been left behind by the economic reform, and has taken a number of high profile trips to the poorer areas of China with the stated goal of understanding these areas better


Main article: Severe acute respiratory syndrome

Chinese celebrate the victory over SARS

In November 2002, a mysterious string of deaths, associated with the flu-like symptoms later known to be the SARS epidemic, took place in Guangdong. To stop the SARS panic, to avoid possible economic damage and to preserve face and public confidence, local officials applied tight media control. Thus the international community failed to notice the existence of a new breed of deadly virus.

In early April, there appeared to be a change in official policy when SARS began to receive a much greater prominence in the official media. However, it was also in early April that accusations emerged regarding the undercounting of cases in Beijing military hospitals. After intense pressure, PRC officials allowed international officials to investigate the situation there. In late April, major revelations came to light as the PRC government admitted to underreporting the number of cases due to the problems inherent in the healthcare system. A number of PRC officials were fired from their posts, including the health minister and mayor of Beijing, and systems were set up to improve reporting and control in the SARS crisis. Since then, the PRC has taken a much more active and transparent role in combatting the SARS epidemic. The PRC has since officially apologized for early slowness in dealing with the SARS epidemic. Hu promised a total disclosure of SARS data and permitted WHO experts to examine the SARS cases.

This revealed major problems plaguing the aging mainland Chinese healthcare system, including increasing decentralization, bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of communication. In February, 2003, as the virus spread to other parts of mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan and Europe, the WHO issued a worldwide alert and many countries had barred the travels to and from China. Finally in July 2003, the WHO declared SARS contained, but warned the disease could emerge in next winter.

The openness in the latter stages was unprecedented within PRC: in the past, no officials stepped down because of purely administrative mistakes, there were never completely disclosure of classified data and no project in China had been under such international inspection. This change in policy has been largely credited to Hu and Wen. At the heart of the crisis, Hu made a high-profile trip to Guangdong and Wen ate lunch with students at Beijing University. Some analysts believe the crisis was a blow to Jiang, who stayed out of the national spotlight during its duration, and whose political allies, such as Beijing mayor Meng Xuenong, were sacked.

Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23

Main article Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23.

Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 is the basis (parent statute) of a security law proposed by the Hong Kong special administrative region government. On September 24, 2002 the government released its proposals for the anti-subversion law. The controversy over Article 23 began in mid-2002 when Qian Qichen, Vice Premier of the State Council, expressed Beijing's desire for Hong Kong to pass the required legislation quickly. This prompted the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Tung Chee Hwa to begin the process of drafting said legislation. Many in Hong Kong believe that Tung's responsiveness to this request, in contrast to what is commonly perceived to be his lack of desire, was due in part to the fact that Tung himself owes a personal debt to the PRC government.

This local crisis became an international headline after a half a million people took to the street on July 1, 2003 and Tung was forced to withdraw the legislation. Most Hongkongers regarded the event as purely the fault of the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and demanded that he step down. However, dismissing Tung would be seen as bowing to the protestors and Beijing has instead stood by his leadership.


Launch of a
Long March rocket


Chinese society has been revolutionized from the top down, going through its own industrial revolution of sorts, rapidly moving from an agrarian society to an urbanized one and perhaps witnessing the most substantial improvements in day-to-day living standards in history, with a rate of poverty of only 12% (by official estimates) with few lacking basic amenities like food, shelter, and health care. Along with Vietnam, these two East Asian Communist states, which have embraced "market socialism" over the past two decades, have been the most rapidly developing Third World nations. Over the 1990s the GDP of China, which has rejected neoliberal democratization and privatization, has roughly doubled while that of Russia, which has adhered to the dictates of the Washington Consensus, has roughly halved.

Before 1949 the illiteracy rate in China was 80 percent. Now, 50% illiteracy has declined to less than seven per cent. Before the founding of the People's Republic of China, the life expectancy of the Chinese people averaged 35 years. Now it is in the low 70s. The average life expectancy of Chinese residents was eight years lower than that of the residents of developed countries, but 10 years higher than that of the residents of other developing countries.

China's urban and rural primary health care network has persisted in prophylactic health work. China had basically eliminated snail fever by the end of the 1950s; filarial infection by 1994; and poliomyelitis by 1995. It plans to fundamentally wipe out leprosy soon, and iodine deficiency the upcoming years. Despite the huge increases in life spans, China's population growth has been stabilizing due to lowering birth rates since enacting the one or two-child policies in the late 1970s. Population growth exploded under Mao's rule, failing to enact population controls, due to stability, improving nutritional intakes, and increasing life expectancy (so-called "barefoot doctors" used to establish clinics even in the remotest regions of the countryside, bringing free access to vaccination, preventative medicines, birth control and promoting better standards of sanitation). Thus, China has largely resolved the problems of over-population and malnourishment. As a result, China’s prospects for maintaining stability are relatively good, enabling one to project that continued growth is likely.


Nevertheless, such accomplishments must be viewed from a larger geopolitical landscape. It should be noted that the similarly war torn nations of Japan and Germany and the nearby East Asian Tigers made similar (if not greater) gains in life expectancy and literacy and achieved a higher standard of living at a much earlier date. While China today enjoys unprecedented growth, this comes only after the decades disatrous policies under Mao.

Social unrest

The leaders of Communist China now face a daunting task vast country stable and its 1.3 billion people content while pushing ahead with major reforms. The recent economic reforms have undermined the socialist state's safety net and forced people to look to the private sector for work and services. As the economy faces structural changes, 25 to 30 million state workers have been laid off since 1998 while only 8 million jobs are created annually at the current growth rate. With millions of laid off workers roaming the cities, keeping social order will provide a difficult task. Workers' protests have not been too infrequent, with the government usually heeding to the protestors' demands, while arresting their leaders.

Another potential crisis is the advent of AIDS, which by UN estimates, could reach 10 million cases in 2010. In Henan province, where perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have been infected with the HIV virus after selling their blood, the government is only beginning to play heed to the problem. Public awareness and widespread acknowledgement has yet to come.

Political reform and corruption

While there have been major economic reforms, the government has been slow on political reform, citing that "social stability" is vital for a developing economy. Few analysts believe the PRC will democratize quickly, but many see democratization as an inevitable end of the economic reforms. Many in mainland China see one-party rule as effective and any talk of political reform is meant to change the way the party governs, rather than remove it from power. In recent years, local elections with more candidates than positions available have become regular, yet talking about major changes at higher levels remains taboo.

A number of leaders, including Jiang Zemin, have acknowledged that corruption could threaten the party's ongoing existence. Opinion polls continually show that corruption (an all sectors of society) is the main complaint of the people. However, the Communist Party still asserts a monopoly on exposing corrupt officials and businessmen, and critics accuse the party of selective punishment. Analysts say the authorities are reluctant to pursue senior figures and their allies and punishment comes in the form of political purges rather than genuine law enforcement. Nonetheless, the government has taken some measures to address the situation, strengthening the legal system and trying to make the civil service more professional.

Chinese leaders understand that news media could be a very effective means to fight against corruption. Media controls have been reduced, as market forces have encouraged tabloid reporting. Yet, the government occaisonally fires reporters or shut down newspapers that go out of line. For details, see the main article Media in China.

The introduction of internet and SMS has increased the difficultly in completely control. Moreover, the news media from Hong Kong, protected by Basic Law, become increasing involving in news reporting in China and are usually the only media with PRC that can report the news. For details, see the main article Internet in China.


Main article: Political status of Taiwan

With Hong Kong and Macau reunited with the mainland, and independence movements in Tibet and Xinjiang largely contained, the main outstanding issue is Taiwan. The strategy of the PRC government is to wait out the term of pro-Taiwan independence President Chen Shui-bian in hopes that the pro-Chinese reunification ticket of Lien Chan and James Soong will win the next elections of 2004. The situation in the Taiwan strait is considered stable for the moment.

Future prospects

The next 5 years represent a critical period in the PRC's existence. To investors and firms, mainland China represents a vast market that has yet to be fully tapped. This point is best illustrated by the rapid growth of cell phone and Internet users in mainland China. Educationally, the PRC is forging ahead as partnerships and exchanges with foreign universities have helped create new research opportunities for its students. However, there is still much that needs to change in China. Human rights issues remain a concern among members of the world community. To the extent that the PRC Government responds positively to these concerns, relations with concerned countries will grow stronger.

Mainland China's meteoric growth over the past two decades has accounted for well over half of all growth in the developing world. And this development, projected to continue to due China's impressive record of rapid but steady growth and socio-political stability despite formidable obstacles, could challenge Western, and specifically American, global preponderance economically, culturally, technologically, and intellectually. If the China becomes the world's largest economy-as projected-within a couple of decades and if it reaches the per capita income of a developed country-projected to occur within roughly fifty years, one could expect China to become a larger international lender, investor, and market.

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