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China Modern History

After several years of civil war, the Communists finally prevailed under Mao Zedong over Kuomintang. On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was proclaimed and the country was subsequently renamed according to a socialist model. The policies that were pursued sometimes had disastrous consequences: the 1950s attempt to rapidly industrialize the country led to millions of Chinese dying of starvation and during the Cultural Revolution, dissenters within the party were exposed and highly educated to clap hunting and severe harassment. After Mao's death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping pushed through market economy reforms, which became the starting point for a record-breaking development.

After Japan's capitulation in 1945, the civil war flared up again. Mao's Communists could, without much difficulty, run a materially superior but disintegrating and corrupt Kuomintang army in retreat. Jiang fled to the island of Taiwan (Formosa), while on October 1, 1949, the Communist Party of Beijing proclaimed the People's Republic of China. In May of the following year, Sweden became the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with the new China.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing China. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

After the war, Party Chairman Mao quickly signed a 30-year friendship and aid pact with the Soviet Union and, with its help, began to thoroughly transform China. His theories of revolution were focused on the absolute majority of the population, the impoverished peasants. Great efforts were made to introduce public primary school and reduce illiteracy. During the 1950s, the entire countryside was organized into "people's municipalities", ie agricultural collectives with tens of thousands of residents and their own schools, hospitals, workshops and industries. Private ownership of arable land was banned. In addition to their usual duties, the peasants would also build earth kilns and produce iron.

The reform, The Great Leap, was a gigantic experiment. Mao wanted to develop China into an industrial nation in just a decade in a single powerhouse. But the result was devastating. The iron from the primitive furnaces could not be used, and the farmers' cultivations lapsed. This and unusually bad weather caused a major loss of production, which came to cost over 20 million Chinese lives in starvation, disease and hardship.

Contemporary History of ChinaThe difficult riots that followed the party triggered the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966, Mao's attempt to consolidate his ideology and crush those who wanted to choose a different path. Young party activists, so-called Red Guardians, were mobilized in fierce mass campaigns against all "bourgeois elements". Industry and education were deprived of labor when teachers, administrators and other specialists were harassed and sent to retraining camps. For some chaotic years, almost all higher education and research were down. The persecution soon became increasingly arbitrary. Along with his wife Jiang Qing, Mao began to clear people in the leadership who were considered to have capitalist inclinations. Chaos and stagnation followed.

Two potential successors to Mao disappeared during the Cultural Revolution: Prime Minister Liu Shaoqi died in captivity, while Defense Minister and Vice President Lin Biao - who provided the army with the famous quote book commonly called Mao's Little Red - perished in 1971 in an air crash in Mongolia, likely after fleeing a coup attempt.

1976 became dramatic. In January, respected Prime Minister Zhou Enlai passed away and was succeeded by Hua Guofeng. In the summer, a huge earthquake took over a quarter of a million people's lives in northern Tangshan. Natural disasters have traditionally been seen in China as a prelude to the fall of rulers, and in September Mao died. Hua Guofeng also took over as party leader and allowed to seize Mao's widow Jiang Qing and her co-conspirators in the gang of the Four, as the radical left-wing activists were called. They were convicted of, among other things, distorting Mao's directives and trying to seize power themselves.

Shortly thereafter, Deng Xiaoping emerged as China's new strong man. Deng Xiaoping, one of the leading politicians since the founding of the People's Republic, took a new place in the party summit after falling out of favor during the Cultural Revolution. He was convinced that the crisis required radical departures from Mao's politics and in December 1978 he drafted the guidelines for China's second revolution. By liberalizing and providing space for private initiatives, the economy would be streamlined, consumption increased and standards of living increased. Among the reforms were freer prices for goods and services, rationalization of unprofitable state-owned enterprises and experiments with new forms of ownership such as shares. The old lifelong job security was removed, as were Mao's people's municipalities. The family farms came back and the farmers had to sell their goods on the market again.

The first years of the reforms yielded rapid, positive results and most Chinese got better. But new thinking also met resistance from those who risked losing old privileges. That some people could suddenly enrich themselves, while others were stuck in their scarcity created tension in society. Cheating and corruption could spread as the regime's control diminished.
Deng Xiaoping responded to criticism in the party, administration and military with purges and rejuvenation campaigns. Although most leaders later saw the reforms as both necessary and desirable, the question remained of how quickly and thoroughly they would be implemented. Particularly deep was the disagreement over the extent to which China could open its political system to citizens' transparency and influence. The left-wing conservatives warned of chaos if the party loosened its grip on politics.

Between 1987 and 1989, the power struggle resurfaced between those who wanted to change the system and old communists in the leadership layer under Deng. Hu Yaobang, long one of Deng's close associates, was dismissed as party leader in 1987 after major student unrest and was succeeded by another reformist, Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang. When Hu died in April 1989, students' grief meetings in Beijing swelled to a peaceful protest movement whose power surprised both the regime and the outside world. Students and sympathizers occupied Tiananmen Square in the middle of the capital and were not allowed to be driven away, despite threats of police and military efforts. A humiliated government saw the protesters take over the city center and overshadow Soviet leader Michail Gorbachev's historic May visit. They asked troublesome questions to the country's top leadership on solidification,

The students were supported by large sections of Beijing's population, and the protests also spread to several other cities. The government labeled the participants as "counter-revolutionaries" and introduced war laws on May 20. After long waiting, the regime hit the night until June 4, 1989. Before press and television from all over the world, elite troops stormed the square with tanks and crushed the revolt. According to the authorities, more than 300 people, most soldiers, were killed, while foreign observers have spoken of "many hundreds", perhaps thousands of casualties. Party leader Zhao Ziyang, who expressed sympathy for the young people's demands, though not their methods, was dismissed and replaced by Deng Xiaoping's guardian Jiang Zemin. Few doubted that the military attack was approved by Deng, even though Prime Minister Li Peng and President Yang Shangkun outwardly appeared to be the men behind it. The Beijing massacre was followed by a clapping of student leaders and oppositionists, while the reformists were pushed back within the party. Most Western countries temporarily frozen all relations with China with disgust for brutality.

After the crisis, China's leadership devoted considerable effort to trying to regain its reputation and keep the People's Republic together. In November 1989 and March 1990, Deng resigned from his last official posts within party and state apparatus, but remained on the scene as the country's highest leader. The economy, which slowed down during international isolation, slowly regained momentum as the outside world reconnected with China.

In 1993, the National People's Congress adopted Deng's "socialist market economy" as an official dogma and entered market-controlled socialism into the Constitution. The People's Congress also appointed his patron party leader Jiang Zemin as president.

Deng Xiaoping's death in February 1997 marked the end for "second generation" leaders; aged veterans of the war and revolution ("The First Generation" were Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai and others). The open power struggle that many feared would erupt after Deng's death failed. The "third generation" leader with Jiang Zemin at the center had gradually taken over and without visible drama. In 1998, the National People's Congress formerly appointed Finance Minister Zhu Rongji as Prime Minister after Li Peng.

After a boom in the first half of the 1990s, the Chinese economy was affected by the financial crisis that hit eastern and southeast Asia in the fall of 1997. Demand for Chinese goods in the region declined and led to a decline in exports. However, China's economic growth continued, albeit at the same record pace, during the late 1990s.

In line with China's advancement as a growing trading nation, it became increasingly important to improve ties with the West. In 2001, China gained membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the same year it became clear that the Olympic Games would be held in Beijing in 2008. When China after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 joined US President George W Bush's global "war on terrorism "It could be seen as another step into the international community.

In the spring of 2003, a fourth generation of political leaders took control of China. Hu Jintao, who was elected leader of the Communist Party a few months earlier, was appointed new president while Wen Jiabao became new prime minister. But Jiang Zemin initially maintained a great influence over politics. Several newly elected members of the highest party agencies were his allies and he remained the leader of the powerful Central Military Commission (see Foreign Policy and Defense) until September 2004, when Hu Jintao took over this task as well.

While Jiang Zemin put the country's economic development in the forefront, which especially benefited the business elite, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao sought to strengthen their power base by promising social improvements for the country's poor. It seemed increasingly urgent for the political leadership to preserve the stability of the country and calm the burgeoning dissatisfaction in the countryside (see Social conditions). The number of mass protests and similar "incidents" reported in 2005 has increased to 87,000, compared with 58,000 in 2003.

At the Communist Party's plenary session in the autumn of 2005, a five-year development plan was approved that focused on improving social welfare. Two years later, the president's theory of economic development was written into the party charter at the 2007 Congress of the Communist Party. It represented a more "scientific view of development" and a vision of "the harmonious society," which essentially meant that economic growth should not happen on the cost of the environment and the consequences for human well-being must be considered. The social turmoil would be countered by investments in educational reforms, expanded health care, environmental protection and other rural development measures.

The new management has taken power against the corruption. In 2005, a former minister of land and resources was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, and in 2006, a top politician and party secretary in Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, was dismissed. He was suspected of being involved in a major corruption legacy, where pension fund money was used to invest in real estate and road construction. The dismissal was considered by judges to be a way for Hu Jintao to strengthen his position in Shanghai, former president Jiang Zemin's foremost power base. The mutiny then swelled with about 50 arrested. (Chen Liangyu was sentenced in 2008 to 18 years in prison.)

Another problem was the poor control of food and medicines. In the summer of 2007, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was executed after receiving bribes from companies in exchange for dropping the necessary checks on drug products. In 2008, it was discovered that thousands of Chinese children suffered kidney damage, and six of them had died after drinking milk powder containing the toxic substance melamine. The scandal hit exports of Chinese dairy products as several countries withdrew sales. About twenty people were tried: some were sentenced to death, others to life imprisonment. Following the scandal, the rules for food and additives were tightened.

President Hu Jintao was re-elected general secretary of the Communist Party at the party congress in October 2007. Among the new members elected to the Permanent Committee of the Politburo, Xi Jinping, party secretary in Shanghai, and Li Keqiang, party secretary in Liaoning Province, were considered particularly promising. When the National People's Congress met in March, Xi was appointed Vice-President and Li was Deputy Prime Minister. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao were both re-elected for a further five-year term.

At the same time as the annual congress of the People's Congress, unrest was taking place in Tibet with clashes between monks, civilians and security troops (see Tibet). Tibetans also protested in the neighboring provinces of Sichuan and Gansu. Reports came of several deaths. The regime sent more soldiers to quickly turn down the protests and avoid negative publicity ahead of the impending summer Olympics in Beijing in August 2008. But the attempts failed and the government instead came under heavy criticism from abroad for using violence in Tibet.

Following a severe earthquake with more than 69,000 dead in Sichuan Province in May the same year, international sympathies for China increased. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was portrayed in the state media as the person who personally led the rescue work, which together with his dedication to those affected helped to increase his popularity among the people. Initially, the media were allowed to report exceptionally freely about the disaster. But when harsh criticism was made against corrupt rulers and builders who had built substandard houses that collapsed in the earthquake, media coverage was tightened.

Just four days before the August 8 Olympics in Beijing, 16 policemen were killed in the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The act was suspected of a terrorist attack by militant Uighur separatists (see Xinjiang). The already rigorous surveillance before the Olympics hardened after the attack. No incidents disturbed the Olympic Games, but the regime was criticized for the harsh climate of human rights.

Reactions to the so-called Charter -08 - a call for multi-party systems, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary - again showed that the regime did not tolerate any form of political opposition. Several thousand people signed the manifesto, which was published on the internet in December 2008 by three hundred regime critics. One of them was democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who in 2009 was sentenced to eleven years in prison. The following year, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for "his long struggle without violence for fundamental human rights in China".

When the international financial crisis spread to China in the fall of 2008, President Hu Jintao warned that the deteriorating economic situation would become a test of the party's capacity to govern the country. The regime deployed massive crisis efforts for the equivalent of $ 600 billion to stimulate the economy. At the end of 2009, the economic situation began to brighten (see Finance).

In the fall of 2012, the conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu archipelago (Senkaku in Japanese) in the East China Sea flared up again (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Violent anti-Japanese demonstrations were held in many places. The Chinese leadership allowed the protests but did not want them to go overboard - especially not given the imminent party congress later in the fall when a new Chinese leadership would be appointed after the current leaders completed their two terms of office.

In the fall of 2012, the changeover of China's highest leader began once a decade. As expected, 59-year-old Xi Jinping, whose father held a high position in the Communist Party, was appointed new secretary general of the party at its November congress.

When the nation's highest legislative assembly met with the National People's Congress in March the following year, Xi was appointed new president after Hu Jintao, while Li Keqiang took over the prime minister's post from Wen Jiabao. Xi Jinping was also elected to the heavy post as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission (see Foreign Policy and Defense).

President Xi quickly became popular with the people for their anti-corruption efforts, restrictions on the party life's luxury and the patriotic speeches of China as a nation on the verge of regaining its former glory. His wife - the glamorous and popular singer Peng Liyuan - contributed to the positive attention.

It became clear early on that Xi wanted to compare himself to former leader Deng Xiaoping and, like him, to appear as a reformer. As a new party leader, Xi Jinping made a round trip to the rich province of Guandong in December 2012 - a repetition of a famous trip south as Deng Xiaoping made in 1992. Many observers interpreted it as a signal that Xi, like Deng, wanted to prioritize economic reform and openness to the outside world.

Political reforms

Expectations were high before the plenary session with the party's Central Committee in November 2013. New Chinese leaders have traditionally used this third plenary to present major changes and parallels were drawn again to Deng Xiaoping and the 1978 meeting, which launched the opening of the Chinese economy.

At the meeting, it was announced that market forces would play a greater role in the economy (see Finance) within the current system of socialism with Chinese characters. A new group would be formed to lead the in-depth reform work, while a special state committee on security issues relating to international relations and military issues would also be established. Xi became chairman of both, thus continuing an already clear trend in which power was gathered around the president. Two other important news from the meeting were that the one-child policy would be further facilitated (see Population and Languages) and that the infamous retraining and labor camps would cease.

In 2014, reforms of the justice system were also promised. But those who had hoped that the reform will also include measures for democracy, freedom of speech and political transparency were disappointed. Media control was tightened and internet and social media surveillance became tougher (see Mass Media). The regime struck 2013-2014 against the newly formed New Citizens' Movement and sentenced its founder lawyer Xu Zhiyong to four years in prison. The movement raised questions about political and civil rights and had launched a proposal that party officials should be forced to account for their assets, as a way to counter corruption.

The fight against corruption

Xi Jinping also launched the most comprehensive anti-corruption campaign in several decades. According to the president, corruption was to be fought at all levels of society, both among "tigers" and "flies".

Assessors said that the corruption investigation that started in the summer of 2014 against the country's former security chief Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo's standing committee and one of China's most powerful people, was not primarily about accessing "tigers" but rather was the final phase of a political power struggle within the Communist Party where Xi and his supporters have now won. The power play had come to light in connection with the scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, the charismatic, left-wing populist party secretary in Chongqing. Bo, who predicted a future within the absolute party summit, was sentenced in September 2013 to life imprisonment for corruption and abuse of power. The scandal that shook the party establishment basically rolled up in connection with Bos's wife being suspected of murdering a British businessman in the spring of 2012. She was later convicted of the murder.

Several of Bo's supporters have been subject to corruption investigations after his fall. Zhou Yongkang was Bo Xilai's most powerful protector. In the military too, high commanders have been convicted of corruption, including top generals Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou. Since Xi's anti-corruption campaign began in 2012, hundreds of thousands of officials have been punished, several hundred of whom have held high positions at the provincial or national level.

 
 

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