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HERO AND MAO; Communist China at 60 .. and how it would amaze its founder Mao.

Byline: MATT ROPER

IT is a glitzy money-mad land that would take Mao's breath away... Shiny cars cruise six-lane highways lined with American fast-food outlets and malls selling designer clothes and the latest gadgets.

Sharp-suited businessmen stride purposefully between gleaming skyscrapers or thrash out deals in fancy restaurants and five-star hotels.

Communist China has finally become an economic superpower... and at the same time the world's most dynamic CAPITALIST society.

It is hard to imagine anywhere more different to the socialist utopia envisaged by Mao Tse-tung, who proclaimed the birth of the People's Republic of China 60 years ago this week.

And as 1.3 billion Chinese celebrated the anniversary, with a spectacular military parade through Beijing, many wondered if Mao would have approved of this modern, materialistic China.

Back in 1949, when the Communists seized power after years of fighting, which included the rebels' famous Long March, the father of modern China planned to organise 500 million peasants into thousands of agricultural communes.

But instead the world's most populous country has aggressively embraced capitalism.

As Dr Yiyi Lu, research fellow at Nottingham University's China Policy Institute, explains: "If Mao were brought back to life today he would be really shocked at modern China.

"But I think most Chinese feel it is right to embrace capitalism, and even in the Communist Party there is a feeling this is the only way to ensure their survival.

POVERTY

"Most Chinese people are proud of where we are today and even the critics of the regime would admit that a lot has been achieved. We can make money, we can go abroad, we can spend money.

"In that sense it doesn't really matter what Mao would have thought, because the world has changed and today we are facing a different reality."

China has undergone more changes in the past 60 years than perhaps any other nation on earth.

In the space of a lifetime it has transformed from a poverty-stricken basket case to an industrial powerhouse, now the fastest-growing economy.

China is also the world's third-largest trading power which in 2005 overtook Canada as the No1 exporter to the USA.

Once a peasant society, it has the largest number of mobile phone users in the world -more than 700 million - and the largest number of broadband consumers. On just one day during China's Spring Festival in January this year, more than 18 billion text messages were sent.

And its universities are thriving, with more than 450,000 engineering students graduating every year.

Just as well, because China has some of the fastest-moving cities, with little known places such as Wuhan and Guangzhou boasting populations of four million plus.

And as high-rise blocks, luxury housing developments, hotels and resorts go up at an ever-increasing pace, there are more building cranes in use in one city, Shanghai, than in all of North America.

Thanks to its embrace of capitalism, per capita income in China has increased 20-fold since Mao's day, to pounds 1,500 today.

Poverty rates have fallen from 53% 20 years ago to just 8% today, while the average lifespan has increased from 35 in 1949 to 74 today.

Amazing achievements indeed - but few Chinese would disagree that the health, happiness and prosperity many enjoy today has come at a massive cost.

In the 40 years after 1949, an estimated 80 million people were slaughtered or died as a result of government policy, making the regime the biggest killer in history. In 1958 Chairman Mao's programme to industrialise farming, known as the Great Leap Forward, failed causing a famine that killed 40 million.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party assumed control of all media. Anyone whose loyalty was suspected, including businessmen and former employees of Western companies, were rounded up and publicly executed.

at By Mao's own count, at least 700,000 people were officially executed during the early years of the People's Republic. Many more were beaten to death or sent to labour camps. Mao's ruthless campaigns to crush opposition led many to suicide. In Shanghai so many people jumped off buildings that they became known as "parachutes". When Mao heard about them he remarked: "China is such a populous nation. It is not as if we cannot do without a few people."

In 1960 Mao sent the People's Liberation Army into Tibet, which remained occupied until the following year when a Tibetan delegation to Beijing agreed to an arrangement that would respect Tibetan autonomy.

CRUSHED

When it became clear Mao had no intention of keeping that agreement, the Tibetans rose up and were brutally crushed, villagers were tortured and executed, monasteries were destroyed and monks slaughtered.

But there were signs of change even before his death in 1976. In 1972 US President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China, however it was only after Mao was gone that the Communist Party began to steer more towards the capitalist models of the West that Mao so reviled.

But that did not mean they would accept the democracy that went with them, and when students mourning the death of reformist leader Hu Yaobang gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the peaceful protest was violently crushed with the deaths of hundreds.

And while the country's march towards modernisation continued apace, China has not shown the same desire to improve its human rights record or to give up the one-party, Communist system.

Dr Kerry Brown, Asia expert and senior fellow at Chatham House explains: "It has been a strategy to hold on to power and maintain unity. So the regime has kept a monopoly on power on one hand while allowing people to set up firms and make money on the other. It reduces the chance of dissent by keeping people content."

And he believes Mao wouldn't be too disappointed with the People's Republic 60 years on: "I think he'd be pretty happy that the Party is still so strongly in power. When Mao took power his plan was to create a completely new China based on Leninist principles, a utopian society where there were no landlords and everyone lived in communes.

"But he was most interested in maintaining power whatever the cost. He saw his biggest achievement in unifying China and making it stronger.

"So he would have been pleased to see the amount of money China is pouring into the military today, and this week's impressive show of military strength."

In fact, today China is well on the way to becoming one of the world's dominant military powers.

It already has the largest army with more than 2.8 million men, and has invested heavily in new equipment, including J-10 fighter jets, naval destroyers and Cruise missiles.

But should we be worried about China's march towards possible world domination? Dr Brown says: "China has achieved a huge amount in terms of economic reform. But unless they accept the need for political reform I think growth we're seeing is unsustainable.

"They're trying to run a highly-sophisticated 21st-century economy using a mid 20th-century Soviet Union model.

"China has the potential to be the next superpower, but I don't think that could happen until the day they embrace democracy as well as capitalism."

From rebellion to outer space

1898 Start of 3yr Boxer Rebellion over Western influence in China.

1912 Sun Yat-sen becomes president of new Republic of China. Last child emperor Puyi abdicates.

1913 Sun's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wins first democratic elections.

1920 Communist Party of China (CPC) formed.

1934 In the Long March, the CPC's Red Army forced to retreat 12,500km by the KMT. Mao emerges as a leader.

1931-45 Japanese occupation. KMT and CPC unite to fight.

1949 People's Republic of China established under Chairman Mao.

1950 People's Rep signs treaty with Soviet Union. War with Korea.

1953-57 Five Year Plan to develop industry and agriculture. Census shows population at 583 million 1958-61 Famine kills up to 30m.

Mao steps down as Chairman in 1959 but remains CPC Chairman. Liu Shaoqi elected to chair Republic.

1962-65 Mao launches Socialist Education Movement to kickstart revolution. Regains control of CPC.

1966-76 Cultural Revolution: schools close, intellectuals "re-educated" as peasants, heritage destroyed. Gang of Four gain power in a reign of terror. Mao publishes Little Red Book.

1976 Mao dies. Gang of Four overthrown. Premier Zhou Enlai dies. Thousands mourn in Tiananmen Square and protest the communist government.

1977 Deng Xiaoping regains power; elevates status of intellectuals.

1978 Open-door policy leads to overseas trade and investment.

1979 One child policy to control population.

Nixon's eight day visit establishes diplomatic relations.

1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Death of outspoken Hu Yao Bang sparks protests. 7,000 die after tanks storm square. Deng Xiaoping retires.

1995 US trade war. Population hits 1.2bn. Arrest of Chinese-American Harry Wu sparks rights conflicts.

1996 Revealed one-child policy has led to death of millions of girls.

1997 Deng Xiaoping dies, riots erupt.

Britain returns Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

2003 Long March rocket launches first Chinese astronauts. SARS outbreak.

2008 China hosts Olympics. Sichuan earthquake kills thousands.

2009 Deng Xioping 20m workers lose jobs in crunch. Relaxation of one-child policy.

CAPTION(S):

REFORM Deng Xioping TOUGH Rebels on Long March in 1935 NEW WEST FRIEND Mao meets Nixon in 1972 TAKING POWER Mao declares victory in 1949 at BRUTAL Protestor before Tiananmen massacre THE OLD GUARD MAO IN CONTROL MODERN CHINA SHANGHAI &BEIJING
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Oct 3, 2009
Words:1562
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