60 years on, Communist China puffs out its chest
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As Beijing celebrates the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China with a massive military parade through the city centre, we discuss the country's spectacular progress to the rank of global superpower.
Since China's Communist Party seized power at the end of a bitter civil war sixty years ago, the country's erratic progress has been nothing short of spectacular. However that progress has come at a cost for many people, like Hou Bo, who was there to witness, at first hand, the birth of the New China. As Chairman Mao’s official photographer, Hou was at Tiananmen Square the day Mao proclaimed the formation of the People’s Republic of China – ushering in a new era in the nation’s history.
“When Chairman Mao finished the proclamation of the People’s Republic, everyone started shouting: Long live chairman Mao! Long live the People’s Republic of China!” says Hou. “Of course, I was incredibly moved. I was convinced that China would once again become the number one nation in the world.”
Hou may have immortalised Mao that day, but she still fell foul of the authorities during the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s wife, a powerful woman during the years of his leadership, decided that Hou had taken some unflattering pictures of her husband, and had her sent to a labour camp for 10 years. Yet, despite her ordeal, Hou still embraces the principles of the Communist Party.
“Of course there have been some mistakes,” Hou says “particularly the crimes of the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution, but we moved on from that quickly. We will never make those kinds of mistakes again! Everything will just keep getting better and better!”
Denounced by his girlfriend
Not everyone shares Hou’s rosy outlook for Communist China. Xu Xing also suffered during those times, and is not so willing to forgive. The documentary maker was tortured for 40 days after his girlfriend denounced him for criticising the Cultural Revolution in a love letter. Like 17 million other young Chinese, he was then sent to the countryside to live in poverty, and he has now lost all faith in Mao’s China.
“China has changed in many ways since the Cultural Revolution,” says Xu, “but some things, like government propaganda, haven’t changed at all. Everything here is phoney. Fake. Like the Olympics last year, they were a big fraud, and everyone knows it!”
The country has moved on a long way since those times, and the China of 2009 is a very different one to the one that Mao shaped during his leadership.
Private enterprise guides the nation now rather than revolutionary dogma, while people like Feng Jun, the founder of Chinese electronics giant Aigo, are the new voice of the Communist Party. They are entrepreneurs keen to profit from the new capitalism in China, while remaining loyal to the government – Aigo means patriot in Chinese.
“I think the love for your mother and the love for your country are the two most important things for all of us,” Feng explains. “So we create our products to reflect those feelings of love for your mother and your country. Our products are worthy of the consumer, and are very useful – that’s how you become sustainable.”
Sixty years ago, Mao had a dream of turning China into a global superpower. Some believe that goal is close to being achieved, while others feel the nation needs more political reform to turn it into a true powerhouse – those voices falling on deaf ears in the Communist Party of 2009 though, as the country continues to ride the waves of economic success.