The Ghost of China's Grim History
by Eric Margolis: Thirteen
Days That Shook the World – and Nearly Ended It
current 18th Party Congress may prove even more important that Americas
just-fought election whose outcome was perfectly predictable.
maintained the political status quo. The Republican Party, as Ive
been saying in recent columns, is headed for irrelevance unless
it can change its membership, end religious fundamentalism, and
stop getting women angry at it.
once-in-a-decade change of Communist Party leadership was rather
more important than the US election: it will determine the course
of the worlds most populous nation whose economy is set to
overtake Americas before the decade is over.
My big questions
about these ultra-boring party snoozfests and their droning speeches
is how do the 2,000 delegates stay awake? Falling asleep means a
one-way ticket to the Lao Gai, Chinas gulag. Maybe
delegates sit on thumbtacks.
While the United
States and Europe are in an economic mess and crippled by debt,
Chinas long march out of dire poverty continues apace. During
the past ten years of outgoing President Hu Jintaos leadership,
Chinas economy has grown 400%. China is well on the way to
becoming a modern nation with growing military power and technology.
I cannot look
at todays China without vividly recalling my first trip there
in 1975, a year before the Red Emperor, Chairman Mao, died. China
looked like a vast concentration camp. A few gangs of Red Guards
still rampaged. Everyone wore dirty green or blue quilted outfits.
A few bluish fluorescent feeble lights lit the grim scene of fear,
poverty and depression.
On my twice-yearly
visits to China, I marvel at the change: its as if some wizard
waved a magic wand and from the ground sprouted skyscrapers, high-speed
trains, and giant factories. Where, I keep wondering, did all the
money come from? Maybe Chinese, like East Europeans, buried all
their gold in the ground when the Communists took power and only
dug it up when the coast was clear.
of course, was Maos successor, Deng Xiaoping who was, in my
humble view, a greater and certainly more effective revolutionary
than Mao. Deng broke the power of Chinas crackpot leftists
and released his nations vast productive power.
inspired leadership, China finally managed to escape the chain of
its past two centuries. Until the early 1800s, China, with
400 million people, was the worlds leading economic power,
but a military midget. An increasingly corrupt, feckless Manchu
(Qing) Dynasty presided over Chinas decay.
In 1839, the
British pounced on prostrate China, waging two opium wars that caused
tens of millions to become drug addicts. Britain seized Hong Kong.
France, Russia, and Japan fed like wolves on helpless China. Many
of the greatest fortunes in todays Britain were based on the
In 1850, a
farmer declared himself the younger brother of Jesus Christ and
launched the frightful Taiping Rebellion that in 14 years led to
20 million deaths. In 1894, Japan seized Korea and Taiwan from China
and humiliated the Imperial armies and fleets.
calamitous 19th century engendered the even more bloody 20th century:
1920s civil wars; the Japanese invasion of 1937; a fight to
the death between Maos Communist and the Nationalists of Chiang
Kai-shek. In 1958, Maos Great Leap Forward, a crazy attempt
to modernize the economy, wrecked China and caused 30-60 million
peasants to starve. Maos equally daft Cultural Revolution
almost finished off China.
in the retrospective of this grim history, Chinas rise to
become the worlds second most important power is even more
miraculous. The deep-seated fear of chaos and government weakness
underlies much of Chinas current political thinking and allows
acceptance of authoritarian rule and lack of human rights taken
for granted in many other nations. Chairman Mao used to read himself
to sleep late at night poring over the history of Chinas wars
between rival kingdoms and peasant uprisings, which he termed Chinas
dictatorships make use of this argument; so do too many democracies.
There are other choices: look at the way Imperial Japan gave way
to a democratic system, however flawed. China can take this same
road, but it will take a long time for it to develop democratic
confidence and a nation under law.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2012 Eric Margolis
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