Wednesday, October 6, 2010

China: The real great leap forward -an Indonesian Perspective

The Zhõngguó Gòngchăndăng or Communist Party of China (CPC) initially collaborated with the Nationalist Party (Guómíndăng) under Chiang Kai-shek in the long struggle against the invading Japanese Imperial Army. After defeating the Japanese, and driving the Nationalist Party to take refuge on Taiwan Island, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (Zhõnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) on Oct. 1, 1949 and ushered the people of China into a completely new era.

Since the crises leading to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, the last of China’s monarchy, China suffered long years of chaos and turbulence caused by civil war, the yoke of the Western powers and a Japanese invasion. Mao Zedong was deeply aware that the CPC had a daunting task to cope with.

He undertook some significant reforms such as introducing legal protection of women’s rights and the abolition of polygamy as well as slavery, and not less important: land reforms for 90 percent of the population constituted by farmers. Later, in 1951-1952 was the “Three Anti Five Anti” movement (Sân făn-Wŭ făn) directed against enemies of the state found mostly in corrupt members of the CPC and big capitalists in private businesses.

After failing to implement the Soviet model for the first Five-Year-Plan from 1953 to 1957, Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward (Dàyuèjìn) at a CPC meeting in Nanjing in January 1958. The move was aimed at building a modern communist society by pursuing agriculturalization, industrialization and collectivization — targets of the second Five-Year-Plan that was intended to run from 1958 to 1963.

However, the great leap ended in a great economic and particularly humanitarian disaster claiming some 20 to 30 million lives by estimate as a result of massive famine in rural areas.

The failure of the Great Leap Forward entailed profound consequences, not only in economic terms, but also in political shifts. Mao Zedong resigned as State Chairman in 1959 leaving the economic recovery to Liu Shaoqi as the new State Chairman and Deng Xiaoping as the CPC General Secretary.

Nevertheless, Mao was apprehensive about the pragmatic economic directions adopted by Liu and Deng already starting in the 1960s, and he apparently prepared steps for a comeback.

Mao Zedong commenced a flashback campaign against the two functionaries and other known pragmatists by launching The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Wúchăn Jiējí Wénhuà Dà Gémìng) aka The Cultural Revolution, on May 16, 1966, which was carried out intensively until 1968. The Cultural Revolution became a sad chapter in history not only for China, but also for the world, as huge amounts of historical, cultural and literary heritage fell victim to a massive pogrom and persecution. It only came to an end officially in 1976 with the demise of Mao Zedong.

By 1973, Deng Xiaoping already resurfaced politically and in 1975 had secured strategic positions as a member of the decisive Politburo Standing Committee, People’s Liberation Army’s chief of staff, and executive vice premier, effectively taking charge in place of the then ailing premier Zhou Enlai. So when Mao Zedong passed away in 1976, Deng Xiaoping or “Deng the Little Peace” was ready to lead China further into an era of reconstruction. One of his most important steps preparing for a different future of China was the reactivation of University Entrance Examinations in 1977. In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping declared The Four Modernizations (Sì gè xiàndàihuà) at a plenum of the Central Committee, which was originally a strategy already designed by Zhou Enlai in 1963. By then he was already 74 years old, which was probably the reason for TIME to publish an article in January 1979 under the title “Little Man in a Big Hurry”.

There is no doubt that The Four Modernizations paved the way for “The Real Great Leap Forward”. This step was taken in concert also with an adjusted foreign policy, this time with real opening up to the big power game, particularly with the US. When president Nixon and US secretary of state Henry Kissinger visited Beijing in 1972, it was more in the interest of the US to play the “Chinese Card” against the menacing Soviet power under Leonid Brezhnev. However, when Deng Xiaoping visited the US in 1979, he played none other than the “Chinese Card” in the sole interest of China.

He did not make it to witness the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, as he passed away on Feb. 19, 1997. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Deng Xiaoping left a monumental legacy in historical terms, as mentioned by journalist Jim Rohwer: “the Dengist reforms of 1979-1994 brought about probably the biggest single improvement in human welfare anywhere at any time.”

Further leadership under “The Third Generation” ushered in by president Jiang Zemin and premier Zhu Rongji had the ease of making The Four Modernizations into a “Real Great Leap Forward”. As a result, by August 2010 China had taken over Japan’s position as the second-largest economy in the world, which also enabled it to flex its military might. Admittedly “The Fourth Generation” of leaders under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have become confronted by increasing social unrest resulting from the development and economic gap between the coastal and hinterland regions. However, it is very likely that China has found its own right track in history.

How should Indonesia fare with a strong and now richer northern neighbor? If we may draw lessons from history, it is always dilemmatic to have a neighbor. The best thing would be if you were wealthy and strong on your own terms. If that is not the case, we should prefer to have a rich neighbor rather than a poor one, particularly if it is a large and populous country. This is because poverty and its consequential anger used to spill over exactly like wealth and its resulting complacency do.

Do not forget the difficult years of the 1960s we had when China was under the helm of Mao Zedong. Nevertheless, if your neighboring country is powerful, then make sure first that you are on good terms with it, and second if that does not seem to be the case, convince it that an attack against you would end up merely in a pretty expensive Pyrrhic victory.

By Budiono Kusumohamidjojo professor at the School of Philosophy, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.

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