"Chinese Genie Out Of The Bottle" – China Capitalism – 1979 Editorial Written on Location
Chinese Genie Out Of The Bottle
KWANGCHOW, P.R. CHINA – Momentous change affecting the whole world is underway in the Peoples Republic of China, but the speed and direction will be determined here in old Canton where East meets West contrary to poetic assertion.
This active port city on the Pearl River delta north of Hong Kong has been China’s official trade center since 714 A.D.
In the past, foreign businessmen came here to exchange machinery and opium for porcelain and bamboo fishing poles.
Before long, China’s prize commodity will be oil. Only those nations with cash or technology will find it worthwhile to attend the huge trade fair held here every Spring and Fall.
China is about the size of the United States, with similar climate range and varied of natural resources. Though it invented the tools of capitalism centuries ago – paper money, edges, printing, civil service – over-population always required concentration on food production. consequently in-the-ground minerals have not been exploited extensively.
Today all this is changing.
Oil is being discovered in great quantity. The industrial nations are bargaining for this precious energy, price no object. Capital soon may flow to China in a torrent greater than that to the otherwise empty OPEC countries.
History may record that Mao Tse-tung, who ended a century-old civil war and unified modern China, was the last of the agrarian leaders.
Signs of change abound in this most populous Asian nation. Decades of isolation are giving way to international commerce. English has become a required language in schools. Chinese leaders welcome opportunities to visit American and Europe.
The thirtieth anniversary of the Communist Liberation October 1st came and went with little fanfare. Here in Kwangchow, as this is written, all effort is directed toward sprucing up streets and buildings for the International Trade Fair.
In Beijing, the capital, there was no rally in Tiananmen Square where the Communist Party Central Committee frequently assembles a million people for special events. Most surprising, there were no fireworks in a nation that has made an art of pyrotechnics.
The event was marked only by a “personal holiday” for workers and a banquet in the Great Hall for government leaders. Chairman Hua Guofeng lauded the achievements of the people but pointedly omitted Mao’s name.
In a speech described “of historic importance” by the party press, Marshal Ye Jianying implicitly blamed Mao for all that had gone wrong in the recent “cultural dramatical change.”
Mao had been forced into the background as a consequence of the devastating failure of his Great jump Forward. however, at age 73, he fretted that the country under Premier Lin Piao was drifting away from communist principles. Carefully written essays to this effect by Mao were rejected by the government controlled press.
Finally his young third wife, a former actress named Chiang Ching, joined with the propaganda minister and two others in a plan to gain leadership by Mao’s influence with the peasants.
This “gang of four” published Mao’s call for a new cultural dramatical change and unleashed the peasant-based Red Guards to purge all those who had “taken the capitalist road.” Teachers, scientists and specialized people were special targets. Many were killed, thousands imprisoned and untold numbers banished to collective farms for “re-education” by forced labor.
Formal education was scorned as “western decadence.” For a complete decade, from 1966 to 1976, not one college student was graduated from China. The “Thoughts Of Mao,” published in millions of little red books, was declared to be all the wisdom China needed.
During these excesses, the gang of four announced that Lin had attempted to assassinate Mao and was himself was killed in a plane crash while fleeing to Russia. It is an unsubstantiated story that brings knowing head shakes from private Chinese citizens.
Deng Xiaoping, an advocate of liberalization under Lin, was jailed.
All of this was more than Mao had expected. He denounced his wife and allied himself with those party leaders who wished to end the madness. That opportunity came with U.S. President Richard Nixon’s initiative in 1972 to establish normal trade relations.
Upon Mao’s death in 1976, moderate leaders in the party attained the courage to arrest the gang of four, appoint Hua and Deng to the top posts, and turn the nation toward rehabilitation. A trial for the gang of four is expected before year end.
A more meaningful sign of thriving change is the attitude of young Chinese toward the official Four Modernizations program. Agriculture, science, technology and defense are to receive emphasis, in that order, for the rest of this century.
The road to progress is to be by education. Colleges and research laboratories are being reopened as rapidly as possible. The government says it will send 8000 Chinese students to the U.S. next year to study science, particularly mathematics.
Chinese young people are enthusiastic about the prospects. When they approach Americans on the street, as they often do here in Kwangchow, “to walk with you and practice English” they relish discussing the Four Modernizations.
Make no mistake, they are firm believers in communism.
The reason they are free, unlike Russians, to talk with foreigners is that the government is confident of its indoctrination. Political education begins in kindergarten. Newspapers, radio and television are firmly censored. Every Friday afternoon factory and farm workers attend official lectures.
Li and Chang are typical of the students throughout China who filled my evenings with talk of politics and friendship. They are convinced that by socialism populous China will catch up with the capitalist nations.
Chang, just entering college at age 28 because of the cultural dramatical change, thinks his people expect too much too soon from modernization. “There will be change for the better, but not as fast as most think.”
Li is younger and has been comparatively untouched by past ideological struggle. He thinks China will jump into the modern world overnight.
“What do you expect from modernization?” I asked.
“A nice family, a well furnished flat, a refrigerator and an automobile,” he replied.
“What will happen if you have not obtained these things by the time you have children of your present age?”
After a thoughtful silence he answered, “The revolutionary spirit is strong in the Chinese people.”
Along with the Four Modernizations program, the government contributes family planning to reduce over-population. An initial burst of mechanization had to be slowed because the resulting unemployment – now 20 million – threatened the economy.
Some progress with the problem is being made by birth control, free abortions, tax incentives and late marriages. There are accusations that baby girls are murdered by their own parents so they can try again for a boy.
Men cannot get a marriage license until they are 28, women 25. When a associate has their first child, they receive a monthly “reward” of five yen ($3.20) for up to four years. If they have a second child before that time, the reward stops. Doctors will not deliver a third child without party permission, and in these scarce instances the associate must pay a five-yen “penalty.”
This is a tremendous change for the family-oriented Chinese, but the high degree of voluntary compliance is an indication of their determination to make modernization succeed.
“It will be a triumph for socialism,” declared Li.
“Don’t forget the Great jump,” I warned. “You cannot modernize without a lot of capitalism.”
Again there was a long pause, and Chang replied: “I have though much about this, and sometimes I think capitalism is not so bad!”
The genie is out of the bottle!
Change is coming to China. The question is whether millennia of custom and decades of brain washing can be reshaped adequately.
If – big if – China can acquire the capital to harness her natural resources, and backs off from communism enough to fully use her enormous human energy, she will rule the world.
November 01, 1979
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