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China at 60

How does one assess the 30 years of Maoist and the equal number of 12-month periods of post-Maoist China?

It was 60 years ago, in his opening address at the first plenary session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on 21 September 1949 that Mao Zedong famously declared “...the Chinese people, comprising one-quarter of humanity, have ... stood up”. There is a touching story of his triumphant entry into Beijing (the People’s Liberation Army had won the city from the Guomindang in January 1949) where a million Chinese were present to welcome him. A large stage 15ft high had been constructed at the end of the vast Tiananmen Square, and as he began to climb the stairs from the back, the top of his head appeared and the roars of welcome from the crowd increased in intensity as Mao came into full view. As he sized up the vast multitude, he was overcome with emotion; covering his face with the palms of his hands, he wept.

One wonders what Mao would have felt on 1 October 2009 had he been around at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the People’s Republic of China. Post-Maoist China has witnessed the greatest ever surge of capitalist industrialisation and that too, presided over by a party that claims to be building socialism with Chinese characteristics. What would Mao have thought about the fact that the overall size of China’s GDP in purchasing power parity terms had risen from 13% of that of the US in 1978 to 56% in 2008, and that it was forecast to surpass that of the greatest capitalist power in a matter of two decades from now? From a semicolonial, semi-feudal country to a great capitalist power on the verge of playing a key role in world affairs is no mean achievement. But what of the socialism conceived by Marx and Engels as the negation of capitalism which would, over time, develop its own positive identity through class struggle in which working people would remake society and in the process remake themselves?

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