To see a note from the editor, click here.

Friday, 1 October 2010

61 Years of the People's Republic of China

On October 1st 1949, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing. The event marked the culmination of the CCP's long struggle against the Nationalist Kuomintang (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and the Imperial Japanese Army, which had occupied vast swathes of Chinese territory in the years preceding its defeat in the Second World War. Since that point, the CCP's brand of Marxism has changed significantly, with the Party currently favouring increased interaction with Western 'capitalist' ideals at the expense of Maoist doctrines. China's reform process has in many ways been remarkable, although the current leadership is as committed to the notion of the Party's superiority as its predecessors were. Economic reform is coming on leaps and bounds- the same cannot be said for political reform.

Today thus marks the 61st anniversary of the PRC's inception- a fact that a visitor to China would have found it practically impossible to miss. Although budgetary pressure means that major ceremonies are now only held every five years (the next one due in four years time for the 65th birthday), the Tiananmen area was nonetheless witness to a lavish spectacle. The celebration activities revolving around the paying of respects to those who (in the words of Xinhua) “sacrificed their lives to build the nation”, with the top leadership laying flowers by the Monument to the People's Heroes. As Xinhua pointed out, October 1st provides China with a chance to remember its past as well as look to its future. The CCP's political legitimacy is founded on its past struggles, and an opportunity to look back makes the Party of Hu Jintao relevant to the Party of Mao Zedong in 1949.

 The Monument to the People's Heroes, Tiananmen Square

Of course, Beijing was not the only place to see National Day activities. With the Shanghai World Expo still in full swing, there was a ceremonial raising of the Chinese flag in front of the PRC's Pavilion, and celebrations with representatives of China's ethnic minorities. Smaller flags also abounded on the Expo site, all representing a visual reminder of the importance of National Day to China.

In recent days, the PRC has also marked its birthday in embassies around the world, while receiving congratulatory communications from various governments. Not surprisingly, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sent a personal note to Hu Jintao, which was later published on the website of the Korean Central News Agency. In it, Kim made a typical nod to Hu Jintao's current policy direction, stating that the “Chinese people are now waging a dynamic struggle to build a comprehensively well-off socialist society on the basis of the scientific outlook on development under the guidance of the CPC with Comrade Hu Jintao as general secretary.” In addition, Kim also placed emphasis on the long-standing relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing, intimating that this should grow stronger still in the future. As this blog has said before, North Korea is keen stay as close to China as possible, in order to be most advantageously positioned in its relations with South Korea. It seems that Beijing is willing to reciprocate to some extent- Xinhua also announced today the CCP's desire to work with with the newly elected leadership of the Worker's Party of Korea. This is a signal from China that it supports the rise of Kim Jong-un to the position of heir apparent to Kim Jong-il- a fact that might prove important when the latter's death begins the jockeying for power in North Korea.

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