The first article is from the China Daily while the other is from an Atlantic Council forum. The China Daily article feels there are ‘three gnawing issues’, as they put it. The Indian side looks at it historically, politically and diplomatically. They are both short so I’ll include them in their entirety.
“Food is central to the Chinese psyche and I think they believe that everybody should be entitled to food whereas Westerners look at it differently.”
Sorry Steve, what I paste below is a bit long, if you think the content is irrelevant, please go ahead to delete or collapse. No hard feeling on my side. This piece was written by a friend of my few years back, whom I respect very much. My intention is not to criticize the west, but to partially answer the point raise by Chinktalk.
+++ Since the First Opium War, the vast number of Chinese masses never had sufficient food to eat. Famine was a feature of China, as it was for India for much of its history. That country had 25 famines during the BRITISH administration alone. One of the worst took place at the Deccan area, which killed over four million. In Mike Davis’ “Late Victorian Holocausts,” it was estimated that there were between 12 and 33 million avoidable deaths in India between 1876 and 1908. And as late as 1943 around 4 million died in the Bengal famine, an event that some commentators have blamed on official policy, but which others have claimed as an act of genocide. All these have not been focussed or even mentioned in passing by the West. There was no talk about the failure of capitalism, of imperialism, or even racism. Indeed, if Davis has not come out with his recent book, much of the world wouldn’t have known such things happened.
Let’s talk a bit about China’s Great Leap. That was a period of hardship or at least near-starvation as well, and indeed part of the problem was due to inexperience, incompetence, and macro-management. That’s not too surprising as, after a century of being a semi-colony, few Chinese understood the geography of China, much less how to administer the continental-sized country. Almost all of China’s main cities, rivers, and even provinces were in foreign control one way or another. Even China’s customs was in foreign hands until 1943 – a huge shame on Chinese civilization and bitterly felt by the Chinese people. The Chinese were described in travel books as incapable of logical thinking, that they were unruly and deserved to be crushed by the boots of Prussian discipline. Meanwhile, foreign-occupied Shanghai was sporting clubs with signs saying “No dogs and Chinese allowed.” This, in China! The Chinese didn’t find the West weeping for their democratic rights then. The poor, wretched, hungry masses died like flies EVERY DAY – average life expectancy was like pre-1950 Tibet – around 35 years.
If this was the situation during PEACETIME, it was worse during the war. But all things have their seasons, and in 1950 China, for the first time in over 100 years, emerged as an independent country under the Chinese Communist Party. There was much to be done, but straightaway the country was faced with the possibility of its perceived enemy at the Korean border. So Chinese troops were sent to face the armed forces of the greatest power in the world. After being the “Sick Man of Asia” for a century the country, united as never before, managed to surprise the world by forcing American troops into what Cold War architect George Kennan called “the longest retreat in US military history.” Even more surprising, it was the US that called for peace, on the threat that they would use atomic bombs if China were to refuse to negotiate.
But the war took a great toll on the Chinese, which besides the loss of over a million lives owed the Soviets billions of roubles for their often inferior armaments (only the MIG 15 was considered world class, and that too eventually was not a match for the improved American fighter jets). The country, just emerging from a century of devastation, was faced with enormous challenges both from nature and from external threats such as SEATO and the American 7th Fleet in Taiwan. China was unable to get UN help as the Americans had persuaded the world to recognize Taiwan as the true representative of all China (nowadays, with Beijing having the upper hand, the hint is that Taiwan should be independent!). Worse, Taiwanese agents were regularly sent to sabotage the mainland’s infrastructure – this was proudly shown in a magazine called “Free World” and distributed to many Malaysian schools by the USIS (my elder brother used to tear the mag to wrap his books. Once, however, I recognized the fabulous paintings of Chinese-American artist Dong Kingman, and snatched the pages from him). Threats along the coastal areas forced Mao to locate China’s industries in the hilly hinterlands, which of course was difficult and expensive. Many modern Chinese just don’t understand how difficult it was for China to develop then, not to mention the Western embargo on China of advanced industrial goods, which continues even today.
Older Malaysians – those at least over 60 – know from their geography books that China’s Yellow River was known as the “River of Sorrow.” When it flooded, millions of lives would be lost. Drought was another curse. Thus the new government started from the basics – building dams, shoring up the dikes, and planting trees to prevent desertification, cool the land and conserve water. There was little money for machinery – most were done by human labor. Yet, by the mid-fifties, the country was gaining ground – it even had some surplus grain for export.
There were often open military threats – Chiang Kaishek was probably encouraged to put the heat on China by promising “imminent” invasion on every national day in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the US had proceeded from the atomic to thermonuclear or H-bomb. China had no choice but to keep up with the R&D, and by 1958 was able to send its first sounding rockets to space.
Could it be that the progress of a few years made China’s leaders swollen-headed? Perhaps a bit of that, but the point of the Great Leap wasn’t merely a struggle to become a modern power. The mass collectivization and setting up of people’s communes was to make every commune a fortress. These communes were to make not merely basic implements for farming, but also the manufacture or repair of armaments. Mao had envisioned not only an entire country of self-sufficient farmers, but also soldiers. That was the faith he had in his people – few real dictators would dare to place arms in the hands of millions of powerless people.
The plan was good, even revolutionary, but the implementation was disastrous. First, China was such a large country that one really could not tell the peasants what to plant – they knew their land better than the leaders in Beijing. So it was an error to turn rice fields into wheatlands, or vice versa. Moreover, local uneducated cadres, always wanting to be heroes, would send glowing reports of their districts when crop disaster was staring at their faces. If China were a small country like England, things might’ve been easier. It was not that easy to find out the truth in a huge land with primitive infrastructure (a more democratic press might’ve helped, as Amartya Sen suggested).
On top of administrative failures and backward technology was one of the worst droughts in modern Chinese history. Plants withered in many places, and many people didn’t have sufficient water for daily use, not to say watering the crops. Deng Hsiao-ping, to impress his newfound foreign American friends, later claimed that about 16 million died during those years. If we take the years 1958 to 62, that would mean about 4 millions per year – somewhat the same as the Bengal famine of 1943. But I doubt that figure as many of us in Malaysia had relatives who, despite telling us of their hardships, never gave any hint of any famine. Foreign visitors, including well-known ones such as BBC head Felix Greene, reported hardships but no famine. Another reason for the numbers could be the normal deaths from decades of malnutrition: the revolution was merely eight years old and many of the survivors were born during a time when life expectancy was around 35.
But that people were in near famine conditions – that I believe was a possibility. It was brought about through over-optimistic planning, bad administration, and the worst drought in modern history. However, the 16 million, already inflated to support Deng’s “reforms”, was as usual doubled to 30 millions by the West, and a decade or so later that was doubled again to 60 millions. We all know the Western play on figures. The tens of deaths at Tiananmen was inflated to “hundreds, if not thousands” whereas, DURING THE SAME DECADE IN KWANGJU, KOREA, over 2000 students were run over by tanks and armored cars by the US supported Korean dictator but often reported as “200.” In the Korean episode, the massacre was approved, if not planned, by the US military (did the mass media report on that at all?).
Whatever the case, the Great Leap was a disaster, but the farmers knew that the drought had played a large role, and on the whole did not blame the CCP. This was proven in an indirect way: around 1962 the US, knowing that China had experienced great economic difficulties, thought it might be time to support a Chiang invasion. Chiang’s troops were ready, and so were the transport ships. The invasion was debated by Congress, and finally given up because American intelligence suggested that the peasants would rise up and demolish Chiang’s troops. The US did, however, persuaded Australia from selling grain to China – another sign how caring that country was towards the Chinese people (and the crocodile tears they shed today).
The Russians under Khrushchev did not help either: instead, they demanded that China send grain to them as part of the agreed payments for Korean War loans. That, and little else, was why China became the Soviet’s bitterest enemy, until the break-up of that country.
The Leap was the only agriculture disaster in the last 50 years. Industrially, though many of the goals were not achieved, there were progress in a number of fields. One was the manufacturing of farm products that were inexpensive yet helpful to peasants, such as a rice-transplanter machine that made backbreaking labor a thing of the past. To alleviate the energy problem, biomass – the use of rotted vegetation for energy – was used to give even the remotest villages electricity. Small hydro-electric equipment that could be placed across streams were used by poor farmers around the country: it was so useful that the product was exported to countries in Africa and especially the Philippines. Though not really a success, the experiment saw a population that began to understand the requirements for an industrial state: this experience was to pass on to a new generation which, after the Cultural Revolution, saw China’s explosive growth.
It was clear that by the 60s, socialism was the best way to develop, but what Mao saw an insidious growth of capitalist tendencies. Towns and cities seemed to grow at the expense of rural areas. New hospitals flourished, while peasants were left to their own devices. In a famous speech, he scolded the Ministry people: “Why call yourself the Ministry of Health? Why not the Ministry of Urban Health? Better still, why not call yourself the Ministry of Urban Gentlemen’s Health?”
His speech galvanized the movement of medical care to the countryside. The country began to train people in providing basic care to the poor. “Barefoot doctors” roamed the countryside, giving traditional Chinese medicines and acupuncture and helping to build sanitation facilities. Every Chinese – from civil servants to the poorest peasant – had by then been required to have a midday nap. All had to wake up as the sun rises for morning exercises. In the cities, lights were off not long after dark. Traditional martial arts were modified for health purposes. Chinese life expectancy rose from the pre-1950 35 to over 65. China’s population boomed. At the end of the 70s, it was clear that China needed a population policy. The one-child system was adopted a few years later.
But all the while, from 1962 onwards, there was much dissatisfaction among urban people WITHIN THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY. These were people who’d travelled abroad and attracted by the brights lights and big cities of their neighbors. And they wanted a change in policies. On Mao’s side were young people who wanted China to continue its own unique journey, who saw the desire for personal wealth as a vice. They also thought, correctly, that those who wanted some of the old ways to return were reactionaries, for the old ways inevitably would bring about great disparity in wealth, promote a dog-eat-dog world, result in prostitution, in people believing in ancient superstitions, etc. Mao’s struggle to wipe out the old was not necessarily all that was old – that was a charge by his enemies – but the vices that he’d seen before when he was a young man. But the very idea of building the new without the old, something that demanded a total change in mentality, was not something that many party members could accept. Hence the ferocity of the Cultural Revolution.
Most of Mao’s Red Guards were young, inexperienced, idealistic students. These were no match for their enemies in the CCP, who would often put around THEIR own armband and called themselves “Red Guards.” A lot of violence were committed by these fake Maoists – which prompted a commentator to mention about “using the name of Mao to go against Mao.” But the number of deaths was never in the hundreds of thousands. Mao’s order, after all, was to “bombard the headquarters!” In other words, his enemies were within the Communist Party, and if we divide them into two roughly equal sides there was hardly a couple of millions on each side (like all conflicts, most would stand at the sidelines). Moreover, most people don’t deal with guns, and the deaths mentioned even in the West were often stuff like beatings with sticks and so on. As usual, the West and their proxies would inflate the numbers, and in this some in the present leadership would even support as justification for their present oligarchical rule.
Deng’s revision of history found much support in the West: Time magazine pronounced him as China’s greatest leader. Zhou Enlai, when asked about what he thought about the French Revolution, said “it was too early to tell.” Whether the present move to capitalism is really that wonderful remains to be seen. Much of the “success” of the new regime was accomplished on the backs of the poor. As I said before, a couple of years ago I’d even suggested on some websites a new guerilla war against the present CCP. Since then, the leadership has been focusing on helping the peasants who were and still are most responsible for the rise of New China. We just have to wait and see.
I’ve taken this opportunity to provide an alternative view of China’s history. Part of the idea is to give an inkling as to how important the rice bowl is to China. For most of the past century, rice was a luxury for the average Chinese, which is why older Malaysians of Chinese ancestry might remember the slap on their faces if they dropped even a speck of the grain. Let not any Chinese tell me he’ll rather go without food than free speech. I’m not impressed. I agree, however, that China can now afford both food and free speech. It will improve in due time, I hope. +++
172 Comments » newest 2010-04-11 19:05:58
After refusing to sign the agreement himself, he was made to sit in a separate room, and behind his back, was signed one of the most controversial and bizarre treaties in human history – The Simla accord.
For over a century, the intricacies of the border between India and China/Tibet have baffled scholars. In fact, the plot leading to the Simla conference and beyond actually plays just like a thriller movie or book. The sheer complexity of this problem can be judged by the fact that 36 rounds of negotiations have taken place between India and China at different levels since 1981; but they have yet to reach a settlement.
45 Comments » newest 2010-03-16 23:36:21
The two Asian Giants are still not able to figure out the line which divides them – in the longest running border dispute in modern history. This dispute offers interesting lessons on how to, and how not to, handle boundary issues. The analysis of Chinese behavior in the negotiations is doubly important given China’s perception in the west of it ‘flexing its muscles’, and China’s theory of ‘Peaceful Rise’.
About a century ago, Sir Henry McMahon, the then British Foreign Secretary, took a think red pencil and sketched a line between India and Tibet on a map – a line which has resulted in the two most populous nations in the world going to war, costing more than 2000 lives; and which has created enormous mistrust on both sides, especially in India.
Consequently, on 3rd July 1914 was signed one of the most bizarre and controversial agreements ever known to man – The Simla accord, the complexities of which have yet to be unraveled.
Continue reading »
A day in the Summer of 1963, I went to Zhongnanhai’s laundry to fetch the Chairman’s clothes. The comrad at the laundry said the Chairman’s pajama is too old, can’t be washed, and is it time for new one? Few days later, I was eating with the Chairman. He was wearing the very pajama.
I said: “Chairman, time to change your pajama this year?”
The Chairman casually said: “The nation is going thru some difficulties, patching will do!”
I hushed a complaint: “But you’re the Chairman.”
“Oh, I’m the Chairman, Chairman’s closthes can’t be patched? Aren’t you wearing patched clothes?”
“Chairman, you and I are different.” I explained.
“How are we different, because I’m the Chairman? Aren’t I but one among the People?”
Here is something interesting I found on Youtube. For all the talk about China spreading propaganda and indoctrinating their children – you know teaching children about the greatness of their nation, their leader, their history … about the importance of social harmony … instilling hope for a better future – does the U.S. really look that different?
The mission of the Association is as follows:
Chinese President Hu Jintao and India PM Manmohan Singh recently appeared together at the BRIC summit in Russia. Things seemed friendly enough at the time. What has changed since then? And why would China have a problem with the Asia Development Bank financing development projects in Arunachal Pradesh? I would think economic development in an area that China considers to be a part of her territory would be viewed by China in a positive manner, as it would be beneficial to the people of that region.
The martyr’s name is Cai Gong Shi (蔡公時). Ji Nan (濟南) is a city in the Shan Dong (山東) Province. Here is a brief background of Cai before he was murdered by the Japanese. He was born in 1881 in Jiu Jiang (九江) of Jiang Xi (江西). When he was 18, he had risked everything to organize a progressive group called the “Beware of Stains” (慎所染齋). Later, it was banned by the Manchu government. He then traveled to Japan and attended school. After he heard Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s speech, he was so moved that he joined Sun’s United Democrats Society (同盟會). He and Sun’s comrade Huang Xing (黄興) returned to China and worked secretly in Jiangxi to overthrow the Manchu. After Sun’s Revolution in 1911, he joined the Kuomintang’s campaign against Yuan Shi Kai (袁世凱). The first campaign was a loss and he had to flee to Japan again. He studied in Tokyo’s Imperial University. Yuan Shi Kai seized all his property in China and his first wife died in grief and fear.
Continue reading »
However, some readers’ comments paint a very different picture. Continue reading »
Overshadowed by the Olympics, the news of the passing away of a former supreme leader of China, Hua Guofeng 华国锋, on August 20, 2008 wasn’t particularly noticed by many. I would like to use this post to pay respect to Chairman Hua, as he was once called when I was in my childhood, and offer condolences to his family and friends.
Continue reading »
In some quarters, the Beijing Olympics were compared to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. During the debates of that IMHO ill-conceived moniker “Genocide Olympics”, Jesse Owens’ name was often used. A dominant narrative was that in 1936 the more progressive United States, sent in some black athletes such as Jesse Owens to the Nazi Germany. The fantastic performance of Jesse Owens gave a black eye to Hitler.
Was it the history as it really happened? Hardly. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens
“When I passed the Chancellor [Hitler] he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.”
He also stated: “Hitler didn’t snub me — it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.” Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed any honors by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged Owens’ accomplishments, naming him an “Ambassador of Sports.”
Owens was cheered enthusiastically by 110,000 people in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and later ordinary Germans sought his autograph when they saw him in the streets. Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, an irony at the time given that blacks in the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York ticker-tape parade in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator to attend his own reception at the Waldorf-Astoria.
These articles do insert some much-needed balance into the Western understanding of Chinese nationalism. The LA Times article is especially notable for offering a view that most Chinese would agree is mostly balanced. However, even in the excellent LA Times article, it seems the journalist buys into a persistent Western myth.
Myth: Chinese nationalism was recently created by the Communist Party.