China: Past, present and future

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Imtiaz Rafi Butt

GARY Locke, the United States ambassador to China once said, “China’s history is marked by thousands of years of world-changing innovations: from the compass and gunpowder to acupuncture and the printing press. No one should be surprised that China has re-emerged as an economic superpower”. It is not the size of China’s population of 1.38 Billion nor the 9.6 million square kilometers of land that make China a remarkable nation, but its dedication, commitment and success in today’s world. In the past, China has gone through a wide range of circumstances including foreign invasions, dynasty wars and violent revolutions. But the progress made by the Chinese people in the present and the estimated socio-economic projections for the future are worthy of notice. The question being asked is, if China is a potential superpower or already a superpower?
From a historical perspective, China’s history can be divided into three parts. The history of ancient China from 5000 BC to 221 BC, the second phase being the history of Imperial China consisting of multiple emperors from 221BC to 1912 and last being the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912 leading to People’s Republic of China in 1949, which survives to-date. The first settlements appeared around 5000 BC near the Yellow River. Earliest written records can be found as early as 1500 BC. With thousands of years of history, China is one of the oldest civilisations. The end of the ancient period was marked by fierce battles between people of different clans leading to the downfall of the Zhou dynasty and the beginning of a unified China under the Qin Dynasty. This was the second phase marking a critical milestone of visualizing one China. Qin Shi Huang became the first emperor of a unified China in the year 221 BC. After the fall of Qin dynasty, there was a period of turmoil of over 800 years. China once again fell into upheavals and violence. The time of the Tang dynasty, followed by the rule of ten kingdoms and Song dynasty were interrupted by the Mongol invasions in 1271. Kublai Khan established a ruthless rule with the Yuan dynasty that survived until 1368. Subsequent years saw increasing interference but alongside diffusion of Western socio-political views. As a result of Sun-yat Sen’s efforts, the Republic of China was established in 1912 with the Xinhai revolution paving the way for a refined social awakening
Around this time a man by the name of Mao Zedong got exposed to Marxism in 1929 while studying in the famous Peking University. He not only founded the Communist Party but actively pursued an uprising against the ruling elite of the country. Mao was the answer to a nation that had begun to realise its potential. It is not a surprise that Mao led the Red Army against the nationalists. This campaign was briefly interrupted by the Sino-Japanese War. On Japan’s defeat, the civil war resumed but this time, the Communist Red army emerged stronger than ever. The nationalists were defeated and retreated to Taiwan. In the following years, Mao Zedong executed around 1 to 2 million landlords and overall casualties estimated to be over 8 million people including women and children. In 1957, Mao Zedong initiated his “Great Leap Forward” which was a ground-breaking strategy to turn an agrarian economy into an industrial one. This two-pronged methodology, even with violence, propagated a class struggle and at the same time urged the people of China to take up smelters instead of harvests. Mao’s vision of economic transformation led to the death of an estimated 70 million in the post-war scenario. This was due to persecution or forced labor and movement of peasants to work in Government run factories. This was the turning point in the history of China which was to be but the cost had been paid in blood.
On the social front, the Communist Party launched a Cultural Revolution in 1966. Old practices in terms of religion, education and traditions were simply termed “counter-revolutionary” and were punished with severity by the Central Government. It was ruthless and cruel by all standards but it surely managed to purify and unify the Chinese society. The Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward achieved finality around 1977. After this, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China adopted a path to economic progress and opening up. A report on the 30 year rule of the Communist Party accepted the ineffective practices of the Communist Party and paved the way for reforms. Deng initiated special economic zones that were a hybrid between a capitalist run businesses owned by the government. Gradually, benefits of foreign investment were realised by the Communist regime and export/import sectors flourished. By the end of 1980s China became a giant in trade and raised the living standards of millions from abject poverty to a prospering middle class. Today, due to progressive reforms and improvements, China is the fastest growing economy of the world being the world’s top exporter and second largest importer of the world.
China is a nuclear armed state with the largest standing army on the planet. A testimony to its accomplishment is the fact that from having a poverty stricken population of 64% in 1978, today the poverty in China stands at a remarkable 10%. China with its trade deals with Latin America, Middle East and Africa is a proved superpower. Further, China’s human resource expansion can be gauged from the fact that the decades old one child policy has been abolished in 2015. China knows that the future of expansion and progress lies in dominance in trade and commerce. The Chinese leadership is aiming to expand through their One Belt One Road initiative, making Gwadar a centerpiece. Pakistan is the doorway to progress and expansion for China. The future of China and Pakistan converges onto Gwadar and its prospects. With access to Central Asian and Middle East markets, China has no hurdles in its path to global supremacy in progress, in other words, the dragon has awakened.
—The writer is, Chairman Jinnah Rafi Foundation, based in Lahore.

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