Ten Years After Mao

TEN YEARS AFTER MAO

A decade has passed since the death of Mao Zedong. During these years, China has embarked on a course of reform that Deng Xiaoping has called a "new revolution" and Premier Zhao Ziyang asserts represents "an extensive, profound and sustained transformation" of the country's economic structure. In a 180-degree change of direction from Mao's last years, the Chinese have moved rapidly from ideological dogmatism toward eclectic pragmatism, from extreme totalitarianism toward liberalized authoritarianism, from a command economy toward "market socialism," and from autarkic isolationism toward international interdependence. These trends signal a major new stage in China's long march toward modernization.

The central theme in the historical drama that has unfolded in China since the mid-nineteenth century has been the search for "wealth and power" and a respected role in the modern world. Repeatedly the Chinese have started a new phase with great expectations, only to end in failure. The collapse of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 led to the creation of a republic, but soon China disintegrated into warlordism. In the 1920s the Kuomintang, or Nationalist, regime began a process of national reintegration, and for a decade it made real progress. Then, in the face of Japanese aggression and communist revolution, the Nationalists also failed; during the civil war after World War II, China again disintegrated.

The victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949 was a major watershed. The new regime rapidly established an effective central government that reunified the country for the first time in the twentieth century. Within a few years, taking Moscow as a model but drawing also on their own three decades of revolutionary experience, China's new leaders built a strong totalitarian system and instituted a centralized, planned economy. They extended Beijing's power to the grass-roots level to an unprecedented degree, mobilized the nation's resources more effectively than any previous government, launched the most ambitious program of industrialization in the nation's history, and vigorously asserted China's claim to big-power status.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis