Security cameras in front of a giant portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing, November 2012
David Gray / Reuters

Few countries commemorate historical milestones with the zeal of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and 2019 offers a bonanza of celebratory opportunities: 40 years since Deng Xiaoping launched the economic reforms that opened China to the rest of the world; 40 years since China and the United States established diplomatic relations; and, on October 1, 70 years since the founding of the PRC. These events provide the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opportunities to laud past achievements, legitimize the course it has set for the country, and rally support for challenges yet to come. And as Chinese President Xi Jinping surveys the country’s progress, he can point to any number of extraordinary economic, social, and geopolitical achievements.

Outside observers tend to credit the Deng-era reforms for China’s meteoric rise. But Xi and the rest of the Chinese leadership are more focused on the earliest years of the PRC—when Mao Zedong sat

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  • ELIZABETH C. ECONOMY is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
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