By Elaine Dunn
Beijing is all set for a patriotic celebratory extravaganza on the centenary anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on July 1. First and foremost will be a Partywide campaign on CCP history and education.
The CCP, both a revolutionary movement and a political party, is based on the principles of Marxism and Leninism. It had been the driving force of change in China, which has become an “economic juggernaut,” created numerous billionaires and millionaires, and lifted many out of poverty. (See China Daily’s article on p. ##.)
Under President Xi Jinping, China has become powerful and assertive. However, the CCP has given itself credit for everything positive that happened in China since 1949. Granted, when the party was founded in 1921, the country was deeply mired in poverty and lacked standing on the international stage. Contrast the China of today, it’s safe to say the 1950s-era song, "Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China" is ever so relevant.
In truth, until 1978 when China opened up to the Western world and adopted its own form of capitalism, the CCP had nothing positive to rave about, only failed social experiments, all under the Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong. A few most notable failures are:
Incorporation of Tibet (1950)
Tibet’s incorporation into the People’s Republic of China is still a highly charged topic to this day. Tibetans look at it as China invading their sovereign country. The failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 forced the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet.
Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries (1950-1953)
This was the CCP’s first political campaign to consolidate Party power and suppress opposition from former Kuomintang supporters and intellectuals. Accused “counterrevolutionaries” were denounced in mass trials, sentenced to forced labor camps or executed. An estimated 700,000-2,000,000 lives were lost as a result of this campaign.
The Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956-1957)
The CCP based this on a famous slogan from Chinese classical history, “Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend.” The Party encouraged intellectuals and non-party members to openly express their opinions of the government and offer advice.
When the overwhelming (numbering millions of letters) negative responses materialized denouncing every aspect of government, Mao felt threatened and immediately halted the campaign. He then launched an “Anti-Rightist” campaign to identify and punish approximately 300,000 “rightist” intellectuals, effectively silencing any opposition.
Great Leap Forward (1958-1962)
This is possibly one of the worst manmade disasters in history. Mao wanted to transform the country from an agrarian economy into a Lenin-Marxist-based ideological communist “paradise” via communes, and bring industry to rural areas, which proved impracticable.
In three short years, the abject failure of Mao’s effort caused famine across the country and resulted in 15-55 million deaths by starvation.
Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
Mao’s stature in the CCP had weakened after the failed Great Leap Forward. To “reboot,” he launched the Cultural Revolution to preserve Chinese communism and purge any remnant of capitalism and traditional artistry. He organized radicalized youth into armies of Red Guards who roamed the country terrorizing and attacking the “bourgeoisie.”
These undisciplined, student-led violent marauders turned on teachers, parents and neighbors. Irreplaceable cultural and historical artifacts were destroyed in the name of “class struggle.” Millions were persecuted, executed and/or harassed.
But ruthless Mao regained a “central” position within the CCP.
Down to the Countryside Movement (1968-1978)
To divert attention of chaos caused by the on-going Cultural Revolution, and to dissolve the Red Guards, Mao started a campaign to send urban youth to remote countryside to “learn from the peasants.” (Read: reeducation of educated urban youth and to wipe out their privileged viewpoints.)
An estimated 17 million young people aged 15-23 were relocated from urban centers to remote rural villages to work. Labeled the “Lost Generation,” these “sent-down” youth missed out on pursuing their own dreams, job opportunities, further education at a critical period of their lives, not to mention the lifelong physical and psychological toll
Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989)
Pro-democracy college students gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in April to mourn the death of and demand a state funeral for former Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a reformist who advocated rehabilitation of people persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. They began demands for greater political freedom. By May, the number of protesters grew to almost a million and pushed for the resignations of Party leaders deemed too repressive.
The government had enough. On the morning of June 3, the People’s Liberation Army was dispatched to the area to disperse the protesters, who now included tens of thousands of workers and ordinary citizens. By the morning of June 4, the square and streets around the square had been cleared. Many were dead. Even doctors and ambulance drivers who arrived to try and help the wounded were shot in cold blood.
For details such as death count on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, read previous issues of China Insight:, p.4; J , p. 13.
To be fair, there are some positive outcomes under the CCP as well:
Combat Illiteracy Campaign (1950-1956)
Before the CCP took power, political leaders had banned literacy education for fear of empowering the non-elites.
When the Communists took over China in 1949, the country had an illiteracy rate of 85-90%. By 1959, illiteracy rates in age group 12-40 had dropped to 43%.
This campaign was also an important part of the Party’s propaganda effort. It utilized simple reading materials such as posters with strong political content to not only teach the peasants how to read and write, but also -- successfully – instill revolutionary ideology.
Four Pests Campaign (1958-1962)
Part of the Great Leap Forward, this was Mao’s public hygiene initiative. It was a mass effort to eradicate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows (because they consume rice and seeds from the fields).
An estimate of 1.5 billion rats, 1 billion sparrows, 220 million pounds of flies and 24-plus million pounds of mosquitoes were exterminated.
However, when it was realized that sparrows also eat insects such as locusts, bed bugs took the fourth pest slot in the campaign.
In 1998, the government revived a version of this campaign; but the fourth slot was reserved for cockroaches!
Denounce the Gang of Four (1976)
One month following Mao’s death, the “Gang of Four” – Jiang Qing (Mao’s widow), Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen -- were denounced. The four played prominent roles in Mao’s government, especially during the Cultural Revolution. However, they were accused of trying to seize power after his death and split the Party. They were labeled “counterrevolutionaries.”
The removal of the group from power is regarded as the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Open-door Policy (1978-1984)
This era speaks volume of U.S. foreign policy, beginning with the historic visit by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping opened China to foreign businesses. This policy allowed China to develop from a self-sufficiency-based approach to become an active participant in the world market. Deng set up Special Economic Zones that allowed modernization of China’s industries to attract foreign investments. From 1978-1989, China rose from 32nd to 13th in the world, based on export volume.
Deng’s decision to encourage foreign trade and investments was the turning point in China’s economic fortunes.
Fast forward to the present: Beijing has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a nuclear arsenal, a space program that landed a rover on Mars, the world’s largest navy, and the world's second-largest economy.
Xi Jinping is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. In November 2012, he was named general secretary of the Communist Party, and also became chairman of the Central Military Commission. He was officially named president of China in March 2013.
Xi is a man on a mission. In December 2012, he began to purge the CCP of corruption (anti-graft campaign is front and center under him: any official who "voluntarily surrendered" in Xi's anti-corruption campaign "would be shown leniency" and those who did not and continued accepting bribes "would be dealt with harshly.") He sidelined those in his way. Many believe he is hell-bent on rearranging the world order. He believes China should and will be numero uno.
Skeptics of this argue that ambition and execution are two quite different things. More interesting, Xi sees the CCP’s evolving role in China’s domestic and foreign affairs. According to a July/August 2021 Foreign Affairs article, Xi has placed China on a risky trajectory:
“His belief that the CCP must guide the economy and that Beijing should rein in the private sector will constrain the country’s future economic growth. His demand that party cadres adhere to ideological orthodoxy and demonstrate personal loyalty to him will undermine the governance system’s flexibility and competency.”
Even before officially becoming president, Xi embarked on an aggressive “Party building” path, reinforcing organizational “resilience” of the CCP at all levels. This included stepped-up political training for member candidates, sanctions against and imprisonment of corrupt officials, and prohibiting ideological intellectual pluralism.
Xi sees a limited timeframe to accomplish his ambition, given a population that is both aging and shrinking. China’s population is projected to peak in 2029, per The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and will shrink by 50% by the end of the century.
Coupled with an expanding, highly educated middle-class who are proficient in foreign languages and exposed to foreign culture from media to travels abroad, the CCP’s complete blockage of foreign social media, websites and select media have outraged many.
True, new-found prosperity will ensure a certain domestic stability as more and more mainland Chinese have a stake in maintaining order to protect their accumulated wealth. They’re anxious to keep “taste bitter” in the past. But with higher aspirations in life, it’s only a matter of time they’ll demand “spiritual wealth” instead of a steady diet of CCP propaganda.
So, whatever path Xi takes China, he has to understand “taste bitter” is NOT something the lǎo bǎi xìng (common folks) will tolerate. His “socialism with Chinese characteristics” needs to be mindful of not bringing China back to being too closed and conservative (as it is now since 1989).
Then maybe the new song will be “Without the CCP and Xi Jinping, there would be no Chinese Dream."