ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF CHINA
– by Femi Olugbile
China is an ancient civilization, and a country that is a world onto itself, in many ways. It has been a great empire at various times. It has created great structures and monuments such as The Terracota army of Qin Shi Huang, its first Emperor, which can be seen till today, and elements of which have been exhibited in different parts of the world. There is, of course, also the Great Wall of China.
Because of its sheer size, and the opaqueness of its psychology to the outside eye, China has always been a source of mystery, myth and considerable apprehension to its neighbours, and the world at large. While China and its rulers have always appeared to understand the world, the world has never really understood China. The nation does not draw its philosophy and world view from a Greco-Roman concept of ‘Democracy’ or a Western model of ‘Civilization’, and it is not motivated by a ‘world Religion’ such as Christianity or Islam whose tenets could be understood by others. Even at its moments of extreme weakness, when portions of its landmass were subject to oppressive invasion by a rampaging Japanese empire, China retained its mystique and always exuded a sense of timeless power and a readiness to wait out its enemies and adversities.
The story of modern China may be said to have begun in 1921, one hundred years ago, when the Chinese Communist Party was formed. From the outset the mission was to capture power and become not only the leading force, but the only force, to carry the history of China forwards.
One century on, the Chinese Communist Party may be said to have succeeded ‘beyond its wildest imagination’. Chairman Mao’s ‘Red Book’ contained the answer to everything. Well, almost everything. The achievements of Chinese Communism would not be another stage in the nation’s history. It would be the culmination, and the logical end, of that History. Perhaps.
The Chinese Communist party took over political power in 1947 with China and its people in a state of wretchedness, literally and metaphorically. Today, China stands poised to challenge the power of the ‘Leader of the Free World’ – United States of America, as the world’s preeminent military and economic power. In its journey, China has since left behind erstwhile colonial empires such as Britain and France, and shown its former imperial oppressor, Japan, a clean pair of heels. Countries in its zone of influence in Asia feel obliged either to sidle close to China for comfort or seek protection from it under the military umbrella of the USA.
Along the way there was a brutal civil war. There was the legend of ‘The Long March’. There was the Cultural Revolution, perhaps the of most bizarre, most brutal and, for scale, most devastating intentional social upheaval in human history.
There was the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, when youthful dissent tried to rear its head.
There were the protests in Hong Kong, and Xi Ping finally taking off the gloves and ditching the charade of ‘One Nation, Two Systems’.
To celebrate a hundred years, the CCP arranged elaborate celebrations at Tiananmen Square. At the Bird’s Nest, the showpiece stadium it built for the Beijing Olympics, a massive Dance Drama was performed. Actors in extravagant costumes reenacted different stages in the 100-year journey.
Chinese theatres have been screening ‘Red’ films, lionising the CCP.
A song, titled ‘100%’, featuring one hundred rappers, proclaims the achievements of the Party, and the Nation.
‘Red Pilgrimage’ tourist packages take visitors to prominent sites on the journey, such as the memorial of the First Communist Party of China in Shanghai.
President Xi Ping is now recognized by everyone everywhere as one of the two most powerful human beings on earth. Within China, his control is only second to that wielded by Chairman Mao in his heyday.
Xi Ping addressed the nation, and the world. His tone was a mixture of exaltation and truculence. He was not ‘speaking for’ China. He WAS China.
Foreign powers who attempted to bully or influence China would get their heads bashed, he announced.
He was, of course, referring to the USA, but also taking a swipe at a broad swathe of liberal democratic opinion all over the world that queried China’s obliteration the last vestiges of pretense at ‘democracy’ in Hong Kong, its thinly veiled aggression towards Taiwan, its ruthless suppression of minority Muslim Uighurs in China, its unabashed surveillance of every detail of the lives of its citizens to prevent any possibility of independent thought or action.
Beijing, he asserted, would not abide ‘sanctimonious preaching’ from anyone.
Xi Ping’s words would reverberate in corridors of power all across the world. They are the message of a country with the largest standing army in the world, a country that has the largest foreign reserves in the world and has the possibility to become the largest economy, over time; a country that has the most advanced 5G communication technology and is ready to deploy it cheaply to client countries, but with a widespread suspicion that a preinstalled backend leak feeds back information to Beijing; a country ready to engage with even the most brutal, corrupt, authoritarian dictators in the world, without any pretensions at morality or ethics, so long as it suits the purpose of China. A country that has discovered that ‘Communism’ can only thrive in the modern day by facilitating the creation of personal wealth for the masses while holding their personal and political freedoms tightly on leash. A country flush with a new self-importance on the world stage, whose citizens are showing they are, at heart, as racist as the worst racists they themselves once decried during the times they were down and out.
A country inscrutable; feared by its foes – rightly; viewed with suspicion by all – rightly.
This is China, a hundred years on.
Happy birthday to the Chinese Communist Party, and to the Peoples Republic of China.