In 1800 China accounted for a third of global GDP, which figure was reduced to a mere 5% by 1949 thanks to China’s encounter with colonialism and imperialism. During the early 19th century, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) went into rapid decline, leading to large-scale opium smuggling by Britain.
The first Opium War (1839-42), waged by Britain to force opium addiction on the Chinese people, marked the beginning of the century of humiliation, a century which is etched on the collective memory of the Chinese people and remembered with great bitterness towards the colonial powers.
The Chinese people put up resistance and waged a fierce struggle against foreign powers as well as against the corrupt and incompetent imperial authorities and feudal warlords. The important landmarks in the Chinese people’s struggle were the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), the Boxer Uprising (1899-1901), and the May 4th 1919 popular revolt. But all of these heroic revolts were crushed cruelly by the authorities, usually with the help of colonialist powers.
The May 4th Movement and the disillusionment with Western liberalism marks the true beginning of the Chinese Revolution. Following the Treaty of Versailles, China witnessed mammoth nationwide demonstrations. Students were joined by teachers, workers and merchant associations; the demonstrations were accompanied by strikes, anti-foreign boycotts, and violent confrontations with the authorities – all of which marked the awakening of a society which had so long remained seemingly inert and dormant. Anti-imperialist sentiments and actions engulfed the whole country. The intellectuals’ view of the West underwent a dramatic transformation, characterised by an erosion of faith in ‘advanced’ Western nations and the latter’s ability to bring science and democracy to China.
The Great October Socialist Revolution, and the renunciation by the new Soviet government of the old Tsarist imperialist privileges in China, had an electrifying effect on the Chinese intellectuals and the masses of people.
Things began to change qualitatively with the appearance on the scene of the Communist Party of China which was founded on 23 July 1921 in Shanghai by a body of 13 delegates, including Mao Zedong (1893-1976), representing communist groups throughout the country. Chen Duxiu was appointed the first Secretary of the Party.
In the words of Chairman Mao, “It was through the Russians that the Chinese found Marxism. Before the October Revolution, the Chinese were not only ignorant of Lenin and Stalin, they did not even know of Marx and Engels. The salvoes of the October Revolution brought us Marxism-Leninism. The October Revolution helped progressives in China, as throughout the world, to adopt the proletarian world outlook as the instrument for studying a nation’s destiny and considering anew their own problems. Follow the path of the Russians – that was their conclusion” (Mao Zedong, ‘On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, In commemoration of the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Communist Party of China’, 30 June 1949).
Following the 12 April 1927 betrayal by Chiang Kai-shek and the slaughter of tens of thousands of communists and workers, Mao Zedong came to two important conclusions: (1) that without a people’s army the people have nothing; (2) that political power grows from the barrel of a gun. These two lessons, taught by the Chiang Kai-shek counter-revolutionaries, Mao Zedong and the CPC were never to forget during the entire course of the Chinese people’s struggle for liberation.
The CPC founded the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on 1 August 1927 in Nanjing, capital of Jiangxi Province. The history of the Chinese revolution is the history of the CPC and the PLA. Modern China, the CPC and the PLA are synonymous.
Through an extremely complicated struggle over a period of nearly three decades, negotiating its way through civil war, the legendary Long March, and resistance against Japanese imperialist aggression, the PLA, under the leadership of the CPC, marched triumphantly, on 1 October 1949, into Beijing, and Chairman Mao announced from the rostrum in Tienanmen Square the liberation of China with the words “the Chinese people have stood up”, words which electrified the whole of progressive humanity and were greeted with joy by the masses throughout the world.
At the time of its liberation, life expectancy in China was less than 40 years; a fifth of the land was devoted to opium cultivation; there was hardly any industrial working class outside of Shanghai, Wuhan and Canton; and agriculture accounted for 85% of China’s economy. In other words, China was a pretty benighted place. It was the prediction of imperialism and its ideologues that China could not get on her feet within 100 years at the earliest.
Under the leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people went on to defy these predictions. The accomplishments of the Chinese Revolution can be summed up as follows:
1. It went on to put an end to imperialist domination and all the vices connected with that domination. Within two years of coming to power, drug addiction in China was eliminated, through a combination of drastic penalties, amnesty, rehabilitation programmes and a nationwide campaign of education. Prostitution, gambling and alcoholism were virtually wiped out. People were made secure from robbery and fear of walking on the streets in the evening.
In the first three years of its existence, the PRC cleared the mainland of bandits and remnants of KMT reactionaries, and confiscated the bureaucratic capitalist enterprises, transforming them into state-owned enterprises.
Simultaneously with the above, the PRC undertook the war to resist US aggression, aid Korea and defend China.
2. The CPC unified China, except for Taiwan which was occupied by US imperialism. Tibet was peacefully liberated. Only the CPC, with a highly-disciplined and tightly-knit organisation with a membership of 5 million in 1949, could have accomplished this task.
3. It freed the Chinese people from the millennial-old feudal exploitation. In 1952, the 20 million landed gentry ceased to exist as a class. While it constituted 4% of the rural population, it owned 30% of cultivable land. Poor and landless peasants benefited greatly from the confiscation and redistribution of nearly half of China’s cultivated land through this process of social levelling. The gentry were given small plots so they could make a living through the unaccustomed activity of tilling their own land. Consequent upon this measure, between 1950-1952, agricultural production increased at the rate of 15% per annum – better than in 1936, the best of the pre-war years. It was a momentous revolution in rural China.
With the landed gentry gone, the CPC declared that the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution had been completed.
4. It began the process of economic development through planned industrialisation and collectivisation:
By 1956, the private sector ceased to exist, with the bourgeoisie, whose enterprises had been taken over by the government, receiving a small dividend.
5. China registered tremendous progress in the fields of education and science, nuclear technology and man-made satellites.
6. It gave support to liberation movements in several parts of the world;
7. It published valuable revolutionary literature, especially some of the writings of Stalin which the Khrushchevite revisionists in the USSR had suppressed since the late 1950s.
In the face of imperialist hostility, and belying imperialism’s predictions, China has gone from strength to strength. In our view, China owes its major successes to its Marxist-Leninist foundations and the leadership of the Communist Party of China.
China experienced a remarkably rapid rate of development following its liberation in 1949, even more remarkable considering the low level from which it started. By 1979 heavy industry was producing at 30 times the 1952 level, while industry as a whole was producing 10 times the 1952 level.
The CPC Resolution on Party History (1981) states: “In economic construction under the First Five Year Plan (1953-57), we … scored major successes through our own efforts and with the assistance of the Soviet Union and other friendly countries. A number of basic industries, essential for the country’s industrialisation … were built up. Between 1953-56, the average annual increases in total value of industrial and agricultural output were 19.6 and 4.8 per cent respectively.”
Recording the successes of socialist construction up to 1965, the Resolution says that China became self-sufficient in petroleum and established new industries such as electronics and petrochemicals in quick succession. It says that the number of tractors for farming and the quantity of chemical fertilisers increased over 7 times and rural consumption of electricity 71 times.
Paying tribute to the results of the First Five-Year Plan, the Resolution says that 1957 “was one of the best years that saw the best results in economic work since the founding of the PRC.” During this period China followed a strictly Marxist line in its socialist construction.
The period from 1949-1952 was the period of recovery. During this period there took place considerable economic growth and industry and important sectors of the economy were restored. China’s economy grew by an average of 25% a year during this period, when “the gross output value of industry increased by 145%, and the gross output value of agriculture increased by 48.5%. By 1952, most of the major products of industry and agriculture had either been restored to their previous levels or had actually surpassed pre-Liberation records” (State Statistical Bureau, Ten great years, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1960, p.80).
The years of the First Five-Year Plan (1952-1957) witnessed remarkable growth. During this period, “… the gross output value of industry increased by 128%, an average annual increase of 18%, and the gross output value of agriculture increased by 25%, an annual increased of 4.5%” (ibid. p.3).
By 1978, China had made the following remarkable achievements:
(a) A vast build-up of industrial production;
(b) Extension of rail network and irrigation;
(c) Dramatic lowering of illiteracy and innumeracy;
(d)Transformation of the lives of women.
By 1978 some of China’s most important industries had been built. The most important economic and scientific achievements of this period are:
• The hydrogen bomb
• The first 100,000-ton tanker
• The invention of qingda antibiotics
• The successful launch and recovery of a satellite
• The average annual growth of railways from 1950-1978 was 942km
• High-tech national defence science, development of Chinese petroleum and electronic industries.
During this period, the irrigated land area increased to 48% of China’s arable land, and this 48% produced more than 70% of China’s grain. Between 1965 and 1975, grain production increased by a dramatic 46%.
In addition, there were remarkable achievements in the field of healthcare, with a focus on preventive medicine and through the mobilisation of the masses to tackle health issues.
China was able to reduce the share of imports in aggregate machinery supply form 50% in 1952 to 5% in 1965. By the 1970s China’s industrial enterprises were active in every major branch of producer industry and at an astonishing level of technological sophistication.
Hand in hand with the achievements in the sphere of production, the achievements of China in promoting people’s mental and physical potential were nothing short of spectacular, thus demonstrating the superiority of socialism over capitalism as seen from the point of view of the masses.
In his Report to the Fourth National People’s Congress in 1975, Premier Zhou Enlai stated that between 1964 and 1974, industrial output had increased by 190%, steel production by 120%, coal by 91%, petroleum by 650%, electric power by 200%, chemical fertilisers by 330% and tractor production had increased 5-fold. Between 1952 and 1977, China’s industrial output increased at an annual rate of 11.3%. The contribution of China’s industry as a share of GDP grew from 23% to 50% during this period, while the share of agriculture declined from 58% to 24%.
By the mid-1970s, China was manufacturing jet aeroplanes, heavy tractors, and modern ships in substantial quantities.
1964 saw the first successful atom bomb tests and 1970 a satellite launch.
The industrial working class grew from 3 million to 52 million by the mid-1970s, with a further 20 million employed in transport and construction.
The number of scientists and technicians increased from 50,000 in 1949 to 425,000 in 1952; 2.5 million in 1966 and 5 million in 1979.
Mammoth irrigation and water control works were undertaken.
Starting with an industrial base smaller than Belgium’s in the 1950s, China became one of the six largest industrial producers by 1978, while its net income grew 5-fold between 1952 and 1978. Its per capita income increased from 100 in 1949 to 160 in 1952, 217 (1957), and 440 (1978).
From 1949 to 1978, the total value of China’s heavy industry grew by 96 times compared to that before liberation. The GDP during these 30 years grew at an annual rate of 9.5%. In just 3 decades, China covered the distance that took capitalist countries anywhere between 50 to 100 years to traverse, thus once again demonstrating the superiority of the socialist system of production over the capitalist system.
Significantly, the socialist system in China eliminated exploitation and oppression, and the labouring people obtained democracy and freedom and truly became the masters of the country, controlling their own destiny.
Save for the Soviet aid in the 1950s, China’s industrial development in this period proceeded without the benefit of foreign loans and investment. State funds in these years were allocated primarily to finance the growth of heavy industry, which facilitated high rates of national economic growth. It was veritably the time of China’s modern industrial revolution. And this development took place under adverse external conditions.
By 2004, China’s economy was 37 times bigger than in 1978. It had successfully completed the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, with capacity to generate power equivalent to that of 17 nuclear power stations, as well as controlling floods.
By 2011 China had become number 1 manufacturer and number 1 exporter.
Since then China has built some of the world’s largest corporations. Four of the top ten banks in the world are Chinese, including the top three, in terms of market capitalisation. In 1997, Chinese companies accounted for 3% of total profits created by the top 100 of the Global Fortune 500. By 2008, their share had shot up to 40%. In May 2009, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) overtook ExxonMobil to become the world’s largest company by market capitalisation. 37 of the top 500 companies in the world are Chinese.
At the end of 2007, of the world’s 30 largest corporations, 8 were Chinese, including Petrochina, with a market value of $724bn, being the largest corporation in the world.
In the field of railways, China’s has more high-speed rail track than all other countries combined. Its high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai and the Qinghai-Tibet railway (800 miles of which run at 14,500 feet above sea level and 500km of the track laid on permanently frozen soil and a 3km-long tunnel through the rock) are marvels of modern engineering.
As regards road transport, in the 10 years 1998-2008, from having less than 10,000km in 1998, the country’s total expressway network grew to 78,000km, second only to the total length in the US. By the end of 2011, China’s expressways had reached a total length of 85,000km.
In 2011 China produced its first high-speed bullet trains.
BYD, the carmaker, is the largest battery-power producer. This Shenzhen-based company developed the first all-electric fleet of 16,000 buses, while London has a mere 200. Only by 2037 will all of London’s 9,200 buses be electric. China is at the cutting edge in developing battery-powered technology and has 400,000 electric buses on its roads, compared with the UK’s total of 377. 98% of all electric buses are in China, following a decade-long strategy of electrification and transition from combustion-engine vehicles (See Bethan Staton, ‘China schools Britain on battery-powered bus technology’, Financial Times, 7 October 2019).
In the field of building dams and producing hydropower, amongst scores of other projects, the Three Gorges dam over the Yangtze river is the world’s largest power station and an astounding engineering feat.
In the field of space exploration and space technology, China has made great strides. In early 2007 it launched its first navigation satellite, which marked a step forward in its drive to develop a positioning system designed to rival the American GPS and Europe’s Galileo. The successful launch of the Beidou navigation satellite on board a Long March 3A rocket served to emphasise China’s determination to develop its space industry for civilian as well as military applications. It came within weeks of China destroying one of its own aging meteorological satellites with a missile launched “kinetic kill vehicle” – prompting expressions of concern in the US.
A year later, Chinese astronaut, Jing Haiping, and his two comrade astronauts blasted off on 25 September 2008 for a 3-day mission, successfully accomplishing a space walk in Shenzhou 7 spacecraft. The year before, an automated spacecraft made it into the lunar orbit, a first step in a moon exploration programme. China’s demonstration in 2007 that it could shoot down low-orbit satellites was seen by some in the US as a starting shot in a new space arms race, although Chinese officials dismissed these suggestions as groundless (see Mure Dickie, ‘China set for a leap into new territory’, Financial Times, 25 September 2008).
In the field of science and scientific research, in January 2018, the US National Science Foundation reported that the number of scientific publications from China in 2016 outnumbered those from the US for the first time – 426,000 versus 409,000.
The old patronising idea that China, just like the rest of east Asia, is only capable of imitation but not innovation, is becoming less and less credible with each passing day.
The Thousand Talents Plan, for attracting bright scientists by providing resources, lab facilities and large salaries, has been put in place in China. The annual expenditure on research and development in China increased from 1995 to 2013 by a factor of 30 and reached $234bn in 2016. The Plan’s ultimate aim is to develop a home-grown, innovative, research environment.
A laboratory in Shanghai succeeded in cloning a Macaque monkey, thus making human reproductive cloning more feasible in principle.
In January 2018, Chinese research scientists announced that they had sent securely-encrypted data using rules of quantum mechanics via satellite to Vienna in Austria – a demonstration of the potential of “quantum internet” that was characterised by the Dutch quantum physicist Ronald Hanson of the Technical University of Delft as “a milestone towards future quantum networks” (see Philip Ball, ‘China’s great leap forward in science’, The Guardian, 18 February 2018).
China has become world famous for installing mega projects in record time. Among others, China’s staging of the Beijing Olympics serves to underline China’s ability and skill in the area of planning and executing such mega projects. Western journalists reported this great event in the sporting life of China with a mixture of admiration, malice and trepidation. On the eve of these games, Niall Ferguson wrote:
“The feats of construction necessary to host the Olympic Games are precisely what this regime does best. Regular visitors to Beijing have seen the city substantially remodelled over the past year, with the building of about 1.7bn square feet of new floor space, including 110 hotels. Like the revamped airport, the striking new national stadium – where the Olympics will officially begin at 8.08 pm on August the 8th – exemplifies China’s new status as an economic powerhouse. This, after all, is the country that now accounts for three of the world’s six largest companies in the FT Global 500 (Petrochina, China Mobile and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China). This is the economy that, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will overtake the US in gross domestic product as early as 2035 [it might actually happen earlier]” (‘The war on nature’, Financial Times, 15 July 2008).
Between 1952 and 2018, China’s economy has grown at an average rate of 8.1%.
To extricate itself from the position of producing cheap commodities for the world, China has embarked on projects to upgrade its technology and move up the value scale and become a technologically-advanced country. It has opened the world’s largest AI (Artificial Intelligence) Park with an investment of $2.2bn. These attempts, combined with its Belt and Road Initiative, have alarmed imperialist countries to such an extent that they are doing their best to stop the rise of China. The EU recently designated China as a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance” and an “economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership” – not a “strategic partner” as hitherto.
In 2015 the CPC, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, launched its ‘Made in China 2025’ (MIC) programme, intended to move China away from being the world’s factory floor, producing cheap and low-tech products, to higher-value and high-tech products and services, singling out 10 sectors for development, including artificial intelligence, robotics, renewable energy, medicine and medical devices, etc. In furtherance of this project, China committed to spending $300bn and has established a $2.3bn artificial intelligence park – the largest of its kind in the world. It is a plan thoroughly to upgrade Chinese industry through increasing the domestic content of core technologies and move China up the value scale to compete with the most technologically-advanced countries, including, and especially, the US. The US is getting increasingly hysterical at this programme and is seeking to prevent China’s ascent into the select league of high-tech economies, for the loss of such a lucrative market as China for its high-tech products would deliver a shattering blow to the profits of its corporations and at the same time put paid to US attempts to hold China to ransom by denying high-tech products to its companies.
Although China lags behind the US in technology, in certain areas at least it is fast catching up. It is a world leader in facial and voice recognition technology, as well as in 5G telephony. In 2017, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo accounted for 43% of the world’s smartphone sales, overtaking Apple (see James Kynge, ‘The US cannot halt China’s march to global tech supremacy’, Financial Times, 22 August 2018). If Xiaomi is added to this list, the percentage is even higher.
In 2013 China launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a grand infrastructure project to link more than 80 countries through a network of railways, roads, ports, power stations, pipelines and electricity facilities in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Involving a huge $1.3tr in expected costs over a decade, China has already undertaken approximately 1,800 programmes under the BRI. It has built, or secured stakes in, 30 major ports sprinkled from the Indian Ocean to Africa and Europe.
On 23 March 2019 Italy became the first G7 country to subscribe to China’s BRI, in the face of US opposition to, and condemnation of, Italy. At the end of 2019, 14 countries from the European Union, from central and eastern Europe, as well as Portugal and Italy, had signed up to the BRI.
In 2018 China accounted for 16% of the global economy on a market exchange rate basis. It is now the second largest economy after the US.
China’s progress has alarmed imperialism, in particular US imperialism which has embarked on a trade war against China – a trade war that threatens to spill over into armed conflict.
On the eve of China’s liberation, Chairman Mao forewarned the Chinese people in the following words: “The imperialists and their running dogs, the Chinese reactionaries, will not resign themselves to defeat in this land of China. They will continue to gang up against the Chinese people in every possible way. For example, they will smuggle their agents into China to sow dissension and make trouble. That is certain; they will never neglect these activities. To take another example, they will incite the Chinese reactionaries, and even throw in their own forces, to blockade China’s ports. They will do this as long as it is possible. Furthermore, if they still hanker after adventures, they will send some of their troops to invade and harass China’s frontiers; this, too, is not impossible. All this we must take fully into account. Just because we have won victory, we must never relax our vigilance against the frenzied plots for revenge by the imperialists and their running dogs. Whoever relaxes vigilance will disarm himself politically and land himself in a passive position. In view of these circumstances, the people all over the country must unite to smash resolutely, thoroughly, wholly and completely every plot against the Chinese people by the imperialists and their running dogs, the Chinese reactionaries. China must be independent, China must be liberated, China’s affairs must be decided and run by the Chinese people themselves, and no further interference, not even the slightest, will be tolerated from any imperialist country” (‘Address to the preparatory meeting of the new political consultative conference’).
Imperialism is conducting a veritable propaganda war, full of falsehood and deception, against the PRC on questions ranging from so-called human rights abuses, to Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, to the coronavirus pandemic, fully corroborating Chairman Mao’s assertion that imperialism will never reconcile itself to its defeat in China. The Chinese people have successfully weathered imperialist assaults in the past and they will do so in the future, keeping in mind Chairman Mao’s wise words.
As for the working class in the imperialist countries, it is duty bound to defend China and oppose imperialist aggressive designs against her.
All of China’s achievements, briefly outlined above, would have been impossible without its socialist foundations and the leadership of the CPC. In the words of the CPC Resolution on History:
“Socialism alone can save China”.
This is an “unalterable conclusion” drawn by our people from their own experience over a century, and constitutes “our fundamental historical experience” since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, during which time China “achieved successes which were absolutely impossible in old China. This is a preliminary and at the same time convincing manifestation of the superiority of the socialist system. The fact that we have been able to overcome all kinds of difficulties through our own efforts testifies to its own vitality.”
“Without the Chinese Communist Party there would have been no New China. Likewise, without the Chinese Communist Party there would be no modern socialist China”. The Chinese Communist Party, it goes on, is “… a proletarian party armed with Marxism-Leninism … and its ultimate historical mission is to realise communism.”
Greeting the CPC on the 100th anniversary of its birth, we wish the Chinese people every success.