Barrie Maguire

China’s Short March

China’s government is making massive preparations for a grand National Day parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to celebrate both the 60th anniversary of the PRC’s founding and the 30th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s program of “reform and opening up.” And, while the country is humming with energy, money, plans, leadership, and forward motion, the West seems paralyzed.

BEIJING – China’s government is making massive preparations for a grand National Day parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to celebrate both the 60th anniversary of the PRC’s founding and the 30th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s program of “reform and opening up.” Walking through the square the other evening, I found myself thinking back to when I first began following China’s amazing odyssey. The iconic, Mona Lisa-like visage of Chairman Mao still gazes out from the Gate of Heavenly Peace, but what was happening all around me suggested how much things had changed.

When I first began studying China at Harvard a half-century ago, China’s leaders trumpeted the superiority of their socialist command economy, which controlled every aspect of life. Hostility between the United States and China, however, prevented students like me from actually traveling there.

But in 1975, while Mao still lived, the Cultural Revolution still raged, class politics still held sway, and there were no private cars, shops, advertisements, or private property, I arrived in Beijing. Even we visiting foreigners – all dutifully clad in blue Mao suits and caps – were expected to attend regular political “study sessions” to purify our bourgeois minds with proletarian tracts written by the Gang of Four. That trip set an indelible baseline against which I have since been able to measure all the changes China has undergone.

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