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The Darker Side of the Chinese 'Miracle'

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
October 1, 2009
South China Morning Post

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"The Chinese people have stood up!" Whether or not Mao Zedong actually used this famous phrase in establishing the People's Republic 60 years ago, it has surely been vindicated. Today's celebrations reflect the nation's tremendous economic and social progress, especially during the past 30 years, and its increasing power and influence on the world scene. For China's leaders, successfully completing the 60-year cycle of the traditional lunar calendar must be a source of great satisfaction.

Getting to this point has not been easy. The political convulsions of the first three decades of the People's Republic inflicted vast human suffering. Young Chinese learn little about the regime's first decade - including the extermination of "counterrevolutionaries", expropriation of the business community and starvation of tens of millions following the Great Leap Forward. Even the excesses that shattered 100 million lives during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 have receded from public view. Yet parents, and particularly grandparents, have not forgotten those prolonged nightmares.

The progressive decade initiated by Deng Xiaoping's "open policy" in late 1978 was marred by periodic "strike hard" campaigns and attacks on "bourgeois liberals", culminating in the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen slaughter that brought a remarkable era to a tragic close.

 

 

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