While dynastic rule ended in 1911 in present-day China, the period from 1912 until China obtained its current government was an era of turbulence and establishment of supremacy by competing powers. The Chinese Nationalist Party, which was instrumental in bringing about the end of the dynastic regime, is found in one form or another in Taiwan, while China now falls under the Communist Party of China from October 1, 1949 in the form of PRC (People’s Republic of China). .
China’s era, from October 1, 1949, until President Xi Jinping came to power on March 14, 2013, shaped the country in dramatic ways, during which a number of experiments were conducted in the socio-political, economic and military realms, propelling the country into a position to challenge the world’s superpowers and even attempt to replace the most powerful country, the United States, from its position as numero uno. After Xi Jinping came to power, he focused on China’s expansionist agenda and is not only trying to absorb Taiwan, but also has his eye on all other countries with unresolved border issues, whether they are terrestrial or maritime.
Since the president in China has substantial power and also comes from the party establishment, his opinions have far-reaching consequences. Each president has focused on growing the country in a different way depending on his perception of what is good for the nation and its people. It will therefore be relevant to analyze the socio-political, economic and military developments linked to the mandate of the various presidents.
# Mao Zedong (1949-1976): Having lived to the ripe old age of 83, he is one of China’s most powerful leaders. He not only raised the Chinese Communist Party at a young age of 34, but also administered China after it obtained its current form of government in 1949 and continued to administer it until his death in 1976. The salient features of his era are:
* While at first the Soviet impact on the socio-political system was greater, Mao later developed his own model of independent socialist governance. He also allowed the expression of different points of view under the “letting a hundred flowers bloom policy”, but could not resist divergent points of view and his inner thoughts of autocracy appeared more powerful as he progressed in his presidency. In an attempt to bring prosperity to the whole population, he launched the “great leap forward” in 1957-58, more so in May 1958. He was so stuck with this proposal that he ignored the opposition despite the flagrant failure of this social change. He continued the strengthened exercise of “state power” and marked the opposition as part of a new struggle at the socialist stage.
* Regarding economic progress, initial support came from the USSR, including the concept of a five-year plan as well as experts. This did not last very long as Soviet Premier Khrushchev withdrew aid and supported India as well as Taiwan in 1960. Mao attempted to transform the agrarian economy into a communist-led growth society, which can be prosperous. The establishment of communes with unrealistic objectives during the Great Leap Forward and its failure led to famines and deaths. Mao, however, continued to focus on the industrialization of rural areas, the centralized economic system, the overspread of the industrial base, and the technical revolution that contributed to today’s China although it was not has not been as successful as previously envisaged.
* Along with the socio-political and economic effervescence, the Chinese military also developed considerably during the Mao era. Having been experts primarily in guerrilla warfare and mass enforcement, he evolved due to his involvement in a number of wars in quick succession. Of course, he opted for these wars, whether it was the Korean War, the first Vietnam War, the Cambodian conflict to establish the Khmer Rouge or the war with India. He was involved in the international scene although he was involved in a conflict with the United States during the Korean War. Not only that, there has been a significant growth in its military, be it army, navy or air force. By the time of Mao’s death, the Chinese army had grown considerably.
# Deng Xiaoping (1978-1992): After Mao’s death, there was some gap before Deng Xiaoping established himself as Mao’s successor. Deng’s era is very important in the historical development of present-day China as it heralded major economic changes. After being branded as a Westerner earlier, he had a fallout with Mao during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. The main characteristics of his time are as follows:
* Deng was a follower of Marxism-Leninism, which was evident in the socio-political space of the country in his time. Since inheriting the institutional mess, he began China’s institutional building, including establishing diplomatic relations with the United States in the early stages of his presidency in January 1979. He again insisted on a series of reforms that included the “one-child” policy, nine-year compulsory education system and an emphasis on socialist ideology with free enterprise.
* The economic reforms of his time had profound repercussions and these continue even to this day. Deng is also referred to as an architect of modern China as he undertook major economic reforms including the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), encouraged foreign investment by opening up markets, in addition to substantial work on the technological infusion. The abilities created in his time have continued with improved work ethic and productivity continues to be the hallmark of China even today.
* Although best known for his economic outlook, significant military advancements and changes also took place during his time. This includes the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War and the crackdown on protesters during the 1989 Tiananmen Square shootings, which continues to be the darkest event in PRC history. He focused on civilian control over the military by establishing Central Military Commissions (CMCs). He worked on peoples’ warfare under modern conditions to include the concept of forward defense, combined arms tactics, and an excessive focus on national arms production. India has only recently focused on domestic production, which has caused it to lag behind China for more than three decades.
# Ziang Zemin (1993-2003): This transition took place during the lifetime of his predecessor. It was his political maneuvering that enabled him to lead China to a decade of success. Some of the salient features of his tenure are:
* There was reasonable socio-political upheaval at this time as it was after the Tiananmen Square Incident combined with the end of the Cold War due to the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. It was marked by the rise of the United States as the sole superpower. China’s state control over state-owned enterprises/industries has been shrinking, in addition to strengthening ties with the world and giving rise to consumerism. This era is also notorious for human rights abuses.
* With regard to economic development, while Ziang was hesitant at first, he later became more pro-reform, and China’s economic growth process continued substantially under his rule. A deliberate effort has been made to develop close relationships with the United States and Japan for economic benefits. This era is known as the “social market economy” and the continuation of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms. Corruption and unemployment issues have also come to the fore despite substantial economic growth.
* With respect to the military, overall growth, including an emphasis on theater missile defense and nuclear capability, has continued. It was around this time that Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 from British rule, while Macau returned to China in 1999 from the Portuguese. The PLA, which was involved in a number of business activities, was separated from these businesses to make it professional and combat ready. Limited warfare doctrines were developed, with Taiwan integration remaining the area of focus. The United States has emerged as a potential military threat due to its relationship with Taiwan.
# Hu Jintao (2003-2013): Hu Jintao was known for his repressive actions in Tibet and elsewhere and the same continued against the backdrop of all social unrest, ethnic minority protests and other demonstrations. Despite this, Hu Jintao’s decade of governance has largely contributed to today’s China where we speak of “interest borders” as opposed to territorial borders. Some of the important socio-political, economic and military advances are:
* An attempt has been made to develop a harmonious socialist society and all disturbances have been crushed with a heavy hand. Peaceful development was attempted with soft power. China has expanded its frontiers of interest with Africa, Latin America and other developing regions to increase its influence. Society realized the growing importance of technocratic competence and felt the benefits of collective, consensual government.
* Hu Jintao continued on his predecessor’s path of economic growth by reintroducing state control in certain sectors of the economy. The economic growth of this era made China a global economic power. Tough anti-bribery laws were introduced while health insurance was significantly improved for workers.
* With regard to military growth and modernization, maximum progress has taken place during this period, with particular emphasis on space development as well as the development of the PLA Navy. The development of the carrier-based navy has received due attention. The PLA was ready to undertake historic missions to support and promote national interests. The concept of “Go Global” has received a real boost.
A deeper analysis of the socio-political, economic and military development of today’s China as well as its renewed interest in the armed forces from October 1, 1949 until the rise to power of Xi Jinping on March 14, 2013 throws solid foundations for Xi Jinping to embark on a confrontational and expansionist agenda. He was blessed with Hu Jintao as his predecessor who relinquished power from all appointments and in the process Xi Jinping became the most powerful PRC president in modern Chinese history.