Growing up throughout the Cold War, the beginnings, height, and end, I have strong memories of China under Mao.
I can remember a China isolated and considered an international pariah by the West. If you were from the West and found yourself in China you generally disappeared.
Chairman Mao is usually left out.
Through the 1966 Cultural Revolution, I have read that during his reign while of course no exact count exists, up to 100 million Chinese were killed since the revolution in 1949 to enforce his Communism.
I have among good friends someone who came over to the US from Hong Kong in 1968. Came with virtually nothing, and through hard work, is very successful today. He told me that before he left, there were so many bound bodies, shot and/or hacked, floating down the river during the Cultural Revolution that one Hong Kong policeman went mad.
His wife also has an interesting background. Her family was originally from Shanghai. Her father was a factory owner, and as Mao seized control of China during the late 1940s, people such as her father were summarily executed.
The father knew they had to leave China in a hurry and one of the few countries that would take them on short notice was Uruguay. The children all grew up speaking fluent Spanish.
I can remember the China under Mao before Richard Nixon made overtures for better diplomatic relations. It would have been no more surprising to learn that we had just landed on Mars and were making an effort to foster diplomatic relations with the Martians.
Sounds funny today but one of the first things the countries did was to host ping-pong tournaments.
Sometimes small gestures such as the ping-pong diplomacy and 17 years earlier, Cold War hard-liner John Foster Dulles refusing to shake the hand of Zhou Enlai in Geneva, can have either positive or negative outcomes. I can remember seeing these “ping pong tournaments” on the national news.
Saving face is important in all cultures, but particularity Asian cultures. Zhou Enlai was one of the originals with Mao in the Revolution, but he was considered to be a “moderating influence”.
I wonder if anything would have been different between our 2 countries save for that slight in 1954.
It was hoped that with the opening of trade with China that economic prosperity would lead to political liberalization. That has not transpired.
Victor Davis Hanson has a great summery of our relationship with China and is America finally waking up? Or is it too late?
What finally woke America up were two unforeseen developments.
First, the Chinese overreached and systematically began militarizing neutral islands in the South China Sea. They derided international commercial treaties.
In racist fashion, they treated Asian and African countries as if they were 19th-century colonies. And they unapologetically lifted technology from America’s biggest and most powerful corporations to turn China into something akin to George Orwell’s 1984.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, I was reminded today of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
I remember how sudden and unexpected it was to those of us in the West.
The difference is through embargoes, economically the Eastern block was bankrupt.
The Chinese aren’t, thanks largely through our own efforts.
While a well-known scribe of our acquaintance said that “hope is not a strategy”, one can nevertheless hope.
Here’s an interesting op-ed on the 70th Anniversary from the WSJ.
…But Chinese leaders also know that their behavior is producing a global backlash that they should not underestimate. Mr. Trump’s policy reflects a new bipartisan American consensus that China’s economic abuses must be confronted. The last three U.S. administrations have worked to build a loose alliance of states, notably Japan and India, to counter Chinese military power. This will not change no matter who is U.S. President in 2021.
…Perhaps the Party can use the modern tools of state surveillance and control to maintain power for years to come. No one should assume that the Party’s fall is imminent. But we also know from history that authoritarians often seem stronger than they are. The Party’s insistence on total political control may be the seed of its undoing.
We shall see.