Since the final conquest of Mainland China in 1949, the Communist Party has remolded the nation along Marxist lines. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was the culmination of Mao’s policy. It caused immeasurable suffering and economic chaos. Intellectuals and religious believers were cruelly persecuted. It is estimated that 20 million Chinese lost their lives during that time. The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and discrediting of radical leftists in 1978 was followed by a more pragmatic leadership under Deng. He initiated a series of economic, political and cultural reforms as well as developing links with other nations, but all within the limits set by Deng. The crushing of the 1989 student protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and also the collapse of communism in Europe and the USSR left China diplomatically isolated as the oldest surviving Communist regime.
Three significant events occurred in 1976. Chou En-lai died January 8; an earthquake killed 800,000 people in Tangshan; and Chairman Mao Tse-tung died September 9. If you think that was a difficult year in China, compare it with 1931 when the Huang He River flooded and 3,700,000 perished! Immediately following Mao’s death, there was a tremendous power struggle within the Communist ranks. The infamous “Gang of Four” attempted to take control of the country. The “four” were Chiang Ch’ing (Chairman Mao’s widow), Chang Ch’un-ch’iao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hung-wen. At the time, Chiang was the most influential woman in Mainland China. All four were convicted of counter-revolutionary crimes in 1981, and imprisoned. After languishing in Qinchen Prison (31 miles north of Beijing) for ten years Chiang Ch’ing committed suicide.
Deng Xiaoping emerged as the top man and swiftly began to implement his moderate pragmatic policies, and because of his influence the door to China is open at this hour. From 1949 until 1976 the huge nation of China was virtually a closed country. The Bamboo Curtain was very real; few people went in and very few came out. The threatened government responded with a reversion to ideological rigidity and repression of all political, ethnic and religious dissent. Economic reform with tight political control emerged as government policy for the 1990’s. In 1997, Hong Kong once again became part of China as a Special Administrative Region with Macau also reverting back to Chinese control in 1999. China pressures continue to remain intense on Taiwan to follow the peaceful example set by Hong Kong and Macau and unite all Chinese under the People’s Republic of China. Once again, world attention is focused on China as it receives the “Most Favored Nation” status. This unleashes economic limitations previously set on and now poises it to become an economic world power.