China Celebrates 60th Anniversary of Modern State's Founding

  • VOA News

    September 29, 2009 08:16

    Chinese performers dance along newly rebuilt Qianmen shopping street after official opening, ahead of 60th anniversary in Beijing on Sept. 28, 2009.

    As China marks the 60th anniversary of the communist state on Oct. 1, it celebrates the realization of some significant goals, such as improved living standards for many of the country's more than one billion people. But challenges remain, such as the Chinese Communists' early vision of democracy.

    China has reason to celebrate. The country still basks in the glow of last year's successful Olympic Games. And, in a global economic slump, China remains one of the world's bright spots.

    Chinese media expert Rebecca MacKinnon says the People's Republic of China has helped raise the country's global stature. "If you look at the goals of the [Communist] revolution as 'China will stand up, China will be respected by the international community, China will become a powerful force in the world, it will throw off foreign domination' -- it succeeded in that," she said.

    China's Communist government follows what it calls "socialism with Chinese characteristics," which includes a market economy, with considerable state control.

    Sidney Rittenberg is an American who began working with the Chinese Communists before they took power in 1949. He spent more than three decades in China. Although he was jailed for nearly half of that time, he still thinks China is moving in the right direction. "Whatever we have now is 'socialism with Chinese characteristics.' It also means that it can't be copied from somewhere else. That's very important. They can't copy the political democracy from anywhere else either," Rittenberg said.

    China's economic development has been breathtaking, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in the past 30 years. Health Minister Chen Zhu says the country also has made huge health care advances in the past 60 years. Chen says China now has a health care system that covers both urban and rural areas. He says the country also has raised its capacity to prevent and control diseases.

    The official says China's major health indicators, such as life expectancy and infant mortality, have improved dramatically, and now make it one of the leading countries in the developing world.

    Yet political change has come more slowly.

    Bao Tong formerly was in charge of the Communist Party's political reform efforts. He was jailed in 1989 for sympathizing with the students who massed in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to demand political liberalization. Bao says when he was in prison, he thought about what he calls his "biggest disappointment" -- which was that he did not successfully complete his job as a political reformer. He says China's current political situation is, in his words, "still the same from Mao's period."

    Mao Zedong is the iconic founder of modern China. His forceful personality led the country through decades of chaos and upheaval. Under Mao, the government exerted great control over people's lives -- from what books could be read to what jobs people could take. And they had almost no say in government actions.

    Since his death more than 30 years ago, ordinary Chinese have gained more personal freedom than they ever had before -- able, for instance, to start a small business or take a vacation abroad. But they still have little say in what the government does and continue to face restrictions on religious activity and political dissent.

    Human rights advocate Wu Qing is an elected district representative in Beijing. Wu says she thinks Chinese people still have to work hard. She says there is still a long road, and that everyone must do his or her part. Wu says China has to fight the influence of thousands of years of feudalism and despotism. She adds that the People's Republic of China -- a country with only 60 years of history -- will not be able to get rid of those legacies instantly.

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