Another Chinese Revolution: The Children

The Communist Party Leadership conference which took place over this last weekend was the first time that we have seen the President of China, Xi Jinping, in office for a year, reveal what his term in office might portent for the people of China and the Communist Party.

The surprise which came out of this meeting, however, is not the expected and conventional economic tweaks and adjustments.  The surprise is yet another revolution.  The one-child policy has been abandoned because it was too successful.  Yes, population growth has been kept in check, but China’s culture is in a state of disarray.  What happened?

The industrialized world has been in awe of Chinese accomplishments in its modernization drive. The focus of each Chinese revolution in the 20th century has been that elusive goal: parity with a world which had humbled the Celestial Kingdom with wars and unequal treaties.

The predation of the imperialists, first European and later Japanese, toppled the Qing Dynasty in the Revolution of 1911.  The new Nationalist China proved unequal to the task of fending off the Japanese in World War II and Chiang Kai-shek was toppled by Mao Zedong in the Revolution of 1949.  Red China was born.

Mao Zedong set China on its path to a form of modernity modeled on the Soviet Union. His draconian miscalculation produced the Great Leap Forward in the 1950’s which led to mass starvation and Mao’s removal from power.  He was gone from the leadership table but had been promoted to a state of sainthood. Pragmatists took over to revive China’s growth.

Mao was down but not out: he plotted his revenge against the Communist Party by triggering yet another revolution:  the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966.  His aim was the destruction of traditional China to create true socialism.  The young Red Guards decimated the Four Olds:  old customs, old habits, old culture and old thinking.

Schools closed. Teachers were persecuted. Ancient statues were vandalized.  Buddhist shrines were defaced. Western music and clothing was rejected and destroyed.  Fundamentally Mao was seeking to destroy Confucian values of family, hierarchy, education, and history. But Mao also wanted lots and lots of children in the People’s Republic of China.

Mao lost his gamble to destroy Confucian old China by 1976 when the government came again into the hands of the pragmatic leaders headed by Deng Xiaoping. The leaders of China were horrified by the demographic catastrophe of unchecked population growth and instituted the one-child policy.

The new China, the economic miracle child of the late 20th century, is now dealing with an unintended consequence.  The Cultural Revolution smashed statues of Confucius.  The One-Child Policy smashed the filial structure of the Confucian family.

Today’s Chinese youngsters do not have siblings.  There will be no aunts and uncles and no cousins with whom to share the New Year festivities.  Paternal and maternal grandparents have only one grandchild. In the future, parents will be depending on a single child for care and support. Mao spoke of women as holding up half the sky.  Tragically the Chinese will be lacking women as the drive for sons has led to selective abortions and the elimination of girls.

Mao proved incapable of shattering old culture.  The new, strong industrial China which is once again erecting statutes to Confucius has finally awakened.

The revolution now beginning under Xi Jinping is the recognition that the state ordered and state enforced destruction of the Chinese family is causing cultural and fiscal harm. The modernization of China which has so impressed the world is not enough.  China’s mothers and fathers, Chinese grandparents, Chinese children all need strong families for a harmonious life. The one-child policy has ended.


About Dr. Ewa Bacon

Dr. Ewa Bacon is a professor emerita of history at Lewis University. Her areas of expertise include the Holocaust, Auschwitz, concentration camps, Russian history and Central European history (especially Germany and Poland).

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