With the second largest economy in the world, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is in better shape than ever. With growing economic and military influence, the country is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the party in a big way. In recent months, the Chinese have seen on TV, in the newspapers and at work what the transformation of a century of CCP has looked like.
According to correspondent Garrie van Pinxteren, the Chinese are given extra attention that thanks to the CCP a new, powerful China has now emerged. For example, cinemas show films about the military struggle and the takeover of power in 1949. Work trips are also organized to Mao Zedong’s native village.
“The Communist Party has proved very agile, the ideology of the 60s is very different from that of 2021. They have always been pragmatic to maintain that power,” says Van Pinxteren. “The economy has been radically reformed since the late 1970s, since Mao’s death.” Under the current president Xi Jinping, the country has become much more capitalist.
Lordship of Mao
Mao, the founder of Communist China, ruled from 1949 until his death in 1976. He is blamed for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese during the Great Leap Forward, the industrial revolution that turned China into a superpower, and the subsequent Cultural Revolution. Many Chinese died of hunger and violence.
The CCP now has 95 million members, which is 7 percent of the population. According to China expert Frank Pieke, affiliated with the Leiden Asian Center, the party actually controls everything. The government, the military, the economy and the judiciary: everything starts with the Communist Party. Fostering nationalism among the population is an important goal.
A success story used for this is the eradication of extreme poverty. The Communist Party has set itself that goal for its centenary. Just forty years ago, nearly 90 percent lived below the poverty line. Now it’s much better. That story is eagerly spread throughout the country, while there are still many Chinese who are struggling to make ends meet. Only if everyone supports the CCP will there be unity, prosperity and stability – that is the message, says van Pinxteren.
Origin of coronavirus
The approach to the corona crisis is also being sold as a victory. “They are trying to question whether corona originated in China; you hear the question here whether corona started here or whether corona was first discovered in China.”
Nationalism is also ignited because for years the Chinese have had the feeling that they have not been taken seriously internationally, says Pieke. “After the fall of the empire, the country was completely powerless. That collective trauma, from that thought the party originates. Their message is: we will ensure that China can never be humiliated by foreigners, Westerners and Japan.”
The Chinese call it the age of humiliation. The population lived in poverty and famine. Hong Kong was conquered by the British during the opium wars in the 19th century. That was the beginning for China. That period lasted until 1949, when the Communist Party came to power.
In this video you can see how the CCP evolved over a hundred years from a club of revolutionaries to the sole ruling party:
China now presents itself very differently on the world stage. Many Chinese are proud of that. According to Pieke, people may be critical of the party, but not when it comes to President Xi Jinping. He remains popular among the common Chinese.
Xi has garnered even more power in recent years. For example, the constitution was amended in 2018 so that he can remain president for life.
Internationally, there are also concerns about human rights in the country, the repression of Uyghurs , Hong Kong and Taiwan. But political lack of freedom is not a problem for most Chinese, says Pieke.
“Journalists, intellectuals and writers, who think they are being gagged and they are. But the common man, the educated Chinese, they have the freedom to live where they want and to travel abroad. They have certain red lines. don’t exceed it, but they don’t.”
‘Being a member is a means’
What is striking is that many young people want to join the Communist Party. “Many companies in China are state-owned and you make a career there faster, because the government itself consists almost exclusively of party members,” says Van Pinxteren.
She explains that young people become members mainly for practical reasons. “It has little to do with communism anymore. It is not that these young people are convinced of the ideals of the party. It is a means of creating a good future.”
‘The Netherlands will notice pressure from China’
Now that China’s goals have become reality, we can no longer ignore China, says Pieke. The NATO summit in Brussels also raised concerns about the country’s economic, political and military rise.
“The pressure from China will also be felt by the Netherlands, with stronger pressure on the European Union. China is an important investor in Europe.”
Van Pinxteren thinks that the country still feels threatened by the outside world. “In China itself, this leads to a cyber dictatorship and externally to the strengthening of defense. China may therefore be more expansive and aggressive in the coming period.”
In the Netherlands, too, we must be wary of unwanted Chinese influence, experts warn: