Monday, February 18, 2008

Modern China in Recap from AP -- without a byline

Don't you love the AP and Sports Illustrated? - More Sports - China hoping Olympics will bring international fame - Monday February 18, 2008 11:25AM: "Return of prestige"

This article (link above and reposted below) provides a modern day re-cap of China with a review of a reporter who has been there. He knew Chairman Mao. He reopened the AP office in Beijing after the rules of the Cultural Revolution were changed to allow Americans to return to China. However, the reporter / writer is without a byline on this posting from the S.I. web pages.

Nice article:
Return of prestige
China hoping Olympics will bring international fame
Posted: Monday February 18, 2008 11:25AM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008

HONOLULU (AP) -- On Aug. 8, 2008, when the Beijing Olympics begin in promised splendor, a few may reflect on how far or how fast China has come to host this high mark of international prestige.

A little more than a year after the games finish, Oct. 1, 2009, China will mark its 60th anniversary as a communist nation. It is a survivor when many Marxist regimes have met their demise beginning with the first, the Soviet Union.

To my old eyes, it seems almost a miracle that China has survived the pain and bloodshed to emerge from poverty and become one of the richest of Earth's nations in so short a time.

Torn by internal strife for years, long shunned internationally, China now seeks to acquire something intangible but precious, to match its new prosperity. It seeks prestige, or "weiwang" in Chinese. Prestige is a quality China once had in abundance as the ancient Middle Kingdom, an empire to which other nations regularly paid tribute.

To understand why Olympic prestige is so important to China, it is important to remember how low as a nation China had fallen -- and how little real prestige it enjoyed -- as a result of power struggles during the first few decades of its communist existence after the Nationalists were vanquished in 1949.

It is useful, too, to remember the three powerful, larger than life figures who dominated the Chinese landscape early on.

They were Mao Zedong, its founder, a peasant's son and dreamer; his ambitious, once bone-poor third wife, Jiang Qing, and Deng Xiaoping, the no nonsense realist. During the early years of Mao's dictatorship, quarrels within the Communist party over China's direction brought it to the edge of collapse, a blood-spattered period remembered today for its cruelty and chaos.

The violence only ended with Mao's death and his wife's imprisonment in 1976.

Twice purged by Mao, Deng emerged from house arrest a few years later to halt China's headlong tumble into anarchy and begin the remarkable economic recovery and regaining of national prestige reflected in these Olympic games.

As an AP reporter, I knew all three of the lead players: Mao and his wife in 1940s Yanan, the Red base before the victory of 1949, and Deng in 1979 Beijing.

Mao was a dreamer with his feet firmly planted in the past. He believed China was powerful enough to achieve greatness by itself without relying on the outside world.

When Mao's grandiose national economic campaign resulted in failure and famine, the pragmatists led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng removed him from office and took over. Mao meekly accepted his punishment. But Jiang Qing, furious at losing her place as First Lady of China, fought back.

Cannily, she used Mao and his great national popularity and organized the Marxist sounding 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution. With the help of defense minister Lin Biao, she turned Mao into a demigod, a genius born once in every 10,000 years. Then she denounced Liu and Deng as villains for trying to diminish Mao's greatness. The nation's students, organized into Maoist Red Guards, attacked anyone daring to belittle the Great Helmsman's name. The "no school" bell rang throughout China and the students gleefully went on a hot-eyed rampage.

I wrote about the Cultural Revolution mostly from Hong Kong and Tokyo -- Americans were barred from China -- but got a glimpse of China under Mao when I was allowed to accompany the U.S. ping pong team to Beijing in 1971. I made more visits later, after the ban against American reporters was lifted.

Beijing under Mao was drab, emotionless and bureaucratic. The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, once a delight to visit, were stiff with plaster statues of Mao. Huge portraits of Mao adorned the walls of the Forbidden City and China's Great Wall.

The little red book of Mao quotations, compiled by Lin Biao, and tin Mao portrait badges were everywhere. I acquired one.

By the end of 1971, only months after the American ping pong visit, Lin Biao's agenda had become clear: he plotted to murder Mao and take his place at the head of party and nation. Discovered, he fled, and died when his Moscow-bound plane crashed en route.

Madame Mao, high priestess of her husband's cult, banned the famous Peking Opera, put in its place a half dozen dramas of her own composition which glorified Maoism. I suffered through several of them, bemused by the heroes, bigger than life, and amused by the villains -- usually running dogs of American imperialism.

I had the good luck to reopen the AP Beijing bureau in 1979 and thus become a daily spectator during the early days of Deng's determined campaign to recover China's lost prestige. Unlike Mao, who dictated the smallest details of Chinese life from Beijing, Deng believed in openness and few controls. He gave the cities and the provinces license to make their own rules, draw up their own contracts.

I developed a bantering friendship with Deng, one of the few Marxists I knew with a sense of humor. Remarkably modest for a man with so much power, he described himself modestly as the first among equals and insisted he had no desire for titles like party chairman or president.

He intended, he told me, to gradually introduce controlled democracy along with his limited capitalism. Later, the student protests that brought chaos and bloodshed to Tienanmen Square in Beijing in 1989 soured his view of democracy. He ordered the troops to fire on the unarmed demonstrators. He died at the age of 93 without apologizing.

Some observers say the games now give the Communist party an ideal public opportunity to achieve for China, after all its suffering and sacrifices, the prestige it so apparently desires.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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