An Unprecedented Leap forward
The oppressive and discriminatory policies pushed by the rulers of old China resulted in poverty and backwardness for minority regions. Some minority nationalities were in such a primitive society that their members engaged in slash-and-burn cultivation and kept records by tying knots.
After the founding of New China, the minority peoples, under the leadership of the Communist Party, were emancipated and, in the National People's Congress, the highest organ of state power, each minority nationality had deputies they themselves elected. At the Seventh National People's Congress, 15 percent of all deputies were from minority nationalities. The state has opened institutions for nationalities, cadres schools for nationalities and nationality training classes, turning out a total of more than 1 million minority cadres. Some minority nationalities who formerly wandered from place to place today have their own autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties. By the end of 1988, China had five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 115 autonomous counties (banners). The economic construction of minority regions has brought about an unprecedented change in the life of the people. Between 1950 and 1988, the state invested a total of 141.69 billion yuan in capital construction in minority areas and many large and medium-sized industrial projects such as the Baotou Iron and Steel Co. and the Karamay oil industrial base have been set up in wilderness and desert.
Transport and communication conditions have also greatly improved. Whereas, formerly, there were no highways in Tibet, today every county is linked by highways stretching 21,800 km. Seventy-seven percent of townships are accessible by bus and every county and township has postal services.
Between the time of the early Qing Dynasty in the 17th century and the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, the area's population dropped by more than 50 percent. Only 1 million people lived in this area covering 1.2 million square km. Of these people, 90 percent were serfs and slaves with insufficient food and clothing all year round. In contrast, most Tibetans today live a comfortable life even as the population has grown to 2.196 million.
From Defeat To Victory
Old China's national defence was never strong enough to ward off aggression. Between 1840 and 1937, imperialist powers launched seven large-scale attacks against China, and each time the Chinese troops suffered defeat. After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 (launched by Japanese imperialists in a bid to annex Korea and invade China), China was left without any naval ports along its 18,000-km-long coastline. Between 1931 and 1935, Chiang Kai-shek deployed 1 million troops to encircle and suppress the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army and revolutionary base areas, while allowing Japanese troops to forcibly occupy vast areas of Chinese territory in northeast and north China.
The founding of New China in 1949, however, forever put an end to the history of foreign aggression in China. No longer would there be wanton trampling and interference in China's internal affairs. Since then, the people's army has repeatedly dealt invaders crushing blows, putting a halt to aggression, wiping away the historical humiliation steeped in past defeats and defending the independence and territorial integrity of the Chinese nation.
Women Folk Holding Up Half the Sky
In old China, the broad masses of labouring women suffered from four oppressive feudal powers (political, clan, religious and male), struggling to survive at the bottom of society. Their right to existence and personal freedom was not guaranteed in any way and, from the time of the government of the Northern Warlords to the Kuomintang government, there were no laws ensuring sexual equality. Wages for working women were lower than their male counterparts in factories, even as they had to work each day for as long as 12 to 18 hours. Many organizations had stipulations against hiring married women. The low status of women was evident in statistics provided by 19 Chongqing organizations of the Kuomintang government in 1945 which showed that only 4.6 prcnt of all clerks at the time were women.
The status of women in New China is a world apart from earlier times. The Constitution stipulates explicitly that women enjoy equal rights with men in political, economic, cultural and educational fields as well as in society and family, thus abolishing the feudal system which had held women down for so long. Today, women workers not only enjoy equal pay with men for equal work but also enjoy the right to have maternity leave with pay during their childbearing period. Such a right is not materialized even in many developed capitalist countries. The number of women workers in China rose from 600,000 in 1949 to 42 million in 1984 and women now make up 36.5 percent of all workers and staff. The grass-roots election in 1953 was the first time that Chinese women had the right to vote, and well over 90 percent of all female citizens participated. Among the elected people's deputies at all levels, women deputies won about 17 percent of the seats. At the second grass-roots election in 1956, the number of elected women deputies made up 20.3 percent. At the Seventh National People's Congress held in 1987, women deputies made up 21.3 percent. Women cadres now occupy a considerable proportion of seats in the people's governments at various levels. The status of women in New China has made so much progress that they are now praised as "holding up half the sky."
Chinese People Have Stood Up
Old China had long been oppressed and exploited by other countries. Imperialist powers could carve up Chinese territory and sell China's rights and interests at will. After the World War I, even though representatives of the Chinese government attended the Paris peace conference in the capacity of a victorious nation, they were only allowed to attend as non-voting delegates and were forced by the imperialists to accept a treaty of national betrayal and humiliation. Between 1842 and 1919, Britain, Japan, Tsarist Russia, France, Germany, the United States and six other countries forced the Chinese government to sign 709 unequal treaties.
After New China was founded in 1949, the people's government abrogated all unequal treaties and undertook a diplomatic policy of self-reliance, never yielding to foreign pressure and never allowing itself to become an appendage to any big power. Through consultations with the British and Portuguese governments, the issue of returning the sovereign rights of Hong Kong and Macao to the motherland was resolved. At present, China has established diplomatic relations with 130 countries and forged economic and trade relations, based on equality and mutual benefit, with 180 countries and regions. As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations, China has been playing an important role in international affairs and the country's international influence and prestige is growing day by day. Politicians in many countries now regard China as indispensable to the efforts to maintain world peace and stability.
The author is a research fellow of the Research Institute of the History of the Communist Party of China under the CPC Central Committee