During the 20th century China underwent a massive transformation.
In the early 1900s China was a mass of land lacking any real political cohesion and so was plagued by disputes between the many ruling warlords. However, by the year 2000 China was considered a major contender on the world stage and still is today; it almost seems certain that China will become the most powerful nation on earth in the next 50 years.This major transformation is seen to be a great success of China, considering the relatively short amount of time in which it was accomplished, but the question still remains as to whether entire credit should be given to China itself or instead whether China’s successful development was more due to the forced interference of foreign powers or, to a lesser extent, their influence rather than the inspired originality of Chinese politicians.The main stimulus for development certainly seems to be economic policy (either the respective leaders of China in their adaptation of foreign policy, sometimes brought about through influence, or the forced implementation of policy by foreign powers) with the consequent effect of this being development of the social and political workings of China.The idea of “reform on the Western model” of economics and politics came as early as China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese war, with some in Chinese society clearly recognising the need to advance China’s prospects as a world power, with a more organised government, to prevent the exploitation of their vast natural resources and population by foreign powers, and seeing the Western approach as the most efficient way to fulfil their potential.However, neither influence from Western nations nor interference in the form of their tactic of divide and exploit could be said to have a great deal of positive effect on development.
In fact, any notion of adapting and improving the “Western model” (a process that under Deng much later in the 20th century was so effective) was bound to fail: the Empress Dowager Cixi’s desire for full Imperial control of China would not allow for such radical thinking. So long as the “foreign devils” were to plague China, Cixi would not allow any sort of imitation of the foreign powers economic strategy to take effect.Evidence of her conviction to this was the fact that her very own nephew, Kuang-Hsu, was imprisoned for attempting to suggest such radical change. Not only did the affront caused to the upper echelons of the political hierarchy by suggesting a “reform on the Western model” hinder any positive development, but also the support for this rejection of any interference or influence by the peasantry of China, culminating in the famous Confucian based Boxer Rebellion, stunted any chance at a positive impact on development.
In fact, I would say that the interference by foreign nations held back the development of China until the founding of the Chinese Republic in 1912, the dismantling of the Chinese Imperial system and prejudice against at the least foreign influence being crucial to China’s progressive development.In stark contrast to the extensive negative ramifications of foreign interference for China at the beginning of the 20th century, the comparative lack of direct interference during Sun Yat-Sen’s expansion and consolidation of the new Chinese Republic allowed China to begin to realise its potential if it were to successfully utilise its reserves of raw materials and labour.A core element of Sun Yat-Sen’s ideology was known as “minsheng”, meaning “for the people”, and this really encapsulated the benefits of a lack of foreign interference in that without constant exploitation, the tireless spirit of the Chinese workforce might be used to forge a cohesive, economic machine. This demonstrates the significance, in aiming to allow the beginnings of what would develop throughout the century to be the most effective tool of China, of a lack of interference from foreign powers.
However, foreign influence was arguably present in Sun Yat-Sen’s policies: he stated that his “Three Principles of the People” were “modelled on European theory” whilst he strived for revolution and in the forming of the Republic in 1912 and so foreign ideas of capitalism, industrial revolution and economic policy clearly had an impact on development to some extent. Despite the burgeoning hope of a strong independent China, free of the exploitation of foreign powers, Sun Yat-Sen’s aims were not achieved. However, this laid the basis for China’s ideal of developing their own independence.A politician of great significance was Mao Zedong, the first Chairman of the People’s Republic of China. He had possibly the largest impact on the development of China, particularly with policies such as his agricultural reform. Foreign interference, by way of Japan’s invasion (1937-49), had had a great negative effect on economic development.
Their original intent to exploit China’s resources was manifested in “mass murder” across the country (the rape of Nanking being a focussed example of this) and such destruction of infrastructure and mass looting that instances of cannibalism became quite widespread.Hence, it was to Mao that much of the task of reforming and rebuilding fell. Mao’s greatest achievement, and the core of any development free of foreign interference, was his success in harnessing the unquenchable spirit of the Chinese people. Their unrelenting efforts went some way to counteracting the bureaucracy and inefficiencies of Mao’s policies, but still it appears that the lack of foreign interference meant that the real potential for growth was only temporary and superficial.
Mao intended to achieve economic development by emulating the USSR in utilising a “Five-Year plan” and it can be said that with this level of influence China initially began to improve its prospects, its economic growth comparing “favourably with that of the USSR”. This is perhaps the first fully (and successfully) implemented case of China adopting the policies of foreign nations to their own advantage in aiding development. However, the level of impact of the USSR’s influence, and minor interference, pales in comparison to the impact of the failure of Mao’s Second Five Year plan had on China.Known rather ironically as the Great Leap Forward, the soldiers of this movement, known as “General Grain” and “General Steel”, certainly did not deliver what was promised.
Mao’s agricultural collectivisation scheme suffered from the inefficiency often present in economies without the progressive stimulus of competition, and left the nation starving, the official number of deaths being 14 million (although this figure is said to be a “substantial underestimate” by most scholars).The main problem with Mao’s agricultural policy was the over estimation of production by party officials: the amount of grain claimed to have been produced on one particular year was 375 million tons, when in fact a far more modest 200-210 tons had been produced. The scheme to develop China into a major world exporter in steel was also a failure: steel certainly saw a large increase in production from 5. 4 tonnes to 13 tonnes 1957-60, but then only to see a decline to 8 tonnes, well below their potential output.
Hence, while Mao created national unity to aid China’s development, any successes of his reforms (many emulating Soviet policies) were marred by massive costs (particularly loss of life) and so the largest impact on China under Mao was caused by Mao himself in his hap-hazard and inefficient implementation of foreign powers’ policies (e. g. the “backyard furnaces” that produced steel of such poor quality it was often dumped in pits by Chinese officials). A politician whose contributions were also massively significant was Deng Xiaoping, the leader of the People’s Republic of China in 1978.In this era of Chinese history the most successful combination of diminishing foreign interference and growing adaptation of foreign economic policy was achieved in creating positive development.
While Deng could not risk offending the memory of Mao, as there was a reverent level of respect for his policies despite their inefficiencies, he recognised that he needed to combine the core of Mao’s original ideas (the national unity he achieved) with a competition-based capitalist model so as to reach the peak of China’s development in their key asset, the workforce.Hence, Deng’s departure from Mao’s policy of agricultural communes (removing any residuary influence of the USSR in this area) and implementation of the xiang, a localised privatisation scheme for agriculture demonstrated the massive benefits to development that the introduction of capitalism could have.Not only did this policy allow peasant farmers (a large section of society) to profit from their work, thus improving their financial situation and increasing spending in the economy, a key component of economic growth, but it also eliminated the consequences of Mao’s inefficiency: the unbalanced distribution of food caused by over-estimation of production was effectively eliminated.While this development should be credited to Deng it must still be noted that, while direct foreign interference was ever diminishing, the ramifications of the influence of foreign powers on China was immense in that their capitalist model was being used to great effect. Hong Kong was a great example of the benefit foreign influence could have in the development of China.The British rule of Hong Kong had led to it being incredibly economically successful and so not only was China impacted when it regained control of it and allowed it to remain working as a capitalist city, but more importantly Deng’s decision to emulate how it operated in the setting up of SEZs (entirely capitalist cities along the coast) shows a keen mastery of the adaptation of foreign economic policy and the impact of foreign influence.
In fact, between 1978 and 1989 exports increased from $9. 8bn to $52. 5bn and foreign investment quadrupled- this is almost entirely attributed to the SEZs.Deng’s great success was to realise that China “must boldly absorb and draw on all fruits of civilisation including capitalist countries” to succeed. The freeing reduction of foreign interference, and yet the adoption of foreign policy, thus foreign powers’ influence on China, clearly had a beneficial impact on China’s development. To conclude, at the start of the 20th century China was a country paralysed and unable to better itself due to the high level of foreign interference and exploitation of its vast natural resources and the large market for trading that its population could provide.
However, throughout the 20th century to the point that China has become the imminent dominating economic power, the constant fight against foreign interference (and consequent reduction of it) and the increasing emulation and adaption of foreign powers’ policies had a far greater positive effect upon the development of China than any direct interference by foreign powers was able to achieve. The limiting factors to development caused by foreign interference were overcome by the national unity achieved by Mao and the economic ingenuity of Deng.