China is a historically complex country, with roots that are deep in the cultural and the social fabric, very tightly controlling the political and economic scenario since the turn of the century. Modern China is an outcome of the process which has its roots in history which has stimulated the changes during different phases of modernization. It is important to understand China’s modernization as a process of transformation that has taken place as a long-term impact of the social and cultural factors. China’s modernization has to be evaluated as the process of transformation from a traditional agricultural society to modern industrial society. The first seeds of modernization were felt in 1919, as the May Fourth movement, when the intellectual first began addressing the issue of modernization in the context of China’s future.
In the context of China’s modernization, it can be said that Louie captures it very comprehensively “Every culture … has three fundamental aspects: the technological, the sociological, and the ideological. … The technological is concerned with tools, materials, techniques, and machines. The sociological aspect involves the relationships into which men enter. The ideological aspect comprises beliefs, rituals, art, ethics, religious practices, and myths.” China has a long history of historical development and a complex Cultural Revolution. This is an integral part of Chinese thinking and affects how people think, act and respond in a given situation. These factors, along with the economic reforms and the enterprise reforms, play an important role in understanding the local management with which foreign companies would have to deal with for successful operations in China regularly. In the context of the historical survey, it is important to recognize the fact that China is a socialist country, with three distinctive approaches to international relations, which has been examined by Haynoe as “…the Maoist view of global order, which continues to inform Chinese foreign policy in the post-Mao era, the functionalist view of equilibrium theorists which underpins American foreign policy thinking, and finally the view put forward by theorists of the World Order Models Project.”
The significance of the Maoist theory has influenced the order and the functioning of the state in a controlled and self-reliant manner. It emphasizes independence and dignity of statehood, where foreign economic assistance is not given a vital role but is kept subsidiary to the state control and regulation. The leaders are very effective in giving limited control to the foreign market, making it clear that control belongs to the state and the local authority. This makes the consideration for localized management more important. This is in harmony with the socialist doctrine. Under the Maoist theory of world order, independence, the dignity of statehood “…and a self-reliance that does not spurn foreign economic assistance but keeps it in a subsidiary role” are the key values.
The period 1911-1949 has witnessed many reforms within the federal system to boost the phase of modernization. This is the reform that has been effective within the federal dynasty system leading to the bourgeoisie revolution. In the period 1949-1976, a new wave to reform is awakened. This has been the outcome of the emergence of new industries which developed since the middle of the twentieth century; still, China remained a poor and backward country. There is witnessed the change from capitalistic to socialist modernization, and there existed some signs of modernity. There were more apparent in large cities like Shanghai.
The Communist leadership, under the rule of Mao Zedong, favored the radical revolutionary approach to reinforce the socialist. The leaning was more towards following the socialist way as prevalent in the Soviet Union, and the slogan was “Learn from Soviet.” Mao forcefully implemented this methodology and tried to enforce socialist modernization. He introduced the “big Leap Movement,” where peasants were called upon to work in the communes as industrial workers to boost steel production. This proved to be a disaster in the outcome of results and finally was considered a Utopian idea. This is the later cause for the collapse of the economy. This led to the 1966 “Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution,” launched by Mao, which lasted ten years from 1966 till 1976. Cultural Revolution was the turning point for China. This was more a reign of terror rather than a “Revolution.” People were in a state of chaos and crisis.
There was distress all over. People lived in horror, the country was under complete turmoil, production of the industries declined, and the national economy almost collapsed. This was the darkest period in the history of China, where the cult of one man led to the ruin of the masses. This continued until the death of Mao Zedong in September 1976. The transformation in China towards real modernization began after Deng Xiaoping was restored to power and decided to proclaim an end to the Cultural Revolution, which also meant an end to the socialist model. This marks the beginning of a new era of liberal modernization in China. The rule of Mao is in support of socialistic modernization and anti-capitalistic modernization. He had assumed forceful and autocratic dictatorial implementation of the policies under the socialistic banner. This damaged the reputation of China on the international scene, created terror and distress among the common population, and totally disrupted the economic system.
This aspect of the Chinese life and traumatic history of the country has been very powerfully captured in the book “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” by Yu Hua and Andrew F. Jones. This book captures the period of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, which reveals the decades of traumatic history which provides the detailed background of the horror of the lives immersed in poverty and economic havoc. The novel vividly captures the poverty, social and economic crisis which the character lives through in everyday life in China under the red flag. The novel shows an account of the Blood Merchant, faithfully capture the life of Xu during the early 1950s, when socialism burgeoned in China, leading to the disaster of the economic-collective principle of the Great Leap Forward of 1958, the violence during the period of Cultural Revolution in 19666 to 1976. The historical references are made to present the range of human life and the sufferings as experienced by Xu and other men like him.
This complete progression of the historical survey is very well projected in the book “Wild Grass” by Ian Johnson, where Johnson uses his perceptive journalistic skills to present three cases that lead us into the life and the historical imprints of Chinese life. He focuses on the grassroots rebellion in China, with gripping stories of few ordinary people, who unite their extraordinary courage in fighting their rights against the Communist Party, reign of terror rule which lasted for 25 years under the umbrella of the red flag-Mao. The book “Wild Grass” talks about three unintentional heroes; the first phase reveals a former Red Guard and a small-town teacher who taught himself law in order to become a government-sanctioned legal worker.
The demolition of old Beijing is captured in the next phase of the book, followed by the final and poignant account of the rise of Falun Gong and how one member, a grandmother named Chen Zixiu, got caught up in its fervor of healthy exercise and spiritual living. The conclusive truth of the period was the overpowering terror of the period in which good people end up in jail or self-imposed exile. The fight for change, transformation, and modernization is paid by blood, lives, and sacrifices. The stories in “Wild Grass” represent the fight of three ordinary citizens against the repression of the system, risking imprisonment and even death. The stakes are high, but the desire for freedom from terror is greater and more powerful.
In the light of the modernization, the survey of the historical movements and especially the negative impact of Mao, as one man impacting the decline of social, cultural, political, and economic life for Chinese people are clearly evident. The quest for modernization for China began in 1840, and Chinese people have struggled under the different rules to accomplish their modernization (freedom from tyranny). “China has spent more than 150 years in this process of modernization; today, 150 years later, we perhaps have a better understanding of the best way to achieve modernization than before. For example, 150 years ago, China was forced to open up to the West, and now China is opening to the West and the rest of the world on its own accord.”