By M.D. Nalapat
In 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People's Republic of China, while Britain's Indian empire was divided into many parts in the years preceding it in the 1940s. Chairman Mao later unified the Chinese mainland, and for the first time in more than a century, China became fully independent of outside control and could pursue its own course in domestic and foreign affairs. This is the most precious legacy of Chairman Mao.
In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping reversed the old policy and opened China to the rest of the world. Deng was confident that Chinese people had the resilience and quality needed to compete with others and win the battle of economic development.
Over the last three decades, as pointed out by General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Hu Jintao in his speech at the 90th anniversary of the CPC, the policy framework created by Deng led China to become the second-largest economy in the world. It is now on track to becoming the largest within a generation.
China's millennia-long culture was diluted by a century of conflict and chaos. As a result, many young Chinese were not fully immersed in their own traditions and culture. The past decade, however, has seen a renaissance of traditional culture infused with modern elements that have been adapted to Chinese ethos. Hu has gone beyond the material realm to recognize the spiritual core of the Chinese people and given it full expression in line with socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Many people in China saw the transmission of culture as one-way traffic, with China absorbing the culture of the economically advanced countries without offering anything in return (except excellent Chinese cuisine and manufactures). Now, the CPC leaders are looking deeper into Chinese history and tearing to shreds the last vestiges of prejudice against traditional Chinese culture.
Today, Chinese people are dropping their anchors in tradition even as they take on the international community on the economic and cultural fronts. Not so long ago, the global consensus seemed to be that ancient rituals such as tea ceremony could be seen only in Taiwan and hardly on the Chinese mainland.
Today, such ancient wisdom is proliferating across the whole of China. That the international community can be won over more with soft power has been emphasized by Hu, who has taken measures to spread the knowledge of China's "soft power" across the world.
Though Chinese leaders lay stress on traditional culture, they attach great importance to modern technologies, too.
When Hu became general secretary of the CPC central committee in 2002, China had already become one of the biggest economies in the world, but its research and development (R&D) sector was weak. Chinese enterprises relied in foreign technology even for the production of basic machineries. The country had to import advanced technology and supplied less sophisticated products in return.
It was then that CPC leaders made R&D a priority. Nine years later, the results are there for all to see. China leads the world in several technologies, including renewable energy and high-speed trains. And it is highly possible that in another 10 years, it could be making aircraft to compete with Boeing and Airbus. It could even begin to catch up with the United States and Europe in innovations and improvements to existing products.
Chinese universities and research centers are evolving into world-class institutions. As Hu said in his speech, the Scientific Outlook on Development is at the core of China's future.
The CPC has not fallen into the trap of seeing corruption as the inevitable by-product of economic reform. It knows that reform and modernization are central to the well-being of the Chinese people, and that corruption is found in any system.
The extradition of fugitive Lai Changxing, accused of smuggling 53 billion yuan ($8.2 billion) of goods that implicated many senior officials, shows the "resolution" of China to uphold the law and punish corrupt officials.
But corruption cannot be fought by police alone. However harsh the punishment, people will still be tempted to steal. A better way of fighting corruption is to spread awareness of the need for overall harmony in society so that the making of money does not become the sole purpose of life.
By drawing attention to and reinforcing traditional Chinese attitudes for people to live a worthy lifestyle, the CPC is seeking to use China's history and tradition to guide people away from corruption and toward a lifestyle that serves the community, rather than just oneself.
Aware that the "head of the snake" has to be crushed instead of just leaving it injured, Hu is bringing accountability to the highest levels and not hesitating to punish those who have betrayed the trust of the CPC and the Chinese community as a whole.
Under Hu Jintao's leadership, China has rediscovered its traditions as well as marched ahead at the front of progress. As Mao Zedong said, "walking on two legs" is best. Going along the path set out by Mao and Deng, General Secretary Hu has sought to ensure that China walks briskly forward on the two legs of "tradition" and "modernity" to reclaim its global position that it enjoyed for centuries.
The author is vice-chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group, and UNESCO Peace Chair and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, India.
(China Daily 07/27/2011 page9)