The Founding of the People’s Republic of China


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On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded following the victory of the Chinese Communist Revolution. This date is celebrated annually as National Day in China. The establishment of the PRC marked a significant milestone in Chinese history and has had a profound impact on the country’s development over the past sixty-plus years.

The Significance

A large skyscraper in The Bund

The founding of the People’s Republic of China has been reflected in the official names of the country, which have changed several times since 1949. The PRC’s founding designated it as both a communist state and a nation-state, emphasizing its ruling status within the world’s socialist community. Since 1956, the People’s Republic of China has also documented its national day in an entry inside the History section of its Constitution, under the title “National Day of the PRC.”

On October 1, 1949, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the chairman of the Central People’s Government (CPG), Mao Zedong, announced to hundreds of thousands of cheering citizens that a new era was beginning. Following four years of civil war, the Chinese Communist Party had defeated its nationalist adversary and come to power after nationwide victory. At age forty-eight, Mao was the first chairman of the PRC, a state in which supreme decision-making power rested with the CPG.

The impact of the Communist Revolution on China cannot be overstated. The Civil War left around two million dead, including civilians who perished due to famine, pestilence, and warfare. After the war’s end in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had to confront a decimated economy and infrastructure, not to mention widespread public disaffection with its leadership. In 1958, Mao announced the first of his many “mass movements,” which mobilized China’s workers, peasants, soldiers, and intellectuals to carry out the class struggle against the bourgeoisie. The campaign failed after three years but was seen as an important learning experience for Mao and the CCP leadership who then began to shift focus toward economic reconstruction.

The impact on modern China has been massive. In the six decades from 1949 to 2008, China’s population grew from 544 million to 1.3 billion. In the meantime, the country recorded impressive achievements in terms of economic development and social progress. Life expectancy at birth increased from 35 years in 1949 to over 70 years by 2008; mean length of schooling increased from one year in 1950 to nine years in 2000; meanwhile, the country’s GDP increased from US$212 million to $7.4 billion, the world’s largest.

The Challenges

A person holding a cell phone

Despite these successes, however, China faced many problems exacerbated by breakneck economic growth and the global financial crisis. The CCP leadership has had to balance social development with economic opportunity while dealing with growing income disparity, food, and energy security issues, environmental pollution, and the increasing international integration of its economy.

Regarding social development, China has made great strides in terms of health care and education since 1949. In 2001, the country became a member of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), promising “to take the necessary steps to ensure to persons with disabilities, with free will and full awareness of their situation, their full participation in all aspects of life on an equal basis with others.” Nevertheless, China’s physical infrastructure lags behind advanced countries.

While China still faces many important challenges to better the lives of its citizens, the CCP leadership has been able to maintain a stable and relatively effective means of governing the country.

The Future

China today has an economy larger than Brazil, Russia, India, Canada, and South Korea combined. Although China’s people live under a communist regime led by the CCP, they also enjoy more personal freedoms than at any point in their history since 1949.

The People’s Republic of China is an example of how communist regimes can be successful in the modern era. Though it has faced many challenges as a result, these have not been enough to slow down its growth and progress. The future looks bright for this country with its growing economy, stable government leadership, and personal freedoms granted by the CCP.

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