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Bourgeois reporting of China anniversary used to bash revolution

History disproves reactionary accounts of China

MIM Notes 197

by MC12

The bourgeois media and the counterrevolutionary regime rehashed their line on China during the celebrations of China's 50th anniversary. A review of articles in the major U.$. newspapers shows that almost nothing new was said. In contrast, MIM takes the opportunity to review some of the unprecedented accomplishments of the revolution (1949-1976), and the fallout from the capitalist return to power after 1976.

The basic story, as it is told by the various mouthpieces for imperialism, is that the Maoist era in China was marred by "descents into collective folly" (1), including especially the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) of 1966-1976. The GPCR, which represented the farthest advance toward communism ever, is attacked as "a cruel and irrational phase of Chinese development" (2), with reference to "the death and terror of the Cultural Revolution" (3), and "the madness of the Cultural Revolution."(4)

In Chapter 2 of the imperialist story, calmer heads prevailed in the late 1970s, "restoring" capitalist market principles, "freeing" the peasants from communes and cooperatives, and leading to unprecedented economic growth. So the New York Times, for example, says: "Virtually all the economic progress of the past half century has occurred since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping discarded the precepts of Maoist socialism, opened China's economy to the world and liberated the entrepreneurial energies of the Chinese people."(5) And the Toronto Star concludes: "the Chinese people today are freer, wealthier and happier than ever before."(1)

With awesome yet unsurprising disdain for any standard of evidence, they repeat the conventional imperialist wisdom: "The country has traveled a huge distance since [the revolution], a half- century in which Marxism became the mold of a new China, one that sought to restore the glories and power of the old imperial China but stumbled time and again, unable for decades to find the politico-economic model that would deliver. It has begun to find a way now, and in the last two decades, particularly, China has been delivering a better life to many of its people. ... Deng Xiaoping, Mao's successor, succeeded in delivering pragmatic changes directed toward a life less onerous for everyday Chinese. Mao put China through more than 20 years of wrenching political oppression and crippling economic experimentation."(6)

There is a footnote of concern to the capitalist era, which is the lack of democracy under the capitalist Communist Party of 1976 to the present. The San Francisco Chronicle put this idea in racist terms -- "China should evolve from its authoritarian roots" (7) -- as if shedding "authoritarianism" is part of some march of progress from yellow monkey to Amerikkkan Man.

Real Maoist progress

At the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, two out of every ten babies born died in their first year of life -- or a rate 200 out of every 1,000 live births.(8) By 1976 -- the year that capitalists came to power again -- the rate was about 46 per 1,000.(9) So the infant death rate fell 77% in the Maoist years.

What does this Maoist-era improvement mean for the critics of socialism in China? It means they don't care about the deaths of millions of children.

Exact data are hard to come by, and different people have different estimates, but MIM did a small simulation to illustrate the effect of cutting infant mortality so effectively for so large a country. With an infant mortality rate in 1972 of 60 (9), we estimate 1.2 million infants died that year, out of almost 20 million births in a population of 850 million. Now, if the infant mortality rate would have still been 200, as it was before 1949, 3.9 million infants would have died. That's a difference of 2.7 million infants' lives saved in that year alone.

Still, you might say that even in the non- socialist countries there were some declines in infant mortality from 1949 to 1972. So, let's say China's infant mortality rate was the same as India's in 1972, which was 139. In that case, 2.7 million infants would have died, which means that Maoist-led socialism still saved the lives of 1.5 million infants in that year alone.(10)

There are a lot of ways to do this kind of exercise, but there is no getting around the simple fact that by slashing infant mortality the Maoist-led Chinese revolution saved millions and millions of lives. Further, infant mortality is a commonly used measure of well-being, because it also identifies the state of wimmin's well-being, nutrition, medical care, the state of infrastructure for the people and education, all of which greatly affect children's survival.

Those public health specialists who pay attention have long known of the great advances under Mao. "In the late 1950s, when China was a very poor nation, it developed an innovative system of medical care. Each community or town organized funds from the government, households, and communes to finance village health stations and 'barefoot doctors' to deliver preventive and basic health services to more than 90 percent of the population."(11) This was a socialist model of health care, based not on protecting the salaries of specialized experts at the expense of basic care for all, but instead on attacking at the roots the most imminent threats to the people's health. "Between 1952 and 1982 [with most of the change happening before 1976 -MC12], China reduced the rate of infant mortality from 250 to 40 deaths per 1000 live births, decreased the prevalence of malaria from 5.5 percent to 0.3 percent of the population, and increased life expectancy from 35 to 68 years."(11)

Real capitalist reversal

By 1998, the infant death rate was estimated to be 45 per 1,000 by the U.S. Census Bureau (12), no better than it was when Mao died. The World Bank estimates it was 42 in 1980, and fell to 32 in 1997.(13) In any event, various sources agree that the rate of improvement was much slower, or nonexistent, in the 1980s and 1990s.(11, 9)

Under the Maoist-led socialist system, health centers were supported by the government, and patients paid if they could. But starting in the 1980s, government support was cut way back for health care. Most services now have to be paid for by patients, and only 25% of the people have health insurance (11), down from 71% in 1981 (14). A recent study found that, for 420 million rural people, a single hospitalization would cost more than the average annual income. A detailed study of 30 poor counties in the 1990s found that 30% of the villages had no doctor at all, 28% of the people did not get health care even when they were sick because of the cost, and more than half of those who were specifically advised to go to a hospital by a health practitioner did not -- because of the cost.(11) As in the bad old days in China, a health crisis is all it takes to drop hundreds of millions of people into complete poverty.

The privatization of health care -- and the replacement of the collective farming system with family-based farming -- drove many former barefoot doctors out of health care work. They could no longer afford it, and had to return to farming to feed their individual families. The number of health care workers increased in the cities, where they could be paid more, and decreased in the countryside. In the 1980s, the number of township clinics fell 14%, and the number of primary health workers fell 36%.(14) An absolute drop in the number of primary health care workers and clinics is an astounding monument to the disregard for the people's health of the current regime.

As the cooperative health care system was destroyed -- the percentage of villages covered by the system fell from 85 in 1978 to less than 10 in 1993 -- other problems emerged. In particular, with health care centers forced to pay their own bills directly, many have taken to over- prescribing the medicines that are most profitable for them to sell, often without proper diagnosis or other treatment.(15)

One of the most important effects of all this has been the widening of inequalities in the health system. A study of height-for-age of young children -- a general indicator of health -- found that between 1987 and 1992, the average height for urban children increased much more than it did for rural children. In 1990, they found that 38% of rural children had "moderate" stunting of growth, and 15% had "severe" stunting, compared to 10% and 3% of urban children.(16) In terms of mortality, rural infants were already 1.7-times more likely to die than urban children in 1981, but by 1993 they were 2.9-times more likely to die. In the 30 poor counties studied, infant mortality actually increased -- from about 50 to 72 -- from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.(14)

Stabbing socialism -- and the people -- in the back

One slogan used for the 50th anniversary was: "Adhere to the basic economic system with public ownership dominant and diverse forms of ownership developing side by side, and 'to each according to his work' as the main distribution form and with other forms as well."(4) Those diverse forms of ownership and other forms of distribution is how the capitalist regime describes the millions of Chinese wimmin who work for Gap, Nike, Radio Shack, IBM, and many others, often 12-hour days, for 25 cents an hour. Many suffer corporal punishment, and sometimes "beatings, insults, arbitrary fines, body searches, forced overtime, restricted use of bathrooms, few or no holidays, and embezzlement of their wages."(17)

For the first time President Jiang Zemin, age 71, displayed a giant poster showing his picture in a national day parade.(18) Flanked by Premier Zhu Rongji and former Premier Li Peng, Jiang also made a point of wearing a gray "Mao suit." Floats in the parade represented the Mao era (not including the GPCR), the economic reforms begun under Deng Xiaoping and now Jiang's leadership, which in reality is a direct continuation of the Deng-led counterrevolution. Jiang said: "Let us hold high the great banner of Marxism, Leninism, 'Mao Tse- tung Thought' and 'Deng Xiaoping Theory' and march bravely toward our sublime objectives. China will surely emerge as a prosperous, strong, democratic and culturally advanced modern socialist country."(19) In feigned celebration of Mao, they issued a new 100-yuan banknote with Mao's portrait.(20)

The current counterrevolutionary regime in China pays lip service to Mao the person -- who is of course still loved by many Chinese -- but not Maoism the scientific socialist practice that brought China out from under imperialism and pushed closer toward communism than ever gone before, or since. Together with the imperialist media, they are rewriting the history of China to claim credit for the advances in basic conditions that came from Maoism, while undermining and attacking the revolutionary changes in the structure of society that were required to bring those changes about.

The Maoist cat is out of the bag, and revolutionaries all around the world carry on the great legacy of the revolution.

Notes: 1. Toronto Star, October 2, 1999, Saturday, Edition 1. 2. Washington Post editorial, October 3, 1999, p. B6. 3. New York Times, October 3, 1999. Section 4, p. 4. 4. Toronto Star, October 3, 1999, Sunday, Edition 1. 5. The New York Times, October 1, 1999. p. A24. Editorial Desk. 6. Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1999. p. B8. Editorial Writers Desk. 7. San Francisco Chronicle, September 28, 1999. p. A28; Editorials. 8. Victor W. Sidel and Ruth Sidel, Serve the people; observations on medicine in the People's Republic of China. New York: Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1973. 9. Mei-Yu Yu and Rosemary Sarri. "Women's health status and gender inequality in China." Social Science and Medicine, v. 45, no. 12 (1997). pp. 1885-1898. 10. To do this simulation, we estimated the birth rate to be 23 in 1972 (by interpolation from the 1964 rate and the 1998 as supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau's International Programs Center). We applied that birth rate to the 1972 total population (estimated to be 853 million by interpolation from the 1970 and 1980 population figures supplied by Census). The 1972 India infant mortality rate is from Sidel and Sidel (op cit., p. 258). 11. William C. L Hsiao and Liu, Yuanli. "Economic Reform and Health -- Lessons from China." New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) 1996; 335: 430-432. August 8, 1996. For more of this information, see Hsiao W.C. "Transformation of health care in China." NEJM 1984;310:932-6; and Hsiao W.C., "The Chinese health care system: lessons for other nations," Social Science and Medicine 1995;41:1047-55. 12. U.S. Census Bureau International Programs Center, 13. World Bank World Development Report 2000 at 14. Yuanli Lio, William C. Hsiao and Karen Eggleston. "Equity in health and health care: the Chinese experience." Social Science and Medicine, vol. 49 (1999), pp. 1349-1356. 15. Gerald Bloom. "Primary health care meets the market in China and Vietnam." Health Policy v. 44 (1998). pp. 233-52. 16. Shen, Tiefu; Habicht, Jean-Pierre; Chang, Ying. "Effect of Economic Reforms on Child Growth in Urban and Rural Areas of China." NEJM 1996; 335: 400-406, August 8, 1996. 17. Medea Benjamin (founding director of Global Exchange), San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 1999. p. A23. 18. Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 2, 1999. p. 1B. 19. Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1999. p. A24. 20. Ottawa Citizen, September 30, 1999. p. D1.