Isabel Hilton on 'the Chinese State's 60th Birthday'

The Guardian shows how to share in China's celebration without endorsing the ruling party

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As the People's Republic of China celebrates its 60th anniversary this Thursday, there has been plenty of talk about the problems of the Chinese state. Various National Review writers object to lighting the Empire State Building in honor of a regime tainted by persecutions and purges, while others predict Chinese turmoil or advocate a move towards the free market. Minxin Pei in the Financial Times acknowledges the success of China's "relative stab[ility]," yet calls on the state to acknowledge the "human suffering, brutality, and fanaticism" that took place under Mao Zedong.

But zooming out from the worn slogans of the China debate, Isabel Hilton offers a more nuanced view in the Guardian. We can and we should congratulate China today, she says. "Technically, 1 October is not a celebration of the Communist party but of the nature and narrative of the People's Republic of China." True, "there has been no distinction between the two," while the Chinese people, for the first half of these 60 years, were oppressed, killed, "purged of 'deviant' ideas," "starved," and "sent to labour camps." But Hilton points to a compelling story in recent decades:

When, finally, the people were told that to get rich--or at least richer--was no longer a political crime, they set to it with extraordinary energy and talent. Fortunes were made in a remarkably short time, though the largest still accrue to those who monopolise political power, their friends and relations.

The party, of course, claims the credit for three decades of growth and uses it to justify the prohibition of any rival political project ... But as the scholar and writer Perry Link has observed, it is more accurate to say that the people lifted the Communist party out of poverty--once it had the sense to get out of the people's way.

So how should we respond today, aware both of the brightness of China's promise and the darkness of its history, its people's triumph and its state's flaws? Hilton offers this advice:

[L]et us hope that the people of the People's Republic enjoy the show, and their eight days of holiday. And as a birthday wish, may the good times continue for them, and may the rights they nominally enjoy under the Chinese constitution--freedom of expression, religious liberty, civil rights and access to a robust legal system--become real before the next decade is up. Let us wish too that the people soon have the right to their own version of history and their own place in the parade.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.