Standing Up : Fifty Years on, China's Revolutions Still Send Mixed Messages

Article excerpt

Oct. 1, 1949, according to Li Zhisui, Mao Zedong's doctor, was a "crisp, clear and chilly day," the sort that makes autumn in Beijing "the most magnificent season." By 7 o'clock in the morning Tiananmen Square was already swarming with people, waiting for the arrival of Mao and those who, with him, had fought for 20 years and eventually achieved a total victory over both foreign invaders and internal foes. At 10 o'clock Mao took the podium, and when he eventually spoke--in the Hunan dialect--did so in a soft, lilting voice. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand; and when he uttered the famous phrase "the Chinese people have stood up," the crowd, said Li, "went wild, thundering in applause." Li himself was "so full of joy my heart nearly burst out of my throat."

The heartache would come later, in years of famine, oppression and the senseless brutality of the Cultural Revolution, which between them left millions dead and stunted the lives of millions more. And later, when Mao was dead and the madness of the Red Guards just a bitter memory, would come another revolution--an economic one--which, almost certainly, raised the living standards of more people more quickly than ever before in the history of humankind. …