Into the Light: China's First Economic Miracle

It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.

—Chairman Mao Zedong

Past is not always prologue. Poverty can turn into prosperity. Nations and people do change for the better and progress. For China, that progress has come in the last four decades. The growing middle class across the emerging world has been led in both pace and size by China. As incomes grow, middle-class aspirations are increasingly displacing more basic concerns.

It was not always this way. In fact, China's recent history in the last 100 years has been largely defined by the quest for individual survival. China rivals any country in the world for the amount of suffering its citizens endured during the twentieth century. Grim catastrophe is a description that seems to vastly understate the plight of the Chinese people at points in the last century.

At the hands of both its own rulers and occupiers, China's people were catapulted through multiple chaotic periods of oppression. The twentieth century began with revolution and the downfall of emperor-led rule. The 1911 revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty, which had ruled since the year 1644. After its overthrow, regional fiefdoms emerged ruled by warlords. China changed its head of state 6 times and its prime minister 22 times between 1917 and 1928.1 During the same time frame, hundreds of mutinies and interprovincial wars occurred. Anarchy often prevailed: whoever controlled ...

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