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Talking Points: December 24, 2008 - January 7, 2009

The USC U.S.-China Institute's e-newsletter
December 24, 2008

USC U.S.-China Institute Weekly Newsletter

Talking Points
December 24, 2008 - January 7, 2009

Last week we reviewed some of the year's major developments in China and in U.S.-China relations (click here for the Talking Points archive). We noted that 2008 was the 30th anniversary of China's economic reform era and the establishment of formal U.S.-China diplomatic relations. This week we look ahead to some of important anniversaries and events that await us in 2009.

On Jan. 26, we'll enter the year of the ox. Below are stamps issued by China and the United States to mark the last year of the ox in 1997. The U.S. has already released pictures of the 2009 stamp. China's postal authorities will release pictures of their stamp on Jan. 5.


1919 –China sided with the Allies in World War I. Thousands of Chinese went to Europe to support this effort. Perhaps 2,500 died there or en route. China’s delegates to the Versailles Peace Conference expected to be treated as part of the winning coalition. However, another member of the Allied side, Japan, insisted that secret agreements guaranteed it would receive Germany’s holdings in China. American, British, and French leaders accepted this and transferred German rights in China to Japan. This outraged many Chinese, especially students, who launched protests in Beijing on May 4th. Chinese in France kept the government’s delegation from leaving its hotel and the Beijing government never agreed to the terms of Versailles Treaty. This example of Chinese mobilizing to pressure their government to stand firm against foreign slights remains prominent in the minds of today’s leaders of China. The date of the Beijing protests now serves as the label for the nationalist awakening and cultural questioning of that era.

1949 – After more than two decades of war, the Chinese Communist Party’s forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s forces. On Oct. 1 Mao Zedong stood atop Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, and formally announced the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A few days earlier, Mao spoke to the provisional parliament, celebrating the defeat of “the reactionary Kuomintang backed by U.S. imperialism” and arguing the Communists had finally ended a century of “oppression and exploitation” by foreigners and domestic reactionaries. As he put it, “Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. We have stood up.”

That “century of humiliation” began with the 1839 start of the Opium War with Britain. That invasion and those that followed took lives, carved out territorial concessions, opened the country to traders and missionaries, and exempted them and other foreigners within China from Chinese law. Since 1949, China’s government has taken the restoration of China’s national dignity as one of its most important tasks. Bringing Hong Kong and Macau back under Chinese sovereignty were significant milestones in this effort. In the eyes of China’s leaders and most of its people, the natural culmination of this campaign will be the restoration of control over Taiwan.

As a result, the Bush administration’s announcement in October that it would sell $6.5 billion in arms to Taiwan’s Kuomintang-led government was described by Beijing officials as harming its interests. Beijing canceled planned senior meetings with American defense officials to protest the sale. American officials argue they are obliged under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with defensive weapon systems.

Most analysts doubt the sale will have a negative impact on U.S.-China relations over the long term. This is partially because of the increasing economic ties between China and Taiwan. Since the March election of the Kuomintang’s Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan’s president, several high-level meetings have been held between the two sides. Regularly scheduled direct flights across the strait are a prominent outcome of these warming ties. China-Taiwan trade has already reached $100 billion a year and more than a million people from Taiwan live and work on the mainland. This past weekend officials hammered out a plan to allow Taiwan banks to enter the Chinese market. Chinese officials also expressed concern about the impact of the economic downturn on cross-strait investors. To aid them in weathering the storm, the Chinese government will loan up to $19 billion to Taiwan businesses operating in China.

This latest announcement is another signal of the Chinese government’s worry that the global financial crisis will lead to further factory closures and lay-offs. Since Deng Xiaoping’s declaration thirty years ago that a cat’s color is irrelevant as long as it catches mice, China’s Communist Party has staked its reputation largely on its ability to foster economic growth and improved living standards. In the past two months, it has pledged to speed up planned construction projects and otherwise stimulate the economy so as to keep people working and head off potential discontent.

As it prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, China’s leaders and people are increasingly confident of their place in world. The country plays significant roles in many international and regional bodies from the United Nations Security Council to the G-20 economic forum. China’s economy is now the world’s fourth largest. Most of China’s 1.32 billion people live longer and enjoy higher living standards than the country’s 542 million did in 1949.

1979 – Through great improvements in prenatal and neonatal care, China dramatically reduced infant mortality. This reduction after 1949, combined with peace and more equitable distribution of food caused China’s already large population to grow rapidly (2-3.4%/year) in the 1950s. Mao and other leaders ignored warnings from scholars such Beijing University president Ma Yinchu that such rapid population growth strained the country’s resources. Growth slowed from the mid-1960s and in the 1970s the government urged families to have fewer children. By 1979, China’s leaders had long been struggling to educate and create jobs for those born years before. They saw cutting population growth as critical to their development aims and ordered implementation of the “one-child policy.”

This required drastic measures. The marriage age was raised and millions of officials were mobilized to provide information about birth control and to monitor the women’s menstrual cycles. This effort, combined with economic development, increasing urbanization, and more education for girls yield a dramatic drop in birth rates. In recent years, China’s population has been growing at 0.6-0.8%/year. Chinese officials estimate the drop means that the country avoided having more than 200 million additional people to provide for. They concede that occasionally the program was brutally implemented, resulting in forced abortions and other abuses. And the policy has combined with the traditional bias in favor of having sons to drive some female infanticide and, much more widespread, sex-selective abortion. For several years, Chinese families have been having 15-17% more sons than daughters. This birth gap will exacerbate the difficulties men in poorer areas have in finding wives. Even more serious than this problem, however, is the demographic squeeze that lies ahead. In two decades, China will have more than 300 million people over age 60. How can a single child support two parents and four grandparents?

1989 -- The Communist Party largely justifies its right to rule on its defense of China’s territorial integrity and the economic advance it has overseen in recent decades. In 1989, however, it saw its authority challenged first by unrest in Tibet and then by student-initiated pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing and elsewhere. To the extent these events are officially acknowledged, Chinese leaders assert the lesson to be learned is the need for resolute government action to maintain order and preserve social stability, and to step up patriotic education.

Twenty years ago, the Tibetan unrest began, as it did last March, with protests to mark the 1959 failed armed uprising against Chinese rule. That 1959 uprising probably had covert U.S. support, but was crushed, with many killed. The Dalai Lama, then 23, fled with many of his supporters to India. Thirty years later, Hu Jintao, the Communist Party secretary for Tibet and future president, responded to unrest by declaring martial law. That fall, Secretary Hu asserted “we must take a clear-cut stand in waging the struggle against splittism so as to strive for a long-term stable political situation.” Shortly thereafter, the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize, with the selection committee emphasizing his commitment to nonviolence. In his acceptance speech the Dalai Lama argued the Chinese authorities were implementing a “calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of [Tibetan] national and cultural identities.” Neither side has moved far in the twenty years since 1989.

In contrast to its quick decision to use military force in Tibet, in 1989 the Chinese leadership was divided over how to respond to the pro-democracy demonstrations that broke out all over China later that spring. The protests coincided with an economic slump that included rising prices, lay-offs, and some state enterprises giving employees IOUs in lieu of their full paychecks. An April People’s Daily editorial blamed “an extremely small number of people with ulterior purposes” of poisoning minds and fomenting opposition to the Communist Party. The editorial argued that the demonstrations could lead to chaos and threaten all the reforms of the last decade. But the demonstrations continued, disrupting ceremonies associated with the first China-Soviet Union summit meeting in three decades. Because he advocated greater tolerance for the demonstrators, China’s Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang was removed from office and placed under house arrest. On June 4, the army took control of the city. Some soldiers and many more civilians were killed in the process. On June 5, a lone man blocked for a few minutes a line of tanks rolling into the city, an act of defiance that was captured by news cameras and remains a defining image of the age.

A few days after the shooting, Deng Xiaoping congratulated the army on extinguishing the “rebellion.” He rejected American criticism of the use of force against unarmed students, saying “didn't America mobilize police and troops, arrest people, and shed blood” to stop internal unrest. But Deng also took pains to assert that the economic reforms and the open door policy he had initiated must continue.

The 1919 and 1949 anniversaries are already marked each year (students get May 4 off, Oct. 1 is a national holiday). The government has already articulated an approved way to think about those and these other anniversaries. Many Chinese do not view these milestones (and others, e.g., the 1999 American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade) in the approved way. For example, earlier this month more than 300 Chinese intellectuals petitioned the government to “embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system.” Their Charter 08 begins by pointing to anniversaries, including the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

Reflecting on the milestones above reminds us how far China has come in the last century and how the American relationship with China has changed. They also remind us of the many challenges that remain.


Thank you for reading Talking Points and for sharing our newsletter with others. The USC U.S.-China Institute will be closed for the New Year holiday. The next issue of Talking Points will come out on Jan. 7. In the meantime, though, we encourage you to take a look at the latest issue of US-China Today, our student-driven web magazine. This issue includes a look at how Barack Obama’s views of China’s activities in Africa may affect U.S.-China ties and a video interview with former Chinese Olympian Hongping Li who returned to Beijing this past summer as an advisor to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

We also remind readers of three USCI calls for research proposals. You can find information about our post-doctoral, graduate student, and faculty grant programs in the announcement section of our website.

We have a rich program of lectures, conferences, and screenings planned for 2009. We’ll tell you about them and about programs elsewhere in Talking Points. Please take care and get ready for an exciting year.

Best wishes,
The USC U.S.-China Institute


12/10/2008 - 01/04/2009: Divine Performing Arts: Chinese New Year Spetacular
The Pasadena Civic
300 East Green St., Pasadena, CA 91101
Divine Performing Arts' Chinese New Year Spectacular 2009 is a grand live stage production inspired by the rich spirit of traditional Chinese culture. 



09/10/2008 - 01/04/2009: Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection
2626 Bancroft Way, UC Berkeley campus
Cost $5- 12     General Admission
141 works by 96 artists, drawn from one of the world’s most important and comprehensive collections of contemporary Chinese art. 

09/17/2008 - 01/11/2009: Confucius: Shaping Values Through Art
Pacific Asia Museum
Address: 46 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena , CA 91101
Cost: $7 for adults, $5 for students/seniors
Phone: (626) 449-2742 
Confucius: Shaping Values Through Art explores how Confucian values have permeated East Asian culture. It utilizes the Museum’s own collection as a case study.  
09/05/2008 - 01/11/2009: Art and China's Revolution
Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City
General admission is $10, seniors $7, students $5 and free for members and persons under 16
Asia Society Presents First Comprehensive Exhibition Devoted to Revolutionary Chinese Art from the 1950s Through 1970s. 

10/18/2008 - 01/11/2009: China Design Now
Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
This exhibition captures an extraordinary moment as China opens up to global influences and responds to the hopes and dreams of its new urban middle class. 

08/23/2008 - 02/22/2009: Guests of the Hills: Travelers and Recluses in Chinese Landscape Painting
Freer Gallery of Art/ Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Smithsonian Institution P.O. Box 37012, MRC 707, Washington DC 20013-7012
Phone: 202.633.1000
Freer Gallery of Art presents an exhibition on the depictions of recluses and recreational travelers in Chinese landscape painting.

11/03/2008 - 11/03/2009: Ancient Arts of China: A 5000 Year Legacy
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, California 92706
Bowers Museum presents a collection that portrays the evolution of Chinese technology, art and culture.  

11/14/2008 - 11/14/2009: Chinese Art: A Seattle Perspective
Seatle Asian Art Museum
Address: 1400 East Prospect Street , Volunteer Park , Seattle, WA 98112–3303
Phone: 206.654.3100
The Seattle Asian Art Museum presents an opportunity to see a collection with representative works from each dynastic period.

11/15/2008 - 11/15/2009: Masters of Adornment: The Miao People of China
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, California 92706
The Bowers Museum presents a collection of exquisite textiles and silver jewelry that highlights the beauty and wealth of the Miao peoples of southwest China.


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