A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.
Defeat in what Americans call the Pacific Theater of Word War II and what Chinese call the War of Resistance against the Japanese—in which the Communist fighters are the heroes—forced a Japanese withdrawal from China in 1945. For four more years, civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists raged. Then on October 1, 1949, when the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, Mao Zedong stood atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace—the entrance to the ancient domicile of the emperors (the Forbidden City)—to pronounce the founding of the People's Republic of China.
It was the symbolic and manifest end to a long period of decline, decay, dismemberment, and disruption in China. Mao claimed that China had now stood up. But to what end? The nation was on a new journey, but one that would not track directly to the goal of regaining its traditional place in the world economy or regional political prestige.
As much as 80 to 90 percent of China's population was rural. The country produced little in the way of machinery, vehicles, technology, consumer goods, or most of the time saving and lifestyle-improving products that, by this time, the West and much of the rest of the world were taking for granted.
Washing machines, refrigerators, modern stoves, and other common household goods were unheard of outside major cities and still rare in them. Carts pulled by ...