The People’s
Republic of China (PRC) is now the world’s most populous country with a population
of 1.4 billion governed by the Communist Party of China. It has developed into an
advanced country, surpassing the Gross Domestic Product of Japan in 2011 indicating
that China became a major actor in world market. However, many events and issues
happened in the past, and to solve those problems, many processes, plans, and
laws were executed to form as the present China. As a matter of fact, a century
ago, which was the beginning of the 20th century, China was the
victim of Western and Japanese imperialism. China was unstable in terms of
country as whole, gender, various class identities, urban, rural, Confucian and
tradition aspect. This essay will be going to write about the definition of
what it meant to be Chinese and what it changed to be Chinese in the twentieth
century through the readings that we have assigned and other sources.

The first
aspect is the history of China before the 20th century, and the
Confucianism. Excavating the history of China before 20th century is
very important because the term “Chinese” is now used in common but in the
past, people did not think of themselves as “Chinese.” This was because China
has more than thousands of years of history from the confederacy dynasties and
imperial dynasties. For instance, people who lived in the Ming dynasty did not think
themselves as “Chinese” but rather, the people of the Ming dynasty. Their people’s
identity was cultivated through the dynasty that they were living. Over the
century, there were also nomad societies such as the Mongols, Manchus, and
Jurchen interacting to each others, creating the new society and became well
known in the Chinese history.

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Assumedly, the
idea of Confucius was one of the element that combined the people into one as
time has passed. People who had shared their identities and rituals formed as
one nation, combining them as being “Chinese” toward the 20th
century. Confucius was philosopher and Chinese teacher during the Spring and
Autumn period, and he aimed to expand the education for everyone. He had a belief
that all human beings should have a benefit from self-cultivation. According to
Mitter, “The ultimate ideal was to become sufficiently wise to attain the
status of ‘sage’ (sheng), but one
should at least strive to become a junzi,
often translated as ‘gentlemen’, but perhaps best thought of as meaning ‘a
person of integrity'” (Mitter, 2008, p. 8). Therefore, what Confucius had thought
was that education was not just an acquisition of knowledge but also a
character building. For centuries, until now, the teachings of Confucius have
been an integral element in the contemporary Chinese culture. Confucianism
became the guide of what it meant to be Chinese and what it changed to be
Chinese in the twentieth century.

The second aspect
of the definition of what it meant to be Chinese changed during the twentieth century
is in terms of Chinese Communist Party’s action and urban area. Back in the end
of January in 1949, the Civil War ended with the capture by the People’s
Liberation Army of the city of Beiping (Beijing). After the conquest, Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) started to create a state structure and its authority to consolidate
as one nation under the leadership of chairman Mao Zedong. The area that
Chinese Communist Party covered was not the territory that the Qing dynasty
had, but also extended to the west and north of the lands. For the Chinese Communist
Party, the priority action that they had to do was to take control of towns and
cities across the China. Therefore, in the 1950s, what Chinese Communist Party
did was three important political campaigns called movement for the Suppression
of Counter Revolutionaries, the Three Anti and Five Anti Campaigns. In the
urban area, majority of the people had a strong unfamiliar feeling and even had
a hostile toward the Chinese Communist Party. The new ideology that was going
to guide the nation did not match the feelings of what people had in the urban
area. Therefore, suppressing the counter revolutionaries was the action that Chinese
Communist Party had to do at first. This mass campaigns included the leading
members of Guomindang, senior officers of its army, the highest-ranking police
officers, and the secret agents who had worked for the former regime. As the
campaign conducted by the Chinese Communist Party, the investigation even applied
to the thousands of minor officials who had worked for the Guomindang
administration and people who had associated with it. From January to October
in 1950, 13,812 people got arrested, in which they had been accused of being counter
-revolutionary agents. Zhou Enlai was the one who signed an order to capture
the more active counter-revolutionaries. According to Dillon, it is stated that
“The movement which later acquired the formal name of Eliminate Counter-Revolutionary
Elements Suqing fangeming fenzi
explicitly followed the example of Stalin’s purges in the USSR during the 1930s
with People’s Daily quoting
approvingly from the Soviet leader’s 1937 speech in an editorial on 29 December
1950.” (Dillon, 2012, p. 267). Rethinking whether the Chinese Communist Party’s
action was correct is difficult question. This is because by looking back at
these processes, we could see that the regulations conducted by Chinese
Communist Party was harsh. Anyone who betrays the motherland had to face the death
penalty, life imprisonment, or ten years in prison. However, the Chinese
Communist Party had to execute such regulation to reestablish the new nation,
and China was too huge that it was necessary to take control of towns and
cities across the China.

Through the Chinese
Communist Party’s Suppression of Counter Revolutionaries, the Three Anti and Five
Anti Campaigns, Chinese Communist Party was able to be establishing a new
government in 1949 by eliminating the enemies and political rivals. In the next
stage, in the 1950 to 1957, what China had done was to reform the fundamental
issues that had been affecting its nation for decades. According to Dillon, it
is stated that “The top of the list were economic reconstruction for a land
devastated by almost 40 years of conflict; the more equitable redistribution of
agricultural land; marriage reform to alleviate the suffering of millions of
women and the thorny problem of how to deal with the educated and professional
classes, many of whom were temperamentally inclined to support New China from
patriotic motives but were also, by profession and by disposition, extremely
critical.” (Dillon, 2012, p. 283). This means that achieving authority of the
nation was just a beginning to be the New China, and economic reconstruction
was the priority action that Chinese Communist Part wanted to do. Population
was constantly growing but at the same time, people needed to have adequate
amounts of food. The problem was that the grain production in 1949 was mere 113
million tons, which was an amount that was inadequate for the people who lived
in China.

Japan was
one of the country that led China to be the New China in the aspect of industry.
In the 1930s, Northeast of China (Manchuria) was an important place for the
Japanese economy due to the lack of sources of coal and iron in Japan. However,
the occupation of Manchuria after the Manchuria incident solved the problem of
scarce sources and some Japanese enterprises developed railway infrastructure to
transport the sources back to Japan. Although this was surely an opportunity
for China to restore the aspect of industry after the Japan’s occupation of
Manchuria had ended, the low level of technical skills and lack of investment
ended up being a failure. In the period of 1953 to 1957, after the Korean War
ended, Chinese Communist Party published the First Five-Year Plan to start the
rapid industrialization. As mentioned, the Northeast of China (Manchuria) was
still the most developed areas of China run by Gao Gang.

The First
Five-Year Plan’s aim was to construct sophisticated large plants, which was a
method first used in the Soviet Union. Soviet’s technical skills and financial
assistance helped China’s industry to grow rapidly, which made the result success.
Statistics shows that, “National income grew at an annual average rate of 8.9
per cent (measured in constant prices), with agriculture and industrial output
expanding annually about 3.8 and 18.1 per cent respectively.” (Dillon, 2012, p.
286). After the success of the First Five-Year Plan, the Second Five-Year Plan
started from 1958 to 1962. What Mao Zedong wanted to do was to develop the economy
faster, but the concern that Mao Zedong had was that agriculture was not
growing when the First Five-Year Plan was conducted. To do so, he started to think
of the original way to guide China, without the help of Soviet Union style. The
policy of the Great Leap Forward was announced in 1958, but it failed, and
Chinese ended up being an economic crisis.

The third
aspect of the definition of what it meant to be Chinese changed during the
twentieth century was in terms of gender. There were many events that women had
faced sexual differences and through those events, women challenged to create some
new identities and achieve rights. Back in the republican transition period, male
commentators treated the women’s suffrage organizations with derision. This was
just happened due to the appeal of achieving equal rights. However, there was a
moment when women started to achieve an opportunity to achieve freedom than
before. This was called the 1910s New Cultural Movement. Many intellectuals
have started to doubt the traditional Confucian beliefs. There is a statement in
Women and gender in twentieth-century
China, written by Bailey that “Radical intellectuals (for the most part
male) thus called for the overthrow of patriarchal authority and the emancipation
of women – a stance that symbolized concerns other than a simple championing if
women’s rights per se.” (Bailey,
2012, p. 50). Male intellectuals were the key role in the movement of New Cultural
Movement. The specific person who denounced the traditional Confucian beliefs was
Chen Duxiu (1880-1942). Chen Duxiu was the first secretary general of the
Chinese Communist Party, Chinese revolutionary socialist, philosopher,
educator, and author of journal called New
Youth (xin qingnian), which was started to be published in 1915. Chen Duxiu
first criticized the Confucian family system and women’s positions in the New Youth, which was to extinguish the
autonomy of wives. However, the interesting story about Chen Duxiu is Chen did
not only emphasize this in words but expressed also with an action. Chen Duxiu
joined to the intellectual campaign with other male writers and intellectuals such
as Lu Xun (1881-1936), Hu Shi (1891-1962), and Li Dazhao (1888-1927). Confucian
thoughts that these people condemned were widow remarriage and free social
interaction between sexes. The time when Chen Duxiu criticized such Confucian issue,
women had a low status even in the family and that is the reason Chen Duxiu emphasized
the abolition of obsolete way of Confucian thoughts.

Educational opportunity
has expanded to young women and girls due to the new republican school system
promulgated in September 1912. Even though this system applied only to the
lower primary school level, it was a great leap forward for the women to
achieve educational opportunities. According to Bailey, “The total number of
female students in Chinese-run schools increased from just over 141,000 in
1912-13 (constituting nearly 5 per cent of the school population) to nearly
42,000 in 1922-23 (comprising just over 6.9 per cent of the school population)
(Bailey, 2012, p. 56). The statistics show the importance of educational
opportunities for women. Expansion of the education for the women had an aim to
teach citizen morality, respect and love for their parents, initiative, boldness,
honesty, sincerity, diligence, cleanliness, andfrugality. From the apply only
to the lower primary school, higher education was available for nine women at
the China’s most prestigious institution, the Beijing University. As a result, Chinese
women students were able to enroll to the universities and colleges of United
States in around 1930s. These people were able to work as some occupations that
were regarded as men’s job such as chemistry, political science, journalism,
and banking.

For the Chinese
Communist Party, reforming the traditional system of marriage was also an
important issue that they wanted to solve because in the rural areas, forced
and arranged marriage was common. China was becoming a modernizing country and
Chinese Communist Party wanted to convey to the women that they are putting a
lot of effort to solve this controversial issue. The marriage law of China has
been adopted by the Central People’s Government on 13th April 1950
and has put into operation on 1 May. According to Dillon, the specific details
is stated that, “The general principles set out in the beginning of the document
proclaimed the abolition of ‘feudal’ marriage which had ‘held sway for centuries,
based on arbitrary and compulsory arrangements’ and declared that a new form of
marriage had now taken effect, based on the free choice of partners, monogamy,
equal rights for men and women and ‘the protection of the lawful interests of
women and children’.” (Dillon, 2012, p. 293). Reform of traditional system of
marriage was another step for the women to have more freedom because widows
were able to remarry and demanding of dowries and bride prices were prohibited.

As a conclusion, China has surely
faced many challenges in terms of creating the New China from the beginning of
the confederacy dynasties, imperial dynasties and during the 20th
century. The definition of what it meant to be Chinese and what it changed to
be Chinese in the twentieth century were covered thorough several examples from
the history of China in the urban and rural area, Confucianism, Chinese
Communist Party, and the partial aspect of sexual disparities about women.
There were more other aspects that could have covered to identify the definition
of what it meant to be Chinese, but this was able to convey some of the issues
that China had faced.