Ty McCormick is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated the 90th anniversary of its founding this past weekend. In an impressive propaganda effort, the CCP has sponsored concerts, shows, and exhibitions of revolutionary art, as well as "red games" and "red tourism" — all to drum up interest in communist hagiography. The CCP even purchased two handwritten letters by Karl Marx to mark the occasion.
Ninety years ago, when Mao Zedong and 12 other delegates met secretly at night to found the CCP, the intention was to create a utopian proletarian society. In the years that followed, Mao ignited a rural, grassroots revolution against Nationalist and Japanese forces, ultimately unifying China under communist rule in 1949. But Mao's ideological legacy is a prickly one in China, for while his idealist vision still evokes a certain nostalgia, his actual policies — namely the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution — left more than 20 million dead and did untold damage to China's social fabric.
In a world of Chinese economic ascendancy, it has become increasingly difficult to see communism's relevance to the country's growing ranks of capitalist titans. Today, the party persists mainly as a patronage network that offers members access to good jobs in government and the state sector. As Bloomberg put it, the party promises "security, power and a path to wealth." For the 1.24 million university students who joined the party last year, perhaps that is why agrarian revolutionary ideals look more like a business opportunity than a guiding philosophy.
Here's a look at how the CCP's leadership managed China's astonishing transformation during these last 90 years.
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