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A Comparative Look At Russia And China History Essay


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Both China and Russia have had very similar beginnings. Both countries have dealt or continue to deal with communism, poverty, unstable governments, and economic troubles. China has the largest population in the world with over 1.3 billion inhabitants; it ranks first in exports and has a GDP of $8.7 trillion. In contrast, Russia is the largest country in the world with a vast majority of resources and a population that is ranked sixth in the world. Because of their similar beginnings and economic potential, it is essential to understand the similarities between these countries and the direction in which they are headed.

Some of the problems that plague Russia today date back to Russia's beginnings. Under an absolute monarch, Russia was predominantly dominated by the Orthodox Church, causing the country to miss out on "most of the transformations that reshaped Western Europe from the 1500s onward" (Charles Hauss). For Russia, the scientific revolution, the idea of individualism and other innovative trends had little to no impact, leaving a country that was once one of Europe's great powers into a state of "backwardness". During Peter the Great's reign, a series of attempts to reform the country were implemented through the introduction of western technology and ideas. These reforms did little to improve the country's situation and in fact, there introduction created a class of elites that till this day control many of Russia's industries. The set of reforms were disrupted by the Slavophiles who believed that "Russian traditions were superior to anything in the West" (Charles Hauss). It was not until Russia was defeated by Britain and France in the Crimean War that it truly understood how far it lagged behind other European Powers. After the Crimean War, Alexander II attempted to pass another set of belated reforms which would grant the liberation of serfs, relax censorship, and introduce a constitution that would allow five percent of the male population the ability to vote. Unfortunately, the assassination of the tsar left Alexander III in power which put a halt to the reformations.

Unlike Russia, the Chinese population is not only more homogenous but also the largest in the world. For many years, China was under imperial rule with an established system of examinations where the imperial bureaucracy was in charge of enforcing the laws and collecting taxes. During the eighteenth century, China's last imperial dynasty, the Quing Dynasty, began to decline as the production of agriculture was unable to sustain the growing population. Like the Russian Slavophiles, the Manchus viewed "Chinese traditions as superior" and choose to "ignore the industrial revolution and the other trends that were transforming the West" (Charles Hauss). After the Chinese defeat by the British during the Opium War, the Europeans took control of the Chinese coast and implemented the principle of extraterritoriality, "which meant that their law, not China's, applied to the activities of the Europeans" (Charles Hauss). The Europeans not only implemented their own laws, but they also brought their merchants and religion. The country that had developed the first centralized state was now under the control of the Europeans and completely humiliated at the lack of authority that they possessed in their own country. Like in Russia it took a war for the Chinese to realize that they needed to embrace modernization. The Chinese viewed Japan as a second-rate power, but because Japan launched successful programs towards modernization, when the two went to war, Japan resulted as the victor. The lack of modernization cost China not only Taiwan and Korea but Japan also gained concessions to China.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Chinese leaders realized that the country was in need of reforms. China's population was facing the same "backwardness" that the Russian population faced; for years the Chinese educational system was based on the teaching of Confucius, a social contract that states that "people should accept their place in the social hierarchy, the living should respect their ancestors, women their husbands, children their fathers, and everyone their social and political superiors" (Charles Hauss). These traditional teaching left no room for the creation of scientifically and industrially trained elites that could lead the kind of modernization that was occurring in the West. As young people began to study abroad to learn about "Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy" (Charles Hauss), they not only began to adopt Western values as well as Western dress, but dissatisfaction toward the imperial rule began to increase, and so-called democratic movements began to emerge. In an attempt to stop these movements, during the Hundred Days' Reform of 1898, "the emperor issued decrees designed to modernize the education system, the economy, the military, and the bureaucracy" (Charles Hauss). Unfortunately, the elites felt resentment towards these reforms, and after the coup which sent the emperor to prison, the majority of the reforms were halted. Like in Russia, the implementation of these reforms came too late.

Both Russia and China adopted Marxist theories, but neither country fit the characteristics that Marx required in order to have a socialist revolution. For Marx, a socialist revolution could only occur in a state in which industrialism and capitalism were previously established. Early on, both countries suffered from the "backwardness" that caused the countries to lag behind the industrial revolution. In China, the Confucius teachings prevented the country from having what the intellectuals needed for modernization; while in Russia, the lack of education among urban workers, and the fact that the majority of its industries were government owned, made it impossible for either country to have the mature proletariat and independent capitalists needed for the socialist revolution. Backwardness was not the only thing missing for either country to become a socialist state by Marx's definition. Both countries went through a series of failed reforms which attempted to industrialize the countries. Finally, it was the lack of industrialization and poverty in each country that led to the weakening of the states.

The Russian revolution was lead by V. I. Lenin, who believed that "the situation in Russia was so bad that the country could not wait until the conditions for a Marxist revolution were ripe" (Charles Hauss). Lenin argued that the "only a small, secretive, hierarchical party of professional revolutionaries could hope to succeed. To thwart the secret police, the party would have to be based on what he called democratic centralism" (Charles Huass). The problem with this is that under Lenin's government, once a decision was made among party members, it must be obeyed without questions. Those at the top of the government would co-opt officials to run lower level who's members organizations who were not allowed to communicate with one another. These ideas caused a division of the Social Democratic party, in which the Mensheviks wanted an Orthodox approach to Marxism, while the Bolsheviks wanted to follow Lenin's ideals. When Lenin came to power the Bolsheviks accepted the "Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany, which cost revolutionary Russia 32 percent of its arable land, 26 percent of its railroads, 33 percent of its factories, and 75 percent of its coal mines" (Charles Hauss), completely devastating the Russian industrial production. In order to maintain democratic centralism, the Bolsheviks created a secret police, the Cheka, which was responsible for enforcing discipline within the party. The USSR was finally created in 1921, leaving the Communist Party as the head of the government.

After Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin came to power, marking one of Russia's darkest periods and the beginning of a totalitarian government. Stalin felt that the need for Russia to industrialize was urgent, "To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten" (Stalin). Stalin wanted to industrialize Russia at a fast pace; the implementation of the five-year plan was used to double the production of oil, coal, steel, pig iron, and cloth; unfortunately, this rapid industrialization came with a large death toll. One of the most notable actions during Stalin's reign was the series of purges that he conducted. The purpose of these purges was to eliminate anyone deemed dangerous. On average, seventy people per day were executed while millions of innocent people were sent to concentration camps. Ironically, the same purges that were designed to preserve the party ultimately drained it of its enthusiastic members, leaving the party vulnerable.

China is no stranger to a communist regime, and after a series of failed revolutions, in 1921, a group of twelve delegates, each representing fifty-seven members, created the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After a series of attacks between the CCP and the Nationalist party, Mao Zedong, a member of the CCP, was named chairman of the party in 1936 by the politburo. Chairman Mao believed in a mass line government in which the "ideas of the masses … and concentrate them …, then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action" (Charles Hauss). Chairman Mao praised Lenin which can be seen in the structural similarities of both country's government. Like in Russia, China also practiced democratic centralism while the CCP had a "legal monopoly on political power and dominates all areas of policy making and implementation" (Charles Hauss). In 1953, Mao set in place a Five-year plan of his own by placing more than half of the available investment funds into heavy industry. The result of this plan was very similar to the Soviet Union; it too affected the peasants and forced them to sell their grain at a preset price. Although Mao commanded the support of the entire party, there were disagreements, which led to the formation of factions.

It was not until the death of Mao and Stalin that Russia and China began to embrace reformation in the party system. As a way to invigorate Soviet society, Gorbachev promoted a set of four reforms. Glasnost was the first reform and the most counterproductive in which government censorship was essentially lifted and openness within society was promoted. In order to achieve glasnost, a second form of reform had to be introduced, democratization. Democratization was a slower process that included eliminating the party as the leading force of soviet society; the second was the creation of Parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies, which would be elected by partially free elections. The third reform installed was perestroika; this attempted to completely reform the economy and place the Soviet Union as a major economic power. In order to do this, the government had to promote "private ownership, individual initiative, and decentralized decision making" (Charles Hauss). Gorbachev played a key role in attempting to reform the country, but his inability to depart from the party system was his downfall.

The reformation in China focused more on the economy than on governmental reform. As Maoist began to realize that the country could not continue with the disruptions created by the Cultural Revolution, Prime Minister Zhou announced that the country would focus on the four modernizations, agriculture, military, science and industry. As opposed to Russia's sweeping reforms, China has followed a progressive approach that goes against Marxist teachings. The reforms focus on how private property can help a socialist society, how market forces determine prices and allocate goods and services, and finally, how "material incentives, including higher wages, personal profit, and the accumulation of wealth, should be the main way to boost productivity and efficiency" (Charles Hauss). In February 1978, Chairman Hua Guofeng proposed the Ten-year plan, which focused on increasing the production of iron, steel, oil, gas, coal, electricity, water transportation and the number of railroads. In order to cover the cost of this production, "China turned to encouraging foreign investment as a way of financing the development projects" (Immanuel C-Y Hsu). As a result of the economic reformations, China's $8.7 trillion dollar economy is now the third largest in the world and as it continues to grow, it is "gobbling up ever greater amounts of the world's raw materials to sustain its blistering industrial growth" (Eric Baculinao).

Russia is no longer under the communist reign of the USSR, and it is a federation comprised of a parliament, a president, cabinet members, and a constitutional court. The president is elected every four years and has the ability to name the prime minister. It is the job of the Prime minister to oversee the ministries and report to the president. All of the acts are passed as decisions and orders and must be signed by the prime minister. Even though the PRC has a constitution, the real power still lies within the party; "the 1982 constitution dropped Article 2, the PRC's equivalent of the Soviet Article 6, which gave the party a monopoly on power" (Charles Hauss). The PRC's congress meets infrequently and the president and prime minister are only powerful because that are at the top of the CCP. Unlike other communist countries, the CCP has a smooth transition of power, in were the leader of the CCP can only serve two-five year terms; although, power is essentially concentrated in the party Congress and in the elites of the Politburo.

Both countries have seen disagreement towards the party system within its population. The average political participation in China is larger than in the west but the amount of participation has little effect on policy making. Although the economic liberalization has opened the door for individuals to have a bigger impact on what goes on, the hold the CCP has on government makes political participation somewhat ineffective. The political culture in Russia is based on frustration and a low expectation of the government; as a "1998 poll showed that more people trusted the army and the church more than any institution" (Charles Hauss). It also seems that the younger and educated individuals support the new regime and liberal values far more than the older generation. But the sense of alienation between the government and individuals is still overwhelming.

Both countries are run by elites that determine the route in which the country will head. Russia and China have the ability of becoming economic superpowers because of their resources and the sheer size of their population. By forming economic alliances such as BRIC, they have demonstrated their transition to a market economy. Although both countries have seen economic success the majority of their population continues to live in poverty. In the case of Russia, it is impossible to predict if it will develop a stable democracy or market economy. However, the last nine elections have been fair with a successful transition of power serving as a sign of hope for the country. In contrast, the repression by the CCP has allowed it to stay in power, but the problem with a Marxist-Leninist regime is that "the pressures from an ever more sophisticated and impatient population and these countries' increasing inclusion in global economic and cultural life weakened all Communist states" (Charles Hauss). One thing that is certain is that the direction that these countries will take in the next few years will have deep economic and political impact in the global community.

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