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60 years of social stride in China

2009/09/28

 

In the 60 years of twists and turns since the People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded on October 1, 1949, New China has been through tremendous social changes.

   Economic growth aside, China has also witnessed changes in areas such as politics, law, science, education and culture.

 

   Politics

   The fundamentals of China's political system are the legislative National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that serves as an advisory body.

   The NPC, China's top legislature, is re-elected every five years. Last year, the NPC, whose delegates had been predominantly workers and farmers since its inauguration in 1954, welcomed its first representative for migrant workers, a new group emerged from China's reform and opening up drive, to contribute in law deliberation.

   The main functions of the CPPCC, founded in 1949, are political consultation and democratic supervision. With influential figures from various fields on its ranks, CPPCC is instrumental in decision-making.

   From 2006 to 2008, the government has adopted a total of 1,112 CPPCC proposals. Taking advantage of the ever-improving information technology, more grassroots views are voiced and heard through the CPPCC platform. 

   For China's rural areas, democracy takes the form of direct voting for village heads.

   In February 1980, a group of villagers in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region elected for the first time their "village committee" and village leaders. Since then, self-rule by villagers has gradually become a norm in China.      

In the urban areas, residents' committees are in charge of community affairs. Currently, there are 79,000 such committees in China, employing 425,000 staff elected by community members. A law was passed in 1989 to enforce the practice.

   Meanwhile, with around 338 million netizens in virtually every corner of the country, the Internet has proven to be an important tool for China's grassroots democracy. Citizens voice their concerns through online forums while some local officials write blogs to draw debate. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao chat online with netizens.

 

Law

In April 1950, China passed its first basic law, the Marriage Law, which stipulates that men and women are equal and marriages should be the result of people's free will.

The law has emancipated many women confined in unhappy marriages arranged by their elders, which was common in the old time.

There are now more than 200 legislations in force in addition to 7,600 administrative and regional regulations.

In 1954, China issued the Constitutional Law upon the establishment of its judicial, lawyer and notary systems, marking founding of the country's legal system.

Work on the legal system was undermined during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). In 1979, the NPC approved seven important laws within three months. Among them were the Criminal Law, the Election Law and the Law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures.

The Administrative Procedure Law was born in 1989. It is the first law that stipulates citizens' right to sue officials, thereby changing a 1,000-year tradition by which the masses could only be ruled by officials.

In 2004, "the state respects and guarantees human rights" was included in the Constitution, followed by another amendment to the Constitution about protecting citizens' "legitimate private property", thus further enhancing the concept of human right protection.

The Constitutional Law in force was adopted in 1982 with four amendments afterwards.

 

   Culture

   On the cultural front, efforts have been made to improve public services, narrow urban-rural gaps, and create works catering to public tastes and market demand.

   There were only 55 public libraries across the country in 1949. The number rose to nearly 3,000 in 2008. More than 1,000 museums and memorial halls had been open free to the public, drawing over 154 million visits, by the end of 2008.

   Since 1998, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television launched a project to extend radio and television network to every village in China's vast countryside. Nearly 100 million villagers have benefited from the project.

   Since 2003, reforms on state-owned cultural entities have been carried out. To date, about eight percent of the nearly 900 regional literary and art troupes in 29 provinces and municipalities have been de-nationalized.

   At present, over 70 percent of films are produced by private companies. The State Council, China's cabinet, approved a plan in July to "revitalize the cultural industry", making it a national priority in face of the global financial crisis.

 

   Education

   Early this year, the illiteracy elimination office under the Ministry of Education was officially called a day.

   "It is not because we don't value illiteracy elimination any more, but rather because there is nearly no illiteracy to be eliminated," said Wang Dai, former director of the office.

   When the People's Republic of China was first founded, more than 80 percent of the population was illiterate. The illiteracy rate in rural areas was higher than 95 percent.

   In 2000, China announced that it has basically succeeded in popularizing nine-year compulsory education and eliminating illiteracy among those who were born since 1949.

   Starting from Sept. 1, 2008, about 160 million urban and rural students enrolled at primary and secondary schools no longer have to pay tuition fees. Latest figures show that 82 million, or about one out of 10 employees in China, have received college education.

 

   Science

   Chinese in their 70s or older were used to prefix soap, oil and cloth with "foreign" because these daily necessities relied on foreign supplies.

   "New China almost had to started from scratch to develop sciences," recalled Wu Mingyu, who was working with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in early 1950s.

   With a weak base for materials at the early stage of the People's Republic, new China chose to focus on developing cutting-edge technologies needed in heavy chemical industries and national defense.

   In early 1956, the CPC Central Committee called for a campaign dubbed "march towards science", ushering in a period of all-round development of sciences.

   It was during this period when China successfully tested its first atomic and hydrogen bombs, and launched a man-made satellite.

   The boom was cut short, however, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). It was not until 1978 when Deng Xiaoping, known as the chief architect of China's reform and opening up, reiterated one of the most quotable quotes among Chinese: science and technology constitute a primary productive force.

   China's science and technology has witnessed vigorous development since then. Some scientists who made breakthrough contributions have become household names, such as Chen Jingrun, who proved the Goldbach Conjecture, and Yuan Longping, "the father of hybrid rice".

   Over the decades, the number of science and technology professionals has increased to 500,000 from merely 500 before 1949. Chinese scientists have also reaped world-class recognition in fields such as space technology, high-energy physics, bio-technology, medicine and chemistry, as exemplified by the building of the electron-positron collider in Beijing, the Long March series of carrier rockets, as well as manned and unmanned spacecrafts. 

 

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