cover: Turning 60 with the PRC
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, TALK asks three 60 year olds from around the country what this birthday means to them. They share views about growing up in synch with New China since 1949, how things have changed and how much there is to celebrate.
Yu Er Rong slowly and deliberately takes his Chinese ID card out from his pocket. He leans forward, pointing to the birth date typed next to his grainy headshot.
“October 17, 1949,” Yu says, just in case there’s any doubt that he is a child of New China.
Though the retired government infrastructure worker from Shanghai describes himself as shy and his life as uneventful, words overflow when he talks about his nation’s astounding journey since 1949.
"The most undesirable thing that's happened to me and the country was the Cultural Revolution. It was like 10 years in prison, an extremely bad memory for my generation," Yu says.
China has come a long way, and now, in its 60th year, there are many achievements to look back on, and many developments to look forward to.
It is even more momentous than other milestone anniversaries. In China, 60 is when one comes full circle according to the Chinese principles of feng shui and the lunar calendar. While there are 12 zodiacal animal signs, one for each lunar year, a complete cycle takes 60 years since each animal must be paired with the five elements of feng shui – water, wood, fire, earth and metal.
“This celebration is about the long term, and what has happened in these 60 years.”
But there is another way to view jiazi, or ‘a cycle of 60 years.’ The ups and downs of national or individual fortune, the Chinese saying goes, happen in two parts: 30 years on the east side of the river, and 30 years on the west side. For the PRC, the former began in 1949 with Mao Zedong declaring the founding of the nation, while the latter, marked by Deng Xiaoping kick-starting the reform and opening drive in 1979, comes to another turning point on 1 October.
“This is a historical moment,” says Zhu Fang, a Chinese politics professor at Fudan University. “This celebration is about the long term, and what has happened in these 60 years. China became stronger in the first 30 years, and in the second cycle, there was a breakthrough for average Chinese people as their lives changed for the better.”
This is a sentiment shared by Yu Er Rong, Wang Lilan and Wang Baoying – three ordinary people born in China the same year it was founded, who have grown up with the changes, troubles and triumphs that have made the country what it is today.
Before 1980, Yu says his apartment for his family of four was a mere 5.7sqm, but since then, he has moved his way up to a two bedroom, 70sqm apartment.
“I started to notice changes when I was about 20,” Yu says, “but since 1985, China has had a fast, significant transformation. Our quality of life, food, and all these things involved with our daily lives, are much better than before 1980.”