China at the Crossroads of Renewal and Breakdown

In nearly 9,000 words at The Globe and Mail, Mark MacKinnon recounts his recent 22-day train journey around China, loosely following the course of Mao’s Long March. He met officials and protesters, nailhouse residents and property developers, and finally villagers in Liangjiahe, who remember China’s new president as a young man sent down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

To get a better sense of [Xi Jinping] and the challenges he is inheriting, I began compiling a list of stories I wanted to follow – economic, environmental and political – in far-flung parts of the country, including Liangjiahe.

One afternoon, I plotted them on a map and an unexpected pattern emerged: You could draw an extended arc through those dots and trace a course not too different from that of the fabled Long March that Mao Zedong and his Red Armies had taken more than seven decades earlier.

[…] By the time we arrived at the gate of Mr. Xi’s former cave-house, we had seen progress everywhere our trains had stopped: apartment buildings rising from the ground, dirt roads being paved, high-speed railway lines coming into service, mobile phone networks spreading to the remotest corners of the country.

But we also heard again and again how little China has changed when it comes to the rule of law. As in Mao’s time, the Communist Party can still demolish your home, declare that you are a “subversive” element, and send you to prison or a labour camp without any proof or chance to defend yourself.

[…] My trip convinced me that China is going to change dramatically over the coming decade. It is up to the Communist Party – especially Mr. Xi – to decide whether it wants to lead that change or dig in for an existential crisis.

For more from the voyage, see the China Diaries series at The Globe and Mail and photojournalist John Lehmann’s images from the trip.


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