China’s Communist Party confidently celebrates 100 years

The party celebrated its past and looked toward the future of “a thriving nation…advancing with unstoppable momentum”

Today's expression: Take place
Explore more: Lesson #384
July 26, 2021:

China’s Communist Party celebrated 100 years in power this month. From its humble beginnings in a house in Shanghai, to strict control over more than a billion people, this lesson walks through some of the ups and downs of the party over the past century. Plus, learn “take place.”

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China’s Communist Party confidently celebrates a hundred years

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff, and this is Plain English, the best way to upgrade your skills in English. Here in the audio version, you can upgrade your vocabulary and your listening skills. Online, we have a lot more ways to practice. JR has uploaded the full lesson to PlainEnglish.com/384.

Coming up today, Monday, July 26, 2021… China’s Communist Party celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary this month. From humble beginnings in a house in Shanghai to strict control over the lives of more than a billion people, the party has changed a lot over its first century. In the second half of today’s lesson, we’ll talk about the English phrase “take place.” This is a very common expression. If you’re going to speak English, you need to know how to use “take place.” I’ll give you several examples in the second half of this lesson. Let’s get going.

China’s Communist Party celebrates 100 years

On July 1 this year, China’s Communist Party officially celebrated its one-hundredth year brimming with confidence. The coronavirus that plagued the world in 2020 and 2021 may have originated in Wuhan, but China’s swift response to the outbreak contained some of the damage within its own borders. In the year of the coronavirus, the Chinese economy grew while others shrank.

No wonder, then, that in his speech marking the party’s anniversary, China’s President and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping said that China is “a thriving nation…advancing with unstoppable momentum.” He confidently said that China doesn’t have to listen to “preaching from those who feel they have a right to lecture us.” Of course, he didn’t have to say who he meant.

A hundred years ago, this all would have been hard to imagine. China was just coming off a civil war and most of its population lived in small rural villages. The party began with a meeting of about a dozen communist activists in Shanghai. The meeting took place in a French diplomatic building and was attended by thirty-year-old Mao Zedong from Changsha in south-central China.

From these humble, and secret beginnings, the party surged to power as communism gained favor in the Chinese countryside. In 1949, the party toppled the American-backed government and began a run of what is now 74 consecutive years in power.

In the early years under Mao, the Communist Party revered the Marxist ideals that everyone is equal, and all personal property should be abolished. Under Mao’s rule, China suffered from economic stagnation and famine; tens of millions of people died of hunger. The Cultural Revolution closed schools and universities, condemned people to hard labor, and erased much of China’s traditional culture.

But the party has evolved over the years and now presides over a country that can barely be described as “communist.” Urbanization, private businesses, high-tech factories, homeownership, bullet trains, payment apps, export-driven growth; none of these fit with traditional communist ideals.

Instead, today’s Communist Party is about a philosophy that prizes social stability and order over all else. The party is organized like a pyramid. Xi is at the top, the leader of the small but powerful Politburo. Below that is the national Central Committee, followed by tens of thousands of committees at the regional, district, and township levels. Below these are many, many more committees and activists at the neighborhood level. All levels of the government, police, and military are controlled by party members.

The party is all-powerful, but not everyone can join. Only about 92 million people are official party members. To get in, prospective members must demonstrate complete loyalty to the party and its ideals. Once in, they have to maintain their status by continually demonstrating their loyalty to the party by participating in political study sessions and volunteer work. For those who are members, however, life is good. The best jobs and careers, both inside and outside of government, go to party members.

Part of the party’s success in maintaining power and social order comes from this pyramid structure; it allows the party to have eyes and ears in every part of society. Private businesses include party members, who can influence the direction of the business. Neighborhoods, universities, and even office buildings have their own party representatives or committees. This allows the party to exert its influence at the national, regional, and hyper-local levels.

Another key to the party’s longevity has been technology. China has its own Internet firewall and blocks Western websites and services that don’t bend to regulators’ will . Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter are all blocked in China. Many other websites, such as the BBC in English, are available but heavily filtered.

The country has a vast network of surveillance cameras and advanced facial recognition software. It also gobbles up citizen data on communications, purchases, transportation, and personal activities. Data from these sources can be used to spot and quash social problems. Those can range from a pothole in a city street to litter on the sidewalk or even a potential protest.

Cameras everywhere, facial recognition, and vast troves of personal data help the party to maintain order, but it’s worrying for those who value personal and political freedom.

Two examples illustrate how this can affect individuals. Jack Ma, who founded Alibaba, one of China’s greatest business success stories, criticized China’s regulators in a recent speech. At the time, Alibaba was preparing to go public on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges. The IPO was canceled, and Mr. Ma disappeared for three months. When he emerged, humbled, his business was restructured, and his ambitions clipped.

The other example is Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. The founder, publisher, CEO, and many writers and editors were all arrested for violating Hong Kong’s national security law. With its bank accounts frozen and much of its leadership in jail, the newspaper was ultimately forced to shut down.

An opaque system

I was originally going to spend more time talking about how the party is organized and the differences between the government and the party, but it was almost too hard to figure it out from the outside looking in. I even asked a few Chinese citizens, and they all gave me different answers, so I figured it was better to leave it alone.

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Expression: Take place