What they could not get out was soon confiscated by the government, except for one large building in Harbin where the family lived. Yu worked as a pianist and artist, smuggling her traditional Chinese paintings out of the country to buyers in the US.
In the family moved to a hutong house - one of many single-storey traditional grey-bricked homes often built around an open courtyard - in Beijing, for her father's work. They were unhappy with the government, she says, but as educated people, they still had a reasonable standard of living. But that was before the Cultural Revolution, which Mao launched in and which lasted another 10 years. Its aim was the removal of what Mao saw as bourgeois elements within the Communist Party and throughout society - elements he thought were intent on corrupting his revolutionary vision.
Schools and universities were shut, ancient relics ransacked, historic buildings destroyed and anyone accused of being a rightist humiliated, imprisoned or killed. Zhao recalls "chaos" during that period, which resulted in her losing her position as a community warden. She later found work making clothes, and as a result "I didn't go through suffering," she says.
But the Cultural Revolution did result in trauma for Yu's family, which lost even more of its wealth. One morning, the sound of boots outside heralded the arrival of government soldiers, who ransacked the house taking what valuables they could find. In , when Mao Zedong died and the Cultural Revolution ended, Yu recalls being "happy" that period had come to an end. Two years later, at a government legislative meeting in Beijing, Deng Xiaoping, who had taken charge of the Communist Party following a bloodless power struggle with Mao Zedong's successor Hua Guofeng, introduced a policy called Reform and Opening Up that would set the People's Republic on a new course.
Gradually introducing free-market capitalism and allowing in foreign investors, it brought with it rapid development. Yu felt immediate effects on her life, and was now able to sell her art to dealers in the US openly. Initially, it introduced market forces back into agriculture by allowing some farmers to sell excess produce above quotas on the open market. Previously, all agriculture was organised around rural communes that turned their produce over to the state.
Allowing the market into agriculture improved production, eradicated food shortages, and enabled people to move into other non-agricultural jobs, he says. The next wave of reform, which also began in the late s, was the introduction of free trade zones that allowed foreign capital into China. The country had little of its own capital, and this move allowed for the construction of factories and helped to industrialise the economy in the process, says Evans-Pritchard.
Today, year-old Zhao lives alone in a small apartment block in the north of Beijing. She hopes China can "stand up more" and be "stronger and better" than the Japanese, her views coloured still by the trauma of the Japan-China war. Eighty-six-year-old Yu's residence is a prestigious care home in the far west of the city. It resembles a miniature Forbidden City, with high brick walls painted in deep red, and a guard at the gate. Her one hope now is to live out her remaining days comfortably. But a byproduct of China's rapid development has been a widening income gap.
In research published by the London School of Economics earlier this year, French economist Thomas Piketty and two colleagues said:.
For younger Chinese citizens, there could be more economic growing pains ahead, says Evans-Pritchard. China's current leader, President Xi Jinping , seems determined to roll back the reforms that Deng Xiaoping initiated.
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China's economic interests at this point are intertwined with greater social and political liberalisation, he says, but that is something the present leadership seems "unwilling to accept". Toggle navigation. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct.
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