The China that beat the Japanese and the nationalists is unable to adopt a development model of its own. The scars of the war hinder the willingness to pursue a social experiment to couple Chinese uniqueness with a new political system. China is too weak to take action towards independence and socialism. It is not only the devastation wrought by the war and the decade of Japanese occupation that deny China autonomous growth; there is also the enormous weight of the classic symptoms of underdevelopment. A multifaceted grip of backwardness that enshrouds the country, in much the same was as it happens with other nations that have been victims of conflict and colonization. The country is victorious atop a mountain of rubble and remains. There is no industrial network, save for a few enclaves along the coast. There is no consolidated entrepreneurial class, and the capitalists are not an expression of the managerial class, but of the bourgeois “compradora” that prospered from the foreign presence. Many of its representatives had already fled to Hong Kong before the proclamation of the People’s Republic. The countryside was devoid of all but the most basic mechanization, and the land was parceled out or uncultivated, crippled by lack of both water and electricity. Basic nutritional needs were not being met, and connections between the countryside and cities were dramatically insufficient. The entire economy was still unmonetized and functioned via barter or direct consumption of goods produced. China in general was a poor and peasant nation, where the industrial mentality was still unknown; a factory schedule was completely alien to people who measured the passing of time by the traversing of the sun. The relationship with nature, the alternation of the seasonal cycle to grow better crops, was a poor match for the needs of the country. These needs can be boiled down into two basic necessities: a rapid and effective reconstruction, and the edification of a socialist society. The Chinese governing class was aware that both needs were inextricably linked, and the disagreement hinged on how much importance to assign to either one. This led to the adoption of different models, but did not initially allow for the adoption of national measures.
From 1949 to 1958, China essentially copied –better yet: was inspired by –the Soviet model. The first phases were dedicated to the consolidation of the country, and the first five-year plan was launched in 1955. The administrative and regulatory production of those first few years was impressive and earthshattering. Ancient medieval traditions were abolished and a preliminary state reorganization was started. The size of the country and its underdevelopment gave the impression of a nearly impossible task. All of this was set in an international constellation of tension and conflict: war in Korea, anticolonial stirrings in Asia, and the political paralysis of the Cold War. China had no choice but to follow the Soviet model, and Moscow’s domination of the international Communist movement did not allow deviations. The successes of the USSR, the prestige of having conquered the Nazis, and Stalin’s supreme power all imposed a model that had been implemented with success. When China decided to “learn from the Soviet Union,” it chose more out of necessity than free will. In a world at ideological odds, the alignment came through inertia, as if it was just in the natural order of things. It was a selection of the “eastern” method, shored up by more pragmatic considerations: geographical proximity and availability of Soviet assistance such as resources, managers, technicians, and machinery. Only some years after the celebration of Socialist brotherhood would the Soviet experience be reconsidered and the front began to crack, but not only for this reason was China then forced to choose a “western” model.