China, 1949-2019: Seven decades in pictures

On Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood atop Tiananmen — the Gate of Heavenly Peace — and proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. His victorious army paraded below across central Beijing, but the country beyond lay broken by decades of war. Seventy years later, President Xi Jinping will ascend the vermilion gate Tuesday, this time as the leader of a country utterly transformed.

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Much of China’s chapters over the past seven decades can seem very remote and disconnected from today’s economic powerhouse — black-and-white images of grinding poverty where there are now food delivery apps; the groundbreaking visit of President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 to Beijing, which is now home to many Western brands. But not everything has changed.

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1949: Crowds in Beijing raise their fists in a welcoming salute for Chinese Communist forces entering the city after driving out the Nationalist forces. Behind them are portraits of Chinese Communist leaders with Mao Zedong at the center. The Communist victory was one of the defining events in the early years of the Cold War.


1950: South Korean forces patrol a lookout post along the 38th parallel during the Korean War. North Korea, which was backed by China, fought the U.S.-led coalition to a standstill in 1953. China remains the major economic lifeline for North Korea.

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1954: The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, left, shakes hands with Chinese leader Mao Zedong, shortly after Mao's selection as chairman of the People's Republic of China.


1959: The Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal head of Tibet, arrives at Tezpur, India, on April 18. The Dalai Lama fled into exile after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule on March 10, 1959. China keeps tights controls on Tibet, and the Dalai Lama remains in exile.


1961: In a village on the outskirts of Shanghai on June 11, 1961, children stand by dried vegetables being cut into small pieces. It would be their main meal for days. The early 1960s was a period of widespread poverty and hardships across China amid Mao's "Great Leap Forward," which tried to accelerate industrial output. Instead, it seriously disrupted China's traditional agrarian life and other support systems. Millions of people died of starvation.

Shikashige Haraikawa/AP

1972: Chinese leader Mao Zedong and President Richard M. Nixon shake hands as they meet in China in a historic opening between the two nations. Nixon's visit marked the first U.S. presidential visit to the People's Republic of China — a trip that came after U.S.-China exchanges during table tennis matches. The "ping-pong diplomacy," as it was later called, is still regarded as a masterful use of sports as an ice-breaker in international affairs.


1977: Mao Zedong's death at 82 on Sept. 9, 1976, marked the end of an era defined by his often-disastrous attempts to reshape China by fiat. His Cultural Revolution, begun in 1966, led to huge upheavals across China in efforts to impose ideological purity and root out perceived remnants of capitalism and traditional Chinese enterprise. China's leadership eventually passed to Deng Xiaoping, whose policies of “reform and opening” sparked China’s astonishing economic transformation.


1980s: China began imposing its one-child policy, but began to roll it back in 2016. China’s population is forecast to peak at 1.45 billion as early as 2027, then slump for several decades. By 2050, about one-third of the population will be over the age of 65, raising possible pressures to maintain an adequate workforce while caring for a growing number of seniors.

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1989: In one of the most iconic images of dissent, a Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks near Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 5, 1989. The Chinese government crushed a student-led demonstration for democratic reform and against government corruption, killing hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of demonstrators in the largest anti-government protest since the 1949 revolution.

Jeff Widener/AP

1997: World dignitaries and other guests attend the Hong Kong handover ceremony from British to Chinese rule. China had promised to maintain Hong Kong's Western-style freedoms and economic autonomy for half a century under a "one country, two systems" policy. But Hong Kong has been gripped by protests since June over worries that China could be seeking to chip away at the special status in the former British colony.


2000s: The "Great Firewall of China" is launched, which sees Chinese authorities censor the Internet within its borders. China has said its censorship practices are a matter of the country’s “Internet sovereignty” and not negotiable with foreign governments. But its officials have gone further in recent years, not only defending their approach to censorship but touting its successes as a model that authoritarian governments around the world could also adopt.

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2008: Fireworks light the sky over the National Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The Games were seen by Chinese leaders as a showcase of the nation's emergence as a modern economic power.

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2010: Chinese dissent Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as a human rights advocate and pro-democracy activist. Liu was imprisoned by Chinese authorities for his calls to end one-party rule, leading some supporters to call him "China's Nelson Mandela." Lui died of liver cancer in July 2017, weeks after being granted medical parole from prison by Chinese authorities.

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2010s: China’s economy is now the world’s largest based on purchasing power, and the No. 2 behind the United States in gross domestic product. Its companies like Huawei compete for global primacy in market share and technological prowess. But the trade war with the United States has raised additional headwinds as the Chinese economy slows.

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2018: Chinese President Xi Jinping consolidated his control over all aspects of Chinese policy. Earlier, the National People's Congress amended the constitution to allow Xi the possibility of being a "leader for life." Through anti-corruption purges, Xi has consolidated power to a degree unseen since Mao.

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2019: China's Yutu-2 moon rover sends back a photo from the far side of the moon. The successful landing made China only the third nation to make a soft lunar touchdown, along with the United States and the former Soviet Union. China hailed the mission as “a new chapter in humanity’s exploration of the moon.” China said it will seek to establish an international lunar base one day, possibly using 3-D printing technology to build facilities.

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2019: China has enforced a massive security crackdown in Xinjiang, where international rights groups say more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in a network of camps that Beijing describes as "vocational education centers." Chinese authorities deny the allegations of widespread crackdowns on the country's Muslim minorities.

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2019: Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a toast at a National Day reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 30, 2019, a day before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

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