A14: revolution in China, 1949-96
1: China under Mao
In 1949 Mao Zedong’s position in China was unchallenged. He was able to claim all of the credit for the defeat of the Japanese and the GMD. He became the President of the People’s Republic of China and from October 1949 governed China as a virtual dictator. His immediate aims were to establish communist rule throughout the country and to bring about land reform. He knew that many areas of China, especially the big cities, still supported the GMD. They had to be brought into line. The peasants, who had loyally supported the CCP had to be rewarded and landlordism had to be destroyed. China then had to be modernised so that it could compete with foreign countries.
Although Mao was a revolutionary, in many ways he was still very traditionally Chinese. He began by accepting aid from the Soviet Union in the First Five Year Plan, and even copied the idea from Stalin, but he gradually gave up relying on any foreign aid and used Chinese methods. The big difference of opinion was over the foundations of the CCP. The Soviet idea was that communism was based on industrial workers. It was they who had started the Russian Revolution and been the main supporters of the Bolsheviks. But Mao preferred to rely on the peasants, who had main the main supporters of the CCP.
In basing the CCP on peasants rather than industrial workers, Mao was following Chinese tradition. Confucian ideas emphasised that a person’s relationship to the land was very important in society. Mao also rejected modern methods of industrialisation. When he launched the Second Five Year Plan, he preferred to use manual labour rather than new technology. This was partly because China did not have much new machinery, but also because Mao was trying to emphasis the importance of hard, manual labour as a way of bringing about progress. The Great Leap Forward was based almost entirely upon a domestic system in which steel was produced by people in their own backyards. Mao relied on methods like this because he distrusted experts. In this respect, despite everything else, Mao was behaving just like a Chinese peasant.
Mao’s refusal to use modern methods resulted in many of his changes being ineffective. He usually would not accept advice and anyone who criticised him was usually dealt with. By the end of the 1950s it was obvious that China was not making the sort of progress that was expected. It was impossible to get rid of Mao completely, but from 1959 he began to lose some of his influence.
2: Reform under Liu and Deng
The effects of Collectivisation and the Great Leap Forward hit Mao’s reputation very hard. In 1958 Mao had resigned as President of the People's Republic of China and was replaced by Liu Shaoqui. Mao remained, however, as Chairman of the CCP. In 1962 Mao handed over responsibility for the economy to President Liu Shaoqi and CCP General Secretary Deng Xiaoping and withdrew from the political scene. Liu and Deng were both more moderates and accepted that Mao' s reforms had gone too far too quickly.
Liu and Deng brought in Chen Yun, the leading Chinese expert in agriculture, to advise them. The big problem that China faced was the threat of famine. Chen Yun recommended that some free markets should be allowed as the only way of combating famine. This would allow farmers to sell some of their produce and make profits and so would increase production. This was an implied criticism of Mao's policies. Liu and Deng allowed peasants to own individual plots of land. Ownership of individual plots of land had disappeared in Collectivisation and was a major grievance and meant that peasants were not able to produce food for their families. The reforms meant that rural markets began to re-open. By 1962 about half of the farm land in China was in the hands of individual families once again. The results of these changes were sudden increases in the amounts of food being produced in China.
Liu and Deng also attempted to tackle the risk of famine by introducing population control. Mao had always opposed population control because he believed that a large population was a sign of strength. He wanted to make industrial progress through manual labour. But Liu and Deng saw that an uncontrolled increase was potentially disastrous. By the early 1960s the CCP had exact figures for the overall rate of increase for the first time. To tackle the rate of increase, young people were required to postpone marriage and the use of contraceptives was encouraged by the state.
These changes reduced the influence of Mao and also reversed many of his ideas. But whilst Mao had little influence in government or the CCP, to the great majority of the Chinese people he remained the embodiment of the Revolution. Mao was prepared to bide his time and to use other tactics to re-establish his position in China.
By 1963 Mao was already regretting his loss of power and was becoming concerned at the changes that were taking place in China. In particular the growing dominance of the economy by an educated elite. His response was to begin to build up support in the PLA (People's Liberation Army) and his supporters gradually occupied key posts in the government and gained control of the Central Cultural Revolution Committee.
Although Mao lacked supporters in the upper reaches of the government and the CCP, he had many supporters in lesser positions. Many people shared his view that the revolution was being undermined by the policies of Liu and Deng, who appeared to be adopting western, revisionist ideas.
3: The reasons for the Cultural Revolution
The main reason Mao gave in China for the Cultural Revolution was that the government and the CCP were becoming too remote from the people. He criticised the increase in the numbers of experts and specialists in the economy and the party. He also complained that in the Chinese education system preference was given to the children of urban families and to members of the party hierarchy. Mao stated that this was creating a privileged middle class in China. It was true that the policies of Liu and Deng were encouraging the development of a body of intellectuals, such as scientists and technologists, and that these people were increasingly influential in the Chinese economy and society. However, they were also allowing China to develop much more rapidly than it had under Mao in the 1950s.
Mao’s real reason for his criticisms was simply that he wanted to regain his dominant position in the Party and undermine the positions of Liu and Deng. Since 1959 he had had much less influence over policy, the Cultural Revolution was, therefore, an attempt to appeal to the mass of Chinese people over the heads of the Party leadership. The most effective way of doing this was to undermine the positions and policies of Liu and Deng.
Mao accused Liu and Deng of were betraying the revolution from within. He also stated his belief in permanent revolution. This meant that there had to a continuous process of change in which authority was continually challenged and no one group or class was allowed to take control.
Mao was also heavily influenced by his wife Jiang Qing. She took the ideas of Mao even further than he did and wanted to destroy all Chinese traditional culture and replace it with purely socialist ideas. Consequently the Cultural Revolution took the form of attacks on anything that was ‘old’. On the other hand anything that was ‘new’ was accepted, almost without criticism.
A more worthwhile aim of Mao was to equalise the value of physical and mental labour. He seems to have been trying to ensure that workers in different industries and in different areas of the society and the economy should be equally rewarded for their contribution. However, in the devastation that occurred in China from 1966 to 1968, this aim was almost entirely forgotten.
Mao’s main tactic in the Cultural Revolution was to use the Red Guards. These were set up in 1966. They were students and other young people who put up posters throughout the country praising the ‘thoughts of Chairman Mao’, which were published in a ‘Red Book’. On 18 August more than a million Red Guards attended a mass rally in Tiananmen Square. Mao urged them to attack the four 'olds', old culture, old thoughts, old customs and old habits.
The Red Guards began to attack teachers, intellectuals, scientists, civil servants and doctors, in fact anybody who represented authority. These people were often humiliated by being tied up and forced to recite from Mao’s book. They were then forced to confess their guilt. But the first confession was never accepted and the victims were forced to adopt the 'aeroplane' position with head down, arms aloft and knees bent.
The Red Guards took over public transport and the radio and television networks. This enabled them to transport Red Guard units around China to deal with any opposition. They could also prevent any news broadcasts that attacked the Cultural Revolution. Some workers who refused to accept the Red Guards demands found themselves overwhelmed by sheer numbers. It was impossible for any opposing views to be put forward because all the media were controlled by the Red Guards.
The attacks went to the very highest level and were carried out with great bitterness. Liu and Deng were both dismissed. Liu was arrested and died in prison in 1973. Deng had to face public humiliation in front of 3,000 Red Guards. His son was thrown from a window and broke his spine.
4: The impact of the Cultural Revolution
The Cultural Revolution attacked all forms of traditional Chinese culture. All foreign influences were ridiculed. New operas, poems, music, paintings were produced that glorified the revolution and the people of China. Temples, shrines, works of art and gardens were destroyed. Western music and other forms of culture were banned.
The attacks on Chinese traditions were the work of Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao. While Mao was trying to regain his pre-eminent position in China, Jiang was leading a personal crusade to destroy everything that had existed before the Cultural Revolution. After Mao’s death, Jiang became one of the ‘Gang of Four’ that attempted to seize power in China. The four were eventually arrested and put on trial.
The main effect of the Cultural Revolution was to undermine and destroy all forms of authority. Any attempt to challenge the Red Guards or the Thoughts of Chairman Mao was met with accusations of being counter-revolutionary. The authority of the central government was seriously weakened and industrial production came to a standstill. Teachers were a prime target for attack and as a result, all schools, colleges and universities were closed for two years. Even the CCP was unable to operate successfully and many local organisations were destroyed. In the People's Liberation Army (PLA) all ranks were abolished.
Soon rival groups of Red Guards began to clash with one another in efforts to prove their loyalty to Chairman Mao. Factories also set up groups of workers, which competed with the students to hunt out counter-revolutionaries. Individual took the opportunity to do away with rivals by accusing them of opposing the Cultural Revolution. Mao's opponents in the Party leaderships were all accused of 'revisionism', capitalist ideas, and were arrested and dismissed from their offices.
Within two years the country was in complete chaos. Law and order had virtually broken down and the Chinese economy was in chaos. All of the industrial and progress that had been made in the early 1960s was destroyed almost overnight. Many factories were at a standstill and agriculture reverted to traditional manual labour. Many ‘reactionaries’, people who were accused of supporting old ideas, were sent to work as labourers in the countryside. Finally even Mao was forced to order the Red Guards to stop their attacks in 1969. The PLA was called in to restore order. But in fact continued the attacks, often with even more brutality. The Cultural Revolution eventually came to an end in 1971
5: China 1971-76
From 1971, Mao began a process of reconstruction with the support of the Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, who had been a colleague on the Long March. Zhou was keen to rebuild relations with the West after the Cultural Revolution. Many western countries had been angered by the behaviour of Chinese diplomats in the late 1960s and so Zhou was only too pleased to arrange the visit of President Richard Nixon to Beijing in 1972. He spent a week in China, but, apart from an enthusiastic welcome from Zhou, received almost no attention from the Chinese people.
Zhou then began to invite western opera companies, orchestras, academics and tourists to China, but his policies ran up against the opposition of Mao and more especially Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. While the attacks on authority during the Cultural Revolution came to an end in 1971, art and culture remained under the control of his wife Jiang Qing until 1976. She became a more important figure in China as Mao grew weaker in his old age.
In 1974 Zhou was attacked in the press along with western influences as a whole. This was part of a process aimed at re-establishing the influence of Mao, who thought that his position was being undermined by Zhou’s policy with the West. Mao was keen to avoid any repeat of the Cultural Revolution, but at the same time wanted to prevent western ‘bourgeois’ influences. Jiang Qing encouraged the production of new revolutionary operas, which glorified the Chinese people and western medicine was rejected. Operating procedures that had been introduced from the West were discouraged and traditional Chinese medicine was revived. At the same time, however, while an anti-western policy was adopted in art and music, Party leaders who had been disgraced during the Cultural Revolution were restored to their former positions.
These were all attempts to maintain the position of Mao at the top of the Communist Party, but it was clear that this could not last long. He was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease and could hardly stand. Zhou was also gravely ill with cancer and died in January 1976. At his funeral he was praised by Deng Ziaoping, who was hoping to succeed him as Prime Minister. But Mao had other ideas. He chose Hua Gaofeng. Mao believed that this would ensure that China would continue to follow his ideas. Deng Xiaoping was disgraced and stripped of all of his offices.
Mao died in September 1976. There was no widespread mourning and the numbers of people who filed passed his coffin were smaller than had been at Zhou’s funeral earlier in then year. Hua moved quickly to assert his position. In addition to being Prime Minister, he now took over the chairmanship of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Party’s Military Commission. Mao’s death led to a period of uncertainty in China. As long as he had been alive he had been the most powerful and most influential figure in the country. While he was mourned as the father of the Chinese revolution, there were many Chinese who were secretly glad to be rid of his out-dated ideas and underhand tactics. The problem was what to do next.
B10: China under Mao Zedong, 1949-59
1: The creation of the Communist State
From October 1949 Mao was the undisputed leader of The People’s Republic of China. He was President of China and also Chairman of the CCP. This meant that he controlled the government of China as well as the Chinese Communist Party. Of the two positions, it was the latter that was to be the more important. In China, it was the Communist Party that really mattered. It took all of the decisions, while the government simply enforced them.
China immediately became a one party state. All other parties were suppressed in a series of purges from 1950 to 1952, although a few small groups were allowed to survive. Possible rivals to Mao were dismissed from office. One, Gao Gang, even committed suicide. Anyone who showed any opposition to communism was labelled a counter-revolutionary or an imperialist. This became increasingly common. In fact any one who opposed the Party line, which was Mao’s line, was simply labelled a counter-revolutionary, whether or not this was actually true. To avoid accusations, Chinese increasingly tried to prove their loyalty by accusing others. This produced an atmosphere of suspicion and revenge.
Mao’s immediate aim was to gain control of the cities, where the GMD had been at its strongest. Mao instinctively distrusted city dwellers. He believed that the strength of the Party lay with the peasants in the countryside. Mao set out to destroy any remaining support for the GMD and ordered massacres of suspects. 65,000 people were killed in Guangzhou and 28,000 in Shanghai. All suspect organisations were closed down, including churches, and all religions were attacked. Mao believed that religion would undermine loyalty to the Communist Party, so all traditional Chinese religions, as well as other world religions were attacked. Maoist slogans began to appear on walls all over China for the first time. This became another way of spreading ideas. Posters were put on display to explain Mao’s aims. They rarely actually ‘explained’ anything. They just told people what was going to happen and what they were to do. Mao believed that if he shouted loud enough, people would do as they were told. He was right. In China there had never been a tradition of democracy. The Chinese people were accustomed to being told what to do and followed Mao’s orders almost without question.
In effect, therefore, Mao became a dictator. Even so, Mao realised that he had to offer the Chinese people something in return for their loyalty. In particular, he had to reward the peasants for the support that they had given to the CCP for the last thirty years. He also knew that there was only one thing that the peasants wanted and that was land.
2: Land reform
With his position secure, Mao turned his attention to land reform, which had been a main plank of CCP policy since the 1920s. The main aspect of his policy was an attack on landlords. These were the owners of land who took rent from peasants, sometimes at extortionate levels. Mao believed that 'landlordism’ was so deeply ingrained in Chinese society that landlords had to be destroyed altogether. Only then would the peasants be able to control and work their own land.
Land reform was carried out ruthlessly. From 1950 work teams were sent out to villages to carry out land reform. Landlords were forced to give up their property, which was then redistributed among the peasants. Many landlords were then tried by village courts and often executed. As many as 1,000,000 may have died. Often no account was taken of the individual. It did not matter whether a landlord had been generous or harsh in the past, they were usually all treated the same. Similarly, reform took no account of the size or value of the holding. Mao was not concerned with the rights and wrongs of reform. He wanted to make a political statement. He wanted peasants to be aware that he was acting in their interests and that real changes were being made. So reform had to be a major issue.
Once landlords were removed, tenant farmers were given title deeds to their land and landless peasants were given plots. The land was divided up by the peasants under the supervision of surveyors. The main effect of land reform was that it gave hundreds of millions of peasants a stake in China for the first time and tied them to the new regime. It made them even more loyal to Mao. What peasants did not know however, was that the long term aim of Mao was collectivisation. Although he was prepared to carry out land reform to destroy landlords, he had no intention of allowing the peasants to retain control of the land. He believed that the only long term solution to the problem of supplying enough food for the Chinese population was to take land away from the peasants and put it under central control.
3: Communist society
The 1950s saw very mixed results from Mao’s reforms overall. Many of the economic reforms failed dismally, but in other respects there were real improvements for the Chinese people. Mao did make real efforts to improve the lives of the Chinese people and destroy some of the unpleasant aspects of traditional Chinese society. Unemployment fell dramatically and insurance was introduced. However, urban workers had no right to choose where they worked and were assigned jobs by state labour offices. This often had little regard for the individual's abilities and a job was usually for life. Residence permits prevented people moving, and it was virtually impossible for peasants to move to the cities. In fact Mao tried to force city dwellers to move to the countryside on several occasions.
The restrictions on industrial workers were part of Mao’s attempts to control the cities, which had been the strongest areas of the GMD’s support. Mao instinctively distrusted urban workers and all forms of technical experts. This distrust continued all of his life and became one of the reasons for the Cultural Revolution.
On the positive side, an eight-hour, six-day working week was introduced. Workers received one week paid holiday a year and up to three weeks 'family visiting' holiday. This was intended to compensate industrial workers for the lack of choice in where they worked. Retirement was introduced at 50-55 for women and 55-60 for men. Pensions were 60%-80% of income. Health services and education were free for all. Education became a right and was made compulsory. Housing, water, electricity and other services were all subsidised.
Mao also tried to improve the status of women in China. Before 1950 Chinese women had few rights and were considered to be second class citizens. Peasants wanted sons to work in the fields, so daughters were often sold as slaves or forced to marry. Men could be polygamous and women could be concubines. Some progress had been made under the GMD, but the changes had had little impact outside of the cities. In the countryside traditional values survived. Mao, however, introduced important reforms from 1950. Equality of the sexes in education, employment and pay was made law and women were given the right to own property for the first time. In 1950 the Marriage Law banned arranged marriages, polygamy, child betrothal and concubinage, although some practices continued. Divorce was allowed in China for the first time. Maternity benefits were introduced in 1951, including feeding time and nurseries in government run businesses.
There were some significant results from Mao’s policies. By the 1970s almost 50% of China's doctors were women and 30% of engineers and scientists, but there were only two female ministers, out of 29 and only one of the twelve vice-premiers was female. While the CCP preached equality and enforced it in society, it did not practise what it preached. The Party hierarchy continued to be dominated by old men
Mao's policies regarding women were somewhat undermined by his determination to increase the population as much as possible. Mao saw an increase in the population as a way of increasing the strength of the nation. Peasants wanted sons who could work in the fields. Mao wanted a larger population because he believed in the use of manpower for industrial progress. However, by the late 1950s the consequences of unlimited population increase were becoming obvious.
4: The First Five Plan
At the same time as the attack on landlords, the CCP also brought the Chinese economy under control. By the early 1950s the economy faced severe problems. During the years of GMD domination, corruption had led to inflation and a devalued currency. This weakened central control. The military campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s had resulted in massive expenditure and debt. Somehow these had to be tackled. The Chinese population was also beginning to increase rapidly, in particular in the cities. From 1949 to 1957 the number of people living in Chinese cities increased from 57 millions to 100 millions. These posed the most serious problems. Not only was there the question of making sure that the cities were under effective CCP control, but these massive increases meant that food production had to increase because city dwellers could not feed themselves.
Mao set about tackling these problems. By 1952, inflation was down from 1000% to 15%. A new currency, the yuan, had been introduced, which stabilised public finances and restored confidence. Public expenditure had been reduced and taxes on city dwellers had been increased. Mao was assisted by plans that had been set up by Chiang before his flight to Taiwan. The GMD had already created a National Resources Committee and 200,000 of its workers had stayed in China. This was the background for the First Five Plan. Without the aid of the infrastructure set up by the GMD, Mao would have found his task much more difficult.
Despite all of the efforts of the GMD and the CCP, China had remained a mainly agricultural country with few industries. Mao’s solution was a period of rapid industrial expansion similar to that the Stalin had set up in the 1930s in the Soviet Union. The First Five Year Plan was aimed at rapid industrial growth, which would enable China to develop quickly. The main areas of concentration were coal, steel and petro-chemicals.
In almost all respects the First Five Year Plan was a success. Economic growth ran at 9% per annum during the five years. Most targets were achieved, with the notable exceptions of oil and merchant ships. National expenditure rose from 6,810 million yuan in 1952 to 29,020 million yuan in 1957. However, most investment was concentrated in 150 large projects, which meant that much of Chinese industry was left untouched.
Significantly, however, the success of the First Five Year Plan was to some extent due to the presence of 10,000 advisers from Soviet Russia. These had been sent by Stalin and remained after his death in 1953. These were almost the last examples of Soviet influence in China. Mao believed that Chinese communism should be based on agricultural communes and not on the urban workers, as Marx and Lenin had stated. In addition, Mao had a deep suspicion of ‘technology experts and scientists’ and believed that the Chinese people could triumph because of their sheer numerical strength. Mao’s determination to put these ideas into practice and to reject other alternatives for modernisation was to prove disastrous in the later 1950s and 1960s.
5: The Hundred Flowers
Despite the industrial success of the First Five Year Plan, it created huge problems. The increase in the numbers of city dwellers meant that food and housing were in very short supply. This led to a great deal of criticism of the Plan. Apparently in response to this criticism, Mao allowed public discussion of the plan. In May 1956 Lu Dungyi, the propaganda chief of the CCP issued the slogan 'Let a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend’. In February 1957 Mao backed up this statement by calling for public discussion to resolve the problems faced by the Party. This became known as the Hundred Flowers.
The Hundred Flowers was most untypical of Mao, who normally resented criticism and who disliked experts and intellectuals. On the face of it, therefore, Mao was calling for a great debate on the Five Year Plan, but in reality the campaign may well not have been sincere, but simply an attempt to discover any potential opponents.
One interpretation of the Hundred Flowers is that Mao had travelled widely throughout China during the early 1950s and had always been received very warmly. He may have believed that it was now possible to allow greater freedom of expression in China. Mao also seems to have heard that local CCP officials had been accused of acting heavy-handedly and wanted to hear other opinions. Mao may also have become concerned that China was beginning to suffer from the bureaucracy that had affected Soviet Russia. Here there were layers of officials who all had some say in decision-making. Mao seems to have wanted to cut through the red tape and produce a simpler more direct party organisation.
But there is also evidence that Mao’s ideas were becoming less popular in China. In 1954 President Liu Shaoqi had delivered a report to the Congress of the CCP in which he mentioned Mao's name 104 times. At the next Congress in 1956 Liu mentioned Mao only four times. The constitution of 1945 stated that the CCP should be guided by the ‘Thought of Mao Zedong'. In the constitution of 1956 the phrase was not included. To Mao, changes such as this may suggested a weakening of his position in China. Therefore, an alternative view of the Hundred Flowers is that Mao was simply encouraging his opponents to speak out so that he could identify them and deal with them.
Whatever Mao’s motives were, the results of the Hundred Flowers were startling. Many people openly criticised the Plan, especially university lecturers, artists, writers and teachers. Party individuals and policies were attacked as being corrupt, inefficient or unrealistic. Even Mao himself was included. Faced by this criticism, Mao called an immediate end to the campaign and began the Anti-rightist movement, which was directed by Deng Xiaoping. Most of the critics were arrested, lost their jobs and underwent periods of re-education in labour camps. This usually involved making public apologies for their actions. Some leading figures in the CCP were purged. Altogether about 500,000 people were removed.
By the late 1950s the problems caused by China’s rapidly rising population were becoming severe. The population of China's cities had grown, but food supplies had not matched the increase. Mao’s solution was to bring peasants under central control. He ordered the creation of 25,000 Communes. Most contained about 5-6,000 people, but some were as large as several hundred thousand.
The aim of Collectivisation was to restore the balance between the cities and the countryside. The Second Five Year Plan, which began alongside Collectivisation in 1957, was also based on the Commune. Many peasants, who had migrated to the cities during the First Five Year Plan to find work, were now ordered to leave the cities and return to the Communes.
Life in the Communes was strictly regimented. Peasants were ordered to live communally in dormitories, eat in mess halls and tear down their own houses. One aim of this treatment was to try to ensure that the family would become less important. Schools would take over responsibility for the rearing of children. This would ensure that children grew up suitably indoctrinated with Maoist ideas. However, these ideas were only put into practice on a few occasions.
It was not only peasants’ lives that were strictly controlled in the Communes. Strict controls were also enforced to regulate agricultural methods. All individual plots of land were confiscated by the Commune and peasants were also ordered to farm according to instructions and not according to their own experience. This meant that peasants’ knowledge of local conditions was ignored and replaced by central planning. To make matters even worse, the ideas of the Soviet scientist Trofim Lysenko were adopted. He had put forward fraudulent theories, which did great harm to farming. For example, he ordered deep ploughing, which ruined the topsoil and bird-scaring, which allowed insects and pests to flourish.
The results of Collectivisation were disastrous. In 1958 China produced 200 million tonnes of grain and 4.3 million tonnes of meat, but by 1960 the figures were 143.5
million tonnes of wheat and 1.3 million tonnes of meat. Much of the blame lay with the central government, which had assumed that the 1958 figure was 260,000,000. The amount of land set aside for arable farming had, therefore, been reduced. In some areas the problems were made even worse by drought, which reduced crop yields even more.
The falls in production led to a major famine and about 30,000,000 Chinese died. But CCP officials dared not report this to Mao. Peng Dehuai, the Defence Minister attempted to reveal the truth in 1959, but he was condemned and dismissed. In response to Peng’s attacks, Mao had threatened to resign from all his posts if Peng was not dismissed. Eventually, however, even Mao had to admit that Collectivisation was a failure, but he reacted by accusing officials of incompetence.
6: The Great Leap Forward
One cause of the fall in agricultural production was the ‘Great Leap Forward’, which Mao announced in 1957. This was part of the Second Five Year Plan. The Great Leap Forward was an attempt to turn China into an industrial superpower within fifteen years by using the massive manpower of the country. This was followed Mao’s belief in the value of manual labour. Like Collectivisation, the Great Leap Forward was based upon Communes. Workers who had migrated to towns during the First Five Year Plan were sent back to their communes to work. A commune of 30,000 people might have sixteen brigades, who were each divided into eight work teams of 250 people. In the winter of 1957-8 these work teams were thrown into massive scheme of irrigation and water conservation.
The fundamental idea behind the Great Leap Forward was that industrial development could be achieved through the individual efforts of the ordinary Chinese people. It was not necessary, Mao believed, to go through the process of an industrial revolution. The Great Leap Forward also had other advantages in Mao’s eyes. Firstly, it would reinforce the rural community, which Mao believed was the main strength of China and the CCP. Secondly, it would avoid the creation of a class of ‘experts’, which Mao so distrusted.
So Mao appealed to the ordinary people of China to try to produce steel in their own backyards. All over China people began to set up backyard blast furnaces and produce steel. This was a disaster. The steel produced was often unusable as it was of very poor quality. What was worse, to produce steel, peasants neglected their crops that went to ruin. All over China the harvest was left to rot and this made the famine brought about by Collectivisation all the worse.
The most important reason for the failure of the Great Leap Forward was that it was nonsensical. Major industrial development needed capital investment, technology and planning; Mao rejected all of these as revisionist. He was afraid that if he allowed the creation of a class of experts he would lose control of the revolution. Mao’s personal pride and paranoia was allowed take precedence over common-sense and as many as 30,000,000 Chinese died of starvation as a result
The statistics of the Great Leap Forward were startling. Following Mao’s belief in the manual labour of the Chinese peasant, Communes dug the equivalent of 300 Panama Canals. But all of this effort was largely useless. At the same time national income fell by 29% and inflation rose from 0.2% to 16.2%.
The Great Leap Forward was the most spectacular of Mao’s failures. Surprisingly, however, it did not deter him from believing that the key to China’s successful development lay in the great mass of the Chinese people. In the 1960s, he continued to believe that he could use the support of the people to maintain his hold over China and prevent any form of progress of which he disapproved.
1: The defeat of the Gang of Four
Mao’s death in 1976 left a vacuum in China and he had no obvious successor. Zhou Enlai had died in January 1976 and Deng Xiaoping had been purged earlier in the year because he was blamed for riots in Tiananmen Square at Zhou’s funeral. Hua Gaofeng, who had succeeded Zhou as Prime Minister, was Mao’s chosen successor and gave the address at Mao’s funeral, but he was challenged in the Politburo by the Gang of Four, Jiang Qing (the widow of Mao), Zhang Chungquiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. The deciding factor was the army, which supported Hua. Marshal Ye backed Hua and he remained Prime Minister and the Gang of Four was arrested in October 1976.
Hua was not very popular in China and had little mass support. He was seen as a caretaker. Hua was also seen as being too Maoist. He often said the ‘two whatevers’. ‘Whatever Mao said was right, whatever Mao did must be continued.’ This did not make him more popular. In 1977 Deng Xiaoping was rehabilitated. He had many contacts in the Party and had not lost his membership when he fell from power.
Deng was able to purge the power ranks of the Party of Hua’s supporters and his reputation as an economic reformer attracted many people. Marshal Ye gave Deng his backing, which gave him the support of the army
In 1978 Deng became chairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference, which had not met since 1966. People purged in the 1960s and 1970s were rehabilitated and the Cultural Revolution was officially brought to an end. Peng Zheu and Bi Yibo, two of Deng’s closest supporters were among those rehabilitated. The Gang of Four was accused of suppressing the Conference and in October 1978 Mao’s Little Red Book was denounced.
The Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP in 1980 passed a resolution calling on the government ‘to restore Party Democracy’. Hua Gaofeng resigned in 1980 and Hua Yaobang took his place as Prime Minister. He was a supporter of Deng. Deng refused the post because he said that he was too old.
Deng’s only official post was Chairman of the Party’s Military Affairs Commission, but too all intents and purposes he was the Paramount Leader.
In the years since 1976 great efforts had been made to restore links with the West. Deng wanted to modernise the Chinese economy and signed deals with Japan and the European Community. The USA also recognised Communist China as the ‘official China’ and withdrew its ambassador from Taiwan.
2: China under Deng Xiaoping
Deng put forward the ‘Four Modernisations’, Agriculture, Industry, Defence and Education. He called for rapid development of the national economy, steady improvement in living standards, the speeding up of farm production and the adaptation of farming to local conditions. The last point implied that centralisation of farming had failed. There was to be an emphasis on academic excellence in primary and secondary schools and competition for places at university.
Deng wanted to attack Mao’s ideas, but had to act carefully. He used the ‘drip’ effect, gradually trying to wear away older attitudes. In 1981 a CCP Central Committee Resolution stated that Mao had been a great leader, but one who had made errors. However, his contribution to the Chinese revolution far outweighed his mistakes. Mao’s reputation could not be attacked in every respect.
In November 1980 the trial of the Gang of Four started and lasted until January. Jiang and Zhang were sentenced to death and the others received life in prison. Both death sentences were commuted. The trial was televised and showed the defendants being bullied and humiliated. This was a sign that Deng was not prepared to do away with all of the methods of Mao. In one respect at least he was a hard-liner.
In 1981 the Central Committee of the CCP produced a new version of the history of the previous thirty-two years of communist rule. It stated that the Cultural Revolution had produced no useful results, but at the same time continued to refer to Mao as the ‘great revolutionary’. Although Mao’s economic influence had gone, his political influence remained.
3: Reforms of the economy
Deng was prepared to allow the market into the Chinese economy. He said, ‘If the market worked, let it’. ‘The aim of socialism is to make people prosperous, not create extremes.’ State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) would remain the basic way of organising business, but administrative structures would serve business, rather than control it. Practical decisions would take precedence over dogma (communist ideas).
Deng also opened China up to foreign trade, ending Mao’s belief in self-sufficiency.
From 1978-84 the rural economy was reformed and then from 1984 Deng turned his attention to industry and commerce.
In the rural economy, the Commune was replaced by the Xiang, which was in fact the local village or township. Each Xiang was given a quota by the government. Each family in the Xiang would have to contribute a share of the quota. This was called the ‘responsibility system’. As long as quotas were met and taxes were paid, the rest of the produce could be sold for a profit. 15 percent of all land was made available for private plots. In 1984 restrictions on commerce were relaxed so that peasants could buy produce from one another to resell it. This had been banned before.
In the early 1980s the reforms were very successful and grain production rose by 5 percent per annum from 1978-1984. But from 1984 the reforms were less successful. One reason was that peasants were still only allowed 15 year leases on their land. This meant that long term improvements were rare.
To modernise industry and commerce, Deng planned to train 1,000,000 technical students. Thousands of students were sent abroad to study. Special Economic Zones were set up. The first four were Shantou, Xiamen, Shenzen and Zhuhai. These contained China’s export industries and foreign-owned companies. The SEZs were modelled, unofficially, upon Hong Kong. They had regional autonomy, tax concessions and financial freedom. The results were impressive. From 1981-1991 Chinese exports rose by 500% and inward investment rose by 400 percent.
Deng then began to apply the new methods to the SOEs. In 1981 some urban workers were allowed to look for jobs for the first time. Before all people had been allotted jobs by the government. Contracting out of some services was also allowed for the first time. This was a major change from the policies of Mao. He believed that workers should sacrifice themselves for the good of the country. Under Mao, SOEs were completely controlled by the government. Prices, targets and pay were all set centrally. There were no rewards and therefore no initiative. In return, SOEs gave workers jobs for life and also provided houses, medical facilities and education.
Deng wanted SOEs to become efficient and competitive He wanted to provide inducements to work harder and believed that higher living standards would raise the morale of workers.
In 1986 a labour contract scheme was introduced which awarded short term contracts for workers. This was to encourage hard work and greater profits. They would only be re-appointed if they worked hard and were efficient. But this led to opposition from workers as their security was threatened. And so by 1992 only 20 percent of the workers in SOEs (about 16,000,000 people) were covered by the new contracts. Nevertheless, Gross Domestic Product (the country’s income from all its industries) had risen from 732.6 million yuan in 1979 to 2004 million yuan in 1991. Manufacturing output had increased by 9 percent a year on average.
Until the mid-1980s the economic reforms were successful, after 1986 they did not go so well. The reforms in the countryside were held up by an unwillingness on the part of peasants to improve their farms because they only had 15 year leases. Inflation also began to rise and, with the population increase, prevented the standard of living from improving. The weakening of central control led to a revival of traditional values and practices, for example, male control. There were some instances of women being sold.
In the cities, there was a shortage of jobs and many of the newly qualified university graduates could not find employment. This led to unrest on university campuses and the growth of the Democracy Movement.
4: The Democracy Movement
The first sign of the Democracy Movement came in 1979. The Democracy Wall in Beijing was a 200 metre brick wall that was used for posters. In 1979 Wei Jingsheng, a twenty-eight year old electrician, put up a poster asking for a Fifth Modernisation (Deng had put forward Four). The fifth was democracy. Until then protests for democracy had been tolerated, but the government felt that Wei had gone too far. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
In the early 1980s there were many protests in universities all over China. But the movement was not organised and did not challenge the control of the CCP. The main criticisms were corruption of government and CCP officials and a demand for the Party to honour the promises of democracy that were in its constitution.
The Democracy Movement developed because many people inside and outside China believed that because Deng was an economic reformer and was adopting western methods he was also going to be a political reformer. The thousands of students who went abroad to study came back with foreign ideas. There was also a great deal of corruption in the CCP. But Deng was not a political reformer. Alongside the ‘Four Modernisations’ he had published the ‘Four Cardinal Points’. These were, Keeping to the Socialist Road, Upholding the People’s democratic dictatorship, Upholding the leadership of the Communist Party and Upholding Marxist-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought. In other words, Deng was stating that the CCP had a right to govern and that he had no intention of giving up power.
In 1980 the National People’s Congress deleted Article 45 from the constitution. This had stated that the Chinese People have the right to speak out freely, air their views fully, hold great debates and write big-character posters.
In fact Deng had never had any intention of introducing political reforms. He did not believe in democracy. He was a hardline CCP leader. People had forgotten that after the outburst of criticism that had followed the Hundred Flowers, it had been Deng who had carried out the reprisals on Mao’s behalf. He was quite prepared and quite capable to deal severely with any signs of opposition. Deng also believed that China needed a period of stability after thirty years of upheaval and wild swings of policy. Therefore, Deng emphasised order, unity and the rule of law, the law of the CCP.
Student unrest reached a peak in 1986 and 1987. The government cracked down and the ringleaders were arrested. Hua Yaobang, who had been Secretary-General of the CCP since 1981, was dismissed in 1987 for appearing to favour change. He was replaced by Zhao Zhiyang, who had been Prime Minister since 1981. Li Peng took over the post of Prime Minister. Deng made no secret of his complete opposition to the Democracy Movement.
China is such a large country, with such an enormous population, so many nationalities and such varied conditions that it is not possible to hold direct elections at higher levels. Furthermore, the people’s educational level is too low. So we have to stick to the system of people’s congresses.
But the inflation and unemployment that had helped to create protests continued to rise. In April 1989 Hua Yaobang died. He was remembered for appearing to support student protests in 1986-7. At his funeral, students tried to force a petition into the hands of Li Peng the Prime Minister. He refused to accept it. The ‘People’s Daily’ attacked the protestors as ‘plotters’ who were out to destroy the reforms. The attack infuriated students and they came from over forty universities to Tiananmen Square. Transport workers allowed them free travel.
The protestors published a list of seven demands. They wanted a government re-evaluation of Hua Yaobang, the freedom of the press, the publication of the assets and incomes of leaders of the CCP and their children, inflation to be brought under control, no reprisals against the demonstrator, the publication of an honest account of the demonstration and a dialogue between the government and the students
Zhao Zhiyang, the Secretary-General of the CCP, went to Tiananmen Square to talk to the demonstrators. He appeared to be trying to reach a compromise and said that the ‘People’s Daily’ had gone too far. The government had direct talks with the students, but they refused to call off the protests. The students had realised that the world’s media were in Beijing to cover a state visit by Mikhail Gorbachev. That would also mean that the CCP would not dare to attack the students.
The leadership of the CCP was furious with the students. The plans for Gorbachev’s visit had to be rearranged and that there could be no mass rally in Tiananmen Square.
On 19 May Gorbachev left China and Zhao went to Tiananmen Square again to talk to the students. Li Peng the Prime Minister also went to the square, but said little. That evening Zhao was dismissed and Li Peng declared martial law. More students arrived in the square and troops sent there were turned back by local people. On 2 June a second attempt to clear the square took place. 350,000 troops surrounded the square and blocked all roads in. On 3 June tanks cleared the square. About 1,000 students were killed, many were arrested and those who fled were rounded up.
The treatment of the demonstrators was intended to be a warning. It was intended to show that the government meant business. The use of force was meant to prove that the demonstrators had posed a serious threat and that the government was determined to suppress the unrest.
5: China in the 1990s
The CCP blamed the demonstration on foreign influence. ‘English Corners’ in Chinese cities were closed. These were areas where people gathered to talk about the West. University campuses were put off limits for western journalists. Chinese students studying abroad were temporarily prevented from returning home. In Beijing University all first year students from 1989-93 had to spend their first year doing military training.
But the reaction was not as severe as it might have been. The death penalty was only applied to protestors charged with serious violence, for example attacks on soldiers. The leaders were not executed. At East China Normal University in Shanghai, activists, on graduation, were allocated jobs as secondary school teachers as punishment. This seems a remarkably light form of punishment. Zheu Rongji, the Mayor of Shanghai, who refused to use force against the demonstrators, was promoted to the post of Vice-Premier in 1991.
Despite the crack down on the students, the modernisation of China continued. Deng’s great aim was to reunite Hong Kong with China when the British lease ran out in 1997. He did not live to see this happen. He died in 1992. However, agreement was reached between China and Britain that the status of Hong Kong would remain unchanged for fifty years when the hand over took place. In many ways Hong Kong was the model that Deng had tried to follow in China and he and his successors had no wish to lose what was an important link with capitalism and the West.