A14: revolution in China, 1949-96 1949-76 How was China changed under Mao?

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A14: revolution in China, 1949-96
How was China changed under Mao?

  • In 1949 Mao became the President of the People’s Republic of China and governed China as a virtual dictator.

  • His immediate aims were to establish communist rule throughout the country and to bring about land reform.

  • 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 Mao preferred to rely on the peasants, who had main the main supporters of the CCP. In this, Mao was following Chinese tradition.

  • Mao rejected modern methods of industrialisation. In the Second Five Year Plan, he preferred to use manual labour rather than new technology.

  • 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.

  • 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.

How was China reformed under Liu and Deng?

  • In 1958 Mao had resigned as President of the People's Republic of China and was replaced by Liu Shaoqui.

  • In 1962 Mao handed over responsibility for the economy to President Liu Shaoqi and CCP General Secretary Deng Xiaoping

  • Liu and Deng decided that some free markets should be allowed as the only way of combating famine.

  • Peasants were allowed to own individual plots of landThe 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.

  • Liu and Deng also introduced population control. They saw that an uncontrolled increase was potentially disastrous.

  • These changes reduced the influence of Mao and also reversed many of his ideas. But by 1963 Mao was already regretting his loss of power and was becoming concerned at the changes that were taking place in China.

  • He began to build up support in the PLA (People's Liberation Army. Although Mao lacked supporters in the upper reaches of the government and the CCP, he had many supporters in lesser positions.

What were the reasons for the Cultural Revolution?

  • Mao claimed 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 complained that the Chinese education system was creating a privileged middle class.

  • 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.

  • Mao accused Liu and Deng of were betraying the revolution from within.

  • Mao 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.

  • Mao was also trying to equalise the value of physical and mental labour.

How was the Cultural Revolution brought about?

  • The Red Guards were set up in 1966. 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.

  • The Red Guards took over public transport and the radio and television networks. It became impossible for any opposing views to be put forward.

  • 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.

What was the impact of the Cultural Revolution?

  • The Cultural Revolution attacked all forms of traditional Chinese culture and all foreign influences. Western music and other forms of culture were banned.

  • Jiang Qing led a personal crusade to destroy everything that had existed before the Cultural Revolution.

  • The main effect of the Cultural Revolution was to undermine and destroy all forms of authority.

  • The authority of the central government was seriously weakened and industrial production came to a standstill.

  • All schools, colleges and universities were closed for two years

  • In the People's Liberation Army (PLA) all ranks were abolished.

  • Factories also set up groups of workers, which competed with the students to hunt out counter-revolutionaries.

  • Mao's opponents in the Party leaderships were all accused of 'revisionism', capitalist ideas, and were arrested and dismissed from their offices.

What effects did the Cultural Revolution have in China?

  • Within two years the country was in complete chaos.

  • All of the industrial and progress that had been made in the early 1960s was destroyed almost overnight

  • Finally Mao was forced to order the Red Guards to stop their attacks in 1969.

  • The PLA was called in to restore order. The Cultural Revolution eventually came to an end in 1971

China in 1971-76

  • Zhou was keen to rebuild relations with the West after the Cultural Revolution and arranged the visit of President Richard Nixon to Beijing in 1972.

  • Zhou then began to invite western opera companies, orchestras, academics and tourists to China.

  • In 1974 Zhou was attacked in the press along with western influences as a whole. Mao thought that his position was being undermined by Zhou’s policy with the West.

  • Jiang Qing encouraged the production of new revolutionary operas, which glorified the Chinese people and western medicine was rejected.

  • 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.

  • Zhou was also gravely ill with cancer and died in January 1976. Mao died in September 1976.

  • Hua Gaofeng had been named as Mao’s successor. 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.

  • But Mao’s death had left a vacuum that needed to be filled.

B10: China under Mao Zedong, 1949-59

How did Mao create a Communist State?

  • From October 1949 Mao was the undisputed leader of The People’s Republic of China.

  • 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. Anyone who showed any opposition to communism was labelled a counter-revolutionary or an imperialist.

  • To avoid accusations, Chinese increasingly tried to prove their loyalty by accusing others. This produced an atmosphere of suspicion and revenge.

  • Mao believed that the strength of the Party lay with the peasants in the countryside. He set out to destroy any remaining support for the GMD in the cities and ordered massacres of suspects.

  • 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.

  • The Chinese people were accustomed to being told what to do and followed Mao’s orders almost without question.

  • Mao realised that he had to offer the Chinese people something in return for their loyalty. In particular, he had to reward the peasants.

How was Land reform introduced?

  • This began with an attack on landlords. 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. Reform took no account of the size or value of the holding.

  • Mao 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.

  • Tenant farmers were given title deeds to their land and landless peasants were given plots. This gave hundreds of millions of peasants a stake in China for the first time and made them even more loyal to Mao.

How was society changed in Communist China?

  • Mao made real efforts to improve the lives of the Chinese people. Unemployment fell dramatically and insurance was introduced.

  • But urban workers had no right to choose where they worked and were assigned jobs by state labour offices.

  • Residence permits prevented people moving, and it was virtually impossible for peasants to move to the cities.

  • 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.

  • Retirement was introduced at 50-55 for women and 55-60 for men.

  • Pensions, a health services and education were provided. Education became a right and was made compulsory. Housing, water, electricity and other services were all subsidised.

How did Mao change the status of women?

  • 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.

  • By the 1970s almost 50% of China's doctors were women and 30% of engineers and scientists

Why was the First Five Plan begun?

  • The civil war had resulted in inflation and famine.

  • The population was rising rapidly and production needed to be increased.

  • How successful was Mao?

  • By 1952, inflation was down from 1000% to 15%.

  • Public expenditure had been reduced and taxes on city dwellers had been increased.

  • 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.

  • Economic growth ran at 9% per annum during the five years. National expenditure rose from 6,810 million yuan in 1952 to 29,020 million yuan in 1957.

  • The success of the First Five Year Plan was to some extent due to the presence of 10,000 advisers from Soviet Russia. 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.

Why did Mao start The Hundred Flowers?

  • The First Five Year Plan created huge problems. The increase in the numbers of city dwellers meant that food and housing were in very short supply.

  • 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’.

  • Mao seemed to be calling for a great debate on the Five Year Plan. Mao also seems to have heard that local CCP officials had been accused of acting heavy-handedly and wanted to hear other opinions.

  • But there is also evidence that Mao’s ideas were becoming less popular in China. To Mao, changes such as this may suggested a weakening of his position in China.

  • 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.

What were the results of The Hundred Flowers?

  • Many people openly criticised the Plan, especially university lecturers, artists, writers and teachers. Even Mao himself was included.

  • Mao called an immediate end to the campaign and began the Anti-rightist movement, which was directed by Deng Xiaoping.

  • Some leading figures in the CCP were purged. Altogether about 500,000 people were removed.

Why was Collectivisation introduced?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • The ideas of the Soviet scientist Trofim Lysenko were adopted. He had put forward fraudulent theories, which did great harm to farming.

  • 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.

  • The falls in production led to a major famine and about 30,000,000 Chinese died. Even Mao had to admit that Collectivisation was a failure, but he reacted by accusing officials of incompetence.

What was the Great Leap Forward?

  • 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.

  • Workers who had migrated to towns during the First Five Year Plan were sent back to their communes to work.

  • The fundamental idea behind the Great Leap Forward was that industrial development could be achieved through the individual efforts of the ordinary Chinese people.

  • The Great Leap Forward would reinforce the rural community and avoid the creation of a class of ‘experts’, which Mao so distrusted.

  • All over China people began to set up backyard blast furnaces and produce steel, which was often unusable.

  • 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.

Why did the Great Leap Forward fail?

  • The peasants did not know what they were doing.

  • Mao 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

  • National income fell by 29% and inflation rose from 0.2% to 16.2%.

How was the Gang of Four defeated?

  • Hua Gaofeng was Mao’s chosen successor but he was challenged in the Politburo by the Gang of Four.

  • The army supported Hua and the Gang of Four was arrested in October 1976. Hua seen as a caretaker.

  • In 1977 Deng Xiaoping was rehabilitated. He had many contacts in the Party and had not lost his membership when he fell from power.

  • In 1978 Deng became chairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference, which had not met since 1966. The Gang of Four was accused of suppressing the Conference and in October 1978 Mao’s Little Red Book was denounced. The Cultural Revolution was officially brought to an end.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.

  • In November 1980 the trial of the Gang of Four started and lasted until January. Two were sentenced to death and the others received life in prison.

  • In 1981 the Central Committee of the CCP stated that the Cultural Revolution had produced no useful results. At the same time continued to refer to Mao as the ‘great revolutionary’

How did Deng reform the economy?

  • Deng was prepared to allow the market into the Chinese economy. State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) would remain the basic way of organising business, but practical decisions would take precedence over dogma (communist ideas).

  • Deng also opened China up to foreign trade, ending Mao’s belief in self-sufficiency.


  • Communes were replaced by Xiangs, 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.

  • In 1984 restrictions on commerce were relaxed so that peasants could buy produce from one another to resell it. This had been banned before.


  • Deng sent thousands of students were sent abroad to study.

  • Special Economic Zones were set up, which contained China’s export industries and foreign-owned companies.

  • From 1981-1991 Chinese exports rose by 500% and inward investment rose by 400 percent.

  • Manufacturing output increased by 9 percent a year on average.

Work and employment

  • In 1981 some urban workers were allowed to look for jobs for the first time. Contracting out of some services was also allowed for the first time.

  • 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.

  • Opposition from workers meant that by 1992 only 20 percent of the workers in SOEs were covered by the new contracts.

Why were the reforms less successful after 1986?

  • Peasants to improve their farms because they only had 15 year leases.

  • Inflation also began to rise.

  • The weakening of central control led to a revival of traditional values and practices, for example, male control.

  • 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.

What was the Democracy Movement?

  • In 1979 Wei Jingsheng, a twenty-eight year old electrician, put up a poster asking for a Fifth Modernisation, Democracy (Deng had put forward Four). 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.

Why did the Democracy Movement develop?

  • Many people Deng was 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. He was a hardline CCP leader. He believed that China needed a period of stability after thirty years of upheaval and wild swings of policy.

  • Student unrest reached a peak in 1986 and 1987. The government cracked down and the ringleaders were arrested.

  • Li Peng took over the post of Prime Minister. Deng made no secret of his complete opposition to the Democracy Movement.

  • But the inflation and unemployment that had helped to create protests continued to rise. In April 1989 Hua Yaobang died. At his funeral, students tried to force a petition into the hands of Li Peng the Prime Minister.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The plans for Gorbachev’s visit had to be rearranged and that there could be no mass rally in Tiananmen Square.

  • More students arrived in the square and troops sent there were turned back by local people.

  • 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 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.

What was China like in the 1990s?

  • ‘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.

  • But the death penalty was only applied to protestors charged with serious violence, for example attacks on soldiers.

  • Zheu Rongji, the Mayor of Shanghai, who refused to use force against the demonstrators, was promoted to the post of Vice-Premier in 1991.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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