EARLY COMMUNIST RULE UNDER MAO
After the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China was ruled by the "Eight Immortals," which included Mao at the helm and Zhou Enlai and Lin Biao. Under Mao, factories were put under central control, land was taken from landlords and redistributed among peasants, and the population was organized into several million work units under pyramidal central control. In 1953, with inflation brought under control and industrial production restored, Mao launched his first five-year plan, which boosted heavy industry but failed to increase farm productivity.
The communist takeover of the mainland in 1949 set the scene for building a new society built on a Marxist-Leninist model replete with class struggle and proletarian politics fashioned and directed by the CCP. Once in power, the Communists, who had rebelled against the despotism of the Kuomintang, became despots themselves. Trained as fighters not managers, they became inward-looking, conservative, authoritarian, suspicious of change, corrupt, and suspicious of intellectuals. Repeating a pattern established by the Chinese emperors that preceded him, Mao withdrew China from the international community and the international marketplace. He created a state economy which controlled and owned everything from flower shops to pig farms to munitions factories.
Periods of consolidation and economic development facilitated by President Liu Shaoqi (1898---1969) and Premier Zhou were severely altered by disastrous anti-intellectual (such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, 1957), economic (the Great Leap Forward, 1958---59), and political (the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966---76) experiments directed by Mao and his supporters. During this time, China had broken with the Soviet Union by 1959, fought a border war with India in 1962, and skirmished with Soviet troops in 1969. In 1969 Mao anointed Lin Biao (1908---71), a radical People’s Liberation Army marshal, as his heir apparent, but by 1971 Lin was dead, the result of an airplane crash in Mongolia following an alleged coup attempt against his mentor. Less radical leaders such as Zhou and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (1904---97), who had been politically rehabilitated after his disgrace early in the Cultural Revolution, asserted some control, and negotiations were initiated with the United States, ending a generation of extreme animosity toward Washington.
China’s per capita income adjusted for inflation was lower in the 1950s than it had been at the end of the Song Dynasty in the 1270s.
Good Websites and Sources of People’s Republic of China : Timeline china-profile.com ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cold War International Project wilsoncenter.org ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org;
The Long March: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Paul Noll site paulnoll.com ; Chinese Government Account of Events chinadaily.com; Long March Remembered china.org.cn ; Long March map china.org.cn Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters
Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)
Books: Fanshen by William Hinton is the classic account of rural revolution during the communist-led civil war in the late 1940s. China Witness, Voices from a Silent Generation by Xinran (Pantheon Books, 2009) is collection of oral histories from Chinese who survived the Mao period. Lonng March books include The Long March by Edmund Jocelyn and Andree McEwen (2006) and The Long March by Sun Shuyun, based in accounts from 40 of 500 participants that were still alive in 2005. Mao; the Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. There is also a Mao biography by Jonathon Spence. Also check out: Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui (1994). Other books: 2) The Penguin History of Modern China by Jonathan Fenby 3) . Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow; 4) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). 7) Jay Taylor The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009); 9) Shark Fins and Millet is an excellent depiction of China in the 1930s by Polish-born journalist Ilona Ralf Sues, who met up with Big-Eared Du and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.
Mao Cleans Up China
opium smoking in pre-Mao China Mao was very successful in cleaning up the decadent mess left by the Western powers. Almost overnight, Shanghai was given a face lift. Chinese ghettos were torn down, hundreds of thousand of opium addicts were forced into cold turkey and child and slave labor were abolished. In Beijing, the splendid medieval wall with its 44 bastions and 16 gates, was torn down in 1952 to ease traffic congestion.
The opium problem was solved with a declaration that anybody found using it or selling it would be put to death. Severe punishments were also dished for prostitution, helping to virtually eradicate venereal disease. Mao clamped down on wife selling by ordering the keeping of marriage records to discourage the practice. It seemed like the only vice the Communists couldn’t eliminate was smoking. Most party leaders were heavy smokers, and no doubt peasants would have smoked more if they could have afforded it.
Instead of sex and drugs, Communists were encouraged to participate in volunteer public works programs and attend self-criticism sessions. Mao also encouraged people to head off to the frontiers of Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang. "A good comrade, he wrote, "is one who is more eager to go where the difficulties are greater."
Mao thumbed his nose at traditional Chinese culture, undermined traditional scholarship and criticized Confucius for not being a revolutionary.
Order Restored in China
Describing the scene at Nanjing a few months after the Communist takeover, AP reporter Seymore Topping recalled in the New York Times, "Before long, the prices of daily necessities stabilized. Most shops reopened, as did dance halls. Beggars disappeared from the streets. Censorship was imposed on the local newspapers and radio."
"University students, enthusiastic about the new government, gathered in public assemblies to sing songs that commissars had taught them with lines like, 'Reactionaries who exploit the people deserve to be cut into thousands of pieces.”"
"People began grumbling about the new Communist administration. Taxes had risen sharply as the city's commercial life withered. The local press reported of sabotage of Communist offices in the surrounding countryside...Ideological structures on the universities and other spheres of intellectual life tightened. In schools, factories and municipal offices, study groups were formed to discuss Maoist theory and participants were required to confess ideological sins."
Early Days of Communist Rule in China
Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker, “Despite the damaging effects of the Korean War and the American trade embargo---China had, by 1956, made remarkable progress in securing social stability, achieving economic growth, and improving living conditions. “
According to Roderick MacFarquhar, a leading historian of Mao’s China, “what Mao accomplished between 1949 and 1956 was in fact the fastest, most extensive, and least damaging socialist revolution carried out in any communist state.” The distinguished expatriate writer Liu Binyan recalled the early nineteen-fifties as a time when “everyone felt good . . . and looked to the future with optimism”; most were eager to do their bit for their country.
The writer Wang Meng said the euphoria of the first days of the People’s Republic were among the dearest of his memories. He said he was elated by the passionate rallies, the parades, the comradely meetings and songs. He marvelled at how, within a week, Beijing cleaned up its gigantic garbage dump, a notorious problem in the old capital. The revolution, he believed, had swept away the degenerate old way of life that trapped his parents and kept China backward. [Source: Jianying Zha, The New Yorker, November 8, 2010]
Early Policies of the Communist Party
After China entered the Korean War, the initial moderation in Chinese domestic policies gave way to a massive campaign against the "enemies of the state," actual and potential. These enemies consisted of "war criminals, traitors, bureaucratic capitalists, and counterrevolutionaries." The campaign was combined with party-sponsored trials attended by huge numbers of people. The major targets in this drive were foreigners and Christian missionaries who were branded as United States agents at these mass trials. [Ibid]
“The 1951-52 drive against political enemies was accompanied by land reform, which had actually begun under the Agrarian Reform Law of June 28, 1950. The redistribution of land was accelerated, and a class struggle against landlords and wealthy peasants was launched. An ideological reform campaign requiring self-criticisms and public confessions by university faculty members, scientists, and other professional workers was given wide publicity. Artists and writers were soon the objects of similar treatment for failing to heed Mao's dictum that culture and literature must reflect the class interest of the working people, led by the CCP. [Ibid]
“These campaigns were accompanied in 1951 and 1952 by the san fan ("three anti") and wu fan ("five anti") movements. The former was directed ostensibly against the evils of "corruption, waste, and bureaucratism"; its real aim was to eliminate incompetent and politically unreliable public officials and to bring about an efficient, disciplined, and responsive bureaucratic system. The wu fan movement aimed at eliminating recalcitrant and corrupt businessmen and industrialists, who were in effect the targets of the CCP's condemnation of "tax evasion, bribery, cheating in government contracts, thefts of economic intelligence, and stealing of state assets." In the course of this campaign the party claimed to have uncovered a well-organized attempt by businessmen and industrialists to corrupt party and government officials. This charge was enlarged into an assault on the bourgeoisie as a whole. The number of people affected by the various punitive or reform campaigns was estimated in the millions. [Ibid]
Transition to Socialism and China’s First Five-Year Plan (1953-57)
The period of officially designated "transition to socialism" corresponded to China's First Five-Year Plan (1953-57). The period was characterized by efforts to achieve industrialization, collectivization of agriculture, and political centralization. The First Five-Year Plan stressed the development of heavy industry on the Soviet model. Soviet economic and technical assistance was expected to play a significant part in the implementation of the plan, and technical agreements were signed with the Soviets in 1953 and 1954. For the purpose of economic planning, the first modern census was taken in 1953; the population of mainland China was shown to be 583 million, a figure far greater than had been anticipated. [Source: The Library of Congress *]
“Among China's most pressing needs in the early 1950s were food for its burgeoning population, domestic capital for investment, and purchase of Soviet-supplied technology, capital equipment, and military hardware. To satisfy these needs, the government began to collectivize agriculture. Despite internal disagreement as to the speed of collectivization, which at least for the time being was resolved in Mao's favor, preliminary collectivization was 90 percent completed by the end of 1956. In addition, the government nationalized banking, industry, and trade. Private enterprise in mainland China was virtually abolished. *
“Major political developments included the centralization of party and government administration. Elections were held in 1953 for delegates to the First National People's Congress, China's national legislature, which met in 1954. The congress promulgated the state constitution of 1954 and formally elected Mao chairman (or president) of the People's Republic; it elected Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress; and named Zhou Enlai premier of the new State Council. *
“In the midst of these major governmental changes, and helping to precipitate them, was a power struggle within the CCP leading to the 1954 purge of Political Bureau member Gao Gang and Party Organization Department head Rao Shushi, who were accused of illicitly trying to seize control of the party. *
“The process of national integration also was characterized by improvements in party organization under the administrative direction of the secretary general of the party Deng Xiaoping (who served concurrently as vice premier of the State Council). There was a marked emphasis on recruiting intellectuals, who by 1956 constituted nearly 12 percent of the party's 10.8 million members. Peasant membership had decreased to 69 percent, while there was an increasing number of "experts", who were needed for the party and governmental infrastructures, in the party ranks. *
Land Reform in China Under Mao
The Communist Party’s greatest legacy arguably has been taking land from wealthy landlords and rich farmers and redistributing it in rural areas among the poorest peasants under the principal of “land of the tiller.” During their struggle to take power, the Communists promised land to the poor. When the Communists came to power they began seizing land from landowners. Land owners that resisted, even those with as little as two thirds of an acre, were often executed.
Farmers classified as "poor peasants" by the Communists were given ownership to land taken away from local landlords and rich farmers. Estates and large farms were divided up. Each family got no more than 1.3 acres. One farmer told the New York Times, "Of course we were extremely happy---everyone was happy we got land!"
The seizure of land was not always easy. In some cases “certain necessary steps” had to be taken and this resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people. In many cases villagers were executed or beaten to death by fellow villagers to get their land. See Violence in the Early Years of the People's Republic Below.
The peasants didn’t hold on to their land for long. By the late 1950s, private land ownership was eliminated and peasants were given usage rights to the land but not ownership. The land from then on was owned by the state. Peasants were organized into mutual aid teams and lower-level cooperatives and then collectives in the early and mid 1950 and became property-less members of “people’s communes.”
Similar scenarios were played in the cities. Rich families who stayed in Shanghai after Communist Revolution were told they had nothing to worry about, but in the end their land and property was expropriated. The Communists also confiscated their art. One Hong Kong art dealer told the New York Times. "The Shanghai museum's best pieces are all from those private collections."
Top down economic plans after independence bore fruit. The national income rose at rate of 8.9 percent a year between 1953 and 1957 but created problems down the road. Giving peasants usage rights rather than ownership paved the way for the seizures of land by local officials and businesses which is taking place today. See Land Seizures, Agriculture, Economics
Democratic Reforms and Anti-Rightist Campaign
Warren Smith of Radio Free Asia wrote: “Democratic Reforms were imposed in Han Chinese areas in the early 1950s. They involved the confiscation of the property and possessions of the capitalist and exploitative classes, along with land redistribution from landlords to peasants. Democratic Reforms were imposed upon central Tibet only after the failed 1959 Tibetan rebellion against Beijing’s rule. [Source: Warren Smith, Radio Free Asia, September 20, 2005 |~|]
“Democratic Reforms were supposed to pave the way for socialist transformation (collectivization and communization) by transferring political power from the exploitative classes to the people. However, in Tibet, Democratic Reforms had the effect of transferring political power from Tibetans to Chinese. Democratic Reforms in Tibet involved the repression of all rebels and class enemies and the redistribution of land to the Tibetan serfs. Primary targets of the campaign were the Tibetan Government, the aristocracy, and the religious establishment, designated by the Chinese as the “Three Pillars of Feudalism.” |~|
“The property and treasury of the Tibetan Government were confiscated by the Chinese state. The lands and possessions of the wealthy landowners were confiscated and redistributed to the poor serfs. Serfs were given title to the land in elaborate ceremonies, only to have their lands confiscated by the government a few years later during communization. The wealth of individual Tibetans was also confiscated, but reportedly much of this found its way into the hands of Chinese officials. |~|
As part of the effort to encourage the participation of intellectuals in the new regime, in mid-1956 there began an official effort to liberalize the political climate. Cultural and intellectual figures were encouraged to speak their minds on the state of CCP rule and programs. Mao personally took the lead in the movement, which was launched under the classical slogan "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend." At first the party's repeated invitation to air constructive views freely and openly was met with caution. By mid-1957, however, the movement unexpectedly mounted, bringing denunciation and criticism against the party in general and the excesses of its cadres in particular. Startled and embarrassed, leaders turned on the critics as "bourgeois rightists" and launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign. The Hundred Flowers Campaign, sometimes called the Double Hundred Campaign, apparently had a sobering effect on the CCP leadership. Also DEATH, REPRESSION AND LIFE UNDER MAO
Soviet Influence in the 1950s
After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, China reorganized its science establishment along Soviet lines--a system that remained in force until the late 1970s, when China's leaders called for major reforms. The Soviet model is characterized by a bureaucratic rather than a professional principle of organization, the separation of research from production, the establishment of a set of specialized research institutes, and a high priority on applied science and technology, which includes military technology. [Source: Library of Congress *]
“Under the Soviet bureaucratic model, leadership was in the hands of nonscientists, who assign research tasks in accordance with a centrally determined plan. The administrators, not the scientists, controlled recruitment and personnel mobility. The primary rewards were administratively controlled salary increases, bonuses, and prizes. Individual scientists, seen as skilled workers and as employees of their institutions, were expected to work as components of collective units. Information was controlled, was expected to flow only through authorized channels, and was often considered proprietary or secret. Scientific achievements was regarded as the result primarily of "external" factors such as the overall economic and political structure of the society, the sheer numbers of personnel, and adequate levels of funding. *
Bo Yibo, Bo Xilai's father “Soviet influence also was realized through large-scale personnel exchanges. During the 1950s China sent about 38,000 people to the Soviet Union for training and study. Most of these (28,000) were technicians from key industries, but the total cohort included 7,500 students and 2,500 college and university teachers and postgraduate scientists. The Soviet Union dispatched some 11,000 scientific and technical aid personnel to China. An estimated 850 of these worked in the scientific research sector, about 1,000 in education and public health, and the rest in heavy industry. *
“The Soviet aid program of the 1950s was intended to develop China's economy and to organize it along Soviet lines. As part of its First Five-Year Plan (1953-57), China was the recipient of the most comprehensive technology transfer in modern industrial history. The Soviet Union provided aid for 156 major industrial projects concentrated in mining, power generation, and heavy industry. Following the Soviet model of economic development, these were large-scale, capital-intensive projects. By the late 1950s, China had made substantial progress in such fields as electric power, steel production, basic chemicals, and machine tools, as well as in production of military equipment such as artillery, tanks, and jet aircraft. The purpose of the program was to increase China's production of such basic commodities as coal and steel and to teach Chinese workers to operate imported or duplicated Soviet factories. These goals were met and, as a side effect, Soviet standards for materials, engineering practice, and factory management were adopted. In a move whose full costs would not become apparent for twenty-five years, Chinese industry also adopted the Soviet separation of research from production. *
Official Version of the Communist Party’s History
present leader of China Xi Jinping with father Xi Zhongxun, a prominent early Communist In 2011, released in conjunction with 90th anniversary celebratiosn of the founding the Chinese Communist Party, the Central Party History Research Office has produced a compendium of the party’s history from 1949 to 1978 (post-1978 apparently remains too politically sensitive because many of the officials involved are still in power). While the tome provides many new details of sensitive events during the Mao era, it is still highly selective and largely in step with the master narrative laid down in the 1982 publication: “Certain Questions in Our Party’s History.” [Source: David Shambaugh, New York Times June 30, 2011]
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “China’s Communist Party has finally got its story straight. It took 16 years of editing and four extensive rewrites. Chinese leaders, otherwise preoccupied with running a rising superpower, weighed in throughout. “I never thought it would take so long,” said Shi Zhongquan, who helped craft what the party hopes will be the final word on some of the most politically sensitive and also bloodiest episodes of China’s recent history---a new 1,074-page account of the party’s early decades in power.It gets particularly hard when it includes not only two of the past century’s most lethal man-made catastrophes---the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution---but also a modest yet now ticklish upset back in 1962---the disgrace of Xi Zhongxun, the father of Xi Jinping, China’s current vice president and leader-in-waiting.” [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, May 26 2011]
“It’s an old communist joke that Marxists can predict the future, but the past is more difficult,” Roderick Macfarquhar, a Harvard University scholar and leading authority on Chinese politics under Mao Zedong, told the Washington Post. The past, added Macfarquhar, “is important because it legitimates the present” and “what went wrong then has to be justified now.”
The party published its first official history 20 years ago but ended the story with Mao’s conquest of China in 1949. It has now ventured into far more treacherous territory with the January publication of “History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2 (1949-1978),” which continues the saga until the year Deng Xiaoping started undoing much of Mao’s legacy.
The leadership’s close attention has at least helped boost sales: The two-volume text topped the Beijing News bestseller list for more than a month, due in large part to bulk orders from party units, which have been ordered to study the work. Regular historians sniff at the whole venture: “This is politics and propaganda,” said Yang Kuisong, a prominent history professor in Beijing. “I have no interest in the topic.”
Difficulty in Assembling the Official Version of the Communist Party’s History
Shi, a former deputy director of the Party History Research Center, acknowledged wide differences of opinion among scholars, both Chinese and foreign, but said the party was not budging from the line it first fixed in 1981 that Mao made “gross mistakes” but, overall, did far more good than harm. “You can’t attack Mao and not attack the Chinese Communist Party,” Shi said.
Xi, the Politburo member who is due to take over as leader of the party next year and whose father was purged by Mao in 1962, has been particularly active in stressing the need to get history right. In a keynote address at a “history work conference” last summer, he called on all party members---numbering nearly 80 million---to “resolutely combat the wrong tendency to distort and smear the party’s history.” (He didn’t comment on his father.) Also weighing history has been Liu Yuan, the son of Liu Shaoqi, a former Chinese president who died in 1969 after being denied medical treatment, having been purged by Mao during the Cultural Revolution.
So touchy is the party about its past that the new history Shi helped edit had to be vetted by 64 party and state bodies, including the People’s Liberation Army. An initial draft took four years to finish, but that didn’t pass muster with the leadership. It took 12 more years before the Politburo finally signed off on a finished text. This, according to an editor’s note, followed “clear demands regarding revisions” from party chief Hu Jintao, his heir apparent, Xi, and vice president Zeng Qinghong. The whole process lasted so long that more than a dozen of the scholars involved at the start died before publication. Of an original trio of three senior editors, Shi, now 73, is the only one still alive.
Mao and Deng Xiaoping in the early Communist years
Content of the Official Version of the Communist Party’s History
David Shambaugh of George Washington University wrote in the New York Times, Nowhere mentioned is the violence of political campaigns during the 1950s that cost the lives of tens of millions (some of the campaigns are discussed, but not the persecutions and killings). The 1956 Hundred Flowers Movement, in which intellectuals launched broadside critiques of party rule (many which remain apt today), is totally absent. Only the subsequent “Anti-Rightist” purge is covered (in a sanitized fashion) “but not Deng Xiaoping’s role in directing it. [Source: David Shambaugh, New York Times June 30, 2011]
Mao himself does come in for criticism, but overall the blame is shifted to others. Mao’s successor Hua Guofeng does benefit from a posthumous “rehabilitation,” but no such luck for the disgraced Zhao Ziyang. The official treatment of these events is clear: maintain a strong institutional apparatus and remain vigilant against inner-party usurpers and foreign saboteurs. Thus, even in the midst of an anniversary celebration, the party’s continuing inability to honestly and fully confront its past speaks volumes about its present and future. It is symptomatic of existing insecurities.
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “In a lengthy discussion of the Great Leap Forward, a ruinous crash program of industrialization and rural collectivization launched in 1958, the party history acknowledges great suffering and even notes that because of food shortages and illness, China’s population in 1960 fell by 10 million. But, claiming that Mao’s goal throughout was basically the same as that of China’s current leadership, it says he was driven by “a desire to change a picture of poverty and backwardness and make China grow rich and strong so it could use its own strength to stand tall in the forest of nations.”
Mao and Liu Shaoqi
Mao, according to the party’s version of events, “realized relatively early through preliminary investigation and research that there were problems in [the Great Leap] movement and worked hard to correct them.”Frank Dikotter, a Dutch scholar who last year published a study of the period, “Mao’s Great Famine,” dismissed this as a “barefaced lie.” Mao, he said, was indeed aware of the starvation caused by his policies but pressed on, with the result that as many as 45 million people died. Not recorded in the official history is a 1959 comment by Mao that Dikotter unearthed from a Chinese provincial archive: “It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated November 2016