Between 1919 to 1949, China had endured a lot of conflicts. The biggest of all being the 1946-1949 civil war which ended the three-decade period of tension. When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Mao Tse-Tung came to power in 1949, China’s economy and people held the scars of the conflictual years. The rivalry had opposed the CCP and the nationalists (the Kuomintang), which were lead by Sun Yatzen until 1925 and by Chiang Kai Shek until the faction’s dissolution. The civil war saw Mao and his CCP rising to victory, before his declaration of China being “The People’s Republic of China” in 1949.
From 1949, Mao’s ultimate goal was to turn China into a super-power, perhaps into the world’s most sovereign nation. To attain his goal, Mao established numerous policies. His programs and policies encompassed three areas: the economy, the culture, and the society. The policies have been judged to be everything from effective and useful to futile and crude. This essay will examine which policies were effective and which were not, and what was it that ultimately lead to the end of Maoism. Once the civil war was over and China was declared as the People’s Republic of China, instability in society was high.
There was also confusion and discontentment within the Chinese people, while the hope for a brighter future was obviously there too. For this reason, Mao’s strategy was that of bringing security and hope to the Chinese people. In return, Mao would certainly gain the trust and the support of his people. Mao wanted to win the support of the majority of his population, and that majority consisted of peasants. No moral concern would stop him. Everything behind his policies was thus strategically planned to achieve this aim.
In 1949, Mao launched the Organic Law which divided China into six categories. Each of these were regulated by officials. Force was used to achieve a certain level of stability. His second movement was the Agrarian Reform Law. Officials were sent to each villages to implement the law. Their job was to equally share the land between the peasants, and in the process beat, imprison, or execute landlords. Their aliby was that the landlords had been overpricing the lands. But of course, this was done only to gain the support of the peasants.
As Mao was getting more popular with his land reforms, a new problem arose. Food availability was not keeping up with China’s rapid increase of population (546 million in 1950 to 581 million in 1953). By 1957, 90 percent of the peasants belonged to cooperatives, meaning that they no longer exclusively owned their land. During the fifties, literacy greatly increased as party workers taught peasants to read and write. Mao’s biggest social reform of 1950 was the one that gave women equal rights to men. Before this reform, Chinese women had the same status as most women around the world.
They were far less valued and far less respected than their masculine compatriot. China had arranged marriages and women were epicene creatures designed to arise lust and provide pleasure. However, Mao’s “marriage law” policy drastically changed that. This social policy allowed women to vote, to own land, and to choose their matrimonial partner, while arranged marriages were made illegal. In 1951, Mao brought into beingness an influencal economic program. The five anti-movement policy was designed to benefit the economy by preventing issues such as tax evasion and fraud.
This economic reform was followed by the 1953 People’s Republic of China’s first five-year plan. The movement which ended in 1957, targeted industrial increase within three specific areas: coal, steel, and chemical products. To most, China’s first five-year plan was an unquestionable success, as production aims were not only reached but surpassed. The five-year plan period testified a 9 percent increase in China’s economic growth rate as it created an abundance of job opportunities but also gave birth to a railway system which would move goods and raw material all around the country.
Meanwhile, China’s population kept increasing at yet unseen speeds. Satisfied with the industrial progress made with the economic policies, Mao began targetting the people by the agency of social policies. Mao wanted to hear the honest thoughts of his people. Consequently, he launched the 100 flowers campaign in the year 1957. Mao hoped that this movement would promote creativity and progress from the arts to science. The movement did not appear to bring the wanted results and so Mao abruptly changed course.
Mao had “enticed the snakes out of their caves” (in the words of Mao), and now it was time to publicly criticize those who had been disloyal and to punish them in labour camps. The decrease of visible maoist loyalty caused by the campaign demanded the re-imposement of public maoist devotion which catalyzed the subsequent anti-rightist movement. The campaign’s name changed and became known as “the rightist campaign”. China moved into yet another time of suppression. The 100 flower movement allowed to find the enemy of the CCP, which was not however its initial purpose and which thus made it a failure.
Soon after in 1958 Mao launched a second five-years plan known as “The Great Leap Forward”. Unlike the first five-years plan and despite the suggestibility of its name, the great leap forward fell far below its intended objectives. The shameful figures of the plan were hidden from the Republic’s people, but what could not be hidden was the famine which was one of the consequences of the plan’s failure. The famine caused millions of deaths, as the government stole the peasant’s lands. Mao never took responsibility for the failures and instead blamed officials such as Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi.
Mao’s next significant cultural policy was called the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” which lasted from 1965 to 1976. To Mao, there was no restriction to what could be done in the name of the revolution, and this is why the 1965-1976 decade was one of complete chaos. Students raised in the classical Chinese tradition were suddenly told to insult and rebel against their parents and teachers. Their obedience was no longer directed at their elderly peers, as venerated Mao became the only thing that drove it. The young were made to be Red Guards, and anything that was traditionally chinese was destroyed.
This included factories, buildings, temples, works of art, ornemental gardens, and many invaluable tangible symbols of the Chinese nation. The Red Guards also took control of the radio and the television, and on top of that, many people, especially the potentially threatening intellectuals were beaten, tortured, imprisoned or executed. The prevailing slogan of the Cultural Revolution was “the more brutal, the more revolutionary”. By 1967, the cultural revolution seemed to be out of hand and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took action in 1968 to restore the peace.
At the end of the carnage, one generation had missed out on education as schools and universities had been closed, millions had died through famine and executions, production had decreased and the faith in the communist party had been damaged. After peace had been somewhat restored in the early seventies, more and more Chinese people became unenthusiastic about the Cultural Revolution. However, the cult of Mao was so well established that his authority was not likely to be overthrown for as long as he would be alive. Fortunately for many, his declining health promised an imminent end to the Cultural Revolution and to Mao’s reign.
Since his appointment as the first chairman of the communist party of the People’s Republic of China, Mao had developed an almost surrealistic influence over his people. So powerful indeed, that he was considered by many to be a “son of heaven”. His policies, economic societal or cultural proved to be erratic, unpredictable, and sometimes ruthless. One of his first goal was to obtain the obediance and admiration of the people, which he gained, among other things, through his few successful policies. These included the marriage law and the first five-years plan.
On the other hand, his failed policies such as the 100 flower campaign, the great leap forward, and the cultural revolution have had disastrous consequences. Despite this, Mao still greatly developed China’s economic system during his first five-year plan, as industries and production rapidly grew. Mao also greatly affected China through his social with among others the marriage law. All in all, it can certainly be agreed that the tragic consequences of his failed policies overweigh the good that his successful policies have given to China and its people.