Continuties between Mao Zedong's China and Deng Xiaoping's China

Essay, 2011

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0



The year of 1976 constituted a fundamental change in communist China. In the aftermath of Mao Zedong‟s death China changed politically and socially when Deng Xiaoping replaced Mao in his position of the real ruler of the country. Nevertheless, Deng was bound to the legacy of Mao‟s China. He realigned politics in order to correct the faults caused by the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. Simultaneously, Deng‟s politics was still determined by proclaiming socialist ideology as China‟s guiding values (MacFarquhar 1997: p. 327-335; Chandra 1997: p. 642). Thus, the question arises, which continuities can be analysed between Mao‟s China from 1949 to 1976 and Deng‟s rule until 1997.

To address this question I refer to the characteristics of state power, economic and foreign policy. These three aspects constitute the main determinates which defined China‟s history after the founding of the PRC (People‟s Republic of China). By examining state power I analyse the ideological determination of Chinese politics and the centrality of leadership. The examination of economic policy, which constituted a policy area of top priority of both Mao and Deng, explores the way in which politics where conducted and which aims it followed. I also include the impact of policies on society in order to identify which consequences ideological determined polices had. The comparison of foreign policy between Mao‟s and Deng‟s era will analyse how it corresponded with domestic politics. Therefore, this essay examines mainly how ideology affected political power and policies.

Ultimately, this essay comes to the conclusion that continuities in all three aspects can be observed in the Deng era but were put into new contexts and ideological implications were re-defined. Legitimising CCP rule still depended on ideological values and traditions but its scope were reduced in order to establish a stable society.

I deal with these issues in two main sections which are both divided into three parts according to the three aspects as outlined above. The first section examines Mao‟s rule regarding his political style and aims, strategies and impact on society. Basic characteristics will be stressed which will be compared to Deng‟s era in the second section. First, I will move on to Deng‟s rule from 1976 onwards. His conduct of politics by party power will be analysed and compared to Mao‟s rule. Second, aims and achievements of Deng‟s economic policy will be described and put into contrast to Mao‟s economic account and strategy. Third, foreign policy under Deng and Mao will be compared due to the changing international environment in the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, the conclusion will recapitulate the main line of argumentation.

Communist Rule under Mao

State Power and Leadership: Legitimacy of Proletarian Dictatorship

After abolishing the Kuomintang regime in 1949, the construction of a communist China should establish a new order. Campaigns initiated by the CCP and driven by the masses constituted the vehicle to establish and advance communist power and policies in the 1950s (Dreyer 2000: p. 81-82; Strauss 2006: p. 893-894). Thus, early communist politics were determined by the attempt to build new structures which aimed to achieve social change towards communism. The CCP could legitimise itself as the institution which had to lead the society to its ultimate purpose. Every element which was not compliant with the communist ideology could be suppressed. As a result, the party had to educate the public in order to consolidate values which served communist ideals (Mitter 2004: p. 187-188; Karl 2010: p. 74- 75). The phase of state building was characterised by the unity of the party. Steady progress until 1957 also consolidated Mao‟s power within the party and the conviction of the CCP to be on the track to communism (Teiwes 1997: p. 5-8). Mao‟s concept of a communist revolution postulated economic growth in order to push the peasants into economic and technological modernity. Likewise, the peasants themselves should be the creator of industrialisation instead of a pre-dominant bourgeoisie. Accordingly, the CCP decreed the industrialisation, whereupon a bourgeois rule did not need to be overthrown as outlined in Marx‟ theory. Thereby, China could pace faster toward communism by continuous revolution driven by peasants (Schram 1994: p. 128-132; Mitter 2004: p. 198; Karl 2010: 101-103).

This description of Maoist communism as outlined above suggests that ideology served to legitimise the rule of the CCP and aimed at change in social and especially in economic relations. The question arises, which characteristics under the rule of Mao‟s CCP can be analysed.

The role of Mao in defining China‟s purpose and the party‟s identity is crucial when discussing Chinese politics in 1949 to 1976. From the proclamation of the PRC (People‟s Republic of China) in 1949 onwards Mao could extensively use his authority in the party to influence the general political agenda as well as the specific implementation of policies. His Thought, on which the party‟s constitution was based on, defined the objectives of the party (Schram 1994: p. 131-132; Karl 2010: p. 74-75, p. 83-84). Mao was the uncontested leader of the CCP by forming unity among the main heads of the party. Soon after the foundation of the PRC the CCP attempted successfully to promote Mao as China‟s leader due to his wisdom and political cleverness. By using the press as an agent Mao was able to reach all Chinese people in every province of China. This power was used by Mao as an opportunity to enforce his opinion on a specific issue against opponents within the party. The party‟s objective to collectivise the agriculture in the mid-1950s were implemented according to the will of Mao despite the initial differing decision of party heads. Mao gained missing support for a fast collectivisation by persuading local party officials of the need of this program for social transformation. As a result, he did not follow the principle of democratic centralism but used his influence as glorified leader for a coercive strategy. The reluctant party heads had no other choice than following Mao‟s will (Teiwes 1997: p. 12-14; Weatherley 2006: p. 33-36).

The crucial point is that Mao decreed a permanent revolution from above but involved the masses for his policies. The Anti-campaigns until 1957 were supported by the masses and enhanced the party‟s legitimacy. In contrast, the ending of the Hundred Flowers Campaign marked a first shift when Mao re-consolidated his power by suppressing intellectuals which contested party power and its communist ideology as defined by Mao. Coercion by party decreeing became an increasing factor in Chinese politics (Strauss 2006: p. 897; Weatherley 2006: p. 39-40; Mitter 2004: p. 189-190; Karl 2010: p. 96-97).

The Cultural Revolution as a further attempt of Mao to enhance communism in China constituted a reaction to increasing party authority without the consent of the population. Therefore, Mao framed the CCP itself as revolutionary target of the masses, while his power within the party was weakened after the failure of the GLF. Accusing enemies of impeding true communism by refusing participation of the masses served Mao as strategy to put himself back in position of party power (Harding 1997: p. 148-149; Weatherley 2006: p. 58). The ideological stance of Mao took the decisive part in the Cultural Revolution. Authorities which impeded a continuously social transformation basing on Marxist principles needed to be removed. Accordingly, this allowed accusing a wide range of society, including parents, intellectuals and party officials (Walder et al 2003: p. 99; Weatherley 2006: p. 60-63). Finally, the Cultural Revolution was defined by coercive measures to re-educate the public and rebuild communist principles as Chinese identity. On the one hand, this constituted the element of mass mobilization, on the other hand, state control was enhanced in public life: Universities were closed, Intellectuals killed or sent to the countryside to learn self-reliance and the military took increasingly the role of controlling the people (Linz 2000: p. 66; Karl 2010: p. 134-136; Harding 1997: p. 151).

Based on these findings, it can be argued that Mao‟s authoritarian style of rule tended to be totalitarian, exemplified by the intended domination of ideology in public life and its indoctrination (Linz 2000: p. 159-160). Mao‟s authoritarian style of rule did not only coerce other decision-makers and the population to follow his will. He also used mass mobilisation as a democratic vehicle to implement policies, although their aims were predetermined and secured the power of the party and especially of Mao (see Thaxton 2008: p. 101; p. 112). Accordingly, Mao‟s approach of rule can be described as totalitarian, because his rule aimed at the ideological determination of “every aspect of (…) social life”, to borrow Robertson‟s (1993: p. 465) phrasing. Hence, Mao did not act merely as dictator when controlling the public, which would define an authoritarian rule according to Robertson and Linz (Robertson 1993: p. 31, p. 299-300; Teiwes 1995: p. 60; Linz 2000: 159). I do not suggest taking this definition of totalitarian systems as universally valid due to differing definitions in historical and political science, but it provides a useful framework in order to identify continuities and differences in the Deng era.


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Continuties between Mao Zedong's China and Deng Xiaoping's China
University of Warwick  (Department of History)
China since 1900
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ISBN (Book)
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Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, internationale Beziehungen, China, Kommunistische Partei, Kommunismus, Great Leap Foward, Cultural Revolution, USA China Beziehungen
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Julian Ostendorf (Author), 2011, Continuties between Mao Zedong's China and Deng Xiaoping's China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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