Since the second half of the 20th century the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has been trough numerous incidents and changes with regard to policy as well as economy. This period was mainly affected by two paramount leaders: Mao Zedong (1949-1976) and Deng Xiaoping (1978-1997). In my essay I want to show the developmental paths and the outcomes concerning the political, social and economic achievements.
As it will emerge throughout the assignment, they followed basically different ways to create their new China.
Mao Zedong, born December 26 1983 in Hunan province as a son of peasants, became leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the conflict with the Nationalists on the long march 1933-34. (Sanders 2005)
After the final victory of the CCP and the foundation of the PRC in 1949 China was spiritually and physically war-ravaged by decades of bloodshed in the civil war and the Japanese expulsion. (Corrin 1997)
Mao’s mindset was strongly stamped by revolutionary conviction and the socialist idea of the class struggle against bourgeoisie and capitalist exploitation. In 1950 he confiscated the land by the Land Reform Law and redistributed it to the peasants equally. In this way he won the hearts of China, but the campaign was also horribly violent since hundreds of thousands of landlords were killed.
During the 1950s a rapid process of collectivization started, first by simple mutual aid teams, later in co-operatives (APCs) and finally in gigantic communes (1958). This was due to expected economies of scale by sharing facilities and labour. (Lawrence 1998)
Besides, the rural collectivisation was accompanied by nationalising the whole private industry so that after 1953 no private sector remained.
The communes built up the basis for the Great Leap Forward (1958-60). Driven by enthusiasm and revolutionary fervour Mao started mass-campaigns to build a “communist utopia” by overcoming economic limitations, e.g. in his aim of an enormous increase of food production in few years or to overtake Britain’s steel output in 15 years. Such focussed on visions, production figures were falsified by local authorities to meet the unachievable aims. Concealed food shortages which were worsened by droughts threatened the people’s basic supply.
They resulted from lower production due to labour intensive mass-campaigns and higher consumption because it was assumed that plenty of food was available.
In the end enthusiasm could not break economic laws and replace sophisticated planning and so the ‘Great Leap Forward’ turned out as the greatest leap backward ever. The mass-campaigns were ineffective (backyard-furnaces) or even contra-productive (4 pests) and millions of people starved to death due to the lack of food. (Corrin et al. 1997)
The disastrous economic development went along with radical political campaigns such as the ‘hundred flowers bloom’ in 1956. Mao encouraged intellectuals to free thoughts without fearing punishment, but after a massive wave of criticism and demand for general freedom and China’s opening, Mao arrested and punished the dissidents who dared to raise their voices – either because it was a planned coup against different-minded or he just hadn’t expected such a large response and now had to avert a severe threat to the CCP.
After years of slight economic recovery in the early 1960s and a more shadowy political existence of Mao, in 1966 he publicly denounced revisionism, rightists and party cadres who were taking the capitalist road and urged for a continuous Cultural Revolution to destroy the ‘Four Olds’ (culture, thoughts, customs and habits). ‘Bombard the Headquarters’ and ‘to rebel is justified’ were common phrases that incited the masses – especially students, the so called red guards – to attack teachers, rightists, capitalist-roaders and the head of the CCP Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping itself. The massive violence and the rivalry between Maoist groups finally had to be cooled down by sending the youth to the countryside.
As a result of the Cultural Revolution culture was destroyed, economy was declining again, millions of people died and a whole generation lost a decade of education. (Spence 1999, Corrin et al. 1997)
Mao was exceedingly stamped by idealism. In his mind ‘a great spiritual force becomes a great material force’ (Riskin 1987 p.121) and anything could be done with enough revolutionary fervour as the mass-mobilization during the Great Leap showed. His vision of a socialist China was borne by the key link of class struggle and the reliance on peasants (the latter unlike the Soviet Socialism that relied on the workers), which was expressed by the abolition of the landlords as a class and the redistribution of the land to the people.