O Level Revision : History - China  from 1949-1980s

China  from 1949-1980s

China  and  Soviet  style  socialism

  • The CCP was different from the Bolshevik Party in the Soviet Union in 1917.
  • Bolsheviks were mostly workers in large industries in the cities whereas most of the CCP members were peasants in rural areas.
  • The CCP looked to the Soviet Union as a great example of how to build socialism.
  • The Chinese respected the Soviet Union so much that they copied their style of organising the economy.
  • The  Chinese  nationalised  most  of  the  major industries especially those owned by foreigners.
  • They adopted the Soviet Union five year plans.
  • China’s first five year plan lasted 1953-57.
  • Its main goal was to build heavy industries e.g. the production of steel, coal, electricity and machinery.
  • It was similar to what the Soviets had done under Stalin in the late 1920s.
  • Its five year plan was successful.
  • The table below shows some of the increases in production which occurred during the years of this plan:




Steel (Tonnes)

1 350 000

4 000 000

Coal (Tonnes)

66 490 000

130 000 000

Electricity (kilowatt hrs)

7,3 billion

19 billion

  • The Chinese were happy about the success but also believed that there could be an alternative to the Soviet model for development.
  • Building  heavy  industries  did  not  benefit  themajority in the rural areas.
  • The Chinese later abandoned the Soviet model andtargeted the countryside for development.

Chinese agricultural policy 

  • Many Chinese people were in serious debt.
  • They had to sell their children to pay the landlords.
  • Those who failed to pay were killed or beaten by the landlords’ armies.
  • The CCP opposed this oppression and the people supported them.
  • The CCP kept its promise of giving land to the people.
  • By  1951,  some  300  million  peasants  had  been given plots of land.
  • Land was obtained in many ways:

-     In some cases landlords were killed.

-     In most cases the landlords ran away.

-     Some landlords agreed to give up their land.

China  in 1949

  • The  fighting   destroyed   communication   lines, destroyed both industry and agriculture and resulted in high inflation.
  • China dealt with agriculture and communication first to save people from hunger.
  • Peasants used their traditional and primitive tools and transport to rebuild roads, dykes and canals and to harvest crops.
  • The benefits were limited because the plots were small and the people used hand tools that were inefficient.
  • There was not much food surplus left to sell to the urban people.
  • By 1950 there were improvements in road, rail and canal links.
  • Irrigation and drainage systems were improved.
  • Peasants were happy to be given land, but some problems still remained: many peasants lacked knowledge, draught power (oxen to pull ploughs), ploughs and equipment to do farming productively.
  • There were also problems of lack of education, absence of health care and manufactured goods.


  • Government began collectivisation of agriculture in the 1950s.
  • It aimed to transform the rural areas in two ways:

-     To decrease the gap between the rich and poor peasants.

-     To improve the standard of living of all people through allowing equal access to the means of production.

  • The   change   from   private   plots   to   collective organisation was rapid.
  • Force was applied on the people to make them accept collectivisation.
  • The CCP government organised the farmers step by step.
  • The first step was to establish mutual aid teams where small households shared the use of ploughs and other tools.
  • Members of the teams worked on each other’s land to improve irrigation or build roads.
  • Then people were moved into cooperatives where all land and production tasks were shared.
  • Cooperatives had about 1000 households.
  • In cooperatives people kept their family possessions and maintained private gardens or fowl runs.
  • By 1956 nearly all Chinese peasants had joined cooperatives.
  • After  one    or    two    years    in    cooperatives, collectivisation moved to the final stage, the formation of people’s communes
  • People’s  communes  included  several  thousand households.
  • The   people’s   communes   were   not   only   for agriculture but local government.
  • The people’s communes made decisions for their development.
  • People in the rural areas had the responsibility to develop their communities.
  • They  organised  education,  provided  health  care and developed local industry.
  • People’s communes aimed at total self-sufficiency of the people.
  • It meant each people’s commune would produce all they needed, e.g. textbooks, food etc.

The  Hundred Flowers Policy 

  • The idea  came  from  a  Chinese  classic,  ‘Let  a hundred flowers blossom and let a hundred schools of thought be contend’.
  • Mao was happy with the economic and political progress of his country.
  • The policy was passed in 1957. People were asked to say what they thought of the new regime.
  • A lot of criticism was said and shocked the CCP.
  • The  CCP  realised  that  freedom  of  speech  was dangerous.
  • The policy of a hundred flowers was ended.
  • The right to freedom of speech was withdrawn.

The  Great Leap  Forward

  • It was launched in 1958.
  • Was the second Five-Year Plan.
  • Was the final stage in the collectivisation of the peasantry.
  • Aimed to make China industrially strong within 14 years.
  • Three major goals of the Great Leap Forward:

-     To reduce inequality between the countryside and the urban areas.

-     To  give  more  decision-making  powers  to people in the rural areas.

-     To increase production by using human labour instead of heavy machines.

  • The major tasks of this plan were:

-     Promoting agricultural production.

-     Developing   heavy   industry   e.g.   fuel   and electric power.

-     Promoting   and   improving   people’s   living standards, culture, education and health.

  • Government encouraged all people from peasants to professors to produce steel in backyard furnaces, even in rural areas.
  • Backyard steel production was designed to:

-     Increase steel production.

-     Produce eleven million tonnes of steel.

-     Teach   peasants   the   process   of   industrial production.

-     Make millions of uneducated people familiar with modern methods of production and technology.

  • A lot of poor quality and useless steel was produced because the small furnaces could not generate enough heat.
  • Several factories were built with Russian aid.
  • During the Great Leap Forward period (1959 to 1961), there were poor harvests and severe drought in northern China and floods in Southern China.
  • Drought, floods and poor farming methods reduced agricultural output by a third.
  • Improved rail, road and canal systems were used to move grain to affected areas easily.
  • About 15 million tonnes of grain was brought in from Austria and Canada.
  • There was strict food rationing.
  • China’s foreign currency was depleted.
  • China was humiliated as she hated to rely on the devils (capitalists).
  • Oil for domestic use was produced during the Great Leap Forward. Some was exported.
  • Most Great Leap Forward goals were not achieved.
  • The drought and floods made communist leaders realise how dependent they were on agriculture.
  • The   emphasis   then   shifted   from   industry   to agriculture.
  • Cooperative farms were joined into communes of between 20 000 to 30 000 households to increase efficiency and output.
  • The peasants resented communes.
  • Huge machines  could  be  used  productively  on bigger fields resulting in irrigation schemes and reclaiming of wasteland.
  • By 1958 more than 99% of the peasants were in People’s Communes.
  • Some 40 000 people would work on a project such as building bridges, roads and irrigation systems.
  • Many Chinese people improved their life styles.

Problems of the  Great Leap  Forward

  • Much planning was done by inexperienced people leading to bad decisions, e.g. the backyard steel production project.
  • People criticised the Great Leap Forward project and Mao Zedong, its main organiser.
  • Poor organisation and planning affected China in 1958 and 1960 adversely.
  • Many people died of starvation.
  • Emphasis was on heavy industry and other sectors were neglected.
  • The Great Leap Forward was a shift from the Soviet style of socialism.
  • China  and  the  Soviet  Union  became  enemies because of different models of building socialism.
  • In the Soviet Union, workers but not peasants were the main targets of socialist policies.
  • The Soviet Union withdrew all its financial aid, engineers, doctors and technicians from China.
  • Projects were left uncompleted.
  • By the 1970s rice was still rationed in Beijing.
  • There were no private cars.
  • £20 was still the average monthly wage.

Chinese versus Russian model  of building socialism

There were three major differences:

  • The  Soviet  Union  model  was  based  on  heavy industry and industrial workers.
  • The Chinese was based on the peasants.
  • The Soviet Union forced people into state farms while the Chinese persuaded people.
  • In the Soviet Union, all planning of production was done by the central government but in China it was done locally.

Disagreements between China  and  Russia

  • There  were  accusations  and  counter-accusations between China and Russia.
  • The  Soviet  Union  (Khrushchev)  talked  of  two things:

-     Peaceful co-existence between capitalism and communism.

-     That there would be a devastating war in the face of nuclear power between communist and capitalist countries.

  • Mao Zedong declared that:

-     Communist countries should not fear war.

-     People  under  the  imperialist  and  capitalist system should make a revolution to free themselves.

-     Contradictions  between  the  bourgeoisie  and the proletariat can be resolved only with a proletariat revolution.

-     People who are already on the socialist road need to carry their revolutions forward to the end.

  • Mao blamed the Russians for giving up the struggle to spread the influence of communism.

Women and  the  Chinese Revolution

  • Women were liberated by the Marriage Law of 1950.
  • It made it illegal to kill or sell children.
  • It also banned pre-arranged marriages. Before 1949 a grown up girl would be pledged in marriage by her parents to an infant.
  • When this law was passed many women applied for divorce.
  • A marriage could only be contracted if the men had reached 20 years of age and the girl 18 years.
  • Husbands  and  wives  were  companions  living together and would enjoy equal status in the home.
  • Both wife and husband were to have equal rights in the possession of family property.
  • Both wife and husband had a right to use his or her family name.
  • Children born out of wedlock still enjoyed the same rights as children born in wedlock.

The  Birth Control Programme of 1970

  • Improvements in agriculture and the provision of services led to a rise in the standard of living and an increase in birth and low mortality rate.
  • This eroded the advantages of increased production.
  • As a result the government put in place a huge birth control programme in 1970 – the one-child policy.
  • Numerous  abortions  were  carried  out  as  mostfa milies wanted one male child.

Cultural Revolution

  • It was a campaign against corruption, waste and elitism.
  • It was launched in 1966.
  • It nearly plunged China into a civil war but it is not clear as to what caused it.
  • By the mid 1960s some CCP leaders thought that China was facing serious problems.
  • Mao and the other leaders thought that Chinese progress towards becoming a modern state was being slowed down by people who were taking the ‘capitalist’ road.
  • Mao believed that it was CCP leaders who were guilty of following capitalism instead of socialism.
  • Mao believed that a revolution was a continuous process. About 200 million people had grown up in peace since 1949. These people knew nothing about the hardships of a revolution.
  • The   traditional   non-communist   attitudes   were beginning to re-emerge.
  • University education meant gaining the best jobs, government posts and membership of the CCP.
  • Mao feared that the ideals of the revolution could be overshadowed if China would be administered by civil servants with little experience of the political struggle.
  • In short, Mao seemed to have considered that a new class of party officials which saw itself as superior was growing.
  • So if that was allowed to develop China would lose the path to communism.
  • The cultural revolution was, therefore, designed to purify the bureaucracy that had grown up in China since 1949 and prevent the Chinese people from adopting soft western capitalist styles and ideals.
  • During the height of the revolution (1966 -1969) no one in power was safe from criticism.
  • Criticism was very public.
  • Mao put a big character poster in which he called upon the people to ‘bombard’the party headquarters.
  • Students, the army and workers responded to Mao’s call:

-     They  marched  to  offices  or  homes  of  the supposedly corrupt officials.

-     Officials were forced to confess to their crimes.

-     Some officials were beaten and others were demoted.

-     Some  officials were  sent  to  the  rural  areas which were taken as rehabilitation areas.

-     Others were imprisoned and were re-educated through manual labour.

-     They    also    attended    political    education meetings.

  • During the revolution much of China came to a standstill:

-     Most universities closed down.

-     Students went to the rural areas to assist the peasants in production and development. Their slogan was ‘Serve the People’.

-     Their bible was the Red Book by Mao.

-     Mao became a god of some kind.

-     Huge posters of Mao appeared everywhere.

-     People on the streets and buses could be seen reading the Red Book.

-     To follow Mao’s way was to serve the people and to serve the peasantry in particular.

-     70% of the Chinese lived in the rural areas.

-     An important event in the Cultural Revolution was the ‘January Power Seizure’ where workers took over the running of the railways.

-     They claimed that the railways were being run corruptly and inefficiently.

-     The cultural movement was spearheaded by the Red Guards.

-     Mao  encouraged  the  students  and  young people to form revolutionary bands.

-     These Red Guards moved about demonstrating against teachers and people in authority; denouncing  the  enemies  of  Mao;  attacking and replacing mayors, governors and officials whom they thought were not pure communists.

  • The Red  Guards  demanded  that  admission  to the university was not supposed to depend on examination results but on the person’s value to the state.
  • It was supposed to be based on the number of hours a person had worked in agriculture or served in the Red Army or industry.
  • Mao then disbanded the Red Guards for they were a danger if they got out of control.
  • Young urban Red Guards were sent to the rural areas to learn the true revolutionary attitude.
  • By  1970  the  Cultural  Revolution  was  winding down.
  • The revolution had moved China closer to equality.
  • Corrupt and proud officials had been displaced.
  • Urban people with no respect for the rural folk had been re-educated.
  • Production and education had been disrupted by political campaigns.
  • Some innocent officials were attacked for taking a ‘capitalist’ road.
  • The Chinese government did not officially declare the end of the Cultural Revolution until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
  • Mao was succeeded by Deng Ziaoping (Xiaoping) who dismantled the communist system.
  • He allowed foreign business to operate in China and also allowed private property.
  • Deng  made   changes   because   agriculture   was inefficient, power supplies were inadequate and the oil industry was using out dated equipment.