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:
1 350 000
4 000 000
66 490 000
130 000 000
Electricity (kilowatt hrs)
- 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.
- 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.