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People's Republic of China
|Largest city||Shanghai (metropolitan area and urban area)|
|Official languages||Standard Chinese|
|Recognised regional languages|
|Official script||Traditional Chinese|
|Ethnic groups||See List of ethnic groups in China|
|Religion||See Religion in China|
|Government||Unitary Maoist one-party socialist republic under a totalitarian dictatorship|
|Head of State|
|Soong Ching-ling (acting)|
|Dong Biwu (acting)|
|Soong Ching-ling (acting)|
|Legislature||Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (until 1954)|
National People's Congress (from 1954)
|Historical era||Cold War|
|1 October 1949|
|1 May 1950|
|25 October 1971|
|9 September 1976|
|9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi)|
• Water (%)
|Currency||Renminbi (yuan; ¥) (CNY)|
|Time zone||UTC+8 (China Standard Time)|
|ISO 3166 code||CN|
Soong Ching-ling (acting)
Dong Biwu (acting)
|Prime Minister(s)||Zhou Enlai|
|Key events||Proclamation of the People's Republic of China|
Great Leap Forward
|History of the People's|
Republic of China (PRC)
|Generations of leadership|
The time period in China from the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 until Mao's death in 1976 is commonly known as Maoist China and Red China. The history of the People's Republic of China is often divided distinctly by historians into the Mao era and the post-Mao era. The country's Mao era lasted from the founding of the People's republic on 1 October 1949 to Deng Xiaoping's consolidation of power and policy reversal at the Third Plenum of the 11th Party Congress on 22 December 1978. The Mao era focuses on Mao Zedong's social movements from the early 1950s on, including land reform, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The Great Chinese Famine, one of the worst famines in human history, occurred during this era.
1949: Proclamation of the People's Republic of China
On September 29, 1949, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference unanimously adopted the Common Program as the basic political program for the country following the success of the Chinese revolution.: 25 The founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was formally proclaimed by Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, on October 1, 1949, at 3:00 pm in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The establishment of the Central People's Government of the PRC, the government of the new nation, was officially declared during the proclamation speech at the founding ceremony. A military parade took place during the foundation ceremony.
Early 1950s: Social revolution
The People's Republic of China was founded on a land that was ravaged by a century of foreign invasion and civil wars. Both urban and rural communities, as well as both agriculture and industry, experienced significant growth between 1949 and 1959. Mao's government carried out land reform,: 554–556 instituted collectivisation: 51–52 and implemented the laogai camp system.
Economically, the country followed up on the Soviet model of five-year plans with its own first five-year plan from 1953 to 1957. The country went through a transformation whereby means of production were transferred from private to public entities, and through nationalization of industry in 1955, the state controlled the economy in a similar fashion to the economy of the Soviet Union.
China's role in the Korean war has been evaluated by each participant in sharply different ways. Soon after its founding, the newly born People's Republic of China was drawn into its first international conflict. On June 25, 1950, Kim Il Sung's North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, invaded South Korea, and eventually advanced as far as the Pusan Perimeter in south-east Korea. United Nations forces entered the war on side of the South, and American General Douglas MacArthur, having forced a Communist retreat, proposed to end the war by Christmas 1950. The Soviet Union and China saw a UN (and consequently, American) victory as a major political victory to the United States, a prospect seen as dangerous in the beginnings of the Cold War. However, Stalin had no desire to go to war with the United States, and left China the responsibility of saving the regime in Pyongyang. Up to this time, the Truman Administration was thoroughly disgusted with the corruption of Chiang Kai-shek's government and considered simply recognizing the PRC. On June 27, the US 7th Fleet was sent to the Taiwan Straits both to prevent a Communist invasion of the island and to prevent an attempted reconquest of the mainland. China meanwhile warned that it would not accept a US-backed Korea on its border. After the UN forces liberated Seoul in September, Beijing countered by saying that ROK troops could cross into North Korea, but not American ones. MacArthur ignored this, believing that the South Korean army was too weak to attack on its own. After Pyongyang fell in October, the UN troops approached the strategically sensitive Yalu River area. China responded by sending waves of troops south, in what became known as the People's Volunteers in order to disassociate them from the PLA. The Chinese army was poorly equipped but contained many veterans of the civil war and the conflict with Japan. In addition, it possessed huge reserves of manpower. The United States was on its way to the height of military power, and historians contend that Mao's participation in the war asserted China as a new power to not be taken lightly. Known as the Resist America, Aid Korea Campaign in China, the first major offensive of the Chinese forces was pushed back in October, but by Christmas 1950, the "People's Volunteer Army" under the command of Gen. Peng Dehuai had forced the United Nations to retreat back to the 38th Parallel. However, the war was very costly to the Chinese side, as more than just "volunteers" were mobilised, and because of the lack of experience in modern warfare and the lack of modern military technology, China's casualties vastly outnumbered that of the United Nations. On 11 April 1951, a U.S. Seventh Fleet destroyer approached close to the port of Swatow (Shantou), on the southeast coast of China, provoking China to send an armada of more than forty armed powered junks to confront and surround the destroyer for nearly five hours before the destroyer departed the area without either side widening the conflict by initiating hostile fire. Declining a UN armistice, the two sides fought intermittently on both sides of the 38th Parallel until the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. The Korean War ended any possibility of normalised relations with the United States for years. Meanwhile, Chinese forces invaded and annexed Tibet in October 1950. Tibet had been nominally subject to the Chinese emperors in past centuries, but declared its independence in 1912.
Under Mao's direction, China built its first atomic bomb in its nuclear program, Project 596, testing it on October 16, 1964, at Lop Nor;: 74 : 573 it was the fifth country to conduct a successful nuclear test.
The Korean War had been enormously costly to China, especially coming on the heels of the civil war, and it delayed postwar reconstruction. In 1949, Mao Zedong declared that the nation would "lean to one side", meaning that the Soviet Union and the communist bloc would be its principal allies. Three months after the PRC was established in October 1949, Mao and his delegation traveled to Moscow. They were not received warmly by Stalin, who doubted if they really were Marxist-Leninists and not simply a group of Chinese nationalists. He had also recognized Chiang Kai-Shek's government, and furthermore distrusted any communist movement that was not under his direct control. After a meeting with Mao, the Soviet leader remarked "What sort of a man is Mao? He seems to have some idea of revolution involving the peasants, but not the workers." Eventually, a frustrated Mao was ready to go home, but Zhou Enlai refused to leave without a formal agreement. Thus, the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Friendship was signed and the Chinese at last departed in February 1950.
According to Hua-yu Li, writing in Mao and the Economic Stalinization of China, 1948–1953 in 1953, Mao, misled by glowing reports in History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik): Short Course, authorized by Stalin of social and economic progress in the Soviet Union, abandoned the liberal economic programs of "New Democracy" and instituted the "general line for socialist transition", a program to build socialism based on Soviet models. He was reportedly moved in part by personal and national rivalry with Stalin and the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union provided considerable economic aid and training during the 1950s. Many Chinese students were sent to study in Moscow. Factories and other infrastructure projects were all based on Soviet designs, for China was an agrarian country with little established industry. In 1953, Mao Zedong told the Indonesian ambassador that they had little to export except agricultural products. Several jointly owned Sino-Soviet corporations were established, but Mao considered these to impinge on Chinese sovereignty and in 1954 they were quietly dissolved.
By 1956, Mao was becoming bored with the day-to-day running of the state and also worried about growing red tape and bureaucracy. The 8th Party Congress that year declared that socialism had more-or-less been established and so the next few years would be devoted to rest and consolidation.
In February 1957, Mao gave one of his most famous addresses in which he said, "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend." The Hundred Flowers Campaign was promoted by the CCP as a way of furthering socialist ideology through open debate, but many took it as an invitation to express open disdain for the Communist Party. Many began to voice their opposition to the Party-State's rule. Thoroughly shocked, Mao put an end to this and then launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Scores of intellectuals and common workers were purged, jailed, or disappeared. Many were not "rehabilitated" until the 1970s.
Great Leap Forward
Mao's social and cultural programs, including collectivization, were most popular in the early 1950s. However, China's strained relations with new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and newfound contradictions between the Chinese and Soviet schools of communism seeded a novel and radical drive to reform China's economic system in its entirety. This split developed after Stalin's death in 1953 when new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced him. The "secret speech" in 1956 stunned the communist world. China rejected de-Stalinization and in fact displayed large Stalin portraits at the May Day celebrations that year. Mao declared that despite some faults, Stalin had basically been a good, well-meaning Marxist. He felt that the Soviets were not treating China as an equal partner. Cultural differences also contributed to friction between the two communist giants. Khrushchev's idea of peaceful competition with the United States rather than overt hostility did not resonate well with Beijing. Mao said that "Do you think the capitalists will put down their butcher knife and become Buddhas?"
Khrushchev's 1958 suggestion of a joint Sino-Soviet fleet to counter the US 7th Fleet was angrily rejected by Mao Zedong, who told the Soviet ambassador "If you want to talk about joint cooperation, fine. We can practice joint cooperation in government, military, cultural, and economic matters and you can leave us with a guerrilla force." When the Soviet premier himself visited China the following year, Mao again asked him to explain what a joint fleet was. He stated that the Soviets were not welcome to put any troops on Chinese soil in peacetime and added "Listen carefully. We have worked long and hard to drive out the Americans, the British, the Japanese, and others. Never again will we allow foreigners to use our territory for their purposes." Khrushchev also thought that the Chinese were too soft on the Dalai Lama (Tibet's spiritual leader) and failed to support them in a border dispute with India, saying that the territory in question was "just a frozen waste where nobody lives."
Leading into the Great Leap Forward, China experienced a population boom that strained its food supply, despite rising agricultural yields.: 81 Increased yields could not keep pace a population that benefitted from a major decrease in mortality (due to successful public health campaigns and the end of war) and high fertility rate.: 81 The Chinese government recognized the country's dilemma of feeding its rapidly growing population without the means to make significant capital improvements in agriculture.: 82 Viewing human labor as an underutilized factor of production, the government intensified the mobilization of masses of people to increase labor inputs in agriculture.: 82
Under Mao's leadership, China broke with the Soviet model and announced a new economic program, the "Great Leap Forward", in 1958, aimed at rapidly raising industrial and agricultural production. Specific to industrial production, Mao announced the goal of surpassing the steel production output of Great Britain by 1968. Giant cooperatives, otherwise known as people's communes, were formed. Within a year almost all Chinese villages had been reformed into working communes of several thousand people in size, where people would live and work together as envisioned by an ideal communist society. Rather than build steel mills, small "backyard furnaces" would be used.
The results, however, were disastrous. Normal market mechanisms were disrupted, agricultural production fell behind, and people exhausted themselves producing shoddy, unsellable goods. Because of the reliance on the government providing and distributing food and resources and their rapid depletion due to poor planning, starvation appeared even in fertile agricultural areas. From 1960 to 1961, the combination of poor planning during the Great Leap Forward, political movements incited by the government, as well as unusual weather patterns and natural disasters resulted in widespread famine and many deaths. A significant number of the deaths were not from famine but were killed or overworked by the authorities. According to various sources, the resulting death toll was likely between 20 and 40 million. The steel produced in backyard furnaces at low temperatures proved to be useless. Finally, the peasants hated the lack of privacy and the militarization of their lives.
One of the loudest opponents of the GLF was Defense Minister Peng Dehuai. Peng was a believer in orthodox Soviet-style economic planning and totally against experimentations. Several years earlier, he had been instrumental in trying to develop the PLA into a well-equipped, professional fighting force, as opposed to Mao's belief that soldiers who were revolutionary enough could overcome any obstacle. The army had had no ranks during the civil war and Korea. This system worked rather poorly in those conflicts, and so a rank system (modeled after the Soviet one) was implemented in 1954.
While taking a trip through the countryside, Peng was horrified at the wreckage of the Great Leap Forward. Everywhere fields were dotted with abandoned communes, ruined crops, and lumps of useless pig iron. Afterwards, he accused Mao of being responsible for this disaster and was in turn denounced as a rightist and removed from office. Peng then lived retired in disgrace for the next several years until he was arrested and beaten by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. He survived the torture, but sustained permanent injuries and died in 1974. After Mao's death, Peng was posthumously rehabilitated with full honors.
The already strained Sino-Soviet relationship deteriorated sharply in 1959, when the Soviets started to restrict the flow of scientific and technological information to China. The dispute escalated, and the Soviets withdrew all of their personnel from China by August 1960, leaving many construction projects dormant. In the same year, the Soviets and the Chinese began to have disputes openly in international forums. The relationship between the two powers reached a low point in 1969 with the Sino-Soviet border conflict, when Soviet and Chinese troops met in combat on the Manchurian border.
The Cultural Revolution, formally known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a sociopolitical movement in the People's Republic of China (PRC) launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 and that lasted until his death in 1976. Its stated goal was to preserve Chinese communism by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society. The Revolution marked the effective commanding return of Mao—who was still the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—to the centre of power, after a period of self-abstention and ceding to less radical leadership in the aftermath of the Mao-led Great Leap Forward debacle and the Great Chinese Famine (1959–1961). The Revolution failed to achieve its main goals.
Launching the movement in May 1966 with the help of the Cultural Revolution Group, Mao charged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society with the aim of restoring capitalism. Mao called on young people to "bombard the headquarters", and proclaimed that "to rebel is justified". The youth responded by forming various Red Guards around the country. A selection of Mao's sayings were compiled into the Little Red Book, which became a sacred text for Mao's personality cult. They held "denunciation rallies" against revisionists regularly, and grabbed power from local governments and CCP branches, eventually establishing the revolutionary committees in 1967. The committees often split into rival factions and became involved in armed fights known as "violent struggles", to which the army had to be sent to restore order. Lin Biao, an official of the PLA, was promoted as Vice Chairman and Mao's successor after military intervention, but was accused of engaging a botched coup against Mao, fled and died in a plane crash later. In 1972, the Gang of Four rose to power and the Cultural Revolution continued until Mao's death and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976.
The Cultural Revolution was characterized by violence and chaos. Death toll claims vary widely, with estimates of those perishing during the Revolution ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions. Beginning with the Red August of Beijing, massacres took place nationwide, including the Guangxi Massacre, in which massive cannibalism also occurred; the Inner Mongolia incident; the Guangdong Massacre; the Yunnan Massacres; and the Hunan Massacres. Red Guards destroyed historical relics and artifacts, as well as ransacking cultural and religious sites. The 1975 Banqiao Dam failure, one of the world's greatest technological catastrophes, also occurred during the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, tens of millions of people were persecuted: senior officials, most notably Chinese president Liu Shaoqi, along with Deng Xiaoping, Peng Dehuai, and He Long, were purged or exiled; millions were accused of being members of the Five Black Categories, suffering public humiliation, imprisonment, torture, hard labor, seizure of property, and sometimes execution or harassment into suicide; intellectuals were considered the "Stinking Old Ninth" and were widely persecuted—notable scholars and scientists such as Lao She, Fu Lei, Yao Tongbin, and Zhao Jiuzhang were killed or committed suicide. Schools and universities were closed with the college entrance exams cancelled. Over 10 million urban intellectual youths were sent to the countryside in the Down to the Countryside Movement.In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping became the new paramount leader of China, replacing Hua Guofeng, and started the "Boluan Fanzheng" program which gradually dismantled the Maoist policies associated with the Cultural Revolution, and brought the country back to order. Deng, together with his allies, then began a new phase in China, by initiating the historic Reforms and Opening-Up program. In 1981, the CCP declared and acknowledged that the Cultural Revolution was wrong and was "responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the people, the country, and the party since the founding of the People's Republic." In contemporary China, differing views exist about the Cultural Revolution. Among some, it is referred to as the "ten years of chaos" (Chinese: shí nián dòngluàn, 十年动乱; or shí nián hàojié, 十年浩劫).
The urban–rural divide was the most important division in Maoist China when it came to the distribution of food, clothing, housing and health care. Rural status carried no entitlement to a state ration card, wages or social security. As a result, Maoist China is sometimes described as a dual society. The model of development in Mao's China was to develop heavy industry through the exploitation of the rural population. In order to minimize the cost of staple foods for the urban population, farmers were compelled to sell any agricultural surplus above a specified level to the state at artificially low prices. In some regions the state also ate into the rural grain supply, causing shortages for the locals. The rural population endured the worst of the Great Leap Famine in part because the state could seize as much grain as it needed, even under starvation conditions. The appropriated grain was largely used to feed the urban population, although some of it was exported.
The difference in treatment of urban and rural areas was a major push factor for internal migration, which lead to increased restrictions on mobility. The ways to acquire an urban hukou were limited, including serving in the People's Liberation Army, passing the national university entrance examination or being recruited by an urban work unit as a permanent worker. Because of these restrictions, the rural proportion of the population was higher in 1978 than it had been in 1958.
Mao Zedong's legacy
The history of the People's Republic from 1949 to 1976 is accorded the name "Mao era"-China. A proper evaluation of the period is, in essence, an evaluation of Mao's legacy. Since Mao's death there has been generated a great deal of controversy about him amongst both historians and political analysts.
Mao's poor management of the food supply and overemphasis on village industry is often blamed for the millions of deaths by famine during the "Mao era". However, there were also positive changes as a result from his management. Before 1949, for instance, the illiteracy rate in Mainland China was 80%, and life expectancy was a meager 35 years. At his death, illiteracy had declined to less than 7%, and average life expectancy had increased by 30 years. In addition, China's population which had remained constant at 400,000,000 from the Opium War to the end of the Civil War, mushroomed more than 700,000,000 as of Mao's death. Under Mao's regime, some argue that China ended its "Century of Humiliation" and resumed its status as a major power on the international stage. Mao also industrialized China to a considerable extent and ensured China's sovereignty during his rule. In addition, Mao tried to abolish Confucianist and feudal norms.
Birth and death rate in China
China's population growth
Life expectancy by world region
China's economy in 1976 was three times its 1949 size (but the size of the Chinese economy in 1949 was one-tenth of the size of the economy in 1936), and whilst Mao-era China acquired some of the attributes of a superpower such as: nuclear weapons and a space programme; the nation was still quite poor and backwards compared to the Soviet Union, the United States, Japan, or Western Europe. Fairly significant economic growth in 1962–1966 was wiped out by the Cultural Revolution. Other critics of Mao fault him for not encouraging birth control and for creating an unnecessary demographic bump by encouraging the masses, "The more people, the more power", which later Chinese leaders forcibly responded to with the controversial one-child policy. The ideology surrounding Mao's interpretation of Marxism–Leninism, also known as Maoism, was codified into China's Constitution as a guiding ideology. Internationally, it has influenced many communists around the world, including third world revolutionary movements such as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Peru's Shining Path and the revolutionary movement in Nepal. In practice, Mao Zedong Thought is defunct inside China aside from anecdotes about the CCP's legitimacy and China's revolutionary origins. Of those that remain, some regard the Deng Xiaoping reforms to be a betrayal of Mao's legacy.
- Outlawed during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)
- The Mongolian script was used in Inner Mongolia and the Tibetan script was used in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, alongside traditional Chinese.
- Motor vehicles and metros drive on the right in mainland China. Hong Kong and Macau use left-hand traffic except several parts of metro lines. The majority of the country's trains drive on the left.
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