The Founding of the Nation
The Birth of the People’s Republic
Mao Zedong proclaiming the birth of the People's Republic of China atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen)
National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
Mao ZedongIn an essay he wrote in mid-1949 entitled “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship,” Mao Zedong succinctly spelled out the ideas that would permeate the governmental policies of the new Chinese state. The experience of the revolution to date could be analyzed into two basic categories, wrote Mao. The first was the arousing of the nation’s masses to build a “domestic united front under the leadership of the working class.” ... The second category embraced the international aspects of the revolution, including China’s alliance with the Soviet Union, the countries in the Soviet bloc, and the world proletariat. ... The new government would establish relations with any country willing to respect China’s international equality and territorial integrity. China did not believe it could prosper without any international help. And China, in enforcing the people’s democratic dictatorship, would “deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have the right.” (SMC, 460)

Democratic Dictatorship: image of voters on the left with the caption "Elect the most trustworthy persons as our representatives"; image of reactionaries on the right with the caption "Resolutely ban reactionary secret societies"
“You are dictatorial.” My dear sirs, you are right, that is just what we are. All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teach us to enforce the people’s democratic dictatorship, that is, to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right.
Image of workers with the caption: "Long Live the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"
Who are the people? At the present stage in China, they are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. These classes, led by the working class and the Communist Party, unite to form their own state and elect their own government; they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism — the landlord class and bureaucrat-bourgeoisie [a.k.a. comprador bourgeoisie], as well as the representatives of those classes, the Guomindang reactionaries and their accomplices — suppress them, allow them only to behave themselves and not to be unruly in word or deed. If they speak or act in an unruly way, they will be promptly stopped and punished. Democracy is practiced within the ranks of the people, who enjoy the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, association and so on. The right to vote belongs only to the people, not to the reactionaries. The combination of these two aspects, democracy for the people and dictatorship over the reactionaries, is the people’s democratic dictatorship. ...
“Don’t you want to abolish state power”? Yes, we do, but not right now; we cannot do it yet. Why? Because imperialism still exists, because domestic reaction still exists, because classes still exist in our country. Our present task is to strengthen the people’s state apparatus — mainly the people’s army, the people’s police and the people’s courts — in order to consolidate national defense and protect the people’s interests. Given this condition, China can develop steadily, under the leadership of the working class and the Communist Party, from an agricultural into an industrial country and from a new-democratic into a socialist  and communist society, can abolish classes and realize the Great Harmony. The state apparatus, including the army, the police and the courts, is the instrument by which one class oppresses another. It is an instrument for the oppression of antagonistic classes; it is violence and not “benevolence.” “You are not benevolent!” Quite so. We definitely do not apply a policy of benevolence to the reactionary classes. Our policy of benevolence is applied only within the ranks of the people, not beyond them to the reactionaries or to the reactionary activities of reactionary classes. ...
National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
Here, the method we employ is democratic, the method of persuasion, not of compulsion. When anyone among the people breaks the law, he too shall be punished, imprisoned or even sentenced to death; but this is a matter of a few individual cases, and it differs in principle from the dictatorship exercised over the reactionaries as a class.
       As for the members of the reactionary classes and individual reactionaries, so long as they do not rebel, sabotage or create trouble after their political power has been overthrown, land and work will be given to them as well in order to allow them to live and remold themselves through labour into a new people. (
DC, 369-70)

Does the term "democratic dictatorship" make sense...
or is it an oxymoron?

National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
"Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside": socialist realism poster with Mao and a group of peasants walking in a rural area
A Promising Start?
In line with Mao’s statement, Article 5 of the Common Program guaranteed to all, except for “political reactionaries,” the rights of freedom of “thought, speech, publication, assembly, association, correspondence, person, domicile, moving from one place to another, religious belief, and the freedom to hold processions and demonstrations.” It promised equal rights to women, and the end of their lives of bondage. The program then outlined an ambitious plan for rural reform through rent reduction and land redistribution, and for the development of heavy industry. ...
Exact figures on land reform for the whole of China are hard to come by, but it is estimated that in central south China ... about 40 percent of the cultivated land was seized from landlords and redistributed, and that 60 percent of the population benefited in some way. The gain per head was between 1/6 and 1/2 acre, so that a family of five might receive from below 1 to just above 2 acres. Such amounts could not give families complete security, but for many it opened new possibilities of survival, especially for those who had previously lived in atrocious poverty. (SMC, 461-2) In the cities, by contrast, the first tasks for the Communist government were to prevent violent social confrontations, and to encourage industries to reopen and workers to stay at their jobs. ... It was CCP policy to keep most city officials in their jobs — often as many as 95 percent — and to guarantee them, along with teachers and even the police, continued employment as long as they joined in group reform and discussion sessions, and studied the works of Mao Zedong. ...
Intensive campaigns were launched against financial speculators, and on behalf of the new government renminbi, or “people’s currency.” ... [C]ampaigns were [also] launched against prostitution and opium addiction. Prostitution was effectively cut back through a system that registered all housing and monitored male visitors and their departure times. Known prostitutes, along with their madams or pimps, were enrolled in special prisonlike schools, where they were lectured on the class contradictions that had led them to waste their lives, and were taught alternative ways of earning their livings. ... Similarly, opium addiction was dramatically reduced with enforced methods of “cold turkey” withdrawal, and by making the former addicts’ families responsible for their staying clean. Mass campaigns against addiction, the uprooting of poppy fields, and the execution of opium traffickers clinched the success of these measures. (SMC, 463-4)
A man smoking opium

Were these reasonable policies?

National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
Diplomatic Recognition of the PRC
SMC, 470
October 2
October 3
October 4
October 5
December 9
December 30
Bulgaria, Romania
Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia
January 4
January 13
(Great Britain),* Ceylon, Norway
Denmark, Israel
Finland, Afghanistan
* The Chinese rejected Britain’s January 6 offer, since the British maintained formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Map of China highlighting Tibet, Taiwan and Korea
Map of the Tibetan Empire at its greatest extent between the 780s and 790s CE
The Question of Tibet
The Tibetan operations, though logistically complex, were not expected to offer much challenge to the now seasoned PLA troops, especially since India had become independent in 1947 and the British had lost their paramount interest in maintaining Tibet’s buffer status. Chinese Communist troops invaded Tibet in October 1950 in order to “liberate” the country from “imperialist oppression.” Despite the poignant Tibetan protest, “Liberation from whom and what? Ours was a happy country with a solvent government,” the United Nations took no action, nor would India or Britain intervene on Tibet’s behalf. The Chinese occupied the key points in the country within a year and pressured the Dalai Lama’s advisers into general acceptance of China’s sovereignty over the region. (SMC, 471)
Map of the Qing dynasty under Qianlong (showing Tibet as a protectorate beginning in 1751)
The “Liberation” of Tibet
The contemporary dispute over Tibet is rooted in religious and political disputes starting in the thirteenth century. China claims that Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since the thirteenth century under the Yuan dynasty. Tibetan nationalists and their supporters counter that the Chinese Empire at that time was either a Mongol (in Chinese, Yuan) empire or a Manchu (Qing) one, which happened to include China too, and that Tibet was a protectorate, wherein Tibetans offered spiritual guidance to emperors in return for political protection. When British attempts to open relations with Tibet culminated in the 1903-04 invasion and conquest of Lhasa, Qing-ruled China, which considered Tibet politically subordinate, countered with attempts to increase control over Tibet’s administration. But in 1913, a year after the Qing dynasty collapsed, Tibet declared independence and all Chinese officials and residents in Lhasa were expelled by the Tibetan government. Tibet thenceforth functioned as a de facto independent nation until the Chinese army invaded its eastern borders in 1950.
Signing the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet at Zhongnanhai, 23 May 1951
But even during this period, Tibet’s international status remained unsettled. China continued to claim it as sovereign territory. Western countries, including Britain and the United States, did not recognize Tibet as fully independent. After founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the new communist government in China sought reunification with Tibet and decided to invade it in 1950. A year later, in 1951, the Dalai Lama’s representatives signed a seventeen-point agreement with Beijing, granting China sovereignty over Tibet for the first time. The agreement stated that the central authorities “will not alter the existing political system in Tibet” or “the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama.” While the Chinese government points to this document to prove Tibet is part of Chinese territory, proponents of Tibetan independence say Tibet was coerced into signing this document and surrendering its sovereignty. ...
A historic photo taken during the young Dalai Lama’s journey from Lhasa to the India in March 1959
Since China’s invasion, Barnett says, “China’s policies towards the Tibetans can perhaps best be described as a mix of brutality and concession.” The first Tibetan uprising of 1959 resulted in the flight of the Dalai Lama and about 80,000 Tibetans. During these years thousands of Tibetans were allegedly executed, imprisoned, or starved to death in prison camps. So far no Chinese official has publicly acknowledged these atrocities. This period also included a policy of induced national famines that resulted from tenets of the so-called Great Leap Forward, when Beijing set up communes in agricultural and pastoral areas. The Cultural Revolution, the next phase of Mao’s revolutionary politics, followed in 1966 and continued in effect until 1979 in Tibet. During these years, all religious activities were prohibited and the monastic system in Tibet was dismantled. The campaign included an attempt to eradicate the ethnic minority’s culture and distinctive identity as a people.
On Aug. 24, 1966, in Lhasa, Buddhist scriptures were burned as part of the campaign against the “Four Olds” — old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas.
Deng Xiaoping’s rise to power in China in 1978 brought forth a new initiative to resolve the Tibet question. Besides reaching out to the Dalai Lama in exile in India, the Chinese authorities also initiated a more conciliatory ethnic and economic development policy. Tibetans were encouraged to revitalize their culture and religion. Infrastructure was developed to help Tibet grow. But pro-independence protests in Tibet that started in 1987 led to the declaration of martial law in the region in 1989. After martial law was lifted in May 1990, Chinese authorities adopted a more hard-line policy with stricter security measures, curtailing religious and cultural freedoms. At the same time, a program of rapid economic development was adopted which included much resented incentives encouraging an influx of non-Tibetans, mostly Han Chinese, into Tibet. This, Beijing hopes, will result in a new generation of Tibetans who will be less influenced by religion and consider being part of China in their interest, wrote Tibet expert Melvyn C. Goldstein in Foreign Affairs in 1998. “Even if such an orientation does not develop, the new policy will so radically change the demographic composition of Tibet and the nature of the economy that Beijing’s control over Tibet will not be weakened.” (Council on Foreign Relations, “The Question of Tibet”)
Map showing the Tibetan Government in Exile in Dharamshala, India
National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
Map showing the places "Where Red China's Forces Are Ready to Strike"
The Loss of Taiwan
& the Korean War

The Taiwan challenge was considered far more serious. ... By the summer of 1950 the military consolidation over south China was complete, and a large force of veteran PLA troops were moved to the Fujian coastal region, but they were not ordered into action against Taiwan at that time. ... There was at this time nothing to suggest that the United States would intervene in the Chinese conflict any further. ... State Department staff went ahead and drafted the official statement they would issue once Taiwan had fallen into Communist hands. Public declarations by both General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of occupied Japan, and Dean Acheson now defined the new American “defensive perimeter” in the Pacific as running along a line connecting the Aleutians, Japan, Okinawa, the Ryukyus, and the Philippines. The Chinese could take note that this definition of American strategic interests did not include Taiwan, nor did it include South Korea, which since 1945 had emerged as an independent state under American patronage, separated from Soviet-dominated North Korea along the thirty-eighth parallel. Once Taiwan was conquered, the PRC could therefore expect to take its rightful place in the United Nations, for which it was already actively lobbying. (SMC, 471-3)
Map showing the United States' Defensive Perimeter excluding both Taiwan and South Korea as well as the U.S. Seventh Fleet patrolling the Taiwan Strait after the beginning of the Korean War, which led to the withdrawal of PLA troops from Fujian (across from Taiwan), who then moved to the border with North Korea and the Shandong Peninsula
Map showing North Korea's offensive against South Korea on June 25, 1950
The apparent harmony of these American and Chinese stances was shattered on June 25, 1950, when a massive force of North Korean troops crossed the thirty-eighth parallel and invaded South Korea. Within a few weeks, North Korean forces had advanced swiftly down the peninsula, capturing Seoul and forcing the South Koreans to a final desperate stand at the harbor of Pusan. ... President Truman responded by ordering U.S. troops based in Japan to assist South Korea. ... The crucial change in the war came in mid-September, when, in a daring and brilliantly executed amphibious maneuver, MacArthur landed his forces at the harbor of Inchon, to the rear of the North Korean lines, and threatened to cut off their retreat. As the North Korean troops began to break to retreat homeward, Zhou Enlai notified the Indian ambassador, who was acting as the conduit for Chinese messages, that China would have to intervene if the United States invaded North Korea. U.S. troops did cross the border on October 7, and pushed on northward to the Chinese border along the Yalu River.
Map showing MacArthur's forces landing at Inchon
Map showing American forces crossing the 38th Parallel on October 7, 1950
Map showing Chinese forces pushing American forces back to the 38th Parallel
At this point both Stalin and Mao began to waiver ... [arguing] the merits of leaving the North Koreans to their own devices, to fight whatever guerrilla war they were capable of. Only on October 13 — allegedly won over by the passionate arguments of Peng Dehuai and Gao Gang — did Mao agree to allow Chinese “volunteers” to move across the North Korean border as long as the Soviet Union gave full air support. ... The commander of the Chinese forces, Peng Dehuai, coordinated his forces superbly, and in bitter fighting that December, the Chinese pushed the allies back once again to a line along the thirty-eighth parallel. ... The war dragged on for a painful two years, ending with a truce signed in July 1953. ... By that time U.S. casualties had reached over 160,000 (54,000 dead, 103,000 wounded, 5,000 missing), South Korean casualties 400,000, North Korean 600,000, and Chinese between 700,000 and 900,000. ...
[T]he events of the war were used to reinforce Chinese perceptions of the evils of Western imperialism, and particularly to isolate the United States as China’s prime enemy. American involvement in Korea was pointed to as clear evidence of U.S. ambitions in east Asia, and of the implacable hatred of the United States for China and the Chinese people. (SMC, 473-6)
National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
Socialist Realism poster showing the masses riding the wind with idealized industrial and agricultural production with the words "Ride the wind and cleave the waves to realize a Leap Forward in all fields"
Mass Party
Mass Campaigns

The CCP had learned, during the Yan’an Rectification Campaign of 1942, how to scrutinize itself, force its members into self-criticism, and use group pressure and intimidation to arrive at an apparent consensus. In the early 1950s these experiences surfaced again in four major campaigns involving the mass mobilization of the Chinese people. The first of these was the Resist America and Aid Korea Campaign ... which focused on foreigners in China. The party ordered police searches of alleged spies, confiscated objects such as radio receivers and firearms, and investigated public associations that included or had contact with foreigners — whether these associations were involved in cultural, business, health, or religious pursuits. These investigations scared away many Chinese who had formerly associated with foreigners. Foreign business assets were frozen in December 1950, and foreign businesses — although not wholly expropriated — were pressured into selling out, often at artificially low prices. ...
Given momentum by the anger and excitement of the Korean War, a second mass campaign was directed at domestic “counterrevolutionaries.” Millions of Chinese who had been in Guomindang party or youth organizations, or had served in Guomindang armies, had stayed on in their homeland when the Communists took over. They had never been thoroughly investigated, and some of them no doubt harbored pro-Chiang Kai-shek sympathies. ... As the campaign grew in intensity it became brutal and terrifying. For millions of Chinese the violence and humiliation of these days effectively ended any hope that they would be able to live out their lives peacefully under the Communist regime, whatever their past histories might have been. ...
Propaganda poster highlighting the three vices of the "Three Anti" campaign: corruption, waste, and obstructionist bureaucracy
The CCP leadership had already been planning a third mass campaign — this one against corruption within their own party. Even before the Suppression of Counterrevolutionaries campaign was over, the party was mobilizing for what was termed the Three Anti campaign, which was directed against three sets of vices stated to be common among three occupational groups: the three vices were corruption, waste, and obstructionist bureaucracy; the three targeted groups were Communist party members themselves, the wider circles of bureaucratic officials ... and the managers of factories and other businesses. ... The Three Anti drive drew much of its energy from a fourth mass campaign that was waged concurrently — the Five Anti campaign. This campaign was designed as an all-out assault on the bourgeoisie in China, an act of class war that mirrored in scope, rage, and effectiveness its counterpart in the countryside — the campaign against rural landlords. The targets of the Five Anti drive were specifically identified as those Chinese industrialists and businessmen who had stayed on in China after the Communist takeover, and also those who “represented” the capitalist class, a vague definition that could incorporate anyone the state chose to charge. The five vices that were to be expunged were “bribery, tax evasion, theft of state property, cheating on government contracts, and stealing state economic information.” ...
National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
Hu Sidu with his father, Hu Shih
Hu Sidu Denounces his Father, Hu Shi
In the old society, I considered my father as an “aloof” and “clean” good man. Even after the liberation I felt deeply insulted whenever my father was being criticized. Within my heart I strongly objected to Premier Zhou Enlai’s calling my father a man who never understood what imperialism means. After I read the History of Social Development, State and Revolution, History of Chinese Revolution and many other books written by Communists, my concept of my father began to change. ... Today, after my education in the Party, I begin to recognize his true qualities. I have come to know that he is a loyal element of the reactionary class and an enemy of the people. ... Today I realize the lenient policy of the People’s government. It gives a chance to all those who have acted against the interests of the people to live down their past and start life anew, only if they can come to realize their past misdeeds.
       Until my father returns to the people’s arms, he will always remain a public enemy of the people, and an enemy of myself. Today, in my determination to rebel against my own class, I feel it important to draw a line of demarcation between my father and myself. ... (DC, 387-9)
“[D]espite demonstrating his loyalty to the Communist Party by rejecting his family, Hu Sidu was branded a ‘rightest’ and persecuted. He committed suicide in 1957.” (DC, 387)
In China as a whole, the Three Anti and Five Anti campaigns had an immense effect. The CCP revealed that it was not going to protect private businesses any longer, or tolerate the maze of semilegal practices that had continued in China after 1949. Chinese capitalists were now threatened just as foreign capitalists had been the year before, and enormous fines were levied on them for what were often baseless charges. ... The main purpose of the campaigns was to assert government control over workers’ organizations, and to end the independent modes of operation of capitalists and bureaucratic functionaries. In sharp contrast to the Suppression of Counterrevolutionaries campaign, few of the Three Anti and Five Anti victims were killed. Almost all were terrified or humiliated or both, and many had not only to pay their fines but also to repay all money they had allegedly taken in graft or withheld from their taxes; some had their property confiscated and were sent to labor camps. ... At the end of 1952, the CCP leadership felt confident in swelling the ranks of the party as a whole to 6 million. Even those who had never seen a guerrilla unit or experienced life in the countryside now had had at least a taste of revolution. (SMC, 478-83)
National Emblem of the People's Republic of China