The People’s Republic of China
China since 1945

 

The Nationalists & the Communists

Although China was one of the victors in World War II, conditions in war-ravaged China did not noticeably improve after Japan’s defeat. Instead, the catastrophic inflation, corruption, and black marketeering that had begun during the World War only worsened, while the off-again, on-again civil war between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists entered its final phase. In the first months after the war, the U.S. ambassador did succeed in bringing Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek together for face-to-face negotiations. It was reportedly Mao’s first ride in an airplane. The American hope was to prevent full-scale civil war and promote democracy in China. For that purpose, in late 1945 President Truman appointed one of America’s most distinguished military leaders and statesmen, General George C. Marshall (1880-1959), as a special envoy to China. General Marshall remained in China for a little over a year (December 1945-January 1947), and on his departure, he was able to express cautious optimism that a new Chinese constitution, and democratic elections scheduled for late 1947, might hold.
 
 
But General Marshall also expressed concern that efforts at reaching a peace settlement were being frustrated by extremists on both sides. In fact, the bitter antagonism between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists ultimately proved too deep to sustain the uneasy truce. The problems of postwar China in general, moreover, were proving stubbornly intractable. ... The Nationalist armies were initially larger and better equipped than the Communist Red Army (later known as the Peoples Liberation Army), but the Nationalists fought a static defensive war and were outmaneuvered and defeated unit by unit. In the process, huge amounts of men and material were captured by the Communists. As the Communist offensive began to accelerate in 1948, the last senior American advisor to Chiang Kai-shek’s military even complained that “the Communists had more of our equipment than the Nationalists did.” Mao Zedong was fond of joking that Chiang Kai-shek “was our supply officer.” ... Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island of Taiwan (where the Republic of China at least nominally survives to the present day), and on October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood on Tiananmen — the old Gate of Heavenly Peace rather than the new Tiananmen Square, which did not yet exist — and proclaimed the establishment of a new country, called the People’s Republic of China (PRC). (HEA, 359-60)

The Hundred Flowers Movement
1957


The Anti-Rightist Campaign
1958


The Great Leap Forward
1958-1961
 

The Cultural Revolution
1966-1976
 
 
“Big Character” Posters
May 25, 1966
At present, the people of the whole nation, in a soaring revolutionary spirit that manifests their boundless love for the Party and Chairman Mao and their inveterate hatred for the sinister anti-Party, anti-socialist gang, are making a vigorous and great cultural revolution; they are struggling to thoroughly smash the attacks of the reactionary sinister gang, in defense of the Partys Central Committee and Chairman Mao. ... All revolutionary intellectuals, now is the time to go into battle! Let us unite, holding high the great red banner of Mao Zedong Thought, unite around the Party’s Central Committee and Chairman Mao and break down all the various controls and plots of the revisionists; resolutely, thoroughly, totally, and completely wipe out all ghosts and monsters and all Khrushchevian counterrevolutionary revisionists, and carry the socialist revolution through to the end.
 
          Defend the Party’s Central Committee!
          Defend Mao Zedong Thought!
          Defend the dictatorship of the proletariat! (Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol. 2, 477)
 

The Cult of Mao


 

 
The list of accusations grew longer by the day: hooligans and bad eggs, filthy rich peasants and son-of-a-bitch landlords, bloodsucking capitalists and neo-bourgeoisie, historical counterrevolutionaries and active counterrevolutionaries, rightists and ultra-rightists, alien class elements and degenerate elements, reactionaries and opportunists, counterrevolutionary revisionists, imperialist running dogs, and spies. Students stood in the roles of prosecutor, judge, and police. No defense was allowed. Any teacher who protested was certainly a liar.
 
 
The indignities escalated as well. Some students shaved or cut teachers hair into curious patterns. The most popular style was the yin-yang cut, which featured a full head of hair on one side and a clean-shaven scalp on the other. Some said this style represented Chairman Maos theory of the “unity of opposites.” It made me think of the punishments of ancient China, which included shaving the head, tattooing the face, cutting off the nose or feet, castration, and dismemberment by five horse-drawn carts. (Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol. 2, 478-9)
 
 
 


Deng Xiaoping
In the Wake of Mao
 
Evaluating Mao
The first open sign of a change in thinking came ... on December 22, 1980, [when] the People’s Daily carried a front-page article saying that Mao Zedong had made mistakes in his late years, especially in initiating and leading the Cultural Revolution, mistakes which had brought grave misfortunes to the Party and the people. But the assessment of Mao’s historical role was a delicate matter for the Party. Many of the leaders, formerly associates of Mao, had themselves been the victims of his policies during the Cultural Revolution. However, if they were simply to condemn the Chairman posthumously, they risked reopening the question of Party authority in a way that might jeopardize their own hold on power. ... The Party’s final conclusion was that Mao had been correct 70 percent of the time and incorrect only 30 percent of the time and that his errors had mostly occurred near the end of his life. (China: Its History and Culture, 228-9)
 
“Had Mao died in 1956, his achievements would have been immortal. Had he died in 1966, he would still have been a great man but flawed. But he died in 1976. Alas, what can one say?” (Chen Yun, senior Communist Party official under Mao and Deng, in The Economist)
 
Socialism with Chinese Characteristics
[Deng Xiaoping’s] most distinguishing personal characteristic was pragmatism: he was widely quoted in the English-language press as saying that it does not matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice, and “seek truth through facts” (shishi qiu shi) became the slogan that the reformers heavily promoted in China. Market forces, the pursuit of profit, and even stock exchanges gradually became tolerated. To the extent that some Marxist theoretical justification was still necessary for such apparently capitalist behavior, it came to be argued that because China was still only in the “initial stages of socialism” a little capitalism was only to be expected. ...
Outside critics objected that China’s gradual, piecemeal, hybrid approach to economic reform could not possibly succeed, comparing it to trying to leap over the Grand Canyon in [a] series of small jumps rather than one big leap, but in practice it actually seems to have been more effective than the big-bang sudden shock therapy reform that was attempted in the former Soviet Union, where gross domestic product (GDP) actually contracted sharply after the initial privatization in the 1990s. According to American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates of purchasing power parity, by 2014 the real size of China’s GDP was almost five times that of Russia’s, although the Russian economy had originally been much more developed. ... Although most Chinese people remain poor by the standards of the world’s most developed countries, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of the direst poverty, and China’s major cities have become utterly transformed. (HEA, 370-1)
 
 
 
Tiananmen Square
Testing the Limits

  
 
 
 
 

 
 
From Communism
to Capitalism?
From Single-Party State
to Democracy?