Words to Know • Cultural Revolution • Long March • Great Leap Forward • Chiang Kai-Shek • Mao Zedong • Republic of China (ROC) • People’s Republic of China (PRC) • Communist Party of China (CPC)
Mao Zedong December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was a Chinese military and political leader, who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory in the Chinese Civil War, and was the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. • Regarded as one of the most important figures in modern world history,Mao is still a controversial figure today, over thirty years after his death. He is held in high regard in China where he is often portrayed as a great revolutionary and strategist who eventually defeated Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War, and transformed the country into a major power through his policies. However, many of Mao's socio-political programs such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are blamed by critics from both within and outside China for causing severe damage to the culture, society, economy and foreign relations of China, as well as enormous and unnecessary loss of lives, a peacetime death toll in the tens of millions.
Mao was born to a peasant family in Shaoshan, a village in Hunan Province. He was still a student when the revolution of 1911-1912 overthrew the Manchu government and made China a republic. While he was employed as a library worker at the National University in Beijing (Peking) in 1918, Mao became attracted to the ideas of Communism. In 1921, Mao and 11 other people founded the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai.
In 1920, Mao also developed his theory of violent revolution. Throughout the 1920s, Mao led several labor struggles and began to depend on Chinese peasants who later became staunch supporters of his theory of violent revolution. Mao himself was from a peasant family, and thus he cultivated his reputation among the farmers and peasants and introduced them to Marxism.
The Communists joined forces with the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) in the effort to unite China. But distrust between the Communists and Chiang Kai-shek, who became Nationalist leader in 1925, soon led to warfare between the two groups. Mao and other Communist leaders led small bands to Jiangxi province in 1928. By 1931, that province had become Chiang's chief target. He began a series of "extermination campaigns" that nearly wiped the Communists out. In 1934, Mao led the Communists to Shaanxi (Shensi) province, in what is called The Long March. The 6,000-mile (9,700-kilometer) march lasted over a year and welded the survivors into a tightly-knit group under Mao's leadership. • Chiang Kai-shek was unable to stop the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and in 1937, he was forced to work with Chinese Communists when Japan invaded China. After the Second World War ended, Chiang Kai-shek led the Nationalist Government in a Civil War against the Communist led by Mao Tse-tung. The Nationalists were forced from China to Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975. • Nationalist China leader Chiang Kai-shek • Chiang Kai-shek joined the military at an early age and opposed communism. In 1928, became head of the Nationalist Government
During the Sino-Japanese War (China vs Japan), Mao Zedong's strategies were opposed by both Chiang Kai-shek and the United States. The US regarded Chiang as an important ally, able to help shorten the war by engaging the Japanese occupiers in China. Chiang, in contrast, sought to build the Nationalist army for the certain conflict with Mao's communist forces after the end of World War II.
After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, openly against the Communist Red Army (led by Mao Zedong) in the civil war for control of China. The U.S. support was part of its view to contain and defeat world communism. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-support to Mao and gave large supplies of arms to the Communist Party of China. • On December 10, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek’s forces suffered massive losses against Mao's Red Army and evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan (Formosa).
Establishment of Communist China • Mao’s first political goals after founding the People’s Republic were land reform and the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, which centered on mass executions, often before organized crowds. These campaigns of mass repression targeted former KMT officials, businessmen, former employees of Western companies, and intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect. The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been a million killed in the land reform, and another 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign. Mao himself claimed a total of 700,000 killed during these early years (1949–53).
Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched the First Five-Year Plan (1953-8). The plan aimed to end Chinese dependence upon agriculture in order to become a world power. With the USSR's assistance, new industrial plants were built and agricultural production eventually fell to a point where industry was beginning to produce enough capital that China no longer needed the USSR's support.
Great Leap Forward • In January 1958, Mao launched the second Five-Year Plan known as the Great Leap Forward. Under this economic program, the relatively small agricultural collectives were rapidly merged into far larger people's communes, and many of the peasants ordered to work on massive infrastructure projects and production of iron and steel. All private food production was banned; livestock and farm equipment was confiscated and made public property.
Under the Great Leap Forward, Mao ordered the implementation of a variety of unproven and unscientific new agricultural techniques by the new communes. Due to the past emphasis on rapid industrialization, the country was not prepared to grow enough food for itself. Unfortuantley many in the government didn’t want to chance getting on Mao’s bad side and therefore didn’t tell the truth about how bad the situation had become. The resulting famine was a direct cause of the death of tens of millions of Chinese peasants between 1959 and 1962.
Cultural Revolution • Facing the prospect of losing his place on the political stage, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao closed schools in China and young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to the countryside and forced to manufacture weapons for the Red Army. The Revolution led to the destruction of much of China's cultural heritage and the imprisonment of a huge number of Chinese citizens, as well as creating general economic and social chaos in the country. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, perished in the violence of the Cultural Revolution. When Mao was informed of such losses, particularly that people had been driven to suicide, he blithely commented: "People who try to commit suicide — don't attempt to save them! . . . China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people."
Bibliography • Chaing Kai Shek. EHistory.http://ehistory.osu.edu/index.cfm. December 3, 2007. • A Consice History of China. http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/china/ch07.html#Top. December 3, 2007. • World War 2 History. http://www.libraries.psu.edu/maps. December 3, 2007 • Mao Zedong. http://www.lcsd.k12.wa.us/~kbounds/class.global/4.china/4.PuYi.to.Mao/bio.mao.htm. Janurary 20, 2008.