Political History of China (9): Establishment of People's Republic of China and the Humanitarian Disasters
A typical scene in Beijing during the chaotic Cultural Revolution when Mao Zedong enjoyed a god-like status among the Chinese.
15. THE CHINESE REVOLUTION II: COMMUNIST
The Communist PartyThe Chinese Communist party is the primary political force in China. Unlike parties in Western democracies, it is a tightly organized movement that controls and leads society at all levels. The party sets policy and controls its execution through government officials who are also party members. The effect is to make the government an organ of the party.At the time of its founding in 1921, the Chinese Communist party focused on organizing urban workers, but it achieved only limited success in this effort. Orthodox Marxism expected the Communist Revolution to begin among industrial workers. However, Karl Marx had developed his theories based upon highly industrialized economies, and the industrial sector in China was small and relatively primitive. It was Mao Zedong who adapted Marxist theory to the conditions of an underdeveloped, primarily agricultural society . Although Mao's successors downgraded some of his more radical ideas, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Thought--Marxism as it was interpreted by Mao--is still officially designated as the guiding philosophy that is behind both the party and the government.The Chinese Communist party is organized as a hierarchy, with power concentrated at the top. Above the local units, or cells, is a pyramid-like structure of party congresses and committees at various levels, culminating in the National Party Congress. The national congress is supposed to meet every five years, though this has not always been the case. When it is not in session, direction of the party is in the hands of a Central Committee of about 200 members, which is elected by the congress. The Central Committee, in turn, elects the Political Bureau, which in 1982 consisted of 25 full members and three alternates. It is within the Political Bureau and its elite Standing Committee that power is concentrated and the highest level decisions of state are made. There is also a secretariat that carries on the day-to-day business of the party.Prior to 1982, the highest party office was that of chairman, held for more than 25 years, through most of the People's Republic's history to that time, by Mao Zedong. In an effort to ensure that the power Mao had enjoyed was never again concentrated in one person, a new party constitution adopted in 1982 abolished the chairmanship and replaced it with the administrative position of general secretary to the Secretariat. The constitution also established a body called the Central Advisory Commission to assist and advise the Central Committee. One of the objects of the commission was to encourage elderly party leaders to continue to be active in various functions of the Communist party. The commission became an obstacle to reform and was abolished in 1992.Theoretically, party membership is open to anyone over 18 who accepts the party program and is willing to work actively in one of its organizations. Members are expected to abide by the party's discipline and to serve as model workers. The backbone of the party consists of full-time paid workers known as cadres (Chinese, ganbu). The term cadre is also used for public officials holding responsible positions who may or may not be members of the party.
THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINAOn Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The CCP hailed its takeover of China as a people's victory over and liberation from imperial domination (especially that of the United States) and the oppressive KMT regime. The Red Army was renamed the People's Liberation Army. During the early days of the People's Republic, the troops were restrained, foreign-educated Chinese returned to help the country, and most local administrators remained in office.The first Communist government, the People's Consultative Council, included non-Communists among its 662 members. However, in the top committee, 31 out of 56 seats were occupied by Communists, and the constitution of 1954 drastically curtailed the role of non-Communists. After 1954, more authority was concentrated in the central government under the State Council. Real power, however, lay with the Communist party, especially the Central Committee, then composed of 94 members. This committee held together the triad of power--army, government, and party. The inner circle of the Central Committee was the 19-member Political Bureau and its seven-member Standing Committee.
Land reformOne of the first tasks of the Communist government was land reform, redistributing land from landlords to the peasants. The Agrarian Law of 1950 began the nationwide land reform, which was almost completed by the beginning of 1953.
Social reformLand reform erased the social distinction between landlord and peasant. The new marriage law of 1950 and the campaigns of the early 1950s removed distinctions within the family. Women were given full equality with men in matters of marriage, divorce, and property ownership. Children were encouraged to denounce parents if they failed to support the Communist line.
Thought reformBelieving that the revolution could not be carried on without reform of people, the CCP launched a massive campaign to change China's entire psychology. The Four Olds campaign was launched to eradicate old ideas, habits, customs, and culture. The Three Anti's movement was directed at officials, with the aim of eliminating corruption, waste, and "bureaucratism." The Five Anti's campaign, directed at the remaining businessmen and bourgeoisie, opposed bribery, tax fraud, cheating, and stealing state property and economic information. For Chinese Christians, The Three Selfs movement stressed self-government, self-support, and self-propagation, the object being to separate the churches in China from their parent denominations abroad. Leading churchmen were forced into denouncing religion as cultural imperialism. The idea of cultural imperialism was extended to art and literature, which henceforth were to serve the people, the class struggle, and the revolution.
Economic planningAlong with the reforms of land tenure, society, family, and even thought, the CCP announced the first five-year plan in 1953 to speed up the socialization of China through a planned economy. The plan's aim was to produce maximum returns from agriculture in order to pay for industrialization and Soviet aid. The means chosen was the collectivization of agriculture. Land and farm implements were pooled into cooperatives and later into collective farms, which controlled the production, price, and distribution of products. By May 1956, 90 percent of the farmers were members of cooperatives.Similarly, 80 percent of heavy industry and 40 percent of light industry were in government hands by October 1952. The government also controlled all the railways and most steamship operations. To speed China's development even more, Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, and others, after overcoming some opposition within the leadership, launched the Great Leap Forward in 1958.
The Great Leap ForwardThe Great Leap Forward was designed to overcome the backwardness of China's economy, industry, and technology. It was to be achieved through use of the vast manpower and indomitable spirit of the Chinese. Steel production was to be increased by setting up small-scale "backyard furnaces," and agricultural output was to be raised by combining the collective farms into communes. About 26,000 communes were created by the Communist government, each composed of approximately 5,000 households.After a year, the leaders admitted that the success of the program had been exaggerated. The steel produced by the backyard furnaces was of low quality, and the quantity fell short of the projected goal. The people's reluctance to join communes was stronger than expected, and the size of the communes had to be reduced. Domestic life in homes, as well as private plots for family use, had to be restored. The effect of the Great Leap Forward on the people and the economy was devastating. Coupled with three straight years of poor harvests, it resulted in a severe food shortage and industrial decline. For the next several years, while lip service was paid to Mao's thought and to Great Leap-type activism, the real power was in more conservative hands.
The Cultural RevolutionThe Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was a radical movement that closed schools, slowed production, and virtually severed China's relations with the outside world. It was proletarian because it was a revolution of the workers against party officials. It was cultural because it meant to alter the values of society in the Communist sense. It was great, because it was on a mammoth scale. It lasted for two years in its intense form, lingered on for another year and a half, and was not officially declared over until 1977.The Cultural Revolution had its roots in a power struggle between Mao and his supporters, including his wife, Jiang Qing, and Lin Biao--who believed that the initial fervor of the revolution was being lost--and more conservative, bureaucratic elements within the leadership. One point at issue was the educational system, and particularly the fact that urban youth (especially the children of privileged officials) appeared to have a better chance of getting a university education than the children of rural peasants. Mao feared that Chinese society was becoming rigid, and to prevent this he relied for support on the military and on youth.In the summer of 1966, a group of Beijing high school girls protested against the system of college entrance examinations. The Central Committee acceded to the students' demand by promising a reform and postponing the 1966 enrollment for half a year. Freed from their studies, students demonstrated in Beijing in August, touching off demonstrations of young people in general. Obviously inspired by Mao, youths wearing red armbands and flashing copies of the "little red book" containing Mao's thought (`Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong'), marched through the streets shouting the slogan, "To bypass the Communist party apparatus and force the hierarchy's political foes into submission." These Red Guards, as they were called, were given free railway passes, and they poured into Beijing and other cities in great numbers throughout 1967.In early 1967 some of the highest ranking leaders, former close revolutionary associates of Mao himself, were criticized and dismissed. Liu Shaoqi, who had been president of the republic, Zhu De, and Deng Xiaoping were among the better known victims. Even Confucius was attacked as having been a hypocritical supporter of the bourgeoisie. Throughout the country, revolutionary committees sprang up, seized power from the local government and party authorities, and harassed--and in some cases attacked--those suspected of being disloyal to Mao's thought.The disorders reached a climax in July 1967 in the city of Wuhan, when the local military commander tried to rally the people against the radicals and troops had to be sent in to restore order. From that time on, steps were taken to quiet the more disruptive portions of the Cultural Revolution, though it was not until 1968 that society returned to something resembling normality. In March 1969 the government issued a directive to open all schools. The situation was so chaotic, however, that the universities were not reopened until September 1970.The Cultural Revolution greatly affected the CCP leadership. When the long-postponed ninth congress of the CCP was finally convened in April 1969, two thirds of the old members of the Central Committee were missing. Mao's attempt to maintain a state of permanent revolution had been immensely costly. Years of work and progress were sacrificed: A whole generation of youth went without education; factories and farms lay idle. China fell even further behind the industrialized powers of the world. As the Cultural Revolution died down, Zhou Enlai, who had been premier since the founding of the People's Republic, quietly took control. Deng Xiaoping and other "pragmatic" leaders were reestablished. The party and government relaxed their control over the people and granted certain civil rights in a new constitution adopted in 1975.
International Relations of the People's RepublicThe People's Republic has undergone several shifts in foreign policy since 1949. Initially, it was closely tied to the Soviet Union and firmly identified as a member of the socialist camp.Within a few years, however, the Sino-Soviet relationship had begun to deteriorate, the victim, among other factors, of differing national interests, differing interpretations of Marxism, and Chinese resentment over heavy-handed Soviet attempts at control. By the mid-1960s China and the Soviet Union had become openly hostile toward each other.China was largely isolated from the rest of the world during the height of the Cultural Revolution, but when the upheavals subsided it began to take a more practical foreign policy line. Trade was opened up with a number of Western countries, China started to play an active role in international organizations, and diplomatic relations were established with countries willing to recognize the People's Republic--rather than the Nationalist government on Taiwan--as the government of China. Most dramatically, contacts were begun with the United States, leading to full diplomatic recognition on Jan. 1, 1979.While China's political system changed little by the 1990s, its economy had become the fastest-growing in the world. Relations with the United States became unstable on two fronts. The Chinese government refused to allow the human rights concerns to become an issue in trade talks. Trade itself became a major issue, as exports to the United States exceeded imports. In addition, North Korea's probable possession of nuclear weapons posed an unsettling problem for China and the United States in the mid-1990s.
Source:Paul Halsall/Brooklyn College/1996-99
Past coverage about: China political history People's Republic of China PRC Mao Zedong Cultural Revolution
- Political History of China (8): Republic of China 02-10-2010
- Political History of China (7):Qing Dynasty - from Kang-Qian Golden Age to the Humiliation by Foreign Powers 02-10-2010
- Political History of China (6): Ming Dynasty 02-10-2010
- Political History of China (5): Yuan Dynasty,Mongol Rule of China and Marco Polo 02-10-2010
- Political History of China (4): Song Dynasty (Northern Song and Southern Song) 02-10-2010