Early Life

  • Mao was the eldest child to survive childbirth
  • His father was a farmer and was fairly well off
  • Mao was expelled from or asked to leave from at least three schools for being headstrong and disobedient
  • He was widowed at 16
  • After being widowed, Mao went to a teacher college in 1911
  • It was there that Mao got caught up on issues through newspapers
  • Manchu rule was “foreign” domination because the Manchus were not Han Chinese (the group that formed 94% of the population)
  • After college, Mao worked as a part-time history teacher in a primary school

Becoming Communist

  • Mao’s home province was Hunan, with its capital and trading port being Changsha
  • There were a number of foreign interests in Changsha, so much so that Japan, the U.S., and Britain opened consulates there
  • Radical students, including Mao, wanted to oust the provincial warlord and went to Peking to unsuccessfully lobby the government
  • On his way back to Hunan, he encountered Professor Chen Tu-hsiu, China’s foremost Marxist
  • He was in the middle of forming a Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
  • In 1920, he gave him the assignment of opening a bookshop in Changsha to sell Party literature
  • In 1921, Mao became provincial Party leader
  • Mao did not inspire a passionate following through his oratory, or ideological appeal
  • He simply sought willing recruits among his immediate circle; people who would take orders

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Gains Power

  • In 1923, under pressure from the USSR, the CCP joined with the GMD
  • Sun Yat-sen wanted Soviet aid so that he could conquer China
  • The Soviets wanted Outer Mongolia and the province of Xinjiang
  • Since most Communists hated the GMD and didn’t want to work with them, Mao saw opportunity
  • Mao worked hard for the GMD and rose in power in the Communist party
  • In 1925, Sun Yat-sen died.  A friend of Mao’s, Wang Ching-wei, led the Nationalists
  • Under Wang Ching-wei, 1/3 of the congress were Communists, although there were far more Nationalists

Split of the GMD and CCP

  • In the CCP, mob violence was condoned by Moscow and practiced by grassroots peasant associations.  The Nationalists didn’t like the violence
  • In April 1927, the Peking authorities raided Russian premises and seized documents that revealed Moscow trying to overthrow the Peking government and there were Soviet links with the Chinese communists
  • The Nationalists needed to take decisive action to dissociate themselves with the Russians and CCP or else they could be seen as part of the conspiracy to turn China into a Soviet satellite
  • Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist Party #2 member and leader of the Nationalist army, took over the Nationalist party
  • He began organizing massacres of left-wing members of the GMD, especially those who were also members of the CCP


  • Mao fled to the countryside (Hunan and Jiangxi), where he established independent soviets and the Red Army
  • From 1930-1936, Chiang Kai-shek led military campaigns against the Communists, while the communists defended themselves with guerilla tactics
  • Long March – 1934-35
  • Red Army retreated using twisting, unpredictable patterns
  • Split into smaller units that were harder to find
  • Out of 87,000 men, less than 10,000 survived the 9,000 km march
  • In December 1936:
  • The communists settled in Yan’an in Shanxi
  • A truce occurred to help protect the country against the Japanese

Sino-Japanese War and the CCP Build-Up

  • From 1937-1945, the communists:
  • Expanded their military forces from 500,000 to 1 million
  • Established political control over as many as 90 million people
  • Were given weapons by the U.S. to help fight the Japanese
  • Nonetheless, the Nationalists did most of the fighting

Relationship Between Leadership and the Masses

  • Mao developed a program of contact with the masses that became known as the “mass line”
  • Trained communists were sent in groups into the communities, where they said they had come to listen to the desires and ideas of the people
  • On their return, the party would then learn what measures would appeal and adapt to their own policies which would be presented to the people
  • It was a powerful tool of propaganda
  • By 1945, the communists had reached 100 million people and the mass line was carried to the people by 1 million members

Chiang and the Nationalists

  • Chiang and the Nationalists were set back by:
  • Corruption
  • Brutality
  • Incompetence
  • Inefficiency
  • Hyperinflation
  • Sino-Japanese War
  • Arms that the U.S. gave to the Nationalists, but the Red Army captured them
  • People lost confidence and longed for an end to famine, death, and civil war

Controlling the Newcomers

  • CCP newcomers enrolled in “schools” to be trained and indoctrinated.  These schools were in poor conditions, had little food, and no medicine
  • Leaving the school would be considered desertion, with execution likely

Yenan Terror

  • Mao used a Chinese KGB to seek out and execute anyone determined to be a spy
  • Mao asserted that Communist organizations in the Nationalist areas were spy rings.  Most of the newcomers came from these areas
  • Thousands were arrested and thrown into prison-caves
  • The imprisoned came under pressure to confess being spies and to denounce others
  • Sleep deprivation, whipping, hanging by the wrists, and other forms of torture became the norm
  • At mass rallies, newcomers were forced to confess being spies and name others in front of large crowds
  • All forms of relaxation, like singing, dancing, and even humor were stopped
  • Thought examination required you to write everything down that wasn’t good for the Party and write down information about other people as well
  • No outside press was available, no radio, no letters
  • There was no room for outside thought  – everyone was turned into a robot

From Hero to Enemy

  • Chiang wasn’t hated until the Yenan Terror:
  • Chiang got America and Britain to concede their territorial concessions
  • He did away with the warlords and unified the country against the war with Japan
  • He got China’s permanent seat and veto on the UN Security Council

Mao Becomes Supreme Party Leader

  • In early 1945, Mao convened the Party congress
  • He had delayed the meeting to make sure he had absolute control
  • Most of the delegates at the meeting had been terrorized or were new appointments
  • Mao declared himself the supreme leader

Post Sino-Japanese War

  • The USSR launched Operation August Storm in the last month of the war against Japan
  • This was a successful invasion of Manchuria, which the Soviets occupied until the end of the war
  • Once the war was over, Manchuria was turned over to the CCP, and there was nothing Chiang Kai-shek could do
  • With the dropping of the atomic bombs, Japan unconditionally surrendered
  • Japanese troops were ordered to surrender only to the Nationalists
  • However, the Nationalists didn’t occupy some of the areas – the CCP did
  • When the Japanese withdrew, the CCP were able to take over large areas

The Marshall Mission

  • After WWII, Secretary of State George Marshall negotiated a cease-fire between the KMT and CCP
  • The Nationalists demilitarized 1.5 million troops, most of which belonged to warlords
  • Nothing was done to help them integrate back into civilian life
  • As a result, many joined the communists
  • They used their knowledge of where former Japanese weapon depots were located to stockpile weapons
  • Nationalist forces ignored these stockpiles because American weapons were better and they thought the warlord troops were too uneducated and illiterate to operate them
  • Many warlord troops actually collaborated with the Japanese so they knew exactly where the depots were and how to operate the weapons
  • They showed the communists how to work them

Civil War Again

  • In April 1946, serious fighting broke out again between the armies of the GMD and CCP
  • By mid-1947, the Nationalist army was overstretched in occupying all the areas gained, and a successful Communist counter-offensive began in Manchuria and swept the country

End of the GMD

  • In Jan. 1949, Chiang resigned from the presidency and asked the U.S. to mediate with the CCP, hoping to retain the south
  • The CCP, sensing victory, was no longer interested in an armistice.  Their advance continued
  • On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao in Beijing

Results of the Chinese Civil War

  • 25% of the world’s population just became communist
  • U.S. aided the Nationalists, so this foreign influence helped this group to lose support
  • The CCP used guerilla tactics effectively, which demoralized the KMT
  • 600,000 troops and 2 million refugees fled to Taiwan
  • Many Chinese experts (“China Hands”) in the U.S. government were blamed for the loss of China and consequently had their careers destroyed by McCarthy
  • This caused there to be less Asian advisors in government, possibly causing Kennedy to develop a faulty policy in Vietnam
  • Truman and his Democratic party lost political support, so it caused Lyndon Johnson to be determined to uphold South Vietnam at all costs
  • Relations between the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) were tense and often drew the United States into defending Taiwan

Initial Problems

  • During the Civil War:
  • There was only a primitive system of communications, transportation, factories, and canals
  • Modern industrial production was concentrated in a few centers which had come under foreign influence
  • Unemployment was widespread
  • Inflation was staggering
  • The position of women in society led to the depression of half of the workforce
  • In many areas, opponents outnumbered supporters
  • Many unsympathetic civil servants had to remain in office
  • The hostile forces of the Nationalists remained on the island of Taiwan where they could not be pursued because the CCP had no amphibious forces
  • Hostility from abroad, particularly from the U.S., made the regime defensive

Period of Reconstruction (1949-53)

  • Political Reforms
  • There were 10 political parties in China in 1949, by 1952, they were all gone
  • A campaign was launched against counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the state
  • Churches were closed; Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism were denounced
  • Period of Reconstruction (1949-53)
  • Family Reforms
  • Marriage Law (1950):
  • Made marriage free and consensual
  • Gave equality to women
  • Women were allowed to inherit property
  • Many widespread practices were forbidden
  • Child marriage
  • Polygamy
  • Killing or selling of children
  • Binding the feet of girls
  • Family Reforms
  • Women were taken into the workforce
  • Positions of importance in the state and party were opened to women
  • Health Reforms
  • Clinics and child-care centers were set up
  • There were campaigns to improve hygiene and health
  • The opium addiction problem was solved by:
  • Drastic penalties for major suppliers and dealers
  • Amnesty for petty dealers
  • Rehabilitation for addicts
  • Public education campaigns
  • Economic Reforms
  • The aim was to control capitalism:
  • Businesses were confiscated from the landlords, GMD, and the Japanese
  • Most businesses became owned by the state
  • Inflation was controlled by:
  • Fixing wages and prices
  • Slashing public spending
  • Increasing taxes
  • Private banks were closed and a new state bank was established
  • Agricultural Reforms
  • Agrarian Reform Law (1950):
  • Feudal services and forced labor were abolished
  • Landlords had to refund rent deposits
  • The property of the rich landlords was divided up by the poor and middle peasants
  • 1 million ex-landlords were executed
  • The peasants gained self-confidence and agricultural productivity increased
  • By May 1956, 90% of farmers were members of cooperatives
  • Industrial Reforms
  • The CCP had little contact with or knowledge of industry because they evicted foreign control
  • National Capitalism – state owned large industry, while there was private ownership of smaller ones until 1955/56
  • Maintaining Control
  • Three-Antis (1951)
  • Aimed at removing corrupt officials
  • Corruption, waste, and bureaucratism
  • 10% of officials were fired and or executed
  • Five-Antis (1952)
  • Aimed at businesses
  • Bribery, tax evasion, fraud, theft of government property, theft of government secrets
  • 75% of businesses were fined and were now subjected to tighter control

First Five Year Plan – 1953-1957

  • Soviet Union assisted with $300 million and 10,000 Russian engineers
  • Targeted the development of heavy industry: coal, steel, chemicals, automobile, and transport
  • Failure to meet the targets established by The National Resource Committee was the equivalent of failing China

Effects of the First Five Year Plan

  • Overall industrial output increased 15.5% per year (faster than the target of 14.7%)
  • Agriculture was constricted to pay for industrial expansion, so food production increased at an average of 2% per year, compared to 14% from 1949-52

Great Leap Forward – Second Five Year Plan (1958-1962)

  • Collectivization became the official policy in 1958 and was universally enforced
  • China’s land was divided into 70,000 communes
  • Mao wanted China to “walk on two legs” – develop both agriculture and industry at the same time
  • He hoped that it would help unemployment, cause a genuine communal culture, and create militia that could be used in place of a regular army
  • He accused peasants of hiding grain and used force against them
  • The food would be traded for money for weapons or used for fuel

Great Leap Forward

  • Mao ordered huge drives to build irrigation systems using poor equipment. Some of these projects are still unstable today
  • Forests were stripped of trees to be used as fuel
  • Anything that peasants could melt down into steel was put in backyard furnaces, but the steel was poor
  • Mao also wanted to raise output in factories, so common sense and rules went to the wayside in the name of speed. Accidents frequently caused tens of thousands of deaths
  • Agriculture failed because:
  • Unscientific agricultural methods were used
  • There was a shortage of agricultural labor because of peasants working on industrial projects
  • The peasants disliked losing their private lots
  • Natural disasters – droughts and floods

Results of the Great Leap Forward

  • 38 million died of:
  • Being worked to death
  • Others were killed, tortured, or imprisoned
  • Famine (the average daily calorie intake was 1,534.8 for men and 1,200 for women – Aushwitz got between 1,300-1,700 calories per day)
  • Heavy industry developed (although it was still behind most large industrial countries)
  • Agriculture lagged behind

Maintaining Control

  • Foreigners were:
  • Made to register
  • Had their businesses confiscated and nationalized
  • Expelled
  • Thought Reform Campaign
  • Intended to unify the people and indoctrinize them with Communism
  • Intensive study of the writings of Mao
  • Little Red Book was published in 1963 and people were encouraged to read it as their “Bible”

Maintaining Control – Hundred Flowers Campaign (1957)

  • Mao indicated his supposed willingness to consider different opinions about how China should be governed
  • Given the freedom to express themselves, liberal and intellectual Chinese began opposing the Communist Party and questioning its leadership
  • This was initially tolerated and even encouraged. However, after a few months, Mao’s government reversed its policy and persecuted those who criticized, and were merely alleged to have criticized, the Party in what is called The Anti-Rightist Campaign

Maintaining Control – Anti-Rightist Campaign

  • Were two waves (1957 & 1959)
  • 700,000 intellectuals were thrown out of their positions and professions
  • In every factory, 5% of the workers had to be denounced as “rightists”
  • All were sent to the countryside for reform – many died of malnutrition, illness, cold, overwork, and accidents doing unfamiliar jobs
  • Some were executed or committed suicide

Maintaining Control – Hundred Flowers/Anti-Rightist Campaigns

  • Two Opinions on the Hundred Flowers Campaign:
  • #1
  • Some have alleged that the Hundred Flowers Campaign was merely a ruse to root out “dangerous” thinking
  • #2
  • Others have suggested that Mao wanted to weaken those within his party who opposed him by having them bicker between themselves
  • However, he was surprised by the extent of criticism and the fact that it began to be directed at his own leadership
  • It was only then that he used it as a method of identifying and subsequently persecuting those critical of his regime

Maintaining Control – Cultural Revolution (1966-67)

  • Upheaval launched by Mao Zedong to:
  • Renew the spirit of revolution in China
  • Destroy the rise of differentiation between the proletariat and bourgeois
  • Restore his power and control
  • Society was inundated with Mao’s face, quotes, and other forms of propaganda

Maintaining Control – Cultural Revolution

  • Young people in schools and universities were told to condemn their teachers for poisoning their heads with “bourgeois ideas”
  • Their role was to “safeguard” Mao
  • Taking part in politics was something no one had been allowed to do under Mao, so they were excited
  • They were given goods and allowed to be violent
  • The youth were eventually called the “Red Guards”

Maintaining Control – Cultural Revolution

  • Eventually the terror turned to anything cultural, including art and artists. Culture was wiped out
  • The Red Guards confiscated tons of valuables, which was then sold
  • Then the terror turned to Party officials, his real target
  • Real schooling wouldn’t return until after Mao’s death

Mao Consolidates Power

  • Everyone had a file on them, many were tortured or killed (500,000), humiliated in public, committed suicide, or sent to labor camps
  • Housing space increased
  • An entire generation lost much of its schooling
  • Intellectuals suffered most
  • There was a loss of cultural heritage
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment