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The 12th of April 1927 would be the year when the GuoMinDang (GMD) would set off to try and exterminate their competition, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and setting off a brutal civil war that would last for more than a decade. However, through this flames of war rose a revolutionary man whose ideals would spark the ideals behind China’s numerous policies, and that man was none other than the first Chairman of the CCP, Mao Zedong. Having escaped from the Shanghai massacre on that fateful day, Mao would lead China towards the status of a superpower, or at least set the groundwork for it. As mentioned earlier, Mao had managed to escape with his life from the white terror that had practically destroyed whatever relation the GMD and the CCP remained and “marked the end of the First United Front”(Alpha History). This led to anti-communist movements across the country and resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 communists countrywide (Zhou Enlai: A Political Life).
Mao had managed to escape with his life and would go on to co-form the short-lived Jiangxi Soviet in 1929. Mao knew that his troops were too few in number to actually face the GMD in frontline combat and instead chose to adopt the strategy of guerrilla warfare saying “When the enemy advances, we retreat. When the enemy rests, we harass him. When the enemy avoids a battle, we attack. When the enemy retreats, we advance.” This allowed the continued existence of the Jiangxi Soviet up until 1934 at the fifth encirclement campaign where the communist army changed its tactics to fight on the frontlines. This was the move that caused the downfall of the Jiangxi soviet and also the reason why the Red Army was forced to go on the long march to escape from the clutches of the GMD. It was also at this time that Mao was put into a more important position in the CCP and became the “de facto leader of both Party and Red Army,”(Mao: a reinterpretation). After the end of the Long March, Mao set up a communist government in Yan’an, a precursor to the policies that he would implement after winning the civil war. However, before the war had ended, another Sino-Japanese war broke out which led to the Second United Front between the GMD and the CCP. This shaky alliance would go on to successfully defend China from the invading Japanese and the second part of the civil war would continue until Mao’s eventual victory in 1949. Through these constant difficulties Mao had proven himself to be a leader and also caused him to be trusted by the peoples of China to a fault. One of the first thing that Mao had done during the early years of him being a chairman was setting up the Marriage Law and the Agrarian reforms.
Firstly, the marriage laws. This change brought men and women to a more “equal“ status in society. Allow this did not give complete equality to women, it did manage to give more rights to women and was highly accepted by young women who were not seeking to settle down with a family yet. The marriage law also prevented bigamy and infanticide of baby girls. All of these were good for China to become more modern, but also contributed to a better economy since women would spend more time working instead of staying at home to take care of their own children. The Agrarian reform was the promise of free land for all peasants was fulfilled when Mao had the CCP take the land from the wealthy landlords and distribute it to them. This was to reach the communist ideal of equal outcome and to lessen the divide between the rich and the poor in China. It was also a way to redirect the blame from the civil war which had caused many casualties and would therefore have to be put onto the those that owned land since they would want to support their own interests by keeping the GMD in power. The CCP even encouraged this attitude as shown by the speak bitterness campaigns which encouraged mistreated peasants to lash out against their landlords, going so far as to even beating them. The new Laws and reforms had helped China in its infancy but was at the cost of a small group of people.
After dealing with the more pressing issues in China at the time, Mao decided to divert his attention into educating people about the ideals of Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. He would be able to brainwash his population to work harder not for themselves but for the party, later integrating the thought reform of 1951 into The Three Antis Campaign and The Five Antis Campaign, the later targeting at preventing corruption in the party itself while the former would prevent the rise of individualistic needs. These were very successful campaigns that would lead to people spying on others to reveal any such corruption. Although some people would have been innocent, the remainder of arrests would make sure to set an example for people who might try to imitate their actions. In a nutshell, these propaganda campaigns would essentially get people to spy for the party, and also changed the way that the Chinese would think. Although many of the social and political problems were being addressed, Mao still needed to find a way to fix the countries economy.
After GMD stole all of China’s gold reserves and took them to Taiwan, China’s economy had been in dire straits. They also had extremely poor infrastructure due to the civil war and these issues needed to be met. But Mao’s goal wasn’t simply limited to fixing the economy, but he had greater aspirations to make China to be completely independant and I quote, “ only with industrialisation of the state may we guarantee our economic independence and non-reliance on imperialism”. (Alpha History)
To achieve this goal of his, received help from the Soviets in the form of some monetary loans, but more importantly in the form of talented manpower such as scientists and engineers that doubled industrial output with the heavy industry benefiting hugely from it seeing large increases in production of different raw materials such as steel and coal. This had also brought China closer to the Soviet Union as they signed the treaty of Friendship Alliance and mutual assistance. This also lead to a enhanced quality of life for the urban population as number of people living in urban areas increased from 57 million to 100 million people (AlphaHistory)
In 1956, Mao gave the famous speech of letting a hundred flowers bloom, asking the people of China to give their criticism on the party. There are two different opinions on the matter, the first being that he did this in order to identify his political opposition and snuff them out and the second being that he wanted to improve the party and his leadership but the staggering amount of criticism he received caused him to be agitated, especially since he witnessed the speech of Khrushchev denouncing the actions of Joseph Stalin after the death of the Soviet leader, afraid that a same fate would await him as well. Whatever his original intentions might be, he stopped the campaign in 1957 and began cracking down on notable people that had publicly criticised him. This put him in a position of higher political power since he would have no one left that would oppose him or they would be sent to re-education camps. In an attempt to recreate the success of the first five year plan, Mao wanted to carry out another plan that could bring even higher production and output rates. However, the many disadvantages that came with the Great Leap Forward (GLF) outweighed the few advantages that it did bring about. One of the few advantages it brought on was that the heavy industry output had skyrocketed, increasing by a record 230% (MacFarquhar, Roderick) and that communes reported a total of 260 million tonnes of food in 1958 (C N Trueman).
However this was simply not true as these numbers were greatly exaggerated to meet the expectations of the CCP despite weather being relatively good for farming that year. The next few years were not so good, with droughts being experiences in some parts, while other places were experiencing heavy floods(C N Trueman). Any commune that would complain about the bar being set too high would have their commune leaders serve jail time. The steel production that had been reported to be 11 million tonnes in 1958 had also included the steel gotten from melting farm tools in homemade backyard furnaces that produced worthless steel, which not only made farming harder due to the lack of proper tools, but also lead to high consumption of coal which caused some problems for trains (C N Trueman). It was also around this time when Mao started to break away from the soviet model of communism since the soviet model focused on workers while China had more peasantry. This lead to some friction with the Soviet Union. The Great Leap Forward was such a disaster that it is thought that more than 20 million people (C N Trueman) had died due to starvation, and because of this failure, Mao had to resign from the position of being a head of state.
As C N Trueman put it, the party had to be put in charge of moderates that had abandoned the great leap forward in its entirety, reduced commune sizes and also gave back the land to peasant asking them to grow food and sell whatever remained. This limitation of power brought on by the three “moderates”, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi caused Mao to try and re-establish that he was the leader of the communist world by trying to regain control with people who would still sympathise with him. Although the Great Leap Forward was a failure that was the cause of much suffering, Mao was still held in high regard as a revolutionary leader of the communist party. To try and get people to stay on his side, he convinced the population that the party was infiltrated by bourgeois culture and a reformation was absolutely necessary that could only be obtained through a gruesome class struggle. He mobilised young people by shutting down schools to help him “struggle” against individuals that undermine the parties communist policies. By enlisting the help of young people to join Mao’s Red guard, he got them to try and destroy the “four olds” which referred to old customs, old habits, old ideas and old culture. This would grow into something that Mao himself could not control and needed the help of the Red Army to bring the youth back in control. However, the revolution truly died down with Mao himself in 1974.
China has since then managed to grow into a superpower in both its economy by being the world’s second largest economies and one having one of the most powerful armies in the world. It has proven itself in many conflicts like the ones in North Korea where it managed to hold its own against America and once again in Vietnam. They had managed to develop their own nuclear weapons without any Soviet assistance which proves their technological prowess. In conclusion, Mao zedong had ensured the initial survival of the communist party when it used guerilla tactics to struggle against the GMD, and had managed to lead china from a devastating civil war that had crippled the countries economy and also through bitter famines. Yet China had managed to defy all expectations and is now one of the global superpowers.
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