An impressive but flawed (imperfect) achievement. Is this a fair assessment of Communist rule in China between 1949 and 1961?

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Elizabeth Hadjia

“An impressive but flawed (imperfect) achievement”.  Is this a fair assessment of Communist rule in China between 1949 and 1961?

After the Chinese Civil War; a fierce four-year struggle for supremacy ended with the complete victory of the Communists. Chiang and his Nationalist Party were driven from Mainland China to the offshore island of Taiwan, which was their one remaining stronghold. Consequently in October 1949 Communist leader Mao Zedong triumphantly declared that a new Communist society had come into being, which he claimed to be The People’s Republic of China. Between the years of 1949 and 1961 the most demanding task was to bring stability to a nation, which has been riven with turmoil for decades. Mao Zedong’s approach consisted of consolidation of the Communist Party by removing any opposition. He attempted to reshape China through a process of modernization, where two five-year plans mimicking the Soviet style regime were followed, encompassed by the Great Leap Forward. Moreover Mao unfolded a process of collectivisation, which eliminated private farming in order to achieve a socialist collectivism. It was these three elements of consolidation, modernization and collectivisation that although impressive at the surface, were deeply flawed in determining the advancements of China.

Shortly after his accession to power, Mao announced that the People’s Republic of China was ready to begin the reconstruction of China under communism as opposed to the nationalist predecessors. He intended to consolidate his power in China, by enforcing both military and political control over the nation. Militarily, Mao launched a series of reunification campaigns creating three separate communist armies, which were dispatched west, and south. Having thus tightened its military grip over the nation. Mao’s government now turned its attention to extending political control, and by 1951 the ‘anti-movement’ were introduced. Such movements intended to destroy the remnants of what Mao believed to be ‘the bureaucratic capitalist class.’ To ensure that officials and public figures that had previously served the Nationalist Party, Mao initiated terror tactics by persecuting such figures as class enemies, ascertaining that they refused to accept the new China that the Communist government was creating. Purges of party members were also carried out within the Communist Party, with members that did no subserviently adhere to the party line were liable to be condemned as rightists who opposed the progress of Communist China. The preeminent example of this occurred in 1957 in The Hundred Flowers Campaign when Mao allowed critics to openly contend what they felt were the shortcomings of the Communist Party. Many responded to this calling, issuing their concerns over various facets of the CCP’s leadership. However Mao terminated the campaign and conversely forced the foremost respondents to retract their statements. As historian Jung Chang saw it, The Hundred Flowers Campaign was part of the movement towards a controlled society in which all expression of opinion had to meet the criteria of political correctness as defined by Mao. Although the concept of consolidation by eradicating class enemies was impressive in invoking the traditional Chinese duty of respecting authority it was heavily flawed. Firstly, the authority that Mao had commanded as leader of a one-party state effectively made him absolute ruler. Since his regime caused members of his party to fear commenting on his mistakes, may errors were magnified. The political correctness of the system taught that Mao was incapable of faults and that he was beyond criticism, hence the majority of people either ignored the truth or were forced to suppress it.

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The next facet of communist rule from 1949 to 1961 entailed relentless attempts to modernise the China and its economical power. Mao desired to model the Chinese political system around Stalin’s Five-Year Plans, and as a result brought about his own Five-Year Plan aimed at developing the growth of heavy industry directed under the control of the state. Immediately after the Great Leap Forward was launched, which was a term used by Mao to describe the Second Five-Year Plan of 1958 to 1962. The aim was identical; Mao intended to revolutionize China’s agricultural industry in order to build up ...

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