GCSE & A Level Revision Notes

Subject: History
Level: A Level
Exam Boards: EDEXCEL, AQA, CIE

Mao’s China and the Cold War

Background to the Civil War

  • From an international perspective, the CCP-GMD confrontation intensified the conflict between the two superpowers, thus contributing to the escalation and crystallisation of the Cold War in East Asia.

  • During the “Long March”, the Chinese Red Army lost 90 per cent of its strength), and was restricted to a small barren area in Northern Shaanxi province in northwestern China.

  • Chiang was forced to stop the civil war against the CCP so that the whole nation would be united to cope with the threat from Japan. With the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japan the next year, the GMD and the CCP formally established an anti-Japanese “united front.”

What the second Sino-Japanese War achieved in party politics

  • By serving as China’s paramount leader at a time of profound national crisis, Chiang effectively consolidated the legitimacy of the rule of his party and himself in China. This was further reinforced by American-British recognition of China under his leadership as one of the “Big Four” during the war.

  • Simultaneously, Chiang’s government was crumbling as it had focused on the Japanese invasion rather than forming effective plans to solve China’s social and political problems. Corruption spread in Chiang’s government which damaged his reputation.

  • The Japanese invasion had saved the CCP from destruction.

  • The CCP’s fighting contributed an image of the CCP as a major contributor to the war against Japan.

  • Throughout the war years, Mao and his fellow CCP members were always aware that after the war they would need to compete with the GMD for control of China.


  • In 1941, the Communist-led New Fourth Army was wiped out by GMD troops in Wannan. Mao asserted that the CCP should begin a direct confrontation with Chiang and overthrow his government and Chiang ordered the use of military and political means to restrict CCP movement. Pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union prevented the GMD and the CCP from resuming a civil war.

  • In 1943, Chiang published a pamphlet, China’s Destiny, in which he claimed that the Communists would have no position in postwar China. The CCP called for the Chinese people to struggle resolutely against the emergence of a “fascist China.”

  • The CCP adopted a series of new strategies in 1944, formally introducing the idea of replacing Chiang’s one-party dictatorship with a new coalition government including the CCP and other democratic parties.

  • CCP leaders realised that by offering the party’s assistance to American landing operations, it would not only reduce American suspicion of the Chinese Communists but also allow them to use America’s influence to check Chiang’s power. The CCP tried to convince Americans that they favoured “democratic reforms” in China.


  • When Chiang rejected the Americans’ five-point agreement and the Americans accepted instead Chiang’s three-point plan, the CCP were required to turn over control of its military forces to the GMD government in return for legal status. Their refusal led the US to fully support the GMD and refuse to cooperate with the CCP.

  • At the Yalta conference, Stalin gained Roosevelt’s promise that all former Russian rights and privileges lost to Japan during the 1904 Russo-Japanese War would be restored to the Soviet Union, and, in return, Stalin agreed to enter the war in Asia after Germany’s defeat and that he would not support the CCP in China’s internal conflict – the strategic interests of the Soviet Union were more important than those of his Chinese Communist comrades. The CCP were not informed about this, hence they based their strategies for their conflict with the GMD on the assumption that the Soviet Union would enter into the anti-Japanese war.

  • Although the CCP knew that representatives from the GMD and the Soviet Union were negotiating in Moscow, they did not believe that the Soviet Union would allow the emergence of an American-backed fascist China or that Stalin, as a Marxist, would sign a treaty with the GMD that would hinder a Chinese revolution.

  • Chiang authorised the signing of the ‘Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance’, in which Chiang acknowledged the independence of Outer Mongolia, the Soviet military occupation of Lushun, and Soviet privileges regarding the Chinese Changchun Railroad. In return, the Soviet Union agreed to respect Chiang’s position as the leader of China’s local government and acknowledged that Chiang’s troops had the right to take over China’s lost territory. Chiang and Mao issued a communique asserting that they had agreed on convening a political consultative conference to construct peace and democracy in China, but the meetings failed to produce an agreement.

  • During the Marshall mission, where the US sent General George Marshall to mediate between the two parties, Chiang was unwilling to compromise with the Communists on the belief that any substantial concession to the CCO would weaken GMD rule in China. At least, the GMD and CCP did agree to a ceasefire in January 1946.

Nationalist sentiment

  • When Mao pointed out that Sino-American relations had been dominated by a series of unequal treaties since China’s defeat in the Opium War of 1839-42, he revealed a deep-rooted belief that in a moral sense the United States and other Western powers owed the Chinese a heavy historical debt.

Cold War in the making

Chen Jian, Mao’s China and the Cold War.

Background to the rise and demise of the Sino-Soviet alliance

  • Emerging in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the “brotherly solidarity” between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union was claimed to be “unbreakable” and “eternal”. The alliance collapsed by the mid-1960s.

  • Argument that China’s alliance policy towards the Soviet Union was always an integral part of Mao Zedong’s grand continuous revolution plans designed to transform China’s state, society, and international outlook.

  • Aims:

          • To use a Sino-Soviet alliance to show how assistance from Western capitalist countries was unnecessary.
          • To follow the example of the first socialist country in the world in building a socialist state and society.


  • It was the long-term revolutionary policy of the CCP to attach itself to the international “Progressive forces” led by the Soviet Union. The CCP also feared that western imperialist countries would hinder the Chinese revolution.

  • Mao sought:

          • To turn China into a land of universal justice and equality.
          • By presenting the experience of the Chinese revolution as a model for other ‘oppressed nations’ in the world, China would re-establish its central position in the international community.
  • Concerns:
          • Establishing and consolidating a new revolutionary regime.
          • Reviving China’s war-worn economy.
          • Prevent the revolution from losing its momentum.
  • This aim of preserving momentum led to three decisions on external relations – Zhou Enlai:
          • “Making a fresh start” - the aim was not to let the legacy of “old” China’s diplomatic practice influence them.
          • “Cleaning the house before entertaining guests”.
          • “Leaning to one side”.


  • Stalin disappointed Mao by initially emphasising that it was neither in Moscow’s nor in Beijing’s interest to abolish the 1945 Sino-Soviet treaty.

  • When the Chinese agreed to allow the Soviets to maintain their privileges in China’s Northeast and Xinjiang, the Soviets agreed to increase military and other material support to China.

  • The alliance:

          • Enhanced the PRC’s security / helped the CCP to cope with domestic and international threats to the Chinese revolution.
          • Expanded the CCP’s capacity to promote the post-victory resolution at home.
          • Put the CCP in a more powerful position to remove the political, economic, social, and cultural legacies of the “old” China and carry out “new” state-building.
  • Personal differences:
          • Stalin’s raw use of the language of power put off Mao.
          • Mao’s wish to discuss revolutionary ideals and the Communists’ historic responsibilities came to nothing.
          • Stalin treated Mao as the inferior “younger brother.”


  • Mao highlighted that the CCP supported the Korean revolution but hoped that the Koreans would not initiate the invasion of the South until the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had seized Taiwan.

  • Stalin became determined to avoid direct military confrontation with the United States and asked the Chinese to dispatch their troops to Korea without mentioning what support the Soviet Union would offer China. Stalin introduced a thesis that may be called the Communist version of the domino theory, warning that Beijing’s failure to intervene could result in grave consequences fist for China’s Northeast, then for all China, and then for the entire world revolution.

  • During the three years of China’s intervention in Korea, Mao consulted with Stalin on almost all important decisions.

  • The Chinese realised that the failure to eject the Americans from Korea would create insecurity for China while success in defeating the Americans would advance revolutionary China’s domestic mobilisation and international reputation and influence.

  • Mao’s pursuit of a total victory in Korea must be understood in the context of his desire to use the victory to push forward the political mobilisation of the Chinese people on the CCP’s terms.

  • The Chinese experience in Korea from 1950-1951 made it clear to Beijing’s leaders that China’s capacity to wage war did not equal its ambitious aims.


  • When the Vietnamese Communists hesitated before accepting the temporary division of their country, both the Chinese and the Soviets pressured the Vietnamese. The settlement should be attributed to the cooperation between Zhou Enlai and Vyacheslav Molotov.

  • The Chinese and Soviet leaders reached a general consensus that it was primarily the CCP’s responsibility to provide support to the Vietnamese revolutionaries.

  • CCP leaders believed that standing by their Vietnamese comrades would serve their goal of safeguarding China’s national security interests. Mao, though a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, demonstrated an approach similar to many traditional Chinese rulers: the safety of the Central Kingdom could not be properly maintained if its neighbouring areas fell into the hands of hostile “barbarian” forces.

  • The CCP leadership placed the emphasis of their strategy regarding the United States on Korea, but continued to view the Vietnamese Communist struggle against the French as part of the overall anti-imperialist struggle in the Far East, hence the security benefit of providing support to Vietnamese Communists.

  • The creation of a Communist-ruled North Vietnam would serve as a buffer zone between Communist China and the capitalist world in Southeast Asia. The opening of a new dialogue between China and Western powers would help break the PRC’s isolated status in the world. The crucial role that China played at the Geneva conference implied that for the first time in modern history (since the 1839-42 Opium War) China had been accepted by the international society as a real world power.


  • Khrushchev gave a speech in which he criticised Stalin and his personality cult. The CCP were not invited to the session and were provided with a copy of the speech.

  • Mao:

          • Offended at not having been consulted in advance.
          • The speech had shattered the myth that Stalin and the Soviet Union had always be correct.
          • Mao and his comrades defended Stalin for defending the CCP’s own experience of building socialism in China. Mao concluded that it was necessary to adopt a “seventy-thirty ratio” methodology – an acknowledgement that achievements should account for 70 per cent of Stalin’s career and mistakes for only 30 per cent.
          • Mao was reluctant to embrace de-Stalinisation.
          • Mao’s response to de-Stalinisation also revealed his new perception of Beijing’s more superior position in the international Communist movement in the post-Stalin era.
  • Consequently, by late 1956, China’s relations with the Soviet Union changed significantly. Although in public Mao continued to maintain that Moscow remained the centre of the socialist camp, he really believed that it was he who was more qualified to dictate the principles underlying the relations between and among socialist countries.

1956 Poland and Hungary crises

  • Mao informed the Soviet Union that China would publicly protest if Moscow militarily intervened in Poland.

  • Supposedly in response to Chinese pressure, Khrushchev and his fellow Soviet leaders decided not to use force to solve the Polish question and issued the “Declaration on Developing and Enhancing the Friendship and Cooperation between the Soviet Union and other Socialist Countries,” in which Moscow promised to follow a pattern of more equal exchanges with other Communist states and parties. However, the Soviet leadership later decided to use military force to suppress the “reactionary revolt” in Hungary.

  • The Hungarian crisis reflected Mao’s belief that reactionary elements and class enemies had been a main cause of the turmoil and he argued to continue revolution in China, especially in the fields of politics and ideology.

          • In 1957, 300,000 Chinese intellectuals were branded as “rightist,” a label that would effectively ruin their careers.
          • Mao and the CCP established absolute control over China’s “public opinion”.

Mao’s statements

  • Mao emphasised that the Communists should not be frightened by the prospect of a nuclear war started by the imperialists but should realise that such a war, although carrying a high price, would bring the imperialist system to its grave.

  • Mao’s statement was a deliberate challenge to Khrushchev’s emphasis on the necessity and possibility of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with Western imperialist countries.

  • Document entitled “Sixty Articles on Work Methods” - [We are] ‘now preparing to make a revolution in the technological field, so that [we may] overtake Britain in fifteen or more years’.

  • Mao recalled that “the overturning of [our relations with] the Soviet Union occurred in 1958; that was because they wanted to control China militarily.” Mao sought equal status in relation to the Soviet Union.

  • Mao did not inform Khrushchev of his tactical plans during their meeting in Beijing, leaving Soviet leaders at a loss to interpret China’s aims.

Deepening differences in Sino-Soviet relations

  • In 1958, tens of thousands of people’s communes appeared in China’s countryside and cities. Their free supply system was supposed to form the basic units of an emerging Communist society. Khrushchev dismissed the people’s communes as “reactionary”, which offended Mao deeply.

  • Due to the Soviet-American negotiations at Geneva to ban nuclear weapon tests, it was difficult for Moscow to provide China with assistance on nuclear technology. This meant not honouring certain obligations from the 1957 agreement signed with the Chinese.

  • Khrushchev criticised the Chinese for having adopted a policy of adventurism in handling the 1958 Taiwan crisis.

  • In the early 1960s Mao repeatedly used the conflict with Moscow to claim that his struggle for true Communism was also a struggle for China’s national identity.

  • Mao personality initiated the great polemic debate between the Chinese and Soviet parties, claiming that the Soviet party and state had fallen into the “revisionist” abyss and that it had become the duty of the Chinese party and the Chinese people to hold high the banner of true socialism and communism.

  • On several occasions, Mao cited the Soviet Union as a potential enemy. Khrushchev’s 1964 fall from power could not reverse the deteriorating relations.


  • The emphasis upon using the Taiwan issue to promote domestic mobilisation contradicted the “peaceful coexistence” foreign policy line Zhou Enlai endeavoured to promote around the same period.

  • Why did Beijing harden its policy towards Taiwan in 1958?

          • CCP leaders’ frustration with Taipei’s lack of positive response to their peaceful initiative in the previous two years. It is argued that the more militant policy was designed to pressure the GMD to take the CCP’s peace initiative more seriously.
          • Deepening confrontation with the US – the signing of the US-Taiwan mutual defence treaty. Mao and his comrades found it necessary to probe Washington’s real intention towards Taiwan and determine to what extent Washington was willing to commit to Taiwan’s defence.
          • To promote the extraordinary revolutionary outburst in China in 1958.
          • Mao used international tension to promote domestic mobilisation. He reflected on popular Chinese perceptions of China’s relations with the outside world, that of the Chinese people’s profound victim mentality.
  • Mao’s concerns for China’s security were not limited to the country’s physical safety. The Communist seizure of power in Beijing represented the first step in the “Long March” of the Chinese revolution.

City and Countryside

Groundwork to Mao’s regime

  • Mao and CCP leaders structured three bureaucracies to carry out crucial ruling functions: party, state, and military.

  • The military’s highest priority was protecting the party, not the state. It was the party that propelled the revolution. The party used the military just as it used the state to try to achieve its goals.

  • To these institutions were brought the principles:

          • The essential nature of ideology in keeping cadres in line with the aims of the party leaders.
          • The importance of the “mass line,” and, in the same vein, decentralised rule.
          • A disdain of “specialists” with a preference for officials who serve in a variety of areas
          • Witch hunts, false accusations, and confessions exacted anyway possible from those considered enemies within the Communist movement.
  • Attention was paid to the ideas and practices of Mao Zedong:
          • One of his most significant emphases was voluntarism – “that properly motivated people could overcome virtually any material odds to accomplish their goals.”
          • Mao placed great faith in the “people,” but loathed intellectuals, including scholars, writers and journalists as well as scientists, engineers, and doctors.
          • He attributed the problems of late imperial China to intellectuals who were products of the civil service examinations and who were in charge of state and society.
          • Intellectuals were usually city-based elites who in many cases had been enemies during the revolution.
          • Mao felt that intellectuals raised nit-picking objections to his programs and policies.
  • The First Five-Year Plan was shaped and executed with Soviet support, followed the Soviet model and emphasised technical expertise. Mao subsequently moved away from that practice.

  • To be ideologically correct was absolutely essential, i.e. follow ‘Mao Zedong Thought’, which was an evolving body of thought. Mao’s contemplations on ‘class’ contributed to Mao Zedong Thought.

          • Mao believed that the central value when regarding class was class struggle.
          • Unless there were changes in attitude, class status was passed on to succeeding generations – i.e. one landlord begot another landlord. Mao perceived castes and even marriage prospects hinged on class status.

Economy under Mao

  • The debilitating inflationary cycle was broken with government policies of price controls, balanced budgets, austerity measures, and currency reform.

  • Reconstruction following the years of war.

  • The government expelled most foreigners and confiscated their property.

  • Land reform

          • According to Liu Shaoqi, the second-ranking Chinese leader in 1949, the objectives of land reform were “to free the rural productive forces from the shackles of the landlords’ feudal land-ownership system, so as to develop agricultural production and open the way for new China’s industrialisation.”
          • The process involved destruction of the old agricultural system through class struggle and construction of a new system based on collective rural production.
          • In the north, landlordism was not a major problem; tenancy rates in the 1930s ranged 10-15 per cent. In the south, tenancy rates were 56 per cent in certain regions.
          • Change was achieved through mass organisations that mobilised peasants in rural villages, but this required propaganda and patience.
          • Land reform in north China was often characterised by a violent settling of old scores against local elites.
  • Challenges:
          • In most areas there had been little advance work and there was therefore little structural readiness for great social change.
          • There was generally no sense of class sentiments.
          • In many areas of the south and east, tenants rented land from a landlord in their own lineage. Given the all-important native place networks, villagers could not easily understand the concept of ‘feudal’ class structure or what exploitation meant.
          • An estimated two million landlords were killed – either in the heat of struggle or in execution.
          • An estimated 88 per cent of households in the countryside had completed the ‘land to the tiller’ movement by summer 1952. In the end almost 43 per cent of China’s arable land was redistributed to about 60 per cent of the population in the countryside.

Revolution in the Family

  • 1950 Marriage Law.
          • Allowed single women, divorcees, and widows to own land in their names.
          • May be seen as the culmination of efforts stretching thirty years back to the May Fourth period to change the system.
          • The traditional family system had been “based on arbitrary and compulsory arrangements and the superiority of man over woman” whereas the new one was based “on equal rights for both sexes, and on the protection of the lawful interests of women and children.”
          • Arranged marriages, child betrothals, polygamy, and the selling of women into marriage were forbidden.
          • Women, as well as men, could initiate divorce proceedings.
          • Infanticide was prohibited.
          • Equal rights for both sexes was revolutionary indeed in the context of traditional Chinese gender relationships and practices like footbinding.
          • As with the marriage law announced during the Jiangxi Soviet, the laws were on the books but were not always put into practice.
          • The right to divorce created  considerable confusion and disorder when hundreds of thousands of women in unhappy marriages tried to divorce. Many of the men involved became angry. The local party cadre whose job it was to execute the law was caught in the middle, hence they would not always enforce the law.
          • There were tens of thousands or murders and suicides due to the issue of divorces.

Urban Revolution

  • Targets of the Three-Anti Campaign were party cadres, government bureaucrats, and factory managers; the goal was to eliminate waste, corruption, and mismanagement.

  • Targets of the Five-Anti Campaign were the national bourgeoisie – industrialists and big businessmen – for corruption including bribery and tax evasion.

  • Impacts of these campaigns:

          • Destroyed the self-confidence of the targeted groups and discredited them in the eyes of those, like workers, who had been their traditional subordinates.
          • Removed personnel who had been retained since before Liberation and new cadres whose ideals were not orthodox and thus allowed for the recruitment of new mid-and lower-level personnel in business enterprises and the government.
          • Economically, they brought money from fines and taxes to be used for investment in new government enterprises.
  • Like the Guomindang regime in the 1920s and 1930s, the Communist regime sought to sink its roots deeply into Chinese society.
          • By the 1960s, every person was assigned to a ‘unit’, i.e. the workplace for employees, schools for students, the neighbourhood for unemployed or retired people.
          • The Communist government used these danwei to enforce control, political conformity, surveillance, and ideological correctness at the lowest level of the polity, i.e. one had to ask permission from his or her danwei to marry, have a child, get a divorce, change a job. The danwei controlled housing, distributed ration coups, oversaw the birth-control program, mediated disputes, supplied burial funds.
  • State sponsored mass organisations, based on shared interests or specific objectives, attempted to join together the whole country.

  • By 1953, trade union membership had risen to twelve million, and around 76 million women had joined the Women’s Federation.

The Korean War

  • The Soviet and US occupations of two areas of Korea had eventually turned into two regimes that favoured the former occupiers.

  • The US had thought the Chinese threat to intervene a bluff.

The First Five-Year Plan (1953-1957)

  • The production of coal by 1957 was 115 % of the plan’s goal.

  • Economic growth was a high 8.9 per cent annual increase.

  • Life expectancy, a measure of the health and economic conditions of a country, rose from thirty-six in 1950 to fifty-seven in 1957.

  • Wages for workers were up by a third.

  • Peasant income was up by a fifth.

The Taiwan Model: Authoritarianism and Reform

  • Chiang admitted personal responsibility for the loss of the mainland to the Communists – the army had disintegrated, the party was in shambles, the state had shrunk to one province.

  • There was recognition that this period of opposition to Communist should include making Taiwan a model province of Sun Yat-sen’s Three People’s Principles.

  • Chiang used the ongoing civil war to justify authoritarian controls, martial law, no newspapers except those sanctioned by government.

  • The White Terror that Chiang had begun in 1949 continued throughout the 1950s.

  • Through currency reform and measures to take surplus money out of circulation, Chiang’s government was able to reduce the 3000 per cent inflation in the first half of 1949 to 300 per cent in 1950 to 8.8 per cent in 1952.

  • From 1960-1970, Taiwan was the fastest growing economy in the world – annual 9.7 per cent.

  • Whereas the Maoist vision emphasised for its leaders’ ideological correctness, the common sense of the masses, and the destruction of those with expertise, the Taiwan model exalted the experts.

  • China and Taiwan shared only a common authoritarianism in their governments.

The Great Leap Forwards


  • In 1954, there was a purge.
          • Gao Gang - Politburo member, head of the State Planning Commission and key party-state-military figure in Manchuria.
          • Rao Shushi, key party and state leader in Eastern China.
          • The reason was apparently to substitute others into their positions of power.
          • Factionalism, so much a part of the early Communist party years, would become increasingly destructive over the years.
  • 1955 campaign against intellectual-author Hu Fend.
          • Hu had struggled with critics who contended that politics and ideology, not artistic values, should dominate art and literature. Hu’s position was that artistic standards and the autonomy of the artist were crucial.
          • In 1955, the party launched a nation-wide campaign against Hu Feng and “Hu Fengism”, imprisoning him.
  • In contrast to the anti-Hu Feng campaign, Mao made overtures to intellectuals, perhaps out of fear that the browbeaten intellectuals may never against contribute to China’s national progress.
          • Lu – ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend’.
          • Scientists and engineers called for less interference in their work by generally ignorant party cadres.
          • When writers spoke out, their criticisms were levelled against party and bureaucratic dogmatism and against areas where the party had failed to live up to its principles.
          • Whilst the party bureaucracy was initially disconcerted, in 1957 Mao praised those who criticised the bureaucracy.
          • When intellectuals became convinced that the Yan’an restrictiveness had been lifted, their criticisms of party policy and the party became frank. Criticism spread to other groups, including farmers and urban workers.
          • The party declared a nation-wide ‘anti-Communist plot’, announced a campaign against ‘rightists’, advocated that at least 5 per cent of the leaders in any area were rightists and that local party branches had to find a quota of 5 per cent who would be tagged as ‘rightists’. Between 400,000 – 700,000 intellectuals lost careers and titles, were jailed, sent to labour camps or made to work heavy labour in the countryside. Most were not rehabilitated until 1979, many of those posthumously.
  • Foreign policy after the war in Korea and the assistance in the anti-French struggle in Vietnam became “peaceful coexistence”.
          • Beijing’s stature  in the Communist world was also raised by the general loss of face the Soviet Union experienced in that world from Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin (dead in 1953) and from the Soviet Union’s 1956 invasion of Hungary.

The Great Leap Forwards

  • Mao was infatuated with people power, i.e. the power of the masses to remake China.

  • By late 1956, almost 90 per cent of the rural populace were members (some quite unwillingly) of higher-level agricultural producers’ cooperatives.

  • The Great Leap Forward was a utopian campaign, part of which was to establish communes on which Chinese life and labour would be militarised.

  • The commune on average was made up of about fifty-five hundred households.

  • The traditional centrepiece of farm life was gone as a result of commune mess halls. Though not meant to be a direct blow against family cohesion, it probably undermined the closeness of the family unit.

  • The establishment of the commune militia enhanced militarisation on the commune. By 1959, 220 million men and women were serving as militia members.

  • Adjustments needed to be made:

  • The steel production goal for 1959 was a nearly 600 per cent increase over 1957 – another impossibility.

  • The second Great Leap failed spectacularly:

          • Output in heavy industry dropped 47 per cent compared to 1960.
          • Grain output fell from 200 million tons in 1958 to 144 million tons in 1960.
          • In light of declining grain harvests, mortality rates rose from 11.1 per thousand in 1956 to 25.4 per thousand in 1960.
          • The state gave out relief funds on an infinitesimal level.

The Sino-Soviet Split

  • The 1950 Sino-Soviet security treaty.

  • Thousands of Soviet technical and industrial advisers assisted in the Soviet-modeled First Five-Year Plan.

  • In the Great Leap Forwards, China broke with the Soviet model that it had adopted so thoroughly earlier in the decade. The Soviet Union had invested a great deal of time in China and saw itself as the patron for developing Communist states, hence the insult of China’s actions. From the Chinese perspective, the criticism was unjustifiable intervention in China’s domestic affairs.

China in Tibet

  • In October 1950, PLA forces invaded Tibet and the Tibetan military was quickly captured by the PLA.

  • Tibetan appeals to the United Nations were turned aside.

  • The 1951 “Seventeen-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” states that the “Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Motherland”.

  • The Soviet Union, which saw India as an ally, never took China’s side in the disputes where India granted the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees asylum.

  • When Soviet advisers were called back from China, they were to take with them all their blueprints and materials. 257 scientific and technical projects were cancelled.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: 1966-1976

  • Mao’s cult had transmuted him almost into a deity, i.e. daily people had to perform a ‘loyalty dance’ to Mao.

  • The Great Leap Forward had created a bitter split in the party leadership – a Maoist line and a Liu-Deng line.

  • Maoist line:

          • Following Mao’s ouster of Peng Dehuai at Lushan and the Great Leap with its deadly aftermaths, a number of leaders, including President Liu Shaoqi and CCP General Secretary Deng Xiaoping, began to see Mao’s whole approach as antithetical to the goal of building a modern socialist state.
          • Though Mao understood that the Great Leap had failed, he still trusted his Communist goals and believed in motivating people through moral incentives.
          • Mao thought that people (as opposed to ‘enemies of the people’) were by nature good and would use their energies to achieve his goals if properly motivated.
          • He believed that is was much better to be ideologically correct than to have the correct factual knowledge, i.e. better to be ‘red’ than ‘expert’.
  • Liu-Deng line:
          • Belief that the failure of the Great Leap was an unmitigated disaster that simply could not be repeated.
          • They argued that people were most motivated by material incentives, i.e. rewards, bonuses and higher wages when they excelled or when they worked harder than others.
          • Mao reviled such policies because they indicated ‘revisionism’ with the introduction of capitalistic elements and methods.
          • Regarding ideology vs. pragmatism, Deng stated – ‘It doesn’t matter if the cat is white or black, so long as it catches rats.”
  • In the 1950s Mao showed increasing tendencies to manage and control the party in what might be called “guerrilla” fashion, that is, he depended on small informal, usually ad hoc meetings for major decision making.

  • 1962 – Mao began a ‘Socialist Education Campaign’ to deal with the quality of local cadres and to refocus the party on the value of class struggle. Only about 2 per cent of the rural population belonged to the party in 1960.

          • Class labels had become fixed by this time – landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, and ‘bad elements’ would always remain the four bad types.
          • As class labels could become ‘deadly weapons’ in local political struggles, Liu and Deng rewrote directives for the work teams that deemphasised class struggles. Mao became convinced that the Chinese revolution was in danger and saw himself and the revolution as one and the same. The phrase ‘one divides into two, which had originally meant to describe the Sino-Soviet split, came to signify the necessity of struggling against ‘capitalist roaders’ within the CCP.

The Violently Radical Red Guard Phrase, 1966-1969 / insight into Mao’s personality

  • Mao formed a coalition that could help him take on the party, one composed of three components.
          • The PLA – Organised under strong Mao-supporter Lin Biao. The PLA helped build the Mao cult.
          • Radical intellectuals – key was Mao’s wife Jiang Qing who in 1963 had emerged as leader of an effort to reform the world of culture and the performing arts. Her associates were men from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the Municipal Propaganda Department in Shanghai.
          • Groups of mass population – people mostly from cities who saw themselves as increasingly disadvantaged, i.e. high school and college students who faced shrinking opportunities for upward mobility.
          • When deputy Beijing mayor, Wu Han, wrote a play, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, Mao saw it as analogous to his dismissal of Peng Dehuai and asked a Five-Man Group to look into it, and also asked one of Jiang Qing’s Shanghai colleagues, Yao Wenyuan, to write  a harshly critical piece of the play.
          • Mao abruptly swam in the Yangzi river to show that he was fit for battle (after years of rumoured illness and even death). The swim garnered huge media coverage and led people to emulate his swim in other rivers. Mao’s speed was reported to be ‘four times the world record’.
  • In August, rebellious student groups reorganised themselves as Red Guards and a million assembled in Tiananmen Square to see Mao. Mao directed them to destroy the four ‘olds’ – old ideas, habits, customs, culture.

  • Red Guard units rampaged China in 1966 and destroyed anything representative of the feudal past and the bourgeois present. On the one level, shop names and street names were changed to make them more revolutionary. Homes, museums and libraries were also trashed. They indiscriminately trashed books and newspapers, the notes and writings of scholars, religious art, and recordings of Western music.

  • Destruction of many of these institutions had been Mao’s purpose, as they asked the question as to what would replace them.

  • Fought to destroy the party, the Cultural Revolution ended up reasserting party power. Changes included:

          • Military officers were better represented than before.
  • Features of the Cultural Revolution:
          • An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 Chinese were killed in these three years.
          • Harassment, persecution, and torture of intellectuals and writers was commonplace all over the country.
          • The purge rate of provincial and regional officials was 70 to 80 percent, perhaps 3 million purged and most rehabilitated only in the late 1970s. Others met beatings, torture, and even death, such as Liu Shaoqi.
  • Phases:
          • First phase – malignant factionalism.
          • Second phase – continual factional disunity, tension, and struggle. Lin Bao tried to take the party towards particular ideological directions.
  • Many joined willingly in the Cultural Revolution; voluntary criminal acts on the part of many civilians.
          • Some suggest that such acts and anti-social outbursts were an explosion of anger against party and state bureaucrats that had been building since 1949.
          • A Shanghai journalist explained, “Once the labels were achievable, once you could attack someone by calling him a ‘revisionist’ or a ‘capitalist-roader,’ the labels were used like a cannon, just to attack anyone against whom you felt any grievance’.

Other matters

  • Increasingly pressing concern over the question of Mao’s successor.

  • There was a mysterious episode in which those closest to Mao, including his chosen successor Lin Biao, tried to assassinate him.

  • The political trial of the Gang of Four followed Mao’s death. Every conceivable difficulty and problem in Chinese society – from weak schools to bad harvests to infertility – were blamed on the Gang of Four.

  • During the Maoist cultural revolution when politics was in command, to discuss any aspects of personal life, romantic relationships and sex were considered bourgeois and therefore taboo.

  • There were horrific consequences inflicted on people accused of inappropriate sexual relations.

  • Sex was discussed and performed in contexts not sanctioned by the state.

  • State policy regarding sex was far from clear and popular attitudes were contradictory.

  • The word whore became one of the words most used against women.

  • Apparently, it was common for unmarried male and female people to live together.

Xiaoping Fang, “Healing Styles and Medical Beliefs: The Consumption of Chinese and Western Medicines,” in Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China (University of Rochester Press, 2012), pp. 94-124.

  • The healing techniques of Western medicine entered the villages from the 1950s onwards. Doctors abandoned Chinese methods and adopted western ones.

The Era of Reconstruction: 1976-89


  • Mao was succeeded by Hua Guofeng. Hua said that he would “support whatever policy decisions were made by Chairman Mao,” which led opponents to brand Hua and his allies as the “Whatever” faction.

  • Hua was more tolerant of intellectual and artists than Mao had been.

  • Hua set forth a Ten-Year Plan which would lead, he claimed, to industrial output near that of the world’s most developed countries by 2000.

  • Deng Xiaoping was reappointed to his old governmental positions. Deng and his allies became known as the “Practice” faction from their slogan, “Practice is the sole criterion of truth’.

  • In 1978, the rehabilitation of 100,000 cadres and intellectuals who had been held as political prisoners since the 1957 anti-rightist movement swelled the ranks of Deng’s supporters.

  • The transition of power was smooth.

Deng in power

  • Deng’s policies were based on economic reform and political authoritarianism.

  • Reform of the domestic economy using capitalist techniques / socialism with Chinese characteristics.

  • Between 1979 and 1984, the people’s communes were abolished, and there was a return to family farming.

  • Under the ‘responsibility system,’ a family leased land from the collective for a fifty-year period. Although this was not a reversion to private ownership, the land could be bought, sold, and inherited.

  • Beginning in late 1980, this new system allowed farmers to keep the profits after remitting their financial obligations to the state. By the end of 1983, a quarter century after the establishment of communes, 98 per cent of farm households were participating in the responsibility system. An indicator of how people were loath to communism.

          • Being able to keep the profits helped serve as the crucial incentive that prompted the rapid development of family farming and stimulated a striking surge in agricultural production. In the period from 1978 to 1984 the annual average gross value of agricultural output was an impressive 9 percent.
          • The new possibility of attaining some wealth motivated farmers to move resources into cash crops that would bring higher prices and some farmers used capital to move into food-processing and other small-scale enterprises. By 1995, over 125 million workers were employed.
          • Many farmers’ living standards greatly improved as evidenced by the construction of new homes, a better diet, and increased purchase of consumer goods. Those who worked essentially as sub-tenants and hired hands were among the poor.
  • Industrial enterprises were permitted to operate autonomously (within broad state guidelines) and for profit.
          • The ‘market model’, adopted in 1979 – allowing the production and distribution of goods to be determined by the market rather than by central government planners.
          • Until this point, workers in state enterprises (all enterprises) could never be fired and held ‘the iron rice bowl’ (lifetime job security).
          • While the number of state enterprises committed to the market model were increased, the early 1980s saw declining industrial production, rising inflation, and rising government budget deficits. The market model was temporarily shelved.
          • The private sector began to compete with the state sector and paid 55 per cent tax on revenues.
          • Urban workers saw their average real wages more than double in the decade from 1979 to 1989.
          • There was a floating urban population (workers in search of jobs) of 0.3 million in Beijing in 1982 and 1.3 million by 1989. In 1990, over 70 % of these people had a job. Police noted the increase in crime from those in the floating population.
  • Regarding Deng’s use of capitalistic innovations in order to build a modern socialist state, he declared ‘it doesn’t matter if the cat is white or black, so long as it catches rats’.

Sino-Soviet Border tensions, Sino-US relations and other developments

  • Military strength on the border had been increased and there had been incidents in 1967 and 1968, some caused by the Cultural Revolution violence.

  • 1969 – 25 Russians were killed, nineteen immediately shot after taken prisoner.

  • Beijing began to rethink its relationship with the US and the two held talks.

  • In 1971, China replaced Taiwan on the United Nations’ security council. Four months later, Nixon made an historic visit. Both the US and China pledged not to ‘seek hegemony’ in the region, to oppose other countries doing so, and to oppose as well efforts of major countries to divvy up the world into spheres of interest.

  • The number of countries that established diplomatic relations with China rose from 57 in 1970 to 119 in 1979. By 1989, the count was 137.

  • From 1979 to 1989 around 80,000 Chinese students and scholars visited the US alone.

  • Around 6,000 students and 36,000 foreign experts and staff visited China in 1987-1988.

  • The desire to attract foreign investors meant that laws needed to provide for protected property and specified taxes.

  • In 1980 China had only about 3000 lawyers. The training and establishment of 150,000 lawyers by the year 2000 was called for.

  • In 1980, China replaced Taiwan in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – joining these organisations meant that China had to be more open about its economic realities.


  • When the Democracy Wall (movement) called for democracy spread across China, the Beijing municipal government issued strict new regulations limiting mass meetings and demonstrations.
          • Democracy Wall under Deng Xiaoping was shown not to be any more viable than the Hundred Flowers under Mao Zedong.
          • The closing of Democracy Wall in 1979 was symbolically indicative of the repressive political policies that continually won out over more progressive policies in both the regimes of Deng Xiaoping and his successor Jiang Zemin.
  • From the 1942 Yan’an Forum on Arts and Literature into the 1980s intellectuals had been attacked by the party.

  • The 1983 Campaign against Spiritual Pollution.

          • Deng gave an address that attacked both those who participated in or profited career-wise from the Cultural Revolution, and those who fostered ‘spiritual pollution – an ‘attitude of doing anything for money’.
          • In 1983, there was much criticism of Western style individualism, clothing, hair-dos, facial hair, pornography, ‘decadent’ music, and the reappearance of ‘feudal’ superstitions and religion.
          • Zhao Ziyang stated that foreign countries who wanted to invest in China were beginning to have second thoughts in light of the spiritual pollution campaign.
  • In November 1986, scientist Fang Lizhi informed students that ‘the socialist movement, from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and Mao Zedong, has been a failure’ and encouraged students to pursue democracy.
          • Demonstrations spread to 150 campuses in 17 cities, demonstrators numbering in the tens of thousands.
          • Students called for greater freedom, an end to party nepotism, and better university dormitories and cafeterias.
          • Police forcibly removed students and the demonstrations died down.
          • Several prominent intellectuals, including Fang Lizhi, were expelled by the party or asked to resign.
  • The Democracy Movement / ‘Beijing Spring’ – 1989.
          • In 1988, there was rising inflation, rising unemployment and a decline in workers’ wages.
          • In 1988, the government began to deregulate prices of specific retail items. Before each deregulation, consumers panicked and went on buying sprees for fear of inflation.
  • Zhao and Deng had been proponents of price deregulation.
          • Perhaps the focus on encouraging foreign investment that led Zhao to question the spiritual pollution campaign also led him to advocate price deregulation.
          • The hunger strike in Tiananmen Square turned the student effort into a moral crusade against an evil government.
          • There were divisions amongst the students and the government alike. Moral zealot and female student leader Chai Ling said, ‘we are actually hoping for…bloodshed, the moment when the government is ready to butcher the people brazenly’.
          • Estimates of those killed in Tiananmen Square range from the hundreds to the thousands.
          • The government’s rationale was fear of anarchy and ‘counterrevolution’.
          • Protest demonstrations over the government’s handling of the crisis erupted around the country, as in Chengdu where up to 300 people were killed.

### Wei Jingsheng, “The Fifth Modernization: Democracy (December 1978)

  • Compares how in Europe and the US the citizens can run their politicians out of office whereas in China the people could not criticised Mao after his decease without punishment.

  • He scorns that democracy will come about naturally or that it will lead to anarchy.

1989 and its Aftermaths

  • The period since 1949 had seen first the state’s championing of ideology above all else; then the 1980s and 1990s saw the glorification of money and wealth above all else.

  • American scholar Maurice Meisner – ‘Deng…will best be remembered as the father of Chinese capitalism’.

Economic Policies

  • From 1991 to 1997, GDP rose at an annual average rate of 11 per cent. Between 1980 and 2000, the size of the Chinese economy quadrupled.

  • Inflation was lowered from 24 per cent in 1994 to 6 per cent in 1996 while maintaining economic growth.

  • Investment in the early 1990s came mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, whereas in the late 1990s it mostly came from Japan and the US.

  • Jiang Zemin partly privatised state enterprises, which made up 40 per cent of industrial output in 1997. Almost 70 per cent of state industries were losing money and needed to be subsidised by the state. Numerous incentives, including low tax rates, attracted investors.

Impact of Economic Policies

  • A ‘consumer revolution’ in China.
          • A 1994 Guangzhou poll found that 80 % of 461 participants were pleased by the availability of goods.
  • The American board game ‘Monopoly’ was translated into Chinese as ‘Entrepreneur’, an intimation that all entrepreneurs could become fabulously and monopolistically wealthy.

  • Financial disparity:

          • A 1998 study by Chinese economists revealed that 0.1 per cent of the Chinese people had one-third of the nation’s private savings.
          • Some professors were paid half as much or less than waitresses in joint venture hotels.
  • Investment disparity:
          • The coastal areas, despite only making up 15 per cent of Chinese territory. Received 67.4 per cent of investments.
          • Correlate this with 16 per cent growth in the GNP of eastern China in the first half of the 1990s and 9 per cent in central and western China.


_ Economic reforms brought a shift in economic decision making to the lower levels of the Chinese state.

  • The centre state did not give up all its powers.
          • It continued to appoint all provincial leaders.
          • It maintained substantial coercive powers, such as the People’s Liberation Army and civilian security agencies.
  • There was an effort to recentralise powers.
          • In 1998 and 1999, central government took away from provincial governors and city mayors their power over banks located in their areas.
  • While workers had not previously had to contribute to their pensions or their medical care, decentralising the social welfare system was the only fiscally sound option from the state’s perspective. Beginning in the 1990s, co-payments began to be required for insurance coverage, and contributions toward pension funds also became standard.


  • To control corruption:
          • Hundreds of regulations were established.
          • Anti-corruption bureaus were set up.
          • Hotlines were established so that people could report corruption.
  • The party was itself corrupt.
          • To maintain support for the reforms, Deng Xiaoping allowed party figures (and their families) to profit from opportunities provided by the reforms.
          • Chairman Jiang Zemin feared a loss of support in government if the representatives were implicated in scandal.
          • Jiang decided not to touch families of ‘first-generation revolutionaries’ to avoid political consequences for those in power.
          • Communist party cadres and danwei heads earned little relative to other workers. They often gave permission of marriage, renting an apartment and having a baby, in exchange for bribes.

The Population Problem

  • In the 1960s and early 1970s, families often produced five or six children.

  • In the mid-1970s the government dispersed birth control devices and ratched up population control propaganda.

  • The marriage law raised marriage age for men from 20 to 22 and for women from 18 to 20.

  • If a woman had one child, she had to have an IUD implanted. Multiple children meant sterilisation for either the wife or husband.

  • Families who had more than one child lost various welfare and medical benefits and may be fined.

  • In the 1990s, China added 125 million people to its population.

  • If the one child per family policy would be generally successful, it would create a cultural revolution. There would be no siblings, no aunts, no uncles, and no cousins. Parents doted on their single child – the first generation of fat children that China had ever seen. A son became the only way that the family line could be extended.

The PRC Empire: Centres and Peripheries


  • Both the PRC and Taiwan believe that Tibet is an integral part of China.

  • Tibet was made a Chinese protectorate mid-eighteenth century, but fell out of the Chinese orbit with the collapse of the empire in 1912.

  • In October 1950, China invaded the country and forced the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, to grant Beijing control.

  • In 1959 armed rebellion against Chinese control was forcefully put down, and the Dalai Lama fled to India.

  • Traditional Tibetan culture was damaged just as traditional Chinese culture was attacked during the Cultural Revolution.

Xinjiang Autonomous Region

  • In the mid-1990s, Xinjiang leaders asked Beijing for more autonomy, but Jiang Zemin was determined not to give an inch to what were called ‘splittists’.

Hong Kong

  • Britain agreed to return Hong Kong in 1997.

  • China stipulated that for fifty years after that date, Hong Kong would retain a capitalist economy, becoming a ‘special administrative region’ under the formula of ‘one country, two systems’. Until 2047, English would remain the official language, Hong Kong residents would pay no taxes to China, and the city’s economy would remain generally autonomous. Hong Kong’s defence and foreign policy would fall under China’s control.

  • For all the talk of China taking over Hong Kong, Hong Kong investors became prime movers in China’s economic development.

          • By the 1989 Beijing Spring, Hong Kong entrepreneurs had ownership interests in over 2000 factories in Guangdong province.
          • $40 million investment came from Hong Kong in 1992, as opposed to $3 million from the United States and $2 million from Japan.


  • Portugal retuned the territory to Chinese control in 1999.

  • The peninsula had been occupied in 1557 and its return was of symbolic importance.


  • Taiwan agreed with the Beijing argument, as had the US in the 1972 Shanghai Communique, that ‘there is one China and that Taiwan is a part of China’, but did not agree on what China was in the formula.

Other international relations

  • Japan:
          • In 1978, China and Japan signed a peace treaty and long-term trade agreements.
          • Japan neither agreed to the ‘three no’s’ (no support for Taiwan’s independence, no support for ‘one China, one Taiwan’ or for ‘two Chinas’).
          • Japan did not issue a formal apology for its wartime aggression.
  • Koreas:
          • China’s relationship with North Korea allowed it to become a broker with other nations, such as the US, that have limited contact with North Korea.
          • China and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1992.
          • N.B. The numerous developments and opening up to the world in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Vietnam:

China invaded Vietnam in 1979, did not fare well, and saw the military action damage relations between China and Vietnam into the twenty-first century.

  • South China Sea:
          • Under a loose interpretation of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, China claimed that almost all of the South China Sea falls under its sovereignty.
          • These islands are also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam.
  • The US:
          • US policy towards Taiwan was a constant irritant.
          • Charges in the US of alleged Chinese spying at US nuclear facilities and of alleged Chinese attempts to buy influence through contributions to President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign led to frequent China-bashing in the US Congress and in the media.
          • The NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the war in Kosovo, supposedly inadvertent, was interpreted by the Chinese as a warning against treating Taiwan and Tibet with force as had Serbia’s leader with the ethnic Albanians.
  • The Soviet Union:
          • Gorbachev’s trip to Beijing in 1989 healed the rupture that had existed between the two countries for three decades.

The role of the People’s Liberation Army

  • Warlordism in the 1910s and 1920s had forced major political parties – the Guomindang and the CCP – to recognise the essential need for having their own armies. This made Civil War all the more possible.

  • During the 1980s, the military budget shrank in real terms.

  • However, the military budget was four times larger in 1997 than it was when Deng began his reforms in the late 1970s, although military expenditure enabled the sale of military technologies abroad.

Human rights

  • In the 1950s, the constitution guaranteed the ‘people’ certain rights, but then specified who the ‘people’ were and noted that some people (capitalists, intellectuals, Guomindang supporters) were not really ‘people’.

  • The many minorities have been consistently handled differently from the Han Chinese.

  • All four Chinese constitutions guaranteed economic, social, cultural, political, and civil rights

  • China’s treatment of certain people, i.e. dissidents and Tibetans, has led to accusations of violating many rights specified in the Universal Declaration, such as countenancing torture, arbitrary arrest, unfair trials, selective protection of the law, and trampling on freedom of religion, expression, and association.

  • In 1998, Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton debated human rights issues on national television, but arrests of dissidents in late 1998 undermined hopes.

Provincialising China

  • Britain’s early Chinese communities in Guangdong, eastern China, and Hong Kong established channels right at the start to maintain home contact, to send remittances, and import immigrants.

  • Many early Chinese students in Britain from Southeast Asia identified with China and played an active role in the late-Qing reform movement.

  • To many student expatriates, warlordism in China represented a failure to copy Western politics and realise a Chinese England.

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