What impact did Mao have on the lives of Chinese people since 1949 in the following areas: economic, social and political

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In 1949 the Communists defeated the governing Kuomintang after years of Chinese civil war. The leader of the Communists and the man who was now to become the Chairman of China was Mao Tse-Tung. Mao had been at war or on the run from the Kuomintang for over 20 years and as leader of China he announced a vision of a new and peaceful China. The Communists’ aims and policy was set out in the Common Programme, written in September 1949. It said that China would be a ‘Peoples Democratic Dictatorship’, with ‘democracy for most people but a dictatorship for reactionaries’; anybody opposed to communism was classed as a reactionary.

The People’s Republic of China strives for independence, democracy, peace, unity, prosperity and the strength of China… ” these were the ideals that Mao set for the Chinese people but did this become reality? By splitting Chinese life and three categories, economic, social and political, I am trying to determine what impact Mao had on the lives of the Chinese people since 1949. Mao, like the Russian communists set out to reform China by using a series of set year plans. The first of these ‘Five Year Plans’ aimed to make China world class power, with the ability to rival other great Nations.

He set clear targets on different levels, for the four bureaus, the main sections of which China was split into, regions and individual factories. The USSR helped the effort by supplying China with experts and financial aid to boost the economy. The first Five Year Plan was very successful and surpassed most of its targets. However these targets were to do with raw materials, and their accomplishment did not translate into improvements for the everyday lives of the Chinese people. The Great Leap Forward was a second step in Mao’s plan for economic development.

This time the aim was to increase productivity in industry by increasing agricultural yield, and therefore provide more comfortable lives for the people of China who could then work harder. It also sought to attain maximum productivity from the maximum number of people. Homes were set up for the elderly and for children, and furnaces were set up in people’s back yards so that they could produce steel. However, this did not work as planned. Although Mao was by no means a skilled economist his ideas were sound. However, he had very little understanding of how best to complete these ideas.

The consequence of the Great Leap Forward was mass starvation caused by the fact that food was rotting in the fields as ten percent of agricultural workers were now solely employed in steel production. Mao had not foreseen this. Nor had he foreseen that so much coal was used up in steel production that there were no longer trains enough to carry it to the factories, or that about a quarter of this steel was too impure to be of any use. As soon as he came to office, Mao introduced the Marriage Reform Law, which protected the rights of women, and outlawed child marriages.

In 1956 Mao had appeared to be a conscientious leader, ready to give his people the freedom to say what they liked about his regime. In his ‘Hundred Flowers’ campaign he encouraged people to do so, but once it became clear that many people thought ill of him he cracked down, and sent his main critics to gaol. People from then on lived in fear of speaking their minds in China. Mao had a direct influence in the second Five Year plan. His aim was to make China equal economically to America by 1988. It was started in 1958. It was his project and has generally been seen as a failure in Social terms.

It destroyed the gains made by 1950’s Agrarian Reform Law by redistributing land away from the peasants, and amalgamating it into communes. Each commune held around 5000 families. All the peasants of the commune would work all the land, people only having ownership of the land as a technicality. Life for the individual was controlled by the commune, so personal freedom was greatly reduced. Mao also used this opportunity to feed the newly communised people propaganda, at every point where it could be dished out. This means that people became fanatical, only having the knowledge that the Mao wanted them to have.

Between 1959-62, 20 million people starved as a consequence of Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward. ‘ This shows that his skills as a leader surpassed his skills as a bureaucrat, and because of this many people died. For his crimes of 58-62 Mao was forced to step down as head of state in favour of a more liberal group – Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. In 1966, after four years of the ‘Socialist Education Movement’ (an attempt to re-divert public thinking back down the road of Maoist communism), Mao launched The Cultural Revolution.

During this period large numbers of youthful zealots roamed the street of China’s major cities, causing widespread lawlessness. The Cultural Revolution was a direct attempt by Mao to disrupt the control that the moderates had on China. It worked. Schools and collages remained closed for about a year. Leaving the Red Guards, as they were known, more time to humiliate ‘reactionaries’ and to read the thoughts of Mao. Many people began to idolise the party chairman. The leading moderates were removed from the party successfully, and Mao’s task was accomplished.

Many of the members of the Red Guards did not return to their schools though, instead ‘going down to the country’ as Mao recommended. This meant that by 1981, 120 million people in China were estimated to be illiterate. When the communist party came to office in 1949 China was not a democracy. Contrary to claims by the party, it never would be to this day. Mao did nothing to change this, and so had no effect on it. However, by the time he died he had achieved stability that had not been present in China for 38 years (since the breakdown of the monarchy). He did this through a mixture of social reform, repression and terror.

In 1950 he gave peasants ownership of the land they worked, drastically altering the political and social spectrum of China. Without landlords to serve, equality was given to peasants in a single stroke. This equality disappeared as fast as it had arrived in 1958 at the introduction of Mao’s communes. Landlords had been replaced with targets, and people lost ownership of their land. In the Hundred Flowers campaign of 1956 political rights were highlighted. Mao was intolerant of people exercising rights that did not correspond to those he believed they should have.

Have the Chinese people been better off in those areas since the death of Mao? Explain your answer. Deng Xaioping initiated the sixth Five Year Plan. Its aim was to increase industrial and agricultural output by 4 percent. To do this it dissolved the communes, allowing farmers freedom of choice in what they produced and allowing them to make a profit if they chose to sell their surplus at market. He thought that this would provide a working incentive for people to work harder and produce more. It also brought the Chinese economy into the world market.

The Plan was a huge success, achieving totals of 12.4 % growth in industry, and 8% in agriculture. The average person’s income doubled, and the standard of living soared. Deng’s modernisations also included pay, he ended the equal pay for all system and brought wages into line with the jobs they paid, and introduced bonuses for extra output. Employers were also given the power to hire and fire employees as they saw fit. People were now also allowed to start their own businesses for profit, the result of this was more consumer goods were made, which meant that people’s standard of living went up. Deng used his ‘Four Modernisations’ as a guide: industry, defence, technology and education.

He also made it clear that “to get rich is not a sin” thereby encouraging enterprise. He ‘opened the door’ to foreign companies attracted by the low wages expected by Chinese workers. What China gained was expertise and experience of world markets. He sent students overseas to study science, technology and business. Along with his ‘Four Modernisations’ Deng remained true to his ‘Four Cardinal Principles’: ‘Keeping to the Socialist Road,’ preserving the people’s democratic dictatorship, maintaining CCP leadership, and ‘upholding Marxism-Leninism’ as well as the thoughts of Mao.

Even after Deng’s reforms, he still stuck to Mao’s basic structure, as is exemplified by the Tiananmen Square incident. The new mood of the period after Mao’s death was characterised by Democracy Wall in Beijing. People posted their criticisms of the government for all to see. The general consensus was a desire for ‘The Fifth Modernisation;’ democracy. Deng had shown that he still supported some of Mao’s ideas when he made clear that The CCP would still be the only party in China, he further showed his likeness to Mao in his ruthless suppression of the Democracy Wall movement in 1980.

Freedom of Speech was removed from the constitution. Also, the ‘One Child Policy’ introduced in 1980 to curb the rise in population growth has it’s Maoist flavours, as it puts the good of the collective above the desires of the individual. It was a necessary move, and one that Mao would probably have taken himself. In 1989 Deng’s reforms were exposed as fallible. The capitalist problems of begging, unemployment, and reduced grain production due to cash cropping led to unrest among certain sections of the public. The Tiananmen Square incident showed Deng to be just as ruthless as Mao had been in keeping unwanted voices silent.

To decide whether the Chinese people have been better off since the death of Mao you have to decide whether equality is more valuable to a nation than minority wealth. Since the death of Mao some people have enjoyed greater wealth and better education, but others have lost their jobs, or become poor compared to their neighbours. None have enjoyed greater freedom. In my opinion the Chinese people are not better off now than under Mao, as they have the worst of both worlds – the unemployment and stratification of capitalism, and the repression of communism.

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