Friday, October 1st, is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the
People''s Republic of China. Back in 1949, Chairman Mao
Zedong proclaimed the new Chinese state after his Communist
Red Army had defeated the Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces of
Chiang Kai-Shek, with Chiang fleeing to Formosa (Taiwan) with
his remaining followers. To celebrate, there will be a huge
military parade with some 500,000 participants.
Mao is one of the titanic, and evil, figures of the 20th century.
Under his dictatorial rule an estimated 30 million Chinese died,
more than Stalin or Hitler were responsible for. He rose to power
from humble beginnings.
Mao Zedong was born in rural Hunan in 1893. He was largely a
self-taught man who studied in Peking (Beijing) in 1918 where he
attended Marxist study groups. In 1921 Mao was a founding
member of the Chinese Communist Party.
By 1927 Chiang Kai-Shek accepted the mantle of Chinese leader
Sun Yat-Sen, who had died in 1925. But the Communists didn''t
want to be part of Chiang''s Nationalist Party and thus began a
long civil war. China was a greatly divided nation at this time,
both geographically and politically.
In 1934 Chiang''s forces had encircled the Communists in what
was known as the Chinese Soviet Republic in Kiangsi Province
but Mao and some 150,000 of his followers (both military and
civilian) broke through and commenced the "Long March" of
1934-35. While the Long March has been immortalized by
Communists and non-Communists alike, in truth it was a
disastrous affair. By some estimates only about 30,000 survived a
6,000 mile trek, from southeast to northwest China, settling in
Fushih. It was during this period that Mao first gained control of
the party apparatus and in Fushih he established a government
and social system very different from Chiang''s corrupt regime.
Mao has been described as having a "solid elemental vitality" with
the simplicity and naturalness of the Chinese peasant. He was a
brilliant orator who worked tirelessly to enlighten and
In 1937 the Japanese invaded China and Chiang and Mao united,
kind of, to fight the Japs. At times they still fought each other. In
the end, 75% of all engagements fought by the Japanese in China
were against Mao''s forces.
The Communists exploited the war years, 1937-45, to extend
their influence into rural areas over large parts of central China,
which the Nationalists had been forced to abandon but which the
Japanese were unequipped to administer. Mao mobilized the
peasantry around a program of resistance to the foreign invader
and moderate agrarian reform. During this time the Red army
grew from about 90,000 to 900,000 at the end of World War II
Membership in the Communist Party increased to 1,200,000.
As I mentioned in my Hott Spotts column of 9/2, the Nationalist
forces under Chiang frittered away their advantage in military
power. The civil war resumed in earnest in 1945 and by 1949
Chiang was driven off the mainland.
After Mao took over the Communists established relations with
other Communist states (except Yugoslavia) and in February
1950 signed a 30-year Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual
Assistance with the Soviet Union. During this same period, the
rest of Asia was beginning to challenge non-Communist leaders.
Communist rebellions broke out or were intensified throughout
much of Indonesia, Malaya, Burma, Philippines, India and
Indochina. Most of them failed due to lack of sufficient support.
Only in Indochina were the Communists able to capture a
significant part of the nationalist movement. The establishment of
a China allied with the Soviet Union had a very disruptive impact
on the world. Within days of Mao''s establishment of the People''s
Republic, the Soviets had exploded their first atomic weapon.
Later, in 1950, North Korea, with Moscow''s blessing and later
China''s forces, invaded South Korea.
Next week, the Great Leap Forward (Backwards) and the
[Sources: Columbia History of the World.
Oxford History of the 20th Century.
Oxford Companion to World War II]
*Note: Two dates are used for the establishment of the PRC,
9/21/49 and 10/1/49. 10/1 is the more commonly used date in
that this is when Mao proclaimed the formation of the new
republic to the whole country.