Mao Zedong, Part II
In 1950, Mao moved quickly to consolidate control over the
fractured Chinese nation. Land was confiscated from the wealthy
and peasant families were given small plots to work. The hold of
organized crime was broken and nationalization of all foreign
During the first few years of his reign, Mao''s prestige and
influence were given a boost by a number of factors. In the
Korean War, Chinese divisions fought American forces to a
standstill. On the economic front, before the Communist
takeover China had been comprised of 3 separate economies.
Manchuria was a component of Japan''s economic system. In the
coastal cities a modern economy was oriented toward the West
and relied on foreign influence for operation. The agrarian sector,
the great hinterland, was more or less a neglected child. Under
Mao the 3 were put under a unified management. The Soviets
made their contribution (in the way of foreign aid for their
Communist brethren). The integrated land utilization, which
eliminated the wastefulness of small plots and the duplication of
labor, also showed impressive results. China''s industrial sector
was, of course, still in a war torn state but rehabilitation and
rebuilding quickly made a difference.
In 1953 Mao launched the Five-Year Plan, modeled on Stalin''s
plans in the Soviet Union (and weren''t they successful?!)
agriculture was formally collectivized, and industry and
commerce were socialized. A fairly rapid process of growth
followed, about 6-8% a year (GDP). But by 1958, agricultural
output was lagging and the population soaring so Mao turned to
radical new policies.
The Great Leap Forward reflected Mao''s idea that will power
alone can solve all problems and intensive application of muscle
power could create the needed capital. A new Five-Year Plan
was put in place with the goal of doubling industrial production
and boosting agricultural output in record time. Tens of millions
were mobilized to smelt steel in primitive furnaces, but much of
the product proved useless.
Mao not only had primitive furnaces, he was recreating a totally
primitive economy. Disaster followed. Mao believed that the
classless society he had created already qualified as communism, a
society whose members picked up the necessities of life "each
according to his need." "It was an attempt to skip the socialist
stage of development and go directly to the communist stage, a
utopian dream." [Ray Huang]
As the economy failed, the Soviets withdrew their minimal aid,
too. Several years of disastrous harvests brought on a famine
which is estimated to have killed 20 million people. Mao''s
fortunes reached a low ebb. He had been amongst the peasants
for 40 years, going back to his days of revolution. He was a man
of rustic simplicity.
Development was set back several years by the Great Leap
Forward and the Chinese Communist model of development,
which prior to the leap backwards had had a significant impact on
many Asian leaders, was tarnished.
Throughout the 50s there were also massive campaigns designed
to reindoctrinate the population and restructure society. With the
economy now tanking, Mao carried the reindoctrination camps to
a new level, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, officially
commencing in 1966.
The Cultural Revolution was another brutal campaign. Mao, with
the backing of some of China''s military leaders, mobilized the
youth into Red Guards units, to combat "erosion" of the
revolution, and to attack the party and government bureaucracies.
Families were turned on one another and, as it developed, a major
power struggle occurred at the top of power. Mao survived and
purged a large portion of the party as well as government leaders.
The army had to step in to run the country. And Mao''s "Little
Red Book: Quotations from Chairman Mao" became standard
reading for schoolchildren around the country.
So Mao did his best to sell "Maoism," the principle which held
that a continuous revolution is necessary if the leaders of a
Communist state are to be kept in touch with the people.
And what of the U.S. during this time? Well, first off, going back
to the days after the Korean War, the U.S. adopted a policy of
"pressure and diplomatic isolation" directed against Beijing. The
main elements of the policy - non-recognition of the Chinese
Communist regime, opposition to its seating in the U.N., an
embargo on all American trade with mainland China and
opposition to other contacts with it. [A majority of Asian states,
however, adopted a posture of neutralism or nonalignment].
Meanwhile, Sino-Soviet relations began to seriously deteriorate
in the late 1950s. Moscow, in China''s eyes, failed to give
adequate backing to Beijing in their clashes with Taiwan
(Formosa back then) as well as conflicts with India, and China
claimed the Soviets reneged on promises to support Beijing in its
program to develop nuclear weapons. By 1969, border incidents
brought them close to all out war.
By 1969, President Richard Nixon was sitting in the White
House, figuring out how he could take advantage of the Sino-
Soviet rift. And take advantage he did. I covered this part of the
story in an earlier "Hott Spotts" (see archives) but there is
something I want to add concerning Nixon and Mao.
Andre Malraux, a French intellectual and politician, had told
Nixon before his historic trip to China in 1972, "You will be
meeting with a colossus, but a colossus facing death. [Mao had
recently suffered a mild stroke]. Do you know what Mao will
think when he sees you for the first time? He will think He is so
much younger than I. You will meet a man who has had a
fantastic destiny and who believes that he is acting out the last act
of his lifetime. You may think that he is talking to you, but he
will in truth be addressing Death." Malroux added, "There is
something of the sorcerer in him. He is a man inhabited by a
vision, possessed by it."
Years afterwards, Nixon commented of Mao, "Those who travel
smooth roads do not develop strength. But for Mao, struggle
was the key, not building a nation."
[And now for the real truth. Nasty, brutish Mao spent his last
years infecting hundreds of Chinese girls with venereal disease].
Sources: "Columbia History of the World"
"Oxford History of the 20th Century"
"Oxford Companion to World War II"
"China: A Macro History" by Ray Huang [Don''t buy
"In the Arena" by Richard Nixon