China: China under Mao<named-content content-type="print"> and After</named-content>

China under Mao<named-content content-type="print"> and After</named-content>

Mao Zedong and the Communists brought the soaring inflation under control and effected a more equitable distribution of food. A land-reform program was launched, and police control was tightened. During the first five-year plan (1953–57), agriculture was collectivized and industry was nationalized. With assistance from the USSR, construction of many modern large-scale plants was begun, and railroads were built to link the new industrial complexes of the north and northwest. On the international scene, Chinese Communist troops took possession of Tibet in Oct., 1950. That same month Chinese forces intervened in the Korean War to meet a drive by United Nations forces toward the Manchurian border. Large-scale Chinese participation in the war persisted until the armistice of July, 1953, after which China emerged as a diplomatic power in Asia. Zhou Enlai became internationally known through his role at the Geneva Conference of 1954 and at the Bandung Conference of 1955.

The Great Leap Forward, an economic program aimed at making China a major industrial power overnight, was underway by 1958. It featured the expansion of cooperatives into communes, which disrupted family life but offered a maximum use of the labor force. The industrialization program was pushed too fast, resulting in the overproduction of inferior goods and the deterioration of the industrial plant. At the same time, agriculture was neglected. Many scholars have said that this neglect, rather than poor weather conditions as asserted by the government, caused the three successive crop failures of 1959–61; the widespread famine that resulted was responsible for from 15 million to as many as 55 million deaths.

A severe blow to the economy and political system was the termination of Soviet aid in 1960 and the withdrawal of Soviet technicians and advisers—events that revealed a growing ideological rift between China and the USSR. The rift, which began with the institution of a destalinization policy by the Soviets in 1956, widened considerably after the USSR adopted a more conciliatory approach toward the West in the cold war. There were massive military buildups along the USSR-Chinese border, and border clashes erupted in Manchuria and Xinjiang.

Hostility had continued meanwhile between Communist China and the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, who pledged himself to the reconquest of the mainland. The Communist government insisted upon its right to Taiwan, but the United States made clear its intention to defend that island against direct attack, having even given (1955) a qualified promise to defend the Nationalist-held offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu as well. China's relations with other Asian nations, at first cordial, were affected by China's encouragement of Communist activity within their borders, the suppression of a revolt in Tibet (1959–60), and undeclared border wars with India in the 1960s over disputed territory. In the Vietnam War, China provided supplies, armaments, and technical assistance as well as militant verbal support to North Vietnam.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the emphasis of China's foreign policy changed from revolutionary to diplomatic; new contacts were established, and efforts were made to improve relations with many governments. China continued to strengthen its influence with other underdeveloped nations, extending considerable economic aid to countries in South America, Africa, and Asia. Important steps in Chinese progression toward recognition as a world power were the successful explosions of China's first atomic bomb (1964) and of its first hydrogen bomb (1967), and the launching of its first satellite (1970).

Internal dissension and power struggles were revealed in such domestic crises as the momentous Cultural Revolution (1966–76); the death (1971) in an airplane crash of defense minister Lin Biao while he was allegedly fleeing to the Soviet Union after an abortive attempt to assassinate Mao and establish a military dictatorship; and a major propaganda campaign launched in 1973, which mobilized the masses against such widely ranging objects of attack as Lin Biao, the teachings of Confucius, and cultural exchanges with the West.

Economically, the emphasis in the 1960s and early 1970s was on agriculture. After the Cultural Revolution, economic programs were initiated featuring the establishment of many small factories in the countryside and stressing local self-sufficiency. Both industrial and agricultural production records were set in 1970, and, despite serious droughts in some areas in 1972, output continued to increase steadily.

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