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Successes and Failures of Mao’s Domestic Policies Between 1949 and 1976

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During the time period of 1919 to 1949, rival warlords and factions struggled to assert authority in China. The two chief contenders were the Nationalists, the Kuomintang led by Sun Yatzen, and the Communists, the CCP led by Mao Zedong. Mao’s initial plan was to obtain support from the peasants as the consisted of more than 75% of the population in China. After the four year struggles that followed Japan’s downfall after WWI, the CCP and Mao Zedong had won the civil war. In 1949, Mao declared the PRC, Peoples Republic of China. From this period on until 1949, Mao had numerous domestic policies, some were failures and some successes. These policies can be divided into 3 categories, “Economic, Thought reform and Political/social.” His optimal goal was to turn China into a super power, a power as powerful or greater than The United States. The focus of this essay is to establish whether Mao achieved this goal with his domestic policies.

The effect of the civil war on China was that there was major instability in the Country. Mao knew it and one of his major concerns in order to achieve his goals was to even out this insecurity. In 1949, Mao launched the Organic law which divided China into 6 subdivisions. Each of these were regulated by offices and bureaus, which also included officials. Force was used to achieve a certain level of stability. His second movement was the Agrarian Reform Law. The communist party workers were dispatched to each village to implement it. The land in the villages was shared between the peasants, and the peasants put the landlords on trial in the “people’s courts.”

Many of those landlords were beaten, imprisoned or even executed after having stood accused of abusing their tenants and charging high rents for their own benefits. Although the courts were originally set up by the party officials, it was the peasants who ran them. As Mao was getting more popular with his land reforms, those reforms were not a solution to China’s new problem; its population was increasing rapidly but the food production was not. In 1953, peasants were encouraged to form co-operatives as quarrels arose within the peasants as to whose land should be worked first and as production did not rise fast enough. This was a system by which the land was jointly owned so one large crop was grown. Many were opposed to this system as it meant they had to give up the land they had fought to own privately; by 1957, more than 90% of peasants belonged to co-operatives.

During the 1950’s villagers were taught the basic reading and writing skill by the party workers as Mao was only interested in simple literary skills.

Before Mao Zedong, woman had had no rights what so ever in China. Women had arranged marriages and were a tool for reproduction. Female babies could be drowned and girls could be sold as slaves. In 1950, Mao Zedong set up the “marriage law”. This was a great success for him because it meant that from one day to another, the women in china became equal to men, who for centuries before had always been inferior. Women were allowed to vote, own land, and chose who they wanted to marry, the arranged marriages were banned from China. This meant that Mao was years ahead other countries in the world, where woman in other countries were still controlled and had no idea of what freedom was.

In 1951, Mao, after remembering what had weakened the Nationalists during the civil war, Mao created the Three Anti Movement, which targeted waste, inefficiency and corruption. Soon this movement was changed to the 5 Anti movement. This was to help the economy by opposing issues such as tax evasion and fraud.

The PRC’s first 5 year plan, influenced from Stalin’s Russian 5 year plan, was set up in 1953 and ended in 1957. It was aimed to boost the cal, steel and chemical production. It was recorded that the1st 5year plan was a great success. The original output targets set up in 1952 were mostly achieved but also surpassed. The period from 1952 to 1957 marked an economic growth rate of 9% for China. After those five years, china had a railway system which moved goods an raw material. New jobs were opened, as China’s population was increasing at an incredible speed.

Mao, after being satisfied with China’s progress in the 1950’s, hinted to party members and workers that it was time for asking the Chinese people to speak their thoughts out loud. Mao told the communist party to be ready and receive criticism from the Chinese people. In 1957, Mao launched the 100 flower campaign. In a speech, Mao said ” let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” He asked the Chinese people to voice their opinions. Once overcoming their fear of showing themselves to be “anti-party”, people quickly reacted; criticising individuals and policies for corruption and inefficiency. As more and more was happening, Mao called a stop the free speech idea, by then China moved into a time of suppression. This campaign was soon changed into “the rightist campaign.” Many of the Chinese intellectuals who had criticised were resigned to a re-education. They were obliged either to “thought reform” or “reform through labour”. Others were sent in prison and labour camps. This “100 flower campaign” was suggested to have been a tool to find who was the enemy of the CCP; this objective would have been successful, but talking about the initial idea of the hundred flowers campaign, it was a failure.

China’s second 5 year plan, the “great leap forward” was started in 1958 and ended in 1962. Unlike the first 5 year plan, the great leap forward fell far below its targets and goals. Even though the figures were hided from the people in China, the evident famine in China could not be hidden which was the result of the plan’s failure. The land that had been taken from landlords and given to the peasants was withdrawn from them. There were millions of deaths during that time period as people starved. There is no doubt that the great leap forward was a disaster. Mao always refused to accept the blame for this and instead retreated. He handed out the food shortage problem to Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi.

In order to undo the damage created by the great leap forward, they had to change some for Mao’s policies. Mao did not approve of this and was very scared of the direction China was heading towards and therefore started to take part more actively in Chinese politics.

Mao’s next domestic policy, one of the most important, was the “Great proletarian Cultural Revolution” which took place between 1965 and 1976. Deng Xaoping and Liu Shaoqi were taken out of the party. Deng Xaoping became a waiter and Liu died in jail after months of imprisonments. Over the next decade, during the cultural revolution, China was in Chaos. Mao told students to form themselves into red guards. Children even accused their own parents of being anti communists. Schools and colleges were then closed, and lecturers were beaten for being anti-rightist when they did not mention Mao’s name in their lectures.

They Red guards destroyed factories, offices and local communist party offices. Many people were beaten, tortured, imprisoned or executed after unfair trials.

By 1967 the cultural revolution was out of control. The red guards were forming battles every where against everyone. In 1968, action was taken when Lin Biao’s PLA disarmed the Red guards to restore peace in China. Lin Biao was the author of the “red book” which had implanted itself in all of the Chinese people’s lives. This red book contained quotation from Mao and things that must be done in life. It was soon compulsory to read and was a key item in people’s lives. When the carnage had ceased, about 1 million people had died an education of about 1 generation had been wasted. Production had fallen. The major effect of this was that the faith in the Communist party had been damaged. After the cultural revolution, Lin Biao planned to murder Mao Zedong, but before he could achieve this, he died in a mysterious plane crash. It was certainly a political murder arranged by Mao. This event created tension between Mao’s old enemy Deng Xaoping and another communist Chou Enlai. Against them were Mao and the Gang of four.

In 1976, ironically, Chou Enlai and Mao both died. Later the gang of four was arrested and put on trail because of their actions in the cultural revolution.

Mao Zedong was a very important and influential leader. His domestic policies, reforms and campaigns all consist of successes and failures, including catastrophes and disappointments. Those that failed, such as the hundred flower campaign, the second 5 year plan and the cultural revolution were total disasters, creating chaos and economic instability in the country. However, some of his policies were successful, especially the marriage law and other social reforms; the first 5 year plan. The hundred flowers campaign, on the other hand could be considered as a failure keeping control of the critics, and a success for finding who was rightist, in Mao’s point of view. Mao’s original goal was to turn China into a super power. His domestic policies were the tool to accomplish that goal. Looking at these policies, one would think that he has failed, due to all the after effects of his failures; but on the other hand, in the end, Mao had accomplished his goal of creating a super power. His domestic policies were mostly failures, Mao had created chaos and famine all over China. He had also never admitted being wrong in some of his policies. Overall his policies were failures, yet he had still accomplished his goal. Therefore one can argue that his domestic policies were both failures and successes. It would be very hard to find only one answer.

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