The People's Republic of China

[ Welcome ] [ Qing Dynasty ] [ Who's Who ] [ Revolutionary Events ] [ KMT v. CCP ] [ PRC ][ Kunming ]

Mao and the CCP took power on October 1, 1949. Their challenge was to heal the nation (establish o-p-u) after half a century of revolution, war, invasion, and more war. After a decade of a more-or-less breathing spell (1949-1958,) Mao launched the Great Leap Forward (1958.) Mao's goal was to transform rural, agrarian China--almost overnight--into a major industrial power. Like the Soviet Union under Stalin's First Five Year Plan, the Great Leap emphasized collectivization of agriculture and emphasis on heavy industry, especially the production of steel. See right image for peasants trying to produce steel in their backyard furnaces. They did not succeed.

image source < >

Peasants were herded on to gigantic collective farms where they lived in dormitories and followed their cadres' instructions on how and what to grow. Despite the happy propaganda poster to your left, the result of the Great Leap in the agricultural sector was famine and starvation on an unprecedented scale--millions died!.

image source < >


For more on Mao's Great Leap Forward--go to sites below
A few talking heads, listen to them as well as watching newsclips
< >
< >

Mao's next experiment was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

A group of professors and instructors from San Jose State have uploaded a Cultural Revolution site
< >

If you are interested in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, excellent movies that cover it, in whole or in part:
Farewell, My Concubine; The Last Emperor; The Red Violin; To Live; The Blue Kite.
Trailer from The Blue Kite < >
The trailer provides a glimpse of the violence to which bourgeois families were
subjected by Mao's "little red guard generals."

Follow the links below for a youtube of Mao and Cultural Revolution
< > student project 4 min.
(while vivid, the above clip contains minor errors in chronology)
< > 3 min
(reference Peng Dehuai, Mayor of Beijing, Wu Han)
< > 46 sec
(music, no talking)

One of the "kick off" events of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution came in July, 1966, when 73 year old Mao went for his epochal 15k/9 mi. swim in the Yangzi River. He wanted to dispel rumors of his failing health and incipient Parkinson's Disease. Young Chinese thrilled to the event, which came to be celebrated annually.

image source < >
Mao's epic swim in the Yangzi River < >

Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (depending on your point of view) in 1965 or 1966. He formed a tripod of power based upon the Party (headed by himself--Chairman Mao,) culture and propaganda (led by his wife, Jiang Qing/Madam Mao,) and the PLA (led by his old pal Lin Biao.) This trio proceeded to energize the youth of China, arming them with the famous Little Red Book of Mao Zedong Thought. Lin Biao compiled the quotations and wrote the introduction.

image source < >--left
< >--right

During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao controlled the key power centers--ideology, military, bureaucracy. His companion and then wife, Jiang Qing (near right,) oversaw and controlled the media; veteran of the Civil War, Long March, and CCP victory, Lin Biao (far right,) held sway over the PLA. He is holding and waving The Little Red Book of Mao Zedong Thought.

image source (Jiang Qing and Mao) < >
image source (Lin, Biao)

Jiang Qing allowed the performance of only the most pro-communist and polemical operas and ballets.
Visit this youtube site to see a short clip of one of the more famous ones, The White Haired Girl
< >

A smiling Mao Zedong is seen here rallying children and young people. You can sense the frenzy of their adulation. The first rally of the "Little Red Guard Generals" took place in August, 1966.

image source < >

See/visit links below for news clips of the "Little Red Guard Generals" in action
< > 7 min (singing, newsreels, narration)
< > 1-1/2 min propaganda film

The Little Red Book and the "Little Red Guard Generals," as Mao liked to call them, were everywhere except in school during the Cultural Revolution; near right, students with the book; far right PLA soldiers with it.

image source left < >
image source right < >

The Little Red Book was an inspiration to students, soldiers, athletes. Even patients undergoing surgery vowed that with the Little Red Book, they needed no anesthesia. At right, swimmers prepare for their heats by reading passages.

image source < >
The schoolchildren of rural and urban China went on a rampage, terrorizing their teachers in the name of Mao Zedong Thought. Part of the Anti-Confucian Campaign included a rejection of the "dark" past and a deification of Mao, the "great helmsman," our "red sun." Old ideas, old thought, old customs, and old people, especially teachers, were humiliated.

image source < >
< >

During the Cultural Revolution, young Chinese students, let loose from school, enthusiastically followed Chairman Mao's injunction to "destroy the four 'olds'--old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits." As well, they bullied, beat up, tortured and in some cases killed those who, they assumed, opposed Mao Zedong Thought.

image source < >--left
<'s_Republic_of_China.html >
One page summary of the "Destroy the Four 'Olds'" Campaign
< >

Visit the following youtube sites to get a sense of the GPCR; the first is pro-Mao, pro-Cultural Rev:
Consider how effective it is or is not
< >
The next clip emphasizes the destruction of GPCR
< >

Propaganda during GPCR--Powerpoint (maybe more appropriate for Middle School?)
PowerPoint Presentation on Propaganda during the Cultural Revolution

The Death of Mao in 1976 brought the horror of the Cultural Revolution to an end.
Deng Xiaoping eventually triumphed over the Maoist Gang of Four and launched his "open policy" in 1978. Deng and other moderates allowed market mechanisms to function, at least to a certain extent, and welcomed "foreign experts" from abroad. Joint ventures
between China and Western companies sparked exchanges on many levels. I went to teach English at Nanjing University in 1986.

image source <>

A pro-democracy movement among students at China's elite universities (1986-1987) found support from one of the Party
secretaries, Hu Yaobang.* They looked admiringly at Gorbachev's glasnost initiatives in the Soviet Union.
For conservative hard-liners, these reforms challenged everything they had fought, suffered, and died for.
In April, 1989, Hu's death (after humiliating self-criticism) coincided with Gorbachev's visit to Beijing.

*Note how Hu is dressed, and what his coat and tie might symbolize!

image source < >


The students made their move, massing in Tiananmen Square where they demonstrated for six weeks demanding political reform that would go beyond Deng's tentative economic "open" policy. They camped out in the square, built a "goddess of democracy" out of paper maiché," and hoped for the best.

In June, the PLA showed up. The world watched "Tank Man" heroically resist the arrival of military force. Follow link below to see video clips to see what happened next. The subject of the so-called "Tiananmen Incident" is not covered in Chinese schools.
There are several versions of the June 4 event on youtube (I find the background music
of this one annoying but provides a sense of the chaos)
< >
You can go to and type June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square Massacre
Watch some of the clips

After 1989, Deng and the "elders" were gradually moved out of power.
Jiang Zemin presided over a political crackdown (he was sometimes referred to as a "silken needle")
but an economic relaxation; he more or less continued allowing the market mechanism to function.
Mike Wallace interviewed him on 60 Minutes in 2004
< >

BIBLIOGRAPHY (incomplete, alas)

Jacobs, Matthew. "US and World History." University of Florida. Online available.

Spence, Jonathan. "The Mystery of Zhou Enlai." The New York Review. May 28, 2009.
To be completed....