Sample DP Paper 2 Essays with Examiner Comments on Mao

From the May 2014 exam:

 17. Analyse the successes and failures of either Mao or Nasser as leader of a single-party state.

This received a grade of 8/20  from the IBO:

 This received a grade of 11/20 from the IBO

Typed Example:

The ascension of Mao Zedong to power in 1949 marked the dawn of a new era in Chinese history, as the nation, under the influence of his singular leadership, underwent significant social, political, and economic transformations. Mao's tenure as the leader of the single-party state is characterised by a dichotomy of impressive successes and profound failures. His proponents commend him for consolidating power, promoting literacy, and improving health care, while his detractors chastise him for his controversial policies that resulted in mass casualties, economic downturns, and social upheavals. To obtain a balanced analysis of Mao's leadership, it is necessary to delve into both the triumphs and tragedies that marked his reign.

he first aspect of Mao's leadership to analyse is the establishment of a single-party state in China. Following the victory of the Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War, Mao rose to power and immediately embarked on a campaign to cement his rule. He effectively silenced opposition, eliminated potential threats, and undertook radical reforms to overhaul the socio-political fabric of the nation. According to historian Jonathan Spence, Mao's methods, though undoubtedly harsh, were remarkably successful in establishing a single-party state. "The Communist Party became an all-pervasive force in the lives of the Chinese people," Spence writes, "and Mao was its unchallenged leader." His land reform policy, in particular, was a highly effective tool for consolidating power. By redistributing land from the rural gentry to the peasants, Mao not only levelled the socio-economic landscape but also garnered significant support from the majority population. However, as historian Frank Dikötter points out, this policy was implemented with extreme violence and resulted in the deaths of millions of landowners. Thus, the success of Mao in establishing a single-party state came at a substantial human cost.

Furthermore, Mao managed to unify China, a feat no leader had achieved in decades. Before Mao's era, China was plagued by regional divisions, warlordism, and foreign influence. Mao's nationalist rhetoric and charismatic leadership appealed to the masses, and under his rule, the country was united under a common banner. Historian Ross Terrill asserts that Mao's achievement in uniting China is significant as it set the stage for the country's future development. Yet, the unity was achieved primarily through coercion and purges, casting a shadow over this success.

Another key facet of Mao's leadership is his approach to modernising China's economy. He aspired to transform China from a primarily agrarian society into an industrial powerhouse. The Great Leap Forward, launched in 1958, was a major policy initiative to realise this goal. In theory, it aimed to accelerate industrialisation by organising the rural populace into communes, which would carry out both agricultural and industrial tasks. However, the execution was deeply flawed, and the policy resulted in one of the greatest man-made disasters in history. Historian Jasper Becker in his book "Hungry Ghosts" reveals the catastrophic failure of the Great Leap Forward. The policy led to an immense famine, claiming the lives of an estimated 15 to 45 million people between 1958 and 1962. It caused a significant setback to the Chinese economy and severely tarnished Mao's reputation. According to Becker, the Great Leap Forward was not merely a policy failure; it was a testament to the disastrous consequences of Mao's autocratic rule and his refusal to admit mistakes. Despite the calamity, Mao did manage to make some strides in industrialisation. Under his leadership, there was considerable progress in building infrastructure, promoting literacy, and establishing heavy industries. However, these successes are often overshadowed by the catastrophic failures.

Mao's leadership also notably embarked on a mission to reshape Chinese society and culture. This aspiration found its most dramatic expression in the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous decade-long period from 1966 to 1976. Mao's goal was to purge 'counter-revolutionary' elements within the party and society and to revive revolutionary spirit among the masses. It was also seen as a way for Mao to reassert his authority following the disaster of the Great Leap Forward. However, the Cultural Revolution became a period of chaos and destruction. Many intellectuals, professionals, and party members were publicly humiliated, imprisoned, and killed. Historical and cultural relics were destroyed, and education was disrupted. Historian Richard Curt Kraus, in his book "The Cultural Revolution: A Very Short Introduction", described this period as "the decade of greatest destruction in the twentieth-century China". Yet, it is worth noting that the Revolution also led to some significant societal changes. The upheaval facilitated the rise of a new generation of leaders, the most prominent being Deng Xiaoping, who later instituted major economic reforms. In a paradoxical way, the Cultural Revolution, despite its devastation, served as a catalyst for the eventual transformation of China into a global economic powerhouse.

Mao Zedong's leadership of the People's Republic of China remains one of the most contentious topics in modern history. His reign was marked by both remarkable successes and devastating failures. His success in establishing a single-party state, unifying China, and initiating industrialisation cannot be disregarded. However, these accomplishments were achieved at a significant human cost, and they were often overshadowed by the catastrophic consequences of his policies, particularly the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The debate among historians about Mao's legacy reflects these contradictions. While Spence and Terrill commend Mao's contributions to China's unity and stability, Dikötter, Becker, and Kraus highlight the severe human and social costs of his policies. Ultimately, the evaluation of Mao's leadership reflects the larger historiographical debate about the relative weightage given to state-building, economic development, human rights, and individual freedoms. In conclusion, Mao's reign as the leader of a single-party state was marked by a complex interplay of successes and failures. The intricacies and contradictions of his leadership provide a potent reminder of the challenges inherent in historical analysis. While the weight of human tragedy during Mao's leadership is undeniable, the profound impact he had on China's transformation into a unified nation is equally indisputable.