The emergence and development of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), 1946 to 1964

May 2003

These sources relate to the Great Leap Forward 1958–1961.

An extract from “Sixty Points on Working Methods”, a document written by Mao and sent to senior Communists, January and February, 1958.

Our revolutions come one after another. Starting from the seizure of power in the whole country in 1949, there followed in quick succession the anti-feudal land reform, the agricultural co-operativization, and the socialist reconstruction of private industries, commerce, and handicrafts.
Now we must start a technological revolution so that we may overtake Britain in fifteen years. After fifteen years, when our foodstuffs and iron and steel become more plentiful, we shall take a much greater initiative. Our revolutions are like battles. After a victory, we must put forward a new task. In this way, cadres [party members] and the masses will forever be filled with revolutionary fervour instead of conceit [self-satisfaction], indeed they will have no time for conceit. With new tasks on their shoulders they are fully occupied.

An extract from an article by Chen Boda (Ch’en Pota), a senior colleague of Mao’s, in the Communist Party journal Red Flag, July 1958.

Our direction is to combine step by step and in an orderly manner, workers (industry), peasants (agriculture), businessmen (exchange), students (culture and education), and soldiers (military) into a large commune, which is to form our nation’s basic social unit. In this kind of commune, industry, agriculture and exchange are the people’s basic working life; culture and education are the people’s spiritual life which reflects their working material life. The total arming and directing of the people is to protect this material and spiritual life for the Chinese people.

An eye witness account of the “back yard steel furnaces”: Mao said that 90 million people were mobilised to construct and operate furnaces.

Furnace fields are everywhere in Lushan county, plots of hundreds of small earthen furnaces were “growing” in late autumn when I was there, alongside fields of sweet potatoes and tobacco. From a distance the leaping flames and columns of smoke look like some new construction site accidentally ablaze [on fire]. On the scene the atmosphere is like a fair ground, with scores of people bustling in and out of the rows of furnaces.
Small red flags fly overhead, indicating the various groups of steel workers who are organised like military units. The air is filled with the sound of music from local operas coming from an amplifier above the site, and accompanied by the hum of blowers, the panting of gasoline engines, the honking of heavily-laden lorries, and the bellowing of oxen hauling ore and coal.
At one of the ten foot high furnaces, a man climbs a wooden ladder to dump coke and firewood through the top. He descends, and another man goes up to calm down the fire with a rake. A third man follows to pull the hot rake away from the blast of the fire. Beside the furnace several men, laughing and joking, work a huge home-made wooden bellows.

An extract from Mao: A Biography, by Ross Terrill, revised edition published in the United States in 1999.

The experiment into which Mao bullied China did not work. An evening of hope and excitement gave way to a morning of dismay.
A communal spirit grew, and the ordinary person felt anew his Chineseness. A new framework of rural government – fusing work life and civic life – came into existence. The Leap was at first a political success in that 600 million responded with impressive loyalty to Mao’s summons – the last time China’s peasants would do so.
But as economic policy the Leap was a disaster. China lost five years on its new long march to modernity. And the new rural framework did not last. Grain output fell. By 1960 there was widespread hunger for the first time in Mao’s China. Grumbling in the ranks of the peasants turned to minor revolt in five provinces. Mao’s predictions on steel production and the time needed for agricultural mechanisation proved absurdly optimistic.
A cruel blow for Mao was the revival of capitalist habits. As food grew short, farmers who had grain and vegetables on hand pedalled into the towns and sold them on the black market at exorbitant [very high] prices, then spent the proceeds eating and drinking too much.

Women of the Shiu Shin commune park their guns while they hoe: a photograph taken in 1958, the year the drive to organize all of rural China into communes began.

1. (a) Why according to Source A did Mao want to start a technological revolution? 
(b) What message is conveyed by Source E?

2. In what ways, and to what extent, do Sources B and C show that the hopes expressed in Source A were being fulfilled?

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations for historians studying the Great Leap Forward, of Sources B and D.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, explain to what extent you agree with the verdict expressed in Source D that the Great Leap Forward was at first a political success but, as economic policy, the Leap was a disaster.

November 2003

The following sources relate to the collectivization programmes introduced in China after 1952 by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung).

Extract from a speech by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, 11 October 1955, which comments on the progress of agrarian reform in China.

The peasants are no longer satisfied with the alliance we formed with them in the past on the basis of the agrarian revolution. They are beginning to forget about the benefits they reaped from that alliance. They should now be given new benefits, which means socialism. The peasants have not yet attained collective prosperity, and grain and industrial raw materials are far from sufficient. In these circumstances it is likely that the bourgeoisie will find fault with us and attack us on this score. But in a few years we shall witness an entirely new situation, namely, an alliance between the working class and the peasantry on a new basis, an alliance more consolidated than ever.
The old alliance to oppose the landlords, overthrow the local despots and distribute land was a temporary one; it has become unstable after a period of stability. Since the agrarian reform, polarization has taken place among the peasants. If we have nothing new to offer them and cannot help them raise their productivity, increase their income and attain collective prosperity, the poor ones will no longer trust us and will feel that there is no point in following the Communist Party.

Extract from an address to the Conference of World Communist Parties by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), November 1957.

At the moment I sense that the international situation has come to a turning-point [...]. It is characterized by the East wind prevailing over the West wind. That is to say, the forces of socialism have become overwhelmingly superior to the forces of imperialism [...]. I think we can say that we have left the Western World behind us. Are they far behind us? Or just a tiny bit behind us? As I see it – and maybe I am a bit adventurist in this – I say that we have left them behind us once and for all.

Extract from a press release by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, August 1958.

The people have taken to organizing themselves along military lines, working with militancy, and leading a collective life, and this has raised the political consciousness of the 500 million peasants still further. Community dining rooms, kindergartens, nurseries, sewing groups, barber shops, public baths, happy homes for the aged, agricultural middle schools, “red and expert” schools, are leading the peasants toward a happier collective life and further fostering ideas of collectivism among the peasant masses. In the present circumstances, the establishment of people’s communes with all-round management of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, side occupations, and fishery, where industry (the worker), agriculture (the peasant), exchange (the trader), culture and education (the student), and military affairs (the militiaman) merge into one, is the fundamental policy to guide the peasants to accelerate socialist construction, complete the building of socialism ahead of time, and carry out the gradual transition to communism.

Table taken from The People’s Republic of China since 1949, a general history textbook, by Michael Lynch, London 1998. Lynch advises caution when using these statistics.

Extract from Mao, a biography of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), by Jonathan Spence, London 1999.

The Great Leap Forward ended in catastrophe and famine, a famine that between 1960 and 1961 cost at least 20 million lives. The Great Leap, in Mao’s mind, would combine the imperatives of large scale cooperative agriculture with a close-to-utopian vision of the ending of distinctions between occupations, sexes, ages, and levels of education. By compressing the hundreds of thousands of existing cooperatives (the number had passed 700000 by late 1957) into around 20 000 giant communes, with all land owned by the state and worked in common, Mao believed that China as a whole would reap the immense benefits of scale and of flexibility. Communal kitchens and laundries would release women from chores to perform more constructive agricultural tasks; rural labourers would learn to build backyard steel furnaces and supplement China’s iron and steel production in the urban factories.

1(a) Why, according to Source A, were the peasants “no longer satisfied with the alliance” formed with the Communist Party in the past?
(b) What do the statistics in Source D suggest about grain and meat production in the period 1952–1962?

2. How consistent are Sources B, C and E in their depiction of progress made by China between 1957 and 1961?

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations of Sources C and D for historians studying agricultural developments in China under Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung).

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, explain to what extent Mao’s collectivization programmes were successful.

May 2004

These sources relate to political unification ñ from early toleration of different classes in 1949 to thought control in the early 1950s.


Liu Shaoqi a Communist official offers terms to Mr Song a capitalist in 1949.

Liu Shaoqi said to Mr Song: "Now you own only one factory, but in the future you can own one, two, three or even eight. When socialism is established and the state issues an order, you hand them over or the state purchases them from you. Then the state will place them back under your management. You will remain the manager, but the factories will be state owned. We may increase the number of factories under you to sixteen, for you are a capable manager. Your salary will increase instead of being cut. But you have to do a very good job. Will you say yes to the offer?" Mr Song replied: "I will of course."

Liu Shaoqi added: "In the future when everyone is called to a meeting there will be smiling faces all around."


Contemporary photograph of a landlord being humiliated by a People's Court of his former tenants.
Evidence suggests that as many as one million landlords were killed in the early period of land reform, which was underway by 1950, although a few landlords were allowed to keep a portion of their land and become peasants.

Extract from Mao A Biography by Ross Terrill, Stanford, California, 1999. 
In his youth Mao had never taken part in hand to hand class retribution [vengeance]. Yet although he was opposed to torture, he did not prevent it as a furious peasantry took land reform into its own hands [...]
Mao now lived in a city. The cities were easier to reform. The capitalists were few. They had little moral authority because they had been associating with foreigners, who were considered to have exploited [made money out of] China. Many capitalists turned Red when they felt threatened. Urban consolidation was more brutal than it would otherwise have been, because of tensions due to the Korean War. Hundreds of thousands were either executed or put into labour camps. This was the one urban drive in a history of the People's Republic of China that led to deliberate physical elimination ñ a word Mao himself used ñ of large numbers of people.
The rooting out of "counter-revolutionaries" was a police operation, and far too big for Mao to supervise [...]
Mao began the "Three Antis" drive against corruption, waste, and bureaucracy. A parallel drive to clean up economic life was the "Five Antis" crusade against bribery, tax evasion, fraud, stealing government property, and using government secrets for personal advantage. The methods used were not a knock on the door in the middle of the night, as in Stalin's Russia, rather a social pressure to confess [...]
Mao wrote slogans for the "Antis" drives, and especially criticized men of ideas. Unity had not yet been obtained; intellectuals still tried to follow an individual line.

Extract from Prisoner of Mao by Bao Ruo-Wang and Rudolph Chelminski, New York, 1973. 
Bao Ruo-Wang, a young Eurasian suspected of associating with foreigners during the period of thought reform in the early 1950s, describes his experiences.
"This is the government's policy," the interrogator continued. "It is the way to salvation for you. In front are two paths: the one of confessing everything and obeying the government, which will lead you to a new life, the other of resisting the orders of the government and stubbornly remaining the people's enemy to the very end. This path will lead you to the worst possible consequences [...]
You need not worry about your family. The government will look after them. You are the guilty one." Only later I learned that it was a lie - when I was in the camps my wife and children were hungrier than I was.

Letter from Hu Feng, a leading editor and literary critic to a fellow writer. Although he had been a member of the League of Leftist writers since the early 1930s his independent views upset Mao, who wanted uniformity of thought. Hu Feng's literary career ended when he was arrested in 1955.

Peking 2/ 8/1955.
Do not feel sad and by all means stay calm. There are many things we must put up with. We must be patient, for the sake of our [literary] enterprise and more important things to come. Hence, at the coming literary meetings do not be hesitant. Speak out in criticism of me and others. As for me I am quite willing to write articles criticizing myself if those above wish it. It does not matter, for the masses will be able to see and decide how much I am in the wrong and how much I am in the right.

1(a) According to Source A, what were the advantages and disadvantages in the offer made to Mr Song?
(b) Why according to Source E, was Hu Feng willing to write articles criticizing himself?

2. In what ways do Sources B and D support the views expressed in Source C?

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations of Sources A and D for historians studying Mao’s introduction of political unification and thought control.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, explain how and why Mao introduced political unification and thought control in the People’s Republic of China between 1949 and 1955.

November 2004

These sources relate to Mao Zedong's (Mao Tse-tung) Hundred Flowers Campaign, 1956.


Extract from a speech by Lu Dingyi, Director of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party,

26 May 1956.
"Letting flowers of many kinds blossom, diverse [different] schools of thought contend" means that we stand for freedom of independent thinking, of debate, of creative work: freedom to criticize and freedom to express, maintain and reserve oneís opinions on questions of art, literature or scientific research [...]


Cartoon published in January 1957, from China Reconstructs, A Chinese Government Publication, illustrating how some party members took unofficial action against Mao's intentions.
"The people like many flowers.
The old-fashioned Party man thinks they need only one ñ the one he likes."

 Extract from a speech by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People, 27 February 1957.
Literally the two slogans - let a hundred flowers blossom and let a hundred schools of thought contend - have no class character; the proletariat can turn them to account, and so can the bourgeoisie or others. Different classes and social groups each have their own views on what are fragrant flowers and what are poisonous weeds. Then, from the point of view of the masses, what should be the criteria today for distinguishing fragrant flowers from poisonous weeds? In their political activities, how should our people judge whether a person's words and deeds are right or wrong? On the basis of the principles of our Constitution, the will of the overwhelming majority of our people and the common political positions which have been proclaimed on various occasions by our political parties, we consider that, broadly speaking, the criteria should be as follows:
(1) Words and deeds should help to unite, and not divide, the people of all our nationalities.
(2) They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to socialist transformation and socialist construction.
(3) They should help to consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, the people's democratic dictatorship.
(4) They should help to strengthen, and not shake off or weaken, the leadership of the Communist Party.

Extract from Mao's People by B Michael Frolic, Massachusetts, 1980. Frolic visited Hong Kong in the 1970s interviewing refugees from China.

One of the refugees is explaining what happened to him in 1957.
I was walking along the corridors when I saw my name on the wall, along with four others, accused of being "secret counter-revolutionaries in their hearts and deeds, "stinking fish" who must not be allowed to pollute our school any more."
Why me? What had I done? The answers came swiftly enough at a general meeting in which I had to stand at attention and hear my girlfriend in a clear, confident voice tell the whole school how I had secretly opposed the Party and had tried to enlist her cooperation in this effort. She said I had spoken maliciously of specific individuals, including Lin, and was plotting to restore the old pre-Communist government. She said that at first she thought she could persuade me to come forward and admit my mistakes, but now she realized I was too dangerous and had to be exposed. She looked straight ahead while reciting these lies. Her accusation, together with Lin's testimony that I was a secret rightist, sealed my fate.
It wasn't fair and I had become a convenient target, a handy scapegoat to get the rest off the hook. They dragged out my past and accused me of having a reactionary class background because my father had been a landlord under the Guomindang (Kuomintang).

Extract from Mao: A Life by Philip Short, New York, 1999.

The tragedy of the "Hundred Flowers" was that Mao genuinely did want the intellectuals and people to "think for themselves", to join the revolution of their own free will rather than being forced to do so. His goal, he told Party cadres, was "the creation of a political environment where there will be both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of purpose and personal ease of mind and liveliness". Yet that formula, in practice, proved utterly self-defeating. By the mid-1950s, Mao was so convinced of the essential correctness of his own thought that he could no longer comprehend why, if people had the freedom to think for themselves, they would think what they wanted, not what he wanted ñ so long as they retained a spark of intellectual independence, they would produce ideas of which he disapproved and which he would find it necessary to suppress. In practice, discipline always won out; independence of mind was crushed.

1 (a) What does Source C reveal about Mao's views of the "Hundred Flowers Campaign"?
(b) What message is portrayed in Source B?

2. To what extent are the views expressed in Source A supported by Sources B and E?

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations of Source C and Source D for historians studying events in China in the 1950s.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, how far do you agree with the statement, "Mao genuinely did want the intellectuals and people to think for themselves" (Source E)?

May 2005

These sources relate to Mao Zedong’s (Mao Tse-tung) successful emergence as leader of the People’s Republic of China, 1946-49.

An extract from Mao A Biography by Ross Terrill, Stanford California, 1999.

The war was over, but there was little peace. Tension came to a head over the Japanese surrender. The Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and the Nationalist Party [NP] competed with each other to seal the enemy’s defeat...
Chiang (Jiang) and Mao had not seen each other for two decades [20 years]. When they met they shook hands. ...After forty-three days they signed a piece of paper. The agreement solved none of the fundamental questions: could the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party share power?
Mao did not trust Chiang, but he could not afford to be seen to be against peace. “The sky cannot have two suns,” Chiang insisted to his aides. But Mao had made the point that the Chinese sky offered a choice between two suns.
An American envoy came to Yanan in early 1946 for a last effort to narrow the gap between Mao and Chiang. All mediation failed, and by autumn 1946, Mao and Chiang were at each other’s throats for a final round.

Two directives written by Mao, issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

November 18, 1946.
Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) is desperate. He wants to strike at our party and strengthen himself by calling a “National Assembly”, and by attacking Yanan. The Chinese people oppose a “National Assembly”, and now that we have wiped out thirty-five brigades of Chiang Kai-shek’s troops, their offensive power is nearly exhausted. Even if they did occupy Yanan by means of a sudden thrust, it would damage their prospects in the People’s War of Liberation, and would not save Chiang Kai-shek from the doom awaiting him.
April 9, 1947, Chingyangcha.
In order to save its regime the Guomindang [Nationalist Party] besides convening a bogus National Assembly, has attacked Yanan, the seat of our Party’s Central Committee and the general headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army. The fact that the Guomindang has taken these steps does not mean that its regime is strong, but rather that it is in crisis. It is a vain attempt to drive us out of the Northwest region. We must defend this region where we are strong, and we must keep our headquarters in this Shensi border district where we have favourable mountainous terrain, a good base with plenty of room for manoeuvre, and full guarantee of security.

How the Nationalist Party and Chinese Communist Party treated the areas under their control.
Extract from a report by the American Ambassador, July 1947, criticising the behaviour of the NP forces:

Nationalist southern military forces and civil administrators conduct themselves as conquerors, not as fellow countrymen, and exploit the areas under their control.
Extract from a directive by Mao on land reform, 25 May 1948, for the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party:
The land problem should be considered solved where the feudal system has been abolished, and poor peasants and farm labourers have all acquired the average amount of land. In these areas the central tasks are to restore and develop food production, complete Party consolidation and form organs of political power to support the front.

An extract from Modern China by Edwin E Moise, London, 1997.

The Guomindang [Nationalist Party] forces quickly spread along roads and railways. It took most major cities, but it did not have enough troops to spread over the whole countryside. Chiang’s (Jiang’s) men took Yanan in February 1947, but the Communist leaders simply evacuated it and managed the war from mobile bases...
As late as 15 September 1948, the Guomindang armies still had substantially more total manpower than the CCP. Their superiority in arms and equipment was even greater, and for the most part they had adequate ammunition. However, it was a case of the sheep outnumbering the wolves. The Guomindang forces in North China and Manchuria were scattered in garrisons far enough from one another to make supply very difficult. Chiang Kai-shek, in his determination to hold important cities, kept his men in exposed positions... Finally when the attack began against any city, some units immediately surrendered, or went over to the Communist side.

A contemporary photograph of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) entering Beijing March 1949 (reproduced in Modern China by Edwin E Moise, London, 1977).

On 21 January 1949, Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) resigned as President of the Republic of China, and later escaped to Taiwan. In March Mao arrived in Beijing. The Guomindang had about 200 000 troops in and around the city, but the general commanding this force had surrendered his men, and their weapons, without a serious fight. 

1 (a) According to Source A what was the nature of the relationship between Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) and Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) after the surrender of the Japanese?
(b) What message is conveyed by Source E?

2. Compare and contrast the conduct of the Civil War by the Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) as expressed in Sources C and D.

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations for historians studying the emergence of Mao as leader of the People's Republic of China 1946-49, of Source A and Source B.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, explain how and why Mao had emerged as the leader of China by 1949.

 November 2005

 These sources relate to industrial developments in the first Five Year Plan (1953-57)

Extract from Mao Tse-Tung by Stuart Schram, Harmondsworth, 1966.

Down to 1955, the economic policy of the Peking Government was generally moderate. Businessmen and industrialists were deprived of effective control over their own enterprises, but most retained all or part of their property rights, and continued to draw some profits.
The first five-year plan was launched in 1953, though details of the plan were only completed in 1955. This first step in changing to a socialist economy was agreed in the Constitution of the Chinese People's Republic in September 1954... but the pace of transformation remained moderate. Mao stated that it would require several five-year plans to turn China into a highly industrialized country ...
On the whole, planning techniques were based on the Soviet model; heavy industry was emphasized even more than in the first Soviet plan of 1929-34, but this was explained by the imbalance of the pre-1949 Chinese economy, in which most of the modern sector was composed of light industry.

Extract from Shanghai's Strike Wave of 1957 by Elizabeth J Perry, published in China Quarterly, 1994.

In the spring of 1957, a very large strike wave hit Shanghai, the climax of a national labour protest that had been growing for more than a year. Major labour disturbances broke out at 587 Shanghai enterprises, involving nearly 30 000 workers. More than 200 of these incidents included factory walkouts, while another hundred also involved organising slowdowns of production; more than 700 enterprises experienced less serious forms of labour unrest.
These strikes resulted from severe social strains. In demanding improved welfare and criticising the bureaucracy of local officials, strikers revealed deep divisions within the Chinese working class. Partly a result of pre-1949 experiences and partly a result of the socialisation of industry under communism, these divisions would shape labour unrest for decades ...
Hints about the seriousness of the protests appear in speeches by top leaders, including Mao's of February 1957, where he commented on strikes, and worker unreliability.

An account of Liu Shaoqi's address to the Eighth All-China Congress of Trade Unions, published in China T Pictorial, No 4, April 1958.

In the first five-year plan, the targets for total output value of industrial production were overfulfilled. From 1952 to 1957, the output of steel increased on average by 31.2% a year, that of power by 21.4% and that of coal by 14%. Compared with 1952, the total output value of modern industry in 1957 showed an increase of 132.5%. On average there was a new large factory or mine coming into operation every two days. Now China can turn out jet planes, motor vehicles, sea vessels, locomotives, metallurgical equipment, and various new-type lathes.


A conversation in 1962, between Malcolm MacDonald, a British diplomat who had established friendly relations with the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, and a Chinese former capitalist, taken from Inside China by Malcolm MacDonald, London, 1980.

I met a 'national capitalist' who, before 1949, had owned a woollen factory in Tianjin. After the Communist revolution his expertise was needed for the government industrial programme. At first it was left in his private ownership, provided he managed it in agreement with government policy. In 1954 it became a joint venture between the government and him. He told me that a correct assessment was made of the value of the factory when the government took it over, and they gave him an equivalent sum. Immediately after, the factory was greatly expanded and improved, the government providing the capital. He has continued as general manager, although the government decides its policy in consultation with him and other directors.
In addition to his pay, he will receive a fixed interest payment of 5%, until the government considers he has received full payment for the factory. He is also allowed to live in his former house, attended by his former servants. Nevertheless, in various ways his family's existence is less luxurious than it was, because formerly his factory made large profits. But he added that he was glad at the change in China, that the working people enjoyed a better life.

A Chinese Propaganda Poster: "Through co-operation the electric light was installed", by Zhang Yuqing, published in 1957 by Shanghai Picture Publishing House in a print run of 10 000. It is brightly coloured and the banner on the wall reads "Co-operation for victory". 

1 (a) Why according to Source B was there labour unrest in Spring 1957? 
(b) What message is conveyed by Source E?

2. Compare and contrast the nature of the change from a capitalist to a socialist economy as expressed in Sources A and D.

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations for historians studying industrial developments in the Five Year Plan, of Source C and Source E.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, analyse in what ways and with what success Chinese industry was transformed into a socialist economy. 

May 2006

These sources refer to Mao’s consolidation of power between 1949 and 1954. 

Extract from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and the China He Lost by Jonathan Fenby, London 2003.

On 21 January 19 9 the Generalissimo (Jiang Jieshi) went to a meeting of the Kuomintang Central Committee to announce that he was handing over to the Vice-President, Li Zongren, “in the hope that the fighting will come to an end” ... He drove to Peking airport and flew to Hangzhou ...
Li Zongren put out peace feelers to Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). Two days later Peking was handed over to the Communists; 200-300 PLA (People’s Liberation Army) men marched in, described by one observer as “healthy looking and in high spirits.” Behind them came students carrying portraits of Mao and Zhu De. Observers noted that most of the equipment was captured American equipment ...
Chiang wanted to hold Shanghai, and extract much of its wealth ... Li attempted to get Chiang to resume power or leave the country, and approached Washington and Moscow for support ... Stalin was tempted – a weak, divided China under Soviet influence was more attractive than a triumphant independent Mao. Moscow advised the PLA to stop. Mao was in no mood to listen; fighting continued, and on 1 October, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic in the restored capital of Peking.
Years later he said that the Chinese revolution had succeeded against Stalin’s will.

Report by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) to the Central Committee on the economic prospects for the next three years, 6th June 1950.

China is a vast country and conditions are very complex; moreover the revolution triumphed first in certain areas, and later throughout the country. Accordingly, in the old liberated areas, agrarian reform has been completed, public order has been established, the work of economic reconstruction has been started on the right track, the life of most working people has been improved, and the problem of unemployed workers and intellectuals has been solved ...
On the other hand, in the new liberated areas, more than 00 000 bandits scattered in remote regions have yet to be wiped out. The land problem has not been solved; industry and commerce have not been properly readjusted; unemployment has remained serious; and public order has not been established. Conditions for carrying out planned economic construction are still lacking.


Directive from Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) to Party Officials on “Suppressing and Liquidating Counter - revolutionaries”, issued 2nd April 1951.

The suppression of counter-revolutionaries must be strictly confined to such categories as bandit chiefs, incurable criminals, ruffians [thugs] and petty tyrants, secret agents and chiefs of reactionary secret organizations. We cannot include petty thieves, drug addicts, minor landlords, ordinary Kuomintang members and members of the Kuomintang Youth League, and officers in the Kuomintang army. Death sentences must be for those who have committed serious crimes only. It is a mistake for light sentences to be given out for serious crimes; equally it is a mistake for heavy sentences to be given out for small crimes.

Extract from Modern China by Graham Hutchings, London 2000.

Mao’s supremacy resulted from the following ideas and policies: that peasants, rather than workers, were the main revolutionary class in China; that land reform was needed to win them over; that rural soviets had to be created to administer the Revolution; and that a Red Army was necessary to protect it. These ideas, which combined Marxism with the practice of China’s traditional peasant rebellions, took shape during the Party’s years in the wilderness. But by 19 5 the communists controlled a larger area than ever before, Mao had become undisputed leader, and his vision of Marxism was adopted as Party orthodoxy. With the Communist victory in the Civil War in 19 9, this vision became the guiding ideology of the entire country ... Those who through “errors or ignorance” could not understand it, had to be re-educated, often in labour camps. After 19 9, political campaigns, which consisted of denunciations and self-criticisms, took place regularly throughout the country. Their purpose was to obtain ideological uniformity, to sustain revolutionary momentum, and destroy Mao’s opponents within the party.


Chinese Propaganda Poster, by the artist Yu Yunje, published in 1954, with a print run of 140 000; printed in Chinese Propaganda posters, London, 2003.
The poster is coloured; the girl is holding flowers and the flags and the small figures behind her are red. The caption reads: “Celebrating with great joy and enthusiasm the publication of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.”

1 (a) Why, according to Source A, was Peking handed over to the Communists? 
(b) What message is portrayed by Source E?

2. Compare and contrast the views about Mao’s ideas and policies as expressed in Sources B and D.

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations of Source A and Source C for historians studying Mao’s consolidation of power between 1949 and 1954.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, assess the methods used by Mao to consolidate power between 1949 and 1954.

November 2006

These sources refer to the period of the Civil War in China from 1946 to 1949 between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Guomindang (Kuomintang).


Extract from an article entitled 'The Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) government is besieged by the whole people', written by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) for Hsinhua
(a communist news agency), May 1947.

Since US imperialism and its running dog Jiang (Chiang Kai-shek) have adopted the policies of turning China into a US colony, launching a civil war and strengthening the fascist dictatorship, they have declared themselves to be enemies of the entire Chinese people. This has forced all the people to unite in a life-and-death struggle against the reactionary Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) government. The classes of the Chinese people oppressed by the reactionary policies and united for their own salvation, include the workers, peasants, bourgeoisie, other patriotic elements, the minority nationalities and overseas Chinese. This is a very broad national united front.
The results of extremely reactionary financial and economic policies long pursued by the government are uncontrolled inflation, soaring prices, ever-spreading bankruptcy of the industry and commerce of the bourgeoisie and daily deterioration in the livelihood of the working masses, government employees and teachers. In these circumstances all classes of the people cannot but unite and fight for their very survival.

Extract from The Communist Conquest of China by Lionel M. Chassin, published by Harvard University Press, 1965.

The cause of Mao’s triumph lies in the fact that, appealing as he did to ancient and deeply rooted feelings, he gave a faith to the peasants of China. Totalitarian doctrines are always based upon simple slogans, easy to exploit. His external theme was the struggle against foreign imperialists who had “enslaved” the higher civilization that was China. As for internal themes, he cleverly appealed to the instincts of social justice and property ownership. In announcing agrarian reform, in dispossessing the landlords and lowering taxes, in giving landless farmhands plots to hold as their very own, Mao played the best of cards – to be cynically thrown aside once victory was won.
But these strong cards, without any doubt, would have been insufficient had Jiang (Chiang) been at the head of a strong political organisation. The Guomindang (Kuomintang) owed its weakness to its inaction and poor grasp of the economic and military necessities of the Civil War.


Extract from China Shakes the World by Jack Belden, an American journalist, London 1949.

Guomindang (Kuomintang) leaders who were sworn to end warlordism, had ended up supporting one of the biggest warlords in Chinese history. Sworn to establish democracy, they had created a despotism which made the ancient emperors of China look like amateurs. Promising to improve the “livelihood of the people”, they made it worse than it had been in the memory of living man. Dedicated to freeing China from foreign powers they had become dependent upon them. So these men had no cause. They now believed they could do little more than blindly follow their leader on the road to destruction.
In contrast, communist success was founded not on ideology but by arousing the hope, trust and affection of the people.

Extract from Soviet Russia in China: A Summing-Up at Seventy by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-Shek), written in 1956 (published in English, New York, 1957).

It was the Chinese Communist forces who started this war, but the encouragement had come from Moscow. Communists, in their propaganda, succeeded in making people both in and outside China lose sight of the government’s duty and authority, and mistake it for an aggressive-minded fascist regime. At the same time left-wing liberals in the West believed that the Chinese Communists had launched the insurrection for the sake of democracy and agrarian reform.
During their all-out rebellion Communists relied only 20 % on their military strength, but as much as 50 % on international propaganda and intelligence and 30 % on organising a national front and promoting defeatism. Their effective use of propaganda, spying and infiltration accounted for the government’s loss of control over the nation-wide situation. Thus the use of military force was but one of the numerous weapons used by the Chinese Communists in the final battle.

Photograph of a street scene in Shanghai, taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1948. 

The shopping bag or package hanging from the handlebar of the bicycle contains banknotes.
1 (a) According to Source C, why had many leading figures in the Guomindang (Kuomintang) lost faith in their own party and government by 1946–9?
(b) What message does Source E convey about the economic situation in China in 1948? 

2. compare and contrast the reasons for communist victory in 1949 as expressed in Sources B and D.

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations of Source A and Source D for historians studying communist victory and Nationalist collapse by 1949.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, explain why the Guomindang (Kuomintang) failed to hold on to power in China (1946–9).

Example of timed student response (click to enlarge):

 May 2007

These sources refer to mass campaigns: the Three and Five-Antis campaigns and the Hundred Flowers campaign.


Directive from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, dated 8 December 1951.

The struggle against corruption, waste, and bureaucracy should be witnessed as much as the struggle to suppress counter-revolutionaries. As in the latter [campaign] the masses, including the democratic parties and also people in all walks of life, should be mobilised [stirred to action], the present struggle given wide publicity, the leading cadres should take personal charge and act quickly, and people should be called on to confess their own wrongdoing and report on the guilt of others. In minor cases the guilty should be criticised and educated; in major ones the guilty should be dismissed from office, punished, or sentenced to prison terms (to be reformed by labour), and the worst among them should be shot.


Extract from Mao Tse-tung, by Stuart Schram, London 1969.

The “Three-Antis” campaign, into which the thought reform movement blended at the end of 1951, and the “Five-Antis” campaign during the spring of 1952, put a greater stress on social utility and a lesser stress on inner transformation; but they nonetheless called upon the techniques used in thought reform, as well as on mass denunciations used against counter-revolutionaries... The “Five-Antis” campaign directed against the “five poisons” of bribery, tax-evasion, fraud, theft of government property, and theft of state economic secrets, affected primarily merchants and industrialists of the “national bourgeois” who were still operating their firms in a semi independent manner... Its purpose was not, as in the case of agrarian reform, to eliminate a class. Peasants did not require landlords to work the land, but the skills of factory owners and businessmen were still required to direct their enterprises. The aim was to remould their thinking and destroy their independence. They were fined, submitted to psychological pressure, and the worst offenders were sent to prison.

SOURCE CTable taken from The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence, London 1990.
Results of the Five-Antis Movement in Shanghai, 1952

Speech by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) to the Supreme State Conference on 27 February 1957.

“Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” and “long-term coexistence and mutual supervision” – how did these slogans come to be put forward? They were put forward in the light of China’s specific conditions, on the basis of the recognition that various kinds of contradiction still exist in socialist society, and in response to the country’s urgent need to speed up its economic and cultural development. Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting the progress of the arts and sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. We think it harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another... Often correct and good things have first been regarded not as fragrant flowers but as poisonous weeds. Darwin’s theory of evolution was once dismissed as erroneous [wrong].


Extract from Modern China, A History, by Edwin Moise, London 1997.

In 1956 Chairman Mao began to feel it was time to take some of the restrictions off public expression. He was becoming disturbed by the arrogance and inflexibility of some communist bureaucrats, and he hoped that allowing the intellectuals to criticise such people might help to improve their behaviour...
It took a while for this invitation to be treated seriously, but in the spring of 1957 the intellectuals responded. Mao was shocked. Where he had hoped for criticism directed mainly against people who violated communist norms [standards], a great deal of what he got was directed against the system itself. Mao seems to have allowed this to run on for a few weeks unchecked, to find out just how extreme the attacks would become and who would make them, but then the crackdown came in the form of the “Anti-Rightist” campaign. Many who had spoken out ended up under arrest or shipped to the countryside to reform themselves through agricultural labour.

1 (a) Why, according to Source B, was the Five-Antis campaign designed “not... to eliminate a class”?
(b) What messages are conveyed by Source c?

2. compare and contrast the views expressed in Sources A and B on the nature of the Three and Five-Antis campaigns.

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations of Source D and Source E for historians studying Mao’s mass campaigns between 1951 and 1957.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, analyse the reasons for, and results of, Mao’s mass campaigns between 1951 and 1957.

November 2007

These sources relate to the second Five Year Plan in China 1958–1962.

Extract from an internal document circulated to senior Communists by Mao Zedong

(Mao Tse-tung) in January/February 1958. “Sixty Points on Working Methods”.
Continuing revolution: our revolutions come one after another. Starting from the seizure of power in the whole country in 19 9, there followed in quick succession the anti-feudal land reform, the agricultural co-operativization, and the socialist reconstruction of private industries, commerce, and handicrafts. Now we must start a technological revolution so that we may overtake Britain in fifteen or more years. After fifteen years, when our foodstuffs and iron and steel become plentiful, we shall take a much greater initiative. Our revolutions are like battles. After a victory, we must at once put forward a new task.

Extract from an editorial in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, “Hold High the Red Flag of People’s Communes and March Forward”, September 3 1958.

Where the People’s Communes have already come into existence, the peasants join beating drums and gongs, celebrate the occasion with great joy, and their enthusiasm for production has reached a new height. The poor and lower middle peasants, in particular, rejoice in the formation of the commune and regard it as the “realization of a long-cherished dream”. The People’s Commune is characterized by its bigger size and more socialist nature. With big membership and huge areas of land, the Communes can carry out production and construction of a comprehensive nature and on a large scale. They not only carry out all-round management of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, and fishery, but also merge industry (the worker), agriculture (the peasant), exchange (the trader), culture and education (the student), and military affairs (the military man) into one. People’s Communes so far established usually have a membership of 10 000 people each, in some cases 10 000 households.


Extract from Mao The Unknown Story, a popular biography, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, London 2005.

In summer 1958 Mao forced the entire rural population into new and larger units called ‘People’s Communes’. The aim was to make slave-driving more efficient. He himself said that by concentrating the peasants into fewer units – 26 000-plus in the whole of China – “it’s easier to control”. The first Commune, ‘Chayashan Sputnik’ was set up in his model province, Henan. Its charter, which Mao edited, and proclaimed as ‘a great treasure’, laid down that every aspect of its members’ lives was to be controlled by the commune. All the 939 households had to ‘hand over entirely their private plots ... their houses, animals, and trees’. They had to live in dormitories, ‘in accordance with the principles of benefiting production and control’ and the charter actually stated that their homes were to be ‘dismantled’ ‘if the commune needs the bricks, tiles or timber’. Every peasant’s life must revolve around ‘labour’. All members were to be treated as though in the army, with a three-tier regimentation system: commune, brigade, production team (usually a village). Peasants were allowed minimal amounts of cash. The communes were camps for slave-labourers.

Extract from China’s Path to Modernization, Ranbir Vohra, professor of Political Science, New Jersey 2000.

Crop failures and widespread starvation brought unrest to the countryside. Agricultural output value in 1959 was less than that in 1957 (half the cultivated acreage had been devastated); in 19 0 and 19 1 it was below that in 1952; in 1962 the recovery began and the output value finally rose above the 1952 figure. It has been calculated that the mortality rate more than doubled between 1957 and 19 0 and that “anywhere from 1 . to 29.5 million extra people died during the leap, because of the leap.”
No doubt the crisis can be attributed to the Great Leap Forward: disruptions caused by the establishment of the communes, labour shortages due to the allocation of labour to rural industries and the drift of peasants to the cities, and the loss of peasant enthusiasm because of the reductions of material incentives. In 19 2 Liu Shaoqi (Liu Shao-ch’i) suggested that 30 percent of the production difficulties were a result of natural calamities (disasters) and 70 percent caused by human factors.

Graph in China’s Greatest Famine: 40 years later, by Vaclav Smil, British Medical Journal, (18 December 1999); 319: 1619-1621, Fig.2.

Officially reported mortality figures in China between 1950–90 and those reconstructed by historians and medical experts after 1990. The famine period is shaded.

1 (a) What, according to Source A, were Mao’s aims for the future? 
(b) What message is conveyed by Source E?

2. compare and contrast the views expressed in Sources B and c about the People’s communes.

3. With reference to their origin and purpose, assess the value and limitations for historians studying the Great Leap Forward, of Sources c and D.

4. Using these sources and your own knowledge, explain to what extent you agree with Liu Shaoqi (Liu Shao-ch’i) that “30 per cent of the production difficulties were a result of natural calamities (disasters) and 70 per cent caused by human factors”, (Source D).