Causes Of The Chinese Civil War Essay Intro

Chapter 9.

The Chinese Revolution and Chinese Communism

to 1949. *

(Note: The new Pinyin (P) transliteration of Chinese names into English is used for most key leaders and place names; in cases where the "P" system has not become established usage in the West, the old Wade-Giles (W-G) transliteration is either used, or given in brackets).


The People's Republic of China (PRC) was established on October 1, 1949. However, an assessment of Chinese communism cannot begin there. It must begin about 30 years earlier, because the preceding years shaped the PRC as a communist state.

Chinese communism has had a remarkable continuity of leadership. Mao Zedong (W-G: Mao tse-Tung, 1893-1976) and his colleagues were party members in the 1920s. Mao was instrumental in establishing an early form of Chinese communism in the years 1928-34. He helped to develop it and create the military and political strategy in the Yenan years of 1935-45 that won the civil war in 1949. He then went on to mold communist China and ruled it - in his last years at least in name - until his death in September 1976.

However, we should also bear in mind that while most veteran communists followed Mao from the late 1950s on, some came to oppose his more extreme policies. Here we should mention the long-time Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai (W-G: Chu En-lai, 1898-1976), and the leader of the PRC after Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-p'ing, b. 1904), who was to set the country on the path of economic reform in 1978. However, Deng was also determined to preserve the party's monopoly of power, and crushed the massive student democracy movement by force in June 1989.

To understand the rise of communism in China, we must see it within the context of Chinese history.


* I would like to thank Professor Dan Bays for his help in writing the original version of this chapter, and Professor Terry Weidner for helping me revise it in fall 1996.

I. Conditions in China in 1917.

A. Fragmentation.

China has a 4,000 year history, and was a unified state under several imperial dynasties. The last dynasty, the Qing, was founded by the Manchus in 1644, after their conquest of China. It ruled for almost three hundred years, until it finally collapsed in 1912. By that time the imperial system had fallen into decay and was totally discredited.

Most historians attribute the decline of China at least in part to the inability of its rulers to understand and adapt modern technology. While this is true, another key factor was the quadrupling of the population under the Qing, which put enormous pressure on government resources. In fact, by the early 20th century, Japan was the only Asian country to achieve achieve modernisation and cope with a rapid population increase. We should note, however, that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were some outstanding Chinese thinkers who wanted to modernize China. Some hoped for a constitutional framework, i.e., parliamentary monarchy, while others worked for a democratic republic. Most wanted the abolition of the feudal-Confucian system; all wanted the abolition of foreign privilege and the unification of their vast country.

The man who came to lead the strongest movement for reform and unity was Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925). Sun was born near Canton; he was raised by his elder brother in Hawaii and graduated as a medical doctor in Hongkong in 1892. Two years later, however, he began to devote himself to political work for the overthrow of the Qing dynasty His goal was to create a strong, unified, modern, Chinese republic. Between 1905 and 1912, Sun developed a political movement called the Revolutionary Alliance, which was funded by donations from Chinese businessmen living outside of China.

Sun's main backer was Charlie Soong (d. 1927). He came to the United States around 1880, converted to Christianity, and found generous Americans to pay for his education in the U.S. Later, he became a successful businessman in Shanghai. He began by printing and selling bibles, but made his fortune on noodle factories. We should note that Soong's children went on to play important political roles. His two daughters received an American education, after which Ch'ingling married Sun Yat-sen, while May'ling married Chiang Kai-shek. Soong's son, Teseven (T.V.) studied at Harvard and Columbia Universities and became Chiang's Finance Minister.

In 1911, a military revolt led to revolution and the fall of the Qing dynasty. Although the revolution aroused great hope for democracy, the Republic established in 1912 proved a miserable failure. The Guomindang (Kuomintang, KMT) or Nationalist Party developed by Sun Yat-sen after the revolution on the base of the old Revolutionary Alliance, was still very weak, and the country was in the grip of war lords, who created their own satrapies and had their own armies. Meanwhile, the central government came under the rule of Gen. Yuan Shikai, who died in June 1916 before he could consolidate his power as Emperor. He was succeeded by Li Yuanghong, who had been Vice-President. There followed an insurrection in spring 1917, led by Gen. Zhang Xun, who tried to restore the Qing dynasty in the person of its last male heir, the boy emperor Puyi (1906-1967), but the insurrection collapsed. In August 1918, a new Chinese parliament elected Hsu Shih-ch'ang (W-G) as President, and he retained this post until 1922. However, the central government was weak and faced a rival government in Guangzhou (Canton).

In the meanwhile, China had lined up with the entente powers and Japan against Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I. Although the Chinese authorities did not send soldiers, they did send some 100,000 laborers who were used by the allied armies in France and Belgium, while others worked for the Allies in Mesopotamia and Africa. However, in January 1917, Japan obtained special rights in the former Chinese provinces of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, extending them in 1918. Finally, the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919 (peace treaty with Germany worked out by the victor powers) did not return the former German concession at Shantung to China, but gave it to Japan. This caused strong anti-Japanese and anti-western feelings in China.

B. The Semi-Colonial Status of China.

In the course of the 19th century, foreign powers had firmly established their separate enclaves (concessions) in the major coastal cities. They had extensive economic-political privileges, including extra-territorial status, the best example of which was the foreign enclave in the great port city of Shanghai. These concessions were won by force and spelled out in the unequal treaties.

Along with the power of local warlords, these foreign privileges were a major obstacle to any Chinese political movement aiming to unify the country.

C. The Need for Social Reform and Change.

The social structure of China was obsolete. In particular, the gentry class (landlords who sometimes were also local officials) was an obstacle to modernization. They dominated the peasants, who made up the vast majority of the population. Almost all of them lived in abject poverty, dying like flies in the recurrent famines. At the same time, most of the merchants in the coastal cities lacked capital and vision, while those who tried to develop more modern methods were checked by foreign privilege. The urban workers - about 2 million out of an estimated population of some 300 million in 1918 - were mostly unskilled and also lived in dire poverty. Thus, social reform was a third priority, coming behind national unity and independence, because reformers saw them as the basic prerequisites for the modernization of China.

D. Intellectual Ferment.

Many members of China's small educated class were deeply worried by the situation; they were desperate for change and looked for answers. The constitutional monarchists were led by Kang Youwei (1858-1927), who hoped that the Qing emperor Guangxu would achieve this aim. However, the Emperor died in 1908 and the reins of government were taken over by the old dowager empress Cixi, who acted as regent for the boy-emperor, Puyi. Another reformist thinker was Liang Qichao, a disciple of Kang. Liang rejected violent revolution, but worked for an informed citizenry and political discipline. Like Kang, he also argued for the liberation of women and their participation in political life. Marxism began to gain adherents in China with the translation of Marx's Communist Manifesto in 1906, but some thinkers were more attracted to anarchism. Finally, there was Sun Yat-sen and his Revolutionary Alliance (see above).

The yearning of educated Chinese for a reformed, united, China, free of foreign privilege, was clearly expressed in the May 4th Movement of 1919. This student-led movement protested against the unfair treatment of China in the peace treaties following World War I, whereby Japan took over the German concession in Shantung and expanded its control over Manchuria.The May 4th Movement also attacked the privileges of the foreign powers, and made radical and democratic demands for changing the social and political system. The students, encouraged by radically inclined professors, especially at Beijing University (Beida), were soon joined by businessmen and workers. Thus, there was considerable potential for mobilizing a national movement.


II. The Impact of the Russian Revolution and of Marxism-Leninism on China.

A. The Beginnings of Chinese Communism.

Many Chinese intellectuals were attracted by Marxism. Those active in the in May 4th Movement, as well as others outside it, saw socialism as a means of preventing the conflicts caused by capitalism - particularly because at a time of great ambivalence toward the West, Marxism could be seen as as a western "ism" that could be used against the West. Finally, many

Chinese socialists were attracted to anarchism.

In June 1918, the head librarian at Beijing University, Li Dazhao, saluted Lenin. Li saw the revolution in backward Russia as a model for China. He established a Marxist study group at the university, which Mao Zedong joined in 1919. Mao had moved to Beijing and worked as a clerk in the university library. Chen Duxiu, a dean at Beijing University and editor of the progressive journal, New Youth, decided to devote a special issue to Marxism; it was published on May 1, 1919, under the editorship of Li Dazhao. Li's article analyzed Marxist concepts, introducing them to the journal's readers all over China.

As with Russian Marxists, the main problem facing the Chinese Marxists was the fact that the vast majority of the population was made up not of workers, but of peasants. Li Dazhao circumvented this obstacle by claiming that foreign exploitation of China made all its people an exploited proletariat. Moreover, he claimed that China could not be liberated without the liberation of the peasants. He urged young Marxists to go into the countryside, and they began to do so in 1920.

A member of Li's Marxist study group, Qu Qiubai, was one of the most successful organizers of China's peasants. He even visited Moscow that same year - 1920 - and wrote an enthusiastic report in the Beijing Morning News. He wrote that he was happy he had seen "the lighthouse of the mind's sea." Two years later, he was still in Moscow and became a member of the communist party.

B. Early Sino-Soviet Relations.

Chinese Communists benefited greatly from the fact that Sun Yat-sen obtained no support from the Western powers who were, after all, attached to their special privileges in China. (In fact, to begin with, he was seen as too close to the West and had to take a harder line anyway). It is not surprising, therefore, that he turned to Moscow. In January 1918, he congratulated Lenin on the successful Bolshevik revolution (November 1917).

There was little reliable information about the Bolshevik revolution in China before 1920. We know that study groups were organized to study Marxist thought but it was not until spring 1920, that a Comintern agent, Grigorii Voytinskii, arrived in China with information and political writings. Many of these were translated into Chinese at this time. It was also Voytinskii who worked successfully to transform the existing Marxist study groups into communist groups and then into the Communist Party of China. Here we should note that Voytinskii was assisted in this organizational work by the Soviet government's proclamation that it would give up the old Russian privileges in China. In particular, the Soviet government promised to return the Chinese Eastern Railway (CER, a branch of the Trans-Siberian railway) to China. Though this promise was not implemented, it made Chinese authorities more friendly to Moscow and allowed some travel between China and Soviet Russia.

Thus, it was in the period between spring and winter 1920, and with the active help of Voytinskii, that the Chinese Communist Party began to take shape. It was based on the Marxist study groups previously organized in Beijing and Shanghai. The party was secretly constituted in that city in July 1921, formalizing the organization formed the previous year. The General Secretary was Chen Duxiu, while Zhang Guotao was made head of the organization section, and Li Dazhao was head of propaganda. Communist nuclei around the country were transformed into party branches with local secretaries in Hunan (Mao Zedong), Guangzhou, Wuhan, Beijing, and Jinan. Shanghai had its own branch. The party program closely followed the Bolshevik program in Soviet Russia. However, some radical Chinese intellectuals rejected the Bolshevik model; they were either supporters of democratic socialism, or joined the Guomindang (Kuomingtang). Voytinskii was succeeded by Maring (alias of Hendricus Sneevliet), who continued to guide the fledgling communist movement in China.

Here it is appropriate to give a brief biographical sketch of Mao Zedong. He was born into a prosperous farming family in Hunan Province in 1893. He rebelled against his father and refused to accept an arranged marriage. He read much on his own and majored in ethics at the First Normal School (Teachers' College) in Changsha. He resented the superior airs of Chinese scholars, and it is then that he probably acquired the anti-intellectual attitudes, strengthened later at Beijing University, that he manifested as a leader. In his essay on physical education, published in the progressive journal, New Youth, in April 1917, he attacked the "passive" Confucian thinking and way of life; he called for physical education to strengthen the body, for violence, and anger. Soon, he was advocating the equal rights of women, and attacking the practice of arranged marriages. Above all, he expressed a determination to fight for his beliefs. He was to implement all these early thoughts when he became the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and then of China. (1)

III. The Comintern and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to 1927.

Lenin was convinced that the Russian Revolution could not survive unless successful revolutions took place in other countries, which would then become socialist allies of Soviet Russia. But he knew from his own experience that in economically backward countries -- and Russia was a backward country in 1917 -- the revolutionary leaders were not workers or peasants, but bourgeois, i.e., middle class intellectuals. Therefore, he developed the policy of supporting "bourgeois nationalism" in Western-ruled colonial areas, seeing it as the primary instrument of anti-imperialist revolution. This was, in turn, to lead to the fall of "imperialism" which he saw as the highest stage of capitalism. This explains Lenin's primary interest in the nationalist Guomindang (Kuomintang [KMT]) movement.

Thus, in the early 1920s, the Soviet Union supported Sun Yat-Sen's KMT. The Soviets agreed to give Sun military, political, and organizational help. The latter consisted of building a party cell structure in the country which strengthened it greatly. Official diplomatic relations were established in 1924. In May of that year, the Soviet government fulfilled some of its earlier promises by giving up formally the old Russian concessions in Tianjin (Tientsin) and Hankow, as well as paying the outstanding part of the indemnity for Chinese losses incurred by Russian action in the great power intervention during the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901). These Soviet moves cost Moscow very little, while increasing Chinese goodwill toward the USSR.

Sun Yat-Sen had his base in Guangzhou (Canton). His primary goal was the reunification of the country. To do this, he had to accomplish two key objectives: defeat the Chinese warlords and force out the foreign powers. But first, he had to make the KMT an effective, political and military force, and to do this, he needed outside help. Since he received no help from any of the foreign powers, he welcomed that of the Comintern.

After Voytinskii and Maring, the foremost agent of the Comintern in China was Michael Borodin (real name: Gruzenberg), whom Sun Yat-Sen invited to China in 1923. He acted as Comintern adviser to the Central Committee of the KMT until 1927. (He was later a victim of the Stalin purges). Borodin acted as Comintern agent to the KMT Central Committee until 1927. He helped Sun reorganize the KMT along Bolshevik lines, i.e., to give it a Bolshevik party structure. At the same time, Soviet military advisers led by General Vasily K. Blyukher, (known in China as Galen), helped establish a military force under KMT control. (Blyukher was also to be a victim of the Stalin purges). The establishment of this military force saw the rise of Chiang Kai-shek (P: Chieh-shih, 1887-1975). After studying in Moscow, he began his career as the Commander of the Whampoa Military Academy in May 1924, with the communist Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) as his second in command.

We should note that Lenin, and later Stalin, ordered the CCP to join the KMT and many leading communists did so, including Mao and Zhou Enlai. The goal was to strengthen and, at the same time, infiltrate the KMT. Nevertheless, though Soviet advisers gave the KMT ideology an anti-imperialist slant, the bulk of the movement remained distinctly non-communist. Ironically, the CCP's major contribution to the KMT was to organize worker support for it in the coastal cities. The peak of CCP-KMT cooperation came in the years of the Nationalist Revolution, in 1925-27. This was crowned by the great campaign launched against the warlords of central China by Chiang Kai-shek in 1926. It was known as the Northern Expedition because he started from the south.. Chiang won a series of impressive victories and unified about half of the country by 1927.

Chiang's triumph signalled the end of cooperation between the KMT and the CCP. The generally accepted view is that the split was precipitated by CCP radicalism. This targeted not only foreign privileges and symbols, but also rich Chinese. Wealthy Shangai industrialists were alarmed and offered to bankroll Chiang if he freed himself from dependence on Moscow. This suited Chiang and in March 1925 he arrested the political commissars in his army and placed the Soviet advisers under house arrest. In April 1927, when the Northern Expedition forces approached Shanghai, the communist-led labor unions rose to take the city from the inside. When Chiang entered the city, he ordered a massacre of the communists. This became known as the "Shanghai massacre" or more commonly "the White Terror." Also in April 1927, KMT leaders met in Nanjing (Nanking), proclaimed the establishment of a National Government and outlawed the CCP.

Stalin did not want to admit the defeat of his China policy, so he ordered the CCP to continue cooperation with the KMT. It is not clear whether he sanctioned an unofficial test of strength, or whether the CCP -- perhaps encouraged by Borodin -- disobeyed his orders. In any case, it carried out an uprising in the city of Nanchang in August 1927. Although the communists held the city for only a few days, the rising is notable for the participation of future leaders of the Chinese Red Army. The communist rising in Guangzhou in December 1927 also failed. We should note that Leon Trotsky openly criticized Stalin for the failure of his policy in China. This criticism, together with his opposition to Stalin in the debate on industrialization (1926-27), led to his internal exile to Alma Ata, Kazkhastan, in 1928, and then his exile from Russia in 1929.

There was, in fact, no way that the CCP could have seized control of the KMT in the 1920s or 1930s, because at that time the KMT embodied the dominant drive toward unification and symbolized Chinese national goals. But we can at least wonder whether a different Soviet policy toward the CCP might not have averted its annihilation. For example, it is intriguing to speculate what would have happened if Moscow had ordered the CCP to split off from the KMT in March 1926, and/or supported Mao's later policy of concentrating the party's efforts on the peasants - as the CCP frantically requested (?) However, such a policy seems most unlikely for while Trotsky opposed CCP cooperation with the KMT, neither he nor Stalin ever sanctioned Mao's strategy to build Chinese communism with the support of the teeming millions of Chinese peasants.

Still, though the Stalin-Comintern Chinese policy had exposed the CCP to brutal repression, at the time it seemed to achieve the primary Soviet goal of aiding a strong national movement to victory, thus loosening the hold of the imperialist powers on China and thereby benefiting the Soviet Union. But this was a theoretical benefit at best. In fact, Great Britain, which of all the imperialist powers had the greatest investments in China, made its peace with the KMT. Furthermore, Germany gained a foothold in China by extending help to Chiang -- including military advisers -- to fight the communists in Jiangxi (Kiangsi). However, Chiang's chances of consolidating his power over China were ended by the Japanese attack on the country in 1937. This was to drive him to Chungking (Ch'ung-Ch'ing, southwest China), where he waged only limited military action against Japan until the end of the war.


IV. The Development of a Unique and Ultimately Successful CCP Revolutionary Strategy, 1928-1945.

A. The Jiangxi (Kiangsi) Period, 1928-1935.

At this time, the KMT led by Chiang continued the struggle to unify China up to the Yangtze River and beyond. However, the Japanese overran Manchuria in 1931, made it a puppet state, and called it Manchukuo. Marshal Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsueh-liang, son of the Manuchrian warlord, Marshal Zhang Zuolin, assassinated by the Japanese in 1928), moved his troops south of the Great Wall on Chiang's orders. Meanwhile, the Japanese made the last Emperor of China, Puyi, their puppet ruler in Manchuria. Still, in 1936, the KMT exerted at least a loose form of control over two-thirds of the population of China.

However, the peasants soon found that nothing changed much except for the national flag. Warlords loosely allied with Chiang still ruled large parts of China and there was no land reform. Many intellectuals became alienated from Chiang by the end of this period because he did not introduce democratic reforms. On the contrary, he seemed to favor his own dictatorship, and to see fascism as a desirable model of government.

At this time the communist movement was rebuilt by Mao and Zhu De (Chu Teh) -- one of the leaders of the Nanchang rising -- in the southern part of the province of Jiangxi. Meanwhile, the official party leaders, who remained loyal to Moscow, went into hiding in Shanghai, where they stayed until 1930.

Key Issues.

It was during this period that Mao redirected Chinese communism from the workers to the peasants who, after all, made up the vast majority of the population. Thus Mao changed the communist goal in China from a workers' revolution to a peasant revolution, which he saw as the first step toward a socialist revolution.

Furthermore, in cooperation with Zhu De, Mao evolved the strategy of operating from a stable base area, and of harassing government troops by guerrilla tactics. These tactics were not new; they were rooted in traditional Chinese military strategy which Mao knew very well from hisr reading. They were to play a central role in the ultimate victory of Mao's forces over Chiang.

Equally important was the fact that in the area under their control in southern Jiangxi, the communists carried out land reform. This really meant distributing the land equally, except that landlords and richer peasants were to get less than the others. This did not always work out that way because some landlords and rich peasants kept more land in return for supporting the communists. But overall, the communists obtained solid support from the peasants, for whom land reform was the most important issue. The key to such success as the communists achieved at this time was the moderate nature of their reforms. This moderation was, in fact, mandated not by communist dogma but by the existing production shortages which were exacerbated by the ruthless KMT blockade of CCP-held areas.

Mao emerged as the leading spokesman for these policies. They were embodied in the Chinese Soviet Republic, known also as the Jiangxi Soviet, which existed from 1931-34. This was the model which mainstream Chinese communism was to follow from then on. These developments took place independently of Moscow. However, the CCP went on to impose a very radical regime when other Chinese communists, called "Bolsheviks," returned to Jiangxi from Moscow and replaced Mao sometime around 1933. This regime had disastrous results. Mao resumed power at the beginning of the "Long March" at the Cun Yi conference in 1934. The Jiangxi Soviet came to an end in late 1934-35, when KMT military pressure became too great. At that time, the communists had to break out and move elsewhere to survive. This resulted in the Long March, an event of enormous significance in the history of Chinese communism. (2)


The Long March.

In October 1934, about 100,000 people broke through the KMT armies in south Jiangxi and trekked some 6,000 miles by a round about route to the northwest province of Shaanxi (Shensi), which some 20,000 survivors reached in 1935. Yenan became Mao's main base there in 1937. This was a terrible ordeal, and a defeat in the sense that it was the consequence of the KMT's military victory over the communists. However, the Long March and the arrival of its survivors in Shaanxi signified the survival of Mao's brand of communism in a secure base. Here, it could gather its forces and, by waging a guerrilla war against Japan, lay the groundwork for its later conquest of China.

Also, the Long March provided a heroic myth for Chinese communists in the future, much as Valley Forge had done for Americans. It deepened the communists' sense of destiny. Finally, it provided the leaders of future communist China. Of the few hundred top PRC leaders that still lived in the 1980s and those still alive early 1990s, some 90% were/are veterans of that odyssey. (3)

B. The Sino-Japanese War and The Yenan Period, 1937-1945.

In September 1936, the Japanese government presented secret demands to the government of Chiang Kai-Shek. Disguised as proposals for a common war against the communists, their acceptance would have meant Japanese domination over China.

In December 1936, Chiang went north to coordinate a campaign against the Yenan communists with Marshal Zhang Xueliang. The Marshal, angered by the Japanese assassination of his father had supported Chiang, but he became angry at the latter's preference to fight the communists rather than the Japanese. Zhang was in touch with the communists and when Chiang began to move against him, he invited the KMT leader to a meeting - - and kidnapped him . At a meeting with communist leaders and Zhang, Chiang was "persuaded" to give up his anti-communist campaign and agree to wage a common fight against Japan. Chiang agreed, and flew back to his capital with Zhang. However, while he proclaimed a common war against the Japanese, he never forgave Zhang. He kept the marshal under house arrest all through the war, after which he took him along to Taiwan, and kept him under guard for decades. (Chiang died in 1975; Zhang was reported to have left Taiwan in the late 1980s, to visit relatives in the U.S.).

On July 7, 1937, an accidental fire fight between Chinese and Japanese troops at Lukouchiao, near Beijing, gave Tokyo the long desired pretext for attacking China. Japanese armies seized Beijing and Tientsin; then they proceeded to occupy most of eastern China. Many historians suspect that this fight was precipitated by the Japanese. Whatever the case might be, the Japanese invasion of China had a dual effect on the country: (a) it swept northeast China clear of the old authorities, whom the KMT had never been able to control effectively anyway; and (b) it bogged down the Japanese in a large area of China which they could not control either. This situation provided the ideal opportunity for guerrilla war, or as the communists called it -- "The People's War of Resistance."

The communist guerrillas, who were led by "The 8th Route Army", were able to establish links and contacts throughout northern China. These forces did so by harassing the Japanese, while at the same time fighting hard - not always successfully - to protect the peasants in the villages.

The 8th Route Army gave the CCP a very strong claim to represent Chinese nationalism, especially since the KMT, after putting up a hard fight at the beginning, reduced its resistance to the minimum when the government settled in far away Chungking.

But this was only part of the CCP achievement. The other was its use of wartime resistance to effect a permanent penetration of the villages. Here the communists generally treated the peasants well by paying for what they needed, and also implemented popular social-economic policies. Of these, the most important were rent and interest controls and an end to abuses in tax collection, both very popular with the peasants. These measures were accompanied by education, i.e., teaching the peasants to read and write a basic form of Chinese. These policies, which followed precedents set in Jiangxi, gave the CCP a mass base, which no Chinese government had ever had, including the KMT. (Some new studies show, however, that the CCP was not always as good as this in treating the peasants).

By the end of the war, the results were dramatic. The CCP controlled 19 base areas with a population of about 100 million and had an army of about half a million. The Party itself had about 1 million members. Thus, the CCP was all set for a test of strength with the KMT. From hindsight, the factors outlined above were bound to result in a communist victory. At the time, however, the KMT had such superiority in troops and weapons that the CCP doubted it could win.

We should also note some key developments within the CCP during this period. It evolved a self-image stressing egalitarianism, self-sufficiency, and dedication. At the same time, Mao implemented the process of rectification or systematic thought control, i.e., the use of mass pressure to make everyone accept the party line. This presaged Mao's mass campaigns to promote "correct thinking," after the CCP came to power. Furthermore, the party, i.e., Mao, exercised control over literature and the arts on the premise that they "must serve the revolution"; this followed established Soviet practice and, like thought control, led to the repression of dissent.

Although the above-mentioned thought and cultural control were related to Soviet models, it is a mistake to assume that the Yenan CCP was under the control of Moscow. In fact, from June 22 1941, Stalin was too busy fighting the Germans to bother with Mao and he continued to recognize Chiang's government in Chungking as the government of China. Thus the Yenan model was Mao's work, reflecting his anti-intellectual and dictatorial character. He was to apply these policies on a massive scale after coming to power.

In conclusion, we should note that by the end of the war in 1945, Chinese communism under Mao's leadership had both a significant social-revolutionary content and had become the embodiment of Chinese nationalism. The CCP had accomplished all this on its own by developing a distinctly Chinese revolutionary strategy which drew on Chinese traditions and tapped directly into the two great goals of modern Chinese reformers, communist and non-communist alike, i.e., (a) effective national unity, and (b) real independence, or freedom from foreign domination. What is more, the CCP led the way to the third goal, which most Chinese reformers agreed should follow the first two: social-economic reform, especially the abolition of the feudal system in the countryside.


V. The Civil War.

A. The Background.

The roots of the conflict between the CCP and the KMT go back to the late 1920s, and to the Jiangxi period in particular. It is true that their basic differences were papered over by the formal 1937 agreement to cooperate in the war against Japan -- an agreement extracted by force from a reluctant Chiang Kai-Shek during his kidnapping by young marshal Zhang Xueliang in December 1936. But, in fact, the 8th Route Army fought the Japanese on its own, while Chiang waited for U.S. victory over Japan and used American aid mostly to build up his strength for the war he planned to wage against the communists for control of China.

Chiang's passive stance toward Japan was strongly criticized by the U.S. military adviser in Chungking, General Joseph W. Stilwell (1883-1946). Hi s relations with Chiang soon developed into mutual hostility. (He called Chiang, "the Peanut"). However, the U.S. media, with the aid of the popular, American-educated, Mme. Chiang, had built up Chiang and the KMT into the embodiment of free China. Therefore, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not believe it politically wise to abandon Chiang in favor of the more active communist army.

The President did, however, send Gen. Patrick Hurley (1883-1963) to try and patch things up between Chiang and Mao. He also sanctioned the sending of a U.S. mission to Yenan. This was called "The U.S. Observer Mission." In the U.S., it was informally known as "The Dixie Mission," because it went into "rebel" territory. The mission was led by Colonel David Barrett and established itself in Yenan in July 1944, where it stayed until 1946. Its members were very favorably impressed by Mao and his movement. Indeed, if the war with Japan had not ended with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japanese troops had remained in mainland China, the United States might have given military aid to the communists because they represented a significant anti-Japanese fighting force there. (4)


B. The Civil War.

The Japanese surrender, forced by the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, caught everyone by surprise and created a conundrum for the American government. The problem was which Chinese forces were to take over Manchuria and north China, and how could a civil war be prevented?

President Harry S. Truman sent General George C. Marshall (1880-1959) as special ambassador to China in December 1945, with the task of mediating an agreement between the communists and the KMT. However, the U.S. government was, at the same time, helping Chiang by airlifting his troops to north China. Officially this was done because the Japanese were ordered tosurrender only to the KMT or to American troops, but it obviously favored Chiang..

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan on August 8th and sent its troops into Manchuria, occupying it without encountering much resistance. The Soviets allowed Chinese communist troops to take over the region as well as the weapons of the defeated Japanese. At the same time, however, they looted the industrial equipment and sent it to Russia, just as they did in their occupation zone in Germany and in the former German territories allocated to Poland.

But Stalin did not want a confrontation with the U.S. so he signed aTreaty of Friendship and Alliance with Chiang on August 14, 1945. In accordance with this treaty, Chiang ceded Port Arthur and control of Dalian (in Russian, Dairen), in southern Manchuria to Russia, thus implementing the promises Roosevelt had made to Stalin at Yalta. The Russians agreed to give up some key cities to the KMT, but this did not happen until they pulled out in early May 1946. In the meanwhile, Gen. Marshall managed to arrange a truce between the KMT and the communists, which was signed in Chungking on January 16, 1946. While neither side intended to observe it for long, the communists seemed more willing to abide by it than Chiang.

War broke out in summer 1946. Although on paper the KMT army was three times the size of the communist army, the men were demoralized and badly led. Above all, most of them were peasants, so they were naturally attracted to the CCP program of land reform, which was implemented in all regions that came under the control of The People's Liberation Army (PLA). We should note here that, just as they had done in Jiangxi in 1931-34 and in north China in 1938-45, so now the communists distributed the land to poor and landless farmers, but also left some land to the landlords and rich farmers. They did not want to alienate them, but make them allies of the CCP. However, this did not apply to those perceived as "exploiters," or others seen as enemies. Many of them were killed.

Chiang fought the communists in his old way, i.e., by garrisoning fortified places. However, they were soon surrounded by Mao's troops. Masses of KMT peasant soldiers deserted to the PLA, perceiving they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The PLA captured their equipment and soon overpowered the KMT. Even the mainstay of the KMT, the merchants and civil servants, had become alienated from Chiang because of the terrible inflation that followed the end of the war with Japan. They looked all the more hopefully to Mao, because he carefully avoided proclaiming any radical measures, such as the abolition of private property.

Newly declassified Russian documents show that in January 1949, after Chiang asked for great power mediation, Stalin advised Mao to accept - but Mao refused. It is clear from the Russian record that Stalin was anxious to avoid a clash between the United States and Mao in China, which might invovle the USSR. Mao, however, pursued his own policy. (5)

The PLA crossed the Yangtze river in April and reached Guangzhou (Canton) in October 1948. Chiang resigned as President of the Republic of China on January 21, 1949, although he kept power in his own hands. On October 1, 1949, the The People's Republic of China (PRC) was proclaimed in Beijing (Peking), the old capital of China. The remnants of the KMT fled to Formosa, i.e., Taiwan, where they set up the government of "Free China."


The communist victory in China was a great shock to U.S. opinion. Wartime propaganda had portrayed Chiang Kai-shek as the heroic leader of China. At the same time, the imposition of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, the Greek civil war and the Berlin Blockade (1948-1949) marked the beginning of the Cold War. (See ch.6). Therefore, it was natural for U.S. opinion to see the establishment of communism in China as directed from Moscow, and to seek an explanation for the defeat of America's ally, Chiang, in some kind of communist "plot."

This perception was so widespread that it allowed Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1908-1957, R. Wisconsin) to launch his campaign against "spies" in the U.S. State Department in 1950, and to expand it into a general witch hunt against American communists and sympathizers. McCarthy had so much support among millions of Americans that President Truman and, for a certain time, President Eisenhower, did not dare oppose him, even in defense of the State Department's China experts, who were fired. It was not until McCarthy attacked the Army -- by which time U.S. opinion was becoming disgusted with his methods -- that Eisenhower put his foot down and the McCarthy era came to an end.

As it turned out, there were, in fact, some Soviet "moles" in the State Department, but the Chinese communists did not owe their victory either to them or to the Soviets. In fact, Stalin was so anxious to avoid a confrontation with the U.S. until he was ready for it, that at one point he had advised Mao to accept a demarcation line with the KMT on the Yangtze River, thus leaving south China to Chiang. As mentioned above, he also advised Mao not to reject great power mediation in in January1949. Finally, he continued to recognize Chiang's government as the government of China until Chiang fled to Taiwan.

Stalin's careful policy was probably dictated by two factors: (a) he wanted to consolidate the growing Soviet hold on Eastern Europe.Therefore, he had to avoid a confrontation with the United States until he felt he had a good chance of consolidating his gains. As we know, he risked a confrontation over Berlin in 1948-49 and lost his bid for Germany. He was not about to seek another confrontation over China, particularly since (b) the U.S. had the monopoly over the atomic bomb until the Soviets successfully exploded theirs in 1949. But, even then, they had to wait a few years to produce a stockpile and to develop a delivery system, while the U.S. had both the bombs and the long-range planes to deliver them. (We should note, however, that U.S. policy was to use these bombs only in self-defense and possibly in defense of Western Europe).

Finally, Stalin probably did not trust Mao, who had developed his own brand of communism and his own power base without Soviet input and control. As with Tito in Yugoslavia, with whom he had split in 1948, this presaged tensions and an eventual split between the two communist regimes. But that was to happen many years later. Furthermore, he probably did not want a strong, united, China on the Russian border in Asia. China had lost much territory there to Imperial Russia and the Chinese communists kept these losses very much in mind.



1. For the best general survey of Chinese reformers during the last years of the Chinese Empire, the revolution of 1911 and Sun Yat Sen, see Jonathan D. Spence, In Search for Modern China, New York and London, 1990, chaps. 9-13.

On early Chinese communism, see Arif Dirlik, The Origins of Chinese Communism, New York and Oxford, 1989. Dirlik's study is pathbreaking, in stressing the key role of Comintern agents Grigorii Voytinskii and Maring in helping to organize the Chinese Communist Party in the early 1920s. He also provides a new analysis of the various types of socialist thought existing among leftwing Chinese intellectuals up to 1920, particularly the prevalence of anarchist thought, a factor that was later ignored by Chinese communist historians. See also Maurice Meisner, Mao's China and After. A History of the People's Republic, revised and expanded edition, New York and London, 1986, Part I; for documents, see R. V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, vol.. II,1984, 3rd. ed. 1994, v. II, The Rise of Communism in China..

2. For the Jiangxi period, see Spence, In Search for Modern China, ch. 15; for more detail, see Stuart Schram, Mao Tse-Tung, ch. 6, Penguin Books, Great Britain, 1966, and later editions; for more detailed works, see "Further Reading"; for documents, see Daniels, v. II, pp. 74-79, 87-95.

3. The classic account of the "Long March" is to be found in Edgar Snow, Red Star over China, London, 1937, and Grove Press, United States, 1968. Snow was an American journalist, who visited Shaanxi. His book contains Mao's autobiography, as told to Snow in 1936. He remained a steadfast admirer of Red China until his death in Switzerland in 1972. See also "Further Reading."

4. See David Barrett, Dixie Mission: The United States Army Observer Group in Yenan, 1944, Berkeley, California, China Research Group Monographs, 1970; see also Lost Chance in China. The World War II Despatches of John S. Service, edited by Joseph W. Esherick, New York, 1974, "Part II, The Communist Areas"; also E. J. Kahn, Jr. The China Hands. America's Foreign Service Experts and What Befell Them, New York, 1972, 1975.

5. For the Stalin-Mao exchange of letters on great power mediation, see: "Rivals and Allies; Stalin, Mao, and the Chinese Civil War, January 1949;" introduction by Odd Arne Westead, in: "The Cold War in Asia," Cold War International History Project, Bulletin, issues 6-7, Woodrow International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., Winter 1995/1996, pp. 7, 27-29.


Select Bibliography.

1. Chinese Revolutions and Chinese Communism.

A. General.

Arif Dirlik, The Origins of Chinese Communism, New York and Oxford, 1989.

Maurice Meisner, Mao's China and After. A History of the People's Republic, revised and expanded edition, New York and London, 1986.

Roger Pelissier ed., The Awakening of China, 1793-1949, New York, 1967 (excellent selection of excerpts from memoirs and documents illustrating key events in Chinese history for this period).

Witold Rodzinski, The People's Republic of China. A Concise Political History, New York, 1988 (incisive survey and interesting insights by a former Polish diplomat and Sinologist who served in China in the 1950s and 1960s).

Jonathan D. Spence, The Gate of Heavenly Peace. The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980, New York, 1981, London, 1982 (a beautifully written account by a well-known Western historian of China, showing the continuity of Chinese intellectuals' struggle for modernization and their fate under various regimes, chaps. 1 through 11 deal with the period 1895-1950).

Jonathan D. Spence, In Search for Modern China, New York and London, 1990 (a brilliant survey of Chinese history from 1644 through June 1989; illustrated, with bibliographies for each chapter).

Stephen Uhalley, Jr., A History of the Chinese Comunist Party, Stanford, California, Hoover Institution, 1988 (see chaps. 1-6, up to 1949).

B. Biographies, Autobiographies, Monographs, Articles.

Percy Chen, China Called Me. My Life Inside the Chinese Revolution, Boston, 1979 (memoirs of a Chinese nationalist and socialist, who played an active part in the years 1925-49).

Chow Tse-tung, The May Fourth Movement. Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, Harvard University Press, 1960; Stanford, California, 1967.

Charles Fitzgerald, The Birth of Communist China, Baltimore, 1964.

Jerome B. Grieder, Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance. Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution, 1911-1937, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971 (about a Chinese liberal, disciple of John Dewey, and his efforts to bring liberalism to China).

Same , Chinese Intellectuals and the State, New York, 1983.

Jacques Guillermaz, The History of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-1949, New York, 1972 (the author was a French diplomat who served in China in the 1930s and 1940s).

J. P. Harrison, The Long March to Power, 1921-1972, New York, 1972.

Same, The Politics of Chinese Communism: Kiangsi under the Soviets, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973.

Li-Yu-ning, The Introduction of Socialism to China, New York, 1971.

Robert B. Marks, Rural Revolution in South China, Madison, Wisconsin, 1984.

Maurice Meisner, Li Ta-chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism, Cambridge, Mass.s, 1967 (note new intepretation by Dirlik).

William Morwood, Duel for the Middle Kingdom. The Struggle Between Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse Tung for Control of China, New York, 1980 (written by a former U.S.intelligence officer, who was present at the meeting between Chiang kai-Shek and Mao tse-Tung at Chungking, 1945).

Pu Yi, From Emperor to Citizen. The Autobiography of Asin-Gioro Pu Yi, translated with new general and chapter introductions by W. J. F. Jenner, New York and Oxford, 1987 (lst published, Peking, 1964, 1965; basis for film about Pu Yi)..

Mary B. Rankin, Early Chinese Revolutionaries, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971.

Edward E. Rice, Mao's Way, Berkeley, California, 1972, 1974, (chaps. 1-7).

Harrison Salisbury, The Long March. The Untold Story, New York, 1985 (how the author retraced the route in 1984, and what he learned from survivors).

Robert Scalapino, "The Evolution of a Young Revolutionary: Mao Zedong in 1919-1920," Journal of Asian Studies, 42, November 1982, pp. 29-61.

Lynda Schaffer, Mao and the Workers: The Hunan Labor Movement, 1920-1923, Armonk, New York, A. E. Sharpe, 1982.

Herbert Fr. Schurmann and Orvill Schell, eds., Republican China: Nationalism, War, and the Rise of Communism, 1911-1949, New York, 1967.

Benjamin I. Schwartz, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951 (but see Dirlik).

Mark Selden, The Yenan Way in Revolutionary China, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971.

Edgar Snow, Red Star over China, (lst published 1938, revised and enlarged ed., New York, 1968).

Edgar Snow, The Long Revolution, New York, 1971, 1972.

Helen Foster Snow, Inside Red China, New York, 1939, 1979. (N.B. Edgar and Helen F. Snow were U.S. journalists who observed Mao and the CCP at close quarters; they generally expressed uncritical admiration).

Richard C. Thornton, China. The Struggle for Power, 1917-1972, Bloomington, Indiana, 1973 (Parts I and II).

C. The Civil War.

John F. Melby, The Mandate of Heaven: Record of a Civil War. China, 1945-49, Toronto, 1968 (notes by an officer of the U.S. Embassy in Chungking during and after Gen. Marshall's mission of mediation between Chiang and Mao).

Suzanne Pepper, Civil War in China: The Political Struggle, 1945-49, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1978.

Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, Col. U.S. Army Ret., The Military History of the Chinese Civil War, New York, 1969.

D. Documents.

Dan N. Jacobs and Hans H. Baerwald, eds., Chinese Communism. Selected Documents, New York, Harper & Row, (the first 3 selections deal with the period up to 1940).

2. The U.S. and China.

A. General.

Stanley D. Bachrack, The Committee of One Million. "China Lobby" Politics, 1953-1971, New York, 1976, "Part I: Background."

Dorothy Borg and Waldo Heinrichs, eds., Uncertain Years. Chinese-American Relations, 1947-1950, New York, 1980.

Russell D. Buhite, Patrick J.Hurley and American Foreign Policy, Ithaca, New York, 1973.

John King Fairbank, The United States and China, 4th edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979, chaps. 8-13 ( until his death, he was the foremost U.S. historian of China).

John King Fairbank, Chinabound. A Fifty-Year Memoir, New York, 1982 (fascinating memoirs on his study of China, including visits in the 1930s and during World War II; his development of China studies in the United States, the McCarthy Era and after).

Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, eds., United States Army in World War II: China-Burma-India Theater, vol. I, Stillwell's Mission to China, Washington, D.C., Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1953.

Kenneth E. Shewmaker, Americans and Chinese Communists, 1927-1945. A Persuading Encounter, Ithaca, New York, 1971.

Barbara W. Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, New York, 1972.

Tang Tsou, America's Failure in China, 1941-1950, vol. I, Chicago, 1963.

B. Documents.

The China White Paper. August 1949, Stanford, California, 1967 (reprint of the original document of 1949 on U.S. policy toward China until the fall of Chiang in 1949); reprinted as United States Relations with China, New York, Greenwood Press, 1968.

Ernest R. May, The Truman Administration and China, 1945-1949, Philadelphia, 1975 (discussion and 50 documents).

Lyman Van Slyke, ed., Marshall's Mission to China, December 1945 - January 1947; The Report and Appended Documents, 2 vols., Arlington, Virginia, 1976.

3. Russian and Soviet-Chinese Relations.

C. Brandt, Stalin's Failure in Russia, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958.

Same, Leon Trotsky on China, Monad Press, 1976.

Chiang Kai-shek, Soviet Russia and China: A Summing Up at Seventy, New York, 1975.

Stephen Levine, "Soviet-American Rivalry in Manchuria and the Cold War," in Hsueh Chun-tu, ed., Dimensions of China's Foreign Relations, New York, 1977.

Robert North, Moscow and the Chinese Communists, Stanford, California, 1967.

J. Rearden-Anderson, Yenan and the Great Powers: The Origins of Communist China's Foreign Policy, 1944-46, New York, 1980.

R. C. Thornton, The Comintern and the Chinese Communists, 1928-31, Seattle, Washington, 1969.

R. K. I. Quested, Sino-Russian Relations. A Short History, London, Sydney,and Boston, 1984 (a brief survey from 1200 to 1978).

Allen Whiting, Soviet Policies in China, 1917-1924, Stanford, California, 1953.

Soviet Accounts in English.

A. I. Cherepanov, As Military Adviser in China, Moscow, Progress Publisher, 1982 (covers the years 1924-38).

Andrei Ledovsky, The USSR, the USA, and The People's Revolution in China, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1982 (written by a retired Soviet diplomat who served in China from 1942 to 1953 and is described as a Sinologist, the book covers the period 1945-early 1950).

The Structure of a Post-Revolutionary Economic Transformation:

The Chinese Economy from the 1949 Revolution to the Great Leap Forward

By Satya J. Gabriel

Mao walks each morning, all the roads are rocky, all the skies
are red, all the winds are coming from the East.
What do the people want from him?
Do they want him to write poetry in the sky?
Do they want him to weave words in the dirt?
He is smiling as he walks by
Because he can smell the manure pit.

The 1949 Revolution resolved the issue of who would control the Chinese government (i.e. the revolution resolved the political crisis generated by the rivalry between the Guomindang (KMD) and the Communist Party of China). The Communist Party of China (CPC) took power in Beijing and the KMD leadership fled to the island of Taiwan. The Chinese leadership, and most prominently Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Chen Yun, and Chu Teh ("father" of the People's Liberation Army), consolidated power quickly and moved to gain the confidence of the Chinese population, particularly by solving the economic problems that had worsened during the civil war: the civil war had generated low levels of gross domestic output, high rates of inflation, and high levels of urban unemployment. Solving the problem of food shortage and high food prices was a top priority if the new leaders were to achieve social stability, much less expanded popular support for their governance. For this to be achieved, the CPC needed to move quickly to restructure social relationships in the countryside in a manner that would simultaneously make the rural direct producers more supportive of the regime and encourage them to produce critically needed agricultural goods in much larger quantities. 

Ultimately, the success of the Chinese restructuring of social relationships depended upon both the making of appropriate policies and skilled policy implementation. Many of the party operatives or cadres that were employed in the effort to consolidate power and organize the new social structure had spent many years in underground CPC groupings or cells. However, there were also many party organizers who had been engaged in actual governance within territories already under CPC control prior to the 1949 Revolution. These cadre had already experienced and participated in the creation of new institutions, land reform, and the complexities of local politics before the CPC had come to national power. The experience in governing and in constructing the institutional mechanisms of governance and persuasion, primarily in remote rural areas, should not be ignored in making sense of the speed at which the CPC was able to consolidate political control after the 1949 Revolution. Party members, both those experienced in governance and novices (ironically, many of the CPC members who were novices when it came to formal governance had far more experience with urban life, modern technology, and contemporary social theories than those, mainly rural cadre, more experienced with operating a government), were sent into the countryside and the cities to mobilize workers and rural direct producers in the reconstruction of the Chinese political, economic, and cultural infrastructure and the training of local militias. But was the purpose of this restructuring purely to build popular support and encourage greater agricultural production? What was the mission of the CPC? 

As indicated in previous essays, the CPC leaders were no less nationalist than the KMD. Thus, a primary part of their mission was to unify the country and to end "foreign domination." It is probably safe to say that these achievements were no minor feat and one that brought the Chinese communists a certain degree of respect, even among non-communist nationalists. Similarly, the CPC campaign against corruption (part of the "Three Antis": anti-corruption, anti-extravagance, and anti-bureaucracy) was popular among a populace that had experienced or, at least, heard stories of KMD corruption, conspicuous consumption, and heavy-handed bureaucracy (the KMD continued these behaviors in their early years of rule over the Taiwanese population). But nationalism and anti-corruption/anti-extravagance/anti-bureaucracy was only part of their mission. As communists, the members of the CPC wanted to institute their vision of socialism (where socialism is understood within communist ideology as a transitional social state between capitalism and communism).

But what exactly was socialism? Given that socialism was only very hazily constructed in the theoretical and polemical writings of "the Left," there was a great deal of latitude for different interpretations of what a socialist China might look like. As was the case with the pre-Stalin era leadership in the Soviet Union, the Chinese leadership spoke with many voices on the issue of how to construct socialism. Some members of the leadership advocated following strictly the Soviet line (which was really the Stalinist line) of tight command of the allocation of inputs (including labor power) and outputs from the central government, an emphasis on rapid industrialization, and strict centralizalization of control over all aspects of industrial enterprise management and capital budgeting. These advocates of "Leaning to one side" put the technological advancement of the nation above such alternative objectives as egalitarianism or the construction of democratic institutions that would encourage mass participation in national and local politics. Many members of the Party were sympathetic with "bourgeois" notions of economic and political development, including those members of the leadership who advocated a "free" market oriented approach to the allocation of inputs and outputs, greater freedom for labor, placing "science" above ideology, and permitting a mixed economy of privately owned capitalist firms, state-owned capitalist firms, self-employment, communist collectives, and other diverse types of enterprises. These leaders could take some encouragement from the early experiments in market socialism in the USSR prior to Lenin's death: the so-called New Economic Policy. And there were a range of variations on these themes. 

Mao Zedong's essay, "On the People's Democratic Dictatorship," established his vision of socialism as the intellectual foundation of the left-wing of the CPC, in the sense that the changes he advocated required the wholesale destruction of pre-revolutionary institutions and their replacement by completely new revolutionary institutions. As one stage of this transformation, Mao called for the rapid eradication of the feudal landlords and the social structure that had supported them. He proposed the establishment of a completely new political, cultural, and economic order, including the establishment of a people's army, people's courts at all levels of jurisdiction, peasant associations throughout the countryside, and workers' councils in industrial enterprises. In the aforementioned essay and elsewhere, Mao reiterated the ultimate mission of the CPC as moving the nation towards communism---a society within which the working classes would democratically control their own collective surplus and the state would diminish in importance (wither away). But like the right-wing of the Party, Mao acknowledged that the transition to communism would take a long and indeterminate amount of time. The dynamic process of moving towards communism was understood in dialectical terms as taking place through a process of contradiction, crisis and crisis resolution, yin and yang, openings and closings: communism would come out of its various opposites through the manipulation of this dialectical process by the communist leadership. Most commentators on China have focused on Mao as the central figure in the post-revolutionary government and in the formation of Chinese communist ideology, but one should not discount the importance of these debates or of the continuation of debates over the history of the post-1949 communist government(s). What my good friend Jonathan Lipman, who teaches Chinese history at Mount Holyoke College, has described as a "Mao-centered" discourse on post-1949 China captures only a partial picture of the revolution and its aftermath. 

Nevertheless, the Chinese government did, to a large extent, follow a Maoist line in its revolutionary transformation of the rules of life in the countryside. The state confiscated the landholdings of feudal lords and some rich (ancient-capitalist) farmers. Rural markets were quickly transformed into more vibrant places of economic and social exchange, as the farmers and artisans gained greater freedom over their productive activities. Communist party officials took the pre-revolutionary strategy of insinuating themselves into village life a step further after the revolution. Virtually every Chinese village had its party operatives or cadres working closely with peasant associations (in most areas these were formed after the revolution as a first step in organizing rural direct producers). The government used these foot soldiers of the 1949 Revolution to encourage greater cooperation among farmers, including the formation of mutual aid teams, marketing cooperatives, tool-making and handicraft enterprises, new irrigation systems, and militia (the CPC still feared outside intervention, as happened after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia), as well as fostering greater support for the Party and government. This approach also provided the central authorities with eyes and ears throughout the countryside, where no recent central authority in China had been able to have much control.  This political process was reinforced by an economic process whereby the central government provided rural producers with guaranteed markets for their output (via state purchasing agents).  These policies were crucial to the aforementioned process of unification of China under a central authority. 

One of the results of the land reform was to dramatically reduce hunger and malnutrition in the Chinese countryside. Simply eliminating the feudal lords and those dependent upon them freed up an enormous amount of resources that could be put to better use from the standpoint of overall social investment and future productive potential. The role of the feudal landlords as exploiters was exposed by the fact that their elimination had no detrimental impact on the countryside. The lords made no investments in the countryside, did no productive work whatsoever (nor did their hired thugs, family members, or other supporters), and consumed excessive amounts of social output to reproduce their lavish lifestyle. Elimination of the lords and their hangers-on allowed the excess/surplus output to be invested or used to finance the new social institutions and public goods that made life and work easier for rural direct producers, and it allowed for an increase in the living standards of many rural direct producers and their families. 

The improved income for rural direct producers helped to stimulate more demand for the products of self-employed artisans and self-employed farmers, improving their incomes. The positive circular and cumulative effects (to borrow a phrase from Gunnar Myrdal) helped to reduce overall poverty in the countryside even further. The rural population became better nourished, better clothed and sheltered, healthier, and more productive. China became one of the most egalitarian societies in the less industrialized world, the envy of many advocates for rural poor around the world. The rural population that had been somewhat indifferent to the communists, except in that they were preferred to the KMD and the feudal lords, was won over by the willingness of the CPC to put its actions where its rhetoric had been --- in the redistribution of wealth and power away from old elites to the rural poor. 

There was a gender element to this revolutionary change. There were many women among the cadre sent to work in the villages and one of the results of the CPC-led organizational efforts was to weaken feudal constraints on what women were able to do in the villages. Greater freedom for women had always been an important element of communist ideology in China, although it had taken a backseat to gaining the support of rural men during the revolutionary period. With the success of the revolution came a renewed interest in freeing women from feudal political, cultural and economic bonds. Towards this objective, the CPC government passed a series of laws that gave women more rights to own land and to seek divorce from abusive husbands. And the importance of female CPC cadre serving in the villages as experts should not be underestimated as an impact on the thinking of both adults and younger people in the rural communities. During the Great Leap Forward at the end of the 1950s (discussed in essay 4) the CPC leftists would extend their attack upon traditional gender roles. One of the distinctive elements of the communes[1]and of the Great Leap Forward, as a broader attempt at social transformation, was the expansion in the role of women in economic and political life. Women played important roles in the communes, often at the top levels of management, and the Great Leap Forward represented a full-scale assault on the traditional, feudalistic household by drawing more women into the community-wide efforts to build new economic arrangements. The Maoist theoretical framework that served as the foundation for the Great Leap Forward recognized all labor, whether male or female, as valuable to the national economy. This is a very different worldview from that which had traditionally prevailed in the countryside (and in the cities) which discounted the value of female labor and creativity. For a time, and especially under the influence of the left-wing of the CPC, the liberation of women was an integral objective in the overall mission of socialism. 

The CPC had the example of the Soviet Union to use as an politico-economic model and/or counter-model in its efforts to construct socialism (or what Party members described as socialism). The Soviet leadership had tried more than one approach over the history of the USSR. For instance, there was the New Economic Policy (NEP) approach under Lenin, Bukharin, and others, wherein Russian farmers and rural artisans were given a great deal of freedom to engage in self-exploitation and to sell their goods in relatively unfettered markets. The NEP represented a first attempt at what would later be called market socialism. There was also the Stalinist (war communism) approach of a powerful central government taking command over the allocation of products and labor power.  The Chinese leaders who had survived the KMD's attempted extermination were disinclined to follow the Stalinist approach, at least in the countryside, for fear of alienating the rural population and perhaps planting the seeds for future rural unrest. 

At first, the CPC seemed to have settled on a more NEP-like strategy, including providing farmers with a guaranteed market for some of their output, buying rice, grain, and other basic goods through state purchasing stations (established in 1952)for resale in the cities and towns. This was important because it solved two immediate problems of the revolutionary government: the need to support rural farmers and to provide relatively cheap food for workers in the cities. Also, by more generally taking control over mass merchanting, the government gained the means for directly controlling the pricing and allocation of key commodities. This direct control over the marketing of key commodities reduced the possibility of unplanned price inflation-- which had been a serious problem for the KMD government. However, this arrangement was not always to the advantage of the rural direct producers. The state had extraordinary market power in these key commodities and could virtually dictate prices to direct producers. The state also had monopoly control over the sale of key inputs to direct producers. This situation provided the state with the means to "cheat" direct producers by setting the purchase prices for ancient output too low and the sale price for ancient inputs too high: creating what has been described in the literature as a price-scissors effect. Some have argued that the price-scissors was deliberately used a mechanism for extracting surplus resources from the countryside for both investment in industrialization and subsidization of urban worker real incomes. 

The difficulties created by this transfer of surplus from the countryside also, ironically, served as one of the rationales used by the CPC to encourage larger scale production/increased cooperation among agricultural producers.  The CPC cadre argued that collectivization would place farmers in a stronger position to reduce costs and increase the surplus available for rural development, including providing for social services (urban workers were guaranteed employment and their danwe provided these social services --- subsidized by surpluses extracted from the countryside --- while rural direct producers had to provide their own surplus resources for such social services).  The "learn from Dazhai" campaign was the leftist exhortation of rural direct producers to form cooperative production units similar to that which was created in the model community of Dazhai (in Shanxi Province).  The greater the level of concentration of rural production, the less difficult it was to account for rural produced resources.  Thus, increased scale production was also beneficial to a central government desiring more efficient and effective control over rural inputs and outputs and the rural surplus.  This was certainly what the Party leadership had learned from Dazhai.

Control over the sale of most inputs and outputs, especially industrial products, also gave the CPC-led government the means to indirectly control many of the activities of private-capitalist firms.  This allowed for a persistence of both state and private ownership in the capitalist sector --- a policy promoted by Party leaders who accepted the traditional Marxian teleology in which capitalism had to be fully developed prior to any transition to nonexploitative economic relations (broadly referred to within these essays as either the rightwing of the CPC or as modernist Marxists). Many of the remaining private sector capitalists may have believed that this policy of creating a complex web of interdependence between agencies of the state (both productive enterprises and the bureaucracy) and the private sector might bode well for their future prosperity or at least survival.  During the early period of the new regime, this "mixed economy" approach may have, therefore, reduced the dangers of counter-revolutionary activities, since it appeared to be in the interest of the surviving private sector capitalists to cooperate with the government. 

Lets examine this "mixed economy" approach in a bit more detail.  In the cities, the CPC followed a pragmatic blueprint by which banks and many, though certainly not all, industrial enterprises were confiscated from their private owners (primarily members and sympathizers of the KMD who had already fled the country).  Many private capitalist enterprises, particularly those engaged in "light manufacturing" were allowed to operate (with government oversight -- regulation of wages, prices, and working conditions but private appropriation and distribution of the capitalist surplus). Thus, state-owned and privately owned capitalist firms operated together within the Chinese industrial sector.  The workers continued to work as wage labor employees of these firms, both the state-owned and private versions.  Although workers councils were established to provide workers with a voice in certain matters, primarily social benefits provided by the firms (both state-owned and privately-owned), the control over the cash flow generated by the state-owned enterprises was in the hands of government ministries (who also appointed enterprise management) and the cash flow generated by the privately-owned enterprises remained in the hands of their privately appointed directors.  Free market transactions between buyers and sellers continued to play the primary role in determining those cash flows.  The internal governance of the surplus flows within state-owned capitalist enterprises was certainly in keeping with the Soviet version of "socialism" where public ownership of the means of production was deemed a sufficient step in the early stages of the transition to communism, but full-scale communism would have to wait until such time as the productive forces were deemed advanced enough to support allowing workers to control their own profits.  As the primary capitalist entity in the nation, the state would, according to official ideology (again, this idea was borrowed from the Bolsheviks), use its control of the social profits to finance the construction of the country and the establishment of the conditions necessary to the eventual transition to communism. 

More pragmatically, the government used its resources to finance the military and the growing bureaucracy, to direct development towards heavy industry, to direct resources to the more economically depressed regions and areas where the dislocations caused by the civil war had been particularly severe, and to subsidize urban consumption and employment at levels that would reduce the risk of social unrest. As was the case in the Soviet Union, the government not only controlled the profits generated in industry but would also control the allocation and pricing of the outputs and inputs of industry, both state-owned and privately owned enterprises. This would be carried out eventually (by 1953) via a central plan that was then imposed on all industrial, extractive, transport (particularly the railroad system), and state merchanting enterprises. The result, as in the Soviet Union, was a boost in output, often of goods of poor quality and in quantities not in accord with need, but always cheap. 

More importantly for the government, perhaps, is that the central plan provided an expedient means for raising government revenue and of controlling inflation. In the last years of KMD rule, it had become difficult for the nationalist government to raise sufficient revenues to meet the demands of policing civil conflict, financing a massive bureaucracy, feeding widescale corruption (KMD officials were notorious for stealing from the government coffers), and paying the wages of the KMD army. The KMD solution had been to print more money (with no concomitant increase in real goods and services) which had triggered hyperinflation. Hyperinflation had added to the miseries of urban life under the KMD and the CPC was determined not to reproduce this mistake. Thus, the CPC-controlled government used its role as primary capitalist appropriator to siphon needed revenues into the government, kept tight control over corruption to reduce the overall cost of administration, and coordinated the activities of a wide range of enterprises to meet the immediate needs of a post-civil-war reconstruction. 

This first attempt at planning the Chinese economy as a whole was constructed with strong support and influence from Soviet advisers in 1953. The plan was largely based upon the Soviet model of economic development, with heavy emphasis on large-scale industrial enterprises and related development of mining, power, and transportation infrastructure. The plan encompassed not only the new state-owned and controlled enterprises but the remaining private industrial enterprises, as well. All industrial inputs and outputs would be under the indirect command of the central authorities. In the rural areas, the plan called for the creation of large-scale state-owned and controlled farms (in order to more tightly control the rural surplus for purposes of financing urban industrialization). In order to fund this plan, it was necessary to shift significant amounts of social resources (labor time, raw materials, available machinery, vehicles, etc.) from existing use to employment in the construction of new factories, facilities, and infrastructure. Given that this shift of resources would have initially been along an existing production possibilities frontier (without either tapping unemployed resources or increasing the productivity of workers in the effected sectors), rather than an expansion in that frontier, you can imagine that this shift would likely have had a negative impact on output in those sectors of the economy from which resources were drawn. This was, in fact, the case. As in the Soviet Union, the shift of resources into so-called heavy industry, mining, and infrastructure resulted in sharp drops in output of some consumer goods. This was considered by the government planners to be a necessary short-term sacrifice as the economic base of the economy was improved (and the longer term increase in average productivity was brought about --- shifting the production possibilities frontier outwards). In other words, the assumption of the planners was that the short-term trade-off by shifting resources along the production possibilities frontier (or, perhaps more accurately, shifting them along a path somewhere below the full-employment frontier) and trading off consumer goods for more heavy industry would ultimately result in a outward shift of the production possibilities frontier, allowing for greater production of all products and services. This was the underlying assumption of the FYEP in China, as it had been the underlying assumption of the economic plans adopted in the Stalinist Soviet Union. 

In keeping with the Soviet model of development, which had sacrificed resources and people in the rural areas to the cause of industrialization, the FYEP shifted resources out of agriculture and into heavy industry, mining, and infrastructure. In the USSR, this was coupled with the use of brute force to make the rural direct producers operate more efficiently, i.e. produce more with less. Although economic historians who have studied the Stalinist-era in the Soviet Union do not always agree on the relative success or failure of this policy, it does seem clear that many rural direct producers did not comply with the demands of their urban-based Bolshevik masters. The rural direct producers in the USSR often destroyed farm machinery and sabotaged crops in protest of the way they were being treated. In China, the CPC could not afford to alienate the over eighty percent of the population that lived in the countryside by following this Soviet approach, particularly since it is ambiguous whether it actually worked. Perhaps even more importantly, the faction within the party leadership that is associated with Mao was clearly not willing to follow a strict Stalinist line when it came to rural economic, political and social development. Mao had written that it was necessary to forge a grand alliance of urban workers and rural direct producers in order to create a unified, Socialist China. This meant respecting the rural population in a way that might have been envisioned by some pre-Stalin-era Soviet leaders, such as Bukharin, but which was completely unimaginable under Stalin. Thus, when the shift of resources out of agriculture resulted in a fall in agricultural output, increased migration from the rural areas into the cities, and a worsening of urban unemployment then the CPC leadership had to seek a more creative solution than the Stalinist approach of naked coercion that had been applied in early Soviet history. 

The unique Chinese solution was to create, as part of the Great Leap Forward, a new form of state-feudalism that was euphemistically called "collectivization" or the creation of communes.  The term "communes" implies the creation of an institution within which the communist fundamental class process prevails.  However, the communist fundamental class process implies that the direct producers collectively appropriate and distribute the surplus product created within the enterprise. This was certainly not the case within the communes. Workers clearly did not control their own collective surplus. It is also clear that the communes were not capitalist institutions within which workers were hired at a wage to work for a period of time mutually agreed upon between the workers and the enterprise management. Rural direct producers were obligated to work in the communes. The commune management was appointed by the government, although it was not until the later period of the Great Leap Forward that the commune management would be fully bureaucraticized (with most of the commune administrators selected from urban cadre). The surplus generated by the communes was under the control of the government. The obligatory relationship wherein workers were required to serve the state within the communes, i.e. to produce a surplus for the state, constitutes a feudal relationship. This was no different from feudal relationships within which the feudal direct producer was obligated to serve an individual feudal lord or the Catholic Church or any other non-state economic agent. We can, however, use the additional adjective "state" to describe this form of feudalism in order to highlight the fact that the feudal "lord" was, in this instance, the government. 

There is no doubt that if it was generally understood that the government was instituting this new variant of feudalism more opposition might have arisen. Indeed, it might not even have been possible to create this institutional structure for the appropriation of surplus labor. However, the CPC was clever in using the term "commune" because it created an illusion of collectivity or, at the least, the idea that collectivity was the ultimate goal of the new institutional structure. This provided an ideological justification for centralizing control over rural labor and the fruits of that rural labor. 

But the creation of the so-called communes did not provide a complete solution to the problem of generating a sufficient rural surplus to finance the industrialization process. Rural direct producers did not always accept the ideology upon which the commune structure was constructed. Many of these rural direct producers had been working for themselves, as self-employed (ancient) producers. Most of these direct producers found the communal structure inferior to their old way of life. They preferred self-exploitation to the feudal exploitation of the communes, even if the appropriator of the surplus was the state and the state claimed to be using this surplus for the public good. And consequently, many of these producers worked less hard for the communes than they had for themselves. The surplus was constrained by this failure to motivate the direct producers to work harder. On the other hand, the centralization of control over labor and the fruits of labor meant that the state could more effectively and efficiently determine the composition of rural output and take possession of that output for redistribution in ways consistent with the FYEP. Perhaps, for the purposes of furthering planned development, this was sufficient. In the long-run, however, the old problem of productivity would persist and require alternative strategies. 

One reason the Maoist-centered discourse has created a somewhat distorted view of Chinese development and politics since the founding of the people's republic in 1949 is that there were many spirited debates within the CPC leadership over strategies for building the economy, in particular, and the nation, in general. Mao's position on these issues carried a great deal of weight, of course. But there were other voices. Some supported greater reliance on the Soviet model of development. Others supported greater freedom for the rural direct producers (as Bukharin and others had similarly argued for more freedom for rural direct producers in the early years of the USSR). In many ways, the failure of the FYEP to sufficiently boost agricultural output helped to turn the tide of sentiment in favor of Mao's arguments (and the arguments of those who had a similar approach to that of Mao). 

Over the years from the introduction of the FYEP in 1953 until 1957 these debates raged on and the data on the results of the FYEP were used as raw material by both sides. More and better trained cadre were sent into the countryside to try to stimulate more productivity. The plan was modified several times to take into consideration the concrete conditions faced by enterprises, workers, and the government. Nevertheless, rural supply curves simply did not shift outward as rapidly as anticipated. Demand for agricultural products and products that required agricultural inputs continued to expand in the cities. The government, acting as the wholesale buyer of the agricultural output and the merchant of the finished goods, could have simply raised retail prices to dampen demand and force an equilibrium (so to speak), but this would not have been received favorably by consumers in the cities and likely would have resulted in less support by urban dwellers for government policies. The need for legitimation of the CPC-led government continued to be of vital importance in these early years after the 1949 Revolution. (Can you think of other possible solutions to this problem? We will discuss this problem in greater detail in class.) 

The plan was also a failure in industry. The managers of state-owned enterprises had been instructed to meet certain production (output) quotas. They were not required to produce output that met any reasonable quality standards. Consequently, supply curves shifted in accordance with the FYEP, but the output was of inferior quality (resulting, in some cases, in a negative impact on product demand) and there was no real attempt to match supplies with existing demand (which is not simply a quantitative measure) for products. Inventories built up. Prices did not act as signaling mechanisms for informing firms of the effective demand for their output or of the building imbalances in the economy. There was no incentive for managers to improve productivity or product quality. They simply wanted to meet their quota: the managers wanted to get the supply curve out to the point at which they would be rewarded as "good managers" by their superiors higher up in the government bureaucracy. In other words, the managers of these Chinese industrial enterprises adapted to existing rules of the economic "game," just as their counterparts in the USSR had done (just as all managers of enterprises do in specific political, economic, cultural, and environmental conditions). Among the consequences of this motivation system were: i) significant waste of inputs in the drive to meet supply targets; ii) unhappy consumers, who could not get what they wanted (in terms of quality and sometimes quantity, as well); iii) unhappy wage laborers because, under these conditions, wage increases (and associated increases in standard of living) were constrained; iv) unhappy rural direct producers who could not receive adequate prices for their output (and who would later be forced to participate in the feudal communes); and, v) unhappy government bureaucrats who "lost face' when the plan ultimately failed. 

Mao recognized the failure of the FYEP and the public backlash against the Soviet-influenced strategy of development the CPC had adopted. In his struggle with the right-wing of the CPC, he believed that the manipulation of this dissention could be a powerful weapon. It would not be the last time Mao would use "the masses" as a force to batter the more conservative elements of the CPC into submission, to make his vision of "socialism" the dominant one within the Party and government. In this case, Mao unleashed the so-called "Hundred Flowers Movement," in which the public was given the freedom to express their displeasure with the results of the first FYEP. The result was a barrage of criticism of the government from ordinary citizens. This reinforced Mao's position in opposition to a strict Soviet-style approach to development (which the "leftists" had already successfully undermined by the introduction of the communes, among other policies), but was not sufficient to completely eliminate this approach from the toolbox employed by government bureaucrats. (After the leftists gained the upper hand within the CPC, they had no more use for the cultural openness of the "Hundred Flowers Movement" and it was abruptly terminated.) 

The second Five-Year Economic Plan (SFYEP) represented a softening of many of the policies embodied in the first plan---less surplus would be extracted from the countryside for investment in industry, for example, but it was still basically the Soviet approach. Nevertheless, the SFYEP was still-born. Mao and his faction took advantage of the dissention within the CPC, sparked by the criticisms of the "Hundred Flowers Movement" and the failure of the first FYEP. The government moved sharply off the Soviet track of development and into the so-called Great Leap Forward. 


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[1] Communes were created by combining land that had been divided among a variety of self-exploiting direct producers. This combined land would be farmed "collectively" by the farmers under the direction of cadre appointed by the state. In addition, new light industrial and farm input related enterprises (such as fertilizer plants) would be created and situated within the boundaries of the communes. Mao and the leftist elements of the CPC sought to simultaneously decentralize industrial production and to collectivize farming. The former objective would weaken the power of the bureaucracy over industry and the latter would push farmers to develop a "socialist" consciousness, or at least that was the effect anticipated by Maoist theory. The creation of more vertically and horizontally integrated production on the communes would also contribute to the overall self-sufficiency of China, which was another objective of the Maoists. In this regard, we should not underestimate the importance of Mao's belief that China would inevitably be attacked by the "Western" capitalist powers (perhaps with the KMD on Taiwan acting as the forward shock troops) and that self-sufficiency in the countryside might be critical to the self-defense of the nation. Thus, the communes served not only the ideological and political objectives within the Maoist version of how socialism is developed, but also served one of the objectives of Maoist strategic military theory.

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