Impact and Effects of Communist Mao Zedong in China
Mao's Policies as a Mountain Range
The policies of Chairman Mao Zedong were like a mountain range—full of high points as well as dangerous low points.
There is no denying that Mao's policies shaped a nation and formed the foundation of modern-day China. However, the number of lives, dreams, and aspirations that were lost as he brought his will down upon the people can never be recovered. The Great Leap Forward, the Cult of Mao, the Cultural Revolution, the Hundred Flowers policies, as well as his standpoint on women's rights, are all important aspects of China under Mao. Modern China cannot be understood without studying this period of history.
We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.— Mao Zedong
Role of Women Under Mao
One of Mao's more positive influences resulted from his egalitarian perspective on women. One of his more famous pronouncements about women was that they "held up half of the heavens." He abolished traditional foot binding, a painful practice that hobbled women and kept them tied to their homes. He also outlawed prostitution.
While he did not support birth control, he did encourage women to be the equal of men. He said, “Protect the interests of the youth, women and children—provide assistance to young students who cannot afford to continue their studies, help the youth and women to organize in order to participate on an equal footing in all work useful to the war effort and to social progress, ensure freedom of marriage and equality as between men and women, and give young people and children a useful education” (Zedong 1945).
Women's rights were further promoted by the enforcement of the Marriage Law of 1950, which guaranteed the equality of sexes in marriage.
As a result of Mao's policies, the role of women in Chinese society was totally transformed. Today, there are women in all trades and professions. Women work side by side with men on a seemingly equal footing.
Enable every woman who can work to take her place on the labour front, under the principle of equal pay for equal work.— Mao Zedong
The Great Leap Forward: 1958-1960
One of Mao's most well-known campaigns was called the Great Leap Forward. The application of this campaign led to widespread starvation and economic ruin.
Starting in 1958 and going until 1960, the Great Leap Forward was a utopian plan to move the country towards “a spiritually mobilized populace simultaneously bringing about the full-scale modernization of China and its transition from socialism to communism within a few short decades” (Oxford Reference 2009). What it really meant was a plan to increase agriculture and industrialization through centralization and communes.
In terms of agriculture, the plan was that the government could control the sale of agricultural goods if they also controlled the production of those goods. Controlling production would be easier if agriculture became centralized, meaning that large farming collectives would share the workload and necessary tools.
The propaganda machine of Mao's government publicized inflated numbers that supposedly represented the farmers' incredible output. These false numbers were meant push people to meet ever-higher goals, while the reality was that people were literally starving to death. The local leaders of the communes were lying about their production levels in order to satisfy the demands of their superiors. In the meantime, the collective illusion about surpluses led to grains being sent to urban areas or even being exported outside of China. There was not enough food left for the rural peasants to eat.
In terms of industry, a large component of the Great Leap Forward concerned steel production. In 1958, Mao was shown a backyard steel furnace and became convinced that this could be a good method of producing steel. He then required communes to produce their own steel, which led to large-scale melting down of kitchen cooking pots and farming implements. To keep the furnace fires stoked after exhausting local sources of wood, people began burning their own doors and household furniture.
When Mao toured a real steel production plant in 1959, he chose not to tell the populace that steel was impossible to produce in backyard furnaces, saying instead that the zeal of the workers should not be dampened. By the end of 1959, however, the steel requirement for communes was no longer in place. It had been quietly abandoned.
It is estimated that between fourteen and forty million people died during the Great Leap Forward due to starvation. The plan was formally abandoned in January 1961 at the Ninth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee.
Let a hundred flowers bloom.— Mao Zedong
Hundred Flowers Campaign
Probably the most backhanded policy that Mao set in motion was the Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which he indicated his supposed willingness to listen to people's opinions about how China should be led. Given the freedom to express their views, the Chinese intellectual community came forward. After a few months, however, the government halted this policy and began to hunt and persecute those very people who had just come forward to criticize the government. This campaign of persecution was called the Anti-Rightist Movement.
Some have suggested that the campaign was merely a ruse to root out “dangerous” thinking. This is another example of how China lost some of its finest minds to the political party because of their "dangerous" ideas about how the country should be run.
Cult of Mao and the Cultural Revolution
There can be no denying that Mao's ability to push through many of his policies depended upon what has been called the "Cult of Mao." In 1962, the Socialist Education Movement began as an attempt to educate the peasants to resist capitalistic gains.
Large quantities of politicized art were produced and circulated with Mao at the center. The Cult of Mao proved vital in starting the Cultural Revolution. Art for the sake of beauty was discouraged. Art was now required to serve a political purpose: to glorify China and Communism. All art forms became propaganda for the political party, including song, theater, posters, even statues. To take joy in something not related to the Communist party was considered “bourgeois."
China’s youth had mostly been brought up during the Communist era, and they had been told to love Chairman Mao. Thus they were his greatest supporters. Their feelings for him were so strong that many followed his recommendation to challenge all established authority, including their parents and teachers. Even during the height of the Tiananmen Square protests, thirteen years after his death, defilement of his image was unacceptable.
Using the Cult of Mao, he was able to put in motion the Cultural Revolution, which was one of his most influential policies. The Cultural Revolution began in August of 1966 and continued for two years, according to the Chinese government (although many claim that it ended only with Mao’s death in 1976). Many scholars claim that without the Cultural Revolution, China could not have begun its subsequent period of modernization. The number of people who died as Red Guards swept through the nation, seemingly with little to no rhyme or reason to their actions, cannot be overestimated. While many view the destruction of cultural artifacts, traditional religions, and educational institutions as the main point of this revolution, the real power behind the revolution was to bring the people away from ideas that did not belong inside a Communist country.
On August 16, 1966, eleven million Red Guards gathered in Tiananmen Square to hear words of encouragement for their actions from Chairman Mao himself. Carrying out Mao's wishes, zealous Red Guards rounded up China's intellectuals and forcibly moved them to rural areas for "re-education," which meant doing manual labor on behalf of the party. Many of these so-called intellectuals were young students below the age of eighteen, who would not return to their homes for four more years.
Homes of citizens who were not members of the Communist party were broken into, and artifacts that were deemed to be bourgeois were destroyed. Red Guards led public beatings, humiliation, and killings of those who they had determined to have a bourgeois attitude. Many of those beaten and publicly humiliated later committed suicide. When confronted with these facts, Mao simply said, “People who try to commit suicide—don't attempt to save them! ... China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people.”
During this time, local authorities and police were discouraged from intervening in any actions taken by the Red Guards and their zealous attacks on the populace. The China that emerged at the end of these two years was a re-educated populace: they firmly believed that the Communist way was the right way. After all, if they did not embrace this belief they could very realistically lose their home, family, and even their lives. “Once the Cultural Revolution had been left behind, the partisans of the capitalist path were encouraged to go over to the offensive” (Amin 2006).
What Is Tiananmen Square?
- Tiananmen Square | Infoplease.com
Tiananmen Square is a large public square in Beijing, China, on the southern edge of the Inner, or Tatar, City. The square is named for its Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen).
Greatness Through Communism
Mao Zedong's impact upon the Chinese people was monumental during his lifetime—and for many years after his death, as well. Many would argue that effects of his leadership continue to be felt today.
Paradoxically, although his campaigns inflicted a great deal pain and suffering on his people, the people of China continue to have a great love for Mao.
Perhaps China could move towards a democracy in the years to come. I think the possibility of a future democracy exists only because China has gone through the painful ways of Communism. The Great Leap Forward, the Cult of Mao, the Cultural Revolution, the Hundred Flowers Campaign, and the advances in woman rights, have all shaped the Chinese people and led them down the road towards modernization. One cannot deny that even if Mao made a mess of his country, his intention was always to lead his people into greatness through Communism.
Amin, Samir. "What Maoism Has Contributed." Monthly Review Commentary. September 2006. (Accessed February 3, 2009.)
CNN In-Depth Profiles. "Flawed Icon of China's Resurgence: Mao Tse-Tung." 2001. (Accessed February 3, 2009.)
Hutton, Will. "Mao Was Cruel - But Also Laid the Ground for Today's China." The Guardian. January 18, 2007. (Accessed February 3, 2009.)
Oxford Reference. Mao Zedong From The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World. 2009. (Accessed February 3, 2009.)
Zedong, Mao. Quotations From Mao Zedong. April 24, 1945. (Accessed February 3, 2009.)