Back To CourseHistory 113: World History II
25 chapters | 230 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
China has seen pretty much every style of government there is. What do you expect from one of the oldest cultural centers in the world? People have been developing advanced societies in China since about 10,000 BC. There were kingdoms, empires, and even a period when China was a capitalist republic.
Today, China is a communist nation, officially named the People's Republic of China. During World War II, China was invaded by Japan and the government, economy, and land were severely damaged. After the war ended in 1945, China broke into a civil war as various political groups fought for power. The communist party, led by Mao Zedong, emerged victorious in 1949 and began the process of transforming China into a communist nation.
As a republic, China was dominated by powerful landowners who controlled hard-working peasants. Communism is largely based on the ideas of class struggle and the elevation of the workers, so Mao redistributed the land into communal areas and cracked down hard on the former land-owners, executing several. The communist government tightly controlled its power in the early years, arresting and executing anybody deemed to be anti-communist.
In 1958, Mao released his first major program designed to restructure China. Called the Great Leap Forward, this economic reform was designed to rapidly develop an industrial economy for the nation. All agriculture became controlled by the government and people were sent to work in community iron smelters to increase steel production. The Great Leap Forward was disastrous. China failed to fully industrialize and simultaneously lost the majority of its agriculture, resulting in massive famine and starvation. By some estimates, up to 30 million people in China died due to starvation or forced labor from the Great Leap Forward.
Determined to transform China, Mao pressed forward with another reform program in 1966 called the Cultural Revolution. The goal of this movement was to completely rid China of all capitalist influences and to fully transform China into a communist society. In reality, the Cultural Revolution centralized power even more tightly under Mao Zedong and millions were arrested and executed for being associated with capitalist motivations. Objects from pre-communist China, called the old elements, were destroyed, including historical art, literature, buildings, and traditions.
Mao's tenacity inspired groups of youth, who called themselves the Red Guards, to form militaristic units and travel across China enforcing the Cultural Revolution. This deep division of Chinese society brought a halt to their economic and cultural production. Red Guards terrorized rural villages to root out pre-communist customs, education became completely focused on praising communist ideals, and the government was torn by opposing factions. Mao declared the Cultural Revolution over in 1969, but in reality, these policies stayed in effect until Mao Zedong died in 1976.
After the death of Mao, a power struggle ensued that resulted in Deng Xiaoping rising to power by 1980. Deng embarked on a new program of reforms, largely targeted at fixing the mistakes of Mao. Under Deng, the communal agricultural land was returned to private farmers, and new efforts were created to industrialize China along more moderate means.
Deng was careful to scale back the power of the government and allow greater freedom. This included the creation of Special Economic Zones, areas where open market and free trade with foreign companies was allowed. This led to a mixed economy, where the still-communist China allowed certain capitalist practices.
With the new policies of Deng, the Chinese economy quickly improved. Life expectancy, quality of life, and literacy for rural Chinese citizens all improved drastically. The following years were not without difficulty, however. The communist government was still accused of being too controlling and in 1989, massive protests broke out in the large public space called Tiananmen Square in the capital city Beijing. The military was sent to stop the protests, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of protestors.
By the mid-1990s, China was under the new leadership of Jiang Zemin, who instituted more reforms to strengthen the Chinese economy and allowed more democratic freedoms. China continued industrializing and more people moved to the cities in a period of urbanization.
Today, China is a major producer that engages in markets all around the world. They are a major member of the global community, both as producers and consumers, and were formally admitted to the international World Trade Organization around the turn of the century. Chinese social programs, from education to disaster relief, have received positive attention several times in the world spotlight, and the nation is boasting a greater national unity. The massive urbanization and industrialization of China has created new problems, most notably pollution that has reached nearly-lethal levels, but the government and people of China are prepared to seek out innovative solutions.
In 1945, World War II ended. China was left battered and weak after being invaded by Japan and broke into a civil war. The victors were the Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, who began the process of transforming China into a communist nation. Under the new name the People's Republic of China, the country was restructured.
Mao instituted several policies, the first being the Great Leap Forward of 1958, a project to quickly industrialize China. In 1966, Mao also initiated the Cultural Revolution, a program to eliminate all remnants of capitalism in China and rebuild Chinese culture as purely communist by destroying traditional customs. These programs failed terribly, resulting in over 30 million deaths from starvation, forced labor, and executions.
After Mao died in 1976, a more moderate government arose, championed by Deng Xiaoping. Deng reversed most of Mao's policies and created a mixed economy that blended a communist government with capitalist practices. Things like the Special Economic Zones, where open markets were encouraged, helped China restore its economy and improved people's lives. Still, there were difficulties, as indicated by the massacre of protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Since the 1990s, China has been working to develop a secure industrial economy while maintaining civil rights and promoting greater social and political freedom, and has become a major contributor to the global community.
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Back To CourseHistory 113: World History II
25 chapters | 230 lessons