The History of Communism in China Video

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  • 0:01 Rise of Communist China
  • 0:54 China Under Mao Zedong
  • 3:28 China Since 1976
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the history of communism in China and discover how it has influenced China since 1945. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Rise of Communist China

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.

China Under Mao Zedong

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.

China Since 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.

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