The People's Republic of China: Politics & Economy

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  • 0:01 Leaders of China After 1949
  • 1:05 Mao Zedong
  • 3:45 Deng Xiaoping
  • 5:25 Twenty-First Century
  • 6:20 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Rita Kerrigan

Rita has taught elementary and middle school and has a master's degree in reading education.

The People's Republic of China was established in 1949. Since that time, the politics and economy of this country have shifted course several times, mainly due to the leaders of the country and their vastly different goals.

Leaders of China After 1949

The People's Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949 after the Chinese Civil War ended with the Communist Red Army defeating the Nationalists. The different leaders that ruled post-1949 China caused the economic and political climate to shift course several times.

Two of the most influential leaders of the People's Republic of China are Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Mao launched the Great Leap Forward to collectivize farming, and the Cultural Revolution to revive the revolutionary spirit. Deng greatly improved both international relations and the economic state of China. A closer look at these two leaders is necessary to understand the evolving economic and political state of China since 1949 since it was ultimately their differing agendas and philosophies that caused these major changes in China.

Mao Zedong

Mao's first initiative was to create a new system of land ownership and major land reforms. He replaced the old system of landlords with a distribution system that favored poor peasants. There was a great deal of persecuting that took place under this system overhaul, as well as execution of landlords.

In 1958, the Great Leap Forward was launched. This was a five-year economic plan that involved the collectivization of farming. Collectivization is the process of forming collectives or collective communities where property and resources are owned by the community and not individuals. Through this plan, he increased steel production by taking workers from farms and putting them in communal iron smelters.

His goal was to transform China from a rural economy to an industrial leader. This plan failed when huge amounts of crops were ruined. Massive famines occurred and thirty million people died between the years of 1958 and 1961. The Great Leap Forward was abandoned after two years, and Mao's power was lessened due to this huge failure.

In 1966, Mao Zedong began the Cultural Revolution, a ten-year ideological and political campaign to reassert his authority over the government. Mao encouraged the youth of China to rid China of old elements and revive the revolutionary spirit.

This was an extremely violent time in Chinese history. He shut down schools, and the students formed paramilitary groups, called Red Guards, who attacked elderly and other ordinary citizens who were thought to be counter-revolutionary. One point five million people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, and millions more were imprisoned and tortured. Important political leaders, such as President Liu Shaoqi, were removed from power during this time, and the Chinese economy also plummeted considerably.

The Cultural Revolution did not completely end until Mao's death in 1976. Unfortunately, this campaign caused many citizens to lose faith in their government, rather than regain support for the government as he intended.

Deng Xiaoping

Deng Xiaoping took control of China after Mao's death, following a four-year power struggle with the Gang of Four. Deng downgraded Mao's legacy but avoided discrediting him altogether using the phrase, seven parts good, three parts bad. As he rose to power, he improved international relations with Japan, the USSR, and the United States by opening China up to international trade.

In addition to international relations, Deng also made other major changes. He created the one child policy to control the population, and ended collective farming by initiating a local system that gave farmers freedom to choose their own crops and sell their surplus for a profit.

Deng's reforms led to a rapid economy growth. However, these changes came at a large cost by creating a huge gap between social classes in China.

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