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China in the 20th century

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China in the 20th century


China in the 20th century has been going through enormous changes. From

colonialism and imperialism to republicanism, from communism to capitalism, and from

underdevelopment to a country maintaining over 10% economic growth for over ten

years. In this research paper, I will focus on the transition of China from a Communist

command economy to a type of market economy as well as the economic fluctuations

throughout this period.

In 1949 Oct 1, the People's Republic of China was established. Before 1949,

there was a period of civil war soon after the world war two. The confrontation was

between the Nationalist Komintang led by Chiang Kai Shek and peasant-based

Communist party led by Mao-Zedong, ended with Chiang's defeat. Mao became the

leader of China, and he believed that Marxism was the best way to solve China's social

and economic problems. He wanted to stop the landlords from exploiting the farmers.

Under the rule of the Communist party, the people owned all the economic areas of

China, and these would be controlled by the Communist government. All of the people

would work for the common goal of the country. As a result, Chinese socialism was born.

The pre-communist history of modern China has been essentially one of

weakness, humiliation and failure. This is the atmosphere in which the Communist Party

developed its leadership and early growth. This resulted in strong determination by

chairman Mao to eliminate foreign influence within China, to modernize the country and

envision a strong economy under Communist control. Therefore, a series of radical

reforms were introduced and the social organize was transformed under Communist



Economic growth during the first ten years of Mao's regime was significant.

However, the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) introduced catastrophic changes resulted in

a famine in which some 30 million people may have died. The Cultural Revolution from

1966-76 led to further disruptions and the standard of life worsened. (all these will be talk

in details later) After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, Deng Xiaoping came into power

in 1978. He was in favor of capitalist-style reforms and he also changed China

fundamentally by introducing dramatic changes in economy to cope with the growing

influence of global capitalism.


The period of Mao

Before the People's Republic of China was established, China remained

predominantly rural and agricultural, with close to 90 percent of the population living in

the countryside and about 65 percent of the national income generated in the agricultural

sector. (Liu and Yeh 1965, 66, 212) At that time, very few people could read, inflation

was so high that prices sometimes rose daily, and the tenants were greatly exploited by

landlords (Kristof and Wudunn,61).

The period of 1949 to 1952 was largely the reconstruction and rehabilitation

period. Land reform began promptly after the founding of People's Republic. The

Communist halted inflation, restoring confidence in its new paper currency, divided up

the land, tried to end up opium addiction and prostitution, banned child marriages, and

encouraged the peasants to go to school and breathed new hopes into the people. It was

the first time a moderate degree of equality ever existed for most of the Chinese people

(62). Most people were delighted by the communist, reconstruction works were

completed by 1952. During this rehabilitation period, output in both industry and

agriculture rose rapidly from the sharply depressed 1949 levels, and hadd been restored to

previous peak levels (Lippit 133).

The period of recovery and rehabilitation was followed by the First Five Year

plan, 1953-1957, during which output continued to rise strongly (110). During this

period of time, heavy industry was stressed by the government. It was the first time

China began to produce large quantities of trucks, merchants ships, tractors and jet

airplanes. By 1957, the gross industrial product increased 2.3 times from that of 1952

level, and industrial output grew at an average rate of 18 percent between 1952


to 1957 (111). The private sector had almost disappeared, and the state directly

produced 70% of output. However, the successes in industrialization had a

contradiction with the benefit of the rural areas, because growing number of

peasants were employed in the industrial sector. Besides, to sustain rapid

industrialization and urbanization, the government had to procure large quantities of

grains through taxation and required sales at below-market prices. This created intense

dissatisfaction in the countryside and made further increases in procurement difficult.

And this in turn, making the industrial sector lacked the capacity to provide chemical

fertilizers needed for agricultural modernization. Therefore, the development strategy that

the First Five Year Plan embodied could not be maintained. Despite the above

problems, the overall growth performance of the Chinese economy in this period was

extremely strong.(112,131,132)

Politically, Chairman Mao launched another campaign called the ?Hundred

Flowers Campaign? in Feb 1957. Since he wanted to solidify his power in the party, so he

used an ancient Chinese adage, ?let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of

thought contend? to ?encourage? the people to criticize the government (Shui111).

Traditionally, Chinese intellectuals were given the freedom to criticize the governments

without fear of persecution. And Mao had read many Chinese histories written by

intellectuals who during imperial times criticized the government (145). However, other

leaders in the Communist party did not embrace such traditions, and condemned the

Hundred Flowers Campaign and launched the Rightist Campaign which condemned

critics of the Communist party (147).


After 1957, the ?Maoist Era? continued.

Undaunted by the failure of the Hundred Flowers Campaign, Mao in May of 1958

launched another grandiose plan: the Great Leap Forward (1958-60). This was Mao's

economic plan to transform China into an industrial nation in two years time, the plan

was to decentralize agriculture and created communes which would promote heavy

industry and agricultural production (Potter 70). it was launched in the hopes that it

would exceed the output of Britain in only 15 years. Citizens were encouraged to make

steel in their spare time by melting iron ore in special ?backyard furnaces?(Shui 67). If

the iron ore was unavailable, people were told to melt down their own iron possessions.

Since all the citizen's cooking utensils were used to make steel, meals were provided by

the communist government (70). The GLF did not last long because people resisted this

kind of regimentation and the Chinese workers complained about long working hours. In

fact, the long hours of extra work did not increase productivity, which made the work

senseless to the majority (73).

The GLF seemed to symbolize Mao's embrace of technology and industry, in

fact, it epitomizes Mao's reliance on traditional Chinese ideals first formulated in his

observance of the peasant culture. It relied on a commune system, which operates much

like the China of Mao's childhood (86). Small villages would set rice quotas and

economic priorities and work as a group, sharing resources for the harvest. Communes

can be seen as based on Confucian idea of obligation too. Traditionally, Confucianism

obligated a child to respect ...

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