Class conscious

David Evans

Mao Zedong's legacy is littered with economic and social policies whose only successes were in bringing pain and suffering to millions of Chinese citizens. Even before the 1966 Cultural Revolution, Mao had embarked on several experiments designed to make China a classless society and a world superpower. Disaster after disaster failed to curb his misguided enthusiasm for building a communist utopia.

1951-52: Purging Enemies of the State

These enemies consisted of 'war criminals, traitors, bureaucratic capitalists and counter revolutionaries'. The campaign was combined with party-sponsored mass trials attended by large crowds. The major targets were foreigners and Christian missionaries who were branded as United States agents. The purges were accompanied by land reform targeting landlords and wealthy farmers. An ideological campaign requiring self-criticism and public confessions by university faculty members, scientists and other professionals received wide publicity. Artists and writers were soon the objects of similar treatment for failing to heed Mao's dictum that culture and literature must reflect the interest of the workers.

1953-57: First Five-Year Plan

Among China's most pressing demands in the early 1950s was for Soviet-supplied technology, capital equipment and military hardware. To pay for these items China had to export the one thing it didn't have in abundance - food.

1956-57: The Hundred Flowers Movement


Cultural and intellectual figures were encouraged to speak their minds on the state of party rule. The name stemmed from a Chinese poem that read: 'Let a hundred flowers bloom/ let a hundred schools of thought contend.' At first the party's invitation to air constructive views was met with caution. By mid-1957, the movement had brought denunciation and criticism of the party, in particular the excesses of its cadres. Startled and embarrassed, leaders turned on the critics as 'bourgeois rightists' and launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign.

1958-60: The Great Leap Forward

This movement aimed to increase the pace and success of the country's economic and technical development. Mao and his radicals embarked on an intense mobilisation of the peasantry and formed vast communes. By the end of 1958, 700 million people had been placed into 26,578 communes. The communes also set up 600,000 steel furnaces, whose demand for coal brought the country's railways to a virtual standstill. What's more, the excellent harvest of 1958 was followed by several poor years. It is thought 20 million people died of starvation and disease between 1959 and 1962.

1966-76: The Cultural Revolution


China's decade of chaos began with more than 20 million high school and university students responding to Mao's call to 'make revolution'. Schools were closed and the persecution of teachers and intellectuals by the Red Guards was rampant, resulting in the deaths of many in the ensuing purges of 'class enemies'. In 1967, Mao ordered the People's Liberation Army to suppress the Red Guards' anarchical activities, but it was not until after mid-1968 that he disbanded the armed group. President Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and their fellow 'revisionists' and 'capitalist roaders' had been purged from public life and the Maoists were in full command of the political scene. From 1972 to 1976 the political scene was one of a tug of war between radicals and veteran party cadres, each of whom sought to replace Mao and premier Zhou Enlai with their preferred candidate. The Gang of Four - Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen - continued to wield enormous power, restricting the arts and enforcing Maoist ideology. The four were arrested in October 1976, one month after Mao's death.