Remaking Chinese Life

Once in power, the Communists set out to turn China from a backward peasant society into a modern industrial nation. Communist ideology guided the government's efforts to reshape the economy and society that China had inherited from the dynastic period. To build socialism, China nationalized all businesses and tried to increase coal and steel output and develop heavy industry. With help from the Soviet Union, the Chinese built hydroelectric plants, dams, and railroads.

To boost agriculture, Mao at first distributed land to peasants. Before long, the government imposed collectivization, or the forced pooling of peasant land and labor to increase productivity.

To increase literacy, reformers simplified Chinese characters, making it easier to learn to read and write. Schools were opened for young and old. The Communists sent health-care workers to remote rural areas. Although many had little training, they did help reduce disease and teach better hygiene.

Under China's new constitution, women won equality under the law. Although Chinese woman made real progress, they did not enjoy full equality. Often paid less than men for the same work, women toiled in fields and factories while still maintaining the home.

Photo of a line of tractors driving up to a group of people cheering amid barns and fields.

The government forced collectivization on Chinese farmers in order to increase productivity. During the Great Leap Forward, tractors arrive at a farmer's cooperative.

Communism Takes a Huge Toll

Like Lenin in the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong built a one-party, Communist totalitarian state. Communist ideology replaced Confucian beliefs and traditional religions. Buddhists, Christians, and others faced persecution and death. The government attacked crime and corruption. It did away with the old landlord and business classes. In their place, peasant and workers were honored as the builders of the new China.

These revolutionary changes came at an enormous human cost. Communist leaders committed politically motivated mass murder, as hundreds of thousands of landlords, middle class property owners, and others suffered persecution, torture, and death. Many more were sent to forced labor camps, where they died under brutal conditions.

Great Leap Forward Fails

From 1958 to 1960, Mao pursued a policy known as the Great Leap Forward, which was designed to increase farm and industrial output. To make agriculture more efficient, he created communes. The communes were composed of several villages, thousands of acres of land, and up to 25,000 people.

Rural communes set up “backyard” industries to produce steel and other products. The Great Leap Forward was a disastrous failure. Backyard industries turned out useless goods. The commune system slowed food output. Bad weather added to the problems and led to a terrible famine. Between 1959 and 1961, as many as 55 million Chinese are thought to have starved to death.

The Cultural Revolution

In 1966, Mao launched a new program known as the Cultural Revolution. Its goal was to purge China of “bourgeois” (non revolutionary) tendencies. He urged young Chinese to experience revolution firsthand, as his generation had.

During the Cultural Revolution, bands of teenaged Red Guards, waving copies of the “Little Red Book,” Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung, attacked people they considered bourgeois. The accused were publicly humiliated, beaten, and sometimes murdered. Skilled workers and managers were forced out of their jobs and sent to work on rural farms or put into forced labor camps. Schools and factories closed. As the economy stalled and unrest rose, Mao finally had the army restore order.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments