communist revolution in china

Written by Zuha Tiwana 11:47 am

The Communist Revolution in China

The author, Zuha Tiwana, narrates the Communist revolution that entirely changed the political and social trajectory of China. Mao Zedong, likened to Emperor Qin, executed ruthless actions – all for the sake of preserving China’s legacy.

About the Author(s)

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Ms Zuha Tiwana is a psychologist, freelancer, and analyst. She can be reached at zuhatiwana@gmail.com

Communism in China

Communism was founded by Karl Marx and Engels at the end of the nineteenth century as an economic-political philosophy. Marx and Engels, based on their similar principles, wrote and published their ideology as “The Communist Manifesto.” They wanted to end the capitalistic culture that prevailed because, to them, the social class system exploited the working class.

Communism became a dominant political philosophy by the end of the 19th century in many countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. In Russia, Bolsheviks took power through the October Revolution in 1917. They changed their name to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and sent their ideals across all of Europe. They nationalized the private properties and made public part of state wealth.

Stalin followed the communist ideology and took USSR to new levels of growth. The communism model was followed by many countries afterward, including China. Mao Zedong led a revolution in newly born China through his Communist party back in the mid-twentieth century. The revolution followed the Soviet model of development including the industry and peasants.

Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong

In the 1950’s Mao extracted Maoism from the two conventional philosophical schools of Marxism-Leninism as a Chinese elucidation of communism. Mao used the Great Leap Forward and Culture-Based Revolution as his tools for Maoism. Later on, both ideas met failure because in the former the poor Chinese starved to death, and in the latter, Mao overthrew his foes, and thus a large number of killings were seen.

The Element of Social Stratification

The Communist Party was formed in 1921 and Mao gained control in 1927. The communist revolution culminated in 1949 forming the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with a large social stratification in the PRC. The Communist revolution was class-based with peasants as main actors.

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The government in the newly-born country followed the social strata and registered the citizens as three main classes based on their roles in the revolution; the first one was “good-class” which included the revolutionary cadres, soldiers, and revolutionary martyrs. Also known as red-class, this class included industrial workers and poor and lower-middle peasants.

The second class is the “middle class” that consisted of the bourgeoisie class of peasants, urban routine staff, small businessmen, intellectuals, and professionals. The last one was the “bad class” which included the landlords, rich peasants, capitalists, the counter-revolutionists, and criminals, making it the black class. Using this class scheme, the PRC government devised and implemented a series of class-based preferential social policies.

Great Leap Forward

Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward policy from 1958 to 1962 marked the deaths of up to 45 million people, making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded. The world has often neglected this event in history when counting the great evils in the history of the world. It was intended to make progress at the industrial level but ended up leaving people to starve.

The country experienced a big economic crisis afterward. Hence, the Great Leap forward led the country backward. Homemade steel was the worst idea ever, but it was part of the new initiatives of the Great Leap Forward campaign. It was a period of bad weather, and a lot of the grain that people managed to grow was exported to the Soviet Union in payment for industrial equipment. Consequently, China suffered catastrophic famines that killed tens of millions of people.

The Cultural Revolution

Followed by the failed Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong wanted to reassert his authority by using a group of radicals against the party leadership. He shut down the schools and called for the mobilization of the youth. The students took the form of paramilitary groups, the Red Guards, and attacked the old and intellectual population of China.

The Maoist ideology was very clear in the actions of certain groups. The main motive was to rid the population of the “Four Olds”: “old customs”, “old culture”, “old habits”, and “old ideas.” The main objective of Mao was to erase the capitalist and conventional Chinese thoughts and instead introduce the philosophy of Maoism to fill the ideological gaps.

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The Red guards kept on killing the undesirable people and the chaos led to martial law and a total of 1.5 million deaths. Millions of people suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture, or general humiliation. The short-term and long-term effects of the Cultural Revolution were felt in many cities.

Mao’s policies and his ideology had a great influence on the governance in the country. The ever torturous regime of Mao led people to lose faith in the government altogether. The result of Mao’s revolution turned out to be opposite to what he intended.

A Critical Review of Maoism

The late chairman is often compared to the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang of 221 B.C.; the emperor has his name in the books of history as the ambassador of unity among the various feudal kingdoms of ancient China as a centralized power under the Qin dynasty. However, in the traditional historiography of Confucians, Qin is regarded as the epitome of the evil and tyrannical ruler.

This is not because of the burnt pages of Confucian books but because of the massacre of Confucian scholars that led them to do so. Mao Zedong, in his regime, praised Qin Shi Huang for the promoter of progress in ancient China. He also defended the cruelty of the First Emperor as a model of revolution which set the stage for the hasty progressive movements and vanquished foes and rivals of the state.

Mao Zedong’s self-identification with Emperor Qin led critics to assume continuity between the past imperialism and the present communism in China. Western historians consider Mao’s period as a repeat telecast of Imperial Confucianism under the old regime in the guise of Marxism/ Maoism.

Over the past quarter of the last century, no other country in the world has experienced a more massive and hasty capitalist development than China. Followed by Mao’s Communist Revolution, the scholar-gentry class of China was tormented that had for so long been the social carrier of traditional values and culture. A traditional rupture was seen, so deep that even today its effects are there.

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Presently, even China submits to and indeed embraces the relentless and coldly universal imperatives of the capitalist market. The remnants of tradition are drowning in what Marx called capitalism’s “icy waters of egotistical calculation.” Ironically, communism in China has been the agent to usher in modern capitalism. And capitalism, on the other hand, has resulted in the demeaning of traditional customs and ideologies.

The Rise of China

The Communist revolution was one event in history that changed the People’s Republic of China altogether. To appreciate where Communism stands in the long sweep of Chinese history, it is important to understand two things in the pages of history; one, preceding the rise of Chinese Communism, and the second, conceding the Communist victory of 1949.

Both are very crucial in understanding the revolution that communism brought in China. China was never really colonized, but an anti-colonial vision drove much of its history in the twentieth century. After 1967, when China became a nuclear power, it emerged as the most powerful of nations in the region and the world. With an ever-growing economy and a strong military, it has become a global superpower.


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