China's Turbulent History: From Empires to Communism

Categories: Five Year Plan

China, a vast nation with a five-thousand-year history, was ruled by the Manchu emperors from 1644. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Emperor Guangxu was effectively controlled by his aunt Empress Ci xi, who governed on his behalf for forty years.

In the early 1900s, China experienced significant unrest as the Boxers launched a violent crusade against Chinese Christians and missionaries. With backing from traditional leaders and the ruling Manchu faction, they laid siege to Peking in 1900, targeting missionary families and converts in the northern region.

Regions supportive of the Boxers faced severe consequences, including the execution of high-ranking officials and hefty fines imposed on the Chinese government. Exploitation by foreign powers resulted in prolonged periods of poverty and oppressive governance for the Chinese populace.

After the death of empress Ci xi in 1908, her three-year-old nephew Pu Yi took over with his uncle Prince Chun acting as regent. In 1911, a rebellion led by Sun Yat Sen saw fifteen out of eighteen provinces joining the revolution against the government.

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President Yuan Shih-Kai assumed office in February 1912, leading to Prince Chun and Emperor Pu Yi abdicating due to their lack of control over the army. Yuan Shih-Kai served as president until his death in 1916, causing chaos and ultimately resulting in the collapse of the Chinese government.

In 1921, the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) marked a significant political revolution. After Sun Yat Sen's passing in 1925, Chiang Kai-Shek assumed leadership of the nationalist party, leading to collaboration between the Guomingdang and Communists to gain control over regions once held by warlords.

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However, tensions escalated, resulting in the government declaring itself as the "Jiangxi Soviet." From 1930 to 1934, Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalists launched five campaigns against the Communist Party. In October 1935, after embarking on their renowned "long march" westward through challenging terrain, the Communists reached an isolated province.

The emergence of Mao Zedong into the leadership echelons of the Chinese Party occurred as Chairman Mao, the leader of the communist party. Mao, who is now known as "A great man in China's history" (1893 - 1979), later established the people's Republic and the communist rule in China. He led the CCP and government until his death. His influence waned after the failure of his 1958 - 60 Great Leap Forward, but he regained dominance during the 1966 - 69 Cultural Revolution. Mao adapted communism to Chinese conditions as outlined in the little red book.

The USA defeated Japan in 1945, leading to a civil war between the Chinese Communist party and the nationalist party. In 1949, the communists emerged victorious with Mao Zedong declaring the People's Republic of China. The nationalists (GMD) and their leader Chiang Kai-Shek were subsequently banished from China to the Island of Formosa.

Mao Zedong was reported to have made the following statement shortly after assuming power in 1949:

Before declaring the People's Republic of China, Mao believed that under the leadership of the communist party, any miracle could be accomplished as long as there were people. He then went to Moscow to meet with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and ask for financial aid. Together, they created the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance to give China the necessary financial backing.

Despite Mao's appreciation for the assistance provided, he likened it to the challenge of extracting meat from a tiger's mouth. The Treaty sent ten thousand engineers and planning experts to aid China's economic development, allocating $300 million in aid over five years mainly in the form of credits. Mao's Land Reform aimed to improve the country's agricultural sector, redistributing landed estates to peasants through an elected local government and communist leaders who facilitated future changes. This reform, carried out with minimal violence, ultimately benefitted the impoverished by offering fair taxes and equitable wealth distribution.

In 1953, Mao created the first five-year plan with assistance from Russian advisors, focusing on industrial development (1953-1957) which included steel, coal, machinery, and other sectors. Around 700 new production plants were established in central China and Manchuria. The plan favored heavy industry over light industry like cotton-making and food processing. The reported achievements of the first five-year plan (see table below) appeared to indicate success, but the data could have been manipulated to maintain public satisfaction. The high number of urban workers meant increased demand for resources.

The objective of the Five Year Plan was to boost food production in China by transforming farms into co-operatives. Through the Agarian Reform Law of 1950, land was distributed to approximately 300 million peasants, with half being able to cultivate their own land. For those with small plots or lacking farming resources, mutual-aid teams were formed to share tools and animals. Recognizing the inefficiency of small farms and the potential rise of a profit-driven peasant class, the government aimed to prevent this from undermining communist values.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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China's Turbulent History: From Empires to Communism. (2017, Aug 31). Retrieved from

China's Turbulent History: From Empires to Communism essay
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