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How Effectively Did Mao Zedong Consolidate His Power as Leader of China 1949-1976?

Chairman Mao Zedong had a determined focus on culture within China, around which many of his actions, in regards to consolidating his power, even in the early years of his rule, were centred. From the 1930s, Mao learnt that a nations culture, far from being peripheral, defined its character; that culture was about, essentially, the lives of the people, which, for years, had been a direct result of the values laid down by the ruling class and a means of imposing control. In his mind, just as in the time of the feudal emperors, Chinese culture had been feudal; now that China was a proletarian society, that should be reflected by a proletarian culture. Mao was determined that, in conquering China completely, all traces of bourgeois and feudal culture needed to be eradicated using any means necessary. This Cultural Revolution led directly to his elimination of rivals within the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), the salvaging of his post-Great-Leap-Forward reputation, and the promotion of Maos already established Cult of Personality. Such attitudes are also to be seen in his attacks on corruption, old officials and components of the CCP and the destruction of the landlord system that he imposed as part of his economic policy. Other extremely effective means of Maos consolidation of power included the 100 flowers campaign, his control of the Politburo, his re-conquest of outlying areas and the notorious Chinese Laogai prison system, alongside the dedicated propaganda led largely by his wife, cultural purifier of China, Jiang Quing and the controversial Lin Baio. By his 1976 death, Maos authority over China and its people was so pervasive that Chinese Communism had become personally identified with him as Maoism.

Mao eliminated his political rivals through, firstly, and essentially, the structure of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC); divided into six regions, each with a bureau of four major officials; Chairman, Party Secretary, Military Commander and Political Commissar. Since these last two posts were filled by members of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), this effectively left China under military control, which Mao, from the beginning, considered as the best means of stabilising China and guaranteeing the continued rule of the CCP. Beyond this, whilst the Communist Party enthusiastically emphasised how all party officials were elected, the realisation and understanding were not encouraged that only one party could stand for election, all others being outlawed, and that even those who stood as independents had to acknowledge publicly that the CCP had an absolute right to rule. Essentially, the way Mao had organised his government, it was carried out by the politburo, over which he had complete authority; this early manipulation was indisputably crucial in consolidating Maos authoritarian power in China.

Mao Imposed his military control as a clear sign of new governmental dominance over the outlying areas of China. In 1950, in a series of reunification campaigns, three separate PLA armies were dispatched west and south, to areas now known as Tibet, Xinjiang and the southern province of western Guangdong. Officially, they were sent in order to assist in the improvements of local conditions, and they did contribute to such schemes as road building, however, their predominant aim was to impose martial law and repress any sign of an independence movement. The anti-movements, continuing along the theme of Maos distinct paranoia, were government launched campaigns against the remnants of the bourgeoisie class; those whom the CCP regarded as socially or politically suspect, and were designed to create an intense atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the people. The Chinese were encouraged to inform on anyone they knew who was unwilling to accept the new regime- a special government department then drew up a dagnan, or dossier, on every suspected Chinese person. If an individuals dagnan was at all dubious, they stood very little chance of obtaining work or housingliberties now controlled by the CCP. The restrictive atmosphere of similarly paranoid attitudes which this created was intensified by Maos involving China in the Korean war in 1950 (in support of the North Korean communists). This struggle encouraged Mao to demand further solidarity and loyalty from the Chinese people. Maos intelligent social manipulation built a foundation of suspicion and doubt in China, and forced acceptance of effective governmental omniscience, and faith, consequently, to be placed on the only reliable certainty; (the power of) Mao and the CCP.

The 100 Flowers campaign of 1957 was an astounding and controversially motivated purge by Mao of the communist party itself. Members suspected of not being fully supportive of Mao and the new China were referred to in such derogatory terms as rightists, revisionists, and capitalist roaders. Seemingly contradictory of this hard line was Maos invitation to the CCP members to criticise government and party policies. In 1957, Mao used the slogan Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend calling on the party to criticise their government, which, as increasingly bitter denunciations of individuals and government policies emerged, including direct attacks of Mao and one particular university professor referring to the arbitrary and reckless character of the Chairmans authority, led to an appalled leaders ending of the campaign. Those who had spoken out particularly freely were condemned as anti-socialists, who opposed the regime, and were arrested

out particularly freely were condemned as anti-socialists, who opposed the regime, and were arrested and imprisoned for their crimes. Whatever Maos heavily debated motives for the event, most historians agree that the scale of the criticism took him by surprise- he had not been at all astute to the dissatisfaction within the party, now revealed by the campaign. In this case, it is almost irrelevant whether Mao launched the campaign to flush out opponents or whether he decided to do this only when he realised the extent of the opposition; either way, he crushed any outspoken hints of opposition at the time.. Consolidation of Maos power was, at this stage, almost absolute.

In 1958, in an attempt to modernise China and release it from the grip of the Soviet, Mao implemented the Great Leap Forward, an extremely suppressive economic failure which plunged China into disastrous famine, as a direct result of which, 40 million people died. If there was a moment in Maos reign during which his opponents could have taken up the attack, the onset of the famine would seem to have provided it; Mao had lost all respectability and the faith of his people that had been so important in his rise and earlier consolidation. At a 1959 party gathering, the PRCs Minister of Defence recounted the horrors of starvation in his province and begged that action be taken to alleviate the suffering, however, even given the opening, no other party delegates backed him by confirming his account; they were unwilling to offend Mao and persisted in their obedience to him by denouncing the account as fabrication. The status and reputation Mao had built was such that even at his lowest political standing, no one dared challenge his role as leader. This event did not consolidate his power, but proved successful his earlier work towards doing so.

Whilst this later failure led to a temporary retreat from the political stage, Maos early 1950s, particularly fierce economic anti-campaign against the old landlord system of rule, it should be noted, was a great social and indeed, propaganda, success. The property of landlords was confiscated and redistributed among their former tenants, and whilst some were allowed to maintain a proportion of their land and become peasants, the great majority were put on public trial and denounced as enemies of the people. It was later revealed that approximately a million landlords were killed as a result of this PRC land campaign.

Maos Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was oppressive and suffocating, yet re-launched his political career by the extraordinary movement that set China into a decade of deliberately engineered turmoil; his aim was to purge the CCP and leave his mark on the nation. Mao could not have achieved such an enormous task as a complete cultural revolution had he not already been well prepared. Despite his temporary withdrawal from politics, by the mid-1960s, Mao held the status of almost a deity in the Chinese mind, due to a skilful propaganda exercise by PLA leader Lin Biao; the man Mao had nominated as his successor. Lin had faithfully, relentlessly, projected the image of Mao as the saviour of the nation, the great benefactor of the people and the voice of absolute honesty; largely through his producing of what was to become known as The Little Red Book, and sell 750 million copies within its first four years of publication, to Chinese people looking to follow the teachings of their great leader.

The April 1966 announcement that the Chinese Communist Party had been infected by revisionism was the immediate prelude to the infamous Cultural Revolution. Within the CCP had been discovered a sinister anti-Party line diametrically opposed to Chairman Maos thought, to stifle which (before it could cause harm), the PLA had been instructed to lead Chinas destruction of all the antisocialist weeds. The CCP called on the Chinese people to join the attack on those daring to endanger the revolution by taking the capitalist road, and panic set in as officials rushed to declare their complete, unrelenting loyalty to Mao. Many were too late, and by the summer of 1966, all those in the party and government whose loyalty was at all suspected by the Chairman had been removed or demoted, Mao had again begun to crush all the rivalry emerging around him and was set for an intensive terror campaign within China.

In 1966, the August rally brought the Cultural Revolution to the full attention of the world, as, on the 18th August, Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, filled with a million young people shouting excitedly at Maos appearances at the balcony of the Forbidden city, and Lin Baios principle speech denoting the fundamental significance of destroying the four olds of revisionism; old thoughts, old habits, old culture and old customs. Mao had selected the young to be the lasting instruments of his Cultural Revolution and they readily accepted that it was the incompetence of self-interested, revisionist officials in the party who were denying them the prospects and advancements to which they were entitled; they made a clear distinction between Mao and his government. In their venerating of their leader, the Chinese youth were reverting to the old culture of worshiping an emperor- another reminder of the survival of

youth were reverting to the old culture of worshiping an emperor- another reminder of the survival of Confucian values within China- and yet the irony was that Confucianism was distinctly condemned as belonging to the four olds. Despite such complexities, the Chinese youth responded to Maos manipulations; enlisting as Red Guards, they were unhindered by the police and had the power to attack people and destroy property at will- their main targets being the education system, firstly, for perpetuating the myths and superstitions of the past, as well as public transport and entertainment, non-revolutionary styles of clothing and makeup, religious items, libraries and museums, and liberal professionals such as writers and artists.

As the tensions in Beijing heightened (a direct result of the actions of the Red Guards), Mao turned against Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping for having taken a bourgeois reactionary line and supporting Soviet revisionism; betraying Maoist thought. Liu was subjected to struggle sessions before being imprisoned and subsequently dying slowly and painfully, having been deprived his diabetes drugs. Xiaoping survived the ordeal, however, was forced to stand in public before 3,000 Red Guards screaming abuse at him, and then sent to a corrective labour camp in 1969. This exhibition of ultimate power and ruthless authority was orchestrated intelligently to impress shock upon and evoke a deep paranoia, reflective of Maos own, in the Chinese masses. Similarly, after Maos withdrawal from Beijing (leaving things to be run, again, by Lin Baio and the Central Cultural Revolution Group, which included Jiang Qings Gang of Four) the Red Guards were provided with the names and whereabouts of suspect officials and CCP members. The government compound off Tiananmen Square- which housed government officials and ministers- was put under siege, as the Red Guards maintained a loud, non-stop assault on those trapped inside, using searchlights to deprive the inhabitants of sleep and forming terrifying gauntlets through which officials and their families leaving the compound had to push.

It was almost as if, by 1967, the revolution Mao had begun had gone too far; the widespread disruption had halted industrial production and closed schools and universities. More immediately concerning, a number of local civil wars were being fought between Red Guards from different regions, and the Red Guards and factory workers, who had formed their own units. It was decided that the work of the Red Guards should be taken over by the PLA. The control that the government now had over its youth was evident in the ease at which it redirected the idealism of those who had formed the Red Guard movement; to remove them from the urban areas they were now troubling unnecessarily, another campaign was announced, sending them up to the mountains and down to the villages. This was an extension of Maos policy of making city intellectuals experience the hardships and struggles of the dignity of labour which formed the reality of life for 80 percent of the population of China. Many were entirely unprepared for the harsh conditions they encountered, and later said that it was this experience that made them first question the truth of Maoist propaganda theyd grown up totally convinced by. This, it could be said, was, at least in the long term, probably slightly detrimental to the consolidation of Maos power, however, by that period, the Chairman was more powerful than ever, and, of course, close to death and to be soon succeeded by Hua Guofeng, so the impact, if any, would have been minimal.

The 1968-71 cleansing of the ranks campaign gave light to the fact that, despite the dispersal of the Red Guards, anti-Maoist attitudes were still under threat from the exceedingly vicious persecution of the PLA. The Central Cultural Revolution Group, with Jiang Qings Gang of Four playing the most prominent rule, launched the cleansing of the class ranks by establishing committees in all major regions of China, giving them the task of eradicating once and for all any signs of capitalism. The result of this was a mass of killings and destruction throughout China, in mass maimings and executions, many of which, in Beijing, would be officially classified as suicides.

The final phase of Maos Cultural Revolution began in the early 1970s, in the lead up to his 1976 death. Suspicions and doubt were, though silenced by repression, growing in the Chinese population, stimulated by the 1971 death of Lin Baio, whose plane mysteriously crashed in Mongolia as he tried to flee China, after being implicated in a plot to assassinate Mao. The public face of Lin as Chief of the PLA, Minister of Defence and Maos nominated successor disgraced the Mao regime itself. Many of the people, realising the secrecy and corruption within the system, lost their faith in it. By encouraging Lins assassination plot, the Cultural Revolution was, indirectly, entirely counterproductive towards the consolidation of Maos power, however, the Revolution itself, directly, by its removal of political opponents and widespread fear mongering, was a great step in the consolidation of Maos absolute leadership in China.

The laogai , a term which originally meant re-education through labour but came to be used to

The laogai , a term which originally meant re-education through labour but came to be used to describe the extensive prison-camp system which operated under Mao, was an extreme method oppression and economical provider of slave labour. Much of the mass workforce used in the Great Leap Forward on especially hazardous projects was comprised of camp prisoners; clearing malarial swamps and mining in dangerous areas. The camps were to be found throughout China, but many of the worst were located in areas of extremely inhospitable summers and winters, making life torment for the prisoners. To obtain the bare minimum of food, prisoners were required to make a full confession of their crimes- those who maintained claims of innocence were interrogated, deprived of sleep, held in solitary confinement, beaten and starved until they conformed. The scale of the system was as outrageous as the conditions were brutal: during Maos time in power, the average number of prisoners held in camps each year was 10 million; over 25 million prisoners died during this period, the figure being comprised of those who were officially executed, those who died of hunger and ill treatment, and those who committed suicide (alienating themselves from the Party and the people). By the time of Maos death in 1976, there were more than 1000 labour camps in China. This merciless approach to consolidating his power was effective in its employment of similar tactics to the military control of the nation and the Cultural Revolution; terrifying and invoking a deep instability of trust at the heart of the Chinese population, subsequently forcing them to trust wholeheartedly in the words and actions of their leader, Mao.

Socially, the people of China were powerfully affected by Maos reforms, in the economic circumstances of their nation, their political and religious freedom and standpoints, and, their fluctuating paranoia and reassurance as a direct result of the propaganda, suspicion, fear-tactics and militaristic violence relentlessly pursuing them. The unfaltering, subsequent paranoia of the Peoples Republic of China, reflective of the insecurities of Mao himself, created a nation which suffered heavily, yet the majority of the population, until the decline of the 1970s, was naive to their blatant manipulation and as such held a confident faith in Mao. Their trust, interestingly, was diverted from the government officials and ministers though, by the ever-changing figures in these positions (as a direct result of the 100 flowers campaign, and of course, the Cultural Revolution, amongst other factors), and Mao Zedongs powerful cult of personality- an idea which he shied from after Stalins death and the successor, Khrushchevs, secret speech that followed, denoting the previous Soviet leaders reputation, though there is a strong argument that this was the reasoning behind his 100 flowers campaign; to remove the potential sensationalism of such a betrayal, and if Mao had feared such comparison with Stalin, this fear was all but eradicated by the Soviets late 1956 crushing of the Hungarian Uprising; he realised he wouldnt need to compete with Khrushchev to maintain hard-line communism in their nations. Despite his two main policies not being (at all) successful, largely as a result of the fundamental arrogance of any dictatorship, it is easily said that Maos consolidation of his power in China was extremely effective.