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Kimberly Clarke

Historian Immanuel Hsu argued that “Mao’s 27 year rule brought little improvement in the people’s living standards.” To what extent did the new society bring an improvement in the conditions of everyday life for the Chinese people?
Immanuel Hsu rightly acknowledges the lack of ‘improvement’ Mao Zedong’s rule had for the general populous of China. Mao’s rule whilst somewhat resembling the methods of the abandoned Qing Dynasty did fail to overall improve the everyday lives of the Chinese people. Despite initial social and economic reforms appeared promising for the Chinese people, the effects of the Hundred Flowers Campaign, Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were enormously counterproductive. Thus the quality of life for the vast majority of Chinese did not greatly improve following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and ‘Mao’s 27 year rule.’ Whilst most of the things Mao did throughout his rule brought little improvement to China as a whole, it is fair to suggest that initially, between 1949 to the end of the First Five Year Plan, Mao made some wholehearted attempts at improving the lives of the people. The Agrarian Land Reform Law of 1950 for example aimed and largely succeeded in improving peasant conditions by giving them ownership of land and releasing them from obligations to landlords. Also Mao’s attempts at genuine reform are especially evident through the Marriage Law (1950). This was the first piece of legislation of the new Republic and attempted to give women the same rights as their male counterparts. Even though this law and rights pertaining to equal pay and maternity benefits were put in the first constitutions, some historians believe that women only rose “to the rank of 2nd class citizens.” However due to prevalent patriarchal attitudes which were particularly evident in rural areas, many peasant women saw no real benefit from these laws. Nonetheless it is clear despite its short comings that Mao had intended to improve the lives of Chinese women. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and the initial difficulties faced such as inflation the years leading up to and during the First Five Year Plan, saw significant attempts at improving everyday life for the people. Mao countered the challenges of 1956 through called Hundred Flowers Campaign which encouraged greater freedom of expression amongst intellectuals. Despite initial reluctance the campaign was invigorated with Mao’s statement that we should “let a hundred flowers bloom [and] let a hundred schools of thought contend,” thus inviting criticism of the party. Despite attempting to give intellectuals more freedom and expose “non-antagonistic contradictions” Mao had not considered the likelihood of “antagonistic contradictions” of which some even questioning the CCP as “betraying their socialist ideals” (Tom Ryan). Following the criticism that was promoted through the campaign it was abruptly ended six weeks after its initiation. Due to the campaign ending in such a manner some historians have suggested that the entire campaign was a ploy to expose counterrevolutionaries. Thus Deng Xiaoping was appointed to direct an Anti-Rightist campaign, which oversaw tens of thousands of academics and students put through harsh denunciations and selfcriticisms. However these measures were the least of their worries with many sent to the countryside for ‘re-education through hard labour’ in prison camps and some even committing suicide. What was originally a campaign that promoted freedom of expression and on the surface appeared to be beneficial for the people was in fact much to the detriment of the everyday lives of the Chinese as the prospect of popular democracy was gone as was any opposition to the CCP and more importantly Mao’s leadership.

Lin Biao originally designed the Little Red Book (May 1964) which was used in communal readings and assigned to the PLA along with students alike. Also farming techniques inspired by Trofim Lysenko commonly known as Lysenkoism was essentially flawed and so contributed to failed harvests. Mao Zedong’s 27 year rule oversaw the worst famine in Chinese history however initial attempts at social and economic reform seemed promising to both the Party and the people. neighbours and even their own parents. The primary aim of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution was to purge the moderate party members and ultimately strengthen the Party as a unit. The book would become a cult item throughout the Cultural Revolution and resulted in the formation of the Red Guards.’ The Red Guards were a visible and violent force that protested Mao Zedong Thought and also were a force Mao could hide behind as he ‘purified’ the Party.Kimberly Clarke The Great Leap Forward (or the Second Five Year Plan) that was initiated in May 1958 oversaw Mao’s attempts to decentralise economic activity and remobilise the masses in attempts at improving everyday life for the people however would plunge the country into the worst famine in its history. tradition. Peasants were organised into communes containing thousands of families and directed toward large scale projects in local industry such as backyard steel furnaces and agricultural productivity dropped enormously. The falsification of harvest figures by Party cadres whom were encouraged to “catch the stars and the moon” only added to the food crisis with the devastating famine being the result. Mao’s desires at strengthening the Party were a feigned attempt to reaffirm his own position and cult-like presence due to the power struggles that arose with Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Mao Zedong’s role as the Chairman in the People’s Republic of China was for the better part of his rule much to the detriment of the lives of the Chinese and not unlike the ways of its predecessor the Qing Dynasty. However the cult like presence of the Red Guard had devastating results upon communities as the Red Guard turned on teachers. Many times at which it appeared reforms were going to be to the benefit of the Chinese people and improve living standards where in fact masked attempts to reaffirm Mao’s position as leader or had disastrous consequences. Only estimates have been made surrounding the death toll of the famine due to the government and Mao’s failed acknowledgement of its existence. habits and thoughts. .’ Mao called upon the youth to attack the ‘Four Olds: culture.” Despite claiming to have the interests of the people in mind. However some conservatives have estimated it at around 30 million people and Tom Ryan asserted that it was a “holocaust of hunger. which were essentially a band of teenagers that rampaged the streets identifying and destroying the ‘Four Olds. Mao’s reforms seen throughout the Great Leap Forward subjected the people to the worst famine in history.