The End of Mao and the Old Order


Last time we have talked about Mao’s first policy set called ‘The Great Leap Forward’ which turned to be the first failure of Mao’s. Mao was not very lucky. After he launched the Great Leap Forward, China also experienced a long harsh winter during 1959-1960 which exacerbated the substantial shortage of food and severe famine. From 1958-1962 it was estimated that over 25 million died of famine, the most severe in Chinese history.

After 1960, the Chinese government decided that 90% of rural labor should stay in the agricultural sector. The non-agricultural production that used to be run by the communes was dismantled.

If you look back to the economic growth history, the Great Leap Forward cost China almost a decade of economic growth. It was not only human error, but also natural condition that created the crisis from the policy (Riskin, 1987). The urge of industrialization was too soon. Mao intended to make China great in term of industrial growth but China was not ready for his idea.


China finally gave up of the Great Leap Forward in the late 1960s. Mao resigned from the Head of the State. His popularity among Chinese people as well as the officials in the Communist party had declined.  The agricultural labor force was returning to the pre-Great Leap period. Chinese government rearranged the priorities of the economic growth by placing agriculture at the top of the sectoral list: agriculture, light industry, heavy industry.

President Liu Shaoqi allowed the farmer to farm on private plots of land, while the commune system still existed. In 1964 Premier Zhou Enlai announced the government’s objective to achieve “four modernization”; industry, agriculture, defense, and science and technology. However, the policy was not carried out until after the Cultural Revolution that had stopped everything.

What is Cultural Revolution?

Even though Mao had lost political power from his resignation from the Head of the State, he was still nominally the Chairman of the Communist Party. Therefore, his idea or so-called “Maoist” was still the most important in China. The ideas of Maoist were based on the desirable of Egalitarian system, or the equality of all people. Mao was afraid that the economic growth path after 1962 of China will lead to the stratification of the society again like in the period of the Empire of China (which had the emperors and classes). Another important reason was that Mao wanted his popularity and heroism back from people.

Mao decided to take actions by initiating the Cultural Revolution in 1966. His main idea for the Cultural Revolution was that the old traditions and cultures are not good for the egalitarianism which should the best system for Chinese people. He appealed directly to Chinese youth especially in the high schools and colleges. Political power was transferred to the radical elements of the Communist Party in the name of destroying an old culture that was said to hinder social revolution. Many elderly people and intellectual were physically harmed. A Red Book of quotations from Mao was treated as a gospel for study and memorization. The local groups started to split into two sides.

The violence started and became worse in the big cities. This movement prevented the proper function of the economy (Chow, 2002). Old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits should be stopped according to the Red Book. Many Chinese cities reached the brink of anarchy by September 1967.  There was a serious fighting between armed student groups on Beijing campuses.

According to the Chinese government, the Chinese Cultural Revolution caused the death of 30 million people. From all death tolls and all chaos, this policy became one of the most unpopular of Mao’s social policies. The party called for meeting in April 1969. The Defense Minister Lin Biao was officially designated as Mao’s successor. Mao started to have a serious health problem after that.

After Chairman Mao die in 1976, political power was transferred to Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Deng took over power from Hua Guofeng, the Chairman designated by Mao. It was a period of re-establishment of political and economic order after the Cultural Revolution.

In 1979, China established formal diplomatic relations with the United States. As reform towards a market-oriented economy proceeded, the role of central planning and of the State Planning Commission became less important (Hung, 2009). In the mid 1980s, compulsory planning from the party was changed to guidance planning.

The reform of Chinese economy started in 1978 was based on the idea of ‘market socialism’.

Wait, market mechanism and socialism? How do they work together?

Why do people call Deng Xiaoping the man who made modern China?

Next time we will talk about what Deng did when he decided to open the (Bamboo) door and how those set of policies lead to the Rising Dragon. 

Please come back next week!



Chow, G. C. (2002). China’s economic transformation. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

Hung, Ho-fung (2009). China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Riskin, C. (1987). China’s Political Economy: The Quest for Development since 1949. New York: Oxford University Press.

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