People's Republic of China

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People's Republic of China
1024px-CHN orthographic.svg.png

Map of the PRC
Land controlled by the People's Republic of China shown in dark green; land claimed but not controlled shown in light green.
1024px-Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg.png National Emblem of the People's Republic of China (2).svg.png
Flag State Emblem

The People's Republic of China (PRC) is a state in East Asia which was founded in 1949 upon the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War. Once the Nationalists were forced to retreat to Taiwan and the communists had consolidated their control of Tibet and Xinjiang, the PRC effectively controlled the former territory of the Republic of China. Mao Zedong, leader of the communists during the 1940s, is considered to be the national founder of the PRC.

In 1976, a political struggle known as the Cultural Revolution was resolved when Mao died, allowing the reformist, liberalizing faction of the party led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping to eliminate Mao's remaining associates and initiate a program of economic liberalization. Since 1978, the People's Republic of China has developed a unique economic policy known as socialism with Chinese characteristics, which includes the use of Special Economic Zones, state-owned enterprises, and foreign direct investment (FDI). The ruling party governs with influence from Marxist principles, but its political philosophy has become more eclectic since the 1980s, incorporating traditionalist and nationalist ideas, as well as innovations based on the ideas of Deng Xiaoping and his successors, into its Marxist platform. Most leftists do not consider the PRC to be a socialist economy; however, supporters of its economic model draw comparisons to the Bolsheviks' New Economic Policy of 1921-1928, arguing that China's industrial development since the 1980s has been a necessary step for the material development of the communist mode of production.

China is the world's most populous country and the third-largest by land area. The People's Republic of China has made significant achievements in engineering, medical technology, scientific research, and space travel. The World Bank has credited the PRC with poverty reduction and an increase in objective living standards for hundreds of millions of Chinese people. In addition, China's effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic likely avoided the deaths of millions of Chinese people.

The PRC is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a founding member of several multilateral and regional organizations such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Fund, the New Development Bank, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. It is also a member of the BRICS, the G20, the APEC, and the East Asia Summit. Making up around one-fifth of the world economy, China is the world's largest economy by GDP at purchasing power parity, the second-largest economy by nominal GDP, and the second-wealthiest country. The country is one of the fastest-growing major economies and is the world's largest manufacturer and exporter, as well as the second-largest importer. China is a nuclear state with the world's largest standing army by military personnel and the second-largest defense budget.


Civil war


After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, China continued to be ravaged by foreign influence by Japanese, British and French. On 1921, with patrons from the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of China was founded. The Communists and Nationalists shared a front to restore China to its past greatness. The united front which was founded in 1924 focused on the internal enemy which were the warlord. After the front proved successful, the nationalist slaughtered communist in 1927. Mao Zedong differed from the founders in that he thought the true revolutionary force in China, was not the proletariat, but rather the peasantry. In 1934 communist in the encircled in their base in Jiangxi. To escape the nationalist they set out on the long march. During the long march of 1934, by criticizing Zhang Guato, Mao in large part rose to power. According to him, the communist were loosing because of bad organization. What was observed during the march was the different culture of Miao had compared to the Han. He promised that different nationalities could form their own nations, or willingly join the PRC. The Hui Muslims were promised to be able to choose their own religion and attend visits to mosques. Because of the war with Japan that started in the 1930s, there were multiple attempts for nationalists and communists to cooperate, or at least stop fighting. In 1935 a CPC delegate was sent to the Kuomintang (the nationalists) to stop fighting in the north east. In December 1936, Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped by his own generals who urged him to cooperate with CPC. In 1937, Marco Polo Bridge incident caused a full-scale war with Japan and a united front was formed. During the war Mao showed ability for compromise if it helped the CPC. Various warlords were convinced to become an ally or join the CPC. Yan Xishan, who was in charge of Shanxi, declared neutrally with the CPC on 1939. There was cooperation with American forces, with intelligence sharing and neutrality. A land reform was pursued in 1934 which allowed private farms to peasants. After the bombs on Japan fell the war was declared to have been ended.


With the end of war talks between the nationalist and communist began in Chongqing, but the talks proved fruitless. In December 1945, US arranged second talks with the opposing forces. The talks proved fruitless yet again with communist never trusting the Kuomintang in keeping liberated areas for the CPC, and the Kuomintang not trusting CPC in recognizing Chiang as the leader of China. Imminently after the war Chiang sent his troops toward north-east China, where the communist troops and bases were. During this time both the CPC and the nationalist prepared for war. In 1945 party congress in Yanan took place in preparation of the upcoming civil war. The central military committee was established with high ranking CPC members having being appointed to leading roles. While nationalist certainly had a larger piece of the land and army, they were not approved by the general population. Desertions among the soldiers of the nationalist army was common, with men being roped together to not escape. From 1937 to 1949, fifteen million starved because troops used to sell their rations to the peasants. Since a great deal of the army had troops from the warlords, rape and plunder was common. On CPC side, Mao got 200,000 troops from Manchukuo. Those who did not join the PLA were executed.[citation needed] The CPC also gained a great number of troops from the deserted ones from the nationalist army. Other failure of the nationalist was that they allowed landlords, which were unpopular with the peasantry, to return after the war to their property. The Communists, knowing well how unpopular landlords were among the peasantry, humiliated and executed them. The CPC control over Harbin, area which the Japanese occupation industrialized, proved to be important in their victory, and allowed CPC to build a modern army. With communist evacuated from the area, Yanan fell to the Kuomintang in 1947. After this Mao declared the annihilation of the Chiang's regime. After that the Kuomintang tried spreading their reach within the country. With most of its units being sparse, a counter-attack by the communist proved easy. In 1947 the CPC in Ningxia and Gansu were winning against the Muslim warlords. By 1948, Mao was convinced an attack, rather than defense, on the Guangdong was possible. the CPC was winning against the nationalist in north east, and with it overtook Shenyang and moved south.


Chiang's troops gathered around Xuzhou with the hope of having enough time to counteract the movement of the PLA into the heart of China. With the CPC having enlisted Kuomintang prisoners of war into PLA, the attack could start instantaneously. Within five days Xuzhou, with its supplies cut off and heavy rain making its tank useless, was under CPC's control with its general Baitao committing suicide. At this time Mao thought that Beijing, while strategically useless, would provide a great moral victory and much prestige. In January 1949, Fu Zuoyi, who guarded Beijing, was promised that if he allowed the CPC to take Beijing, his war crimes would be absolved, his fortune kept, and would be allowed to live where he wishes. In January 1949, he accepted the terms and the People's Liberation Army stormed Beijing. In April 1949, Zhang Zhizhong, the governor of Xinjiang, joined the CPC. The majority of nationalist forces were defeated, and with it Chiang fled on a plane from Chengdu to Taiwan, which he brutally took over. On the 1st of October, 1949, Mao declared from the Forbidden City that the civil war has been won and the People's Republic of China was founded.

Sino-Soviet split

When Nikita Khrushchev came to power upon Stalin's death, Mao began to consider himself the head of the international communist movement as he was the most senior leader. Khrushchev saw otherwise, that he himself was because he led the world's most powerful communist country. The denunciation of Stalin by Khrushchev, as well as the process of de-Stalinization, and on top of this the policy of "peaceful coexistence" with the capitalist world developed Chinese antagonisms with the USSR further. Mao's leadership also began pursuing nuclear weapons in part to legitimize the claims that the PRC is the leader of the communist world, not the "revisionist" USSR. The Soviets considered Mao to be a rash and potentially destabilizing force, while Mao likewise thought the Soviets to be unreliable.

In 1959, the USSR offered moral support to the Tibetan people in their uprising against the Chinese. The following year, at the Romanian Communist Party Congress meeting, Mao and Khrushchev openly hurled insults at each other in front of attending delegates, which would be reported across international headlines. In 1962, Mao accused Khrushchev of capitulating to the Americans during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, to which Khrushchev replied that Mao's attitude would lead to nuclear war. The same year, the Soviets backed India, who they also had a good relationship with, against China in the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

The USSR and the PRC nearly went to war in 1968 over a border dispute in Xinjiang. The Soviets even considered carrying out a preemptive strike in the Lop Nur Basin, also in Xinjiang, where the Chinese were preparing to test their first nuclear weapons. The United States however persuaded the Soviets not to do so, for fear of sparking a world war. In the 1970s, the Communist Party of China gave a large amount of support and funding to the Khmer Rouge, which was opposed to Soviet-backed Vietnam and which received approval from Mao Zedong himself. It is estimated that at least 90% of the foreign aid which was provided to the Khmer Rouge came from China.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] The Khmer Rouge was removed from power in 1979 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and quickly destroyed most of the Khmer Rouge's forces. Later on in 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to support the communist government there, China allied itself with the US and Pakistan to support the mujahideen, as it saw Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as an aggressive move to encircle China. Soon after in 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran, beginning the Iran-Iraq War that would last until 1988, the Soviets allied themselves with the US and French to support Iraq, largely because Iran had crushed the communist Tudeh party and thus the Soviets wanted revenge. To this, China sided with Iran, as did North Korea and Libya.

Throughout this, the Chinese leadership repeatedly pushed for the Soviets to relinquish Mongolia and "give it back" to China. The Soviets rejected this proposition, as did the Mongolians, who like the Vietnamese feared that China had imperialist ambitions on the country, seeking to exploit its resources and possibly even colonize it just as it had done so in its imperial era.[9]

When Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet premier in 1985, he sought to normalize relations with China, starting by recalling some border guards from the Soviet-Chinese border, as well as reopening trade relations. The Chinese leadership was skeptical, however, of Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost, believing that economic reforms should take place before political reforms. Regardless, the Chinese government welcomed an official state visit from Gorbachev in late May 1989, along with the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The world press convened in Beijing to record the moment.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, posthumously granting Mao's wish — for China to be the world's most powerful state that calls itself communist.[10]

Great Leap Forward

The Great Chinese Famine

The Great Chinese Famine (1958–1961) was caused and its severity compounded by a number of factors:

  • Bad weather conditions, floods and droughts at the same time;
  • The Four Pests Campaign;
  • Peasants transferring to steel production;
  • Bureaucratic mismanagement.

Four to five million people lost their lives.[11][12] Official government statistics claim that fifteen million people perished as a result of the famine, but the composition of this statistic remains unclear (some suspect that this was an exaggeration and meant to discredit Máo or legitimise Deng Xiaoping's policy changes), and antisocialists usually insist that between 20 and 100 million innocents died,[13] a toll that counts millions of hypothetical babies as ‘deaths’.[14]

Amartya Sen and John Drèze point out that, while the Chinese famine was devastating, it pales in comparison to the ordinary mortality rates which occur under market economies in an otherwise comparable nation like India:

[I]t is important to note that despite the gigantic size of excess mortality in the Chinese famine, the extra mortality in India from regular deprivation in normal times vastly overshadows the former. Comparing India’s death rate of 12 per thousand with China’s of 7 per thousand, and applying that difference to the Indian population of 781 million in 1986, we get an estimate of excess normal mortality in India of 3.9 million per year. This implies that every eight years or so more people die in India because of its higher regular death rate than died in China in the gigantic famine of 1958–61. India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame.

— Amartya Sen & John Drèze, [15]

This comes out to more than one hundred million excess deaths in India alone from 1947 (when India became formally independent) to 1980. As Paul Heideman put it:

In other words, though India experienced no concentrated period of starvation which can be easily identified and hung around the neck of a particular ideology, its ordinary conditions for the latter half of the twentieth century, in which an extraordinarily unequal distribution of land obtained, created an excess mortality that, over the long term, dwarfed that of the worst famine of the century.

This demonstrates the effects that capitalism has on a developing nation, but it is all the more troublesome when compared to the immense gains made in the People's Republic of China.

Cultural Revolution

Market reform

1989 Tiananmen Square protests

Students have been protesting since 1986 for better economic conditions and greater freedom of the press, however those protests were suppressed. They flared up again in April 1989 after the death of ousted General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who was reform-minded and rather popular with the people. Protests were concentrated in Beijing but occurred in many other places as well, reiterating the goals of previous demonstrations.

The protest movement was supported by the liberal faction of the CPC including high-ranking party members such as Zhao Ziyang, who promised to open the door to liberalization if it had succeeded like in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Yugoslavia. The protest movement, as evidenced by their own accounts, called for political and economic liberalization, rallying around a statue which some say resembles the Statue of Liberty, while otherwise is said to more so resemble the works of Soviet sculptor Vera Mukhina. After the movement had been building in the square for seven weeks, unarmed soldiers were sent in to disperse the protesters, after which many soldiers were beaten to death, torched, and lynched. The New York Times' death count went from 2,600, to 8,000, then to tens of thousands. In reality, it was not a massacre of peaceful students, but skirmishes between PLA soldiers and armed detachments from the liberal reformist movement. Nobody was killed inside the square itself, only around 300 (including soldiers) were killed or trampled in smaller clashes in streets outside the square.[16][17] The Chinese Communist Party did not and does not deny the incident and the deaths that occurred, nor did they hide the incident from the public. They held a press conference on national television two days after the incident occurred where they openly admitted the actions that took place, the estimated casualties, and the political motives involved.[18] An on-scene Washington Post reporter disavowed his own article for its lies and lack of journalistic integrity, especially regarding the alleged machine-gunning of protesters.[19] A protest leader who came from Taiwan admitted that no protesters were killed in the square.[20]

A WikiLeaks cable from a US ambassador to the US state department confirmed that no killings or machine-gunnings took place in the square.[21]

China today



Market reforms

A series of market reforms began to be implemented on December 18, 1978, by the reformists of the Communist Party, led by Deng Xiaoping. The Soviet Union, as well as the countries following its model, were seen as a lost cause and so the market reforms were made, intended to open China up more to the capitalist world. The level of market elements to be introduced into the country was set to be greater than that of the Soviet New Economic Policy of the 1920s, with the rationale being that factors such as technology becoming more complex meaning that capitalist economies must be drawn closer to, as it is difficult to develop such technologies from scratch. The proximity of China and foreign capitalist states meant that China would obtain more products and technologies directly, while also making espionage easier, as opportunities for copying technology are greater and easier. Stealing advanced technology would be insufficient, however, as that would also require establishing advanced factories and infrastructure, with the outputs of such production thus being scarce and inefficient. Orienting the relatively primitive economy towards mass-producing bulk products, through the utilization of comparative advantages, however, enables for the accumulation of capital in order to acquire advanced technology of various sorts in an easier manner than clandestinely. Of course this also needs to be coupled with directed developmental policies concerning the economy, or else the country will just turn into something like Bangladesh.

Though these reforms have indeed enabled China to develop its productive forces, so far in the short term, it is uncertain whether they are sustainable under Chinese state control or whether they will enable the People's Republic to survive the end of capitalism. Government vision does not always translate into success quite as may be hoped, with a socialist example of this being the power structure established in the USSR, which though was supposed to defeat capitalism by the end of the century,[22] did not actually evaluate to do so. The scope of the economic reforms that China has carried out are beyond that of the New Economic Policy, which in the Soviet Union was very troublesome to undo in the phase of constructing actual socialism, and which ended up exacerbating a famine that was going on at the time.[23] Deng Xiaoping's market reforms do seem to have enabled China to outlive the Soviet Union, but it is still uncertain whether they will be able to be undone without catastrophic damage. As capitalism does not tend to be environmentally friendly, it is also uncertain whether the world will be reparable from the effects of climate change[24] by the time China is to actually establish the socialist mode of production.


Despite having a reputation for being one of the world's worst polluters, the PRC emits much less carbon dioxide per person than the United States does, even while having a population that is over four times greater.[25][26] (The PRC's emissions can also be attributed to the fact that most of the West manufactures its goods there; most of its pollution is probably caused by producing things that are exported to the West.) The PRC is nine years ahead of schedule on meeting its Paris agreement climate change goals,[27] and has met ultra-low power plant emissions in advance of the 2020 goal.[28][29]



Because of its radical commitment to the elimination of poverty and to improving living conditions — a commitment in which Maoist as well as Marxist ideas and ideals played an important part — China did achieve many things that the Indian leadership failed to press for and pursue with any vigor. The elimination of widespread hunger, illiteracy, and ill health falls solidly in this category. When state action operates in the right direction, the results can be quite remarkable, as is illustrated by the social achievements of the pre-reform period.

— Amartya Sen, [30]

Another important comment summarizing the findings of the study is as follows:

We argue, in particular, that the accomplishments relating to education, healthcare, land reforms, and social change in the pre-reform period made significantly positive contributions to the achievements of the post-reform period. This is so not only in terms of their role in sustained high life expectancy and related achievements, but also in providing firm support for economic expansion based on market reforms.

— Amartya Sen, [30]

Professor Sen states here that the prereform period saw enormous increases in quality of life for the Chinese people, as well as important economic developments, without which the economic expansion following the 1979 market reforms most likely could not have taken place. He notes that during this period, a ‘remarkable reduction in chronic undernourishment took place,’ attributing this to the policies implemented by the people's republic:

The casual processes through which the reduction of undernourishment was achieved involved extensive state action including redistributive policies, nutritional support, and of course health care (since undernourishment is frequently caused by parasitic diseases and other illnesses).

— Amartya Sen, [30]

Professor Sen focuses more attention on the remarkable advances in healthcare during this period:

China’s achievements in the field of health during the pre-reform period include a dramatic reduction of infant and child mortality and a remarkable expansion of longevity.

— Amartya Sen, [30]

It is also noted that the PRC's life expectancy approximately doubled from approximately 35 years in 1949 to 68 years in 1981 (when the market reforms began to take effect).[31] Another source on public health in the short twentieth century PRC comes from the journal Population Studies, in a study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and the National Bureau for Economic Research. One important comment is as follows:

China’s growth in life expectancy at birth from 35–40 years in 1949 to 65.5 years in 1980 is among the most rapid sustained increases in documented global history.

— Babiarz KS, Eggleston K, Miller G, Zhang Q, [32]

This alone goes to show the massive benefits that the revolutionary socialist movement attained. More important information is provided in the study, dealing with hospital and medical resources:

Physician and hospital supply grew dramatically under Mao due to a variety of factors (including increases in government financing, the introduction of social insurance for urban public employees, and the launch of China’s Rural Cooperative Medical System in the mid-1950s). Rural Cooperative Medical Schemes (CMS) were vigorously promoted and became widespread in the late 1960s as part of the Cultural Revolution.

— Babiarz KS, Eggleston K, Miller G, Zhang Q, [32]

They also quote other research which found that the rapid gains in Chinese healthcare can be attributed to the specific policies that the communists implemented:

China’s mortality decline between 1953 and 1957, which resembles that of the US between 1900 and 1930, was “primarily due to the unique social organisation of Chinese public health practices.”

— Babiarz KS, Eggleston K, Miller G, Zhang Q, [32]

Note that China achieved in four years what Imperial America took three decades to accomplish, due to their differing systems (i.e. planned economics vs. market economics). The study also confirms the immense success of the PRC's vaccination programs:

Systematic efforts to vaccinate the population against polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and cholera were rapid and reputedly successful (China nearly eradicated smallpox within the span of only three years, with the last documented cases occurring in Tibet and Yunnan in 1960).

— Babiarz KS, Eggleston K, Miller G, Zhang Q, [32]

Additional citations for the claims in the above quotes are provided in the original study.


Professor Sen notes that the huge improvements (including dramatic increases in literacy) can be attributed primary to the pre-reform period:

China’s breakthrough in the field of elementary education had already taken place before the process of economic reform was initiated at the end of the seventies. Census data indicate, for instance, that literacy rates in 1982 for the 15–19 age group were already as high as 96 percent for males and 85 percent for females.

— Amartya Sen, [30]

Another study confirms Professor Sen's analysis of education:

China made large strides in primary and secondary education under Mao.

— Babiarz KS, Eggleston K, Miller G, Zhang Q, [32]

High Speed Rail

China is widely considered to have the best high speed rail infrastructure in the world.[33][34]

Further reading


  1. Chandler, David P. (2018). Brother Number One: A Political Biography Of Pol Pot. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-429-98161-6.
  2. Strangio, Sebastian. "China's Aid Emboldens Cambodia". Yale Global Online. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  3. "The Chinese Communist Party's Relationship with the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s: An Ideological Victory and a Strategic Failure". Wilson Center. 2018-12-13. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  4. "China-Cambodia Relations". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  5. Levin, Dan (2015-03-30). "China Is Urged to Confront Its Own History". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-11-26.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. "How Red China Supported the Brutal Khmer Rouge". Vision Times. 2018-01-28. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  7. Kiernan, Ben (2008). The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300142990.
  8. Laura, Southgate (2019-05-08). ASEAN Resistance to Sovereignty Violation: Interests, Balancing and the Role of the Vanguard State. Policy Press. ISBN 978-1-5292-0221-2.
  9. The Soviets' Best Friend in Asia: The Mongolian Dimension of the Sino-Soviet Split
  10. The Sino-Soviet Split: Russian and Chinese Political Strain in the 1900s
  11. "Cheng Enfu, A Study of Unnatural Deaths ... S&S 82,2 (April 2018) (1).pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  12. "Sun Jingxian, Population Change During China's 'Three Years of Hardship' (1959-1961) CCPESR April 2016 (1).pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  13. Ball, Joseph (2006-09-21). "Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?".
  15. "Hunger and Public Action". Harvard University. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. Tiananmen: The Massacre that Wasn’t
  17. Notes for 30th Anniversary of TianAnMen Incident
  22. Tompson, William J. (1997). Khrushchev: A Political Life. New York City: St. Martin's Press. p. 238.
  23. New Economic Policy. (n.d.) The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia®. (2013). Retrieved September 22, 2020 from
  24. What the World Will Look Like in 2050 If We Don’t Cut Carbon Emissions in Half
  26. "CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)". Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  27. Vaughan, Adam. "China is on track to meet its climate change goals nine years early". Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  28. "China meets ultra-low emissions in advance of the 2020 goal". Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  29. "China is on track to meet its ultra-low emissions goals for 2020". Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 30.4 Sen, Amartya (2006). "Perspectives on the Economic and Human Development of India and China". Harvard University. doi:10.17875/gup2006-202. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Unknown parameter |editors= ignored (|editor= suggested) (help)
  31. Hipgrave, David (2011). "Communicable Disease Control in China: From Mao to Now". Journal of Global Health: 224–238.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 Singer Babiarz, Kimberly; Eggleston, Karen; Miller, Grant; Qiong, Zhang (2014-10-13). "An exploration of China's mortality decline under Mao: A provincial analysis, 1950–80". Population Studies: 39–56. doi:10.1080/00324728.2014.972432.