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Chronology

of China under Mao Zedong, 1949-1976


By Professor Carol Benedict, Associate Professor, Georgetown University

1949:1 The Peoples Republic of China (P.R.C.) is established on October 1. 1950: Signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty. China enters the Korean War. Marriage Law promulgated, providing freedom of marriage and divorce. 1952: Basic land reform completed. All land deeds destroyed and land redistributed. Many, perhaps two million, landlords executed. 1954-55: Zhou Enlai plays a major role at the Geneva Convention and the Bandung Conference, establishing a new diplomatic prominence for the P.R.C. First constitution of the P.R.C. is promulgated. Collectivization of agriculture is stepped up. 1956-57: In the wake of Khrushchevs denunciation of Stalin and political explosions in Poland and Hungary, Mao calls for a Hundred Flowers Movement to improve the relationship between the CCP and the people. Critics soon attack the legitimacy of the CCP itself. The Party responds with an anti- rightist campaign, suppressing the opposition. 1958-60: Mao promotes a Great Leap Forward in economic development, relying on mass mobilization, the commune system, and economic self-reliance. The effort fails after highly inflated reports of grain production lead central planners to divert resources into industry rather than agriculture. Subsequent food shortages are aggravated by bad weather and lead to mass starvation in many rural areas. In August, 1959, Defense Minister Peng Dehuai ousted after he criticizes Maos

1 Sources used for compiling this timeline include: Stanford

Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) China's Cultural Revolution, 2005.; Maurice Meisner (1999, 3rd ed.) Maos China and After, New York: Free Press, pp. 309-432; and Amy Freedman, Chinas Cultural Revolution, Department of Government, Franklin and Marshall College (www.exeas.org/resources/pdf/china- cultural-revolution.pdf).

sponsorship of the Great Leap Forward. He is replaced by Lin Biao. In 1960, withdrawal of the Soviet technical advisors widens the Sino- Soviet split. The CCP returns to more conventional economic development policies to deal with the post-Great Leap Forward disaster. 1961-64: The polity and economy slowly recover but the CCP becomes increasingly divided over how to pursue economic development. Mao and his more radical associates (his wife, Jiang Qing and Defense Minister Lin Biao) are pitted against Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and other pragmatists. Wu Hans play Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, presents a veiled attack on Maos dismissal of Peng Dehuai (1961). Lin Biao leads campaigns to increase political consciousness in the military by stressing the study of Mao Zedong Thought using the first Little Red Books(1962). 1965: Mao and Jiang Qing set the stage for the Cultural Revolution when they direct a literary critic, Yao Wenyuan, to publish a scathing critique of the play, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. A few months later, Jiang Qing writes a general criticism of contemporary Chinese literature and art, condemning it as bourgeois, anti-party, and anti-socialist. Mao begins to replace people in key government positions with more radical party members. 1966: The Cultural Revolution begins unofficially with the May 16 Directive. Drafted by Mao and issued in the name of the Politburo, the directive states the CCPs intention to oust representatives of the bourgeoisie in the party at all levels. Beijing CCP and municipal leaders are purged and replaced with loyal Maoists. Mao calls on students to struggle against bourgeois elements in the state and party apparatus. Students and

Chronology of China under Mao Zedong, 1949-1976


By Professor Carol Benedict, Associate Professor, Georgetown University

young teachers at Beijing University (Beida) are the first to respond. On May 25, Nie Yuanzi, a young philosophy instructor, posts a big-character poster (dazibao) denouncing the university president. Although the poster is immediately torn down, a week later, Mao praises it as revolutionary. With this signal of support from Mao, students all over the country become Red Guards. By the summer of 1966, the Cultural Revolution has become a national student movement. On August 5, 1966, Mao writes a dazibao stating Bombard the headquarters. The poster is an attack on Liu Shaoqi, the Vice-Chairman of the CCP. This dazibao gives further authority and support to Red Guard activities. On August 8, 1966, the Eighth Central Committee of the CCP passes the Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This document, known as the Sixteen Points,acknowledges the legitimacy of the Red Guards and their activities. This marks the official beginning of the Cultural Revolution. August 18, 1966: Mao greets the Red Guards in Tiananmen Square. He gives them his blessing and directs the police and the army not to intervene as they smash the Four Olds. Numerous rallies are held in the square over the next several months with Red Guards dressed in military garb holding high their Little Red Books and chanting Long Live Chairman Mao. 1966-67: The Red Guard movement picks up steam. Red Guards travel for free around the country, attend rallies, and collect and trade Mao buttons. They also denounce and physically attack teachers

and officials and they ransack the homes of intellectuals, destroying or confiscating anything identified as the Four Olds.Red Guards parade through the streets searching for enemies of the revolution while singing revolutionary songs and shouting slogans. From August to September, 1966, the escalating fervor results in many fatal beatings. Several prominent intellectuals commit suicide after being struggled against. Factions of Red Guards begin to fight with one another. Each group is determined to demonstrate that they are more loyal to Mao Zedong and the revolution than others. Initially this competition is limited to outward manifestations of loyalty such as wearing the biggest Mao buttons, shouting slogans, or singing revolutionary songs more loudly than other Red Guard groups. Revolutionary zeal quickly spreads and loyalty to the Great Helmsman comes to be demonstrated above all by violent revolutionary struggle against class enemies. As Red Guards begin to be killed, the original goals of the revolution are often displaced by the desire for revenge. In February 1967, the CCP, with Maos blessing begins to rein in the more anarchistic tendencies of the Red Guard movement. The Shanghai Peoples Commune, formed by rebel factory workers is dissolved. Students are urged to return to school and some Red Guards factions are branded as counterrevolutionary. The CCP and the army begin to establish revolutionary committees to take charge of the Cultural Revolution. Between March and August, 1967, power struggles and factional fighting

Chronology of China under Mao Zedong, 1949-1976


By Professor Carol Benedict, Associate Professor, Georgetown University

1968:

erupt within the ranks of the Peoples Liberation Army itself, with mutinous PLA divisions defying orders from central headquarters. During the summer, the specter of civil war looms. Mao decides the Cultural Revolution must end. In September, 1967, the army is instructed to restore order throughout the country. This takes time, however, and some of the more radical militant groups fight on into 1968. Many die during the final suppression of Red Guards and other radicals in the spring and summer of 1968. As the Cultural Revolution wanes in the spring of 1968, the cult of Mao becomes ever more extravagant. Backed by Lin Biao and Jiang Qing a nation-wide campaign portrays Mao as almost a god-like figure. Images of Mao are ubiquitous, not only in propaganda posters but on everyday household items like cigarette lighters and tea mugs. Statues and portraits of Mao are placed everywhere. Every published book and article opens with a quote from Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book is found in virtually every home and workplace. Households set up tablets of loyalty around which family members gathered to pay reverence. Despite this extensive cult of personality, Mao still has little control over the activities of many Red Guard factions. During the spring and summer of 1968, the last battles of the Cultural Revolution are fought in pitched battles on Beijing university campuses. In July, after personally informing Red Guard leaders that they should disband, the CCP sends PLA-directed Workers Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Teams to campuses to end the fighting and discipline the students.

Students, known as sent-down youth are packed off to the countryside to be reeducated by the peasants. Also sent to the countryside are hundreds of thousands of intellectuals and party officials. These May Seventh Cadre Schools become a prominent feature of Chinese political life in the years after the manic phase (1966-68) of the Cultural Revolution ends. 1969: On January 1, 1969, an editorial in the Peoples Daily declares the Cultural Revolution a success. In April, the Ninth Congress of the CCP convenes. Lin Biao is promoted to vice chairman of the CCP and the Chinese Constitution is rewritten to name him as Maos successor. Mao declares the official end of the Cultural Revolution at this meeting. 1971: Although the Cultural Revolution is officially over, tensions remain between many PLA and Party leaders. Mao becomes increasingly suspicious of his chosen successor Lin Biao. The CCP later charges that in September 1971, Lin Biao attempted to assassinate Mao Zedong and stage a coup detat. According to official accounts, Lin Biao tries to flee to the Soviet Union but his plane crashes in Mongolia. Lin Biao becomes person non-grata within China: his picture is airbrushed out of pictures and the forward he penned for the Little Red Book is ripped out of tens of thousands of copies. For many Chinese, the Lin Biao Affair raises more questions than it answers. They begin to question the legitimacy of the Cultural Revolution and even Mao Zedong himself. 1972-74: In February, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon visits China and signs the Shanghai Communique. This begins the process of normalizing relations

Chronology of China under Mao Zedong, 1949-1976


By Professor Carol Benedict, Associate Professor, Georgetown University

1975: 1976:

between the United States and China, completed under President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Also in 1972, Maos wife, Jiang Qing, initiates theCriticize Lin Biao campaign, in an effort to blame Lin for all of the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution. In 1974, this is expanded to the Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius campaign. Nominally a movement to eradicate feudal ways, this is actually an effort to discredit Zhou Enlai, the highly respected premier. With Zhou Enlais influence, Deng Xiaopingwho had been denounced as a capitalist roader and removed from his posts during the Cultural Revolutionreenters the political scene and becomes vice premier in 1973. The Fourth National Peoples Congress is convened. Zhou Enlai inaugurates a program of economic development known as the Four Modernizations. This becomes Chinas guiding policy doctrine after Mao dies in 1976 and Deng Xiaoping becomes Chinas leader in 1978. On January 8, 1976, Zhou Enlai dies of cancer. Deeply loved by the Chinese people, his passing is genuinely mourned. During the annual Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping Day) Festival that falls on April 5, thousands gather to pay their respects by laying wreaths in Tiananmen Square. When the government attempts to remove the makeshift memorials, a riot ensues. This event is known as the Tiananmen Incident of 1976. Jiang Qing and her supporters, collectively known as the Gang of Four are popularly believed to have ordered the crackdown on those gathered to commemorate Zhou Enlai.

After Zhou Enlais death, Deng Xiaoping becomes the first vice premier. He is immediately criticized by Jiang Qing. Mao demotes Deng Xiaoping and names as his successor the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng. On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong dies. Hua Guofeng becomes the chairman of the CCP, chairman of its Military Affairs Commission, thus officially succeeding Mao. Four weeks later, in October 1976, Hua Guofeng orders the arrest of Jiang Qing and three of her supporters and labels them the Gang of Four. Their arrest marks the end of the stalemate phase of the Cultural Revolution (1969- 1976). 1980-1981: The government, now led by Deng Xiaoping, blames all of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution on Lin Biao and the Gang of Four.The Gang of Fourare put on trial in 1980. Unrepentant, Jiang Qing is condemned to death with a two-year reprieve. In 1983 this is commuted to life in prison. Diagnosed in 1991 with throat cancer, Jiang Qing is released on medical grounds. She is alleged to have committed suicide in her hospital room in May, 1991. On June 29, 1981, the CCP adopts the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the P.R.C. Mao Zedong is said to have been 30 percent in error and 70 percent correct over the course of his revolutionary career.