Case Study Topic 10: Mao (ATL)

Case Study: Mao Zedong

The ATL on this page are for students to investigate the key themes connected with Mao's rise and consolidation of power and the nature of his rule.

The key details of Mao's rule are covered under Topic 14: The People's Republic of China (1949 - 2005). The aim of the ATL here and the essay planning (see left hand side) is to pull together the key events of his rule under the themes required for the prescribed content for Paper 2 Topic 10 which can be found here.

For videos on Mao go to The People's Republic of China (1949 - 2005): videos

For extra resources on Mao go to The People's Republic of China (1949 - 2005): Extra resources

Theme One: Emergence of China as an authoritarian state

1. What were the circumstances in which Mao become leader of China?

2. How did Mao and the CCP establish their power?

Theme Two: Consolidation and maintenance of power

1. Treatment of opposition

2. Use of of propaganda

3. Use of ideology

4. Foreign policy

Theme Three: Aims and results of policies

1. Economic policies

2. Political policies

3. Social policies: health, education, religion

4. Cultural policies

5. What was the impact of the CCP on women?

6. How successful was Mao in transforming Chinese Society?

To what extent was authoritarian control achieved?

Introduction: Mao as an authoritarian leader

Starter

Watch the first two minutes of this video. According to this video, what were the characteristics of Mao as a ruler, and what was his legacy?

To understand Mao's rise to power, it is necessary to look at the two stages of the Chinese Civil War between the CCP and the GMD that finally ended with the CCP defeating the GMD and thus establishing Mao as the ruler of China.

The key reasons for the CCP's survival, 1928 - 36 and victory 1946 - 49 are summarised in the following two tasks.

However, for more ATL on the reasons for the CCP's success in the civil war go to The Chinese Civil War: practices, ATL.

Theme One: Emergence of China as an authoritarian state

1. What were the circumstances in which Mao become leader of China?

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

It could be argued that the final success of the CCP could never have occurred if it had not been for the successes achieved by the CCP between 1928 and 1936.  In pairs discuss what the successes of the CCP were during this period and why the GMD failed to destroy the communists.

Click on the eye below for prompts.

CCP Successes

1. The Long March ensured CCP survival and offered a defensible base in Yenan. It was also a propaganda victory; the CCP were able to use the journey to proclaim their policies and they won patriotic support for their claim to be going North to fight the Japanese. It gave the CCP fighting experience.

2. The war with Japan and Mao's offer to create a joint front with the Nationalists against the Japanese allowed the CCP to pose as the true nationalists.

GMD Errors

1. The failure of the GMD to defeat the CCP led many to question their long term ability to win the war.

2. The decision to deal with the CCP before the Japanese, lost them a good deal of patriotic support.

3. The treatment of peasants by the GMD forces during the war lost them popularity.

Task Two

ATL: Thinking skills

Go to Task 8 on the page The Chinese Civil War: practices, ATL for a review on why Mao won the second stage of the Civil War, 1945 - 49.

Mao was also able to become overall leader of China because he had achieved a position of predominance in the CCP. The following factors enabled this to happen:

  • He survived the battles against the GMD in the 1920 and the in-fighting within the CCP.
  • The fragmented nature of China enabled Mao and the National Communists to undertake their experiments in rural communism. This gave a practical demonstration that Mao's ideas and tactics could work. The Yenan years were crucial for the final consolidation of Mao's leadership of the CCP.
  • Once in a position of leadership Mao was able to use the organisational structures of the CCP to consolidate his own power. He carried out the first purge of the Party in 1941 - 43 in the Rectification Movement; this quickly became a campaign against intellectuals and anyone who was not in line with Maoist thinking. This stamped Mao's leadership firmly on the party hierarchy. In 1945, Mao was elected Chairman of the Central Committee and the Politburo.
  • Mao's ideas and strategies were popular with the peasants. He adopted strategies that would provide him with the leadership first, and then give the party power. He played down the ideological elements of Communism where these might have led to a weakening of his and the party's position.

Task Three

ATL: Thinking skills

Use the factors above on why Mao rose to a position of predominance in the Party, along with the factors that allowed the CCP to defeat the GMD by 1949, to create a mind map or other infographic showing the reasons why Mao was able to become leader of China by 1949.

Organise your points thematically: impact of war, economic factors, political/ideological factors.

2. How did Mao and the CCP establish their power, 1949 - 1953?

Mao's control of China went through a number of phases of development during which his power fluctuated. As in Russia, there was increased party control to begin with followed by a transition to a more personal dictatorship.

Mao did not immediately launch a 'Second Revolution'. Initially other political parties remained and many GMD and non-CCP officials were left in place. However the CCP was able to extend its power through a series of campaigns launched from above but carried out from below. In addition, the Korean War helped to consolidate its power when the population was mobilised to participate in a wave of terror. Education and media were also used to spread CCP ideas, and CCP cadres and the PLA were sent out into the countryside to help mould people's ideas. In addition, the new political system enhanced Mao's personal authority.

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

The following video from the 'People's Century' series gives some interesting first hand accounts of how the CCP established power in the first years. Watch this section of the video and answer the following questions. Here is a PDF of the video questions (plus the questions for other tasks on Mao which involve this video which can be found on ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976.

Questions on Mao video, "Great Leap'

  1. How were communist ideas initially spread?
  2. Why did peasants support the revolution?
  3. Why was this revolution 'from below'?
  4. What the attitude of the business people in the cities?
  5. How were women treated?
  6. What can you learn from this video about how the CCP tried to make the people conform to their ideas?

Task Two

ATL: Research and thinking skills

1. Research and make notes on each of the following, explaining the characteristics of each and how each helped to establish the power of the CCP and the position of Mao:

  • the attack on the landlords and the Agrarian Reform Law
  • the new constitution
  • the campaigns (see grid below)
  • the Korean War
  • the role of the PLA

2. To assess the impact of the various campaigns that were carried out to establish power, complete the following grid:

Grid on use of campaigns to establish Mao's power

2. In pairs consider the importance of each of the following themes in the CCP's consolidation of power 1949 - 53. How were important was each of these factors in accounting for the CCP's growth of power in this initial period?

  • persuasion and coercion
  • ideology
  • the use of force
  • propaganda
  • the role of Mao's leadership

The following sections deal with Mao's rule thematically under the prescribed content headings; for details of his economic, social and political policies go to ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976.

Theme Two: Consolidation and maintenance of power

1. Treatment of opposition

The GMD, the main opposition to the CCP, fled from China to Taiwan. Any of the old ruling classes or ‘exploiting classes’ who were left were labelled as the ‘enemies of the people’ and had no role to play in the new China. However the CCP did not automatically execute class enemies; rather they sought to ‘re-educate’ them in special prison camps. Many were actually freed following this re-education. Many landlords became peasants and businessmen became the managers of their factories for the state.

Nevertheless, many killings did take place, either by the state or by the people. There was no systematic ‘Red Terror’ as had happened in Russia after the Revolution. There was also no secret police; rather the CCP encouraged people to look for enemies and act against them. This in itself created a ‘terror’ due to the zeal of ordinary people in seeking out enemies. This combination of enthusiasm for repression by the ordinary people alongside public humiliation, torture and, sometimes, executions created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear and meant that few were prepared to speak out against Mao. Such an atmosphere reached its height during the Cultural Revolution where the Red Guards came close to being a State Terror organisation.

How was opposition identified?  Throughout Mao’s rule, there were several purges of the party and the people which sought to identify class enemies; these purges were part of Mao’s attempt to establish his authority on the party and his own line of thinking.

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

You have already looked at how opposition was dealt with while Mao was establishing his power in the first few years. Two more major purges took place: the Anti-Rightest Movement that took place as a result of The Hundred Flowers Campaign and the Cultural Revolution. (Also see ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976).

For each of these purges identify who was seen as 'the opposition' and how they were dealt with. How effective were these purges in dealing with opposition?

2. Use of propaganda

This was key to the CCP’s success. They needed people to change the way they thought and acted and they needed to know about the government’s various campaigns in social and economic policy.

Thus propaganda was all pervasive and took many forms: posters, slogans, the use of the press and the media. To maximise the impact of propaganda, it was necessary to have a literate population and so education was opened up to as many people as possible so that they could know and understand the aims and policies of the CCP. Schooling was changed to reflect Mao’s messages and children were expected to impart these to their parents. Special classes were held for adults in the factory and in the village. The masses were encouraged to feel part of a great adventure that would make China a modern state and would increase their living standards.

Task One

ATL: Research and thinking skills

In pairs, research different forms of propaganda used by Mao and the different areas in which it was used. For each poster/video/slogan etc identify the message of the propaganda.

This website is very useful for posters.

3. Use of ideology

Mao’s views on communism were key to the direction of policy. He believed in ‘continuous revolution’. This meant that the Party needed to be periodically purged to ensure that it did not lose its revolutionary edge as Mao believed it had done in the Soviet Union. Purges were a key part of the Antis campaigns, the Hundred Flowers Campaign of the Cultural Revolution; these purges struck deep into Chinese society and caused political, economic and social chaos.

Mao's views on ‘continuous revolution’ also led to the economic experiment of the Great Leap Forward and the political experiment of the Cultural Revolution; both of these were highly detrimental to the development of China. However for Mao, ideology was key, even if it meant sacrificing other achievements in the economy and society.

Task one

ATL: Thinking skills

In what ways was the Great Leap Forward driven by ideology?

In what ways can it be argued that the Cultural Revolution was driven by Mao’s ideology?

What was the role of ideology in causing the Sino-Soviet split?

4. Foreign policy

Starter:

What is the message of this Chinese propaganda poster?

Long live the victory of the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers Army!

Foreign policy was a significant factor in allowing Mao to consolidate his power to maintain control. The Korean War of 1950 – 53 played a key role in this process. The growing hostility with the USSR also strengthened his position as he was able to portray China as the more revolutionary of the two communist states.

Meanwhile, the Cold War also helped strengthen the CCP’s power. The USA was portrayed as the great enemy that wanted to destroy China and her government. Thus threats from foreign enemies were used to urge people to obey the government and to work hard.

Task One

ATL: Research and thinking skills

Consider each of the following. Identify how in each case the outside threat was used by Mao to strengthen the position of the CCP:

  • The Korean War
  • The threat from the USA
  • The growing hostility from the USSR

NB You may want to review China's policy with regard to the USSR and USA here: ATL: China's foreign policy, 1949 - 1976

Theme Three: Aims and results of policies

1. Economic policies

Mao could not immediately introduce a Communist utopia in China. The country had been ravaged by war and civil war since the Revolution of 1911 and by 1949 there was little industry, the currency was worthless, there was unemployment in the cities and famine in the countryside. Mao had to strike a balance between his aims and the need to bring about recovery. Yet by 1976 China, and with the help of the Soviet Union at first, it had become a modernising industrial state. Electricity, roads and railways spread across the country and basic amenities were provided for. By the 1960s China was a nuclear power and by the 1970s it was a space power. Yet economic development was disrupted by many things:

  • The Korean War which forced more investment in military equipment at a time when the Chinese needed to concentrate on development and reunification; it also put China into more debt with the USSR
  • Conflict with the USA over Taiwan and Vietnam; fear of war with India; the USSR kept military expenditure high
  • A higher proportion of development effort went into industry and urban development than in rural areas
  • There was tension between the Soviet model and the Chinese model of how to develop industrially. The Soviet model was not well suited to China but the impact of the Great Leap forward was catastrophic
  • Mao's revolutionary philosophy - 'continuous revolution' and 're-education' meant that at regular intervals all development priorities were submerged beneath a political and revolutionary storm.

For ATL and videos on this topic go to ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976

For a comparison of Mao's economic polices with those of Stalin go to Comparative essay planning for authoritarian states

2. Political policies

Mao's dictatorship in China went through a number of phases of development during which his power fluctuated. As with Stalin, there is a pattern of increasing party control to begin with followed by a transition to a more personal dictatorship.

The attached grid identifies the different stages in the political policies of Mao and the extent of Mao's power at each stage.

Overview of changing power of Mao and the CCP

3. Social policies: health, education, religion

The challenge faced by the CCP in providing a reasonable standard of living, education and health care was immense given the size of the population and the very low starting point in these areas; the majority of Chinese people were illiterate and there was only rudimentary health care in the rural areas. In this situation, the CCP achieved many successes, but again progress was often halted due to Mao's revolutionary philosophy.

For ATL on the successes and failures of policies on health and education see ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976.

The Communist government also attacked religion in society. Communist propaganda denounced Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism and attacked the ‘old’ superstitions that had to be destroyed to create the new state.

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

In groups investigate how the CCP challenged each of the following religious groups in China. Identify the reasons why the religion was targeted, the actions taken against it, if or when these policies changed and the extent to which the CCP was successful in achieving its aims. Alternatively, each group could take one of the religions and then feed back to the other students.

Confucianism

Christianity

Buddhism

Islam

4. Cultural policies

'There is no such thing as art for art's sake or art that is detached from or independent from politics' Mao

Starter

What did Mao mean by this statement? How far do you agree?

For Mao, culture was inherently political and he was determined that art and literature should 'further the proletarian cause'. Culture was a key target in the Cultural Revolution. Mao appointed Jiang Qing, his fourth wife who had previously been an actress, to be 'Cultural Tsarina' during the Cultural Revolution and to oversee the destruction of 'revisionist, capitalist and feudalist' influences in China. She did this with great enthusiasm though historians are divided as to how far she acted under her own genuine commitment to the regime and how far she used the position to destroy anyone who might know about her earlier 'bourgeois' connections as an actress in Shanghai in the 1920s and thus further her own political career. Historical and religious buildings were destroyed; old art, literature and drama were attacked, along with many of the skilled people who had helped create them.

Task One

ATL: Thinking and research skills

Watch the following excerpt from a performance of Red Detachment of Women which Jiang Qing helped to devise as part of the new revolutionary art. It told the story of female Chinese soldiers battling against the nationalists. In all only eight official revolutionary 'performances' were allowed (five operas, two ballets and a symphony). They were taken on tour to spread revolutionary propaganda

1. What do you think Jiang Qing's aims were in creating such a 'performance'?

2. What actions did Jiang Qing take against the Theatre?

5. What was the impact of the CCP on women?

For the impact of the CCP on women, go to ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976

6. How successful was Mao in transforming Chinese Society?

Task One

ATL: Thinking and self-management skills

Complete the grid to summarise the successes and failures of Mao's attempts to transform society.

How successful was Mao in transforming Chinese Society - grid

7. What was the impact of the CCP on minorities?

Minorities

According to the constitution of the PRC, the minority peoples receive equal status and treatment to the majority Han Chinese people. However, the independence of minority groups has been undermined by many of the policies of the CCP and increasing tension developed between the Han and the minorities. These policies have been:

  • The exploitation of raw materials in these areas which required improved communications to be built to them. This enabled large numbers of Han Chinese to be sent to settle there to work the raw materials, and at the same time ‘swamp’ the indigenous peoples. The minority peoples resented the loss of their wealth and the influx of Han that came to run their areas.
  • The imposition of the Commune system served to disrupt the cultural and economic lifestyles of the tribes. Many migrant herdsmen were forced to settle down in Communes.
  • The deployment of Chinese forces for frontier security has meant that the minority regions are often ‘occupied’ territories – especially with territories close to India, the USSR or Vietnam.
  • The cultural revolution saw the destruction of the cultural and religious heritages of many of he minority peoples. The Islamic Urgurs of Xinjiang were especially hit as many of their mosques were destroyed.

The provinces of Xinjinag and Inner Mongolia have been the worst hit by the failure of the Chinese constitution to live up to its promises. Tibet had its independent status ended by the occupations and invasions of the 1950s.

Review the actions taken against Tibet by going to ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976.

8. To what extent was authoritarian control achieved?

There is no doubt that Mao succeeded in turning China into a unified, authoritarian state. The CCP established tight control over people's lives and the periodic bursts of revolutionary zeal in which ordinary people were mobilised to hunt out 'opponents' of the state created an atmosphere of fear in which few were prepared to speak out against the state. Control was also enforced through the establishment of street committees which kept files on everyone and the encouragement of informing on one's neighbors. In addition, all urban residents had to register with the Public Security Bureau which kept track of where people lived and prevented free movement. Propaganda constantly reinforced conformity and obedience to the ideals of the state; it was very difficult for people to remain anonymous or to lead a life that did not involve fully embracing party rules and ideals.

Task One

ATL: Thinking skills

Consider the following assessments by historians. Discuss these in pairs. What evidence could be used to support each one?

'Private life meant nothing. People were a blank sheet of paper, mere numbers to be used as the leader saw fit. Maoist autocracy reached heights of totalitarianism unparalleled by Hitler or Stalin.' Jonathan Fenby, The Penguin History of Modern China, 2013

'Like emperors of the past, Mao was a patriarch, Helmsmen and even god-hero, who could do no wrong'. Hsu

'Mao, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one quarter of the world's population, was responsible for well over seventy million deaths in peacetime, more than any other 20th Century ruler'.  Jung Chang and J. Halliday in Mao: the Unknown Story

Task Two

ATL: Thinking and self-management skills

In pairs review your work on Mao. What do you see as the successes and what do you see as the failures of his rule?

Note: there is a grid for this task at the end of this page:  ATL: Mao's consolidation of power and rule, 1949 - 1976.

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