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Chinese History in “The Mao’s Years” Video Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2021

What are the major events during the Mao Zedong presidency between 1949 and 1976?

The rule of Mao Zedong was marked by various landmark events that significantly affected the lives of many Chinese people. Among them, one can certainly single out the so-called Great Leap Forward aimed at transforming the country’s economy. This failed initiative affected millions of peasants who were forced to move from their lands and work under almost impossible conditions. Secondly, the anti-rightist movement that started in the late fifties is also worth discussing.

It was targeted against individuals who might have supported the principles of capitalism and liberalism. This campaign enforced the ideology of the Communist Party in the country. Additionally, the economic and social initiatives of the government caused the Great Chinese Famine, and this event merits the attention of historians because it illustrates how poor planning and lack of professionalism can condemn millions of people to death.

Finally, Mao Zedong’s presidency is almost always associated with the Great Cultural Revolution that started in 1966. This massive political campaign strived to instill the cult of Mao and promote the principles of the Communist Party. It affected various social classes, especially intellectuals who were declared to be the enemies of the state. To some degree, these events show that Mao Zedong and his followers relied on propaganda while forgetting how social and economic forces work.

When did the “Great Leap Forward” occur in China, and what is it about?

The Great Leap Forward took place within the period between 1958 and 1961. It was a series of social and economic initiatives undertaken by the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong. They were aimed at industrialization as well as the collectivization of China’s economy. From Mao’s point of view, the increased production of steel and grain could ensure the sustainable economic development of the country.

The government intended to achieve these goals by moving large numbers of people from the agricultural sector to industrial production. Moreover, this policy was largely based on the use of coercion and excessive control over overproduction. This plan failed for several reasons. First of all, industrialization and agricultural experiments were implemented by people who had very little knowledge in these areas.

For instance, the notorious agricultural experiments relied on close cropping and deep plowing. These methods proved ineffective and even disastrous because the majority of crops died. Similarly, metallurgical production involved the use of small blast furnaces which could not yield high-quality steel. In the beginning, the government was very enthusiastic about the Great Leap Forward, but in 1961 the leadership of the Communist Party understood that collectivization, forced labor, and lack of professionalism could devastate the Chinese economy and eventually endanger their political authority.

What caused the “Great Famine” around 1960 in China?

According to the propaganda of the Communist Party, the Great Chinese Famine was caused by various natural disasters that disrupted the production of grain in the country. Yet, modern historians believe that this famine can be mostly attributed to the irrational decisions of the government. For instance, the planners forced millions of peasants to move from agriculture to steel production. Thus, one can argue that this sector of the economy was deprived of the labor force. Secondly, the Communist Party collectivized the remaining farms and made people use unproven agricultural methods such as deep plowing or close cropping.

These methods were not properly tested and as a result, farmers could yield only a poor harvest. Additionally, one can mention the campaign aimed at reducing the population of sparrows in the country because these birds were believed to destroy the crops. However, the killing of these birds caused ecological imbalance and led to the increased population of locust which did eat a significant part of the crops. Admittedly, natural disasters such as draughts and floods took place during that time, but they were only contributing factors, rather than the underlying causes. Overall, this famine shows that ineffective planning and willingness to achieve quick results can produce ruinous effects.

When did the “Great Cultural Revolution” occur in China, and what is it about?

The Great Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966 to 1976. It was a political as well social movement that strived to instill the values of communism and socialism in China. Moreover, it sought to enforce the power of Mao Zedong. This campaign involved a variety of initiatives. First of all, many intellectuals, who might have disagreed with the policies of the Party, were purged from governmental or educational institutions. The policy also involved the prohibition of Western culture because it was considered to be bourgeois. For example, it was practically impossible to acquire books of Western literature.

The movement was directed against people who did not belong to the proletariat, for example, wealthy peasants, educators, medical workers, writers, and so forth. These were those people who could be potentially hostile to the ideology of the communist regime. In part, this political movement was an attempt to accuse intellectuals of the economic and social failures of the government. In this regard, one can mention the failed initiative called the Great Leap Forward.

Again, the after-effects of this so-called revolution were disastrous because thousands of people were killed or tortured. Moreover, many intellectuals who could contribute to the social and economic development of the country were deprived of their positions and civic rights. Finally, this campaign did not improve the conditions of workers.

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