'A total and unmitigated disaster.' How far would you agree with this comment on the policies of Mao Xedong and the Chinese Communist Party during the period 1949-60?

The Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong during the period of 1949-60 did use certain harsh techniques to introduce reforms. These were:

  • The Constitution was enacted in 1950 which gave the National People’s Congress final authority for legislation. The methods adopted for the political changes were quite similar to that of Stalin’s. Although a system of election and State Council selecting the Politburo was introduced, the system was highly dominated by the Communist Party. Only the members of this party could stand for elections. Thus, people had no option but to elect this party.
  • Although agricultural changes were introduced where land from rich landowners were taken and distributed among poor peasants, the process involved a huge violence. Around two million people were killed in this process. There were also a large number of unpleasant events which were kept secret and toned down. There were some evidences that showed that in the name of distributing land equally to peasants from the rich landowners, many lands were taken forcefully for distribution among the communist party activists. There was a lot of violence, torture and execution.
  • At the time of the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1957 a large number of critics voiced their opinion where they blamed the government for over centralization, cadre incompetency and over enthusiasm and being undemocratic. However, Mao heavily clamped down upon the critics and stopped the campaign.
  • Then he introduced the Great Leap Forward. Although showcasing good objectives, behind the reform were evidences of resistance from peasants during the collectivization campaign, revelations of mass murders, confessions of officials who committed the murders and poor working conditions. In fact, Mao focused so much on power that he took everything in his hands.

However, in spite of these horrors, Mao’s policies had become so popular that they are used to some extent even today. His policies had good and rational aims. For example, redistribution of land was the only way to develop collective farms with joint ownership and peasants also benefitted out of it. The development of heavy industries and their contribution to the economy under the Five Year Plans of Mao introduced in 1953 cannot be ignored. Similarly, although the means adopted were wrong often, the Great Leap Forward did prove to be effective despite of the criticisms and protests. Therefore, one cannot call the period as a rule of total and unmitigated disaster but the rule was disastrous to some extent.

Question for UPSC Mains:
‘A total and unmitigated disaster.’ How far would you agree with this comment on the policies of Mao Xedong and the Chinese Communist Party during the period 1949-60?

Published: March 20, 2017 | Modified:June 27, 2019