Mao Zedong. Words to Know. Cultural Revolution Long March Great Leap Forward Chiang Kai-Shek Mao Zedong Republic of China (ROC) People’s Republic of China (PRC) Communist Party of China (CPC).
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Mao Zedong December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was a Chinese military and political leader, who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory in the Chinese Civil War, and was the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.
Mao was born to a peasant family in Shaoshan, a village in Hunan Province. He was still a student when the revolution of 1911-1912 overthrew the Manchu government and made China a republic. While he was employed as a library worker at the National University in Beijing (Peking) in 1918, Mao became attracted to the ideas of Communism. In 1921, Mao and 11 other people founded the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai.
In 1920, Mao also developed his theory of violent revolution. Throughout the 1920s, Mao led several labor struggles and began to depend on Chinese peasants who later became staunch supporters of his theory of violent revolution. Mao himself was from a peasant family, and thus he cultivated his reputation among the farmers and peasants and introduced them to Marxism.
The Communists joined forces with the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) in the effort to unite China. But distrust between the Communists and Chiang Kai-shek, who became Nationalist leader in 1925, soon led to warfare between the two groups. Mao and other Communist leaders led small bands to Jiangxi province in 1928. By 1931, that province had become Chiang's chief target. He began a series of "extermination campaigns" that nearly wiped the Communists out. In 1934, Mao led the Communists to Shaanxi (Shensi) province, in what is called The Long March. The 6,000-mile (9,700-kilometer) march lasted over a year and welded the survivors into a tightly-knit group under Mao's leadership.
During the Sino-Japanese War (China vs Japan), Mao Zedong's strategies were opposed by both Chiang Kai-shek and the United States. The US regarded Chiang as an important ally, able to help shorten the war by engaging the Japanese occupiers in China. Chiang, in contrast, sought to build the Nationalist army for the certain conflict with Mao's communist forces after the end of World War II.
After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, openly against the Communist Red Army (led by Mao Zedong) in the civil war for control of China. The U.S. support was part of its view to contain and defeat world communism. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-support to Mao and gave large supplies of arms to the Communist Party of China.
Following the consolidation of power, Mao launched the First Five-Year Plan (1953-8). The plan aimed to end Chinese dependence upon agriculture in order to become a world power. With the USSR's assistance, new industrial plants were built and agricultural production eventually fell to a point where industry was beginning to produce enough capital that China no longer needed the USSR's support.
Under the Great Leap Forward, Mao ordered the implementation of a variety of unproven and unscientific new agricultural techniques by the new communes. Due to the past emphasis on rapid industrialization, the country was not prepared to grow enough food for itself. Unfortuantley many in the government didn’t want to chance getting on Mao’s bad side and therefore didn’t tell the truth about how bad the situation had become. The resulting famine was a direct cause of the death of tens of millions of Chinese peasants between 1959 and 1962.