MAO ZEDONG 1893-1976
DENG XIAOPING 1904-1997
The charismatic Mao led the Chinese Communist Party from 1931 until his death. Starting in October of 1934 during the war with Chinese Nationalist Kuomintang forces, Mao led the Communist Army on “The Long March,” a nearly year-long retreat across China covering thousands of miles. After defeating Japanese forces during World War II, the Communists turned on the Kuomintang and established the People’s Republic of China in October 1949.
Mao embraced a Marxist-Leninist vision of a worker’s revolution. In 1957 Mao launched the Great Leap Forward, a massive program of industrial and agricultural nationalization to catch up economically with the West. Villages were turned into Chinese “communes” and given unattainable production goals by the state. Communes were ordered to produce steel in backyard mills by melting down any metal they could find. It was a national disaster and led to three years of famine for China. Mao blamed the failure on the bureaucracy of the Communist Party. In 1966 Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to purge the nation of any impure communists. He designated young people as “Red Guards,” empowered to report their parents, families and neighbors for any breach in party thought. In the violent chaos that followed, many died and millions were imprisoned. The economy stagnated and Chinese citizens lived in constant fear of arrest. The perpetual revolution only ended after Mao’s death.
Born in Sichaun province, Deng Xiaoping was a close advisor to Mao and a veteran of “The Long March” of 1934. Deng was purged from the government during the Cultural Revolution, imprisoned, released and arrested two more times. After Maos’ death, Deng was politically “rehabilitated.” He was one of the only original Mao supporters to survive, and in 1978 ascended to become the new leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Deng embarked on “The Four Modernizations”— of agriculture, industry, technology and defense. He reversed the trend of state centralization, and allowed gradual individual economic initiatives. Deng had a saying that had infuriated Mao: “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”
But with gradual economic openness came the beginnings of political opposition. In April 1989 protests began in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Deng tolerated the protestors for nearly two months, but on June 3 and 4 troops moved in and brutally repressed the demonstration. Estimates of the dead and imprisoned range from hundreds to thousands. Despite the crackdown on political freedoms, it seemed that economic changes were here to stay. In 1993, the National People’s Congress enshrined the term “socialist market economy” in the constitution.
For more information, read interviews with:
Author, Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China
Author, Cadres and Corruption: The Organizational Involution of the Chinese Communist Party