Mao Zedong, the supreme ruler of China since 1949, a figure who was idolised and worshipped, but also a leader who had inadvertently caused the starvation and death of twenty million of his own people, died on the 9th September 1976, at the age of eighty three. Previously he had ruled with the “Gang of Four,” who comprised of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing and three radical politicians from Shanghai. Their ideologies were extreme Left and after his death the “Gang of Four” prepared to take over China.
However they were widely criticised, and were then imprisoned within a month of Mao’s death, on instructions of the commander of the government and the army at that time, Huo Guofeng. It was Guofeng who declared that Mao’s principles should be continued, and that any decisions that he had made should be carried out. But public opinion was starting to swing towards the Right, and between 1976 and 1980, the moderates within the Communist party gained an advantage over the extreme Left wing section of the party.
In 1977 Deng Xiaoping, who had returned from the exile that he was condemned during the Cultural Revolution, became Deputy Prime Minister. Even though he was acted under Guofeng he had a great influence over the other Party leaders. It is Deng who brought about the biggest and most significant economic and social changes in China since Mao. Deng wanted modernisation of China, and, totally unlike Mao, he was prepared to compromise and do deals with the capitalist west in order to achieve his aims rapidly. Deng’s reforms were mainly economically orientated.
One was De-collectivisation, the policy whereby the communes were dismantled and the peasants allowed to own more private property. They could and did sell their excess crop in open markets, quite different to the policy under Mao, whereby he disallowed peasant to own their own land and farm privately and where most of the crop to the sate, for the good of the state. Under Mao, there was little food left for the peasants, and due to their regimented lives in the communes they had little incentive to work harder.
But once the idea of profits and the thought of growing more than enough food for the family, no longer going hungry, had been laid out by Deng, bumper harvests followed and markets prospered. By 1980, the agricultural production had risen by nine percent. Mao disliked foreigners and had a will to be self contained and secluded from the western world. Compared to this another of Deng’s economic modernisation plans showed moderate views.
In order to attract foreign investors, special economic zones were set up in coastal areas of China. Foreign businesses liked the low taxes, low rents and low wages that they would have to pay to their prospective workers. Fourteen billion US dollars were invested in China between 1979 and 1984. Deng cleverly realised that to allow and encourage the production of consumer goods such as clothes, bicycles and cosmetics at a time when people had a little more money than they usually did would begin the consumerism cycle.
First, people had a little more money and wanted to buy small luxuries that had otherwise been completely disallowed under Mao, this lead to the sale of large quantities of consumer goods, which in turn lead to a need for the production of more consumer goods, which … required more workers, which meant more people had jobs, which meant lots of people had money with which they would buy consumer products… the cycle went on, and vast amounts of money was made in the process. Firms in China were also encouraged to sell abroad.
More of the workers profits were allowed to be kept under Deng, this was done so that workers could invest in modern technologies. Deng was very keen to modernise through the advance of scientific research as opposed to the heavy industrial approach that interested Mao. Industry and agriculture bloomed and were successful. As a further development to China’s economy, a ninety nine year contract made in 1898 expired and the last remnants of British colonialism were returned, Hong Kong was returned to the ownership of China.
Hong Kong had become a major business centre of the world, containing many large, important, powerful, international banks. The vast improvement of the economy since the death of Mao obviously caused the standard of life for the population of China to improve significantly. The peasants, owning their own land again, experienced the freedom to produce plenty of food for themselves and benefited from the sale of the excess crop. Previously, under Mao, the regimented lives in the communes had left the workers with no motivation to work.
The farming privitisation undid all this, the workers had their own interests in mind to work hard and so the bumper harvests that followed meant that food was no longer in short supply, in fact it was in plentiful supply. The people under Deng, unlike those under Mao were not starving, but were healthy and well fed. They were freed from only thinking about the mundane problems that affected them years before, such as how much food they would have after state requisition, since it no longer affected them.
They could plan how to earn enough money with which to buy new televisions and refrigerators and they could consider the communist system under which they lived. This freedom allowed the welcome economic growth of consumerism to grow. Deng famously said, “it doesn’t matter about the colour of the cat, as long as it catches mice. ” His communism was far more moderate, as it is obvious from the economic changes he allowed. But it was clear from the example of the “Democracy Wall” in 1979 that Deng was not prepared to allow the same extent of development that had occurred in China’s economy to apply to its level of freedom of speech and ideas.
The period of free speech that had lead to their gaining of power in the first place was quickly withdrawn once the moderates were in power. Posters that criticised Mao and demanded greater freedoms were written in their thousands and pasted to a wall in the main street in Beijing. But the posters were soon banned and the since named “Democracy Wall” was closed to the public and the leading poster writers arrested. In the same way a worry that the allowances of the special economic zones on the coasts were veering too close to capitalism.
This was refuted, however and Deng called his modernisation techniques “modern socialism. ” The consumerism and foreign trading despite miraculously transforming the economy of China lead to the introduction of smuggling and western ideas of women, very different to the conventional Chinese… opinions of women, especially in their appearance. Pornography was seen as a major threat and Deng, keen to forbid it, called for censorship and a crackdown on smuggling. Deng called this “Spiritual Pollution. The North of China took this more seriously, as it was strongly communist and had little influence from the west. Compared to that of the south were the economically growing special zones seemingly posed no threat to they way in which the people lived and in fact had influenced it for the better. In one example a regiment of China’s developing army was inspected for anything that could be classified as “spiritual pollution”. One soldier had a book containing a picture of a western looking woman in a low cut dress.
It was taken away from him, only for it to be discovered that it was in fact a picture of Karl Marx’s wife! A very ironic situation indeed. Women, although gaining much equal status during Mao’s time, still were tying to shrug off centuries of prejudice and inequality. They had gone from being thought of as nothing but chattels and seen as having a separate function to men, to being considered as a “vast reserve of labour power” alongside men by Mao.
Mid 1980’s it was realised that Mao’s “greatest resource” of his great leap forward, the population, was actually growing way out of control. It was estimated in 1982 1,015,410,000 people lived in China, three quarters of them worked in agriculture, and at a low estimate it was said that the population was increasing by roughly twelve million each year. Drastic measures were taken to discourage couple from having more than one child in order to prevent the generations to come living in poverty and starvation.
More benefits were given to those couples who only had one child; the only children found it easier to get into higher education. While the single child policy started to succeed in some cities, in the areas where the party had diminished power, in such areas as the economic zones, the policy was simply ignored. Education as I have said was offered readily to the only child of families. China’s population was greatly affected by Deng’s wish to concentrate on education.
He wished that his country would move forward and modernise, not through sheer numbers and enthusiasm as Mao wanted, but by skill. Despite Mao’s determination for enthusiasm to win over skill, under him illiteracy dropped in China from eighty five percent in 1949 to only twenty five percent in 1965. In schools indoctrination of young pupils was commonplace, teaching the children to be selfless and promoting Deng’s communism. The days were long and involved much physical exercise. It was obvious that Deng wanted a population who was also dedicated and fit to work long hours.
Deng was eager to make sure that people’s lives, although vastly improved by an economy that was loosely based on that of the western world, would still revolve around the state. After Mao’s death, as it is now evident, the economy developed beyond recognition. This was down to relaxation of the harsh Communist values in favour of more moderate plans of Deng Xiapeng. Society was influenced directly by the economic boom that China experienced, however not wanting to be seen as turning towards Capitalism restricted complete social reform.