Despite the Korean War, the country’s economic reconstruction progressed; the inflationary process stopped and production exceeded that of the pre-war period. The first five-year plan was launched (1953-57) and, in 1954, the first National People’s Assembly was convened, elected by indirect universal suffrage. In September the Assembly approved a definitive Constitution, which established the progressive collectivization of the economic system, and confirmed Mao (president of the Republic since October 1949) at the head of the state. In 1956, Mao presented a report on the Ten Great Reports to the party’s Political Bureau, in which he anticipated topics that would be at the center of discussions in China in the following years, departing considerably from the development model inspired by the Soviet Union. At the same time, Mao himself launched the ‘Hundred Flowers’ campaign, which seemed to favor free expression in the scientific, humanistic and artistic fields, but failed to involve the popular masses. Instead, it was the campaign launched in 1958, called the ‘great leap forward’, that gave a strong Maoist characterization to Chinese domestic politics. In the countryside we passed from cooperatives to popular communes, in which industrial and agricultural activities were integrated, we tried to use every force, new forms were created not only of organization of economic production, but, at the same time, political and social administration; each municipality also had its own defensive military organization in the popular militia. The implementation of this program caused conflicts within the CCP with the proponents of the Soviet model of building socialism, at the head of which was Liu Shaoqi, elected president of the Republic in 1959. These conflicts led to the withdrawal of Soviet technicians in 1960 and the suspension of aid to Chinese industrialization programs. The difficulties and failures of the ‘great leap forward’ suggested in the early 1960s a policy of readjustment in the economic field which saw, among other things, the revival of forms of individual initiative and free markets in the countryside, while on the ideological level the struggle continued between the left line represented by Mao and the positions headed by Liu Shaoqi. Tendencies towards reconciliation with the USSR were manifested within the Chinese leadership in the face of the intensification of the US intervention in Vietnam and the need to establish a common front against American action in Southeast Asia, but to prevailing was Mao’s thesis, according to which China would provide military and economic aid to the North Vietnamese government and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, without granting bases to the Soviets. With the start, in the autumn of 1965, of the ‘great proletarian cultural revolution’, relations with the USSR underwent a further deterioration.
According to Diseaseslearning, the cultural revolution (1965-69) had millions of young people as protagonists who, encouraged by Mao himself to “bomb the headquarters”, mobilized for a radicalization of the revolutionary process and a thorough struggle against the ‘revisionist’ tendencies, represented by bureaucrats, intellectuals, party and state leaders, giving life to the Red Guard movement. The process involved the workers of the big cities and over time became more and more impetuous, to the point of causing a crisis in the political and administrative structures of the country and a drop in production. The reorganization of China began in 1967 with the formation of the Revolutionary Committees which sanctioned the union of the revolutionary forces belonging to the party, the army and the mass organizations; a decisive role was played by the people’s army, which still enjoyed enormous prestige, especially among the peasant masses. After the dismissal of Liu Shaoqi (October 1968) and other party and state leaders, the 9th Congress of the CCP, in April 1969, effectively put an end to the cultural revolution, recording the new situation created in the country and the significant strengthening of radical exponents within the Chinese leadership group.
The new course of Chinese politics
With the beginning of the seventies there was a profound change in China’s foreign policy, destined, over time, to have important repercussions on the domestic level as well. Beijing’s belief that the Soviet Union now represented the main danger to its own security contributed significantly to the reorganization of China’s international position. Since 1971, an action of rapprochement with the United States was initiated and, more generally, of opening towards all Western countries. The diplomatic activity promoted above all by Zhou Enlai, prime minister since 1949, achieved notable successes with the recognition of the Beijing government (and the consequent expulsion of nationalist Taiwanese representatives) by the UN and almost all the adhering nations.
Internally, in the same years the struggle in the leadership group was reopened, marked by a process of revision of the left line which had emerged with the cultural revolution and by the resumption of the moderate and pragmatic wing of the party. The architect of the new course was Zhou Enlai. In 1973 the rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping (one of Zhou’s closest collaborators, purged during the cultural revolution) and in January 1975 his appointment as deputy prime minister indicated the progressive strengthening of the moderates. The death of Zhou Enlai in January 1976 reopened a phase of high internal conflict which at first saw the prevalence of radicals (new dismissal of Deng) but, after Mao’s death, in September of that year, and the rise to power in October by Hua Guofeng, the The party’s left wing was finally defeated and its main exponents, including Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing, were impeached. In 1977 Deng was rehabilitated again and took on, in addition to his previous post of deputy prime minister, also those of vice president of the party and its military commission and chief of staff of the armed forces. The growing influence in the party and in the state of the pragmatic and ‘modernizing’ current headed by Deng Xiaoping was accompanied by an intensification of the campaign against the left and against any legacy of the cultural revolution, with the downsizing of the figure of Mao himself. Towards the end of the 1970s, the normalization process between China and the United States was concluded, with the formal diplomatic relations opened in January 1979, and relations with Western countries were strengthened. In November 1980, the campaign against the far left culminated in the opening of the trial against the ‘gang of four’ (Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, former deputy prime minister, Wang Hongwen, former vice president of the CCP, Yao Wenyuan, ideologue of the cultural revolution) which ended in January 1981 with a series of sentences, including two to death (Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao), which were then commuted to life imprisonment.