To what extent did life improve between 1949 and the early 1960s in Communist China?
On the 1st of October 1949 Mao Tse-Sung declared the Peoples Republic of China - To what extent did life improve between 1949 and the early 1960s in Communist China? introduction. This drastically changed the lives of most people living in China. Some people had already been under Communist rule before 1949, in liberation areas, for them life hardly changed. However the majority of people lived under the Kuomintang before 1949, and for them life completely changed. Women for example, were considered as men’s possessions and were subjected to outdated practices and cruel humiliations, like foot binding. Some were married at birth and many were treated like domestic servants.
Peasants didn’t lead a good life in KMT areas either. Land taxes were high and took around half a peasants income, peasants led a poverty stricken harsh life, and between 1929 and 1932 three million peasants died of starvation. The main group of people that led a good life under the KMT were the businessmen and the landed class. They benefited from a strong government and high taxes, especially high land taxes. Urban areas were also improved and the infrastructure and a lot of industry were modernised. However the Communists didn’t have the same attitude towards businessmen and landlords.
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They saw them as reactionaries and they were viewed as an enemy to the revolution. The first reform to affect landlords was the Agrarian Law Reform and ‘Speak bitterness’ campaign in 1950. Between 1950 and 1952, 47 million hectares was taken from landlords and shared out to around 300 million peasants. This economic change was a huge loss for landlords who had lived in KMT areas, who before 1949 had been rich due to their land. ‘Speak bitterness’ meetings were where peasants were encouraged to denounce their landlords and speak about their poverty, these meeting sometimes became violent and between 2-4 million landlords died as a result.
This social change showed that landlords no longer had any influence. The first change to affect businessmen was the nationalisation of one third of heavy industry and the opening of the People’s bank in 1951; these economic changes only affected a small amount of businessmen so this was only a small loss. The 3-antis (1951) and 5-antis (1952) were mass political and social campaigns against corruption, fraud and waste, and affected both businessmen and landlords. Reactionaries were rounded up at this time, but apart from this only the corrupt businessmen and landlords would have been affected.
Because of this it is only a small loss, however it is very different to before these laws, when corruption fraud and waste were typical. The next big reform was the first 5-year plan (1953 to 1957), in this the remainder of industry was nationalised. This was quite a big loss for businessmen (who had not already had their industry nationalised), and was different to before this reform and previous nationalisation when most of industry was privately owned. The next of Mao’s campaigns was the 100 flowers in 1956.
This social and political campaign encouraged people to speak out against the party and its leaders. The majority that did this were those who had lost out. Before long Mao cracked down on his critics sacking some and arresting others. This was only a small loss for the small amount that did speak out, and the lack of free speech probably wasn’t that much different to before this law or 1949. In 1960 the governing of China fell to a group of more moderate leaders. These leaders brought in more moderate economic policies that would have made life slightly better for businessmen and maybe for landlords.
This improved life when compared to the beginning of Communist rule but they would still have been a lot worse off than they were under the KMT. There are some changes that affected everyone, businessmen and landlords included, and they are mention in a paragraph below. Before 1949 in KMT areas these people had been rich and powerful, now after many communist campaigns they were poor and discriminated against. Overall life didn’t improve for businessmen and landlords from 1949 but got a lot worse, especially when compared to life in KMT areas and even when compared to life in liberation areas.
Not all groups lost out as a result of Communist rule; Mao had a totally different attitude towards the peasants. He wanted to create a classless society where property was commonly owned and saw that under the KMT the peasants led a very hash life. He wanted to change this. The Agrarian Land Reform in 1950 was the first to affect peasants in. Whereas the landlords had lost out due to this law, 300 million peasants gained in a large way due to the sharing out of land. The large majority (those that hadn’t already been living under Communist rule) had had to pay high land taxes to rich landlords before 1949, now the land was theirs.
Around this time peasants also attended ‘speak bitterness’ meetings which allowed them to denounce their landlords and speak about their poverty, this was only a small gain but showed that unlike before 1949 peasants now had the most influence. The formation of Mutual Aid Teams in 1951, meant sharing resources for more productive land usage. This economic change was only a small gain, but was an improvement since the peasants had first received the land as now it was easier to farm. Next came the five-year plan (1953-1957), this economic and social reform introduced lower and higher stage co-operatives.
Lower stage co-operatives meant that thirty to fifty families loaned their land to the co-operative and pooled their land and labour to make a more efficient farm. This was yet another small improvement for peasants since they had received the land; as yet again their land was more productive. Next came the higher-stage co-operatives, which consisted of 200-300 families, however the families where no longer paid rent for their land but only received wages. This was a small loss for peasants compared to when they had first received the land in 1951, as they had now lost it.
However they were still better off than they had been under the KMT. The 2nd five-year plan (1958) or Great Leap Forward was a social and economic change that affected peasants. Communes off around 5000 people were organised so people could work at a great variety of tasks (it was in these communes that backyard steel furnaces were set up) and so that nothing could distract a peasant from his work. Although a peasant did gain from the fact that there were many opportunities, the communes also meant that peasants had lost a huge amount of freedom as most aspects of their lives were controlled.
For this reason I would say that the peasants lost out as a result of the 2nd five year plan and although they probably had very little freedom under the KMT they were losing more and more of their freedom under the Communists. The rise of the moderates in 1960 also would have affected peasants. Peasants were sent back to the fields, communes were closed and the Great Leap Forward was abandoned. This would have meant a small improvement in the lives of peasants as now some of Mao’s more extreme policies had been stopped. Like many other reforms this was a political change but affected the social and economic aspects of peoples lives.
There are also other changes that affected peasants and everybody else living in China at the time, and they are explained in a separate paragraph below. Peasant’s lives had definitely improved by a long way between 1949 and the early 1960’s, but there had been many different gains and losses. To begin with under the Communists peasants’ lives improved, and life was much better than under the KMT. Many reforms however, like the Great Leap Forward made peasants lives worse. Overall however peasants lives largely improved between 1949 and 1960. Another group of people the Communists had a huge effect on was women.
The Communists wanted to ‘abolish the feudal system which holds women in bondage’ and believed that ‘women should enjoy equal rights with men’ (quoted from the Common Programme). The first thing to affect the lives of Women was the Marriage Law in 1950. This social change gave many more rights to women. Property was now jointly owned, divorce was by mutual consent and mothers were given maternity pay. Arranged marriages, the killing of unwanted girl babies, bigamy and the marriage of children was made illegal. This law was a very large gain for women and went a long way to giving them equal rights with men.
This law would have affected all women and was completely different to before 1949 when women were basically considered as domestic servants; it was however one of the only direct changes for women under the Communists. A woman’s life would be indirectly changed for worse or better depending on the status of her husband, and whether he gained or lost. If a woman was married to a peasant she would have generally gained under the Communists because her husband gained (see peasants section). If however a women was married to a businessmen or landlord however she would have lost out because her husband did (see landlords and businessmen section).
A good example of this is the Agrarian Land Reform Law. Many reforms affected women as well as everyone else and they are mentioned in a separate paragraph below. Overall I would say that life improved for women between 1949 and 1960. The new social reforms gave all women new rights that they had never before experienced. It is difficult however to answer the question of how far did life improve for women as this depended on who the woman was. Poor women’s lives improved a great deal, rich women’s lives however got worse. There are several other things that affected all the groups. One of them is the failure of the Great Leap Forward in 1959.
Mao’s new industrial aims in 1959 took a huge number of peasants away from the fields, unfortunately lots of these new industrial aims failed, as did the agricultural ones. This wouldn’t have mattered but weather the following two years was disastrous, and this led to a famine that killed over 20 million people between 1959 and 1962. This was a huge social and economic loss to anybody living in China at the time. The social reforms Mao made through the 50s also affected almost everyone. There was a literacy drive, education was improved, health care became free and cities were tidied up.
These reforms were a huge improvement for all people, and improved life generally. There was also very little freedom or personal liberty in Communist China and this also affected everybody. This was a social issue and anyone who showed opposition was sent to denunciation meetings, re-educated or killed. The Communists controlled the papers, and propaganda was at every street corner. This was definitely a large loss for anyone living in Communist China. It wasn’t much different to before 1949 however, when people also had very little freedom of speech.
It is clear that peasants’ lives improved vastly under Communist rule from 1949 to 1960. Before Communism, peasants had led a poor and harsh life, but as soon as the Communists came to power gained hugely and were regarded with a lot more respect and significance. Businessmen and landlords lives didn’t improve between 1949 and 1960 but in fact got a lot worse. They went from being influential and rich to being poor and discriminated against. It is clear that although women gained a huge amount of new rights, it is hard to say whether their life improved, as it depended on whether they were poor or rich before the Communists took power.
Before 1949 some people were already living under the Communists in liberation areas and for them life would hardly have shown any change. This is just one reason why it is hard to answer the question of whether Chinese men and women’s lives improved under Communists between 1949 and 1960. There is no one answer to this question and life wasn’t the same for any group of people in Communist China. Depending on who you were, or in a womens case whom you were married to affected on whether your life improved between 1949 and 1960, and to what extent it improved.