Monday, 26 November 2012

Mao Zedong: Re-evaluating His Legacy

by Billie Downer

Mao Tse Tung, 1930s
China is in the global spotlight at the moment as Xi Jinping becomes leader, supposedly through election by over 2,000 party delegates but more likely by the choice of a few Communist Party elders. China is now one of the most powerful countries in the world economically; we probably all remember growing up as a child the phrase ‘Made in China’ stamped on many toys, games and everyday items.
But, as a history student, what I believe is more interesting is how our understanding of China today has been influenced by the Communist Revolution and subsequently the reign of Mao. I’m going to evaluate the legacy that Mao Zedong has had on modern day China and argue (probably controversially) for his achievements.
Before Mao came to power in China in1949, the Chinese economy was near the bottom of the world development scale. It had little industry and agriculture was backward and inefficient. China's industrial economy under Mao grew impressively through his 5-year plans, averaging a growth rate of 10 percent per year, even during the Cultural Revolution, and agriculture grew by 3 per cent per year. China, the former "sick man of Asia," was transformed into a major industrial power in the years of Mao’s rule between 1949 and 1976, one of the greatest leaps forward in history. 
Mao’s social policy, it could be argued, decreased the standard of living greatly of the ordinary Chinese people. It is believed that the Great Leap Forward caused the deaths of between 30 and 45 million people and the Cultural Revolution caused havoc throughout China, resulting in many people being tortured and killed. However, between 1949 and 1975, life expectancy within socialist China more than doubled, from about 32 to 65 years of age. By the early 1970s, infant mortality rates in Shanghai were lower than in New York City. The extent of literacy swelled - from about 15 percent in 1949 to between 80 and 90 percent in the mid-1970s.

Equal rights for women
(image source:
Equal rights for women were addressed under Mao; previously, foot binding, arranged marriages, and child brides were widespread social practices. These practices were forbidden and women were given the same rights to work and learn as men. The 1950 Marriage Law of revolutionary China established marriage by mutual consent, right to divorce, and outlawed the sale of children and infanticide.  A new women's movement, larger and more sweeping in vision than any in history, set out to break down the subordinating division of labour between men and women and to break down the walls of domestic life.

Furthermore, China under Mao, accomplished what the USA still has yet to achieve;  it managed to establish a system of universal health care, providing health services for free or at low cost, guided by the principles of cooperation and egalitarianism. Maoist China integrated Western and traditional medicine with around 1.3 million peasants training to become health care providers ("barefoot doctors") to meet basic health needs in the countryside.

Finally, although the quality of life may have suffered for many under Mao, and indeed, some may still be suffering in China today. China’s reputation and status as a superpower can be, at least partly, attributed to the legacy of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Read, also, Billie Downer's article, In Defence of Eric Hobsbawm.

1 comment:

  1. No wonder they have protected the Communist stamp albeit under the name Socialism with Chinese Characteristics! If measured in output Mao can lay peacefully, but if it is human cost you measure .....


Comments with names are more likely to be published.