China Key Figures

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KEY FIGURES IN COMMUNIST CHINA 1949 - 1976
MAO ZEDONG: ​Chairman of the PRC 1949-76, Leader of the CCP 1943-76
Key Dates
● Born December 26, 1893
● Joins the Nationalists: 1924
● Forms the Jiangxi Soviet: 1931
● Leads the Long March: 1934-35
● Forms the PRC: 1st October 1949
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Brings the PRC into the Korean War: 1950
Kicked out as leader by Liu Shaquoi: 1958
Begins cultural revolution: 1966
Loses party leadership to Deng Xiaoping: 1975
Dies: September 9, 197
(Include all campaigns here, as they were a direct result of Mao)
Background Details
● Born into an affluent farming family (who had once been peasants) in the Hunan
province but in his teenage years he rebelled against his family and left the farm to
study in neighbouring provinces. He then cultivated a knowledge of ancient Chinese
culture and ideas, as well as Western philosophy and politics
● On the outbreak of the Nationalist revolution in 1911, Mao joined the rebel army for
just a year, before drifting through other schools and finally ending up at Peking
University where he would meet the two founders of the CCP and become a key
member of the party himself
● Mao’s first ‘actions’ included organising student protests, collaborating with
merchants and workers to celebrate the victory of Communism in Russia and
encouraging the Government to oppose Japan
● In July 1921 he attended the First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, but by 1924 he had joined the Nationalist party
with the hopes of working within it
● Mao then returned home for a rest - but this trip could be argued as changing his character vitally. While at home, among the
peasants, Mao realised the ignored strength the people possessed, and vowed from that point on to channel this power. The
peasants were Mao’s key to winning the Civil War against Chiang.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Mao was purged from the KMT upon Chiang’s takeover as leader and joined up with other communists to form the Jiangxi
Soviet in 1931. Here Mao would argue with others about the viability of a peasant-led revolution.
● In October 1934 the major part of the Red Army, Mao, and his pregnant wife abandoned the base in Jiangxi and set out on the
Long March. This was the first time in which Mao really exercised a sense of authority although there is debate to the extent
at which he was a figurehead
● Mao then underwent two wars - the first, he allied with Chiang to fight against Japan, but in the second Chiang was once
again Mao’s enemy. Mao was leader of the CCP during the Civil War, and so upon the victory of the CCP on the 1st of October
1949. Mao was able to declare the PRC.
● During his first period as chairman Mao would create numerous campaigns: the 1950 ‘Speak Bitterness’ campaign which
resulted in the murder of around one million landlords and other rightists, the 1951 Three and Five-antis, the 1952 ban of other
parties… and so on - basically every major decision made in China was a direct result of Mao’s leadership
● In 1956 Mao made the risky decision to encourage open criticism of the PRC in the ‘Hundred Flowers’ campaign. However this
shows Mao’s tactical ability s he was able to trick those in China with rebellious minds to speak out, and thus reveal
themselves as threats Mao could take out.
● Mao did then make some bad decisions - the major one being the disastrous 1958 ‘Great Leap Forward’ responsible for the
starvation of tens of millions. This led Mao to relinquish his strong leadership position to Liu Shaoqui, and remain the
background for many years.
● Until, the cultural revolution beginning in 1966 and lasting up until Mao’s death. This monumental event helped Mao restore is
position and develop his cult of personality.
● In 1967 Mao tests China’s first hydrogen bomb, extending their international power. But from here Mao experienced much
tension with the USSR and lost the ability to speak due to ALS in 1974, giving up his leadership role again, but this time to the
formerly purged Deng Xiaoping a year later. Then, in 1976 Mao died.
CHIANG KAI-SHEK: ​Leader of China 1928-49, Leader of the KMT (Nationalists) 1925-75
Key Dates
● Born: 1887
● Marks the start of the Nanjing Decade as leader of the Republic of China: 1928
● Japan invades China to end the Nanjing Decade: 1937
● The Civil War: 1945-49
● Loses Manchuria to the Communists: November 1948
● Steps down as President: January 1949
● Flee to Taiwan: December 1949
● Died: 1975
Background Details
● Born into a merchant family living along the East Coast of China - one of the wealthiest areas at
the time. His early years were spent in a period of political turmoil in China as the country fought against imperial powers and
rebellions against the Qing dynasty.
● Chiang travelled in 1907 to Japan for an education in military college - it was here he developed his political interests and
yearn for the overthrow of China’s imperial system.
● After returning to his country at the formation of the New Nationalist Republic in 1911, Chiang joined the Kuomintang.
● Chiang saw himself as a revolutionary, and wanted to form China in the vision of his own political views and aligned with his
inspiration: Sun Yat-sen. Chiang began his relationship with Sun in 1918.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Chiang’s first major role was as ​commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924, where he built up the Nationalist
army which would later go on to fight in the Civil War, and also against Japan.
● Shortly before his death in 1925 Sun Yat-sen then appointed Chiang as leader of the National Revolutionary Army. From here
he would lead the Northern Expedition to end warlord rule and solidify himself as a household name and hero in China.
● Chiang purged the Government of Communists in 1927 beginning his long-lasting tensions with the group.
● The Northern expedition ended in 1928 and Chiang then claimed a new capital of China - Nanjing - beginning his rule as leader.
● During the Nanjing Decade, Chiang kept up diplomatic relations with other countries, modernized the areas of China under his
direct control (while continually fighting with warlords in uncontrolled areas) and led a highly authoritarian Government with
a Cult of Personality.
● Chiang puts aside his differences with the Communists in 1937 to fight with a united front against Japan, and he also extended
his alliances to Churchill and Roosevelt to become one of the ‘big four’. These relationships would lead to the American
support of the KMT in the ensuing Civil War - which began in 1945 between the KMT and CCP after the Japanese left China
following Hiroshima. The victory here placed Chiang as a National hero - an image which the Communists would soon change.
For, during the Civil War, Chiang’s army would undergo a loss of morale and his government would suffer extreme cases of
corruption following the hyperinflation caused by the Japanese war. Chiang’s low position here allowed Mao to take over.
● Chiang stepped down a leader of China in January 1949, and then in December boarded a plane to Taiwan where the
remaining KMT resided. Here he would rule with strict martial law until his death in 1975. Yet the presence of the Nationalists
on the island would forever pose a small threat to Mao - a symbol that he did not control all of China.
ZHOU ENLAI: ​Military Tactician 1945-49 and Foreign Minister 1949-76
Key Dates
● Made Political commissar: 1932
● Made foreign minister: 1949
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Arranges Nixon visit: 1971
Died: 1976
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(any involved with
foreign policy)
Background Details
● He had a troubled childhood as he was an orphan, but did manage to be educated at a Missionary school, later studying
overseas. He joined the CCP abroad, and was so effective in recruiting other Chinese students that the CCP recalled him home.
● His focus was then in Shanghai, where he first gained military attention by leading a general strike in 1926. Zhou wanted to
stage an urban revolution in the city but failed and fled to Jiangxi in 1931.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Zhou was made the Red Army political commissars in 1932, taking the roke from Mao and
inciting rumours of a power struggle between the two men despite their friendship and later
joint leadership of the CCP following the end of the Long March in 1953.
● During the Civil War he served as a military tactician, described in this role as a ‘master of
deception’ in his ability to convince the American reformers the CCP were simple, democratic,
Agrarian reformers.
● At the formation of the PRC in 1949 Zhou became Mao’s premier and foreign minister. ​He dealt
with foreign policy, including the CCP’s responses to the Korean War, Sino-Soviet affairs and
China’s relations with the West. Zhou suited this role as a calmer version of Mao, he was able to
negotiate U.S visits by Nixon and Kissinger in the 1970s.
LIU SHAOQI: ​Vice Chairman of the CCP 1949-59, Chairman of the CCP 1959-66
Key Dates
● Born: 1898
● Published ‘How to be a good Communist’: 1939
● Becomes vice-Chairman of the CCP: 1949
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Becomes Chairman of the CCP: 1959
Purged by Mao: 1966
Died: 1969
Background Details
● He was born into a rich peasant family in the Hunan province, joined the CCP in its early stages
while studying in Russia and doing side-work as a Socialist labour activist.
● He was taken into the official ranks of the CCP - the central committee - in 1927 and ​he was named
director of the workers’ department in mid-1928, and in the following year he assumed the post of secretary
of the Manchurian Provincial Party Committee, working underground in cities to further the movement.
● However the CCP soon switched their focus to rural areas, Liu went to Jiangxi, ​gained a set on the
Politburo, and ​participated in the Long March in 1934.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Liu published his very influential book ‘How to be a good Communist’ in 1939, which proved popular enough to help him gain
his position as vice-Chairman of the party upon their victory in the Civil War in 1949.
● Because Liu had a lot of Russian experience, it was his role to control China’s Soviet-inspired industrial reconstruction and also
to head the 1950 Sino-Soviet pact.
● In 1953 and 1954 he led a purge of power holders, causing his position in the party to grow - by 1956 he was clearly Mao’s heir
● But Liu began criticising Mao himself in 1959 following the failure of the Great Leap Forward. From here the disillusioned Liu
was able to take the position of chairman from Mao and work with Deng Xiaoping to help China’s economy recover.
● However Mao would return in the period of the Cultural Revolution to purge Liu, label him as a ‘capitalist roader’ and launch a
full-scale propaganda attack against him. Liu lost his position, and died of medical neglect three years after.
DENG XIAOPING: ​General Secretary 1954 - 59, Co-leader 1959-66, Leader of China 1981-92
Key Dates
● Born: 1904
● Appointed leader of southwestern China: 1949
● Appointed General Secretary: 1954
● Takes over co-control of China: 1959
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Purged from the party: 1966
Rejoins the party: 1954
Becomes leader of China: 1981
Died: 1997
Background Details
● Deng was born into a fairly wealthy, middle-class family and left in his teenage years to study abroad. While at University he
was first exposed to Marxism and joined the Communist Youth League.
● Deng returned from his studies to join the official CCP, participate in the Long March and lead campaigns against the Japanese
and Nationalists in the two wars the party was involved in.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Upon Mao’s declaration of the PRC in 1949 Deng was appointed t​he regional party leader
of southwestern China. He then was able to push himself up the ranks to become
General Secretary in 1954, and therefore a member of the Politburo.
● From ‘encyclopedia britannica’: ‘From the mid-1950s Deng was a major policy maker in
both foreign and domestic affairs. He became closely allied with pragmatist leaders such
as ​Liu Shaoqi​, who stressed the use of material incentives and the formation of skilled
technical and managerial elites in China’s quest for economic development. Deng thus
came into increasing conflict with ​Mao​, who stressed egalitarian policies and
revolutionary enthusiasm as the key to ​economic growth​, in opposition to Deng’s emphasis on individual self-interest.’
● This tension and Mao’s sidelinging from power following the disaster of the Great Leap Forward led Deng to become part of
the group that reformed China’s economy by restoring private land ownership and reducing the size of workers’ collectives.
This was also the group that Mao then targeted first during the 1966 Cultural Revolution purge.
● Deng returned on the political scene in 1974 when Zhou Enlai convinced Mao to take him back. When Zhou and Mao died in
1976, Deng entered a power struggle with the ‘Gang of Four’ who all later perished and Deng became the new leader of China,
from 1981 to 1992.
LIN BIAO: ​Minister of Defence 1959-1971, Mao’s second-in-command 1969-71
Key Dates
● Born: 1907
● Joins the Jiangxi Soviet: 1927
● Becomes Minister of Defence: 1959
● Constitution is changed to name Lin Mao’s successor: 1969
● Died: 1971
Background Details
● Like many other Communist leaders Lin was born into a fairly-wealthy family and became interested in Communism while
studying in the early 1920s. From here Lin joined the ​Whampoa Military Academy and went on to serve in the Nationalist army
during the Northern Expedition. However Lin joined the Jiangxi Soviet in 1927 following Chiang’s purge of Communists.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Lin’s first major role was as a military tactician for the Jiangxi Soviet during the Long March. Around this time he would build
his friendship with Mao - perhaps a tactical move - and then go on to help fight both the Japanese and the Nationalists. In
fact, during the Civil War, Lin is credited with playing a major leadership role in the Manchuria ‘victory’ for the CCP, and again
by taking Beijing Lin proved his skill.
● Upon the declaration of the PRC, however, Lin floated into the background due to health issues. His next major role was as a
member of the Politburo’s seven-member ‘Standing Committee’ in 1958.
● From here he took Peng Dehuai role as Minister of Defence and began reforming the PLA. Lin wanted to bring it back to its
roots as a ‘people’s army’ by removing soviet influence, the officer class, and by drawing more volunteers from the Peasantry.
Lin combined these changes with increased military education to develop the PLA and improve his own position in the CCP.
● As, in 1966, Lin took over from Liu Shaoqi as Mao’s second in command following the first purge of the Cultural Revolution. Lin
played a big role in this period, publishing the book ‘​Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong’ ​which would become the
infamous ‘little red book’. Lin also helped develop the immense propaganda Mao needed to develop his cult of personality.
● However from here Lin’s new power put him in danger. From 1966 to 1971 Lin had developed the army to the point of replacing
the party in China. Mao disliked this, so, in fear of being purged, Lin and a small group plotted a hasty coup to seize power in
government. This failed, and Lin died in a plane crash in 1971 - possibly caused by the CCP in revenge, although there is much
speculation over this.
JIANG QING: ​Minister for Culture 1949- and Deputy Director of the Cultural Revolution 1966
Key Dates
● Born: 1914
● Marries Mao: 1939
● Becomes Deputy Director of the Cultural Revolution: 1966
● Becomes a member of the Politburo: 1969
● Expelled from the CCP: 1977
● Died: 1991
Background Details
● She was born in poverty to a prostitute mother who would bind her daughter’s own feet. Her father died when Jiang was very
young and this led to her taking a job in a cigarette factory.
● While at university in 1931, Jiang started acting, performing P
​ ut Down Your Whip​, a renowned popular play about a woman
who escapes from Japanese-occupied north-eastern China and performs in the streets to survive. From here she joins the CCP
and is subsequently arrested.
● Jiang’s acting pursuits attracted Mao’s attention and the two were married by 1939. This caused some controversy within the
party as Mao was already married to another woman receiving hospital treatment in Moscow. Mao divorced her.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Upon the declaration of the PRC in 1949, Jiang was made a Minister for Culture but her role remained in the background for
many years. She helped to organise communist-supporting plays, operas, and ballets but didn't make any major political roles.
● She rose to prominence, then, in 1966 at the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution - a time her theatrical background would be
of great benefit in Mao’s propaganda war. Jiang helped to attack traditional figures in China and also denounce Mao’s new
enemies such as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.
● In 1969 she was finally appointed a member of the Politburo, but by the early 1970s chaos was beginning to seep into the party
following the Sino-Soviet split and Lin Biao’s attempted seizure of power. Mao’s declining health created a power struggle
between the Gang of Four - a group Jiang was associated with - and Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. Because the Gang of Four
relied on Mao’s support, upon his death in 1976 they were vulnerable, and thus purged from the party. Jiang died in prison.
GAO GANG: ​Military commander and Vice-chair of the Central People’s Government: 1952-4
Key Dates
● Born: 1905
● Established the Shaanxi soviet: 1930s
● Becomes vice-chairman of the Central People’s Government: 1952
● Died: 1954
Background Details
● Gao was born to a peasant family and first joined the CCP in 1926, and spent his first decade in the
party organising guerrilla operations in his home province of Shaanxi. There he established a Soviet that would
welcome Mao and the other communists at the end of the Long March in 1935.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Gao first became important in the party during the Civil War, during which he worked as a military commander during the
Manchurian takeover, proving himself to be a clever politician and economic player.
● Gao then commanded the ​Northern Frontier Guards on the Korean border during the Korean War and in 1952 he became head of the State Planning Commission of China. He was also a Politburo member and shared the position of vice chairman of the Central People’s Government. ● His main effect on the CCP can been seen through his dissidence in that same year. Gao and his collaborator Rao Shushi began a power struggle with Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai. When Mao found out he purged Gao causing the man to commit suicide in 1954. This move was the first party pruge since the 1940s and proves the lengths to which Map would go to remove threats at any level of the party - especially considering there were rumours Gao was a spy for Joseph Stalin. CHEN BODA: ​Propagandist and Writer
Key Dates
● Born: 1904
● Joins CCP: 1924
● Made Mao’s secretary: 1937
● Publishes first essay: 1951
● Becomes chief editor of Hongqi: 1958
● Removed from the CCP: 1983
● Died: 1989
Background Details
● Chen was born to a poor peasant family in Fujan and first joined the CCP in 1924 but fought in the Northern Expedition
before moving to study in Moscow
● He returned to China in 1937 and worked as a teacher in Beijing whilst working undercover for the CCP. When war broke out
with Japan Chen came out of the party shadows and began work in its education and propaganda departments
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Chen was made Mao’s personal secretary in 1937 and used this role to become the translator of Mao’s thought into words.
Chen wrote many books on Mao and his theory, his first major work being published in 1951 - an essay titled: ‘​Mao Zedong’s
Theory of the ​Chinese Revolution​ Is the Combination of Marxism-Leninism with the Chinese Revolution’
● In 1958 he became chief editor of the party’s major newspaper, ​Hongqi​ (“Red Flag”)
● His literary skills were used greatly in the Cultural Revolution and he was made a member of the Politburo in 1966 however he
was removed once people decided that the Cultural Revolution had gone too far. This negative reaction led to Chen’s removal
from the party in 1983, and was late tried for his ‘crimes’ in the Revolution along with Jiang Qing.
PENG DEHUAI: ​Military Commander and Defence Minister 1954-1959
Key Dates
● Born: 1898
● Joins the CCP: 1928
● Becomes Defence Minister: 1954
● Denounced by Mao: 1959
● Died: 1974
Background Details
● Peng was born in Hunan but ran away from home and worked in various labour jobs before joining the Nationalist army in 1926
and fighting in the Northern Expedition.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● Peng joined the CCP in 1928, returned to Hunan, and began working with Mao. This would help him gain the role of military
commander during the Long March, Sino-Japanese war, and Korean war.
● His success in these pursuits and relationship with Mao helped Peng to become Defence Minister in 1954
● However Peng’s relationship with Mao split over the Great Leap Forward. Mao revealed a private letter from Peng expressing
his concerns over China’s economy to the whole country. This caused Peng to be replaced as Defence Minister by Lin Biao.
● Peng died whilst in prison, despite making an attempt to return to the party in 1962. He was denounced in the Cultural
Revolution and denied medical treatment.
HUA GUOFENG: ​Premier of China 1976-1976 and Chairman of the CCP 1976-1981
Key Dates
● Born: 1928
● Joins the CCP: 1938
● Becomes vice-governor of the Hunan province: 1958
● Becomes Premier of China: 1976
● Becomes Chairman of the CCP: 1976
● Loses leadership to Deng Xiaoping: 1981
● Died: 2008
Background Details
● Hua was born in the Shanxi province and joined the CCP in 1938 (after the Long March, a difference from other leaders) and
throughout the 1940s served in a relatively low-ranking role as a soldier and party propagandist.
Key Roles and Influence on China
● His influence began to grow during his time spent as a CCP official in Hunan. Here Hua spent twenty years producing
propaganda that supported and praised Mao, thus proving Hua’s loyalty to the chairman - especially in the turmoil of the
Great Leap Forward.
● Hua then truly rose to prominence during the Cultural Revolution, during which he became the top man in the Hunan province
by setting up the area’s revolutionary committee. This position helped him to gain a position in the Politburo in 1973 and be
named vice-premier in 1975, and then premier in 1976 following the death of Zhou Enlai. (The ‘Premier’ of China is ​the Leader of
the ​State Council of China - the head of government and holder of the highest rank in the Civil Service)
● Hua’s loyalty to Mao then lead him to become chairman of the CCP after Mao’s death in 1976. Hua had organised the purge of
the ‘Gang of Four’ in fear of the group staging a coup against him.
● Hua remained in the role as chairman until Deng Xiaoping took over in 1981, but Hua remained in the party’s lower levels until
his resignation in 2002.
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