Saturday, October 1, 2016

Establishment of the People's Republic of China: An End of an Era

Mao Proclaiming the Establishment of the People's Republic of China
“The Chinese have always been a great, courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind. And that was due entirely to oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary governments.” 
– Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong stood in the balcony of the Tiananmen Gate, facing a numerous crowd numbering at their thousands, cheering in celebration of the end of decades of political rivalries, chaos, war, and divide. 

China Before Mao

Before Mao stood in the Tiananmen Square to declare the establishment of the People’s Republic, dysfunction fell on China as it faced humiliation and divide.

Decline of the Qing Dynasty

China's decline from a glorious empire at the center of the world rooted from the failures of the last imperial dynasty – the Qing. The Qing or Manchu established a centuries-long dynasty that ruled Modern Kingdom from the 17th to the 20th century. They had good and strong emperors that gave peace and prosperity that secured their longevity. But as prosperity reigned, so as greed and desires that brought corruption and intrigues. By the dawn of the 19th century, China’s bureaucracy faltered. Line of incompetent Emperors raised with opulence rather than not education, combined with corrupt, self-serving, and ultra-conservative officials, left China unprepared for the expanding imperialism of the West.

China’s tea and porcelain attracted Western traders, who brought their religious practices with them to the alienation and anxiety of the Chinese. Fears of social instability and invasion convinced the Chinese to isolate themselves and confined westerners in Canton. The west, in particular the British, wanted to open China for its products and for its huge market. Trade imbalances in favor of the Chinese led the British to tip the balance to their favor by selling highly addictive drugs from India called opium.

Opium ruined China. It created millions of addicts that contributed none to the economy and ruined society. The Qing Emperor tried to cease the trade but ended fighting wars they lose. The First Opium War (1839-1842) and the Second Opium War (1856 – 1862) resulted to China's humiliation and subjugation through unequal treaties it had to sign. China lose territories (like Hong Kong), forced to open ports to foreigners (like Shanghai), and grant extraterritoriality to foreigners that made them invincible to Chinese laws and prosecutions.
British Warships blowing up Chinese junks during the Opium Wars
As a result, the deeply Chinese resented the West as a result. Attacks on foreigners led to punitive expeditions that ended with additional unfavorable agreements. Such cycle worsened China’s international standing, making it Asia’s sick man. Some Chinese urged reforms and modernization, but dominant conservative officials and members of the Imperial Family tremendously opposed it, viewing foreign sciences and technology as works of the devil. The hatred of the embarrassing terms imposed by foreigners contributed to their oblivion to the benefits of borrowing foreign technologies in a long run. Some parts of the military pursued modernization in the 1890’s but failed to create much impact in the defense capability of the country.

In 1900, the Qing Dynasty attempted once again to resist foreign influence and intervention by aiding militant peasant groups known as Fist Fighters for Righteous Harmony, otherwise known to foreigners as Boxers. The Boxers besieged the legation quarters and attack foreign military units, but in the end, the might of several European powers, the United States, and Japan overwhelmed the Chinese. In the end, China fell to additional humiliating terms.

After the Fall of Emperors
Dr. Sun Yat Sen

The Chinese fell sick of the disgraces their country experienced under the Qing. In 1908, the throne fell to a child Emperor Puyi. Political groups took the opportunity to rise up against the Qing Dynasty. By 1911, uprisings exploded in various provinces, most notably the Wuchang Uprising that led to the establishment a government under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and his party – the Kuomintang or KMT. Meanwhile, General Yuan Shikai rose to prominence with his modern Beiyang Army and took the imperial capital in 1911. Yuan and Dr. Sun’s groups negotiated over the formation of a coalition government. It culminated in the official establishment of the Republic of China with President Yuan Shikai as President. His presidency, however, brought no sigh of relief to the weary country.

Yuan Shikai overstretched his authority as President. In 1913, he consolidated his power to obtain dictatorial power and drove Dr. Sun and his colleagues out of China and into Japan. He aspired too much power to the point in 1915 he attempted to restore imperial rule with himself as Emperor. The move caused rebellion to break out in various province, each headed by powerful generals. These rebellions brought China to a new period of chaotic divide known as the Era of Warlords that persisted until 1930’s. Yuan never lived to see the effects of his ambitions at length when in 1916, he passed away.

While China plunged into further political dysfunction, Japan moved to extend its dominion. In May 1915, they forced President Yuan Shikai to submit to the Twenty-One Demands that expanded Japanese control over territories and economic activities in China. World War I contributed to their further expansion when they sided with the allies and won the Shandong Peninsula from the Germans after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Chinese young intellectuals disgusted by the Treaty, protested in what became known as the May Fourth Movement.
Beijing Students During the May Fourth Movement
Nevertheless, the Japanese gave Dr. Sun sanctuary before he returned to Guangzhou China in 1917. From that point, Sun played political games with various generals and never held long and stable government offices. He, however, succeeded in establishing a powerful party – the Kuomintang or KMT. His ideas, like the Three Principle of the People, inspired the KMT and a new growing political group in China – the Chinese Communist Party or CCP.

The CCP started as an intellectual group established by European educated socialist and anti-imperialist. In 1921, they convened their first Congress that ended with the formal establishment of the party. They shared ideals with Sun Yat Sen and formed a coalition with an alliance with the Soviet Union. In 1923, they formally joined the KMT but still operated a separate communist party. The coalition between the KMT and CCP lasted until the death of Sun Yat Sen in 1925, when conservative Nationalist like Chiang Kai-Shek opposed furthering the path of the KMT towards radical communism. In 1926, the CCP weakened as Chiang Kai-Shek, who rose at that point as the leader of the KMT, banned their members from holding high positions within the KMT.

In the same year, the CCP joined the Northern Expedition of Chiang Kai-Shek with the objective of crushing the warlords and unify China under a Republic. By 1927, it reached Shanghai where members of the CCP suffered a purge in the hands of military officers of Chiang, killing hundred Communists in what became known as the White Terror. The massacre led the CCP to secede from the KMT and launch uprisings and rebellions from Central China. Their uprisings, called the Autumn Harvest Uprising and Nanchang Uprising, failed to resist Chiang’s army and were quickly quelled. Chiang continued his Northern Expedition until he captured Beijing, making the extent of his government’s control to cover the whole eastern coastal provinces of China. On October 10, 1927, the National Government of the Republic of China was established.

Nevertheless, even with the unification of much of China under Chiang, problems persisted and even piled up further. The economy suffered from shortages and inflation. Finances stood in dismal state due to low revenue and tremendous debts. Political stability even stood worse, factionalism and internal strife plague the KMT along with other warlords operating in inner regions of China. Other than that it faced threats from the Japanese.

After the expansion of the Japanese to China after the World War, Japan bid its time until the 1930’s when it began to expand into Manchuria and the rest of China. The Mukden Incident in 1931 brought the fall of Manchuria to Japan. Then in 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident resulted to the Second Sino-Japanese War that lasted until the end of World War II in 1945. Japan unleashed its brutal military to the whole of the eastern coastal provinces of China.

Mao Zedong in 1927
Meanwhile, while the Japanese menaced Manchuria in the early 1930’s, the CCP established the Jianxi Soviet. There, they practiced their platforms, launching land reform that gained them the support of the peasants. Their stay did not last long as Chiang launched multiple encirclement campaigns against them. Nevertheless, Mao Zedong rose to prominence for his great leadership of the Red Army, using guerrilla tactics to repel multiple KMT attacks. However, in 1934, they were forced to abandon Jianxi and retreat north to what became known as the Long March that ended in 1935, in Shanxi Province. At the end of the march, Mao emerged as the paramount leader of the CCP, with the support of great figures in modern Chinese history – Zhou Enlai, Marshall Zhu De, and Liu Shaoqi.

By 1936, the CCP turned its attention away from the KMT to wardsthe Japanese. They spread their slogan Chinese do not fight Chinese, asking other parties to temporarily forgo differences in favor of a united front against the Japanese invaders. They, however, received a cold reply from Chiang who ordered his commanders to attack them in Shianxi. Chiang himself flew to the Xian to command his generals, who refused, viewing the time as inappropriate to fight fellow Chinese. Chiang insisted that led his subordinates to incarcerate him for few days. Pressure from within the KMT, CCP, and the United States brought the release of Chiang, and a united front against the Japanese began.

The bitter struggle with the Japanese lasted for almost a decade and took the lives of millions and left the country in rubble. The KMT fought furiously and Mao and the CCP did the same but in smaller scale, so as to preserve their strength for more important battles later.

In 1945, as the war came to an end, tensions between the CCP and the KMT flared up once more. Fighting over the liberated Japanese territories prompted the tension. Both rushed to capture the most. Negotiations mediated by the Americans for a peaceful co-existence and coalition government between the two major parties failed.  In the end, in 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed.

Chiang Kai Shek
The CCP scored minimal victories in the initial resumption of hostilities. Nevertheless, their foes, the KMT and Chiang suffered from low morale, brought by corruption, incompetence, and intrigue among themselves. The People’s Liberation Army, as the Red Army by then called, then started to score significant victories in multiple fronts. It took control of Manchuria, Northern, and Central Provinces. Key to their success seemed to be their policy of launching land reforms in captured areas that gave them the support of the peasants that composed the majority of Chinese population. Combined with competent, strong, and dedicated commanders, the PLA and the CCP gained the upper hand by the start of 1949.

On that year, they captured Beijing. By May, they captured major cities along the Yangtze and pushed the KMT further south. By the middle of the year, they forced Chiang the remnants of the KMT and its military to abandon Mainland China for the island of Taiwan, where the spirit of the Republic of China remained to this day.

As the KMT escaped, Mao consolidated his rule. He convened the National Consultative Assembly to draft the “organic laws” of the new Communist China. And on October 1, 1949, Mao and the Chinese people welcomed the coming of a new era.

Declaration of the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China

On October 1, 1949, at 10 am, Mao Zedong walked into the balcony of the Gate of Heavenly Peace or Tiananmen Gate. At his front, thousands of Chinese from all walks of life and nationalities within China cheered “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” while holding images of Mao and other heroes of the Communist revolution, and waving red flags.

Mao stood with great honor, as one his physician wrote comparing the Chairman to Chiang Kai Shek:

“Mao Zedong was the center of attention, but his manner was dignified, and there was an air of modesty about him, with no trace of arrogance. I had seen Chiang Kai Shek many times during the height of his power, and he had always been aloof, demanding subservience from everyone around him. The effect was invariably alienating.”

The Gate of Heavenly Peace testified to the victory of the CCP. Red flags waved in the balcony of the structured. The portrait of Mao Zedong, different from the one today, an image of him wearing his famous cap, and two banners, one written with “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” and the other “Long Live the Great Unity of the World's People” graced the Gate.

The Tiananmen Square then was smaller. Many monuments that stood proudly today did not existed then – The Great People’s Hall, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Mao's Mausoleum. Only dilapidated buildings and old reminders of the imperial era and the chaotic period that followed. Nevertheless, it never ceased the events.

Many of Mao’s comrades and China’s known political figures, except those of the KMT, attended the celebration. The commander of the People's Liberation Army Zhu De, the later President of the People's Republic of China Liu Shaoqi, the great formidable Premier and statesman of China Zhou Enlai, appeared in the balcony with Mao. Soong Qingling, widow of the respected Sun Yat Sen and sister of Chiang Kai Shek’s wife, attended as well.

The celebration began with Mao speaking with his Hunan accent proclaiming the establishment of the Central People’s Government. He enumerated the members and the position they held.

After the proclamation, a flag raising ceremony followed. China’s new flag, the five stars in a red field rose the pole to the tune of the national anthem of the new People’s Republic of China – the March of the Volunteers.

A massive military parade followed. Soldiers of different uniforms marched in front of the Tiananmen Gate with the band playing the tune March of the Eight Army, today known as the military anthem of the People’s Liberation Army, the song played during every military parade in Beijing ever since. Soldiers, tanks, armored vehicles, and fighter planes passed the gate to be reviewed and saluted by Mao and his companions.

Then a people’s parade followed with all the color, images, and floats passing along the same avenue, celebrating the emergence of a new China.

As the events progressed an atmosphere of great hope filled the air. Finally, after a century of chaos and shame, China finally united under Mao’s rule and the CCP. The celebration of the establishment of the new government lasted all day and through the night as fireworks and dancing filled the Square. Indeed, many Chinese breathe with sigh of relief and a hope for a brighter future, at least at the early years of Mao’s rule.

Aftermath of the Celebrations

China had high expectation from Mao’s leadership. Land reforms and socialist policies provided to the Chinese people. Nevertheless, as time progressed, the dream of a prosperous China deteriorated to the horrors of many of Mao’s policies. Hunger prevailed as the result of his Great Leap Forward and terror fell to China as a result of his Cultural Revolution. Economic progress that created the giant that it is today only came years after Chairman Mao passed away in 1976.

Nevertheless, the establishment of the Central Government and the People’s Republic of China symbolized an end of political chaos. Mao brought stability to a once divided country plagued by civil war, corruption, intrigue, and foreign incursions. Although Mao did not bring the wanted prosperity, he build the stable foundation to which China catapulted itself to become the world’s new superpower.

Li Zhishui. The Private Life of Chairman Mao Zedong. New York, New York: Random House, Inc., 1994.

Kelghtley, David et. al. China. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed October 1, 2016. URL:

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