Political Science For Dummies
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When you are studying communism as part of your political science education, you might think that communism in China is the same communism as in Russia. However, communism in China, or Maoism, is very different.

Mao Zedong (see the following figure) knew right away that Marxism and Leninism weren’t a perfect fit for China in the 1920s. China was preindustrial, with the vast majority of all Chinese living in the countryside. They were being exploited by a landed aristocracy. There was little industry in China, and a small working class was concentrated in a few large cities.

According to Marx, a class revolution couldn’t occur in China because the revolutionary class, the working class, was missing. China first had to go through industrialization and create a capitalist society with a large working class, and only then could it go Communist.

Mao Zedong Source: Library of Congress

Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao Zedong was born in 1893 in Shaoshan, China. He was the son of a wealthy farmer and received a good education, including a tutor familiar with Western ideas such as nationalism and socialism. In 1911, Mao became a supporter of the revolution that overthrew the Chinese monarchy, and in 1917, he completed his first academic work, “A Study of Physical Culture,” in which he infused Confucianism with the Western concept of nationalism.

In 1919, Mao applied to the best university in China, Beijing University, but he was rejected. Disappointed, Mao decided to move to the capital anyway and became a librarian at Beijing University to be close to academics. Here, he was introduced to the works of Marx and Lenin, and in 1921, he became one of the 13 original founding members of the Chinese Communist Party.

In 1927, Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek began his quest to destroy the Communists, and Mao had to flee in 1934 to the remote mountainous parts of China. The Communists, however, were saved by the Japanese attack on China in 1937, because Chiang Kai-Shek had to focus on defending his country instead of wiping out the Communists.

After the defeat of the Japanese Empire in 1945, a civil war broke out in China between the Communists and nationalists. The Communists won the civil war with Soviet help, and in 1949, China went Communist, and Mao established the People’s Republic of China. He ran the country until his death in 1976.

Mao had no intention to wait until capitalism established a large working class in China. So, he decided to make a few changes to Marxist/Leninist theory. According to Mao, it wasn’t the working class in China that was being exploited and had the potential to become the class initiating a revolution; it was the peasants in rural areas. Thus, for Mao, the peasants were the class that would initiate class struggle and destroy the current form of government.

The cities, on the other hand, with a few workers and a larger middle class, were parasites that lived off the peasants’ work, exploiting them; and therefore, the peasants had to destroy them. For Mao, the countryside was the site of progress and not the cities.

Mao further believed in the concept of permanent revolution. Both Marx and Lenin believed that a working-class revolution would destroy capitalism and then socialism would take care of remnants of other classes and set the foundation for Communism. As soon as Communism was achieved, there’d be no need for another revolution. Mao disagreed. He believed that after a few years or decades, people become complacent and capitalist ideas resurface in society. Therefore, another revolution, a cultural one, was needed to eliminate or reeducate the people who had lost their Communist spirit. In 1965, Mao implemented the Cultural Revolution to purge Chinese society with disastrous political and economic results.

Finally, Mao agreed with Lenin that the common person wouldn’t be able to make rational decisions for the country. Only a small intellectual elite in charge of a powerful political party could do so — thus, the creation of the Chinese Communist Party, which still runs China at the time of this writing.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Marcus A. Stadelmann, PhD, is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and History at the University of Texas at Tyler. Along with teaching at universities in California, Utah, and Texas, Dr. Stadelmann has published and given presentations in the fields of American politics and international relations.

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