China after one hundred years of conflict (Taiping and Boxer Rebellions, Opium Wars, Japanese invasion, Civil War) was in a parlous condition. By any measure it had become a Third World country with little industrial development, dominated by the huge agrarian population eking out an existence with gruelling manual labour in the fields. The average life expectancy was less than 40 years. Chairman Mao sought to rebuild China as a 'modern' nation and at the cost of immense suffering great advances were made. The People's Republic of China was proclaimed on 1st October 1949 in Beijing. Initially help came from the Soviet Union but when Mao made it clear he wanted to found his own Chinese version of Communism a split was inevitable. In the following years of Mao's regime China went it alone, closed to the outside world, gradually building up the essentials to form a modern industrial nation (communications, railways, iron and steel, coal and oil). Mao modelled himself on the great Qin emperor who unified China and lent heavily on Confucian ideals, in this way Mao was a modern leader in a decidedly Chinese style. Indeed in his later years he lived a rather sad life, entrapped by a coterie of mistresses and carers much in the style of the former Emperors.
After Mao, China has continued to grow as a modern industrial power and is likely to be the dominant nation in the world within the next fifty years. It is too early to pass judgement on the last few decades, after all what is thirty years in a history that stretches back 5,000 years?
A poster from the early days of the People's Republic of China. © Sally & Richard Greenhill Photo Library
Copyright © SACU 1965-2017. If you have any comments, updates or corrections please let us know via our Contact page.