Profile of Mao Zedong
The Great Leap Forward ended in famine, which killed
Hello I’m Milo for About.com and today we’re talking about the former leader of China, Mao Zedong. Mao was born in 1893 in the Hunan province of southern China. The first son of a rural family, his father had emerged from poverty to become a relatively wealthy farmer. Mao received a basic education from the age of 8 until 13, when he returned to work on the family farm. Mao, however, yearned to continue his studies, and at age 16 returned to school. Over the coming years, Mao spent a short time serving in the army before moving to Beijing and working as a university library assistant, a position that brought him into contact with future key figures in the Chinese socialist movement. Mao soon became a key figure in the newly formed Chinese Communist Party. He then went on to become a leader in the communist “Red Army,” which instigated a guerrilla war against the Nationalist government in 1927. In 1934, encircled by Nationalist forces, the Red army began a planned retreat. Suffering significant losses due to poor tactical decisions, Mao was brought in to replace the previous general and immediately began changing tactics to make his army more agile. This retreat lasted an entire year and covered over 6,000-miles of arduous terrain, becoming known as "The Long March." While only 1 in 10 soldiers survived, it confirmed Mao’s position as a capable leader.The Communists eventually emerged the victor of the civil war and Mao declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949 with himself as leader. In the following years, Mao tightened his grip on power with a brutal policy of suppression and land reform. Beginning in 1953, Mao instigated grand economic "5 year plans" with the aim of making China an industrial powerhouse. The second such plan was known as "The Great Leap Forward" and involved organizing peasants into communes. The communes were given progressively higher production targets, which soon became impossible to meet. The Great Leap Forward ended in famine, which killed an estimated 20 million people. As a result of this failure, Mao was partially sidelined by his own party.In 1966, in an attempt to reassert himself, Mao set in motion what was called "The Cultural Revolution," which aimed to enforce communist dogma and eliminate capitalist thinking. Academics and Buddhist monks were persecuted and anyone holding counter-revolutionary opinions were sent to camps for "re-education," where many died. The clampdown, however, quickly spun out of control with nearly any intellectual attacked. While the Cultural Revolution continued until Mao´s death, the worst of the violence had subsided by 1968. The legacy of this period was far-reaching for a whole generation had no formal education and priceless artifacts from Chinese history had been systematically destroyed. On September 9, 1976, Mao died at age 82, a week after suffering a heart attack. For more excellent, insightful, and interesting information on the 20th Century, check us out at About.com.