A Chronology of the PRC under Mao Zedong (1949-1976)

  • The Communist Red Army defeats the Nationalists in a civil war. The People's Republic of China (PRC) is established on October 1.
  • Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists retreat to the island of Taiwan.
  • Signing of Sino-Soviet Treaty.
  • China enters the Korean War.
  • Marriage Law promulgated, providing freedom of marriage and divorce.
  • Basic land reform completed after a five-year campaign. All land deeds destroyed and land redistributed (roughly two million landlords executed).
  • Korean War armistice.
  • Inauguration of PRC's First Five-Year Plan, relying on Soviet model of industrial development.
  • Zhou Enlai plays a major role at the Geneva Convention and the Bandung Conference, establishing a new diplomatic prominence for the PRC.
  • First constitution of the PRC is promulgated.
  • Collectivization of agriculture is stepped up.
  • In the wake of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin and political explosions in Poland and Hungary, Mao calls for a "Hundred Flowers Movement" to improve the relationship between the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and the people.
  • Critics soon attack the legitimacy of CCP rule. The Party responds with an "anti-rightist campaign," suppressing the opposition.
  • Mao promotes a "Great Leap Forward" in economic development, relying on mass mobilization, the commune system, and indigenous methods. The effort fails for the most part because of administrative weakness aggravated by bad weather.
  • PRC attacks offshore islands under Nationalist control (September, 1958).
  • In August, 1959, Defense Minister Peng Dehuai is ousted after he criticizes Mao's sponsorship of the Great Leap Forward; Peng replaced by Lin Biao.
  • Withdrawal of the Soviet technical advisors, widening the Sino-Soviet rift.
  • Return to more conventional economic development policies to deal with the post-Great Leap Forward depression.
  • The polity and economy recover, but the CCP becomes increasingly divided over how to pursue economic development, with Mao and his more radical associates pitted against Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and other moderate leaders.
  • Lin Biao, defense minister and one of Mao's allies, leads campaigns to increase political consciousness in the military by stressing the study of Mao's thought.
  • China detonates its first nuclear device (1964).
  • Mao leads the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," to attack the Party bureaucracy that was frustrating his initiatives and to revive revolutionary commitment.
  • Millions of youths (the Red Guards) are mobilized, the Party-state machinery is crippled and a host of Party veterans — most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping — are purged. Mao is forced to call the army in to end the resultant disorder.
  • The Ninth National Congress of the CCP issues a new Party Constitution that names Lin Biao as "Comrade Mao Zedong's close comrade-in-arms and successor."
  • The beginning of Sino-American rapprochement.
  • Death of Lin Biao after alleged coup attempt (September).
  • PRC succeeds to China's seat in the United Nations (October).
  • Nixon visits the PRC.
  • Shanghai Communiqué signed.
  • Deng Xiaoping reappears in public for the first time since the Cultural Revolution (April).
  • In August, the CCP's Tenth Congress issues a new Party Constitution, eliminating a clause naming Lin Biao as Mao's successor.
  • Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, and other moderate leaders chip away at policies introduced during the Cultural Revolution.
  • Radical forces mount a campaign to "criticize Confucius," ostensibly to eliminate feudal ways of thought but actually to defend the Cultural Revolution and indirectly attack Zhou.
  • Fourth National People's Congress is convened.
  • Zhou Enlai outlines an economic modernization plan for the PRC, but radical opposition is apparent.
  • Deng Xiaoping is elected to Politburo Standing Committee. However, his approach to economic development, education, and science comes under increasing attack by Mao's more radical followers.
  • Zhou Enlai dies (January 8).
  • Hua Guofeng is named acting premier (February 7) amid expectations that Deng Xiaoping would succeed Zhou.
  • A mass demonstration occurs in Beijing's Tiananmen Square over the removal of wreaths honoring Zhou Enlai (April 5).
  • The Politburo strips Deng of all his posts and names Hua Guofeng full premier and first vice chairman of the CCP (April 7).
  • Zhu De dies (July 6).
  • The northern city of Tangshan is struck by a massive earthquake (July 28) that kills close to a million people.
  • Mao Zedong dies (September 9). Four weeks later (October 6), Hua Guofeng leads the arrest of influential radicals, including Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan (soon labeled the "gang of four"). Hua, already Premier, now becomes chairman of the CCP and chairman of its Military Affairs Commission, thus officially succeeding Mao.

From Focus on Asian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 1, Fall 1984 (New York: The Asia Society).