The period of officially designated "transition to socialism" corresponded to China's First Five-Year Plan (1953-57). The period was characterized by efforts to achieve industrialization, collectivization of agriculture, and political centralization.
The First Five-Year Plan stressed the development of heavy industry on the Soviet model. Soviet economic and technical assistance was expected to play a significant part in the implementation of the plan, and technical agreements were signed with the Soviets in 1953 and 1954.
Among China's most pressing needs in the early 1950s were food for its burgeoning population, domestic capital for investment, and purchase of Soviet-supplied technology, capital equipment, and military hardware.
Major political developments included the centralization of party and government administration. Elections were held in 1953 for delegates to the First National People's Congress, China's national legislature, which met in 1954.
In the midst of these major governmental changes, and helping to precipitate them, was a power struggle within the CCP leading to the 1954 purge of Political Bureau member Gao Gang and Party Organization Department head Rao Shushi, who were accused of illicitly trying to seize control of the party.
The process of national integration also was characterized by improvements in party organization under the administrative direction of the secretary general of the party Deng Xiaoping, who served concurrently as vice premier of the State Council.
As part of the effort to encourage the participation of intellectuals in the new regime, in mid-1956 there began an official effort to liberalize the political climate. Cultural and intellectual figures were encouraged to speak their minds on the state of CCP rule and programs.
The antirightist drive was followed by a militant approach toward economic development. In 1958 the CCP launched the Great Leap Forward campaign under the new "General Line for Socialist Construction." The Great Leap Forward was aimed at accomplishing the economic and technical development of the country at a vastly faster pace and with greater results.
The Great Leap Forward centered on a new socioeconomic and political system created in the countryside and in a few urban areas, the people's communes.
By the fall of 1958, some 750,000 agricultural producers' cooperatives, now designated as production brigades, had been amalgamated into about 23,500 communes, each averaging 5,000 households, or 22,000 people.
The Great Leap Forward was an economic failure. In early 1959, amid signs of rising popular restiveness, the CCP admitted that the favorable production report for 1958 had been exaggerated. Among the Great Leap Forward's economic consequences were a shortage of food (in which natural disasters also played a part); shortages of raw materials for industry; overproduction of poor-quality goods; deterioration of industrial plants through mismanagement; and exhaustion and demoralization of the peasantry and of the intellectuals, not to mention the party and government cadres at all levels.
Political consequences were not inconsiderable. In April 1959 Mao, who bore the chief responsibility for the Great Leap Forward fiasco, stepped down from his position as chairman of the People's Republic. The National People's Congress elected Liu Shaoqi as Mao's successor, though Mao remained chairman of the CCP.
Militancy on the domestic front was echoed in external policies. The "soft" foreign policy based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence to which China had subscribed in the mid-1950s gave way to a "hard" line in 1958.
Chinese control over Xizang (Tibet) had been reasserted in 1950. The socialist revolution that took place thereafter increasingly became a process of sinicization for the Tibetans. Tension culminated in a revolt in 1958-59 and the flight to India by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual and de facto temporal leader.
The Sino-Soviet dispute of the late 1950s was the most important development in Chinese foreign relations. The Soviet Union had been China's principal benefactor and ally, but relations between the two were cooling. The Soviet agreement in late 1957 to help China produce its own nuclear weapons and missiles was terminated by mid-1959. From that point until the mid-1960s, the Soviets recalled all of their technicians and advisers from China and reduced or canceled economic and technical aid to China.
In 1961 the political tide at home began to swing to the right, as evidenced by the ascendancy of a more moderate leadership. In an effort to stabilize the economic front, for example, the party, still under Mao's titular leadership but under the dominant influence of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, Peng Zhen, Bo Yibo, and others, initiated a series of corrective measures.
In the early 1960s, Mao was on the political sidelines and in semi-seclusion. By 1962, however, he began an offensive to purify the party, having grown increasingly uneasy about what he believed were the creeping "capitalist" and antisocialist tendencies in the country.
To arrest the so-called capitalist trend, Mao launched the Socialist Education Movement (1962-65), in which the primary emphasis was on restoring ideological purity, re-infusing revolutionary fervor into the party and government bureaucracies, and intensifying class struggle.
In connection with the Socialist Education Movement, a thorough reform of the school system, which had been planned earlier to coincide with the Great Leap Forward, went into effect.
By mid-1965 Mao had gradually but systematically regained control of the party with the support of Lin Biao, Jiang Qing (Mao's fourth wife), and Chen Boda, a leading theoretician. In late 1965 a leading member of Mao's "Shanghai Mafia," Yao Wenyuan, wrote a thinly veiled attack on the deputy mayor of Beijing, Wu Han. In the next six months, under the guise of upholding ideological purity, Mao and his supporters purged or attacked a wide variety of public figures, including State Chairman Liu Shaoqi and other party and state leaders. By mid-1966 Mao's campaign had erupted into what came to be known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the first mass action to have emerged against the CCP apparatus itself.
Considerable intraparty opposition to the Cultural Revolution was evident. On the one side was the Mao-Lin Biao group, supported by the PLA; on the other side was a faction led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, which had its strength in the regular party machine. Premier Zhou Enlai, while remaining personally loyal to Mao, tried to mediate or to reconcile the two factions.
Mao felt that he could no longer depend on the formal party organization, convinced that it had been permeated with the "capitalist" and bourgeois obstructionists. He turned to Lin Biao and the PLA to counteract the influence of those who were allegedly "`left' in form but `right' in essence."
Red Guard activities were promoted as a reflection of Mao's policy of rekindling revolutionary enthusiasm and destroying "outdated," "counterrevolutionary" symbols and values. Mao's ideas, popularized in the Quotations from Chairman Mao, became the standard by which all revolutionary efforts were to be judged. The "four big rights"- speaking out freely, airing views fully, holding great debates, and writing big-character posters- became an important factor in encouraging Mao's youthful followers to criticize his intraparty rivals.
The radical tide receded somewhat beginning in late 1967, but it was not until after mid-1968 that Mao came to realize the uselessness of further revolutionary violence. Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and their fellow "revisionists" and "capitalist roaders" had been purged from public life by early 1967, and the Maoist group had since been in full command of the political scene.
Viewed in larger perspective, the need for domestic calm and stability was occasioned perhaps even more by pressures emanating from outside China. The Chinese were alarmed in 1966-68 by steady Soviet military buildups along their common border. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 heightened Chinese apprehensions. In March 1969 Chinese and Soviet troops clashed on Zhenbao Island (known to the Soviets as Damanskiy Island) in the disputed Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri River) border area. The tension on the border had a sobering effect on the fractious Chinese political scene and provided the regime with a new and unifying rallying call.
The activist phase of the Cultural Revolution, considered to be the first in a series of cultural revolutions, was brought to an end in April 1969.
This end was formally signaled at the CCP's Ninth National Party Congress, which convened under the dominance of the Maoist group. Mao was confirmed as the supreme leader.
Lin Biao was promoted to the post of CCP vice chairman and was named as Mao's successor. Others who had risen to power by means of Cultural Revolution machinations were rewarded with positions on the Political Bureau. The party congress also marked the rising influence of two opposing forces, Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and Premier Zhou Enlai.
The general emphasis after 1969 was on reconstruction through rebuilding of the party, economic stabilization, and greater sensitivity to foreign affairs.
The rebuilding of the CCP got under way in 1969. The process was difficult, however, given the pervasiveness of factional tensions and the discord carried over from the Cultural Revolution years.
The PLA was divided largely on policy issues. On one side of the infighting was the Lin Biao faction, which continued to exhort the need for "politics in command" and for an unremitting struggle against both the Soviet Union and the United States. On the other side was a majority of the regional military commanders, who had become concerned about the effect Lin Biao's political ambitions would have on military modernization and economic development.
Without question, the turning point in the decade of the Cultural Revolution was Lin Biao's abortive coup attempt and his subsequent death in a plane crash as he fled China in September 1971.
Lin Biao's closest supporters were purged systematically. Efforts to depoliticize and promote professionalism were intensified within the PLA. These were also accompanied by the rehabilitation of those persons who had been persecuted or fallen into disgrace in 1966-68.
Among the most prominent of those rehabilitated was Deng Xiaoping, who was reinstated as a vice premier in April 1973, ostensibly under the aegis of Premier Zhou Enlai but certainly with the concurrence of Mao Zedong. Together, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping came to exert strong influence.
The radical camp fought back by building an armed urban militia, but its mass base of support was limited to Shanghai and parts of northeastern China- hardly sufficient to arrest what it denounced as "revisionist" and "capitalist" tendencies. In January 1975 Zhou Enlai, speaking before the Fourth National People's Congress, outlined a program of what has come to be known as the Four Modernizations for the four sectors of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. This program would be reaffirmed at the Eleventh National Party Congress, which convened in August 1977. Also in January 1975, Deng Xiaoping's position was solidified by his election as a vice chairman of the CCP and as a member of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee. Deng also was installed as China's first civilian chief of PLA General Staff Department.