When Mao declared the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, he instantly moved the capital to Peiping (later called Peking and now called Beijing), adopted a new flag (red with a large yellow star surrounded by four smaller stars), and adopted a statement of national purposes. The Soviet Union was the first country to recognize the People's Republic followed in quick order by other communist countries. The first non-communist countries to recognize the new state were India, Burma, and Pakistan, who were soon followed by the European countries. The United States, however, refused to recognize the Peoples Republic until 1979; until that point, they recognized only the Nationalist government in Taiwan as the legitimate government of China.
Mao faced two central problems: Unification of China and the centralization of government. In order to accomplish both of these he put into practice his New Democracy or "Democratic Dictatorship." Under the Democratic Dictatorship, all four classes of society would be represented (democracy), but the government would deal with conservative or counter-revolutionaries harshly (dictatorship). From 1949 to 1954, Mao undertook an aggressive campaign against all his political opponents around the country. Mao claimed to have executed some 800,000 individuals described as "class enemies," but Western historians put the figure at several times that amount. He established forced-labor camps, numerous prisons, and massive "re-education" and "self-criticism" programs in order to weed out counter-revolutionary political ideas.
At the same time, however, Mao managed to unify the country—a goal that had been unrealized all throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Mao claimed the t'ien ming , or Mandate of Heaven, for his new government. He attempted to unify the country with centralized democracy; in this system of government, the people elected local assemblies; these assemblies would then elect their own representatives for higher level assemblies. So the country, at the local level, was a democracy, but the local assemblies owed the higher assemblies complete obedience—this is the centralized part of the government. However, the real reason for Mao's rapid unification of China was the Korean War. When the Chinese Communist revolution spread to Korea, the government there split into two factions, one in the north near China and one in the south. When the United States entered the war and threatened to attack China's industrial base in Manchuria, Mao called on the Chinese to unite and push back this new imperial threat. The Chinese attacked and drove the American forces south and continued fighting the Americans to a draw. This victory against the Americans did more than anything else to legitmate the Communist government in the eyes of the Chinese.
The government established by the Communists was centralized in a single body, the Central People's Government Council, which exercised all executive, legislative, and judicial powers. This council consisted of a chairman (Mao), six vice-chairmen, and fifty-six members elected by the People's Political Consultative Council. When the Central People's Government Council, which met twice a month, was not in session, its powers were assumed by a twenty member body called the State Administrative Council headed by a premiere (Chou En-lai); when this body was not in session, the state powers fell to the chairman of the state (Mao).
In 1953, voting rights were extended to all citizens over the age of eighteen except landlords and counterrevolutionaries. In 1954, the first local assemblies were elected and these assemblies in turn elected provincial assemblies, which in turn elected the National People's Congress, which approved a new constitution on September 28. This constitution ratified centralized democracy and spelled out a series of rights that all citizens would enjoy. Paramount, however, in this list of rights was the exclusion of counterrevolutionary individuals; the Chinese bill of rights also reserved for the state the power to "reform traitors and counterrevolutionaries." That is, every Chinese citizen had the full line of legal rights and guarantees unless they disagreed with the government.
At the heart of the Chinese Communist experience under Mao is the concept of the Socialist Man. Perhaps more than anything, this ideology best portrays life in Maoist China. The Socialist Man was responsible not only for his life, but for other people's lives as well. His job was to monitor the business and thoughts of the people around him, and correct any improprieties or counter-revolutionary thoughts or actions. The Socialist Man was required to put the state before himself or his family, and was supposed to be able to face others with self-criticism and confessions of wrong-doing. He was to be animated by five loves: Love of Country, Love of People, Love of Labor, Love of Science, Love of Common Property.
The central aspect of Maoism is the belief in mass movements. When Mao advocated peasant revolution, he based his theory entirely on the importance of a unified and universal mass movement. As a result, Maoist China was characterized by a continuous stream of organized mass movements designed to attain specific outcomes. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that the social rhythm of Maoist China was set by the beat of mass movements; so common were they throughout Mao's tenure, that within a couple decades the Chinese people had become the single most organized people in the world.
The mass organizations of Maoist China were in reality semi-government bodies, really big semi-government bodies. These mass organizations include the All-China Federation of Democratic Youth (the first, 1953, and largest), the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and the Young Pioneers, composed entirely of children. These mass organizations became instruments of mass indoctrination and provided a massive and organized set of groups for demonstrations. The mass organization would be the principle means by which political action was effected in China from 1950 to 1980.
China in 1949 was in a bad way economically. The economy had been disrupted by eight years of bloody fighting with the Japanese and four years of civil war piled on top of that. Inflation had rendered the currency useless and industrial output had dropped seventy-five percent since 1937. In order to stabilize the economy, the People's Republic introduced a new currency, controlled it strictly, and set all wages by the price of five staple products: Rice, coal, flour, oil, and cotton. As the prices of these commodities fluctuated, wages would correspondingly increase and decrease. So while wages constantly changed from week to week, the purchasing power of those wages remained constant. This would characterize communist economic policy for the next several decades: Careful and minute control of the economy.
In 1950, the government passed the Agrarian Reform Law, which officially ended land ownership in China. All land and agricultural tools were to be evenly distributed among the landlords, rich peasants, and poor peasants. In reality, though, the enforcement of the law led to bitter trials in local rural communities. Poor peasants denounced the predatory practices of landlords and rich peasants. Most lost everything and many were executed. In 1953, the Chinese government entered a new stage of agrarian reform by collectivizing farms. In the first stage, peasants were required to help one another on their various plots of land. In the second stage, peasants were required to pool their tools, labor, and land, though they still retained rights over individual plots. In the third stage, completed in 1956, farms were completely collectivized under cooperative communities of farmers. By 1957, there were some 800,000 collective farms in China, each consisting of some six to seven hundred individual persons. Finally, in 1958, the social life of