On October 1, 1949, the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) upon victory over the Kuomintang in a civil war. Beijing (Peking) became the capital of the new government. Since then, the CCP has ruled China as a one-party state, although several minor political parties were allowed to exist.
The PRC aligned itself with the Soviet Union in foreign policy, signing a treaty of alliance and mutual aid in 1950 under which China received loans and technical help from the Soviet Union. The BeijingMoscow axis began to crack toward the end of the 1950s because of multiple reasons; by the mid-1960s border conflicts had broken out between them. To counterbalance the Soviet threat, China began a rapprochement with the United States that culminated in a visit by President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 and the establishment of full diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 1979. The PRC also joined the United Nations in 1971 as a permanent member of the Security Council, replacing the Republic of China (ROC), or Taiwan. Since the 1970s the PRC has replaced the ROC in most international organizations.
Upon its establishment, the CCP immediately undertook violent land reform, killing millions of landlords and redistributing land to the cultivators. However, the peasants were forced to give up their newly acquired land in 1953 to join collective farms under the First Five-Year Plan, copied from that of the Soviet Union. Collective farming continued in varied formats until Mao’s death in 1976. Due to China’s failing economy and the severe distress of the farming population, Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-p’ing), dismantled the collective farms and allowed individual farmers to work private plots, although the state continued to own the land. Productivity and the standard of living among farmers increased dramatically as a result. With the adoption of private enterprise in most industries, however, the standard of living of Chinese farmers lagged far behind that of people in the rapidly expanding urban sector, especially in the advanced coastal provinces.
China underwent catastrophic political and economic turmoil under Mao’s radical leadership, most notably during the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping was, by contrast to Mao, pragmatic in dealing with the economy, but he brooked no political opposition, as the bloody repression of student protesters in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 demonstrated. After Deng ousted several putative successors who failed to conform to his ideas, the succession among CCP leaders was peaceful. In 2002 Hu Jintao became chairman of the CCP and president of China. In 2005 China had an estimated population of 1.3 billion people; the largest military in the world, comprising 2.25 million soldiers; and the third-largest and fastest-growing economy in the world.
See also Hundred Flowers Campaign in China (1956–1957); Sino-Soviet Treaty (1950).