China ended up communist because the Chinese Communist Party, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, defeated the Nationalists led by General Chiang Kai Shek in China’s civil war (1945–1949). Once in power, the Communist Party leadership wasted no time imposing its will on the Chinese people, constructing the totalitarian political and economic system that reigned until Mao’s death in 1976, which time tens of millions of Chinese had been killed by starvation, execution, and disease.
There was no mystery involved in deciphering the direction in which Mao would take China. He did not hide his agenda and fought tenaciously until his victory over the Nationalists. There is no shortage of documentary evidence supporting the notion that Mao was a committed communist, as he regularly penned his thoughts on politics. His “Little Red Book” was a compendium of his thoughts and strategies, and the totality of his words and writings provides all the evidence one needs as to his total commitment to communism. Note, in the following quotation from 1945, Mao’s belief in his guiding ideology and his pride in his role as a leader of a major political movement:
We Communists never conceal our political views. Definitely and beyond all doubt, our future or maximum program is to carry China forward to socialism and communism. Both the name of our Party and our Marxist world outlook unequivocally point to this supreme ideal of the future, a future of incomparable brightness and splendor.
“On Coalition Government” (April 24, 1945), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 282.
Once in power, Mao and his followers established the fundamental structure of a totalitarian system, including imposing an educational system on China’s children that indoctrinated them as to the virtues of communism and the evils of capitalism and democracy. Any hint of deviation from his strict standards resulted in mass imprisonments, forced labor, and executions.
Adapting the Marxist-Leninist structure he observed in neighboring Russia to China’s unique culture, Mao proceeded to dictate every aspect of China’s economic, political, and social system. His Great Leap Forward in 1958 represented his vision of how to propel China’s backward (relative to the Soviet Union and the West) economy, especially its vast agricultural sector, into a socialist utopia—a process that involved forcing millions of Chinese peasants onto collective farms in a process that proved a massive failure with the resulting deaths of tens of millions of people.
The Great Leap Forward was not Mao’s last act of mass hysteria with deadly results. Mao regularly imposed policies designed to weed out undesirables—in effect, those who failed to meet his standard of political orthodoxy. Such tactics reached their zenith with what was labeled “the Cultural Revolution,” which began in May 1966 and only ended with the dictator’s death. The Cultural Revolution involved Mao’s mobilization of students in an effort to purge and publicly humiliate all those he deemed worthy of ostracism, forced labor, and death.
What made the Cultural Revolution controversial among many of his own fellow Communist Party members was the fact that Mao’s main target was those very fellow Party members. Dedicated communists were marched through China’s streets with dunce caps on their heads and wearing placards that served as confessions of their alleged failures to adhere to the proper level of ideological purity.
In conclusion, China became a communist totalitarian state with the victory in the Chinese Civil War of Mao and his communist legions. A mass murderer on the order of Joseph Stalin, Mao’s legacy remains one of extreme oppression and intolerance and the deaths of more than 40 million of his own people.