What is the role of Maoism in Civil War (1945–1949), the Great Leap Forward (1958–61), and the cultural revolution (1966–1967) in the book The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence?

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Maoism was the revolutionary ideology espoused by Mao Zedong after the Chinese Civil War. In his book, Spence argues that Mao used the rhetoric of a “permanent revolution,” coupled with the underlying necessity of strengthening the position of the peasantry and the petty urban bourgeoise, as the key to the PRC’s success from 45–49. Mao had declared the need to arouse the nation’s masses in order to create a “united front,” which was to consist of the peasants, the urban working class, and the small artisans of the country. Together, these elements would form a “people’s democratic dictatorship” that would rule the country under the banner of Communism.

More than anything else, Mao called for a reform and acceleration of China’s agricultural production. The country needed increased grain production, and Mao, through his political program aimed at improving the efficiency of the farms—the Great Leap Forward—intended on bolstering the country’s agricultural base at whatever the cost. The doctrines of Maoism, which stressed the primacy of the peasantry, fit directly into this policy, as it was the peasants who would be primarily responsible for farming the country’s grain and rice. However, Mao’s insistence that the country maintain high grain export quotas, along with the direct violence the PRC used to force peasant to work long hours in the countryside, led to widespread famine and the deaths of millions. As Spence says,

The Great Leap Forward, launched in the name of strengthening the nation by summoning all of the people’s energies, had turned its back on itself and ended by devouring its young.

Finally, the Cultural Revolution was Mao’s great attempt to resuscitate what he believed was the nation’s fading revolutionary fervor. The rhetoric of Maoism denounced the increasingly massive and inefficient bureaucracy, and many members of the Chinese Communist Party came under direct assault because of their perceived dealings with capitalist interlocutors. The Cultural Revolution led to factionalism in the CCP in the twilight years of Mao Zedong’s own life, and the great leader saw the emergence of his first true political rivals in the form of Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Peng Zhen.

Again, by mobilizing the masses via his revolutionary rhetoric, Mao fought tooth and nail to put an end to the brewing conspiracies (as he saw them) against his power and the political direction of the country. The Cultural Revolution saw the arming of thousands of university students, effectively establishing them as “Red Guards.” Peng was ousted from power in the late 1960s, and a purge of high- and mid-level party officials occurred thereafter. Maoism fueled the flames of the internal class war, and Spence highlights the centrality of Mao’s personality in this regard.

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