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Major Developments in late 20th Century Chinese History

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 11 months, 2 weeks ago


Cross-Links to AP World History Period 6.2:  Global Conflicts




Topics on the Page


  • Communist Party attempts to eliminate internal opposition
  • The Great Leap Forward and its consequences (Mao's Great Famine)
  • The Cultural Revolution and its consequences (the terror of the Red Guards and the expansion of labor camps)
  • The 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration
  • China’s economic modernization and its growing involvement in world trade




 Cross-Link to Chinese Immigration to the United States




Focus Question: What were the political and economic events in late 20th century Chinese history?


Chinese Civil War (1927-1950)



An animated map of the Chinese Civil War:



  • The Chinese Civil War helps explain the Chinese shift to a communist state
  • It was fought between the Chinese Communist Party and the Republic of China
  • The CCP gained support after civilians were angered by the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles
  • The outcome of the treaty made China loose land to Japan
  • The war was started when the Republic of China attempted to suppress members of the CCP by killing potentially thousands of them in what is called the shanghai massacre or the white terror
  • The outcome of the war was a CCP victory which lead to communist rule in china and the rise of Mao Zedong
  • For more detailed information about the revolution refer to the dramatic events page link above


  For a short video on the Chinese Civil War


Portrait of Mao Zedong

Portrait of Mao Zedong


Soundscape of China is an interactive map with sounds of China paired with photos of the setting for the sound (from PBS, 2007).

Footprints of the People's Republic: 60 Years from China Radio International/English Service.

This is a link with an overview of the 20th century Chinese history as far as important people and events.

Elimination of Internal Opposition

  • Mao Zedong (Tse-tung) took power on October 1st, 1949, on which day he declared the founding of the People's Republic of China.


  • Since China's civil war had lasted over two decades, Mao faced many enemies to his ideology and rule.



  • The Cultural Revolution sought to eliminate old ideas, customs and habits in an effort to develop a single working class society. In order to eliminate these old ideas, Zedong set out Red Guards to eliminate resistance. The methods used to crush resistance involved destruction. There was destruction of old temples, books, music, street signs, etc. Those who were known to be pro-Western were vulnerable to attack.


Here is an article from the "Peking Review" in 1966 detailing some Red Guard actions during the Cultural Revolution.



Great Leap Forward and Mao's Great Famine


1966 Statement by Mao Zedong on "taking a great stride forward

This is an excerpt from a speech given by Mao Zedong, explaining the need for increased agricultural production. It is accompanied by discussion questions for students to answer.


Check out this student project on The Great Leap Forward here.


To get a better look inside the Cultural Revolution in China please read Dongping Han account here.

Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 is a YouTube video based on the book of the same name.


China's Great Famine


  • Between the spring of 1959 and the end of 1961 some 30 million Chinese starved to death and about the same number of births were lost or postponed


Grim Chronicle of the Great Famine


Check out this wonderful PBS documentary from the series, The People’s Century, called “Great Leap.”

You can find the accompanying teacher's guide to the video here.

Cultural Revolution


Farmers during the Cultural Revolution, 1970
Farmers during the Cultural Revolution, 1970

Please note: The terror of the Red Guards, the Cultural Revolution and its consequences are discussed above under Section 1.


  • The Cultural Revolution lasted nearly 10 years; from 1966 to 1976.


  • During this period, Mao feared capitalist values and old Confucian ideals would betray the revolutionary aims of 1949.


  • The goals of the radicals were reminiscent to the Jacobins who tried to undermine organized religion in the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. In this sense, these radicals sought to eradicate the “four olds” (old thought, old culture, old customs, and old habits) and replaced them with new ones that represented revolutionary aims. (Duiker & Speilvogel, 2005, pg. 580)


A very detailed lesson plan that discusses the role of the "Red Guards" 

Here is a quick overview article from the History Channel on the Cultural Revolution.

Here as well is a link to a Prezi presentation on the Cultural Revolution, its causes and effects, and events that shaped it.

See photos from the Cultural Revolution and learned about Li Zhensheng, whose photographs showed the hardships that many experienced during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward.


Mao used the liberation of women as a powerful tool in his control of the Chinese populace. By offering the prospect of greater freedom, Mao motivated many women to take up arms and participate in much of the violence that characterized the Cultural Revolution. This briefly describes the culture of female aggression and violence that replaced traditional norms of Confucian subservience during the Cultural Revolution: Women and the Cultural Revolution.doc

Here as well is an article on a blog written about homosexuality in China, and talks of how its only recently been decriminalized, along with the dark past of the Mao regime under which people suffered horribly.

In contrast, here are Mao's thoughts on racial discrimination in both China and the United States. 

A website pertaining to the lives of Modern Chinese Women, especially in regards to their changing roles.

The expansion of labor camps…

The Communist Party of China has operated many labor camps for almost all types of crime. Most of the time, these prisoners were not actually common criminals, but merely dissenters in a society based on a cult of conformity. These prisons typically held political, religious, and societal dissenters. These institutions represented a repressive mechanism to reform the mindset of dissenting Chinese citizens. As a means of carrying out this Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government increased the number of “reeducation” facilities. In fact, hundreds - if not thousands - of labor camps still exist in modern day China, housing political prisoners and dissidents alongside dangerous criminals.

Here is a short segment of Zedong’s Speech “At the Closing Ceremony of the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee ." This is fascinating propaganda showcasing the language used by Zedong to discuss the Cultural Revolution. 

For the documentary on The Great Leap, PBS interviewed Jin Jingzhi, a Chinese woman who considered herself an ordinary housewife before the communist revolution. Read the interview to learn about her changing social role and the imprisonment her husband suffered as a suspected political dissenter.

Here is an article published very recently in July of 2014 that talks about how China has finally decided, and started, shutting down the labor camps that have been in existence since Mao's term of office, and it gives a rough estimate as to how many have closed, and how many people have been sent home.


Picture for BBC.com


Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989




See BBC report with video footage, Massacre in Tiananmen Square.

Tiananmen Square massacre: Timeline

Here you can find tons of primary sources on the Massacre: Primary Sources

Check out this documentary concerning the infamous “Tank Man” who defied the Chinese government in August 1989 by standing up in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

This is an article on those who survived what occurred in Tiananmen Square roughly 20 years later, and what they have done since with their lives.

Here is a YouTube video on the 25th anniversary of the massacre from the viewpoint of members in the Australian embassy, who recount details of the event.

Here are a list of lesson plans provided about Tiananmen Square.

China’s modernization and growing involvement in world trade

Modernization focused on four areas:

  1. Industry: industrial output skyrocketed; per capita income doubled
  2. Agriculture: collective farms leased land to peasant families who paid rent to collective farms; surplus goods could be sold privately; peasants allowed to produce good privately.
  3. Technology: Government invited foreign investors to China. Thousands were sent abroad to study science, technology and modern business techniques.
  4. National Defense: Faced a security threat from the Soviet Union. Consequently, they tried to improve relations with the U.S.

Overall modernization was a success. In addition, China has increasingly become a dominant player in world trade.

Here is a link to an article published in 2012 about the industrial and environmental improvements China has made in recent years.

  • In 1972, President Richard Nixon opened trade with China.
  • By 2000, China had strengthened global trade relations.
  • By 2002, China joined the World Trade Organization.

(Spielvogel, 2005)


To understand China's modernization and rise in the global economic and trade ladder"

- China changed its foreign policies about global trade and immigration especially with the United States


Chinese immigrants that left China at this time were apart of the Second Great Wave. These Chinese immigrants were coming to America for a different purpose. Unlike their ancestors, who came over for economic benefit, this new wave primarily consisted of students looking for high education and people with employer sponsored work visas. 


Here is a link to an article about this^: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/chinese-immigrants-united-states

On this same page is a few graphs and links to other interactive sources about immigration


One that I thought was really cool was this interactive map that shows were immigrant groups resided in America for 2014-2018.



You can choose individual countries or look at the whole wave.


Here is a video/ website that shows the increase overtime: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/24/how-much-chinas-economy-has-grown-over-the-last-70-years.html


^ This discusses GDP, the leaders of the times, and the production. Accompanied are graphs, charts, and other visuals


Here is an article that discusses the rift between Taiwan and Mainland China. This rift began back in the late 20th century when China became Communist. And now in 2019, it is an issue that has resurfaced. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-relations 

[1] Spielvogel, Jackson J (2005). Glencoe World History. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
[2] East Asian Curriculum Project & Project on Asia in the Curriculum at Columbia, (2006). Chinese Leaders. Retrieved March 11 2007, from Asia for Educators Web site: http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/china/gov/mao_zedo.htm#Mao%20as%20the%20Leader%20of%20the%20Chinese%20Revolution
[3]Muhlhahn, K. (2004)."Remembering a Bitter Past:" The Trauma of China's Labor Camps. 1949-1978. History & Memory16, 108-39.
[4]Soundscape of China. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/kqed/chinainside/soundmap/index.html 
[5] Footprints of the People's Republic: 60 Years. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from China Radio International/English Service: http://english.cri.cn/6909/2009/09/25/53s518473.htm[6]Great Leap Forward. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTdbqEsGsn0
[7] Dongping Han: The Unknown Cultural Revolution. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from the Voice of the Revolulationary Party, USA: http://revcom.us/a/175/dongping_han_full_QA-en.html
[8] “Great Leap” from A People’s Century. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from YouTube: see links above
[9] Mao’s Cultural Revolution Pt 7: Struggling to Liberate Women. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from The Kasama Project: http://kasamaproject.org/2008/12/23/mao%E2%80%99s-cultural-revolution-pt-7-struggling-to-liberate-women/
[10] “Speech at the Closing Ceremony of the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee.” Retrieved March 19, 2010, from Marxist.org: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-9/mswv9_64.htm#n1
[11] Massacre in Tiananmen Square. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/4/newsid_2496000/2496277.stm
[12] “The Tank Man.” Retrieved March 19, 2010, from PBS Frontline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tankman/ 

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