By Richard Baum, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
In 1953, China entered a new stage of its development. The Korean War was over; land reform was completed; counter-revolutionaries had been suppressed; and the Communist Party was now firmly in control. It was time to move forward. The new stage began with the promulgation of a Soviet-style Five-Year Plan for economic development. But what did this involve?
The principal content of the Soviet model as applied in China was a blueprint for achieving the realization of socialism in China. The centerpiece of the First Five-Year Plan was the wholesale Chinese adoption of Stalinist techniques of centralized economic planning, agricultural collectivization, and the rapid growth of urban heavy industry.
At one level, Mao’s embrace of the Soviet model reflected an underlying ideological affinity between the two Communist giants. At another level, it reflected China’s dire need of Soviet economic assistance and technical support.
This is a transcript from the video series The Fall and Rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Mao and Khrushchev
By 1953, China’s long, costly involvement in the Korean War had left the country drained and exhausted. In great need of foreign economic and technical assistance, Mao cast his gaze northward. Soon after Stalin died, Mao reminded the new leaders of the Soviet Union that China had borne the brunt of the fighting in Korea, and that it was China’s heroic sacrifices that had made it possible for the USSR to avoid being drawn into the War. Mao’s bottom line was clear: The Russians owed China—big-time.
For his part, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, needed China’s support in his drive to be recognized as the undisputed leader of the Socialist camp. Like a politician stumping for votes, Khrushchev listened carefully to Mao’s pointed reminder about the Soviet-Korean war debt to China. And in a display of solidarity with his Chinese little brothers, Khrushchev generously agreed to revise the terms of Stalin’s 1950 Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Aid.
Learn more about China and the Korean War.
Soviet Technical Advice
Promising several hundred million dollars in new Soviet economic and military aid to China, the new Soviet leader further offered to terminate Soviet special privileges in Manchuria. Khrushchev further agreed to send thousands of technical specialists to China, at Russian expense, to build new industrial facilities. Mao was pleased.
As a result of this fresh burst of Soviet generosity, more than 150 major new industrial projects were initiated in China in the mid-1950s; and several thousand Chinese students were sent abroad to the Soviet Union for advanced technical training, mainly in the fields of engineering and applied science.
Military aid also increased, as the USSR built several new aircraft and munitions factories in China from 1953 to 1957. In response to Mao’s request for Soviet assistance in acquiring nuclear weapons—which Mao treated as an entitlement because of China’s enormous Korean sacrifices—Khrushchev agreed to share Soviet blueprints for an atomic bomb and to provide China with a prototype nuclear weapon.
Not surprisingly, this fresh burst of Soviet largesse ushered in a new era of Sino-Soviet friendship and cordiality, as the Chinese Communists openly embraced their big brothers to the north. And from 1954 to 1957, the Chinese emulated their Soviet senior siblings in almost every respect.
The Chinese Constitution
In its bare essentials, the Soviet model of socialism called for the elimination of private ownership of the means of production: capital, technology, equipment, and land. Replacing it would be a system of collective and state ownership of all property, with centralized state planning supplanting the corrupt system of bureaucratic capitalism that had characterized Nationalist China.
In 1954, a new Chinese constitution was adopted, largely modeled after the Soviet constitution of 1936. It described a unitary state system similar to the Soviet proletarian dictatorship. But the 1954 Chinese charter enshrined “The Thought of Mao Zedong” as the guiding ideology illuminating China’s path to victory in revolution and socialist construction. Slowly but steadily, a cult of personality was taking shape around the dominating, iconic figure of Chairman Mao Zedong.
Learn more about the republican experiment in China.
People’s Democratic Dictatorship
But there was one more major difference. Where the Russian system was narrowly based on the notional sovereignty of the working class, the Chinese variant was more broadly inclusive. It welcomed peasants, law-abiding intellectuals, and other patriotic groups and strata under the protective umbrella of a multi-class ruling coalition, called “people’s democratic dictatorship”.
A number of fundamental rights and freedoms were guaranteed under the 1954 constitution, including freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to vote for local people’s deputies. But such freedoms were reserved exclusively to the people, and were categorically denied to putative enemies of the people.
Under the guidance of Soviet advisors, China’s urban economy underwent a two-stage transition to socialism. Beginning in 1955, shares in private Chinese companies were purchased by the state, with payments to the former owners amortized over a period of several years. This created an intermediary form of ownership, known as “joint state-private” ownership. Although this partial buyout was nominally voluntary, in fact company owners had little or no choice but to agree to the terms offered by the state.
A year later, in 1956, the second stage kicked in, with all urban industrial and commercial assets now converted entirely into state property. Over the next two years, annuity payments to former owners were quietly terminated. In most cases, the companies’ former managers were permitted to stay on as salaried employees of the state.
By the end of 1956 virtually the entire urban economy had been nationalized. Although there was a good deal of grumbling among former factory owners and managers, few dared to openly resist the state’s takeover of their productive assets.
Common Questions about Soviet Socialism in China
China had borne the brunt of the fighting in the Korean War, and that it was China’s heroic sacrifices that had made it possible for the USSR to avoid being drawn into the War. Mao thus believed that the Russians owed China some favors.
Promising several hundred million dollars in Soviet economic and military aid to China, the new Soviet leader offered to terminate Soviet special privileges in Manchuria. Khrushchev further agreed to send thousands of technical specialists to China, at Russian expense, to build new industrial facilities.
The USSR built several new aircraft and munitions factories in China from 1953 to 1957. Khrushchev agreed to share Soviet blueprints for an atomic bomb and to provide China with a prototype nuclear weapon.