Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s Republic in China

The founding of the People’s Republic of China marked the victory of the Chinese Communists over the Nationalists and signaled the reunification of China for the first time in decades. The People’s Republic of China was, after the Soviet Union, the second great communist power to be constituted during the twentieth century.

Summary of Event

In 1949, China was in shambles, a nation plunged in political, economic, and social chaos. It had endured fourteen years of brutal Japanese military occupation between 1931 and 1945, followed immediately by four years of civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party Nationalist Party, Chinese (Guomindang, or Kuomintang, commonly known as the KMT) and the Communist Party, Communist Party, Chinese led by Mao Zedong. Spent by years of starvation, violence, and Nationalist corruption, the Chinese people longed for food, peace, and stability. Revolutions and coups;China
China;foundation of People’s Republic
Chinese Civil War (1927-1949)
Economic systems;communism
[kw]Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s Republic in China (Oct. 1, 1949)
[kw]Communist People’s Republic in China, Mao Zedong Proclaims a (Oct. 1, 1949)[Communist Peoples Republic in China, Mao Zedong Proclaims a]
[kw]Republic in China, Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s (Oct. 1, 1949)
[kw]China, Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s Republic in (Oct. 1, 1949)
Revolutions and coups;China
China;foundation of People’s Republic
Chinese Civil War (1927-1949)
Economic systems;communism
[g]Asia;Oct. 1, 1949: Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s Republic in China[03010]
[g]China;Oct. 1, 1949: Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s Republic in China[03010]
[c]Government and politics;Oct. 1, 1949: Mao Zedong Proclaims a Communist People’s Republic in China[03010]
Mao Zedong
Chiang Kai-shek
Zhou Enlai
Deng Xiaoping
Liu Shaoqi

By 1940, Mao’s treatise, “On the New Democracy,” “On the New Democracy” (Mao)[On the New Democracy] had already set forth his plans for the future national order, which would be established at the time of the Chinese Communist victory. As Communist forces fought against the Japanese, they also organized peasants, trained them as Communist cadres, and taught them basic Marxist-Leninist principles. Mao impressed upon his subordinates the need to endear themselves to the common people by eating what they ate, by working hard, by remaining unwaveringly honest, and by laboring with them side by side. The Communist Party’s military force, the People’s Liberation Army People’s Liberation Army, Chinese[Peoples Liberation Army, Chinese] , enjoyed great discipline and did indeed remain close to the people. In this way, they won supporters and adherents. Many of the areas that had been occupied by Communist forces—particularly in the northeast and southwest of China—became “liberated areas” that were effectively opposed to Nationalist rule.

During World War II World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Chinese campaign , as part of Chiang Kai-shek’s desperate struggle to defeat the Japanese and expel them from Chinese soil, the Nationalist leader had been forced by the Allies to allow Soviet troops into Manchuria. At the close of the war, the Soviets had turned over all captured Japanese weapons to the Communists, while pillaging the majority of the region’s industrial equipment for themselves. The Chinese Communists thus benefited from the work of their fellow communist soldiers and found that their situation in the struggle against the Nationalists was much improved.

Between 1946 and 1948, the struggle between the Nationalists and the Communists greatly intensified, and government troops began to show signs of breaking. Having already fought most of the struggle against the Japanese, the Nationalist troops were exhausted and wanted nothing but peace and the opportunity to return to their families. Lacking in discipline and deeply weakened by their own corruption, Nationalist troops were little match for highly disciplined and focused troops of the People’s Liberation Army. In January, 1949, Beijing fell to the Communists, and for the remainder of the year most of the nation’s major cities simply accepted Communist rule.

On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the birth of the communist People’s Republic of China from the walls of the Imperial Palace overlooking Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the nation’s new capital. He knew that his new government faced overwhelming challenges. Declaring China to be a “people’s democratic dictatorship,” he both embraced and diverged from the Soviet model of Marxism-Leninism and thereby established the course of an independent Chinese form of communism. Mao boldly announced that “The Chinese people have stood up!” and that, while the new government would follow a policy of “leaning to one side”—that is, favoring Soviet socialism—it would be careful to address those issues specific to China’s circumstances.

Owing to the excellent discipline, organization, and single-mindedness of the Communist leadership, the new government was able to make rapid progress in reordering the nation. Although some Nationalist opposition—both military and political—did remain, most of the countryside and the major Chinese cities were under Communist control. Wisely, the new governing officials did not immediately purge anti-Communist elements from their ranks (this was to follow several years later). Instead, they simply did their best to make use of all those who were skilled and could help reform and rebuild the nation.

China was divided into six administrative regions, and Communist Party leaders accepted posts in their areas of expertise. For example, Mao Zedong accepted the position of chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and focused his attention on organizing the general direction of the nation. Mao’s thought had already been enshrined as the true faith of the new state, so the chairman continued to dominate ideological discussions both within the upper ranks of the party and throughout the state government.

Zhou Enlai assumed the role of premier and focused his efforts on organizing a communist government that would function smoothly and efficiently, especially in questions of international relations. Liu Shaoqi played a similar role but worked to organize domestic affairs. He was assisted by the very able Deng Xiaoping, who specialized in economic affairs and worked to restore China’s economy in the wake of nineteen devastating years of warfare on Chinese soil.

By early 1950, the People’s Republic had been recognized by a goodly number of nations and had begun to implement important social and economic programs. Among these was the land-reform program, through which land was distributed to millions of poor peasants. While banking was taken over completely by the state, industry was left partly in the hands of private entrepreneurs. The Communists launched their campaign of the “Five Anti’s”: Five Anti’s[Five Antis] anti-bribery, anti-fraud, anti-theft of government property, anti-tax evasion, and anti-theft of state economic secrets. Social bonds were strengthened through the introduction of numerous mass organizations in the countryside and in the cities. Laws guaranteeing equality were quickly passed, such as the highly significant Marriage Law Marriage Law of 1950, Chinese of 1950, which abolished the inferior status of women. Communist cadres worked diligently to increase the numbers of party members, while, at the same time, indoctrinating all Communists more thoroughly.


Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China marked one of the most significant events in human history. Not only had China expelled the Japanese invaders from its shores, but it had also undergone, and survived, a bitter civil war that had been raging, in various forms, since the fall of the Qing Dynasty. The Communists’ military victory meant that peace would at last return to the people of China. At the same time, the Communist leadership embarked upon a massive social revolution. Communist cadres sought to conquer the age-old social ills of starvation, rampant disease and illness, extreme poverty, inadequate housing, woeful lack of educational resources, and shameless corruption.

With the new government came the new hope that, with discipline, determination, and civic spirit, the Chinese people could return to their once-great political and cultural hegemony. Communists hoped that this time it would be a change for all of the Chinese people, not just for the privileged. The declaration of the People’s Republic of China heralded a new socialist state that would respond to the unique needs of the Chinese condition, while also serving as a model for the rest of the world. Revolutions and coups;China
China;foundation of People’s Republic
Chinese Civil War (1927-1949)
Economic systems;communism

Further Reading

  • Clubb, O. Edmund. Twentieth-Century China. Reprint. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978. A comprehensive treatment of the rise of the Communists to power that displays an acute understanding of the significance of “Chineseness” to the Chinese psyche. Invaluable for its insight into the Chinese mind.
  • Fairbank, John K. China: A New History. 2d enlarged ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005. A brief but complete general introduction to the fall of the Nationalist government and the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
  • Farquhar, Roderick, and John K. Fairbank, eds. The People’s Republic, Part I: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1949-1965. Vol. 14 in Cambridge History of China. Reprint. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. The finest, most detailed, and most scholarly treatment of the events leading up to the fall of the Nationalist government, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and the consolidation of the Communists’ hegemony during their first two decades in power.
  • Roberts, J. A. G. A History of China. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Good presentation of the Chinese Communists’ rise to power and of the challenges facing them at the time of their accession to power.

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