Mao Zedong’s frustrations: 1956-57

Through Richard Baum, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

By the fall of 1956, the two pillars of China’s socialist transformation – the Sino-Soviet alliance and the socialization of the national economy – were more or less completed. But soon after, the facade of national harmony began to show cracks frustrating Mao Zedong. And by 1957, a series of deepening national and international fault lines could no longer be ignored or concealed.

The facade of national harmony and post-socialist transformation showed its true nature. (Image: Gary Lee Todd / Public Domain)

An economic imbalance

Unlike the majority of his comrades, Mao Zedong was not satisfied with the situation in 1956. Due to the unexpected stagnation of agricultural production, the urban industrial sector lacks investment funds.

Mao wanted to accelerate the pace of industrial development, which would require extracting even more resources and income from the collective farming sector. The economy was seriously out of balance, and Mao knew it.

Learn more about the Children’s Crusade, 1966-1967.

Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin, Mao Zedong’s frustrations

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev suddenly and without warning launches a verbal attack on Joseph Stalin.

In a secret speech to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for carrying out a series of party purges in the 1930s, for executing large numbers of Soviet citizens, for deporting national minorities. of their countries of origin, for causing the great famine of the early 1930s and for widespread and flagrant violations of the principles of socialist legality.

But perhaps Khrushchev’s most revealing criticism of “Comrade Stalin,” at least as far as Mao Zedong was concerned, was his denunciation of Stalin’s “personality cult” – the carefully cultivated and glorified image of benevolence. , of the divine omnipotence and invincibility that surrounded the late Soviet dictator.

Suddenly, alarm bells started ringing in Mao’s supremely selfish mind. The president had reason to be concerned. Shortly after Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin’s “personality cult”, a group of comrades close to Mao, including Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi, began to downplay the role of individual rulers in their own. speeches and writings.

And at the Eighth Party Congress, they collaborated to remove from the Chinese Constitution all references to Mao Zedong’s guiding role of “Thought”, just two years after inserting this language into the Constitution. Mao was upset, but he obviously consented to this downgrade, as he had no desire to openly contradict Khrushchev at this point on this issue – at least, not yet.

This is a transcript of the video series The fall and rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.


But Mao also had other reasons to worry. Throughout the Communist bloc, the fall and winter of 1955 and the beginning of 1956 had brought a general loosening of authoritarian Stalinist policies towards intellectuals. Khrushchev was the forerunner of this liberalization movement, promising creative Russian intellectuals greater freedom of expression.

Image of damaged / destroyed buildings in Budapest, Hungary, 1956.
The Hungarian revolution was crushed by Khrushchev, who feared the spread of chaos. (Image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock)

Inspired by Mother Russia, intellectuals across the Soviet bloc began to voice their pent-up frustrations. By the time Khrushchev gave his de-Stalinization speech in February 56, teachers, writers, artists, and students across central and eastern Europe were calling for a retreat from repressive Stalinist policies.

In Moscow, Warsaw and Prague, factory workers joined with dissident intellectuals in calling for greater freedom. In Budapest, massive street protests, sometimes involving as many as 200,000 people, crippled the country’s hardline Stalinist leaders.

Fearing the spread of chaos, Nikita Khrushchev sent hundreds of Soviet tanks and 17 divisions of combat troops to crush the Hungarian revolt. More than 3,000 people died in the crackdown that followed.

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Hundred Flowers Campaign

In China, intellectual effervescence was also on the rise. After being subjected for years to rigid ideological and political controls, Chinese writers, teachers, scientists and students were also becoming increasingly restless. With an eye on the worsening situation in Eastern Europe, the Eighth Party Congress in September 1956 extended an olive branch to insane Chinese intellectuals.

Illustration of Mao Zedong giving a speech.
Mao embraced the Hundred Flowers Campaign so that intellectuals could express themselves freely, at least that’s what he said. (Image: Prachaya Roekdeethaweesab / Shutterstock)

Dusting off an old Chinese aphorism, party leaders introduced a new policy of tolerance towards China’s thinking class. Under the slogan “Let a hundred flowers bloom; that a hundred schools of thought are arguing, ”they encouraged intellectuals to speak out and pledged to listen carefully and conscientiously to their opinions and grievances.

Now, they promised that intellectuals would be treated with dignity and respect as valued members of the Chinese socialist community. This is how the famous Chinese “Hundred Flowers” ​​campaign began.

Although initially suggested by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in the summer of 1956, the campaign was soon appropriated by Mao Zedong himself. In the fall of 1956, Mao expressed his belief that by encouraging suspicious and reserved Chinese intellectuals to speak out openly and freely, they would be able to “shed their burden” psychologically without fear of reprisal.

Relieved of their anxieties, they could participate with more ardor and enthusiasm in the cause of the building of socialism. In any case, that was the theory behind the Hundred Flowers campaign. In practice, however, things turned out quite differently.

Common questions about Mao Zedong’s frustrations in 1956-57

Q: Why did Nikita Khrushchev attack Joseph Stalin?

Khrushchev accused Stalin of executing many Soviet citizens and deporting minorities, as well as causing the famine of the 1930s. His denunciation of Stalin’s “personality cult” became the main cause of worry and frustration of Mao Zedong.

Q: What happened after Nikita Khrushchev’s speech in the Soviet Union?

Khrushchev’s speech led many intellectuals to find the courage to speak out more freely. This led to revolts in Hungary and Khrushchev sent troops to crush the revolt. All this intellectual turmoil was a warning and a major point of frustration for Mao Zedong.

Q: What was the Hundred Flowers campaign?

The Hundred Flowers campaign was conceived as an olive branch for the intellectual community in China. Frustration in Mao Zedong caused by intellectual turmoil in Eastern Europe led him to adopt the Hundred Flowers campaign slogan: “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom; that a hundred schools of thought are arguing ”.

Keep reading
Chaos in China: the turning point in modern Chinese history
Dangers faced by China during the reign of Tchang Kai-shek
China under Chiang Kai-shek and the looming Japanese threat

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