The Transition to Socialism, 1953-57
The period of officially designated "transition to socialism"
corresponded to China's First Five-Year Plan (1953-57). The period
was characterized by efforts to achieve industrialization,
collectivization of agriculture, and political centralization.
The First Five-Year Plan stressed the development of heavy
industry on the Soviet model. Soviet economic and technical
assistance was expected to play a significant part in the
implementation of the plan, and technical agreements were signed
with the Soviets in 1953 and 1954. For the purpose of economic
planning, the first modern census was taken in 1953; the population
of mainland China was shown to be 583 million, a figure far greater
than had been anticipated.
Among China's most pressing needs in the early 1950s were food
for its burgeoning population, domestic capital for investment, and
purchase of Soviet-supplied technology, capital equipment, and
military hardware. To satisfy these needs, the government began to
collectivize agriculture. Despite internal disagreement as to the
speed of collectivization, which at least for the time being was
resolved in Mao's favor, preliminary collectivization was 90
percent completed by the end of 1956. In addition, the government
nationalized banking, industry, and trade. Private enterprise in
mainland China was virtually abolished.
Major political developments included the centralization of
party and government administration. Elections were held in 1953
for delegates to the First National People's Congress, China's
national legislature, which met in 1954. The congress promulgated
the state constitution of 1954 and formally elected Mao chairman
(or president) of the People's Republic; it elected Liu Shaoqi
(1898-1969) chairman of the Standing Committee of the National
People's Congress; and named Zhou Enlai premier of the new State
In the midst of these major governmental changes, and helping
to precipitate them, was a power struggle within the CCP leading to
the 1954 purge of Political Bureau member Gao Gang and Party
Organization Department head Rao Shushi, who were accused of
illicitly trying to seize control of the party.
The process of national integration also was characterized by
improvements in party organization under the administrative
direction of the secretary general of the party Deng Xiaoping (who
served concurrently as vice premier of the State Council). There
was a marked emphasis on recruiting intellectuals, who by 1956
constituted nearly 12 percent of the party's 10.8 million members.
Peasant membership had decreased to 69 percent, while there was an
increasing number of
"experts" (see Glossary),
who were needed for
the party and governmental infrastructures, in the party ranks.
As part of the effort to encourage the participation of
intellectuals in the new regime, in mid-1956 there began an
official effort to liberalize the political climate
(see Policy Toward Intellectuals
, ch. 4). Cultural and intellectual figures
were encouraged to speak their minds on the state of CCP rule and
programs. Mao personally took the lead in the movement, which was
launched under the classical slogan "Let a hundred flowers bloom,
let the hundred schools of thought contend." At first the party's
repeated invitation to air constructive views freely and openly was
met with caution. By mid-1957, however, the movement unexpectedly
mounted, bringing denunciation and criticism against the party in
general and the excesses of its cadres in particular. Startled and
embarrassed, leaders turned on the critics as "bourgeois rightists"
and launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign. The
Hundred Flowers Campaign (see Glossary),
sometimes called the Double Hundred
Campaign, apparently had a sobering effect on the CCP leadership.
Data as of July 1987